What becomes of a man’s legacy? Stories such as the tale of William Walker shoring up the foundation walls of Winchester Cathedral deserve immortality. From the written records of his life, a Wikipedia entry no less, he sounds like a remarkable man. His story is one of those intriguing tales from yesteryear that doesn’t quite fit into the modern world. Walker worked for 5 years to save the sinking Cathedral, submerged in pitch-black isolation, shifting bags of concrete in a cumbersome 200-pound diving suit. His legend has now been reinforced by the music of Petrels, a solo project from Bleeding Heart Narrative’s Oliver Barrett. Walker is noted as modest man; I’d imagine it would come as quite a shock to him to discover that his legacy has been sustained by a conceptual album of dark drone and ethereal electronic music.
The ebb and flow of the album is excellent, storytelling as pure sensation. Such an epic undertaking must have been quite disorienting from day one, staring down into that silt-flooded black hole in the Earth. But amongst the hazy strings and growling drones there is always a clear focus, and this is the album’s greatest success. Landscape is a fairly common theme with this sort of music, however, the music not only conveys the mass and depth of the stone, earth and water that constantly surrounded him, it captures something of the human element; the futility of Walker’s task and isolated bloodymindedness that he must have had. This is something the history books could never have hoped to recreate. A sort of historical document with a scratch and sniff emotional resonance.

I haven’t got this excited about a hip-hop scene since the days of Funcrusher Plus and Cold Vein, but the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective really seem totally unstoppable. The reason they remind me of the heady days of Rawkus or Def Jux is not the sound particularly, because there isn’t an obvious aesthetic as with those 90’s milestone labels. The crowning sound of OFWGKTA may be the mischievous, antagonistic swagger of Tyler, The Creator or Earl Sweatshirt but the output is much farther reaching, from the lovesick crooning of Frank Ocean to the space jams of The Jet Age Of Tomorrow. The reason to get excited about this lot though is their enthusiastic, unpretentious creativity, full of bravado, and seriously good records.

AND they give away their music, try either Tyler’s Bastard or Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA for starters.

Words fail me.

En Form For Blå totally defied my initial expectations. There isn’t the density or overt drama you would expect from a ‘supergroup’ based around Sunn 0)))’s Stephen O’Malley and Daniel O’Sullivan of Ulver, instead you get a huge amount of space and restraint in the music. Steve Noble and Kristoffer Rygg complete the quartet, and it is often Noble’s intuitive drumming that binds the music, as you’d expect from someone so well-versed in improvised performance. For a live recording the sound quality has an exceptional clarity and this adds to the feeling of exposure that permeates the music. The tension between the musicians creates a brooding, pernicious edge. Despite defying the expectations of its component parts, it has that natural, instinctive quality that you can only get with musicians of this calibre.

More wonderfully nebulous psychedelic-folk music from Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte. Ethereal drones and more traditional folk segments weave in and out of each other like an abstract medieval tapestry. They are a pair who certainly aren’t in a hurry, each track drifting for around fifteen minutes of gently finger picked guitar melody and washes of electronic fuzz and raga-drone. Gularte’s vocals are used painfully sparingly, only appearing tangibly for the last minute or so of This Ice Fortress and Still Desert, giving some welcome human gravity to the end of each. Whilst there is more focus to the record than last years Centuri Agent, the music remains an entirely elemental force.

“SCOTLAND’S MOST HAUNTED PUB! NOW WITH A POOL TABLE!” proudly proclaims the website of The Banshee Labyrinth, venue for tonight’s show. After the recent closure of the Roxy Art House, just one in a series of venue closures in recent years, Edinburgh seems to be struggling for places to put on a cheap gig, which leaves the city’s underground music scene struggling somewhat. There is a shining light among all this gloom though – or perhaps more appropriately, considering their penchant for all things drone – a fine mahogany gloom among the sickly, sparkling veneer of student nights. Braw Gigs, Edinburgh-based DIY concerts focused on the noisy and experimental side of things, have put on some crackers in the past 12 months; Demons, Sick Llama, Islaja, Pekko Kappi & James Ferraro to name a few highlights.

They now seem to have found a home in The Banshee, a touristy rock pub with a vaulted stone basement so typical of Edinburgh’s bars and clubs. And tonight in this dark, little sandstone wrinkle something rather reassuring occurred.

First up, was new Reekie resident Matthew Collings, recently decamped from Iceland where he had recorded with the likes Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurdsson. Multiple electric guitars and synth were fed through his laptop which duly churned out a series of wonderful organic-sounding tones and growls that Frost would have been proud of. Three guitarists strummed purposefully on stage, an odd sight, only for fleeting moments did their action produce any equal reaction. In quieter moments only the empty twanging of the electric guitar strings could be heard as Collings sucked all of the noise into his machines ready to release them at his pleasure. It may not have been a totally polished performance, but it suggested that he is certainly one to watch out for in the future.

We were then treated to a series of unashamedly traditional songs from Wounded Knee and Wee Rogue. It happened to be Burn’s Night and we got a healthy helping of The Bard’s finest. It was nice to hear some shruti box being played as a kind of proxy-bagpipe, but if I’m brutally honest it all seemed a wee bit out of place and over-long.

Cameron Deas’ performance was split into two pieces of music, the first one drawn from material on volume one of his self-released Quadtych LP, part of a mammoth 70-minute composition. I’m fairly sure he didn’t play for 70-minutes here, but to be honest I kinda lost all track of time. He is a man who has an innate understanding of his instrument. He caresses every note from his guitar, cradling it like he is nursing a sickly sparrow back to health. The opening reminded of Bill Orcutt’s expressive style, but this was just him warming his fingers, his strings seemed to suddenly tighten despite the humid atmosphere. There were sections reminiscent of Robbie Basho, certainly the notable influence of Derek Bailey. However, this was something entirely of his own. He covered a lot of ground; minute twinges of barely-noise, patiently sustained periods of silence and vicious single-note jabs; all interspersed seamlessly with vigorous sections of 12-string melody. Meticulous precision was balanced with a musical flair, and an obvious love of manipulating curious, wonderful sounds from his instrument. To finish he played one of his better known tracks, As Spring Fell From The Leaves, versions of which have featured on a couple of his LPs. A more traditionally composed track than the previous offering, it is a veritable steel-string anthem, full of furiously intricate finger-picking and fluid melody.

Each piece, as is his approach to his various LP’s and CDr’s, showed a completely different facet of his musical personality. Cam Deas is little short of a phenomenon and is adding his own chapter to the lineage of guitar masters.

Enjoy folks, happy christmas.

Tracklist :
01 Variations For Oud & Synthesizer side B – Keith Fullerton Whitman
02 Angie La La – Nora Dean
03 Deep Cover – Sun Araw
04 Black Orchid – Sun City Girls
05 Generator 7b – Keith Fullerton Whitman
06 Twentyninth – Philip Jeck
07 The Throning – Hype Williams
08 Dormant Mirrors track 2 – DJ Yo-Yo Dieting
09 Drop – Earl Sweatshirt
10 Gunbeat Falls – Shabazz Palaces
11 If Your Girl – Forest Swords
12 Be Still – Big Boi
13 Yamaha – The-Dream
14 Multistability 1-B – Mark Fell
15 Into Coloured Rays – B.J. Nilsen
16 Pan Finale – Pan Sonic

01 T++ – Wireless [Honest Jons]

02 Keith Fullerton Whitman – Variations For Oud and Synth [No Label]

03 Raime – Raime EP [Blackest Ever Black]

04 Kanding Ray – Pruitt Igoe [Raster Noton]

05 Balam Acab – See Birds [Tri Angle]

06 Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal Antony/Fennesz remixes [Editions Mego]

07 Shackleton vs Kasai Allstars – Mukuba Special [Congotronics]

08 Mike Vainio – Its a Muthang / Midnight Mutant [Comfort Zone]

09 Hype Williams – Do Roids & Kill Erything [No Label]

10 Games – That We Can Play [Hippos In Tanks]

Writing lists about music is a strange phenomenon. Comparing the complexities of BJ Nilsen to the swaggering exuberance of Big Boi is, frankly, a ludicrous endeavour. However, I do enjoy reading them. I’ve also found I enjoy writing them, or at least I’ve enjoyed listening back to all the great albums of the year. The cataloguing/journal-side of things is oddly satisfying too. In writing this, I realise I’ve probably listened to way too much music this year and could do with taking a bit more time with a choice few. It is all getting a bit obsessive. Anyway, the order can really be taken with a pinch of salt, they are all fantastic. Commence the hyperbole!

LPs :

01 Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh [Universal]
A lot of the music that appears on these pages is intrinsically experimental, often a little rough round the edges, on a journey to some place or another, not necessarily ‘a finished thing’. But this isn’t. On this record Badu sounds like she’s found her place in the grand scheme of things. This is as close to a perfect record as you could ever really need.

02 Keith Fullerton Whitman – Disingenuity / Disingenuousness [Pan]
Like hearing someone spontaneously exhale a lifetimes worth of memory, inspiration and emotion condensed into thirty thrilling minutes. Mister Whitman is a bleedin’ genius, everything he’s released this year has been unbelievably good.

03 B.J. Nilsen – The Invisible City [Touch]
Epic, intimate, totally beguiling. An astonishing achievement, creating sound that you feel you could wander around to examine its intricacies, a virtual metropolis of noise.

04 Forest Swords – Dagger Paths [Olde English Spelling Bee/No Pain In Pop]
Certainly newcomer of the year, made my memory nodes fizz whilst still exhibiting a truly original sound. Won’t forget the morning when I first heard ‘Miarches’ for a while. Very exciting music.

05 Sun Araw – On Patrol [Not Not Fun]
Intolerably intoxicating in the wrong moments, but when the mind is ready to tune in, it is a totally absorbing, complex delight. For a year that has been a bit overwhelmed by the slow-jam aesthetic, this record stands out a mile in terms of originality and pure groove.

06 Pan Sonic – Gravitoni [Blast First Petite]
Exhilarating intensity. Maybe not one to listen to often, but one you pay attention to when you are. With Pan Finale, probably the perfect ending for Mika Vainio & Ilpo Väisänen’s final release.

07 Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty [Def Jam]
Takes me back to the days when hip hop and skateboarding and hanging out on the top of carparks was pretty much everything. Totally ace.

08 Evan Caminiti – West Winds [Three Lobed Recordings]
This year’s Barn Owl (of whom Caminiti is half) LP was a wee bit disappointing (I had very high expectations). Caminiti’s solo work though is a brilliantly focussed affair; full of space, movement and texture. Anyone that says drone music isn’t emotionally stirring is incorrect.

09 Eleh – Location Momentum [Touch]
A suffocatingly dense monolith of obsessively pure noise. Totally beautiful, it’s very hard to explain why. If you are the sort of person who stops when passing a building site, or when some unexplained mechanical malfunction is occurring somewhere in the distance, to focus on a strange, articulated buzzing noise, you’ll probably understand. Play it loud and let it soak through you.

10 Yellow Swans – Going Places [Type]
One of drone’s finest finally call it a day. And, with it, they drag you painfully through a scorched landscape of such density and texture it leaves you a lacerated mess, a gloopy glob kneeling at the foot of music of great magnitude. It deserves better alliteration than this.

(much more below the line)
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Perhaps only surpassed by discovering Forest Swords this year, is the enthusiasm I have for my waay overdue discovery of Raime and the Blackest Ever Black label (they are still only one release old mind). Championed by the ever-reliable mnml ssgs folks (and plenty elsewhere) the recent Raime EP gave me that immediate, joyous must-get-everything-I-can-get-my-mits-on feeling. Read the rest of this entry »