Picking just ten albums out of the pack is always a tricky thing. This site has reviewed around 500 pieces of music this year from throw-away pop singles to album length progressive flights of fancy, from the well trodden grounds of classic rock to cutting edge experiments which are creating a whole new musical future. Add to that the fact that I am lucky enough to largely write about music I find interesting, which means if it even makes the page there is something I like about it. Anyway, below is 10 of the standouts of the year, I could write another 10 articles like this, but I won’t, better you explore the site and make your own mind up. Enjoy, comment, discuss and leave the cash in a brown envelope in the usual place! (I wish)
To say that John Fryer, the man at the heart of Black Needle Noise, has been responsible for music which has not only enhanced the musical landscape but often led the way, creating musical fashion rather than following it, is no understatement. As a producer he helped define alternative music from The Cocteau Twins to Lush and from Xmal Deutschland to Nine Inch Nails so it isn’t surprising that when he has free rein to create his own music it is just as forward-thinking and mercurial as those iconic bands.
Fryer is the master of choosing the right people to collaborate with, people who will help take his music in interesting and unexpected directions and the vocals provided by Fakeba are the perfect balance to the music behind it. Here singing in Wolif she proves that communication isn’t just about words but even with a language barrier to many listeners the sound she brings is still beautifully emotive, connecting on a more primal, pre-language level. The result is the exotic and tribal sounds of Africa but rendered by electronica and western studio technology, it is a balance of a timeless vocal and a futuristic sound, of dark musical elements and euphoric vocals, a sound clash of mystery and modernity.
But the collaborative process doesn’t end there as the video is made up from footage from Gina Czarmeki’s short film Spintex which adds another layer of exotica to the whole package. Even with such a body of work already under his belt, John Fryer is still pushing boundaries and this cross cultural weave of sound and sentiment shows that he doesn’t show any sign of resting on his laurels just yet.
Music is cyclical, we all know that, 30 years seems to be the recognised time span for music to drop off the fashion radar long enough to seem cool or cult and be rediscovered and reinterpreted by a new musical generation. Brit-pop was a re-discovery of sixties guitar bands, punk was the distilled spirit of rock’n’roll for generation feeling similarly lost and even grunge had its roots in the garage rock and nascent metal scenes of a previous generation.
My own musical future-nostalgia moments, however, lie in an altogether more ambient place. Once the punks had shown us that making music was not just something for the dedicated, or indeed talented few, a whole movement of back bedroom aspirants began rewiring cheap keyboards and running battered guitars through homemade effects pedals and the result was glorious.
The sonic landscape that they described was one of drifting beauty and sharp angles, of raw guitars and delicate minimalism, of ethereal atmospheres and of industrial noise. It was supported by fledgling record labels such as 4AD and Sarah Records and was gathered into journalistic gangs and given names like dream-pop, shoe gaze, new-wave, underground-pop and new romanticism.
And if the likes of Kate Bush was proving that such new and defiant approaches could sell records via the more traditional model, bands such as The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and even The Birthday Party where the street corner punk hustlers pushing their own, more confrontational but no less beautiful sonic dreams.
And today, the circle has turned and those once lost, sweet sounds are finding their way into modern music once more as musicians discover that same acoustic beauty in the dusty corners of parents record collections and incorporate them into their own musical visions. Torchbearers such as Shameless Promotions gather and collect both new takes on the past as well as bands that have been carrying the flag for all these years. The Veldt’s reverb soaked soul, Ummagma’s chilled delicacy, the cavernous majesty of Tombstones In Their Eyes and Black Needle Noise building music for movies you haven’t dreamt of yet are the centre of that new exclusive universe.
Bands such as Fassine come at these sounds from another angle, one which links chilled ambient dance with futuristic pop, which is both massively commercial yet effortlessly cool, a chart headed Trojan horse to spread subtle influences through a musical charm offensive.
The one advantage of staying close to music for so long is that you get to see a new generation get excited, deconstruct and redefine the sounds that made you fall in love with music in the first place.
This new wave of bands both pull nostalgic heartstrings and point the way towards a bright new dawn and for that I can’t thank them enough.
Any album which bills itself as “music for movies you haven’t dreamt of yet” is going to blip on this dream-poppers radar that’s for sure and not just blip but blip and resonate, shimmer and fade…luckily I have my radar plugged into a Big Muff and reverse reverb pedal for just such an occasion. John Fryer, the man behind the excellently named Black Needle Noise even uses the same hybrid language as me…”grindtronica overtones…ambient black magic….sonic sculptures” I think we are going to get along just fine.
Lost in Reflections is built on shimmering and ethereal pop, familiar yet otherworldly, as if some alien culture has heard our radio waves emanating into the cosmic ether, decided that pop music is our common language and has built this musical package as a way of trying to communicate with us.
It shifts between hazy, smoke–like drifts built more on emotion than musical substance and razor edged gothic drama, it writes scenes and conjures scenarios from very specific places such as “6am in cold Berlin” to dream like, existential journeys. It tempers industrial grind into stark beauty, it layers gossamer thin textures into opaque hues, it matches weight against the wait, the brutal with the beguiling.
But I guess Fryer’s ability to make musical worlds collide and reassemble the smashed pieces into new forms should come as no surprise. As a producer and engineer he has worked with an array of artists from The Cocteau Twins to Nine Inch Nails and alongside 4AD label boss Ivo Watts-Russell founded the in-house collective This Mortal Coil. Lost in Reflections shows that John Fryer is as exploratory and imaginative as he ever was.