Comment: Feeling Fresh

I've been wanting to have a site refresh and redesign for a while now and was feeling inspired last night and this morning (to the point I couldn't sleep) and the result is what you see before you now. The old design had become very tired in my eyes, probably due to me looking at it for about four years or something, and was largely tied to a template so I've thrown it out and started again.

It's a new year and so what better a time to make a fresh start. I've focused on reducing the dark heavy feeling of the site to make something that is much lighter and hopefully more enjoyable to read. The move away from a graphical masthead also means it's easier to tweak styles without it becoming a massive ordeal.

You may also notice the pink has gone - there is still some in the customised Soundcloud and YouTube embeds that have been posted in the past but the site's colours moving forwards will be mainly focused on whites and greys with the blue highlight used in the masthead.

I welcome comments - tell me if you like it, hate it or notice anything that you think could be improved.

Thanks for reading the blog over the years and here's to the future!

BP x

Comment: 2011's Best Songs

At the end of every year I tend to spend a bit of time contemplating how to suitably wrap things up. Sometimes it's a single post that just lists things that were particularly note-worthy, other years I have been much more formal and had a collection of top five lists. This year I feel like running with something a bit more free form so here is a list of my favourite songs from this year.

There are too many songs here to say something about all of them. I'll go into a bit of detail on a selection of the ones that meant the most to me and that will make the post long enough as it is. There is also a Spotify playlist that pulls all of these together to make it as easy as possible to have a listen. Nothing here is ordered based on 'best' - the playlist and this list were built to flow as well as is possible with such a diverse selection of music. Having said which, there was one song that stuck out for me more than any other this year... Read on to find out which...

'I Don't Want Love' - The Antlers
The opening track from The Antlers' Burst Apart was a contender for song of the year for me. It's a beautifully exposed and fragile track and the decision to stick such a piece at the start of an album still amazes me because it is so easy to miss just how staggering it is. There aren't many bands that come close to Thom Yorke's brand of experimental melancholy, but The Antlers come close.

'Collapse' - Iceage
Iceage's debut album was the kind of brash, rapid fire album that really encourages repeat listening, but it was the discordant melodies of 'Collapse' that I always longed for more of. This most surprising thing is how much is crammed into a two-minute record, from the frictional intro of the guitar to the closing bars at the end.

'Undertow' - Warpaint

'Codex' - Radiohead

'Share The Red' - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

'Vomit' - Girls
Girls' second album saw them continue to expand their sound but nothing on that album came close to the gospel ambition of this needy and emotional indie cut.

'I Can See Through You' - The Horrors

'Montana' - Youth Lagoon

'Come To The City' - The War On Drugs
I said it all on the review last week but golly, does this flick my switches. It's difficult to judge something so close to a first listen but I'm confident that 'Come To The City' will stick out for years to come. The sound of a hand reaching out to pull you from the quick sand - an emotive wall of sound.

'It Takes Time To Be A Man' - The Rapture

'Ice Cream' - Battles feat. Matias Aguayo
When I saw Battles at Glastonbury the mechanical precision and strength of drummer John Stanier blew me away: this dude kicked the fucking doors off. Matias' vocals and percussion just took things to another level - this is math rock on spring break: sexy, wild and completely in control.

'Caffeinated Consciouness' - TV On The Radio

'Manifesto' - Planningtorock

'Saturday Love' - Toro Y Moi

'Manila' - Rough Fields

'Minnesota' - Bon Iver

'The Wilhelm Scream' - James Blake

'Video Games' - Lana Del Rey
Is she for real or faking? That question seemed to rumble around for months and yet everyone seems to have forgotten that real pop music is just a show anyway. I don't need to know her real name - Lana stole my heart as she laid a smack across my cheek with the line "It's you, it's you, it's all for you... Everything I do...". Sometimes popular music is best left with some mystery.

'Space Is Only Noise If You Can See' - Nicolas Jaar
Still Jaar's best record and 2011’s most unhinged vocal by far. Try as you might, this makes no sense but the space groove bass line and wonky lyrics made Nicolas Jaar one of our most exciting producers. The fact that he hasn't felt the need to do anything even remotely similar since only compounds the magnificence of it. Grab a calculator and fix yourself.

'Stay' - Gunnar Bjerk

'What I've Lost' - Benoit & Sergio
Everything Benoit & Sergio released this year was fantastic, but nothing came close to this track from side two of the Boy Trouble EP, a contemplative late night road trip through the old haunts with a new (potential) lover. If people ever tell you electronic music has no soul then play them this - a track full of heart and pain and a crucial hint of hopeful yearning.

'Need You Now' - Cut Copy

'Midnight City' - M83

'Hawaiian Air' - Friendly Fires

'All Nite' - Rustie

'Fallout' - Neon Indian

'Lonely Days (Drop Out Orchestra Vocal Remix)' - Mario Basanov
Mario's original was good but this shimmering sun baked disco remix is truly great. It's strength is that it simply hits that summery Ballearic vibe better than any other seven-minutes of music I heard this year. Throw in some excellent guitar work (more guitar solos on disco please!) and you've got something very vey good indeed.

'Basement L.O.V.E.' - Motor City Drum Ensemble
MCDE's DJ Kicks blew every other mix CD released this year out of the water with it's fantastic mixture of soulful jazz and subterranean house music for the heads. This separate remix of the 'L.O.V.E.' cut released on that mix as an exclusive is a brilliant taster for that mix even if doesn't actually appear on it. Loose and airy, it feels like a slowed down summer's day spent dancing on Mediterranean tiles after a night with no sleep.

'Arise' - Maceo Plex

'Far Nearer' - Jamie xx
2010 saw the xx break into the mainstream but in 2011 Jamie proved the best is yet to come. As good as the xx's debut record is, in my opinion it can't hold a candle to this solo track. Sounds like Paul Simon kicking back on a dubstep rumbling tropical island; this is Kia Ora, Five Alive and Rubicon rolled into one.

'Banana Ripple' - Junior Boys
As if Mario Basanov and Jamie's 'Far Nearer' weren't enough sun... 'Banana Ripple' easily takes my vote for song of the year. This unashamed summer disco dance track caps off an album of angst-ridden self-reflective electronic pop on It's All True like a glorious and carefree butterfly emerging from a self-absorbed chrysalis. 'Banana Ripple' is a song of three acts where each one is more fantastic than the last. The Hammond organ peaking towards the end never fails to give me goose bumps, and that is what music is about.

So, what did I miss?

BP x


This is a music blog. Forgive me whilst I pay brief tribute to the man that was Steve Jobs.

There are not many strangers whose deaths touch me in the way that Jobs' has. It is a perculier feeling, like that felt as a teenager when your favourite musician died or band split up.

People tend to say that you are either an Apple person or a Windows person. With Jobs' passing this feels like a bizarre sentiment. We are just people and these are just products. But the thing that sticks with me is that Jobs approached design with a view that only the best is good enough. Sure, you may not be able to take it apart, upgrade it or use Flash on it (God forbid). But everything you can do on it will (almost) always just work. And it will be easy and intuitive to use. That approach has a lot of appeal - over the years so many people that used to berate my love of Apple products have become almost as fanatical about them as I.

Steve didn't see design as beautification, although his products were and are beautiful. He saw design as being concerned with how you use something, not how it looked, whilst relying on timeless clean lines (and Jonny Ive) for visuals.

Steve was a rock star. He may have made a lot of money and helped a lot of CEOs, but he also did a lot to piss a lot of people off. Good enough was never good enough and it was this mentality that saw Steve tear apart and revolutionise the music, mobile and now arguably personal computer markets. And, most importantly, give people a better experience as a result.

Thanks Steve.

BP 

Image source: Wired.

And yes, I wrote this on my iPad.

Comment: Has pop eaten itself?

Following a conversation with a friend, who blogs over at kissthefist, yesterday I started reading Simon Reynold's Retromania. I'm literally nowhere into the book but my friend Dom wrote a post on his blog about it. And the problem is I'm not sure I agree with Reynolds' basic assertion that pop has eaten itself.

The premise behind the (non-fiction) book is that culture, music culture specifically, has all but died as a result of its own obsession with the past. The post-punk revival, concerts dedicated to playing single albums, re-masters, bands re-forming and movie biopics: it's easy to see where Reynolds is coming from.

But burying our heads in the myriad of awesome albums from the past is hardly a solution... It just makes us more likely to miss something genuinely new that comes out now. And that is half the point of Reynolds' argument, but still... There is a middle ground to be had, enjoying the classics whilst still believing in new music.

And, as I said, whilst I am nowhere in Reynolds' book yet (I have only just read the intro) I'm a bit incensed by the fact that he starts by listlessly reeling through the last decade picking out all of the bands that re-formed, re-imaginings and re-interpretations without stopping to pick out any of the more revolutionary moments.

Soulwax created a whole new form of rave culture that was too distant from the original to be a rebirth, and the elements of older tunes within their mashups too small a part of their overall ambition to ignore the impact they have had. Justice took the same ideal of dance music you can rock out to and ran with it.

And I don't much like dub step, but it is a whole new scene with a huge amount of relevance for some people. Will we look back on it as this generation's hip-hop? I doubt it, but it still resonates with the zeitgeist - contemporary youth's alienation and disaffection.

Maybe we lack 'scenes' in the way that we once had, but that is a symptom of our increasingly fragmented, choice filled society and is arguably a good thing: we aren't all the same. Sure, I'd love another 'rave' or 'post-punk' (I note here that actual punk was pretty derivative), but I'll settle for a stack of innovative albums. Look back over the past ten years and there are some thrilling new sounds to be heard... In response to Reynolds' list of uninspiring re-hashes, a list of some artists, off the top of my head, who have done and are doing something genuinely new:

Gang Gang Dance, Polar Bear, M.I.A., Flying Lotus, Outkast, Matthew Dear, Battles, Björk, Luomo, TV on the Radio, The Knife, Sigur Rós and Sufjan Stevens (who bizarrely Reynolds quotes with reference to the White Stripes being a re-hash, without really noting Stevens' creativity).

I'm jumping the gun and will plough on with the book, but what do you think? Is music really becoming as dull as Reynolds seems to suggest?

BP x

If you are interested you can buy Retromania from [affiliate link].