Stuff what I wrote in 2013

January 3, 2014

January:

February:

March:

April:

May:

June:

July:

August:

September:

October:

November:

December:


Mike’s Top 50 Albums of 2013

January 2, 2014

1. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories
2. Harleighblu: Forget Me Not
3. These New Puritans: Field Of Reeds
4. Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park

5. Lady: Lady
6. Rudimental: Home
7. John Grant: Pale Green Ghosts
8. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires Of The City

9. Arctic Monkeys: AM
10. Hookworms: Pearl Mystic
11. The Stepkids: Troubadour
12. Fists: Phantasm

13. Laurel Halo: Chance Of Rain
14. Suede: Bloodsports
15. Disclosure: Settle
16. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko

17. Sleaford Mods: Austerity Dogs
18. I Am Kloot: Let It All In
19. Alison Moyet: the minutes
20. Dawn Of Midi: Dysnomia

21. Matthew E. White: Big Inner
22. Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory: Elements Of Light
23. Bombino: Nomad
24. Ballaké Sissoko: At Peace

25. Fuck Buttons: Slow Focus
26. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark: English Electric
27. Emma Sweeney: Pangea
28. !!!: Thr!!!er

29. Factory Floor: Factory Floor
30. John Wizards: John Wizards
31. Rokia Traore: Beautiful Africa
32. Mayer Hawthorne: Where Does This Door Go

33. Otis Taylor: My World Is Gone
34. Jessy Lanza: Pull My Hair Back
35. Beyonce: BEYONCE
36. Georges Vert: An Electric Mind

37. The Full English: The Full English
38. Boy George: This Is What I Do
39. Marc Reeves: Of An End
40. Forest Fire: Screens
41. Quadron: Avalanche
42. Mountains: Centralia
43. Little Boots: Nocturnes
44. Primal Scream: More Light
45. Darkside: Psychic
46. Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita: Clychau Dibon
47. Heidi Talbot: Angels Without Wings
48. Tamikrest: Chatma
49. Haim: Days Are Gone
50. The Strypes: Snapshot


It’s all good.

January 1, 2014

Karen at Uborka asked:

Looking back, what was so great about 2013?

This was my reply.

2013 was a landmark year. After years of struggle, K escaped from a ghastly work situation, and entered a hard-earned new phase of fulfilment, security and freedom. I haven’t seen him so happy in years. This cushioned the blow of my redundancy, which would have been a disaster even a year earlier, but which in turn set me free.

2014 will be another year of massive change, as we leave Nottingham and Derbyshire, and relocate to a dream home in a beautiful part of the world. I don’t know exactly what lies ahead, but I can’t remember the last time I felt so optimistic at the start of a new year. It’s all good.

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Mike’s Top 100 albums of 2012

January 7, 2013

During 2012, I switched to working from home, after a spell of commuting to Leeds two or three times per week. Consequently, I listened to shedloads of new music. Hence, and no sniggering at the back please, a Top 100. (And if this seems excessive, be aware that the 100 was whittled down from a shortlist of 243.)

I’ve also compiled a Spotify playlist, featuring one track from each album, in ascending order of wondrousness.

1. Natalie Duncan - Devil In Me
2. Sam Lee - Ground Of Its Own
3. Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls
4. Actress - R.I.P.
5. Carter Tutti Void - Transverse
6. Dog Is Dead - All Our Favourite Stories
7. Loudon Wainwright III - Older Than My Old Man Now
8. Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Fetch
9. Goat - World Music
10. Laurel Halo - Quarantine
11. Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man In The Universe
12. Jessie Ware - Devotion
13. Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
14. Sleaford Mods - Wank
15. Spiro - Kaleidophonica
16. Django Django - Django Django
17. Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg
18. Field Music - Plumb
19. Efterklang - Piramida
20. Tindersticks - The Something Rain
21. Saint Etienne - Words And Music By Saint Etienne
22. Kylie Minogue - The Abbey Road Sessions
23. We Show Up On Radar - Sadness Defeated
24. Beach House - Bloom
25. Matt Elliott - The Broken Man
26. Get The Blessing - OC DC
27. THEESatisfaction - awE naturalE
28. Rachel Newton - The Shadow Side
29. Batida - Batida
30. Tracey Thorn - Tinsel and Lights
31. Anna Cinzia Villani - Fimmana, mare e focu
32. Ragnhild Furebotten - Never On A Sunday
33. The Black Twig Pickers - Whompyjawed
34. Rumer - Boys Don’t Cry
35. alt-J - An Awesome Wave
36. Patti Smith - Banga
37. Cafe Iman Istanbul - Fasl-i Rembetiko
38. Troyka - Moxxy
39. Cornershop - Urban Turban
40. Calan - Jonah
41. Lone - Galaxy Garden
42. Roller Trio - Roller Trio
43. Bella Hardy - The Dark Peak and The White
44. Elton John vs Pnau - Good Morning To The Night
45. Neneh Cherry & The Thing - The Cherry Thing
46. Cornshed Sisters - Tell Tales
47. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
48. Dexys - One Day I’m Going To Soar
49. Ebo Taylor - Appia Kwa Bridge
50. Brad Mehldau Trio - Ode
51. Hello Skinny - Hello Skinny
52. Bee Mask - When We Were Eating Unripe Pears
53. Beach Boys - That’s Why God Made The Radio
54. Auntie Flo - Future Rhythm Machine
55. Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society
56. Bob Dylan - Tempest
57. Neil Cowley Trio - The Face Of Mount Molehill
58. Lindstrom - Smalhans
59. Punch Brothers - Who’s Feeling Young Now?
60. Dirty Three - Toward The Low Sun
61. Seu Jorge - Musicas para Churrasco, Vol. 1
62. Storm Corrosion - Storm Corrosion
63. Lee Fields & The Expressions - Faithful Man
64. Lau - Race The Loser
65. Icebreaker - Apollo
66. Plankton Wat - Spirits
67. Mungolian Jetset - Mungodelics
68. Red Baraat - Chaal Baby
69. Mala - Mala In Cuba
70. Roc Marciano - Reloaded
71. The Swans - The Seer
72. Hannah James and Sam Sweeney - State and Ancientry
73. Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
74. Bright Light Bright Light - Make Me Believe In Hope
75. The Unthanks with Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band - Diversions Vol. 2
76. Land Observations - Roman Roads IV – XI
77. Cooly G - Playin’ Me
78. Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself
79. The xx - Coexist
80. Jack White - Blunderbuss
81. NZCA/LINES - NZCA/LINES
82. Staff Benda Bilili - Bouger Le Monde!
83. Jonas Munk - Pan
84. R. Kelly - Write Me Back
85. Four Tet - Pink
86. Hilary Hahn & Hauschka - Silfra
87. Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny - Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose
88. Chairlift - Something
89. Talabarte - Talabarte
90. School Of Seven Bells - Ghostory
91. The Touré-Raichel Collective - The Tel Aviv Session
92. Josephine - Portrait
93. Dean McPhee - Son of the Black Peace
94. Anywhere - Anywhere
95. Cody Chesnutt - Landing On A Hundred
96. Portico Quartet - Portico Quartet
97. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream
98. Matthew E. White - Big Inner
99. The Invisible - Rispah
100. Anda Union - The Wind Horse


Mike’s favourite albums of 2011

January 5, 2012

1 PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

I’ve respected and admired PJ Harvey for many years – and I’ve got almost the complete set of albums to prove it – but until now, the respect and admiration has rarely translated into out-and-out love. It’s difficult to locate the precise reasons, but this latest reinvention of PJ as some sort of post-traumatised Cassandra – head-dressed and gowned, brandishing her auto-harp like a lyre, skipping across charred battlefields with ghoulishly unnerving gaiety – is compellingly complete, and perfectly timed.

2 Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise

We had booked a holiday in Goa, but K was too ill to travel, so we took a badly needed week in Cornwall instead. Acting on a recommendation, we checked ourselves into a split-level barn conversion, owned by the ex-wife of a rock legend. Although the design favoured form over function in a way that might have been irksome to some, we revelled in its minimalism. One bright morning, as Nicolas Jaar’s album reverberated through the barn’s high-spec, surround-sound kit (well, you’d expect nothing less), I found myself pacing around the double-height living space, experiencing each sonic element as a distinct, architectural plane (*), and realising that the building offered a perfect locational fit for Jaar’s equally sleek, pared-down, clean-lined approach. The association has stayed with me since, taking me back to my “happy place” with every repeat playing.

(*) No, I wasn’t on drugs. But I can see why you might think that.

3 James Blake - James Blake

My initial distaste for Blake’s fractured, treated vocals seemed insurmountable, but something kept pulling me back, as it sometimes does with records which I think I hate. It all clicked into place when Said The Gramophone posted James Litherland’s “Where To Turn”, covered by his son as “The Wilhelm Scream”. “Cover” is the wrong word, though. “Palimpsest” expresses it better, and really that’s what the whole album’s about: rubbing away at song structures and vocal lines, and smearing over the residues. It’s an approach which I’ve long valued in painting – think of Gerhard Richter, for example – and Blake’s album proves that it can work in music, too.

4 Origamibiro - Shakkei

There are seven albums from Nottingham acts in this year’s list, which is six more than there were in 2010. That’s partly because 2011 turned out to be a landmark year for the music scene in my home city, but it’s also because I finally sat up, took notice, and had my ears opened to what was lying right under my nose. I reviewed Origamibiro’s Shakkei for the current issue of LeftLion magazine; have a read, take a listen, and see what you think.

5 Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest

Music as scented candle? In this instance, I’m guilty as charged – for if there are darker undertows to be found in any of these songs, then I have remained contentedly unaware of them. Maybe it’s a careering-towards-fifty thing, but “soothing” is a quality that I seem to have started valuing more highly, and in this respect, Gillian Welch’s music has soothed more than most. I like the sparseness, the timelessness, the gentle intimacy, and the relaxed, unhurried mood, which transfers itself from artist to listener as the album progresses… even when the listener is equally focussed on reading the weekend newspapers.

6 Katy B - On A Mission

I only went clubbing three times in 2011, which is more than most men of my age would countenance, but the London gay scene can be quite accommodating to the older gentleman, and I still felt just about able to blend. Katy B’s style of club music didn’t feature on their playlists, so these places did nothing to help me place her music in its full context, but – just as with the terrific student house-share sitcom Fresh Meat – I can still find enough familiar elements to make the imaginative leap. Clearly a committed clubber herself, Katy succeeds in communicating her love of club culture to the rest of us, winningly combining the roles of shining-eyed evangelist, front-line reporter and dancefloor companion. At the two live shows that I witnessed, teenage girls dominated the front rows. I don’t see that too often – not with female artists, at least – and so it cheered me to think that this particular mission had, for once, hit its right and proper target.

7 Lou Reed and Metallica - Lulu

I almost felt bad about placing this year’s critical consensus choice at the top of my list, but the critical consensus and I didn’t always converge so happily, and here’s the prime piece of evidence. The Wire might have placed Lulu high in their year-end poll, and Wim Wenders might have raved about it, but these people are hardly my usual kindred spirits, and as for everybody else: what’s WRONG with you all, this is GENIUS, you blinkered FOOLS! OK, so it’s overblown and preposterous genius, which teeters at times on the brink of utter risibility, but what the HELL is wrong with THAT, for pity’s sake? This will be an unimpeachable cult classic in thirty years’ time, you mark my words.

8 Paul Simon - So Beautiful Or So What

His best since Graceland, they all say. Well, I’m no expert. Still, there’s no denying that this is a masterful blend of great songwriting and superb musicianship, beautifully arranged and produced. Fantastic live show over the summer, as well.

9 Robag Wruhme - Thora Vukk

A comparatively beatier, equally pleasurable companion to the Nicolas Jaar album, which shares its knack for interweaving atmospheric field recordings with understated arrangements.

10 Souvaris - Souvaris Souvaris

My last discovery of 2011, which I’ll be reviewing for the next LeftLion. It’s also the final album for Souvaris, who play their farewell gig at Nottingham Contemporary on the night of my fiftieth birthday. A shame that I’ve left it so late to discover them, but better late than never. To be filed under “instrumental post rock”, I guess, but this spans a wide range of moods, often within the same track.

11 Gallery 47 - Fate Is The Law

This was my most played album over the summer, while I was putting in the research for my Guardian feature on the rising fortunes of Nottingham’s music scene. Here’s what I wrote about it for LeftLion.

12 Ron Sexsmith - Long Player Late Bloomer

Thanks to a rigorously organised routine for scanning new releases on Spotify, Ron Sexsmith finally drew my attention, God-knows-how-many albums into his career. (I’d heard some of his work before, on the second Feist album, but unwittingly so.) Apparently, his choice of Bob Rock as producer ruffled a few loyalist feathers, but the high-impact immediacy of Rock’s production felt, to me at least, like a good fit for Sexsmith’s songs. A wonderful show at the just-revamped Rescue Rooms brought out the best in them as well, particularly the irresistibly hooky opener “Get In Line” and the achingly affecting closer “Nowadays”.

13 Wolf + Lamb vs Soul Clap - DJ-Kicks

Fifteen years ago, I was buying more mix CDs than single artist albums. In 2011, I bought just three. This was by far and away my favourite: a restrained yet purposeful set, which readily lends itself to home listening. It doesn’t get properly beaty until the second half, by which time I’m warmed up and ready to, um, twitch my toes, just ever so slightly.

14 White Denim - D

I’ve never been able to reconcile White Denim’s live sets with their recorded material, which doesn’t fully represent their looser, wilder on-stage brilliance. With D, the difference finally ceased to matter. Although they still feel to me like two distinct propositions, this is where the two sides finally evened up, quality-wise. Best track: “Back At The Farm”, which presses all the buttons that require pressing.

15 Little Dragon - Ritual Union

I was alerted to Little Dragon when interviewing John Grant, who has been spending a lot of time in their home city of Gothenburg. When assembling my Best of 2011 Spotify playlist (which I should make more noise about, because it’s great), I began to detect a certain stylistic mood, which runs through many of the picks, particularly on the more electronic (but still song-orientated) end of the spectrum. I can’t quite describe that mood for you now, but it’s very much present here.

(That John Grant interview was one of my highlights of the year, by the way. We were booked for fifteen minutes, but he ended up giving me forty-five. Oh, and then he played the best show that I saw all year. And if the rules had been set differently, then his Queen of Denmark would have been my album of the year, for the second year running. Yes, I’m quite the fan.)

16 Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

As with Loutallica, I feel out of step with Radiohead, whose album slipped out without much fanfare (at least when you compare it to In Rainbows), before slipping away again just as quietly. Once my favourite band, Radiohead had been losing me by degrees from Amnesiac onwards, but whereas the much-vaunted In Rainbows raised little more than a yawn, The King Of Limbs engaged me in a way that none of their work since Kid A has managed to do. Most played track: the skittering, enveloping off-kilter funk of “Morning Mr. Magpie”.


17 Forest Fire - Staring At The X
18 tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L
19 SBTRKT - SBTRKT
20 June Tabor - Ashore


21 Bella Hardy - Songs Lost & Stolen
22 Laura Marling - A Creature I Don’t Know
23 Owiny Sigoma Band - Owiny Sigoma Band
24 Tom Waits - Bad As Me


25 Fatoumata Diawara - Fatou
26 Dirty Projectors & Bjork - Mount Wittenberg Orca
27 Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
28 Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire


29 Tinariwen - Tassili
30 Panda Bear - Tomboy
31 Hhymn - In The Depths
32 Tamikrest - Toumastin


33 Swimming - Ecstatics International
34 Amira - Amulette
35 Trichotomy - The Gentle War
36 Ry Cooder - Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down


37 The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
38 Planningtorock - W
39 Manière Des Bohémiens - When The Road Bends
40 C-Mone - Dancing With Mirrors


Uborka Friday Cocktail Orders.

September 9, 2011

Humbled by your collective self-effacement, I have waivered the PIMP YER STUFF rule. And in accordance with @merialc’s request, all cocktails will contain added flecks of gold.

Please collect your orders from the bar. Your ambient cocktail-sipping soundtrack can be found here.

For me: a Long Island Iced Tea, in memory of my happy sojourn in Manila last year.

For @erzsebel: a Bloody Mary. Her choice has something to do with wasps. I have no idea why, as I have always left entomological matters to my civil partner @ktd (a former expert on the subject).

For @Gert: “one of those champagne and Guinness things”. Black Velvet, I believe. I apologise for the lack of Alannah Myles on the mix CD.

For @gordon: a Peartini. I’ve always been more of a lychee-tini man myself, but each to his own.

For @helen_kara: a Margarita, fit for a domestic goddess.

For @graybouk: a vodka, lime and soda. GRAYBOQUOTE: “I love the way that my tune has two listeners – I’m so proud!”

For @uwitness: a Lomg Slow Domestos Up Against The Wall, with ice and iron filings. So much classier than these modern-day Vim-based alternatives.

And finally, for @TrailDragon: a large flaming Sambuca, to wash away the insipid taste of the carrots on which he has been chomping. Just don’t start playing THE SAMBUCA GAME, alright?

The year has been 2004, the blogging has been Second Wave Pre-Book Deal Old School, and I’ve been Troubled Diva Mike. I now return you to your regular hiatus. Cheers!


Uborka Friday Cocktails

September 9, 2011

HIATUS BREAKER ALERT! Following a special dispensation from @erzsebel, I am opening the bar for UBORKA COCKTAILS, for THIS AFTERNOON ONLY.

However, drinks orders will only be accepted if you PIMP YER STUFF, either on the Twitter or in this comments box. Update: I have waivered this rule, on grounds of inappropriateness to the era of British blogging which this post references.

Orders will be totted up, and drinks doled out, at 16:45 UK time.

NOTE: If you haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m on about, then please resume the default “Troubled Diva on Indefinite Blogging Hiatus” position.

UPDATE: COCKTAILS ARE SERVED.


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