Inevitably, the releases of the year, 2018


It’s that time of year again; I’ve had to make some end-of-year lists for various places, so this will be a short-ish version. 2018, like most years, has been a year full of terrible and excellent music and mostly there’s no difference between the two except for the ears hearing it.

But anyway, because I’ve decided to limit my own list here to things I haven’t seen represented on as many other peoples’ lists as I feel I should have so far. Here are a few…

Ghost WorldSpin (Svart Records)

If you’re a regular reader you may remember that Ghost World’s self-titled album was one of my albums of the year last year. That album was a completely unexpected neo-grunge masterpiece – all the more unexpected as I don’t look back especially fondly on grunge in general; but the combination of great tunes, punky energy and the heartbreaking teenage melancholy of singer/guitarist Liisa’s performances make the comparison to 90s grunge kind of pointless; this wasn’t nostalgic pastiche, it was a vital, new band playing their hearts out. Spin, is a great, but very different album. This time Liisa & co aren’t playing grungy music at all, although the album still stylistically indebted to earlier eras. In their publicity, Svart Records claim – not wrongly – that Spin looks back to the guitar pop of The Byrds and Big Star, but to my ears, it has more of the feel of the 80s/90s UK indie bands who were themselves indebted to those bands; either way, it’s an album full of the same kind of catchy, melancholy pop songs as the debut, only without the frazzled guitars. At its best – like the beautifully miserable earworm ‘Nightgown‘ (which brings back my teenage years vividly, if that’s a good thing) its every part the equal of its predecessor, even if it’s less of a bolt from the blue.


Just Like This – Faceless (Rorex Records)

I don’t remember how I first came across Rorex Records, a Japanese label run by Eifonen, an experimental musician who has a hand in many or most of the label’s extremely eclectic releases. When going through the label’s releases it feels like overall there’s a focus on experimental electronica and drone, but then something completely random and different – bizarre lo-fi rap, noise rock or mutated jazz. Just Like This is different again; minimalist, clean piano and vocals exercises – sometimes beautifully melodic, sometimes awkward, but always clean, clear and beautiful, even at its most alien. Can’t vouch for the lyrics (they are in Japanese) but I think it’s lovely.

Tunjum – Deidades Del Inframundo  (Dunkelheit Produktionen)

Back in August when it was released, I didn’t really expect this dusty, gloomy, antediluvian Peruvian death metal album to be in this kind of list, but it stayed with me.

It’s the whole package; there’s something about the crude, hewn-from-rock quality of the monolithic riffs, the majestically rust-encrusted bass tone and frontwoman/drummer Kultarr’s brutal roar, plus the perfectly apt artwork that makes it satisfying long after many ‘better’ albums have worn out their welcome.

Phantoms v Fire – Swim (Hypersoma Records)

I wrote about this at length here, so will try not to repeat myself. I first heard Swim back in January and am still listening to it in December. Slightly woozy electronica, often with a lo-fi Ryuichi Sakamoto-meets-Vangelis feel, it’s ‘retro’ without being nostalgic, full of wistful, poignant atmospheres and familiar-but-elusive tunes that feel half-remember from childhood. I really love it; in fact if I had to choose (but I don’t) this might be my favourite album of the year.

There’s an extended version of Swim which I was initially slightly dismissive of (hate it when people mess with albums I think are perfect already), but actually it’s the version I listen to now.

Slidhr – The Futile Fires Of Man (Ván Records)

There was lots of good, but not lots of great black metal around in 2018, but the spirit-sapping second album by Ireland/Iceland’s Slidhr was one of the great ones.

Best heard as a whole, the album is a relentless blast through furious, cavernous darkness, melodic enough to to be memorable and affecting, but with a distinctive, bitter taste that doesn’t exactly leave one wanting more; an odd recommendation but there it is.



and now for 2019…


It’s time for your six-monthly review…


What a shock; I haven’t even slightly kept up with weekly (or even monthly) updates on here and now we’re in July already. Everything in the world seems so grim that it’s hard to actually do anything at all so I shall fall back on music. Instead of the (not very) usual playlists and so forth here’s a kind of 6-month catch up/review or “summer summary” or some kind of alliterative roundup of my musical intake of 2018 so far.

These aren’t necessarily going to be in my ‘albums of the year’ in December (always assuming there is a December this year), but here’s a selection of things that I think are definitely worth checking out from the last 6 months:

Firstly, and most unexpectedly -I really didn’t expect to spend months listening to atmospheric, oddly queasy/wheezy electronica – this is just a fantastic album:

Phantoms vs Fire
Hypersoma Records

I don’t really have enough knowledge to give a rundown of what Swim is for fans of*, but to me the album has an extremely evocative atmosphere, though what exactly it evokes is hard to say. It has something of the retro-futuristic feel of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, if it was spinning on a dusty turntable with a wobbly motor in a dimly lit room; not that the tempos are as wonky – or the music as formless – as that description suggests. Somehow though, its blend of warmth, melancholy and forlorn familiarity has made it the perfect soundtrack to our current dystopian age.

Facts that you might want to know: Phantoms vs Fire is Thiago C. Desant, a Brazilian composer and graphic designer living in Italy. An extended (and just as good but not better) version of Swim is available here and you can also buy his excellent prints from the Phantoms vs Fire  website.

* Press release says Tycho, Com Truise, Youandewan, Bonobo, Philip Glass, Japan, Mike Oldfield, if that helps


For the last couple of months a great source of brilliant music has been the Portuguese dark folk label Equilibrium Music. One of the label’s key releases of recent times has been the great Urze de Lume album As Árvores Estão Secas e Não Têm Folhas; and it really is beautiful.

Earthy, elemental (though not primitive) folk that reminds me equally of Sangre de Muerdago and Wardruna (without sounding much like either one of them), the album is simultaneously soothing and invigorating, if that is possible.





It has been overtaken for me though by the Equilibrium release I least expected to like, namely:

Daemonia Nymphae

This amazing album is actually the soundtrack for a Greek theatrical production of (obviously) Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the ancient Greek/neoclassical/neofolk duo Daemonia Nymphae.  As you might expect, it makes for a very strange and eerily archaic dreamlike vision of dark age Scotland viewed (or heard) through a prism of ancient Greek ‘world music’. I love it, even if/especially because the bagpipey bits (there aren’t many) are weirdly alien.



This year has seen the very welcome return of the Acid Jazz legends Corduroy with their new and same-as-it-ever-was album Return of the Fabric Four.

Same as it ever was c. 1992-4 that is, as the album is far closer to the mostly instrumental sound of Dad Man Cat and (especially) High Havoc than the more pop-song-focussed The New You! etc. It’s a really nice collage of camp, kitsch cleverness. And good tunes, naturally.





A couple of outstanding metal releases so far this year are:

De Profundis
The Blinding Light of Faith
Transcending Obscurity Records 

I am (as I think most people probably are!) quite fussy about death metal, but without being retro in any kind of self-conscious way, De Profundis make music that would sit happily in the late 80s/early 90s death metal scene. The Blinding Light of Faith is an album that can hold its own in the company of any of the big names of death metal; superb, intelligent musicianship and songwriting – it’s a seriously impressive album.




At the other end of the metal spectrum is

Lizzy Borden
My Midnight Things
Metal Blade Records

80s veteran(s) Lizzy Borden (both a singer and a band) seem always to suffer from being mis-pigeonholed, whether as a glam band (he/they did have the image), Twisted Sister clones (ditto), or some kind of Alice Cooper-esque horror-metal act (partly the name, partly the image innit), but if you listen back to the best of the band’s 80s work, especially Love You To Pieces, they were really a classic metal band, more Iron Maiden-meets-W.A.S.P. than Motley Crue. On the new album Lizzy himself takes centre stage, singing better than he ever has – no mean feat – and playing all the guitars on what is a very song-based album. It’s not very heavy – more a kind of homage to bands like Cheap Trick and Queen than the early 80s Lizzy Borden sound. But it’s really good if you like that kind of thing, and it’s great to hear Lizzy really going for it after a couple of slightly patchy, compromised-sounding, ‘not bad’ records.

Adam Stafford
Fire Behind the Curtain
Song, By Toad Records

Away from metal, this is a really interesting, good album if you like – well, what? “Film soundtrack music” isn’t really a genre, is it, but that’s what Fire Behind The Curtain makes me think of. I’ve seen it described as neoclassical and minimalist too, but neither of those feels quite right to me. It’s a beautifully cohesive-yet-eclectic collection of mostly-instrumental pieces vary from haunting and bleakly forbidding atmospheres to warm and embracing melodies.



William Carlos Whitten
Burn My Letters
I Heart Noise

I can’t really write an awful lot about this album from the always-dependable I Heart Noise label, as I’ve only just started listening to it really; but so far I love it. It makes me think of Lou Reed, or Alan Vega covering John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band album; sparse, forlorn, world-weary and a little bit sleazy.





What else?  Lots of other good things; oh – Grid of Points by Grouper is great, but I forgot about it until just now. I was a bit underwhelmed by the new Immortal and Marduk records, though they are both pretty solid. I really liked the new albums by Tunjum and Uada, there’s a great Souljazz compilation of old hip-hop etc, I’ve been quite impressed by the recent Ill Considered album though I haven’t gotten used to it yet and… well, I’ll come back if there’s anything great I’ve forgotten!


Play For Today – current playlist


It’s been a while, so without further ado or elucidation, here’s some of what’s on the turntable (and equivalents) at present:


Kristin Hersh by Billy O’Connell

1. Kristin Hersh – Wyatt At The Coyote Palace (Omnibus Books, 2016)

2. Jingo de Lunch – Perpetuum Mobile (We Bite Records, 1987)

3. Rachel Mason – Das Ram (Cleopatra Records/Practical Records, 2016)

4. Naia Izumi – Natural Disaster EP (self-release, 2016)

5. Hobbs’ Angel of Death – Heaven Bled (Hell’s Headbangers/High Roller Records, 2016)

6. Suzanne Vega – Lover, Beloved; Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers (Amenuensis Productions, 2016)

suzanne-vega-billboard_6507. Bessie Smith – The Complete Recordings, Vol 1 (Columbia/Legacy)

8. Ghosts of Sailors At Sea – Red Sky Morning (Faded Maps, 2016

9. Dorje – Centred & One EP (Invisible Hands Music, 2016)

10.Drudkh/Grift – Betrayed By The Sun (Nordvis/Season of Mist, 2016)

11.The Mothers of Invention – Burnt Weenie Sandwich (Reprise Records, 1971)

12. Gentlemans Pistols – Hustler’s Row (Nuclear Blast, 2015)

13. Kaada/Patton – Bacteria Cult (Ipecac, 2016)

14. Maki Asakawa – Masi Asakawa (Honest Jon’s, 2016)

15. Nightsatan – Nightsatan and the Loops of Doom (Svart records, 2014)

16. Pilot – From the Album of the Same Name (EMI, 1974)

17. Haar/Ur Draugr – split (ATMF, 2016)

18. Wardruna – Runaljod – Ragnarok (By Norse Music, 2016)

19. Scott Walker – Scott 3 (Phillips, 1969)

20. The Stupid Daikini – Everything is Fine (self-release, 2015)



Symphonies of Sadness, Dirges of Disgust, Noxious Noise: Musical Masochism


Any kind of masochism is (to non-masochists/collaborators) peculiar and difficult to understand; no less so when it is related to music; but I’m going to try to understand it anyway.

I have isolated three main areas which can be loosely classified under the ‘masochistic’ heading, but there may well be more:

1. Self-consciously unpleasant music which is “enjoyed” (or just enjoyed; a subtle but perhaps important difference) for its intentionally unpleasant/disturbing/unsettling or harsh sound

2. Music which is humorously/ironically enjoyed for its perceived awfulness*

3. Non-unpleasant music which is listened to specifically for its upsetting/depressing or negative emotional effect

Uniting all of these is the fact that they are not everyday listening (for me anyway), but in are special music which retains its potency by being indulged in only occasionally and when prepared for the physical (tinnitus) or mental (lachrymose) consequences.

*aka ‘guilty pleasures’ of course; but that is a whole other discussion; if guilt is an appropriate emotion for listening to music it would have to be something a bit less innocuous than I have in mind. ‘Embarrassing pleasures’ would be a more accurate and even more dodgy-sounding description

The first category is very distinct from the other two; not only is the unpleasantness aural (and intentionally unpleasant), it is precisely the nastiness that appeals to the listener. Why that should be is mysterious; I have used the word ‘masochism’ in the title here, but only because everyone knows what it means and because I can’t think of a better term; but neither ‘sexual masochism disorder’, BDSM or so-called non-sexual masochism (“self-defeating personality disorder”) really functions in the same way as listening to, say The Rita (noise artist Sam McKinlay) or Gnaw Their Tongues.


Noise as (anti)music goes back at least as far as the Dada and Futurist movements of the early 20th century (on the left is Luigi Russolo with one of his Futurist instruments), but on the whole (I think) it’s true that the noise that was created, though fascinating to hear, was more about the process of composing and rule-breaking than listening for pleasure. The same may be true of a lot of experimental noise since then, with classic albums such as Yoko Ono’s Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music probably being far more frequently owned than enjoyed. Various musique concréte and other avant garde pieces have the same kind of status, being performed perhaps more for historical/academic (albeit interesting) reasons rather than for the purpose of actual entertainment (which is not of course to say that people aren’t entertained by it).


Noise: So what of semi-musical or non-musical noise like Merzbow or just plain ugly music? It’s hard to say where the appeal lies, but with pure noise it seems to be at least partly visceral. It has an immediate, emotional impact; it has nothing to do with traditional musical qualities such as melody, catchiness or even memorable-ness, since it’s possible to listen to the abstract noise of (for example) theritaThousands of Dead Gods (2006) by The Rita many times without ever getting used to it. This makes the noise endlessly surprising, alienating or boring, depending on one’s mood. The sense of noise as abstract is reinforced by its context-lessness; typically the artwork for a Merzbow album is as enigmatic and unrevealing as the album within, and occasionally every bit as flatly un-evocative (not a criticism!) as the Merzbow sound itself. Cultural identifiers in pure noise are also minimalist in the extreme; the race, nationality or gender of noise artists tends to be known only insofar as the artist wishes it to be so.

At the same time, a quality that pure noise shares with more traditional music is that it can noticeably affect the mood of the listener, especially when played at a loud volume. Listening to pure noise can be much like watching ‘white noise’ on a TV screen; the endless movement may be random, but the mind will look for patterns and if it doesn’t find them, create them itself; pure noise often feels detailed in a way that very little actual music does. And it is enjoyable (the word covers a wide range of responses here) or unenjoyable (simpler) for as long as it engages the listener.

Ugly Music: What I shall call ugly music is sometimes easier to pin down; it is music, which means it follows certain structural rules which noise ignores, and the listener enjoys it for its ugliness or not at all. It is notable too that artists who aim for ugliness usually attempt the Wagnerian ideal of the gesamtkunstwerk or ‘total work of art’ where everything from the sound to the lyrics to the artwork contributes to the overall effect.

Ugly music probably began in the 60s with some of The Mothers of Invention’s more indigestible experiments (like Absolutely Free, which is perhaps more difficult than truly ugly), Captain Beefheart or the 17 minute churn of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’, but it came into its own in the artistically serious 1970s (see below) and, in a more populist and relatively lighthearted way with the advent of death metal in the 80s, specifically with albums like Reek of Putrefaction (1988) by Carcass. This classic album is ugly not only in the details of the music and presentation, but in the murky muddiness of its sound; a chance element caused by the cheapness of the recording, which makes some of the album sound like two or three different bands immersed in a swamp, simultaneously playing three different songs, When allied with the rasped vocals of Jeff Walker and the ridiculously deep ones of Bill Steer, this churning noise makes for a disorientating but strangely addictive listening experience, which has something to do with the humour of its extremity (lyrical and musical) as well as the pure heaviness.

carcsBack in the 80s, this kind of music had an outsider/snob appeal even within the metal genre. 80s metal (on the whole) strove for clarity and precision; Carcass (emerging from an anarcho-crust/punk background) pushed the boundaries of musical extremity and taste (using the notorious collages of medical photos for their artwork, rather than relatively cuddly horror mascots like Iron Maiden’s Eddie) beyond what the standard fan of Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., Metallica or even Slayer might find acceptable. To say that death metal is relatively lighthearted is slightly misleading – Carcass’ early music was informed by a radical vegetarian disgust with all things meat-based in quite a serious way – but as a subgenre of a popular youth-focussed music it lacks the gravitas of the kind of music which made the late 70s a darker place to have ears.

By contrast with death metal, the sheer ugliness of early industrial music exemplified by the work of Throbbing Gristle, seems designed not so much to shock or alienate with its extremity, so much as to shock and alienate with its familiarity, kind of a negative mirror image of the almost subliminal ambient music being pioneered around the same time in Eno’s Music For Airports.

By reflecting the greyness of the decaying industrial (edging into post-industrial) landscape and society that produced it, the corporate packaging and document-like title made TG’s debut album The Second Annual Report (1977) a masterpiece of grinding mundane-ness. In its way their music is throbzevery bit as evocative of the 1970s as glam or disco, but the way it embodies its era, its brutalist architecture and grey/brown/beige ambience, combats any possible sense of nostalgia. Although it’s easy to say why it’s interesting, liking Throbbing Gristle (as many have done and continue to do) is much harder to explain. The appeal of TG; in effect the appeal of being made to feel uneasy or disgusted, is an odd way to be entertained. On the surface you could say the same about the horror genre in cinema and literature, but Throbbing Gristle’s effect is utterly different from straightforward horror-as-entertainment, feeling (to me anyway) more analogous to the JG Ballard of The Atrocity Exhibition or Crash than to Stephen King, perhaps because like Ballard, TG’s work had more to do with documenting than it did with entertaining. Although there was undoubtedly an element of confrontation in TGs music (especially in a live setting), as with pure noise, confrontation oppaisn’t the focal point that it becomes in the power electronics of groups like Whitehouse and Sutcliffe Jügend who (to some extent) followed on from the early British industrial scene. There is also a more straightforwardly ‘horror noise’ sub-subgenre including bands like Abruptum and the aforementioned Gnaw Their Tongues, whose aim seems to be to engender (with, it must be said, varying degrees of success) extreme anxiety in the listener; significantly different from the almost abstract quality of pure (if harsh) noise artists like Merzbow, easier to understand, but also easier to dismiss as sensationalism.

One of the cumulative effects of abrasive-sounding music has always been to spawn more accessible versions of abrasive-sounding music, in short, to make tunes out of it: noise rock, hardcore punk, death metal, grindcore, grunge, black metal, industrial pop music, techno, trance, drone, shoegaze; all bring a taste of ugliness to the masses in their own way and all are enjoyed, just like traditional pop/rock/soul/country/reggae etc etc etc, by people who like the tunes and like the songs. So they have little part to play in this particular discussion.


confidAcross all of the arts there are ‘so bad it’s good’ works that appeal on the ironic level of kitsch. These are completely subjective and therefore a bit of a minefield; at what point does listening to something that you personally think is so awful that it’s funny become just listening to it; and is there any difference anyway? Did my teenage self and friends have a different experience listening to an old Shakin’ Stevens tape ‘for a laugh’ than “Shaky”’s actual fans did or do? Well, yes, presumably; they probably don’t laugh as much. Still; it’s all ‘listening with pleasure’ and not only is it subjective, but it’s all about timing. The awfulness of music is as much about the zeitgeist as the popularity of music is; hard to imagine now, but there was a time in the late 80s when listening to Abba (or The Carpenters for that matter) could be enjoyed as revelling in tacky 70s awfulness; but since the early 90s they have been revered by the once-embarrassed media as a great band after all.

Since the 90s in fact, revelling in irony has become so commonplace and mainstream as not to be ironic anymore; at one time including an artist like Tom Jones in the lineup of a major indie rock festival was kind of a hipster joke that the audience was expected to be in on. Since then the line between alternative and mainstream has become blurred, not because mainstream music has become more adventurous, but because ‘alternative’ music became popular and thus blander and more geared towards commercial success and because the mainstream media discovered people they had actually heard of at these oft-derided hippy festivals. The amusingly mainstream guest act at (for example) Glastonbury or T in the Park has almost imperceptibly become the headlining act; no accident, since these artists are usually household names which therefore guarantee ticket sales in a way that even a medium-big indie rock band isn’t.

Nowadays, to have the same kind of kitsch shock value as including Tom Jones in an indie festival once had, you would have to put someone like Gary Glitter or Rolf Harris (an original ironic festival guest, strange to remember) on the stage, doubling the irony and making the whole experience extremely uncomfortable for all concerned. Despite the weird Ballardian/Coum Transmissions echo this experience this might present, it’s probably best not to.

caravThis category takes it for granted that unhappiness is a form of unpleasantness that is most often avoided; which may not be strictly true – or obviously isn’t, given the endless popularity of tragedies, murder mysteries etc. Still, it’s a basic human truth (I hope) that most people would rather be happy than sad. Most of the time that is; historically, music was most often written for occasions; sad music was required for a funeral, just as weddings demanded happy music. Tudor and baroque music often had mythological, narrative or literary inspiration which dictated the mood of the works. For a court composer to make a cheerful-sounding funeral dirge or a comic opera from a tragic mythological story would be perverse at best and bad workmanship at worst.

In modern popular music there are many kinds of sad songs, but from a personal point of view (narrowing it down to music I actually like) there are two;
songs which express the unhappiness of the performer
songs (which may or may not be sad in themselves) which make the listener (me) feel unhappy.

Both of these kinds of songs may actually be very pleasant in an aural sense, so only the latter are strictly relevant here. But – outside of the funereal situation mentioned above – why would someone intentionally listen to music that makes them sad?

There are probably as many reasons as there are people, but two big ones: to make you feel better or to make you feel worse.

A lot of interesting research has been carried out on the restorative power of sad music, so I wont say too much about that. The blues (and early country music too) is a classic example – intended not just as an outlet for the woes of the artist her or himself, but as a sharing of universal wretchedness that brings the relief of empathy/recognition – and it does seem to have a regenerative quality (a kind of earthly parallel to the redemptive power of gospel music) that makes it essentially uplifting in all but the most desolate examples.

Music to make you feel worse is more problematic, but wanting to hear sad music that deepens your depression is a fairly common phenomenon, especially among adolescents. The logic of the blues is that something that reflects your mood or encapsulates your own troubles is a kind of comfort, but it’s also true that brooding on one’s unhappiness can deepen that mood; that one can indulge in misery. Why? Because people are strange and self-pity answers some deep-seated psychological need? Perhaps it is a real kind of masochism after all…

A short, personal masochistic playlist

UNPLEASANT (these examples are all undeniably ‘not nice’, but are oddly exhilarating too)
1. Throbbing Gristle – D.o.A.



 2. Painkiller – Guts of a Virgin



 3. Merzbow – Pulse Demon



4. Mastery – Valis



5. Hijōkaidan – Duo



1. Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On



2. Samantha Fox – Touch Me



3. Yngwie J Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Now Is The Time



4. Focus – Hocus Pocus



5. Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Dress for Excess



1. The Smiths – I Know It’s Over



2. Cranes – Tomorrow’s Tears




3. Daniel Johnston – I Remember Painfully (plus most of Yip/Jump Music)



4. Adam Cohen – Beautiful



5. Red House Painters – Katy Song



Draining; that’s probably enough misery for now…

The Third Monthly Report: March 2016

By this point, 2016 has started to develop its true character, mainly based on famous people dying and political and religious extremism: halcyon days! Ah well, never mind, I’ve listened to, looked at and read lots of things which passed the time pleasantly and helped to block out the nasty stuff: so that’s nice. Re those things, more below…

Sweatshop by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics Books)

1 baggeAt first, Sweatshop feels more like one of Peter Bagge’s more lightweight, knockabout strips like Batboy or Studs Kirby, and compared to the brilliant Woman Rebel it is, but there’s more substance to the characters in Sweatshop than you’d think. This is perhaps because the situation (a group of ambitious young cartoonists working for a grouchy, reactionary, but famous old cartoonist to produce his well-known but trivial newspaper strip) is one close to the hearts of Bagge and his own team of artists. It’s funny and silly, but also well plotted and with some sharp observations about the world of cartooning as well as human relationships etc; a good book in fact.



Various short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

fsfThe selection I have was collected by Penguin Classics in Bernice Bobs Her Hair and other stories) I first read Fitzgerald’s short stories when I was a teenager and have gone back to them every now and then. I’m always surprised by how funny and sad they are. I bought Bernice Bobs Her Hair because of the beautiful photo of Louise Brooks on the cover and I’m glad to see Penguin are still using it for a similar book of Fitzgerald’s stories.





Anthrophobia by Godhole/Crozier & Godhole’s s/t EP (Mind Ripper Collective)

godhoI had already heard both of these great releases but when I saw that Mind Ripper were selling them on vinyl 7″s ridiculously inexpensively. Anthrophobia is a brilliant meeting of two very different musical personalities, with Godhole’s intensely emotive and strangely catchy powerviolence being distorted almost to the point of non-music by Crozier’s harsh noise; it’s bracing and not at all pretty, but it has a real impact and is worryingly addictive. The same is true of the Godhole EP, although it is relatively more disciplined insofar as it sounds like a band, rather than a catastrophic nightmare.





Islands by The Cosmic Array (Folkwit Records)

cosmicFor 99% of the time, a complete contrast with the above (though the second half of Drones is surprisingly noisy and atonal), I was especially impressed by the forthcoming Cosmic Array album because I didn’t expect to like it at all. “Alt country/Americana”, ‘immersive and cinematic’ or not, is not really my thing* but in fact this album brings together a beautifully peculiar space-age melancholy that has (to me) hints of the Flaming Lips, Spacemen 3, My Little Airport and even the BMX Bandits and a sound that is a hybrid of UK indie and alt country (Fire Up The Sky is, strangely, almost shoegaze-alt country; actually, Moose’s XYZ was a great shoegaze/Americana album, so maybe not so strange?). Anyway; the songs are catchy and nice, Paul Battenbough and Abby Sohn are really good, expressive vocalists and it really is a big, widescreen cinematic sound as advertised; so put aside anti-country prejudices (if like me you have them) and give it a listen.

*BUT: check out Hale (2012) by The Sterling Sisters if you’ve never heard it: great




Gensho by Boris with Merzbow 


From mellow Welsh-American music to Japanese heavy noise; Gensho includes a cover, swathed in echo and delay, of perhaps my favourite My Bloody Valentine song, Sometimes and that kind of sums up the album; it’s beautiful and haunting and harsh and (only occasionally) nearly unlistenable, but it’s great. Merzbow’s harsh, but essentially malice-free abstract noise takes (to say the least) the slightly saccharine edge off of the more pop/shoegaze direction Boris has been making over the last few albums and Boris’ essential musicality makes Merzbow feel less like an experiment to test the capabilities of your speakers/ears; less background/white noise-like. It’s a great partnership and I’d like them to explore it further.


Changeless by Gail Carriger (2010) 


 A lightning-fast re-read for possibly my favourite of Gail Carriger’s brilliantly witty and tongue-in-cheek steampunk novels concerning the soulless heroine Alexia Tarabotti; I don’t really believe in having crushes on fictional characters, but if I did, I would. I think it was at the end of this book that I realised how much feeling I had invested in the characters. Although she is often compared to PG Wodehouse (fair enough in a way), I’d say (if forced to compare) that for me, Gail Carriger combines the lightness of tone and depth of feeling that I find in two of my favourite ever books; The Rock Pool by Cyril Connolly and Afternoon Men by Anthony Powell.





Bacteria Cult by Kaada/Patton (Ipecac Recordings)      

kaadabacteria The third collaboration between Mike Patton and John Erika Kaada is, despite the ominous title, an extremely wide ranging and often light-toned (if moody, in the film-soundtrack sense) collection of dramatic and sometimes operatic (but not always melodramatic) pieces, ranging from the strangely Tom Waits-like Papillon to the Morricone-ish Black Albino. It’s a perfectly judged album, Mike Patton’s voice(s) interweaving with the orchestra to create individual pieces that are at the same time short and vast;too involving to be ‘background music’ it really does sound like an epic soundtrack in search of who knows what kind of film.






I also rediscovered to mix CDs (never sounds as good as ‘mixtape’) made for me by a friend years ago which embody all that is great about a classic mixtape; I didn’t know all the songs (or bands) before I heard them and I didn’t end up being a fan of everything on them, but there’s something about a home-compiled (nowadays people would probably say ‘curated’) tape of someone else’s music that is fascinating and entertaining, plus these have fantastic collage artwork. I hope the ‘youth of today’ still makes these kinds of things! Anyway, offered here as a kind of playlist not of my making: much of which is recommended –


  1. VHS or Beta – Heaven  weird
  2. Toadies – Possum Kingdom  
  3. This Mortal Coil – Holocaust 
  4. Thee Headcoats – I’m Unkind
  5. The Locust – Skin Graft At 75
  6. Strung Out – Tattoo
  7. The Specials – Too Much, Too Young
  8. Sneaker Pimps/Portishead – Water
  9. An Albatross – The Great Sarcophagus
  10. At The Drive In – This Night Has Opened My Eyes
  11. The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star
  12. Billie Holiday – On The Sunny Side of the Street
  13. Billy Bragg/Wilco – Ingrid Bergman
  14. Blondie – One Way Or Another
  15. Bouncing Souls – Break Up Song
  16. Bright Eyes – Something Vague
  17. Cat Power – Where Is My Love?
  18. Cranes – Lilies
  19. The Faint – There’s Something Not As Valid When The Scenery Is A Postcard
  20. Fugazi – Waiting Room
  21. Go-Gos – Lust To Love
  22. The Mars Volta – Son et Lumiere
  23. Mates of State – I Got A Feelin
  24. Mates of State – I Have Space
  25. The Misfits – Scream
  26. Screeching Weasel – Zombie


  1. Bright Eyes – The Calendar Hung Itselfstuff
  2. Gogol Bordello – Bulla Bulla
  3. Ima Robot – Dirty Life
  4. Ima Robot – Twist + Shout
  5. Frou Frou – Breathe In
  6. Placebo – Blind
  7. Devandra Banhart – My Ships
  8. Devandra Banhart – Legless Love
  9. The Cramps – Eyeball in my Martini
  10. Nightmare of You – Thumbelina
  11. Nightmare of You – In The Bathroom
  12. Jets To Brazil – Chinatown
  13. Sleater Kinney – Funeral Song
  14. Sleater Kinney – Dig Me Out
  15. Sonic Youth – 100%
  16. Tegan and Sara – Walking With A Ghost
  17. Tiger Army – Never Die 
  18. Tilt – Libel
  19. The Weakerthans – Wellington’s Wednesdays
  20. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Date With The Night
  21. William Shatner – I Wanna Sex You Up
  22. The Smiths – The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
  23. Scarling – City Noise
  24. Roy Orbison – In Dreams

and there you have it: March 2016 – onwards!


An Illuminated Eccentric; the art of Christophe Szpajdel


What do black/death metal band Book of Belial and Kim Kardashian have in common? Aside from a desire to spread evil and darkness, the answer is that both have had their names immortalised by the iconic logo designer Christophe Szpajdel. Although inextricably linked to the extreme metal underground by his classic works for a vast array of bands, Szpajdel is first and foremost a great artist and designer and his work now has an audience far beyond the metal subculture to which he still undeniably belongs.


Szpajdel has been drawing bespoke logos since 1987, his big break coming in the early 90s with the classic and hugely influential logo for Norwegian black metal legends Emperor. Since then his work has helped to define the aesthetic style of underground metal, but also become well-known in its own right, being featured in exhibitions and books, including his own volume, Lord of the Logos.

 It’s typical of the UK that, despite being based in Exeter (and having been a UK resident for the past fifteen years), Szpajdel’s work receives far greater acclaim and coverage elsewhere in the world; a real shame, and a situation which will hopefully be remedied as his reputation continues to expand both within and outside of the metal realm.

In conversation, Christophe is funny and informative and has a passion for drawing and, especially, logo design (his own and that of others) which shines through everything he says. It’s worth pointing out too, that in a time when useable graphics have arguably never been easier to come by, he remains committed to the art of imaginative, hand-drawn, pencil and ink images; unique works which have the feel that only comes from manual labour and contemplation.


Anyway, enough introduction; here’s the man himself – What are you looking forward to in 2016?

CS: This year I have lined up a few exhibitions, I have a possible show in Manchester for March-April at the Gallery Grim and another possibly in London. But I have had quite a long list of exhibitions in the past, so what is more exciting to look forward to is in June, when I have my first proper workshop, which is going to happen in Vancouver, Canada. That workshop is going to be together with [photographer] Peter Beste. This is something really to look forward to. I had a talk earlier today about an exhibition in Romania, in the Carpathian mountains. Last year I had a very successful last-minute impromptu exhibition in Japan. I’m actually looking forward to having a much bigger exhibition there, because that last exhibition became something of a timebomb. It filled the venue, they literally squeezed in, and I had three hours of non-stop autographs. All these Japanese people were taking selfies with me, which is something I have never seen like this before. In the UK, selfies are a big habit; in Japan, selfies are an absolute obsession.  It’s the same with queuing. Here in the UK, everyone is used to queuing, the Japanese have turned queuing into an art form. So last year was a giant leap in my artistic career.”

As mentioned in my intro, Christophe’s name is known worldwide in metal circles, but although his love for and knowledge of metal music is obvious, his real passion is for designing logos, not simply recycling past glories.bruno

CS: Yes, there is always metal, but this year I have made a new experience, I have done some pop culture logos. I drew for Calvin Harris and Bruno Mars, and Kim Kardashian, and Katie Price, Wayne Rooney (laughs).  Also Maverick Sabre –  you know; really popular artists, because I have the will to have my work exposed to a calvharmuch bigger public. And at the moment I’ve been thinking about, just for fun, working on a Beyoncé logo, because she is so much talked about.  So there’s this whole series of pop culture logos, I did EastEnders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Shortland Street. So I had some real fun exploring the mainstream. But the metal public is always the most receptive to my work. It’s my public, it’s the one who collects my work. A lot of people who see my work who haven’t been acquainted with the metal scene say that it’s not something they would be going for. Or that it’s nice but it’s grim.


There was a time when the extreme metal underground was essentially a DIY business at all levels, but its growth, aided by that of the internet over the last two decades has taken your local extreme band from demos, fanzines and tape trading, to small indie labels, to world tours and ‘Norwegian Grammys’, with the concomitant rise of the oxymoron that is ‘big’ underground bands. No genre demonstrates this better than black metal; and it should be noted that the high profile black metal image that has evolved is in part due to the instantly recognisable work of Christophe Szpajdel himself. Classic 90s logos like his ones for Emperor and Moonspell set a style which is still widely imitated 30 years on.


As the world has changed, Szpajdel has changed with it, but although he puts in full-time hours designing logos, he still doesn’t rely on his art for his income, which means his work is, by the standard of graphic designers with his profile and pedigree, almost ludicrously inexpensive.


CS: “The cost varies, but really I am aiming for a fee of one hundred US dollars. Anybody who contacts me first must be prepared to pay my fee. This year I am also looking to introduce an hourly rate. I discussed this with some artists in Devon who saw my work, and they told me ‘you really need to concentrate on a contract. Send the client a contract that stipulates that there is $100 initial fee for the first draft; but the first draft includes a finalised logo. If they then want further drafts then you absolutely need to introduce an hourly rate.’ So I am working out those details soon.

old graves landscape

Bands who contact me now for a logo for free, I say ‘if you want a logo then I want to see the 50% deposit. And when I see the deposit in my PayPal account I will then start working on the logos. If I don’t have the deposit then I’m not going to make a move.’

So is the logo done just for fun, or out of enthusiasm for the subject now a thing of the past?

CS: No, because times like now [January], when it’s been quite quiet over the festive period so, I sometimes just dish out a logo to someone, to people who support my work, just to experiment and to exercise my freedom. There’s a woman called Natalie Corless who has posted a lot on my Facebook wall that she likes my logos so I did her an impromptu logo and she loved it. And so she posted and promoted my album on her timeline and she got me some clients! And this was a person who randomly added me on Facebook. And at the end of the day, she liked my work and she got me five clients, who paid $100 each. So these kind of random people who add me on facebook, they’re not as random as you might think.

Do you forsee a time when you will live from just doing your artwork?

CS: Well, I would love to. But since I’ve started charging professionally, I have observed a steep drop of the amount of clients who commission a logo from me. There are lots of other artists, for example Chris Horst, or Gragoth from Luciferium War Graphics. They offer packages. Chris Horst for example specialises in logos, but for $50 he does logos that include drafts, revisions, work on the computer, digitised, vectorised, coloured, all that; for just $50. Gragoth from Luciferium War Graphics, he is offering for $300, a complete package. Like it has album covers, banners, ad banners, website, myspace layouts, reverb nation layouts, logo, all inclusive for $300. And he is having a lot of success.

maries copy

But my work’s selling point is it is unique; it is absolutely handmade. I work in collaboration with some graphic designers to digitise my logos. Because now that I charge $100, my clients expect work exactly, precisely, rigorously, to their expectations. They expect the logo to be vectorised, digitised, they expect it in different formats; .PNG, .AI, Vector file, .RAR, .PDF, .GIF files, all the different formats.”


One would think that, as Christophe is now (and has been since the 90s) a well-known name, that bands would request a logo in his trademark style (or one of them), but surprisingly this isn’t always the case…

CS: When I used to do logos in my own style they all got rejected. Now I listen to what the clients want. When they pay the deposit I would like the band to discuss exactly what they are looking for. And actually I want them to send me examples by other artists and not mine, so I can avoid repeating myself. I’m also in very close contact and have been doing quite a lot of collaborative works with a guy called Raoul Mazzero from Italy. He is an absolute genius. He actually helped me how to create outstanding logos, and how to solve the symmetry problems. He’s been a huge help, and we’re looking at a possible Italian show too.”

Is symmetry something you aim for in general?

CS: I actually have an automatic impulse to create symmetrical logos, but I have also done quite a lot of asymmetrical logos. But symmetrical logos are just natural to me. I find a symmetrical logo to be more outstanding, and to be more balanced.


So what is a good logo to you?

CS: I think the readability of a logo is essential. A logo has to be readable, even in a small format. And I try to convince my clients and my customers that a logo needs to be readable. Not to be overly decorated, especially if it is going to be displayed very small on a poster or on the corner of a CD. On most of the logos I produce I am aiming for readability. And if the client wants a completely unreadable logo I am simply saying ‘why don’t we opt for several designs? Why don’t we think about doing a logo which is made of letters only, which is readable and then a more limited logo for t-shirts that can go more unreadable?'”


Do you have any interest in doing cover designs etc as well as the logos?

CS: No.  I’ve tried to do it and it doesn’t really come well. I found out that doing album covers is not my speciality. However, I did work last year on a mural in Exeter. This is something I wanted to experience. I love working outside, especially in the summer months. In the winter, I essentially work in my studio. But in the summer I’m working a lot outside.


The mural is a rare Christophe Szpajdel work, not only because of the scale, but the use of colour.


CS: “In my logos I do everything in black and white.  However, there are a few exceptions. For the 2014 Remembrance Day I did a logo with red poppies on it. [since this interview took place, Christophe also designed the beautiful memorial logo for David Bowie below also) Sometimes I like to share my thoughts through an artwork, like a logo. I find that logos come to me a lot better, it’s my vocation as an artist. I find that I prefer to put my hand into one pot, rather than to try to put my hand into a lot of pots.”


Although Christophe is known for his black and death metal logos, it would be a mistake to regard these as being in one single style; beginning in the 90s with the bold, spiky logos such as the classic designs for Emperor et al, but he also pioneered the naturalistic, organic, ‘spreading roots’ style logos now extremely widespread in the genre (I have chosen his logo for Grim as both a perfect example and a personal favourite) and latterly has turned to increasingly bold, primitive designs.


He has also experimented with various alphabets and styles, a favourite of mine being his masterful and atmospheric Art Nouveau and Art Deco inspired designs.


decos copy

CS: “I like to do Art Nouveau logos, Art Nouveau logos give fantastic ways for using the space, using space between the letters, rather than pure black metal old school logos, which generally look crumpled. And I think that these usual kinds of logos actually reduce the chance for a band to become well known. Sometimes it’s an ultra-radical kind of orthodox black metal band who wants only to release ten copies of their demo or something, but unfortunately I prefer a logo to be standing out, to be readable. It has to be readable at first sight, but at the same time it has to be outstanding. it has to be kick-ass and memorable, not just a bunch of letters put together, but a logo.

Is creating a simple logo easier or more difficult than complicated one?

CS: “When it’s a complicated and sophisticated logo I mostly get it right the first time. If it’s a simple logo, that is where the client will challenge me. Because in a simple logo, that’s when any imperfection will be seen. And the client will be the first to see it. And this is what I really love; logos to be incredibly easy to recognise straight ahead. [note; the logos Christophe lists here are not his own designs] Think about Gojira; I love that logo. It’s simple, it’s clear, and even if you see it very small, you recognise straight away; that is Gojira and no other band. Think about a band like Tool. They have a perfect logo because it stands out, it’s unique, and it’s appropriate. Or logos like Anthrax; it’s modern, it’s thrash, it’s simple, it’s distinctive, it’s unique. Same, think about the logo of Helloween; or the logo of Malice. Think about Bathory!”

Or indeed Emperor…

CS: “You see, when I did Emperor, they had a sort of logo they used with upside down crosses, and it was too black metal, I thought they needed something simple, and imperious. And I got it right first time. You know, you throw your first dart and you get it right in the centre of the target. Bam! Like that. It’s a logo which is at the same time simple, distinctive, useable in any size, which works in any size and format.”

And of course you now have your own logo…

CS: “Yes, I have the Lord of the Logos, which is my trademark, which is my book.”

lord logo book

It’s a beautiful book, have you plans for more?

CS: “Well, Lord of the Logos, is still available, it’s still sellng. I’m looking to release a second volume, which has a working  title of Ancient Modernism later this year. The title comes from a whole concept I’ve developed . The concept in tundo creationhe new logos is a real travel through time and dimension. So there is a timeline, beginning with really primitive logos I have created. A band called Gau, which means ‘night’ in Basque, this logo is very prehistoric, almost as if it was drawn by dinosaurs. With these very prehistoric plants around, no crows, no wolves. Very prehistoric, almost reptilian, taken from a time there was no mammals, no birds, there were just reptiles and primitive insects; trilobites, and ammonites. And in fact I live in Exeter, by the Jurassic coast, so you can send yourself spinning on a time travel of 200 millions years. So we go from these very simplistic logos, like Undo Creation from Georgia, up to the most sophisticated logos; art deco, or futuristic logos, like I did for Outsider Industries. Or Haunted, an Italian project.


It seems like, although drawing logos still isn’t your ‘day job’, it’s definitely your main focus…

C.S: “I’m trying to keep myself at the age of 45, forever doing logos. The main reason is being single; all the time being single, so I can concentrate 100% on my logos because this is what gives me happiness. I have never been married, never had children; my first child is that book, Lord of the Logos. And that child is growing all the time, it has been in many hands, and it’s being appreciated by people who have never been listening to metal. Lord of the Logos is really only focussing on what inspires me; it’s photographs and logos. And there are some medieval aspects, but mostly it’s nature. All the photos have been taken by myself, and the logos are all my own work and it reflects the places that have inspired me. It includes many parts of Devon, Dartmoor, Southampton, Oregon, California, south of France, Belgium. Quite a lot of places that I have visited. And last year there was also the release of the compendium, Logos from Hell by Mark Riddick, and I’ve got something like 200 of my works in there; no other artist had 200 logos collected in one compendium book. The book is very heavy.


Collecting works into books creates a great  reference work for graphic artists, but does it inspire you to look back at your old stuff?

CS: “I have been at the moment making a complete retrospective and over the next while… I have been looking to post on Facebook for the first time logos that I did from 1992 to 1999. So a real retrospective that includes some logos like a band called Eternity of Darkness that I did in 1992, something like that; that was a UK band. And Stone Circle. We’re talking about very, very old stuff from the 90s…

What were the logos that first got your attention? In the 70s there were some classics like Kiss…

Yeah; the original [Paul Stanley designed] Kiss logo with the SS style lettering; it’s just exactly the kind of logo that got me as a kid. I started listening to Kiss in 1977. I also loved bands like The Cure. I remember going to see them when I was 12 and it was like going to enter a completely forbidden country. When I went in ’82 it was all the ‘post-punks’ but when I saw them again in ’87, that was the time of all the Goths. There were just loads of Goths; the people you just couldn’t see in the daytime. You just couldn’t see these people outside of some special place like Camden. In Camden you could see all these illuminated people with a vivid imagination; and I am one of them, I definitely consider myself as an illuminated eccentric with a vivid imagination.

 At this point do you have any idea how many logos you’ve done?

It would be easily a good ten thousand. And there are quite a lot of logos that I unfortunately parted with the originals. Because in many cases I’d be drawing on the go and just hand the drawings over to the client. Like a band from Italy called Deathraid, who were a little bit in the vein of the oh-so-legendary Necrodeath…

…brief interlude as we discuss Necrodeath’s Into the Macabre and Christophe reveals that, however wide his tastes and artistic ambitions, his roots are most definitely in the underground metal scene of his youth:

CS: “Into the Macabre very memorable, it’s very simplistic, its raw. It’s got that vibe. The songs are just basically keeping you on your toes. It’s a great blend of thrash, speed metal with that slight black metal edge, but at the same time it’s very insane, it’s very haunting. It’s the kind of album if you hear it once you will remember it for the rest of your life.”

Well, it was recorded before all the genre boundaries were really established…

CS: “Yes, it was just straight from hell metal. And that was what I adored.”

Last year, Christophe’s iconic Emperor logo became, for the first time, a source of something other than pride, when it became the basis for some joke Christmas jumper designs posted online by the Foo Fighters; which still rankles, evidently…

CS: That drove me absolutely ballistic. And I could have sued them, but I had a much nicer idea. I came up with a Foo Fighters logo designed by myself, which has a black metal vibe, but with the FF of Foo Fighters and elements of the Foo Fighters logo but had a black metal, but still readable, Emperor-esque inspiration, without being a barbaric cut-paste like this pathetic Foo Fighters Emperor-esque logo which had been done on a computer.


A lot of people brought it to my attention and there was much going on on my Facebook wall that I finally said I’m gonna ram it down and post the logo. This is how the Foo Fighters logo should be! Woe to the guy who ripped off my Emperor logo and made a right pig’s ear out of it! Of course I had some people who told me I should be honoured. Well! Honoured of having my art being disfigured, desecrated, stolen and mistreated like that? Bollocks. If they really wanted to have an Emperor tribute logo they would have contacted me! They wouldn’t have contacted a lousy, so-called graphic designer, who made this terrible pig’s ear out of it, and on this awful, terrible, shameful Christmas jumper!

So what is  the legal situation with the Emperor logo? Do you have any rights or does the band just own it?

I still have the right to exhibit. I had a massive exhibition; last year started great. I had the Marks of Metal exhibition in Odense in Denmark. There was an encounter between me, who did the Emperor logo and Kristian Wåhlin, Necrolord, who did the Emperor album cover. We actually brought the actual works, and we were there with the works together, making the same kind of statements. We both did these works when we were just Emperor fans, when we were young. I was exactly twenty when I did the Emperor logos, I was still doing my studies and I did it as kind of a hobby. When I did that logo in January 1991, during my first year winter exams, I would never imagine that Emperor would become so big. It wasn’t until 1994 and In the Nightside Eclipse that my name became big. That was when my name spread in the underground and became known among the metallers.


How do you feel about that logo now? Do you still like it?

Yes, I love it still. It’s become one of the timeless classics. Think about Motorhead, think about  Iron Maiden, think about Abba! Tom Jones, he’s still going on. The Foundations; Build Me Up Buttercup. These are artists and songs I loved and still love. Think of Elvis Presley; these are timeless classics and the Emperor logo is one of those classics. And it’s one of the few logos that is still unaltered after 30 years. And when people meet me they say ‘you’re the Emperor logo guy!’ Of course there lots of  other bands from the 90s whose logos I did; but Emperor is the one that stands out.

Do you feel your focus as an artist has changed much since 1991?

CS: “Well, in the 90s I wouldn’t say that I wanted only true black metal exclusively, but there was no way on earth that I would have been doing the logos for Kim Kardashian and people like that… I do wonder where those will take me…




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Inevitably, the releases of the year 2015 (part four)

The penultimate selection of the year’s best releases, I’m thinking there will have to be some ‘honourable mentions’ at the end of the final part!
Enslaved – In Times (Nuclear Blast Records)Enslaved-In-Times
It’s been a long time since Enslaved could be classified as viking metal, but the spirit of their ancient Norse ancestors lives on in In Times, along with the spirit of King Crimson and 70s prog in general, metal and black metal in particular and so much more. In Times is arguably their greatest album to date, and its greatness is defined by the way the band takes so many apparently disparate and complex elements and makes them not only harmonious but accessible and memorable. A masterpiece.


Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, Girl (Sacred Bones Records)

A highly peculiar yet very accessible album, the music and song structures on Apocalypse, Girl are dreamlike and unpredictable, but made into a satisfying whole by the remarkable voice, words and personality of Jenny Hval herself.

Grift – Syner (Nordvis Produktion)

Some people are justifiably critical of the more pleasant end of the black metal genre these days, but wallowing in melancholy has its own appeal and Erik Gärdefors makes masterfully mournful music. As beautiful as it is sad.

Jess & The Ancient Ones – Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes (Svart Records)

jess-and-the-ancient-ones-second-psychedelic-coming-cdLess doomy than their previous work, the latest album by Finland’s foremost psychedelic rock band is certainly not less atmospheric and manages to be exhilarating even when at its most wandering & jazzy. Great songs, great production & the superbly charismatic Jess herself; brilliant.

Sigh – Graveward (Candlelight Records)

sighEven by the standards of the mighty Sigh, Graveward is a highly peculiar album. Frank Zappa-meets-prog-meets-Yngwie Malmsteen-meets-power metal-meets-movie soundtracks-meets-black metal; it’s difficult to pigeonhole but easy to enjoy.

OLD ALBUM OF THE YEAR: contender# 3

Pilot – A’s, B’s & Rarities (EMI)

Seriously underrated 70s post-glam power pop from Scotland. Pilot had a few chart hits (more than you’d think in fact) but their lesser known work is just as interesting, if not as immediate. Lest the fact that Pilot was a great band not be enough to convince people even more snooty about music than me, half of the band played on the majority of Kate Bush’s most iconic work.