Jan 20, 2017

Does Donald Trump listen to music?

Mentioning Donald Trump in my last post stuck in my throat. And my eyes. And my pants. At the time of writing, the only people performing at his inauguration was a boy scout on the spoons and a whistling dog called Rabies.

Trump and music should not go together. His idea of good music is mid-career Oasis, or musicians in dungarees, or everything released in 1951. He never talks about techno or jungle. The only time he puts a donk on it, it's without the donkee's consent.

Alright, Obama wasn't cutting edge. He was cool, but in a mainstream dad way. I reckon he had cassette tapes of Roxette and Lighthouse Family on Air Force One. I've heard he once bought DJ Tiesto's Adagio For Strings on 12-inch and never played it. Perhaps. That's okay: at least he tried.

I'm not sure Trump understands music. I'm not sure Trump understands anything. He's a withered flesh sack flopping from one room to another; a hollow semblence of a human; husk sapien.

I bet the only format Trump's ever owned is mini-disc. And the only thing he ever listens to is the sound of the entropic gas that wheezes out of him every time he sits down: a kind of muddy gasp of exhaled miasma, forever looping in rings around his ears.

Trump couldn't listen to music if he tried: he can only hear himself.

And now this:

Further Fats: The X-Factor and the end-times apocalypse (2004)

Further Fats: In the belly of the beast: a week in Tory politics (2009)

Further Fats: I have just burned down my local NHS hospital while listening to Phil Collins on my walkman (2010)

Jan 18, 2017

Lusine's Just A Cloud is the right level of mangled

I like a bit of vocal manipulation. I like it when someone traps someone’s words in a bucket and pours them into a grinder. I like it when someone shoves their hand down someone’s throat and fashions a wicker chair out of their vocal chords.

Lusine’s back and there’s plenty of voice mangling on new track Just A Cloud. And by mangled, I mean pleasantly chopped up. Not mangled like a sentence spoken by Donald Trump: that’s just someone trying to remember what a dictionary is.

Have an ear-waft. This is from Seattle producer Lusine’s new album Sensorimotor, out on Ghostly International in March.

Further Fats: Word cloud for Fat Roland On Electronica (2010)

Further Fats: I'd advise skipping to reason ten lest you fall asnooze from my word vomming (2012)

Jan 16, 2017

Throwing Snow's new spangly licks

Have a crack at the spangly orchestral funk of Prism by Throwing Snow (below). Go on. Shove it in your ears. Lovely, isn’t it. I want to store it in my freezer to lick when no-one’s looking.

Mr Snow’s real name is the Nathan-Barleyesque Ross Tones. What a silly name. Anyone who has a silly name shouldn’t be trusted with music. You see what I'm doing here? My name is Fat Roland and that was actually a joke about me. This is what proper comedians do. Please put some money in the bucket on your way out, thank you very much.

Tones, as I now like to call him, has worked with Flying Lotus, Bonobo and the Red Bull Music Academy. Red Bull make people fly planes through hula hoops while basejumping. Prism is almost as thrilling as that. Bodes well for Throwing Snow's second album Embers out in a few days.

Further Fats: Wevie Stonder: all the people are fridges; all the food is made of October (2009)

Further Fats: Snurvive the snowpocalypse with snowtronica (2010)

Jan 14, 2017

I can go for The xx's new sound (yes can do)

The clues to The xx's electronic direction were there. Just listen to the Burial vibes of Chained a few years ago.

But their recent single On Hold is almost a club anthem. Almost. The Balearic build-ups are tempered by their melancholic sheen. There's such a spine-tingling ambience about them. Not bad for a track that samples Hall & Oates's I Can't Go For That (No Can Do).

Good old Jamie xx. He gifted us one of the best electronic albums of 2011 and 2012, the best live experience of 2015, and he's now turning his main band into a music factory for proper bangers innit. Largin' it. Sorted. Let's disco.

The album came out this week. Let's see how electronic it is. Meanwhile, here's the On Hold video. It's probably worth considering this NSFW: one of the bright young things has very few clothes on. Less of a new direction, more of a nude direction, amiright?!

Further Fats: Mercury Music Sausages (2010) (in which I replace "xx" with "sausages")

Jan 12, 2017

The KLF will rise again, and they may or may not go "baa"

The KLF have the internet abuzz with rumours of their return, a subject that has been well covered here, here and by Jimmy KLF in this tweet:

The KLF are my favourite pop band. Their so-called stadium house trilogy of What Time Is Love?, 3am Eternal and Last Train To Trancentral set my teenage brain ablaze. Their guerrilla grime. The horned hoods. The mock mythology. Following in the path of Snap!, Adamski and Enigma, it all kind of made sense.

I was too young for Doctorin’ The Tardis several years earlier. I remember seeing a car in the video and deciding it wasn’t as good as KITT from Knight Rider. And by the time they took on America or the time they didn't even offer Tammy Wynette an ice cream, I was less interested. Wasn't 'my' little secret anymore.

However, their greatest success was hardwiring baffling and conflicting codes into my system. Destruction is art, art must be destroyed. Having hit singles is easy: let’s delete all our hit singles. You need pumping beats in your tracks; let's make the albums ambient. We are all bound for mu-mu land, even though that never seemed leave the M25. They were, as the saying goes in this grim north, reet punk.

And oh the questions, the many questions. Why is he in a wheelchair? Is he angle-grinding his guitar? Why is she on a boat? How can time be eternal? Is that a rhino horn? Why is he firing a machine gun on TV?

The barrage of content overload, message upon message, chimed nicely with Zoo TV’s fuzzy postmodernism. Y’know. When U2 were good. The K Foundation, as they became, were much more than a music group. They burned money. They tried to demolish Stonehenge. They made videos, books and art. I still own ten pieces of the $20,000 painting that Bill Drummond sliced up.

This reunion as the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu could be anything. It might not be music. It might be a second Manual. It might be a cube of lager. It might be a dead sheep. Or an alive one, listening to old KLF hits on headphones, confused.

Still. In whatever form, the KLF will rise again. Here they are on Top Of The Pops in their Ancients guise.

Further Fats: Blowin' in the wings: why protest songs should return to centre stage (2009)

Further Fats: I am having a constructive conversation on Youtube about the KLF (2012)

Jan 10, 2017

Hearts - a Fractions short story video

I made a little video about the internet. It's a very short story, or rather, a short story fragment that's maybe been chipped off something bigger. Something unseen. Something very weird.

Fractions is an old video series that I'm rebooting for 2017, because goodness-to-heckery we need creative distractions these days. The new format will feature my cartoons - the kind of scrawly nonsense I've been posting on Instagram.

Click here to watch Hearts, and any of the previous Fractions videos posted over the years. Or by the magic of embedding, viddy the vid below.

Jan 8, 2017

A bite-size look at Bleep's best electronic music tracks of 2016

Every year, the online retailer Bleep sells a package of 100 bestest tracks of the year. It's usually a great big steaming pile of brilliance. Here is a brief peep into that Bleep heap.

Belfast duo Bicep remixed 808 State's top ten classic In Yer Face. Bicep also co-run a record label. Do you know what it's called? Feel My Bicep. Good job Willie Nelson never set up a similar label, eh? Arf.

Ben Lukas Boysen turned out a blissful opus called Nocturne 4. It's mixed by labelmate Nils Frahm, the bloke from nonkeen who's worked with Ólafur Arnalds from Kiasmos. In other words, we're in heart-breaking classical territory here.

House DJ Midland recently won Pete Tong's Essential Mix of the Year, so he's got an embarrassment of riches right now. Makes sense then this track, debuted at Boiler Room, is called Blush. Nice fat synths.

And finally, the one and only Boards of Canada remixed Sisters by cLOUDDEAD's Odd Nosdam. BoC are usually chilled, but this is a different flavour of chilled: more heavenly and glisten-like thanks to the original's choir vibes.

'Feel My Willie.' It was a dong joke. Oh never mind. Enjoyed these four tracks? Loads more where that came from. Grab yourself Bleep's excellent top 100 tracks of 2016 here.

Further Fats: Ten plaudits Bleeping (2010)

Jan 6, 2017

How you can help Electronic Sound magazine get even better in 2017

Here is a list of words I recently submitted for publication in Electronic Sound: trousers; hedge; steaming; molested; bile; gush.

Writing for Electronic Sound is a blast. Writing about music generally is a blast. But writing for Electronic Sound is a particularly blasty kind of blast.

You can now get involved in Electronic Sound and its creator Pam Communications by investing some cash. You can bung in a tenner. Or if you've had a string of hit singles and own a duplex in Ibiza, throw them ten grand.

The ES bunnies are top people who deserve support. The magazine is tastier than a sack of carrots, and they've worked their paws off (really going for the bunny thing here) to get it stocked in WH Smith and Sainsbury's.

The writing's excellent, their editorial control is as professional as heck, and the design is truly stunning. Blimey, it's one of the reasons why I've embraced yellow on this website. ES is rewiring the way independent magazines plug into a modern world, and they've got solid plans to expand and take over the universe. They've even got a sentient robot.

I'm biased, of course. They print my column. But that also means you're investing in me too, sort of.

New year's resolution. Support an amazing electronic music magazine. It's worth a tenner, right? Here's the Electronic Sound investment page - don't delay.

And now: here are two famous people holding the magazine that features the other one as cover star. They've both done songs with cars in.

Further Fats: This stint in Independent shall be (2013)

Further Fats: some words what I wrote for Electronic Sound (2015)

Jan 4, 2017

Keeping an eye on Roland-twiddler Lorenzo Senni

I'm named after a Roland JP-800. Twiddly knobby keyboard, all lovely and blue. And I've just found out one of my favourite miminalist techno tracks, Windows Of Vulnerability by Lorenzo Senni, was composed entirely on the JP-8000.

What's he up to these days? Milan-based rave-mangler Lorenzo recently dropped his debut EP on Warp Records. It's called Persona uses all sorts of other sounds. I suppose I'm going to have to name myself after all his other keyboards now? Fat Korg. Fat Yamaha. Fat Casio?

Win In The Flat World, below, is on the EP. It's full of melodramatic bombast filtered through the smallest Gameboy in the world. Amazing what you can do without a drum track too.

Further Fats: Confusion in our eyes that says it all - we've lost Control (well, almost) (2008)

Further Fats: Chosen Words: E is for Ecstacy (2010)

Jan 2, 2017

Charts in crisis: here's why there are so few number one singles

There are no more UK number one singles left.

In 2016, there were only 11 UK number one singles. This equals the lowest record set in 1954 when Doris Day and Yorkshire warbler David Whitfield dominated the charts.

This is a huge drop off considering 2014 had 38 chart toppers. If this trend continues, in 2017 there will be -2 chart toppers. That's right. We'll go into the minuses. If they do another Top Of The Pops, it will simply be a video of antimatter.

To demonstrate this alarming statistic, I've made a graphic (above). This shows the number of separate number one singles over the past decade expressed in sizes of Drake. Drake is not a duck: he is a hugely successful music artist who enjoyed 15 weeks at number one last year. Drake should be used in all bar charts.

There can be only one explanation. It's upsetting, but I don't want to hide the truth from you.

ALL THE MUSIC STARS ARE DEAD. Let's face it: all the celebrities popped the bucket in 2016. Kicked their clogs. Maybe there was no-one left to have number one singles.

No, wait, hold on. That's not right.

The actual answer seems to be volume of weekly sales. There are two clues. 1992 and 2007.

In 1992, the year of Ebeneezer Goode (pictured) and Rhythm Is A Dancer, single sales tanked. There were only 12 number one singles that year. Likewise, in 2007, the CD collapsed as a format and single sales again fell: you could top the chart with a fraction of what you needed just a few years earlier. And as you can see in the chart above, in 2007 there were relatively few number ones.

By contrast, the measuring of downloads and streams saw single sales rocket at the start of this decade. So the opposite trend happened: as sales increased, we saw a big increase in the quantity of chart toppers in any one year.

Seems odd?

Nope. It's mathematics in action. Low weekly sales means a single's chart run is exhausted slowly. The songs then stick around like musical farts. Conversely, high weekly sales sees their sales potential exhausted in no time at all. Sometimes after just one week. Theoretically, a track with 200,000 sales could spend one week at number one in 2013 - or ten weeks at number one in 2007.

Which also reveals something else quite sobering.

There are certain totems that stick around at number one forever. In 1992, Whitney Houston spent 10 weeks at number one. In 2007, Rihanna spent 10 weeks at number one. In 2016, Drake spent 15 weeks at number one.

Notice something about those years? I bet the same is true for Bryan Adams and Wet Wet Wet too. Record-breaking chart toppers? Or merely mathematical musical farts?

Footnote: This is based on a theory once posited by James Masterton. Although the fart metaphor is my own, as is much of this analysis. Tell others: please tweet this article using the hashtag #musicalfarts.

If all that has left your head exploding, here's an old tune to lighten things up.

Further Fats: It's not a pie chart but I called it a Bri Chart because that was the only pun I could think of (2008)

Further Fats: Whatever happened to the cheeky New Year number one? (2013)

Dec 31, 2016

Best electronic albums of 2016: one

Thanks for reading this albums list, if indeed you've been following it so far. I guess I now know what the week after Christmas is for. Four days of solid blogging. And it's all been leading to this: the best electronic album of 2016 according to me.

1 – Bwana – Capsule's Pride (LuckyMe)

"What the hell is this?" this album asks of itself 1 minute 32 seconds into The Colonel's Mistake, The Scientist's Regret.

It's a remix. Of a soundtrack. Of a manga classic. At number one.

Why would you use a cheesy English dub of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira movie for your remix album? Because awkward works. When the soundtrack was released on vinyl, Canadian Berliner Nathan 'Bwana' Micay shoved the whole thing through an Ableton mincer. What he produced was astonishing.

Capsule's Pride could have been a straight tribute album. A tribal Kaneda's theme set to a techno beat, perhaps. But Bwana rebuilt everything from the ground up. Things are chopped, accelerated, reverbed.

So Kaneda's theme becomes a snappy melodic pulse following its own tune. The corny "it's the cops! what shall we do?" dialogue from the bike chase scene morphs into a tense climactic moment in the addictive title track.

In one sense, this is a 1990s-infused house music album through-and-through. However, Bwana's liberal use of samples and melodic themes from an idiosyncratic source is so judiciously targeted that he builds a complete new world. A gawky world where you're never far away from someone shouting "Kaneda!" or "Ah! Ki! Ra!" to remind you where you are. It's wonderful.

This swings from ambient noir to dancefloor brilliance. I've never known the energy of manga expressed this way before. I'm not especially a fan of anime. And that's the genius of Capsule's Pride: since this was released free via a brilliant microsite (try it on your mobile), I feel I've got to know Tetsuo and his universe. I'm almost longing for World War III, dystopian governance and being ambushed by Clowns.

Speaking of which, here's to 2017. Arf! See what I did there? It's funny because it's true. Sigh.

Thanks for reading my website this year. It's been a relaunch of sorts: follow me on Twitter for more updates. I appreciate you lending me your eyes in 2016. Sorry, you're not getting them back.

Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.

Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2016: two

2 – Plaid – The Digging Remedy (Warp Records)

I was the first person to review the new Plaid album, right here on this very website. Well, sort of. It was more of a guarded comment so I didn't spoil my full review in issue 21 of Electronic Sound - in which I lauded the work having "more hooks than an angler’s tool box". Still, the Plaid chaps noticed.

Bless their, er, plaid socks. The Digging Remedy is more accessible than most of their previous 11 albums. The scratchiness is still there, as are their trademark chord sequences. You can recognise Plaid's sound a mile off. But it's smoothed out, all guitar-glistened and melodic. This is Plaid at their cheeriest, yet still, closer Wen made me well up.

To be truly understood, Plaid have to be seen live. At their Manchester gig earlier this year (pictured above), they became the absence of triangles in one of the cleverest visual set-ups I've seen for a while. As they were in the middle of their cute-as-a-button Melifer, the bloke next to me exclaimed "I didn't know they did songs like THIS."

"THIS" being an older Plaid, more thoughtful, but still willing to kick it out of the park with the towering Yu Mountain and the trippy confidence of CLOCK. This album was my companion throughout my short Edinburgh Fringe run. A proper friend. And their best album since their early days.

Stream Do Matter here.

Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.

A final bunch of also-rans: all the way from Aa to Zomby

Before I reveal the toppest top albums atop the album top table, here are a final few names that didn't make the top 20 but are well worth a mention.

Baauer fiiiiinally dropped a debut album: Aa (LuckyMe) was full of scrunchy bangers to shake yer Harlems and much more besides. A grimier, stronger brother to that album is Skepta's Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know), with Novelist guesting on both those albums. Incidentally, this is not a hip hop list, but while we're on an MC tip, get yourself And The Anonymous Nobody by De La Soul (AOI Records).

Machinedrum bogged off to California to turn out his poppiest long-player yet, Human Energy (Ninja Tune). The rambling Callus (Warp Records) saw Gonjasufi in as psychedelic a mood as ever before. DJ Earl brought in Oneohtrix Point Never for his delightfully dizzying footwork experiment Open Your Eyes (Teklife). And Mala took in some Peruvian inspiration (and panpipes) for the bass-heavy and beguiling Mirrors (Brownswood Recordings). I was less convinced by Zomby's Ultra (Hyperdub) which seemed to float by unnoticed.

On EARS (Western Vinyl), Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith did some wonderful things with voice on an unusual and captivating album. These Hidden Hands did some weird things to my brain on the woozy and surreal Vicarious Memories (Hidden Hundred). Lakker did strange, dark things on the theme of water with Struggle & Emerge (R&S Records). And finally, Matmos did some unspeakable things to a washing machine on Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey). No really. The whole album is constructed from washing machine samples.

That's the last of the rejects. Over 100 albums mentioned... and just two to go in the final top 20 countdown. Coming up: a big number two followed by a big number one. You'll enjoy that, won't you? You disgust me.

Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.

Dec 30, 2016

Best electronic albums of 2016: three

3 – Moderat – III (Monkeytown Records)

All the best things come in threes: magic numbers, Christmas ghosts, wishes, world wars. The completion of Apparat and Modeselektor’s Moderat studio album trilogy has led to their best work yet for Monkeytown: tune after tune after tune.

If III lacks the depth of II, it’s because they’ve gone for the pop hits. But what hits, so richly produced. The epic breaks of Reminder. The gleaming house of Running. The tragic melancholy of the xx-inflected The Fool. If the chart sounded like this all the time, I’d retract my Bruno Brookes comments.

Yes, it’s bombastic. Yearning. It’s the most unsubtle of the three; the one with the Ewoks. Cor, I'm really damning with faint praise here. At least I'm not still likening them to Steps. But you mark my words: the techniques that make this album so stellar will be cookie-cuttered by producers for years to come. A spellbinding listen start to finish. Three out of three.

Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2016: four

4 – Slam – Machine Cut Noise (Soma)

All Slam albums are techno, but some Slam albums are more techno than others. It’s easy to forget Slam used to be a vocal band. Cue memories of Dot Allison’s floaty vocals. Not so here. Machine Cut Noise is an insane assault of planet-sized sonic weaponry.

Each track is unrelenting in its Orwellian disregard of anything approaching humanity. There is no escape from the thundering bass drums, the ominous synths, the hissing snares. I joked in November about a Slam Tent. It’s not a tent. It’s a prison.

Yet, it’s also hypnotising. Liberating. Even exhilarating. It might be Stockholm Syndrome, but you will lose yourself in the metronomic majesty of Slam’s most impressive album yet. If you want a vision of Machine Cut Noise, imagine a bass drum stamping on your face forever. But in a good way.

Scroll all of the best 2016 electronic albums by clicking here.