Wednesday, 25 January 2012



What a year, what a year. For many, 2011 will live in infamy, between heart-breaking scenes of earthquakes in Japan and mass slaughter in Norway. In the UK, a barely-elected coalition of venal Tories and supine Liberal Democrats are taking the knife to the public sector, using the country's deficit to justify ideologically-driven attack on housing benefits, disability allowance, welfare and the National Health Service; whilst all the while ignoring the massive bonuses the execs of state-owned banks are paying themselves, or the way billionaires and corporations continue to worm their way out of tax. Oh, and our prime minister and the likes of Teresa May have also thrown in long-discredited pernicious myths about immigrants, diversity and human rights for good measure. Nice.

2012 at least brings with it the promise of a London-based mega-party, in the form of the Summer Olympics, but we'll still be cursed with the unedifying spectacle of the US presedential elections and Boris Johnson's campaign to remain mayor of London. But, as I said in 2010, at least we have the arts, even if Cameron has once again demonstrated his cluelessness by declaring that film funding should go towards "commercially-viable" projects. So stupid, it doesn't deserve an answer, although here's a pretty good one:

There were a number of great musical events for me in 2011, most of all the launch of my music journalism "career", which has featured, notably, interviews with Skullflower's Matt Bower (, Ramleh (TBA), Philip Jeck (, Arabrot (, Eyvind Kang (TBA), legendary director John Carpenter ( and Richard Buckner ( I also got to review tons of albums, from modern composition to techno, harsh noise to pop, drone to country; and meet the likes of Richard Youngs, Romain Perrot (Vomir), Richard Ramirez (Werewolf Jerusalem), William Bennett, Tony Conrad and Luke Younger. Drinking beers with Bennett whilst discussing the limitations of watching porn on dial-up internet was one of the weirdest experiences of my life!

Meanwhile, my radio show Noise in the Ether gathers strength, and has both a Mixcloud page and a space on Facebook. Get in touch!

I've also enjoyed a number of films over the last twelve months, from the sweeping ambition of Tree of Life (Terence Malick) to the intimate gay romance Weekend by Andrew Haigh. Re-discovering Bunuel's surrealist masterpiece L'Age D'Or, as well as the experimental short films of Jeff Keen and Stan Brakhage was a further delight, and further proof that film can be a forward-thinking and ambitious form of artistic expression. As for Jaromil Jireš' Valerie and Her Weekend of Wonders, it may just be the best cinematographic discovery I made all year (along with The Werckmeister Harmonies, The Killer of Sheep, Ivul and Tropical Malady of course! I never change).

Before I go, I must give a massive shout out to The Saatchi Gallery for continuing to exhibit Richard Wilson's majestic minimalist piece 20:50 (if you haven't seen it, what the fuck are you waiting for?), to Hofesh Shechter and Antony Gormley for their magnificent concert-cum-performance piece-cum-ballet Survivor at The Barbican (read my review here) and to those great men and women of jazz who gave us masterpieces like Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, Archie Shepp's Blase, Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures, Last Exit's Koln, Bill Evans' Sunday at the Village Vanguard and The Spontaneous Music Ensemble's Karyobin. Not to mention the entire works of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Albert Ayler! As you can gather, I've been gleefully over-dosing on jazz recently! It really is a genre that blows away the gate of perception in ways The Doors could never have dreamed of.

Below is my list of the top 20 albums of 2011. Special mention must also go out to Visible Breath by Eyvind Kang and the re-released Aestuarium he recorded with his wife Jessika Kenney; to Re: ECM by Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer; Richard Buckner's Our Blood; the excellent post-techno albums by Dalglish (Benacah Drann Deachd) and Martyn (Ghost People); and oddball releases by Deadbeat (Drawn and Quartered), Annapurna Illusion (Life Is An Illusion), Helm (Cryptography) and Hive Mind (Elemental Disgrace). 2011 was a great year for music, and long may it continue!


The Fall

Ersatz G.B.
(Cherry Red)
The hardest-hitting Fall album since the early 1980s may also be their best in a decade. Mark E. Smith is in fine snarling form, whilst his vicious backing band channel The Stooges, Black Sabbath, krautrock and a bit of rockabilly to perfection. Long live The Fall.


Red Horse

Red Horse
Rambunctious, in-your-face jazz percussion descended from the school of Han Bennink is married to squalling noise on this brazen duo’s second self-titled album. A triumph of raucousness mixed with unexpected subtlety.

Pinch & Shackleton

Pinch & Shackleton
(Honest Jon’s)
Two stalwarts of the U.K. dubstep scene combine to remind us just how great the genre can be, especially when it delves into darkly urban atmospheres and restrained, hypnotic melodies. Far from the brash technicolor vistas of the current scene, Pinch & Shackleton is stripped-down, ghostly and edgy, and is all the better for it.


Trowo Phurnag Ceremony
(Ideologic Organ)
Huge kudos to Stephen O’Malley for resurrecting this forgotten masterpiece of subterranean pre-Buddhist vocal drone. So dark and murky it could have been recorded at the bottom of a well, Trowo Phurnag Ceremony sounds like nothing else released this year.

Bill Orcutt

How The Thing Sings(Editions Mego)
Bill Orcutt’s solo work may be anchored in the blues, but its ferocious, unfettered intensity owes just as much to his background in hardcore noise rock. The inchoate vocals and machine gun acoustic guitar playing are exhilarating and exhausting.

Alva Noto

Thoughtful electronic music at its best. Carsten Nicolai explores the juxtaposition and integration of techno beats with the universality of language, and how that impacts musicality and communication. It’s a cold, calculating project but (and this is key) univrs also packs some serious melodic punch.

Indignant Senility

Consecration of the Whipstain
Type Records continue to explore the darkest reaches of the human soul with this second album from Pat Maherr’s Indignant Senility project. Unfathomable sounds drift in and out of the soundscape, from intense drones, frightening samples, drifting melodic snippets and the omnipresent crackle of morose, broken-down vinyl. If you thought hypnagogic pop was getting twee, check out Consecration of the Whipstain.


Floating Frequencies / Intuitive Synthesis
The mysterious Eleh reworked his/her/their earliest vinyl pieces for the digital age, resulting in a titanic triple album of deep electronic drone, the kind that insinuates itself into every nook and cranny of the listener’s perception. Eleh’s music takes patience, but rewards it with music that will swallow you whole.


Application à aphistemi
(Maison Bruit)
Vomir is quickly becoming a giant in the noise world through his intransigent approach to harsh noise walls. Application à aphistemi sees him break new ground, using a 12-string acoustic guitar on one track to create a fascinating widescreen wall of fierce drone. Meanwhile, the other track is trademark Vomir harshness, a brutal waterfall of overwhelming mulch.

Richard Youngs

Amplifying Host
The prolific Scotsman maintains his remarkable form of late on yet another album of glorious, haunting folk. His looped, echoing vocal is drenched in emotion, whilst his delicate guitar playing juxtaposes inventive style with gorgeous melodies. His best album since Sapphie.


Fucked on a Pile of Corpses
(Cold Spring)
Never anything less than brilliant, Matt Bower’s Skullflower project continues to push back the boundaries of noise and metal. Fucked on a Pile of Corpses is the band’s most extreme album in years, overflowing with crunching power electronics, transcendent wall noise and black metal-derived monster riffs.


(Planet Mu)
Kuedo’s Jamie Teasdale transcends his dubstep roots to deliver a rapturous, hypnotic album of escapist futurism in electronic form, one that runs the gamut from Chicago house to trance-like synth music, via delirious coke rap-inspired beats and throbbing bass lines.


Hold Everything Dear
(Editions Mego)
Since the ‘80s, Gordon Sharpe’s Cindytalk has been operating in the shadows of British popular music, from moody goth to adventurous electronica, but the trio of muted, thoughtful electronic albums released over the last few years on Editions Mego represent the summit of Sharpe’s unique vision, with Hold Everything Dear standing as its triumphant conclusion.

Surface of the Earth

Surface of the Earth
The best reissue of 2011. Surface of the Earth were a short-lived New Zealand act, and this, their second album, is an unrelenting masterpiece of clanking, thundering industrial drone, all performed on overdriven, mangled guitars. Dead C fans take notice.


Werewolf Jerusalem

Confessions of a Sex Maniac
(Second Layer)
Veteran noise legend Richard Ramirez delivers the ultimate statement in the harsh noise walls genre over four discs of brutal, overwhelming and unexpectedly haunting layers of unrelenting noise.

Demdike Stare

(Modern Love)
Essential triple album compiling the British duo’s three outstanding and ground-breaking 2010 LPs. Few bands are as adept as Demdike Stare in the creation of tense, mesmerising and atmospheric sample-based electronica.

Pete Swanson

Man With Potential
For those of us who have been lamenting the demise of Yellow Swans, the emergence of Pete Swanson as a vital solo act has been a godsend. On Man With Potential, he takes the noisy drone central to YS’ aesthetic and marries it to warped techno beats, creating a furious strand of pulsating, noisy electronica.

Leyland Kirby

Eager to Tear Apart the Stars
(History Always Favours The Winner)
There may be something simple in the heartfelt emotions explored in Leyland Kirby’s music, but that doesn’t stop it from being overwhelmingly powerful and resonant. Extended piano melodies drift in and out of clouds of drone, capturing the heart and stirring the soul.

Cut Hands
Afro Noise Vol.1
(Susan Lawley)
Erstwhile power electronics legend, and supreme provocateur William Bennett breaks new ground with his Cut Hands project, creating a form of harsh mutant techno using a mixture of industrial noise and African percussion. One of the most ferociously challenging and weirdly sexy albums of the year.

Ellen Fullman

Through Glass Panes
Through Glass Panes approaches minimalism via the dusty sound of American Primitive music. Intense, drawn-out drones tug at the mind’s eye, eliciting dreams of endless prairies and forgotten landscapes. Fullman’s emotive use of long string instruments brings new depths to the minimalism of LaMonte Young, Pauline Oliveros and Tony Conrad.