Ship To Shore PhonoCo.'s Media Officer Mark Anthony Finch takes a look back at some of the music releases which made an impact on him in 2018, whether for the best or worst...
As my two friends who read my contributions to this blog know, my musical tastes are quintessentially mine. I know what I like, and like them I do. But that does not mean I close my mind off to other experiences. Yesterday I listened to The Thrill Of It All by Sam Smith and even though I was vomiting blood and trying to push hot carrots into my ears by the fifth track I still gave it a chance. I’ll try anything once, apart from, y’know, that. So for those of you who don’t know me, please understand this: if I like it, I like it. Doesn’t matter if it’s hip-hop, electro, pop music or whatever it is that Eagles Of Death Metal do, I will give it a chance, and if it’s good music then I will proudly proclaim it as such. I have my favourite styles of music of course - don’t we all? - but I hold no allegiance to anything or anyone.
As it is, I didn’t get much of a chance to listen to as much stuff in 2018 as I normally would due to a busy working year, which is probably just as well as otherwise this would be nineteen pages long and you’d be bored out of your minds. So let’s have a look at some of the few releases this year which crossed my path and that I managed to pump out of my speakers, from the albums which got my blood racing like a diabetic eating too much marzipan to the releases that left me cold like yesterday’s tapioca pudding.
EMIKA - FALLING IN LOVE WITH SADNESS
Ema Jolly’s (aka Emika) sixth album should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following her career since she was originally signed to UK label Ninja Tune all the way back in 2009. Now the proud owner of her own record label, she is dutifully flinging out creative endeavour after creative endeavour, not least this latest effort: “Falling In Love With Sadness.” Her music has always had a dark, slight melancholic feel to it, the cold electronic production adding weight to that already heavy heart in your chest, but this seems to have gone one step further, and is it of any surprise? With the album being released on World Mental Health Day, part of its proceeds being donated to a mental health charity and, of course, that fucking album title, it should all be a bit of a giveaway really. It would be easy to write this all off as some kind of attention-seeking gimmick but in reality this album is utterly superb and is quite possibly the best LP she has released, whether as an independent artist or as one part of Ninja Tune’s huge roster (I’m still of the opinion that the best thing she has ever done for her career is making a go of it on her own. Creatively it has paid off in dividends).
Falling In Love With Sadness does not outstay its welcome and is at its most rewarding when listened to as a cohesive whole as opposed to a collection of individual tracks. Make no mistake, this is an album that should be played beginning to end (stop using that “shuffle” function!). Ironically - considering the subject matter - the album is a joy to listen to and I think this one will be on repeat a great deal until the dementia takes over or I kill myself. Easily my Music Release Of The Year™.
THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON - LIFEFORMS
It’s been quite a year for The Future Sound Of London, with a new EP so extended it’s more of an album “My Kingdom - Re-imagined” (a continuation of the My Kingdom EP from 1996), the original Abbey Road cut of The Isness (with FSOL performing as Amorphous Androgynous) pressed on vinyl and given its first official release sixteen years after it was recorded, a new “From The Archives” LP (volume 9 in an on-going series), a veritable smörgåsbord of digital exclusive releases available on their website and - finally - a vinyl reissue of one of their most sought-after albums on wax: the double LP “Lifeforms.” Phew! Looks like someone has a mortgage to pay off.
For anyone who was unlucky enough not to be able to grab a vinyl copy of the original release back in 1994 (like me) and who couldn’t afford the absolutely astronomical prices of a second-hand copy since (like me) - assuming you were lucky enough to find someone selling a copy to begin with - this reissue is an absolute godsend. Apparently a large group of fans got together and badgered Virgin Music/EMI/Universal into re-releasing this, which they did, evidence that sometimes the big music labels do listen to the fanbase and get it right.
This is one of those landmark, genre-defining, life-changing albums that doesn’t seem to age. Mostly consisting of downtempo digital soundscapes (with a bit of IDM, ambient techno thrown in, not to mention the occasional sample from David Cronenberg’s film “Scanners”), it wears its electronic-analogue charms on its chest with pride, somehow managing to sound orgasmically organic in the process. Did this really come out twenty four years ago? It’s a bloody masterpiece and this reissue reaffirms that. No remaster needed, just a good solid pressing on 180g black wax (and it’s a damn fine pressing to boot: completely flat vinyl, no sound distortions, good bass, nice and warm). When I first heard this album on CD, all those years ago, I immediately fell in love with it. Hearing it on vinyl for the first time made me fall in love with it all over again. Sure, you can still buy the CD or even get the digital download but where’s the fun in that? My choice for Music Release Of The Year™.
FUKPIG - BASTARDS
Aah, Fukpig. The subtle nuance, the beautiful lyrics, the calming melodies. With track titles like Dogshit Hair, Last Brexit To Nowhere, Let’s Make Britain Hate Again and Ruled By Cunts, it seems fairly obvious to anyone with half of a functioning brain cell that this is a spiritual successor to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports or The KLF’s Chill Out. Okay, maybe not. Formed several years ago from band members of Anaal Nathrakh and Mistress (remember them?), Fukpig release whatever material they want on their own label, meaning no studio interference (apparently they were screwed over by Earache Records previously). The result is a cross between crust punk, black metal and d-beat-infused Napalm Death-influenced shenanigans, a style called “Necropunk” by the band. Throughout the years they’ve gone from strength to strength with each release, and while their left-wing politically fuelled anti-religious bile-spewings might not be for everyone, I would heartily recommend you try and seek out any of their albums if you think you would enjoy a metal sub-genre called “Necropunk.” As it is, Bastards is on a par with their previous album (This World Is Weakening), which I proudly declared as being their best release at the time.
Bastards is available in a limited run on clear green vinyl with red & yellow splatter and also CD (both CD and LP are numbered for extra collectibility if this is important to you). The production is excellent, the music enraging - which is the point, I believe - and never fails to make you feel disappointed when the album ends after its short 31 minute running time. As much as I like extreme metal I do find a lot of releases & bands blend into one another. Fukpig - and this album - stand out from the crowd and for all the right reasons. Certainly this year’s winner of Music Release Of The Year™. It’s fast and furious, short and sweet; play it loud, your neighbours don’t like you anyway.
YUZO KOSHIRO & MOTOHIRO KAWASHIMA - STREETS OF RAGE 3
(video game soundtrack)
If you are of a certain age - which certainly everyone is - but more importantly, if you were a gamer in the early 90’s, then chances are you have at least heard of Streets Of Rage (or Bare Knuckle if you hail from Japan). A side-scrolling beat-em-up that may very well have been a Double Dragon rip-off, the games were hugely popular due to their playability, wacky sound effects and - most importantly - their soundtracks (both the game and soundtrack of Streets Of Rage 2 are as imbedded in my soul as my liking for hot chocolate fudge cake and Sherilyn Fenn). The music for the games evolved as the series progressed: SOR1 had an almost hip-hop feel to it with house leanings, SOR2 went for a more house feel while retaining that hip-hop sense from the previous outing (carrying over some of the main musical themes over from the original) and even managed to throw in a techno track or two. Streets Of Rage 3’s soundtrack however - much like the game itself - discarded much of the previous games’ familiar elements to create a more experimental affair (I can only assume, as Yuzo Koshiro composed the soundtracks to the previous two games solo, that this is due to Motohiro Kawashima’s input), and it’s not been without criticism because of it. The whole thing is pretty much a fever dream from beginning to end, like listening to digital hardcore whilst an adrenaline-fuelled Yōkai blows cocaine & speed up your bum. It sounds like it should be awful but thankfully it’s not, and while it does not quite reach the dizzying heights of its predecessors in terms of musical quality it still manages to be a unique and satisfying experience. At the album’s climax the old familiar Streets Of Rage theme plays which signals the comedown, and thank god because I wouldn’t want this double LP set to end whilst still riding that cocaine/speed tidal soundwave - to burn off the excess energy I’d have to go out for a jog or commit myself to a frenzied one-hour long wanking session, and I am NOT going to go out for a jog.
The beauty of SOR1 & 2 is that the music actually stands on its own - you can listen to it while being unfamiliar with the games (in my opinion at least) - and while you can absorb the frenetic audio from SOR3 without having played the cartridge it comes from, it doesn’t retain the same melodious harmony and thus does not reach the “instant classic” prominence. That being said, any fan of video game soundtracks should not miss the opportunity to at least listen to this: it was ahead of its time, that’s for sure, and while it might not stand on its own as well as the others in the series it does do what all soundtracks ultimately should set out to do: it sets the mood for the visuals on the screen and as such this absolutely succeeds. The vinyl itself is of the usual high quality from this record label. Music Release Of The Year™? Absolutely!
JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON - MANDY
How do you compose a score for a film like Mandy? Well, with some dark, brooding, almost minimalist industrial ambient drone fuckery that’s far more enjoyable than the movie itself, of course! Prepare to take your auditory senses for a crazy ride with Mandy, the little Suspiria score that could. Revel! in its melancholy! Gasp! at its sheer wall-crushing heaviness! Wish! that the score had been used for a better film! This music is something else. Such a shame that Icelandic composer Jóhannsson passed away after completing this, but surely this is a great piece of work to leave behind in his wake. His talent shall certainly be missed. Available on vinyl (which has had variable reviews regarding its quality), CD and digital download. Get it. Doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the film or not. Just get it. Somehow. Get it. Now. Or don’t. Music Release Of The Year™.
S>>D - CO INTEL PRO
I’m pretty much over the whole “John Carpenter-esque 80’s synth revival” genre now, which burned so brightly it snuffed itself out. It seemed that everyone and their camel was releasing an LP (“it’s more eighties if it’s on vinyl!”) that featured deep synth pads and pulsing bass lines. Synthwave, I think they called it. I would buy release after release, thinking “hey, I like this kind of music!” and eventually I ended up with a large stack of vinyl that mostly sounded the same. I grew bored. The music had all started to blend together, like lit pillar candles placed too close together, and I was starting to forget which music was from which album. Not a good sign. That’s not to say that there weren’t any shining stars of the genre, and I’m sure (and hope) that the real talented artists of this style continue to produce music, but as a fresh ground-breaking scene, its shine had definitely dimmed. Or so I thought. S>>D (aka Sean Dorris) has managed to restore my faith in this genre by doing the unexpected: he took the modern synthwave sound and filtered it through his 90’s IDM filter, mixing it with a dash of early Boards Of Canada. Braindance meets Synthwave. And I like it! More of an album to listen to as opposed to boogie to, this release should be enjoyed in a cold room with a glass of your favourite beverage whilst reading the collected works of HP Lovecraft. There are lots of references that many film geeks will spot - titles like “Cell Intruder” (which actually plays as an updated version of Ennio Morricone’s main theme to John Carpenter’s film The Thing), “Silver Shamrock Intermission” and “Kill Screen” are a bit of a giveaway - not just the track names themselves but the distant, haunting samples used throughout the double LP. The label - Central Processing Unit (they distributed an album on minidisc earlier this year, remember?) - have proved once again that they are a force to be reckoned with and have released another top quality vinyl album that puts many other labels to shame. I can’t think of any other way to describe it: the vinyl is a FUCKING BEAUTIFUL thing. Deep, rich and analogue-sounding with no surface noise, the way it should be. Definitely the Music Release Of The Year™. Available on 2LP and as a digital download: find it, listen to it, cherish it, wish that you had heard this months ago so you could impress all of your friends by telling them you discovered it first.
THE DAMNED - EVIL SPIRITS
What the fuck happened? The Damned, the first punk band to release a single, the first punk band to release an album, and the first U.K. punk band to hit U.S. soil, have seemingly lost their edge. Okay okay don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly the first time their style of music has changed: their gradual transition from 70’s South London punks - releasing tracks like New Rose and Smash It Up - to new romantic goths in the mid-80’s - releasing tracks like Eloise and Grimly Fiendish - to middle-aged rockers in the 90’s has been well documented. The most important thing, however, was that the quality remained, even after many (many) different band members joined and left. The Damned were always more about writing more “poppy” punk songs anyway, with not much of the political commentary that other bands at the time were infusing into their lyrics. With this attitude in mind, The Damned were able to transition easily as music tastes changed and always retained that edge. Great, super, fantastic. They mostly perform live now (I saw them back in 2005 and my god, it was a great show) and only release a new studio album once every few years (their last album, “So, Who’s Paranoid?” was released in 2008 and is well worth checking out), so news of a new album form The Damned is always enough to prick my ears up. Bleurgh. Evil Spirits is so mundane that at one point I forgot I was actually playing it. “I must try and find that new ‘Damned album,” I said to myself (the first sign of madness apparently). “Oh!” I exclaimed. “I’m already listening to it. It’s rather dull. Where did all this blood come from? Why is that person on the floor not moving? And why am I wearing my mum’s clothes?” The current line-up are obviously all talented musicians and this is highly apparent throughout, but my god, it’s so bland. It’s basically the album that your uncle who works as a Personnel Manager for an accountancy firm recorded at home in his garage with some of his mates from the office. “Hey, you guys are pretty good!” You say to them, and you mean it too - they ARE pretty good, but they’re not great, and you wouldn’t pay money to hear them again. Some fans will get a kick out of this no doubt, and good for them. I will cross my fingers and hope that the next album isn’t as boring. Music Release Of The Year™.
- Mark Anthony Finch
2018 In Music: Part II is available to read here