Dec 31, 2015

Best electronic albums of 2015: one



The road up until this point is a painful one. A story of my own failure. In 2010, I failed to give Luke Abbott the album of the year despite it clearly being the album that most moved me and made me trill with excitement for the future of music. In 2014, I yet again let my head rule my heart and I relegated Clark and Kiasmos despite either one deserving the number one position. The road up until this point is, frankly, a shambles.

In 2015, right here, right now, I will atone for my mistakes by making an utterly heart-felt decision. This year’s number one album is the one that thrilled me, that sent my belly a-quiver, that made me do a little poop in my head with terror: this year’s number one album is Dumb Flesh by Blanck Mass.

1 – Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones Records)

Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Power from F*ck Buttons (excuse the blog filter asterisk) and this does indeed sound like a development of their Slow Focus album. Dumb Flesh starts with the loping reversed vocal of Loam before exploding into the throbbing electro workout of Dead Format, complete with hand-clap snares. We're talking full-on overblown. No Lite is more careful to begin with, stacking things up over a ten minute period as it peaks in bleeping triumph as the beat refuses to relent.

The first twenty minutes done, with the listener exhausted, the album tones things down. The toe-tapping Atrophies follows a simple theme: slow and considered. The moody Cruel Sport can't hold it in though, and it allows in the epic chords that greeted us earlier in the album: a central theme that makes Dumb Flesh greater than the sum of its fatty parts.

Double Cross is almost electro-pop, and even allows for a cheery fourth-bar snare fill. As with Atrophies, Lung allows for some breathing space (sorry) and a little creepy groaning for good measure. And then the final ten minutes: their masterpiece Detritus. We start amid scraping white noise that seems to last forever, and then... and then, swooping from the darkest recesses, the anthemnic organ-crashing ending promised by so much by that which came before.

The industrial Front 242-isms referenced throughout are a little before my time: I can see why fellow journos a bit older than me are frothing at their mouths at this. But it has split opinion too, proving a little too one-note for many. The Observer said these "bombastic modular synth symphonies owes more to Queen’s One Vision than it does to Kraftwerk’s Man Machine.” The Observer are idiots.

What I hear in Dumb Flesh is a glorious energy, a broad-strokes sound that takes some getting used to, and the one album I have returned to most in 2015. I said this would be a heart-over-head decision, but maybe more than anything else, this is a head-trip: a body-physical album that leaves your emotions tearing along a few desperate steps behind.

Thanks for reading my blog in 2015. Eleven years and counting. See the whole of this year's top ten, as ever, by clicking this magic link - and below that, Dead Format:

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Best electronic albums of 2015: giant killer

Thanks for reading my top ten list this year. Almost done. I know it's annoying doing individual blog posts, but you can look at the whole lot so far with one click:

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Here are the last bucket of albums that got thrown in a skip instead of comprising my final top ten. The last of the rejects. And there are a few giants I'm about to kill...

Hey! It's the Prodge! The Day Is My Enemy added an urban element to their ageing agitation: just more of the same, really, but quite fun. RP Boo was as lively as ever on Fingers, Bank Pads & Shoe Prints (Planet Mu), and perhaps a little darker. I'm afraid I've not had chance to give Grimes' Art Angel (4AD) the attention it deserves, although I've loved the bits I've heard. And Venetian Snares' reliably hardcore Your Face (Planet Mu) had some of his best moments for ages.

Hunee's Hunch Music (Rush Hour Recordings) took electro and soul and bit it into house-size chunks. Howling's Sacred Ground (Monkeytown Records) placed delicate folk melodies over precise electronics - not necessarily a winner for me - while there were some chilled electronics worthy of your attention on Lapalux's Lustmore (Brainfeeder).

Vito Ricci gave us I Was Crossing A Bridge (Music From Memory), a compilation of future-minded 1980s artistry, including the beautifully twisted disco of I'm At That Party Right Now. Scratchy Munich drum experiments was the order of the day on Zenker Brothers' Immersion (Music From Memory). I didn't much like the commercial house of BOOF's The Hydrangeas Whisper (Running Back). And the final sounds of this section are angry noise from Kerridge's Always Offended Never Ashamed (Contort Records) and broken mechanics from M.E.S.H.'s Piteous Gate (Pan).

Edit: Lorn's dropped Vessel yesterday - way too late to give it any consideration. Consider this a free pass into next year's list.

So that's it. Who's left? Can you guess. I'm proud of this number one. It's an album that moved me - perhaps physically more than emotionally. One more blog post to come: my favourite album of the year...

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Best electronic albums of 2015: two


2 – Jamie xx – In Colour (Young Turks)

At some point soon, Jamie xx is going to produce the Kooks covers album that’s going to ruin his career, but right now he’s just completed a perfect hat trick. His debut as The xx, his brilliant Gil Scott-Heron remix, and now this.

Almost everything on In Colour could be a hit single. Here are the tracks in order: a crowd-pleasing synth ecstasy, a brisk house head-nodder, a spacious and haunting breakbeat track, steel drums with a smile, a suspenseful filler, a proper ace builder of a pop track, an all-out club banger, a smooth soul anthem, something that sounds like Black Eyed Peas, a whole heap of swirling sadness and a filmic closer that seems to tie the whole thing together.

Admittedly he doesn’t break new ground, and there’ll be a whole load of balding paper-shufflers buying a CD to put on their coffee table or their tablet computer or whatever it is people put coffee on these days.

But if you skip the Black Eyes Peas one, this is as perfect as it gets: the sound of a producer grabbing the past five years of electronic music and presenting it to us neatly wrapped and bowed. I score this xx out of xx. See what I did there? Cheers, thanks.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: sorry I broke your lantern

Another quick break to look at EVEN MORE also-rans in this year's countdown of best electronic goodness of 2015.

We're back in techno territory and OOOOOH boy, I'm excluding some good people here. I'm gutted not to be including Hudson Mohawke's Lantern (Warp): it really was close. Scud Books was my favourite track this year and there was so much to love about the album. In fact, stop what you're doing and enjoy the low-fi pomp of this:


Good, right? What do you mean you prefer Adele. Pfft.

Becoming Real's Pure Apparition (Transgressive) didn't make it either despite Bleach sending shivers up my crumbling spine. Helena Hauff's Discreet Desires (Werkdiscs) made good work from dirty, retro electro, while there was a welcome return of Pole and the pleasingly detailed and difficult Wald (Pole).

I liked the early morning techno feel of Anthony Naples's Body Pill (Text Records), while at the other end of the spectrum, John T Gast's debut Excerpts (Planet Mu) was as disaffecting and moody as you'd expect.

The dense, brutal techno of XOSAR's Let Go (Black Opal) was engrossing, while on my notes for RAMZi's Houti Kush (1080p), I've just written "odd fauna". Post Scriptum's Post Scriptum 01 (Infrastructure) felt suitable alien - and that's it for now.

The second best album of 2015 awaits, followed by some final also-rans, and then THE best album of 2015. Fact. Not my opinion. FACT. Stay tuned if you know what's good for you.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: three


3 – Holly Herndon – Platform (4AD)

Holly Herndon destroyed music in 2015. She picked it up by earlobes and broke its face off. She then picked the fragments off the muddy floor then polished them up into a towering audio sculpture so astonishing, there is, was and will never be nothing like it again.

This is Platform, a sequence of ten tracks that takes in surveillance, synthesis, pop music and Autechisms (yeah, that’s a word now). It’s so far removed from the hackneyed phrases of popular EDM that this has become an album that – emphasis with a capital N – Needs to exist.

Amid all the ethereal abstraction, you wouldn't expect Chorus to actually have a chorus, you wouldn't expect Locker Leak to end up being her version of Everyone's Free (To Wear Sunscreen), and the opening horror of New Ways To Love suprises when it turns out to be a gateway to what might be a dungeon of choristers.

For something so alien, it doesn’t half stick in your mind after listening. Everything's broken and I think I like it.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: also-ran all-sorts

We're well past the half-way point now. Come on. You can do it. Here, have a sponge soaked in vinegar. Wait. That's not vinegar. Don't eat that sp-- oh too late. I'm not kissing you after that.

Here are some more also-rans: a real mixed bag this time.

Lnrdcroy's Much Less Normal (Firecracker) was a 2014 limited release given new lease of life this year on vinyl, and it was full of electronic earworms; a woozy mix indeed. Then there was... deep breath... in no particular order:

Beat Spacek's soulful Modern Streets (Ninja Tune) was, of course, Steve Spacek. Disclosure's chart-busting Caracal (PMR Records) was okay for singles but I'm never that fussed for full albums of that stuff. Darkstar's Foam Island (Warp Records) was just a bit too pop for my tastes. Steve Reich fans could do well to check out the freeform minimalism of Dawn Of Midi's Dysnomia (Erased Tapes). Two albums put Buchlas back on the map: Charles Cohen's Brother I Prove You Wrong (Morphine Records), which sometimes came across as a soundtrack for Star Wars droids, and Frank Bretschneider's Sinn + Form (raster-noton) which had some nice waveform-wobbling static.

And finally for this mixed bag, Panda Bear's Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper was melodic, Future Brown's Future Brown (Warp Records) plopped some fairly pleasurable dancehall and autotune into my ears, FIS's The Blue Quicksand Is Going Now (Loopy) was crazy and noisesome, and Dasha Rush's Sleepstep (raster-noton) had, among its dark electrics, playful ambience and poetry.

When will the top ten return? Oh when? Very shortly, of course. Expect us to reach the number one at about 6.20pm.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: four


4 – Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden of Delete (Warp)

The best producers suck in disparate music genres and blurt out a complete vision – take Flying Lotus as an example. Within two minutes of GOD, you can hear 80s soft rock, footwork, soul vocals and epic prog electro. Full of surprises and yet coherent throughout.

This magpie mentality persists throughout: cheesy pop vox on Sticky Drama, pastoral ambience on Child Of Rage, epic EDM anthemming on I Bite Through It. The latter track soon fractals into all sorts of noise – few other people could get away with one second of thrash guitar twenty seconds before the end of a track.

I’ve always respected Oneohtrix in the past, but never fully connected. Perhaps there’s something about GOD that’s more immediate, more logical amid the perplexing palette on offer here. There are moments of beauty and beastliness – just listen to how Mutant Standard breaks down then resolves, or the malevolent yet moving mash-up of Freaky Eyes.

I’m not sure where OPN is leading us, but I'm a convert: he can blurt in my face anytime.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: house for sale

Another brief respite from the top ten shenanigans as I look at some house music that didn't get through to the final stages. Roll up, roll up, all this house music is going for a song. Half a monkey to the weirdo in the tank top, deal done, sorted, job's a good 'un.

It was nice to see Four Tet produce something so different with the Hindustani-themed Morning / Evening (Text) alongside his usual excellent fayre on Percussions - 2011 Until 2014 (Text Records). There wasn't much better in 2015 house music than Matrixxman's Homesick (Ghostly International) with is rich, developing minimalist themes. I was quite bewitched by Neu Balance's warm Rubber Sole (1080p), a curiously microscopic long-player of vocal blurts and dancefloor friendly mid-tempo rhythms.

Hat doff too for a whole load of sampletastic disco Vibert-style on Kerrier District's 4 (Hypercolour), and to the punchy offering on John Tejada's Signs Under Test (Kompakt) which felt like a fuller, more analogue Pantha Du Prince. Romare's Projections (Ninja Tune) was quite a neat release that gained some rave reviews, and the Hauntologists' Hauntologists (Modular Cowboy / Honest Jon's Records) had some delightful bitty house and fussy minimalism that felt like a close relation to Factory Floor.

So much house music. Surgeon's pounding Tresor '97 - '99 (Tresor) really did feel like the best of 90s techno, while it was fun watching Model 500 's Digital Solutions (Metroplex) express all that is Detroit in 2015. Pearson Sound's eponymous album (Hessle Audio) was a huge debut this year, although nothing on it matched Untitled for me. Finally, all hail the power techno on Head High's Home. House. Hardcore. (Power House) and the rediscovered space disco on Bjørn Torske's Nedi Myra and Trøbbel (Smalltown Supersound). Phew.

Back to the top ten shortly, I promise. If you're behind with all of this, catch up on the link below. Can you guess what the number one might be?

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Best electronic albums of 2015: five


5 – Bjork – Vulnicura (One Little Indian)

How I hated Oh So Quiet. “How kooky” everyone exclaimed as I bit my lip and gnashed my teeth. Bjork was always much more than “kooky”, expressing depths in ways that left your garde well and truly avanted.

Vulcinura is a return to form, but only in the way that one grades good and “bad” Coen Brothers films. The presence of Arca, featured elsewhere in this top ten, could have made this a clinical exercise in weirdness, but Bjork allows us to “explore the negative space” (Mouth Mantra) in a personal way I’ve not seen for a while. This meant to be Bjork’s relationship breakup album, and a sense of loss is drizzled throughout: not only her own pain, but for me it also recalled memories of her work with Mark Bell.

There are no singles here, but plenty of highlights. Lionsong has a naive simplicity that wouldn’t be out of place on debut. Stonemilker is a gorgeous rhapsody and a downright earworm. Black Lake gives us a spine-tingling ten minutes: the themes suspend and resolve yet never lose us – a microcosm of the album itself.

Vulnicura’s great. She really likes albums beginning with V, doesn’t she? How “kooky”.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: putting the No into Nozinja?

If you're just looking at a single blog post right now, you can expand this whole best-albums series into one long stream by clicking here:

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And now a whole bunch of more also-rans, starting with the amazing Nozinja. Do check his album out: it's an absolute joy. The lo-fi and addictive Shangaan electro of Nozinja's Nozinja Lodge (Warp Records) marked him out as one of the most entertaining musicians of our times. Just not enough for this top ten. Sorry, Nozy.

I loved Wenu Wenu, and I wasn't disappointed to find more of the same on Omar Souleyman's follow-up Bahdeni Nami (Monkeytown Records). There was much to appreciate in Jaga Jazzist's Starfire (Ninja Tune), while if you've got the taste for it, try the cheese on Dâm-Funk's Invite The Light (Stones Throw).

And there's more. Flanger's just-okay sometimes-jazzy brilliantly-named Lollopy Dripper (Nonplace), The Chemical Brothers' Born In The Echoes (Virgin Records) which just felt like old work reheated, Russell Haswell's mind-smashing but alienating As Sure As Night Follows Day (Diagonal), Colleen's bold Captain Of None (Thrill Jockey), a perfectly worthwhile Battles' La Di Da Di (Warp) and an avalanche of mouth harp on Donato Dozzy's The Loud Silence (Further Records). Not all bad, just not in my top ten - which continues in a few shakes of a gnat's nose.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: six



6 – Jlin – Dark Energy (Planet Mu) 

Jlin's Dark Energy is a strange beast. So is most modern footwork. Expect staccato drum sequences and plenty of drilling repetition and

brief

stop-starts

like this like this like this like this like this.

Fellow footworker RP Boo often goes for sonic power with his vocal iterations, but there’s something different at work here. Listen to the brooding scrapes of Ra, the alarmed intensity of Expand or the brilliant and almost adolescent refrain on Guantanamo of “you don’t wanna hurt anyone... but I do, and I’m sorry”. This would be an exercise in clinical cut-and-paste, but Jlin manages to make footwork sound human, albeit in a way that is brusque and as moody as hell.

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” shouts Abnormal Restriction, the final track on Jlin’s debut for Planet Mu.  Somewhere amid the Eastern woodpecker calls on Unknown Tongues or the micro squeak refrain on Black Diamond that would normally have you sending off your Nintendo for repair, a realisation dawns: this is the most appropriately-titled album in this year's top ten. And what energy.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: making a Natureboy cry

Time for a dip into the 91 albums that didn't make the final top ten.

I apologise. Most of these are great, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Here are some good solid techno long-players that I sent off to bed without any supper.

It was a very close-run thing with Flako's Natureboy (Five Easy Pieces) was such a pleasing listen and I do wonder if I'd discovered it earlier in the year, it would be well up my top ten. Eeps.

I had a soft spot for the casual attitude of Kelpe's The Curved Line (DRUT) and also for the sinister techno on Lakker's Tundra (R+S). Walls' Urals (Ecstatic) was robotic and spacious like a, er, big old robot with lots of space inside. And gawd bless Luke Vibert and the reliable mid-paced head nodders on Bizarster (Planet Mu).

Nosaj Thing's Fated (Timetable) almost seemed to be slicing the very nature of music itself before your ears. There was plenty of industrial noise on Container's LP (Spectrum Spools), not something I'm terribly excited by, and I found it hard to connect with Starkey's The Transponder Orchestra (Alpha Pup Records). Finally, Levon Vincent's self titled album (Novel Sound) contained simple themes with a filmic quality that just scraped my top 101.

Enough. Let's get back to the winners. The top ten continues shortly.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: seven


7 – Floating Points – Elaenia (Pluto / Luaka Bop)

If you want the standard FP brown-nosing, then hoover up the endless column inches elsewhere. In fact, I’m going to flip it and start with the negative because I'm a contrary Mary...

Floaty “did a James Blake” and left his strongest previous work off his debut: no CMYK on Blake’s album and no Nuits Sonores here. And why be so excited by Pointy (yeah, I’ve got loads of nicknames for him) when we can get that same groovesome rhythm from Four Tet?

Sigh. I'm such a plonkface. Those would be valid criticisms if FloPo hadn’t spewed out such a strong piece of work. Elaenia could have been a Greatest Hits So Far, but what he’s given us is a complete album full of live percussion and enough space to explore all the darkness and light of his sound.

You can hear everything here, from Eno to Unkle to, thanks to the jazz influence, Flying Lotus. Elaenia is simply great: the long wait paid off. Good old Floppy.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: these junglists aren't massive

I've just had a chat with the cool kids down at the discotheque, and they told me in no uncertain terms that the jungle is massive.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the albums that (a) didn't make the final top ten and (b) can be classed as either jungle or grime because that's what all the youth clubs are playing nowadays. Don't worry, I'm being glib: I've not suddenly turned into a Radio 4 comedy script.

Special Request dancefloor-mashing Modern Warfare (EPs 1-3) (XL Recordings) missed the final list only because it's a bunch of EPs thrown together rather than an album in its own right. Let's pretend it's in the top ten, yeah?

There was much to love about the smooth junglism and sheer variety of Drew Lustman's The Crystal Cowboy (Planet Mu), and we also had supposedly the last album from Lee Bannon. His Pattern Of Excel (Ninja Tune) included slide guitar to great effect.

I respected the following albums muchly: Record label kingpin Kode9's Nothing (Hyperdub), Visionist's Safe (Pan) in which an experimental take on grime took the genre to a new level, and the bold dubby bass of Sherwood & Pinch's Late Night Endless (On-U Sound / Tectonic Recordings).

And finally, at the back of the grime pack - but hey, still in my top 101 - was Sam Binga's Wasted Days (Critical Recordings), Mumdance & Logos' Proto (Tectonic) and Rabit's hard and experimental Communion (Tri Angle).

The kids are getting impatient. Let's get back to the top ten shortly, yeah? The number one's gonna be a real doozer.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: eight


8 – Arca – Mutant (Mute)

As I type this, Justin Bieber has gifted the Christmas number one slot to a Simon & Garfunkel / Coldplay medley. Although the reasons are laudable (yay, NHS), thank goodness Arca exists to provide a thoughtful antidote to that soft-brushed, magnolia-vomited mainstream.

I loved the sonic and visual power of Arca's Bjork support slot at the Manchester International Festival: the musical themes transmuted as adeptly as any Autechre set while we stood eye-boggled as he writhed his muscles at us.

Mutant lives in its own broken universe, each track sticking to its theme. And what themes: the ideas don’t stop coming. The strangled screams of title track Mutant, the emotional stomp of Vanity, the thin pipes playing with the bendy bass of Snakes, the shredded rave of Umbilical, the almost straight IDM of Front Load.

Mutant comes barely a year after his debut album and is all the more incredible for it. Simon & Garfunkel AND Coldplay? Save us, Arca.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: the ambient outsiders

Again, let's pause the top ten while I look at some of the albums that didn't make the cut.

Ambient music is as old as the air we breathe and the wind that flaps the ear of the dog. Don't question that: it's an ancient Fat Roland saying. There were a whole bunch of ambient long-players not in my top ten:

It was a shame not to include The Orb's Moonbuilding 2703 AD (Kompakt), a hugely enjoyable album and their best for donkey's years. I loved the crystalline perfection and a gloopy intensity of Acronym's June (Northern Electronics) – half ambient, half techno, all good.

On the reserves bench was worriedaboutsatan's Even Temper (This Is It Forever) which goes a bit Clark on Church Of Red (that’s a good thing). I didn't mind the low-down junglism of ASC's Imagine The Future (Samurai Red Seal), nor the stunning atmospherics of CFCF's Radiance & Submission (Driftless Recordings) and their less successful sister album The Colours Of Life (1080p) which seemed to channel Phil Collins through the pixels of Teletext.

Ones I was less keen on: Steve Hauschildt's pleasing Where All Is Fled (Kranky), Rrose's two-track drone monster Having Never Written A Note For Percussion (Further Records), Biosphere's dark collaboration with Deathprod on Stator (Touch) and the homespun noise of Philip Jeck's Cardinal (Touch).

Back to the top ten shortly. Catch up with this whole series in one long stream by clicking this:

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Best electronic albums of 2015: nine


– The Black Dog – Neither/Neither (Dust Science)

There’s sometimes an air of portent to The Black Dog’s work. They’ll chug along all frowny – business as normal for these Sheffield techno gods – then a lonesome chord will unsettle the living daylights out of you. And the best thing is, when that happens, you can feel the weight of this band's incredible history.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of that on Neither/Neither. The title track feels airy but check that Boards of Canada feel with its shaking cymbals and the thrilling drop after the two-minute mark. The thumping Commodification holds all its power in its gasping bass end.

The vocals add welcome personality here too, sporadic as they are: the conversational samples in the short filler tracks (mostly variations on the name “Phil”) or the hypnotic female voice loop on Platform Lvl 6.

There is much beauty too: the building tension of Control Needs Time, the rising strings of Them (Everyone Is A Liar But), the twinkling melancholy of The Frequency Ov Thee Truthers. Welcome back to my top ten, doggies. You belong here.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: the no-listers

Throughout this process, I had three rules.

1. Don't worry about the albums I didn't notice. Other sites will cover those well enough.

2. Nothing too poppy. Let's keep it a little bit snooty.

3. No compilations.

The second and third of these rules gave me a no-list: albums that I deliberately chose not to consider. Let's take a break from the top ten to see the also-rans that fell at the first hurdle for no reason other than my own jobsworthing:

Sorry, Hot Chip, I really loved Why Make Sense? (Domino) but I decided it was on the wrong side of the pop line. Wowsers, though, how much did Huarache Lights sound like Orbital? Delicious.

A number of compilations fell foul of the compilation rule. They included Berlin legends Berghain (Ostgut Ton) and their absolutely solid techno, Wolfgang Voigt's Protest tracks (Profan) dropping on CD for the first time, the top dub techno of The Wandering II (Silent Season), Jon Hopkins simply brilliant contribution to the Late Night Tales series, the DJ Kicks comps from persistent no-shower Actress and from wheels-of-steel prodigy DJ Koze (the latter including William Shatner and The Gentle People in his set), the thoroughly industrial Selected Cuts (Repitch) and the best compilation of the year, the epic µ20 (Planet Mu) wich gives you the best bang for your buck of anything released this year.

Oh and AFX's Orphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008) (Warp Records) was an EP not an album, so I struck it from my list then cried for about four days.

Back to the top ten shortly. Remember, catch up on all these blog posts so far by clicking this magic link:

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Best electronic albums of 2015: ten


10 – Squarepusher – Damogen Furies (Warp) 

The Square One’s fourteenth album lives in a very different world to his Hard Normal early days. Stadium EDM is everywhere now: huge crowds, plenty of lasers and more bangers than a balloon animal practice academy.

And so Four-Sides, as I like to call him, has given Damogen Furies a live feel: I read somewhere these tracks were produced in single takes. This frees him from his slap bass noodling and instead gives us an on-the-button collection of digital mayhem.

There are crowd-pleasing tunes – the Hudmo-style bombast of Baltang Arg, the sad earworm of Stor Eiglass, the compressed-to-heck melody of Rayc Fire 2 – but most of Damogen Furies treads an angry line between repressed brutality and armchair listening.

I guess, because of his recording process, there’s less befuddling eccentricity (compare this work to, say, 2008’s A Real Woman), which is a shame, but it’s still one of his most likeable albums of recent years.

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Best electronic albums of 2015: start here

Welcome to my grand list of the best albums of 2015.

As in previous years (2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009), I cannot claim my list to be definitive. My brain is like an old filing cabinet: it has run out of space, the metal's all bent and there's been a label saying TRACEY on the front for years. But it is the best of electronic music as I see it, right here, right now in 2015.

Here's how this is going to play. There are going to be twenty blog posts, each twenty minutes apart. In the first post after this one, I'll give you one of the top ten. Then for the second post, I'll give you a whole bunch of also-rans, some of which are brilliant and some of which are average. Then another of my top ten. Then more also-rans. Then another top ten album, then more also-rans, and so on until we get to number one: the best electronic music album of this year.

By half six tonight, I will have thrown 101 albums at your face. And all throughout, if you want to skim-read the lot, just click on this big compiler link:

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...and it will list all the blog posts so far in an easy-scrollable order.

I'm very excited about the number one spot: it sent thrills to my outermost parts. Ready? Here we go...

Dec 29, 2015

Best electronic albums of 2015... coming shortly


Oh boy, it's that time again. Time for me to choose my favourite albums of 2015.

This whole thing was getting to be a waste of time because, as we all know, the album died. No-one attended the funeral and all of our albums became table coasters or gaudy jewellery.

Thankfully, however, Adele came along and saved the album. Her latest album sold 16 trillion copies, almost all on cassette, and now the long-player is alive again. Phew!

Adele is not in my top ten. Nor in my top 101. Yes, 101. That's how many albums I've waded through this year.

I'm pretty pleased with my final top ten electronic albums. All ten - alongside the 91 that didn't make it - will be revealed throughout New Year's Eve. From about noon until teatime, I reckon. There will be lots of blog posts in a very short space of time, but if you want to read it all in one go, here's the link to click on:

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But not yet. I haven't published it yet. Jeez. Patience.

See you on New Year's Eve for my epic run-down.

Dec 19, 2015

When the Dog and Partidge became The Beautiful South...


Do you remember The Beautiful South pub?

Here's my recollection. In the mid-90s The Beautiful South released Blue Is The Colour. You know the songs: Don't Marry Her; Rotterdam (Or Anywhere). Kind of twee, a bit of an indie sensibility, great for coffee tables.

There's one aspect of the album promotion, though, that seems to have disappeared off the page of history. To tie in with the album, the Dog And Partridge pub in Didsbury (pictured) was rebranded.

The D&P was a bit of a legend back then, known for not only being part of the infamous Didsbury Dozen, but also for its sawdust and gigantic doorstop open sandwiches.

The D&P was stripped of its name and turned into a big blue-fronted 'THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH'. I suspect it was for photo shoots for record company artwork.

I'm having trouble, though, finding any documentary evidence that this happened. And by "finding evidence", I mean, "I googled it for a bit and it didn't come up".

I might have the details wrong. I dunno. Alas John Turrell, the pub columnist I used to work with just round the corner from the D&P, is no longer with us, so I don't even have a handy expert to ask. After a Facebook conversation, my mate Iain contacted the local paper (pictured) - maybe something will come of that.

Do you remember the Beautiful South rebranding of the Dog And Partridge? Were you involved with the project? Are you a dog and/or a partridge? Leave a comment. Or email me. I'd love to know more.

Sorry this wasn't about electronic music. But those doorstop sandwiches were great.

Dec 7, 2015

Daphne Oram changes the future with a bit of tape


Daphne Oram is so darn cool.

Look at her face while she invents the whole of the entire future by holding a bit of tape in her hands. When I try this with sellotape and my broken old Sony cassette player, it sounds nowhere near as good.

Also the presenters here pretty much slay every robot impression ever.

From the AP Archives. Hat tip to the Facebook friend who linked me to this.

Dec 4, 2015

Fat Roland at Christmas


While Fat Roland washed his frocks by night, all pleated and rather brown, the angel of Blogger Dot Com came down, and this blog post was plopped down...

Really? Am I starting a blog post like that? Really?

I was going to carve out some kind of advent blog post series this year, something multimedia with new fangled audio and video. Y'know, something like Rudolph Died but all 3D like Michael Bay or something.

But there's something really valuable in being quiet. For the past couple of years, I've coped with the pressure of Christmas with a strict corset of writing deadlines, but this year I'm going to let it hang all loose and floppy.

This year has all been about pressure. Not just the Edinburgh Fringe, but writing group deadlines, submissions to a short story course and all the planning that comes with Bad Language. All of this is pleasurable, of course, and I've had the most amazing year. Life feels like one big playground. But I need a little space.

And so I may not turn up to your Christmas drinks. I may not appear at that many spoken word events this month. And if Santa wants to hitch a lift again this year, he can flip well get a megabus.

Having said that. Quiet Fat Roland still means a lot of activity. I'll be reading on the subject of togetherness and separation for Nous magazine next week, I have a huge gig at the Contact Theatre and it's not long until I take on the spirit of a diseased bauble at the Bad Language Christmas Party (image pictured).

And I have my end-of-year blog list to do. But that's not that busy, right? Loose and floppy. Let's keep this season loose and floppy. Am I really ending this blog post on that image? Flip yes.

Nov 21, 2015

Want some 2015 music recommendations?

Every six seconds, someone asks "recommend me some music, Fats" and I'm all like "get out of my treehouse" and they're all like "give us our trousers back then" and then we play Ludo for a bit and cry.

As a way of dealing with these music queries, I've been posting music on Facebook. Almost once a day for the past two weeks, I've plonked a great track from 2015. It started with a friend tagging me and I thought, hey, why not. You can see those posts by jumping onto the Facebook tag #Fats2015. I'll keep posting most days until I get bored or I forget.

By the way, I only accept Facebook friend requests if we have a decent number of mutual friends. My Facebook friendship is an exclusive club. Not like this blog, where I'll accept the company of anyone. Low standards, here. I'm like Jesus sitting with the tax collectors and riff raff. In fact, if you can call me "Jesus" from now on, I'd appreciate it.

"Recommend me some music, Fats."

"Who?"

"Sorry. Recommend me some music, Jesus."

[Throws Facebook tag in their stupid face.]

Glad to help.

Nov 13, 2015

Happy birthday, my blog


The Fat Roland blog is 11 years old today. It's finally in secondary school. It's wandering along endless corridors looking for double-maths. Happy birthday, my blog.

The three most popular subjects in the history of this site, whether it was called Fat Roland On Electronica or Netloafer or Fat Roland's Oozy Bleeps or whatever, are:

> Anything about Aphex Twin. Does he have a new album? Where's the new album? What is an album? Why do my trousers hurt? Click here to read more about Aphex Twin. Of the 900+ subjects listed in the menu below, this has been the biggie. Maybe not so much now he's deluging the net with material.

> The time an Autechre album got leaked on my blog. That was a bit weird. The whole internet came looking for it. "Hey, mate, you seen the new Ae album?" "Yeah, out the back, mate." [holds door open] Click here to see the leak (go to the comments) (please pay money for music, thanks).

> The best-album lists in the fag ends of each year. Click here for the best albums of 2014 - but there are others, going back to 2009. I'm already working on this year's list. I have a longlist of 104 albums. My ears are hanging off my face like wrong spittle.

I look at the internet and I think "if there was only a way to easily have a conversation online". Blogging allows this conversation to happen. Blogs, a word which is short for "web logs", are the future and-- wait, hold on, the phone's ringing.

Hello? Yes, speaking? Sorry, what? Twit-what? No I've not heard of a "Face book". Does it have actual faces? Hello? Hello? Are you there? Don't hang up. You're the first person I've spoken to for 11 years. It's so... quiet here. I'm cold. Hug me. Please. Just for a while. What? Yes, I'll hold.

Nov 5, 2015

My voice is all over a podcast and a radio show


I'm on the End Of All Things podcast talking about the literature scene in Manchester. We talked about some pretty good topics like diversity on open mic stages. We also talked about loads of boring stuff that got cut from the final edit. The other interviewee you hear is Nija Dalal-Small, radio producer and host of In The Dark and The Real Story (both excellent).

I'm kind of hoping Rob Cutforth, the apocalypse-minded writer host, got mixed up and kept all the boring stuff by mistake. There's only one way to find out. Have a listen here or on Soundcloud here.

Evidently, the renowned Salford poetry night, host their own radio show, and I popped up on that a few weeks ago as one half of Bad Language. Have a listen here. I can't remember what we talked about. Stuff. Things. I really enjoyed it, whatever it was.

Do check out the other podcasts / shows they've got. Lovely people, all of 'em.

I get dead serious in both of these broadcasts. I surprised myself. Apparently I have depths. I'd quite like to do something stupid now. If you want me to appear in something stupid, let me know.

Oct 31, 2015

Not much coming up (lie)


I've been flat out running events. I hosted a bunch of stuff for Manchester Science Festival, and for Bad Language. Oh and I did a really fun support slot for Zach Roddis (pictured) which was the closest I've got to an Edinburgh-type performance since the Fringe. Eight events in nine days. It does mean I've been off the radar a little this month.

I've not much coming up. November and December will feel like time off, despite at least four Bad Language events. Also, later this month, I compere a new spoken word night in Didsbury called The Word. I'm really looking forward to this: it'll be in an old stomping ground with a fairly new crowd for me. Then in December, I return to the Contact Theatre to perform with Mothers Ruin, alongside local poetry legend Gerry Potter, spectactular drag hero Cheddar Gorgeous and whole bunch of other talented alternative artists. This will sell out, so grab a ticket now. It'll be fun to play with queer identity in my usual idiotic style.

Someone asked me today if all this performance stuff is leading me in a direction I want. I dunno. I'm lucky enough to have spare time to trounce round Manchester stages building and knocking down weird word sandcastles. Other people my age have families and commitments and boring things like organised sock drawers: I get to splurge my idiocy over audiences in the name of art. I'm having immense fun.

Perhaps there are two things I'm neglecting. Partly my health: I definitely could do with shedding a pound or twenty. And mainly, my fiction writing: I have a file full of stories to polish, and new ones to write. Proper page stuff, not throwaway idiot open mic stuff.

Like I say, not much coming up. Ahem.

Oct 22, 2015

Fat Roland summer (er, what?!) playlist 2015


I knocked together a playlist over the summer then forgot about it. Here is that Fat Roland summer techno playlist.

Only thing is, you musn't listen to this in any other season than summer. The techno contained within might sound a little miserablist right from the start. but it was designed for the summer and only for the summer.

If you listen to the skittery madness of Jlin, the punchy rave of Blastto's Acid Light or the carefree house of Shana Halligan's Been Waiting in autumn or winter or spring, you disgust me. Why would you even do that? Why? Whhyy? WHHHYYYYY?!

Oct 16, 2015

Ghost written: podcasts, music, Buffy and emails


I'm going to blog more even if it kills me.

Dammit. It has killed me.

I am a ghost.

At the moment, Ghost Fat Roland is listening to a whole load of podcasts: Lore for its storytelling, Richard Herring's interview and snooker podcasts, Comedian's Comedian and, recently, the Black Tapes Podcast. Ghost Fat Roland got rid of his telly a few years ago, and podcasts somehow seem like a healthier way of consuming media.

Ghost Fat Roland has been listening to Call Super's compelling Migrant EP and the gentle strains of HVOB. Here Call Super and HVOB (suitably ghosty) to nuzzle right here right now:





Ghost Fat Roland watched Buffy for the first time ever. It's surprisingly good, despite being massively dated. Ghost Fat Roland loved a crucial plot point that pivoted around an inability to use a phone if someone's on the internet.

Ghost Fa-- wait, I'm going to stop this, it's annoying. I threw Tony Wilson's 24 Hour Party People across the room because he kept referring to himself in the third person: please don't fling this blog post across the room.

Finally, I'm trying to build up a mailing list for Bad Language, the spoken word night I co-run. Do join if you want: click here. I promise to make the emails entertaining for those interested in live literature in Manchester.

That's it for now. My next blog post will have loads of music in. Ghosts hate music. TRUE FACT.

Oct 3, 2015

I love acid and the acid loves me


I'm pretty sure acid is the best kind of music.

I go through phases. Recently it's been ambient dub centred around the Beyond label of the mid-90s. I went through a big house phase a few weeks ago. And sometimes I just want noisy techno (Objekt's pretty good for this: I keep hearing sounds on the street that sound like this album).

Acid, though, is the music I'll always go back to whatever my mood. Because of its technological restraints (imagine having a genre of music that can only be made on the banjo), acid barely changes. One Josh Wink record aside, it has never commercialised, nor has it ever faded to nothing.

I Love Acid are parping out some great records at the moment. And imagine my delight when I discovered this Twitter account.
And nothing will beat Hardfloor's sledgehammer acid build-ups.

Maybe the best thing about acid, whether it's acid techno, acid house, acid gabba or acid trousers, is it's never going to be a topic of conversation at a family dinner table. There may be spilled gravy over Ed Sheeran's performance on X Factor, but no-one's going to get into a humus fight over the best era of Lords Of Acid. Acid is somehow secret clubber's knowledge, forever shaded from the glare of the mainstream. Maybe it's the drug connotations, I dunno.

Not that I've ever done the drug. No seriously, I haven't. My mind's weird enough as it is.

Acid is totally the best kind of music. Delve into those links above. Because when it's good, it's proper good. Even acid trousers, which is definitely a thing, honest. Ahem.

> Further Fats: Painting 2010 beige: Eno, Orb, Hardfloor and Seefeel

Sep 27, 2015

Why can't I just invent Facebook like normal people?

It took me weeks to recover from Edinburgh. Not physically, because the Escher cobbles of that city give you biceps of steel. No, I'm thinking more of admin. I still have August emails blinking at me with sad eyes. "Why won't you read me? Whhhyyyy?"

My life is a torrent of activity. It's always been this way. The only thing is, it's weird activity. If I was a clever web bod like Mark Zuckerberg, with a few lucky breaks I'd be a millionaire by now. Easily. Y'know, because of my natural genius. What? Shut up.

But instead I produce exhibitions of strange broken words (my work with Art Works Manchester) or have a breakdown about balloons at a bunch of Indiana Jones fans (Flim Night) or shout the word "hat" continuously at a startled crowd (The Lowry's After Hours). Yes, all these things happened.

Why can't I just invent Facebook like normal people? Everyone else does that all the time and they become billionaires every day.

Anyhoo, in the free time I do have, I've been scouring Discogs for albums I used to own but had forgotten about. I stumbled across the Positiva Ambient Collection. I knew this album inside-out but forgot it after some scrote stole all my CDs in the mid-90s.

It triggered some memories on Twitter...

I love all the stuff I do, even if it won't make me rich. But I need to find time to focus my creative energies. Give myself some aims. Take the energy of Edinburgh and turn it into a bit of a masterplan. I may even make a list, although I guess that would be admin.

What this old Positiva album has given me is some slow-down music. A soundtrack for thinking. Watch this space as I come up with a kind-of Fat Roland strategy, all to the sound of The Irresistible Force's Sky High. And you never know, I may even get round to checking my emails.

Aug 29, 2015

Dogs

I found this in my drafts. No, I've no idea either.

Dogs.

Dogs.

Dogs.

Dogs from my knees to the horizon.

Dogs.

Millions of dogs,

their stupid faces blank and

puddling wet.

Dogs.

I've never seen

so many dogs. They all

stand there on twenty-five centimetres of air,

hovering,

bobbing as they pant.

Dogs.

Dogs.

Millions of dogs.

Aug 28, 2015

Slow Reader: an exhibition of broken words


Slow Reader is an exhibition of broken words created by me, and hinted at in this here blog post here, and brought to you by Art Works Manchester.

I created this work as a kind of escape from the intense writing process for my Fringe show (see posts passim). There are a bunch of themes at work in Slow Reader, namely:

> Good writing is about editing, about ditching everything superfluous. It’s likely, therefore, that a writer will have deleted many more words than will have ended up in their final draft. Slow Reader is about that creative process of cast-offs and half-ideas; the fuzzy fragments that live at the edges of the creative mind that either don’t coalesce into something solid, or are written and then destroyed.

> The text in the exhibition is taken from several years' worth of my short stories. Many phrases and feelings live on from that work as fragments in my mind, as half-memories. This is those fragments writ large on the walls of a Manchester pub.

> The title also plays my habit of losing my place in a book. I don't fold pages or use bookmarks. I am an idiot.

You can see Slow Reader on display at Sandbar, Grosvenor Street from now for a couple of months or so.

   


I'm holding a launch tonight (not really a launch, just some drinks and that) and there are examples of the exhibition pieces below.

Aug 22, 2015

I feel empty (a Slow Reader teaser)



I feel empty.

I feel like a Cadbury creme egg that's had its sweet gloop tongued out by an anteater.

I feel like a Stereophonics jewel case without its CD, just some pastry crumbs and a greasy fingerprint.

I feel like a room without a roof nor walls nor furniture nor that family of spectacle-wearing grouse that I swear I saw living here last week.

I feel like the innermost soul of a television talent show: a yearning, brown vacuum of lost intent and forgotten dreams.

I feel like the inside of a balloon.

I've barely gone a day this past couple of weeks without a deadline approaching in the next hour, whether that means show editing, or hitting a flyering spot, or meeting up with someone, or - indeed - sleeping. The fringe was like a hurricane, or at least, a very stern gale. I'm now untethered, flapping gently in a dull breeze, waiting for someone to blow me.

Jeez, I really fancy a creme egg.

Anyhoo, I need a new project. And that project is about to hit like a hurricane train full of creme eggs and grouse.

Watch this space for Slow Reader, coming to a Manchester near you (i.e. Manchester) (i.e. it's a new thing that's about to happen somewhere in Manchester and it's been months in the planning)...

Aug 21, 2015

#KraftwerkBS fringe diary 7: proper unlocked


I haven’t blogged for a few days because I made a point about going to see more shows. My last few Kraftwerk Badger Spaceships went well, and now I am at home in Manchester. My Fringe is over. No more performing. No more attending. No more flyering. Just a big, gassy bag of nothing.

All I have now are reflections of a remarkable time. Here are those reflections in no particular order:

> I wanted to put on 14 shows, stay healthy, and enjoy the experience. Achievement unlocked. My average audience was something like 14 people, which ain’t bad for an unknown. I saw big names getting just 5 more than me. Nearly 200 people chose to see my debut Fringe show above a squillion other possibilities. Lawks.

> Early in the run, I was editing for two hours a day. Then it was one hour, then it was single sentences, and then I had a lovely moment a few days ago when all I had to edit between shows was one word (from “horse” to “stallion” if you must know). This means those that saw KBS later in the month saw a better show. Sorry 'bout that.

> Throw in a couple of low audiences or a walk-out from a famous comedian, and the isolation of an Edinburgh show really hits you. Enthusiastic audience feedback tempered this, and two lovely hosts in the north of the city kept me grounded. And yes, the city itself is such an eye-hugger, it has a way of architecturing your spirits back to health.

> I’m being judged against stand-ups who do this most days of their life. So throw in a run of high audiences and the knowledge that I’m hitting all my performance marks, and there is no better feeling. I’ll always remember the beaming or bemused faces in front of me, or that one person in every show who Does Not Get It, thereby proving my artistic worth.

> I was so limited. Hundreds of flyers remained un-flyered, I was slow to put up posters, I didn’t chase press interest as much as I should have done, and I barely did any guest appearances. But if I’d spent more time on that, the show itself would have been worse. Next year’s to-do list has already started.

> I’ve still so much to learn. I think I will look back on this debut show as a rickety, loveable tin-pot contraption that worked perfectly well thank you very much. What an experience. Achievement massively unlocked.

Huge thanks to the Edinburgh Fringe, Laughing Horse and the Argyle Bar for giving me a stage.

Aug 15, 2015

#KraftwerkBS fringe diary 6: like a room without a roof


Flyering on the Royal Mile. In the rain. Oh my.

I was really miserable yesterday. I'm handing out flyers for two hours a day every day. When it's sunny on the Meadows, it's kind of fine. But the clouds spat their contempt when the heavens opened as I was flyering on the Royal Mile on Friday afternoon.

To make it worse, an jolly acapella group next to me blasted out the insipid plop of wedding-reception vomit that is Pharrell Williams' Happy. I cursed my life and I moved further down the Royal Mile for some peace and quiet. And lo and behold, God placed next to me another acapella group. And guess what they were singing. Yeah, you guessed it. In Edinburgh, you are never more than six feet away from the dried, brittle shell of Pharrell Williams' credibility.

I have five more Kraftwerk Badger Spaceships left before I skateboard back to Manchester. Rather than winding down, it feels the show is gaining momentum. Not necessarily in numbers (they're keeping quite healthy considering how weird the show is, and the audiences seem delighted), but creatively I'm treading new paths. Paths with increased momentum. On my skateboard. Basically, what I'm saying is I'm gaining momentum by treading a path on a skateboard. I'm confused. What was I saying again?

Some recent big-ticket Fringe highlights: Stewart Lee being angrily visceral, George Egg's unique and spectacular cookery comedy, Joseph Morpurgo's blistering inventiveness, and drinks with friends. Some great spoken word events too (Oh Standfast / Cassie Atkinson, Stand-Up Versus Slam, Luke Wright). I tried for tickets for Nina Conti and Bridget Christie, but failed. Paul Foot and Tony Law to come.

Aug 13, 2015

#KraftwerkBS fringe diary 5: seriously excellent and/or inane


I got a review. I got a flipping review.

After only ever performing a one hour show a handful of times in my life, a reviewer sat in my audience and scribbled this for Broadway Baby: "Badger Spaceship is a seriously excellent piece of music-based comedy, and is a delight to sit through." It reads like there's a star missing, and the reviewer says "inane" a lot, but consider this:

> The show starts with a dry reading off a page to test the audience's literary mettle and, it has to be said, stamina. I am fascinated with audience alienation as a comedy tool. What I do is not 'easy' comedy.

> I'm ridiculously inexperienced at this type of performance, and I'm being judged against comedians that have worked their material over hundreds of times.

> The show is in a deep level of flux. I'm tweaking Kraftwerk Badger Spaceship every day. Some new bits work, some new bits don't so they get chopped, but the new ending is landing the show beautifully.

So am I proper chuffed with that review? You betcha.

I'm now into the second half of the run. Today is my birthday show. So it's time to increase the risks. I've switched out a weaker element of the show, which will shift the whole structure, and instead I've added these little chaps (pictured above). Already grasping for that extra star...

I feel like I'm living on the streets, despite being put up by generous hosts north of the city centre. I'm still staggering around Edinburgh in my homemade sandwich-board. I'm slowly toasting in the sun. My trainers have fallen apart. Yesterday, I paid £6 for a microwaved quiche: apparently "some rocket" constitutes a salad these days. If only I was a normal stand-up comedian: I'd totally mine that for content. It'd be cheaper to buy a real rocket! Amiright? Whatever, shut up. I've got a REVIEW.