In Defense of Britpop: A Riposte to Taylor Parkes

By Fam Li

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It was 25 years ago today…

I recently read Taylor Parkes’ (who wrote a great piece on The Fall! – ed) long and very provocative think piece on Blur’s iconic third album Parklife and, more generally, on Britpop’s cultural status (and cultural worth) as a whole on the online music magazine the Quietus. It was actually written in 2014 (that’s about half a decade ago) but was recently dusted off again by the Quietus in order to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of that landmark album. Parkes was a writer for the Melody Maker throughout the Britpop era (in fact he wrote for them for throughout most of the 90s), and was therefore on the journalistic front lines, so to speak, of a musical and cultural movement that seemed, more than any other, to be fuelled and sustained by clever PR and by music press and industry hype. Parkes’ is therefore no second hand testimony, he was lucky (or unlucky) enough to have lived through the whole thing and is able to speak from his own experiences. I experienced that whole era too, although in a much more vicarious way than Taylor Parkes, that is, as a music loving teen back in the mid-90s: as an avid reader of the NME (meaning that I was, alas, unfamiliar with Parkes’ oeuvre until I read the Quietus article) and enthusiastic (although to varying degrees) member of the record buying public. Britpop happened to coincide with that time in my life when I was just starting to become seriously interested in music and was beginning to buy CDs and identify myself with different musical groups and artistes all of which means that I do have a certain fondness for the period, even if I am far from uncritical of its cultural impact or the preponderance of second rate music that characterised it.

Now Parkes’ article gets a lot of things right — and I will come to that bit shortly — but I also think that he gets a lot more wrong. And then there’s the whole question of the tone of the piece, the bitterness and the sense of sour grapes that are inescapable throughout its entire length. It seems as if the author still harbours intense feelings of resentment over the fact that he was obliged, during his time with the Melody Maker, to write about bands and music that he had no real respect or admiration for — and although he has every right to be resentful, that resentment along with an unhealthy, and at times very misleading, dose of hindsight, colours his view of the whole period, and more saliently of the music of that period, to a wholly unreasonable extent. And the main target of all this resentment just happens to be Albarn and his merry band of self-satisfied mockney minstrels. For Parkes Parklife (I’m guessing his surname might something to do with his fixation) is emblematic of everything that was wrong about Britpop, whereas Britpop in its turn is emblematic of everything that went wrong culturally, economically, intellectually, and politically (take your pick) with Britain in the last half decade or so before the start of the new millennium — and beyond.

In particular Britpop sounded the death knell of a certain kind of alternative youth culture, a sort of updated and significantly less elitist version of Bohemianism, that stood in opposition to the demeaning practises and exploitative commercial ethos of the mainstream music industry. More generally though it stood against the dehumanising and assimilating tendencies of late 20th century capital, in the form (post 1970s) of a growing and rampant Neoliberalism, and instead promoted a strong community based DIY ethic. This actually gave young people, in particular, an important degree of social autonomy in which to fashion their own aesthetic, cultural and intellectual values apart (albeit to varying extents) from the mainstream conventions so favoured by their elders. It was a sort of cocooned idealism.

Britpop doesn’t deserve to be remembered with any real fondness or nostalgia, Parkes seems to be saying — not necessarily because it was there, in the space of those three or four years, that the (counter-) cultural rot really began to take hold — but because it was in that period that it could have been, and really should have been, stopped. In other words for Parkes Britpop was the socio-cultural point of no return.

Parklife!

Where does Parklife fit into this process of cultural degeneration? Now although Parkes does begrudgingly concede that the Essex foursome were more than capable of writing the odd decent song or two, and that ‘[b]its of [the album] are really good’, his overall view of the album is strongly negative and he is deeply scathing in terms both of its impact on the music scene of the time and on what was to follow. Seriously though, the dude doesn’t hold back. He describes the album as both ‘heartless and sour’ and ‘infuriatingly bubbly’, and feels that Albarn himself is ‘phenomenally hard to stomach’, calls his lyrics ‘horribly grating’, while individual songs are described as smug and uncaring, and ‘vaguely sinister.’ However Parklife’s abiding sin (aside from any considerations of its artistic worth or lack thereof) lies in the fact that, more than any other single record — or any other cultural artefact really — it was *the* album to usher in this new phase in the subversion and co-option of a youth culture that up until then still had a few vague pretensions to being radical and alternative; indeed Parkes treats Parklife rather as if it was some kind of cultural Trojan Horse. For instance, it’s accused of (or at least suspected of having a rather large hand in) among other things: inaugurating the total gentrification and de-bohemification of London, as well as being complicit in the destruction of its traditional working class culture (Parkes describes the album as having a ‘penchant for smirking caricatures of working class culture’) being entirely cynical in its (often ironic) plundering of the past for musical inspiration and setting off a trend for the same; and of being a calculated attempt by the band to win over mainstream popularity while at the same time holding on to their pre-existing indie cred, and thereby making selling-out a respectable option for other musical groups.

Parkes, of course, doesn’t just stop there, (even if Blur are always his chief targets) he also has some very choice words to say about the unscrupulousness of a mid-90s music press that, spurred on by an ever increasing greed for sales (and the resulting move towards increasing tabloidification) decided at a certain point that it would throw all caution to the wind and go full on in with the Britpop gravy train. It thus ended up goading on and helping to manufacture some of the worst excesses of the genre, revelling in its crassness, its celebration of homogeneity, and just out and out mediocrity — all the while reluctant to do anything, aside from maybe printing the occasional snipe, that might put its new stable (probably more of a barn) of cash-cows at risk. Parkes’ critique also takes in (obviously, how could it not?) Oasis along with a whole cast list of Britpop also-rans, bands whose very names if they’re remembered at all, have gone onto become a series of cautionary punchlines over the years: Sleeper, Shed 7, Cast! At the end of the day, Parkes assures us, the music itself just hasn’t stood the test of time, and he admits to only having hung on to a handful of records from the period in question — none of which he feels a strong urge to ever listen to again. In Parkes’ view then, Britpop’s legacy is an unhappy one on almost all counts, although once again its greatest fault is in the complacency which it seemed to breed in a generation of musicians, journalists, and artists that made them unable or unwilling to perceive the downward spiral in which we were, all of us, headed as a culture, and to even just trace out an attempt at some kind of radical intervention.

Li Contra Parkes

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think that Parkes is fundamentally correct in several of his denunciations of Britpop. Yes, it was an extremely vapid and backwards-looking movement and one which would indeed turn out to herald the final stage in the (almost) complete takeover of youth culture by corporate brands and corporate sponsorship. It *was* thoroughly anti-intellectual and was undoubtedly responsible for the quality of the content and the writing in the (mainstream) music press plummeting somewhere around the mid-to-late 90s. It also gave the world lad-culture with its promotion of sexism, excessive masturbation and the over-consumption of alcohol (the last two are fine in moderate doses by the way, I ain’t no puritan). Amongst numerous other horrible things it also introduced the world to the odious Guy Ritchie and his poisonous fetishization of English working class culture, as well as setting the ball rolling on making jingoism and nationalism respectable again. (And speaking more seriously it also gave the world Blairism which was to signify endless war and the near total-destruction of the left from within). And, yes, the music (being hyped up to the ceiling week in week out the pages of the NME and the Melody Maker) could also be thoroughly mediocre, if not actually straight out piss poor. Bearing all that in mind though I still find Parkes’ criticisms far too sweeping overall, if not extremely unfair and misguided in parts. Let me explain why.

It’s all about the music, man…

The first issue I have with Parkes’ article relates to his dismissive evaluation of the music. Yes there was a fair amount of chaffy old-shite being held up as premium grade golden wheat at the time; on the other hand, however, a good deal of what was released back then actually still holds up now two decades and a half on. Let’s start with Parkes’ big bête noire, Blur. Leaving aside his criticisms of Parklife, Blur’s most influential (if not, in my opinion, their best) album, I find it strange that he doesn’t once mention its successor, the Great Escape, an album that is as close to peak Britpop as it possible to get (the other major contender for that title, Menswe@r’s second album, having only ever been released in Japan) and one which reveals a band which had, at certain points, clearly crossed over the threshold into self-parody (see especially, Mr. Robinsons Quango, the ironically named Stereotypes), a threshold they had still only been hovering in the vicinity of on their previous LP. Indeed, the Great Escape is guilty of most of the sins committed by the band on the previous album — many of which Parkes helpfully singles out in his lengthy screed — and on some counts even surpasses it (as the music press, though generally laudatory of the album, acknowledged at the time). Perhaps Parkes held the album in such deep contempt that he couldn’t even bring himself to nominate it in his article — or might it be, that despite its being as smug, and as condescending, and as full of ‘smirking caricatures’, as its predecessor, if not more so, The Great Escape doesn’t tend to grate quite in the same way that Parklife does? Indeed what saves the album from being the conceptual auto-disaster that it could so easily have been — and that actually helps to take the edge off Albarn’s infuriating smugness and cultural insensitivity, which Parkes does kind of have a point about — is the depth and polish of songwriting talent that the album ends up bringing to light. Actually, Parkes does mention Country House (the lead single off the Great Escape) describing it as ‘almost supernaturally shit’ (an accolade he simultaneously accords to Roll With It, which was pretty awful in fact), and while I do agree that certain aspects of the song are pretty dumb/questionable — the lyrics are as puffed up and conceited as ever, yet another stilted, rudimentary attempt at social commentary devoid of charm or wit; the music video is dreadfully, painfully sexist (with the transparently lame excuse that of course it’s supposed to be a ironic pastiche of Benny Hill or some shit), and features Albarn at his most fantastically punchable — overall it turns out to be quite successful as a piece of pseudo-trashy pop music, in a way that both Girls and Boys and Parklife aspired to be but never actually were (indeed I tend to place the latter pair on a level with your average novelty single); the brashness works out this time because, cocky cunt that he is, Albarn had improved, markedly, as a songwriter.

The larger point which I want to make is this, namely, that we shouldn’t let the very many cultural failings of the Britpop era blind us to the fact that, thinking in terms purely of its musical legacy, it did actually end up leaving behind some very good records — enough of them, at least, to make Parkes’ Britpop takedown feel petty and actually rather specious. Pulp, for instance, managed to release two absolutely blinding albums during those years, His N Hers and Different Class (I’m leaving aside the band’s excellent drugs and bad sex themed comedown album This is Hardcore because it was released during Britpop’s tail-end), both of which are high water marks of 90s music by any fair reckoning and both of which it would be churlish not to include under the Britpop banner, even if the band had been around for at least a decade prior; Pulp, of course, a band as subtle and as thoughtful in their social criticism as Blur were offensive and superficial and as Oasis were… well, they never even tried to give the impression that they’d ever progressed any further than Topsy and Tim in their reading.

Then there were the Manic Street Preachers who happened to release one of their best albums during Britpop, Everything Must Go — a record whose ambitious retro sound would turn out to be a touchstone in Britpopian musical aesthetics — but who were, thematically and lyrically, in a completely different league from most of their mid-90s peers (I mean they started a song off with the words ‘Libraries gave us power’ for fucks sake — you can’t really compare it with ‘I’ll take my car and drive real far/They’re not concerned about the way we are’). These two groups were everything that the overwhelming majority of second- or third-tier (and even most of the first tier) Britpop bands weren’t: that is intelligent, articulate, and (relatively) musically sophisticated — although that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be classed as Britpop (at least with respect to their output of that period).

Lest we forget then Britpop gave us such brilliant albums as Everything Must Go, Different Class, His N Hers, Definitely Maybe, Dog Man Star, The Bends, Elastica, I Should Coco, It’s Great When You’re Straight, Wake Up Boo, C’mon Kids, and if we’re being honest Parklife and its successor. And fuck me if the likes of Echobelly, Gene, Ash, the Charlatans, and even the Bluetones, Ocean Colour Scene, and Shed Seven (who I have to confess I retain something of a soft spot for) didn’t put out some great singles too (Sleeper on the other hand are completely unredeemable) — as I hope my spotify playlist, below will demonstrate. It would be absurd to pretend that as an era in the history of post-war popular music it’s even remotely up there with the 60s or punk or post-punk, but at the same time, in comparison with the 2000s and the disgrace that was indie landfill, Britpop feels like a veritable golden age.

Taking a higher level, much more zeitgeisty, view of the situation, the fact is that, even if Britpop was, in large part, a creation of the music press and the music industry, its popularity remains to a decisive extent, an organic phenomena: part of a virtuous/vicious push-pull cycle in which a cultural industry attempts to carefully manipulate the tastes of a target audience and to capitalise on — or more accurately hijack — what it discovers to be popular, and at the same time to figure out what the next big thing will be and which it can co-opt in the next round. No popular musical movement is completely top down (regardless of what ‘Cultural Marxism’ obsessed conspiracy theorists might think) and while it’s true that hype and wall to wall media coverage can often be instrumental in helping a band’s career take off, history is littered with examples of bands or movements that the music industry and the press wanted to happen but that never did, due either to the inherent shiteyness of the original product, or not even that: due to something else that no one has so far managed to pin down.

There has to be something there that can appeal to people in the first place, even if that is the lowest common denominator, and even that doesn’t always work. And so I find it hard to pin so much of the blame on the music press or the industry let alone on a character like Albarn as Parkes does — how could he have predicted any but the most trivial ramifications that recording Parklife would have on the British cultural scene? That it would, in Parkes’ terms, ruin guitar music over the next couple of decades or so. While we’re playing the blame game here, then, the record buying public deserves some of that opprobrium too, just as it deserves praise when it lavishes attention and success on artists and musicians that you and I are much more favourable towards.

What Happened Next…

And then there’s the other fact that Parkes weirdly (but perhaps understandably, given its awkwardness for his main theses) decides to occlude, and which he could easily have found room for in his very length diatribe, that is, no sooner had Britpop’s corpse been freshly laid upon its bier (it was probably still at the twitching stage) than the serious contestation of its legacy, of what Parkes calls Britpop orthodoxy, began in earnest. So while it is true that Britpop turned out to be a particularly unadventurous time for popular guitar based music– one that not only looked to the past for its inspiration, but to a past that was completely sanitised and, in many ways, falsified — it didn’t take long after its demise for the anti-reactionary reaction to set in: for musicians and journalists to start name dropping everything from Krautrock to Detroit Techno to Slint as big influences and for the couldn’t-be-more-progressive-if-it-had-been-called-prog-rock genre that was post-rock to start to gain some sort of critical momentum and extended coverage in the music press — for instance Tortoise, the post-rock group par excellence had already begun to win numerous plaudits back in 1995, during the very height of Britpop. And it even got to the point that the NME decided that drone obsessives Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen was the most important album of 1998 (even more important than OK Computer, which, as much as I like the record, it absolutely wasn’t) and celebrated Jason Pierce’s whole career, from Spacemen 3 onwards, in a lavish two page centre spread on the eve of the album’s release. For fucks sake they even went and put Godspeed You! Black Emperor on the cover, for what turned out to be that particular music rag’s lowest selling issue to date (although that record probably didn’t hold very long). Even the DIY scene had its ever so fleeting moment in the sun when Teen-C Glasgow funsters Bis were declared the next big thing for about a couple of weeks in 1996 (it’s probably pointless wondering what they’re up to these days, it’s very likely the exact same thing they were doing 23 years ago).

But that was just the way the wind was blowing back then, as we found ourselves accelerating ever more breathlessly towards the turn of the new millennium — and all of which began to prefigure what had once seemed almost impossible, a critical re-evaluation of prog which even took in those perennial music press whipping boys Yes. Even Blur themselves had moved on — the big giveaway was just before the time that their eponymous 1997 album came out when Damon Albarn wouldn’t stop going on about Pavement in all his press interviews, signalling what became a drastic shift away from his previous London-centric Ray Davies pseudo-Cockney obsession and a greater openness towards cross-Atlantic, and in Albarn’s particular case (and he should be lauded for this) worldwide, influences. All of which ended up being eclipsed by what turned out to be Rock’s very own singularity, or rockism’s own version of the end of the Mayan calendar (except unlike 2012 no one was predicting it and it actually ended up not being a non-event), the release of Radiohead’s OK Computer, an album which turned out to be the zenith of British guitar based music.

The message being; you can’t just isolate a period of, say, five years, and then talk about its influence on events a decade or so later and barely mentioning what happened in between. Yes, there was something particularly nauseating about Britpop’s dumb, semi-ironic, semi-serious attachment to the flag along with its spurious nostalgia for a past that was as halcyon as it was (mostly) non-existent, but it’s too simplistic to trace back the current re-awakening of nationalist, anti-immigrant sentiment to Britpop via a straight line. Certainly the current, parlous state of the music scene (at least as it pertains to guitar music) should not be attributed in such a simplistic manner to the artistic and moral deficiencies of Britpop and certainly not to the pre-millennial success of one band, as patronising and as self-satisfied as that band could at times be.

In decontextualising Britpop to the extent that he does, Parkes’ article completely fails to take into account the cyclical nature of the different scenes and movements which composed the British alternative/independent music scene in the years which followed punk: with one set of predominant trends sparking off a reaction was to determine the character and sound of the ensuing (artistic) generation of musicians and popular beat combos. More importantly it fails to take into consideration the longer term trends that cut across and were sustained throughout those individual cycles. For instance, the strong hedonic, anti-intellectual (proto-Nathan Oakleyesque) tendencies which Parkes locates in Britpop, and which he can’t stop castigating it for, were already a prominent feature of Baggy/Acid House (with the former as enamoured of MDMA as the latter was of cocaine and lager), it just never went away — blame it on the availability of different kinds of stimulants, the multifold failures of the British education system, people reading less with each passing generation etc, but don’t (just) blame it on the Britpop.

Which brings us back to today…

Of course the reaction to the (relative) conservatism of the Britpop era wasn’t just limited to the music getting a bit more interesting: the political atmosphere also became much more radical in the years which followed with the growing worldwide influence of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movements — as was so notably manifested in the success of Naomi Klein’s No Logo, and the backlash against the sinister quasi-cultish advertising tactics of multinational brands such GAP and Nike, and culminating in important turn of the millenium G7 protests and the massive, should have been era defining, No Iraq War movement. In the end though it was all to no avail: all those various, forward thinking late 90s, early 00s tendencies eventually led to…well, politically, they led to the fucked-up, hyper-gentrified situation in which we currently find ourselves in — a less hopeful, in many ways, version of the Gilded Age. Music wise they led to a dead end for British guitar music. The fact is that Indie or Rock or whatever you want to call it ran out of steam as a genre, or as an incestuous cluster of genres, round about the 00s — in fact around the time that the Strokes and Libertines were being touted as the saviours of music by the now moribund music press. But that running out of steam and that lack of inspiration and sheer honest-to-god fecklessness which essentially typified British, and actually also American, guitar music in the years following the millenium (and which was soon to lead to the moral musical Waste Land that was landfill indie) was fundamentally a result of the genre’s relatively limited musical set up (with a line-up that usually consisted of a vocalist, a guitarist, a drummer, and a bassist, none of whom were supposed to be particularly adept at their instruments). It was a musical genre which didn’t really have anywhere much left to go on either side of the Atlantic, not least after the clutch of genre-bursting albums, the likes of (the aforementioned) OK Computer, Ladies and Gentlemen… and the Soft Bulletin, that came out in the late 90s, and in the face of a genre like hip hop which creatively speaking was going from strength to strength — nowhere to go, that is, except in a backwards direction (unless you were as freakishly talented and exceptional as a band like Animal Collective, which most new groups weren’t).

Now this is something that often happens to genres of music, most if not all of which seem have an inherent sell-by date, after which they can be carefully and ritualistically preserved as part of a folk tradition, and/or incorporated into other newer genres and transition into something completely different, in the cultural equivalent of a paradigm shift. But even if this all this seems obvious to everyone now, that is really only thanks to hindsight because it sure as fuck didn’t seem obvious back then. No one had the foggiest clue as to how things were going to pan out, and there were no cultural Cassandra’s we were all blithely ignoring as far as I can recall. Reading Parkes’ article, on the other hand, you come away with the opposite feeling, as if everyone, or at least everyone involved in the so called creative industries, could see what the ‘consequences’ of Britpop were and therefore is culpable for what came next.

Give me playlist a listen

In conclusion, then, it’s obvious (or at least it should be) that the almost unimaginably complex interplay of factors — socio-cultural, geo-physical and (above all imo) economic — that have led to our current, intemperate and absolutely dysfunctional, social reality cannot be boiled down to those few specific tendencies which Parkes is desperate to localise within the Britpop era — but as obvious as it is, the content of Parkes’ article shows that it still bears repeating. Parkes is, in fact, guilty of projecting the cynicism of the present back on the past, and as much as I share that cynicism with regards to our contemporary situation, and as much as I agree with a lot of his criticisms of Britpop, I keep coming back to the music, which as I said above, and contrary to Parkes’ rather disdainful attitude, still stands up to scrutiny, even after all these years. I admit, however, that this opinion might be unduly influenced by my own nostalgia, by my own (much happier) memories of the time. To this end, and to compensate for the inadequacy of all my rhetorical efforts above, I’ve put together a Spotify playlist which features a lot of my favourite Britpop tracks and, which I’m convinced, shows the genre/period at its best and thereby offers the best antidote to the ill-tempered anti-Britpop negativity of a Taylor Parkes. Listen for yourselves!

Continue reading “In Defense of Britpop: A Riposte to Taylor Parkes”

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SPECIAL REVIEW PROJECT: 2017 IN REVIEW – Best and Worst Albums of 2017

2017 IN REVIEW
By Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

francey's top nine

So, here I am again with a list of 141 musical releases from the year 2017, to listen to, sieve and discover gems and potential favourites. These releases form a very motley selection, for they were picked through a variety of means. Many Anglophone and Brazilian ones came from a methodical cataloguing of best-of-the-year lists, to see which ones got to higher positions more often. Some were chosen due to the recommendation of friends or acquaintances, or simply because something in it piqued my attention. I ended up with 25 African albums, 41 Anglophone ones, 6 from Asian artists, 47 from Brazil, 13 from Europe and 10 from the rest of Latin America.

I’d like to start with the continent from which we all came, and whose music is so sadly ignored by most people. From northern Africa, the Tuareg genre of tishoumaren continues to produce many strong releases. Some were more peaceful, like Mdou Moctar’s Sousoume Tamachek, and some were bluesier, like the hypnotic Kiral, from Tamikrest, containing my favourite guitars of 2017. Award-winning icons Tinariwen also released a typically good album in Elwan. As tishoumaren is overall a stylistically uniform genre, I must say I am disappointed with the attempt to mix it with post-punk, by Saharawi band Group Doueh with the French Cheveu. This fusion, in my opinion, has the potential to be much better realised than it was in their Dakhla Sahara Session.

African jazz also had a good crop last year. Legendary drummer Tony Allen’s The Source had some great funky tracks, Orchestra Baobab threw out their warm Afro-Cuban Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, but my favourite of the bunch was Mistakes on Purpose, the 30th volume of the Éthiopiques series. It continues the trend set with last year’s Awo by Ukandanz, in which Ethiopian veterans join French ethio-jazz bands, in this case Girma Bèyènè with Akalé Wubé respectively. The result was a very solid album, even if did not reach Awo’s fierce intensity.

The final trend from Africa that I’ll mention is that of female-fronted Mandé music. Of those, two I’d like to mention later, among my favourites, but while Awa Poulo’s Poulo warali wasn’t quite as good, it still had an excellent first four tracks. Sadly, the disk got too repetitive by the end.

Onto Brazil, now, on the more rootsy side of things. Mateus Aleluia’s Fogueira doce did an afoxé-tinged MPB that was peaceful and warm with a tinge of sadness. Fabiano do Nascimento’s Tempo dos mestres was reportedly jazz, but drawn from Northern and Northeastern Brazilian traditions. He failed to absorb any of the energy of those sources, and the result was folksy-jazzy shit that goes nowhere, just annoys and tires the mind. To add insult to injury, he also found time to ruin the classic O canto de Xangô by Baden Powell & Vinícius de Moraes. Far more faithful was Yangos’ Chamamé, which did accordion-based Gaúcho music with ease, even if without any significant innovation.

In Brazilian hip hop, I can say that we have seen the complete transition of styles. In the early 10s, artists like Criolo, Ogi and Karol Conká would mix in influences from a whole gamut of Brazilian genres like samba, MPB or repente, to make a dazzling, melodic hip hop. These days, their objectives seem unfinished, for while there is still a lot of untapped potential, even their luminaries have moved away from it. Criolo has gone full samba, and Ogi’s Pé no chão is good, but far from the brilliance of 2015’s R A !. The new generation, however, seems far more interested in a new, raw, trap-inspired production, with screamy or just annoying voices, overall very unpleasant to my ears. I think it is partially due to shifts in American hip hop, but just as much to blame is the coup that put Temer into our presidency, and darkened much of our population’s perspectives towards the future, especially the poor. The worst ones were Djonga’s Heresia and Baco Exu dos Blues’ Esú, but nill’s Regina, Flora Matos’ Eletrocardiograma, Don L’s Roteiro pra Aïnouz, Vol. 3 were also very weak. Some of the new generation have made some alright albums, like Ricón Sapiência’s Galanga livre and the aptly named all-women group Rimas & Melodias’ self-titled debut. American trap has been far better than Brazilian though, with many strong, lush releases like Migos’ fun Culture and especially Future’s melodic and surprisingly melancholic HNDRXX.

Two queer artists with sexualised urban music also achieved notoriety in Brazil. Pabllo Vittar, popstar and drag queen, achieved larger success among the public, but his Vai passar mal was overall weak. The hit single K.O. is very catchy, though. Trans woman Linn da Quebrada’s vulgar funk carioca from Pajubá made a stronger impression on me. Far better than the both of those, Tyler, the Creator’s coming-out statement Flower Boy has some great soulsy production made with so much care that it reminded me of the early Kanye albums. It might be my favourite hip hop release of the year, along with Brockhampton’s Saturation III. The whole Saturation trilogy is pretty good, making use of the voices of their many different members to make a sort of kaleidoscopic effect. It is also very interesting to see how much they evolved, both in production as in hook making, in a single year.

Now to get this out of the way: DAMN was very good but I don’t see it as being excellent, and I still consider Kendrick’s masterpiece to be good kid, m.A.A.d city. Finishing my hip hop list, I liked Jay-Z’s 4:44, catchy and cool with great samples, and Damso’s Ipséité, rapped in French with fine flow, but was underwhelmed by Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory, although I must say I loved Kilo Kish’s participation in Love Can Be… and will try to find more stuff from her.

Among Latin American musicians, the trend was to mix traditional genres with modern lush productions, making stuff that felt fresh and with a lot of potential, even though this year’s batch didn’t quite make an excellent album. The best for me was Puerto Rican group ÌFÉ’s IIII+IIII, which takes Afro-American (Santería) religious music as a base and spices it with all sorts of Caribbean genres, and takes it through an electronic sheen to make something dazzlingly polyphonic when it’s fast, and pretty and mellow when it’s slow. The other three albums I’d like to mention are all rooted in beautiful female vocals. Sister duo Ibeyi’s Ash couldn’t make the most of their voices due to inconsistent songwriting. Irka Mateo’s Vamo a gozá travels through various local genres, while Las Áñez’s Al aire was more alien and atmospheric pop, both were equally good.

Still on Latin America, it was sad that Colombian bullerengue legend Magín Díaz died so soon after his El orisha de la rosa was released. Having written many classics of the Colombian canon since the 1930s, he was nonetheless ignored for most of his life, up until 2012. His last release, full of guest stars, felt like the recognition he always deserved. Another dead icon, Moroccan gnawa musician Mahmoud Guinia, had his final studio recordings released last year, on the posthumous album Colours of the Night. While very poignant, it didn’t match the energy of his earlier records to me.

Of course, among all those albums, I made sure to listen to the new releases of many of my favourite artists. Chico Buarque is one of what I consider the Holy Trinity of Brazilian music, an all-time great. His Caravanas, however, brings the worst aspects of his songwriting, a collection of self-indulgent poetic bossa nova ditties that bores the shit out of me. Still, he definitely has earned the right to indulge himself, and at this point in time, doesn’t need anyone’s approval for anything. Love you, Chico. Another self-indulgent release from a favourite was Nação Zumbi’s Radiola NZ, vol. 1, in which they perform songs that influenced them, with very mixed success. Their renditions of Refazenda and Não há dinheiro no mundo que pague are great, but O balanço and Sexual Healing are embarrassments. Tribalistas’ new self-titled album is a good effort in mixing pop-rock with MPB, every song having its own dosage of the mix. Those very elements were also the foundation of Otto’s solid Ottomatopeia. Metá Metá released a very interesting and rhythmic avant-garde soundtrack for the dance spectacle Gira. The group’s members also released other records: vocalist Juçara Marçal joined Rodrigo Campos and Gui Amabis to assemble the inspired, poetic and uneasy Sambas do absurdo, inspired in the philosophy of Albert Camus, while guitarist Kiko Dinucci’s solo Cortes Curtos’ short post-punk tunes underwhelmed me. Even worse was Curumin’s Boca, in which he tries to become “artsier” while losing his catchiness.

Fleet Foxes’ first new release since Helplessness Blues in 2011, Crack-Up, offered a denser, but less immediately melodic take on their intricate folk pop. It was good, but their two previous efforts are masterpieces to me. I knew that this new disk had to be different, however, and I hope they can regain their brilliance while following this path. A clear improvement from the preceding album was Lorde’s latest. Pure Heroine had its moments, but Melodrama has so much subtle touches, with her perfect intonation elevating the emotional level. My greatest criticism is that it could have used more cathartic refrains like in Homemade Dynamite or Writer in the Dark.

Perfume Genius’ dream-poppy No Shape was nice, especially given how much I disliked his previous Too Bright. Now Jay Som’s Everybody Works on the other hand, was the type of music that I thought was over. This sort of slow electronic-y indie pop was never good back then, and now it’s both bad and passé. Sheer Mag’s Need to Feel Your Love baffled me: they travelled through the whole diversity of early 70s pop and rock, from hard rock to glam to disco, and it could have been very catchy, but they tied it all with screeching, effects-laden vocals. Maybe just a little bit less screech would have turned this 180º to me, but as it is, it’s very hard to listen to. Far more pleasant was The OOZ by King Krule. It draws from Tom Waits, hip and trip hop, resulting in a smooth, talky rock.

A big notable trend in Anglophone music was this new wave of soul / R&B. Slow, glossy, and far more attuned to pathos rather than the simple emotions of joy and sadness. The quality varies. Sampha’s Process and Kelela’s Take Me Apart have pretty production but little else to entertain me. SZA’s Ctrl fares much better, but it still doesn’t match the critical acclaim it received in my opinion. The Kendrick track is great, but the one with Travis Scott, oh boy… awful! The real standout of this set was Moses Sumney’s Aromanticism. It’s very unique, almost as influenced by Kid A as What’s Going On. I’ll even wager it’ll start a new trend, one whose development I will be curious to track. Brazil also had a soul release that got recognition, Xenia’s self-titled debut. It consists on versions of MPB songs done in her style, but still maintaining the original diversity. The slower tracks drag a bit, but the faster ones are good, especially Chico Cézar’s Respeitem meus cabelos, brancos.

Brazilian pop-rock had its best release in Maglore’s Todas as Bandeiras. It doesn’t do anything that different, it’s just strong hooks and melodies with pleasing textures, but that’s all that I need, really. Those are lacking in Lá vem a morte, by the extremely overrated Goianan band Boogarins, themselves an inferior version of the already overrated Tame Impala. On the other hand, Scalene’s Magnetite had many people turn up their noses due to its banal lyrics about society’s problems, but musically, it is adequate. Vanguart’s Beijo estranho is also solid, while Giovani Cidreira’s Japanese Food has that awful thing where the lyrics don’t fit in the melodies, like Legião Urbana or Cidadão Instigado, making it a very uncomfortable listen.

Going on to Europe, Andrea Laszlo De Simone paid homage to his native Italian lush pop from the 60s and 70s in his Uomo donna. While I really dug its sound, I felt that he was too willing to sacrifice the flow of the album to make bigger statements. Many songs are 2-3 minutes longer than they should have been, and Gli uomini hanno fame has an awful 4-minute-long intro with random political recordings. Despite its flaws, it was still a very interesting listen, as was Japanese band ゲスの極み乙女 (Gesu no Kiwami Otome)’s 達磨林檎. Rich, melodic, jazzy and proggy, though sometimes too lightweight to be fully engaging.

Europe and Asia also had some noteworthy releases on the folkier side of things. From West Java, Indonesia, the duo Tarawangsawelas’ Wanci attempted to modernise the local sacred music, called tarawangsa, which consists mainly of repetitive acoustic drones done in just two string instruments. Despite that, they were much better in the sole longer, more conservative, track, Sekalipun, than in the shorter, supposedly more palatable, ones. Bridging the two continents, Meïkhâneh’s La Silencieuse draws from everywhere between southern France to Persia to Mongolia, providing innovative combinations for those familiar with the musical vocabularies of those regions. Oj borom, borom is Ukrainian folk done by a Polish duo, Maniucha Bikont & Ksawery Wójciński, vocalist and contrabassist respectively. Focused on textures, it can be great when you’re receptive, but it might be too repetitive when you’re not. There were also two albums based on a capella Iberian traditions. Galician Xosé Lois Romero & Aliboria’s self-titled debut, while not bad by far, lacked the vibrancy of the other one, which figures on my favourites list.

Of everything to which I’ve listened, two albums stood out as the worst. Nina Becker’s Acrílico consists of poetry written with no ear for meter or rhythm, and lacking melody, set to tacky bossa-nova-ish instrumentation. That would be bad enough by itself, but the lyrics are embarrassingly bad as well. Somehow even worse is Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy. It also has embarrassingly bad lyrics. And nothing else. The fucker gave up on any sort of musicality whatsoever, just to record words like: “oh, their religions are the best / they worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed / with risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits”. I actually stopped, disgusted, at around 3 minutes in the first track, and I am an atheist Marxist! And honestly, after finding out this album is fucking 75-minutes-long, I’m so offended, that I refuse to spend a single second more listening to shit utter garbage.

Conversely, I have nine albums I would call my favourite releases of 2017. Of those, my top two, in their particular order, are well cemented in my mind. For the others, I tried ranking them as I wrote this essay, but those positions are very fluid in my mind, and they are all of similar quality to me.

The album I placed as the ninth best release of 2017 was Luyando, by Zimbabwean group Mokoomba. It’s afro-pop-rock of the catchiest sort, while keeping a reasonable diversity in style. Songs like Kulindiswe and Kumukanda will stick to your mind if you listen to them, and you won’t want them out! On the eight spot, the instrumental post-rock in Kalouv’s Elã. Refreshing and enticing, it built novel soundscapes of varying colours without resorting to the tired “crescendocore” formula. The seventh place, Ladilikan, was an unusual collaboration between Malian griot Trio da Kali and Seattle-based chamber music Kronos Quartet. The music is overall in the Mandé tradition, carried principally by female vocalist Hawa Kasse Mady Diabaté’s expressive vocals, with added depth by the incredibly fitting and well-oiled mix of European strings with the balafon and ngoni. There’s an odd American gospel song in the middle that robs the album of some momentum, but it is easily regained. St. Vincent’s Masseduction takes the sixth spot. While I generally hate the prefix “art” when used on genres, I have to accept that the best way to describe this is “art-pop”. Sexy all over, sometimes manic, sometimes melancholic, always alluring.

We shall return to the aforementioned a capella Iberian music for our fifth position. Ao longe já se ouvia, by Portuguese all-female group Sopa de Pedra, has harmony and playfulness by the bushel, making a very entertaining, unique listen. Oumou Sangaré, Malian songstress from the Wassoulou region, takes the fourth spot with her Worotan. Carrying forward the style for her region, her sound might resemble blues to the western listener (actually blues probably originated from Wassoulou music), but with a hooky, poppy sheen. Her voice is just entrancing! On the third place, Criolo’s love letter to old-school samba, Espiral de ilusão. While it didn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, it travels through all the varieties and strains of the genre. The transparent admiration for the masters only makes it more endearing. The second-best album of 2017 to me was Msafiri Zawose’s Uhamiaji. If you read about it on the internet, you might think it is traditional Gogo music from Tanzania, but Mr. Zawose has actually done what I believe most electronic music I’ve heard fails to achieve. The use of acoustic percussion gives a strong oomph to the mesmerizing rhythms, which are innately pleasing.

Finally, my favourite 2017 release was Sufjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell Live. While there was undeniable beauty in the original studio version of Carrie & Lowell, I always felt it lacked something, particularly by abandoning the maximalist arrangements of his previous releases. The live version more than fixes that, maintaining all the beauty while adding huge doses of power, both from the return of the maximalism, and from the rawer vocals, with natural cracks and imperfections, greatly raising their emotional impact. The sum of all those parts is touching and radiant, and not even the weird Drake cover at the encore can detract from such a wonderful experience. For all the other marvellous stuff I’ve seen from last year, this is still the apex in terms of music and emotion!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS (OR: CRETINIC INTERLUDES): Paul McCartney – Take It Away (1982)

Written by: Blob Nalyd Ph.D 

Today we’re taking a nice little stroll through the world of post-Beatles decrepitude! Imagine, it’s 1982, three million in the U.K. are unemployed, there’s a flipping gas crisis, and the world is seen permanently through beer goggles… 
But hark! A hit single arises from the flames like a beacon of hope! Many ex-hippies shake their heads in disgust, then continue on with their macrobiotic diets. Roger Waters is in tears, understandably.

Are we ready? Okay now, put on your hearing aids, dads! 

The song is “Take It Away” (my thoughts exactly!), from “Tug My Finger, I’m Paul McCartney, Bitch!”… wait, no, that’s not right… 
aw, who gives a shit, really?

My, my, this is some real easybeat for the teenyboppers! You can just shake your head or jerk your calf muscles spasmodically – it really don’t matter, ’cause no one on the record’s got rhythm anyhow!
But oh man, it’s got a hook! Smooth as whipped butter! I gotta sit down now, ’cause I’d shit myself standing!

… 

Ringo Starr? Who the fuck is that??


In the lyric, this song seems to address all manner of self-descriptive somethingsomething impresario something band put on a show something, someone got my coke stash? Take it away, let’s play ’til the lights go down, then smack my ass silly!
Frankly, this song fails to grab my interest, as the postmodern aesthetic within seems to be invisible… 
Dear God, it’s almost pre-modernist! Throw some autotune on there, granny!

Fortunately, it seems George Martin really saved the day once again on this one, adding a nice, tight little horn chart for the coda followed by… A GOD DAMN FADEOUT!!!???…

(sounds of McCartney II eight-track being smashed to bits) 


AW, FUCK YOU! MAKES ME WANNA GO MICTURATE ON A POLICEMAN.


OFFICIAL (UPDATED) LIST OF MUSIC FOR PISSING ON COPS:

Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up
Derek Bailey – (career span)
Paul McCartney – Take It Away
John Lennon – #9 Dream
Paul Simon – (Take Me to the) Mardi Gras

(…TO BE CONTINUED…)

Elevator Musings: Ep. 1 – On being a metaphorical virgin

Starting point: The song “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” by Father John Misty
By Nina A

 

Believe me, no one is more embarrassed than I am for actually liking Father John Misty. I mean, “a hipster dork who despite that has a lot of sex” seems to be the main characterisation of his lyrical protagonist and yet he grows on you… on me. And it’s not like there’s subtle magic at work here either, it’s plain as day to me what attraction let’s say I Love You, Honeybear seems to have: stripped down songs that have been let soak in these “giant, deranged, impenetrable Disney-orchestra arrangements” as the man himself puts it. And of course the impeccable phrasing of these craftily put together if otherwise cringeworthy lyrics over the rolling canvas of quietly bombastic music. “Oh, I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man // I mean like a god damn marching band” anyone?
 
Which brings me to my main point and it is: 
 
I’ve never done this
Baby, be gentle
It’s my first time
 
Yeah, this is exactly the lyric that has moved me to profound realisation recently. It’s about virgins!!!! No, as genius.com notices too, our favourite Father actually goes on to subvert this lyric: “Tillman twists the phrases typically uttered when a virgin first has sex, manipulating them to instead reflect the sensation of falling in love for the first time.”
 
I’ve got you inside
People are boring
But you’re something else completely
Damn, let’s take our chances
 
is the slightly clumsier conclusion to this thought. I used to mishear the lyric — “I’ve never done this so please be gentle” but even the way Father John Misty has written it there is something about confessing plainly how things stand. Because isn’t it more often that people try to impress other people by faking it? I am sure that’s the plot to many a screwball comedy, “liar revealed” plot template, probably even to Johnny Bravo. I know I once stubbornly proclaimed to this mechanical engineer guy I used to have a crush on that I can change my back bike tire alright on my own in order to seem tough and competent when really even detaching the chain proved to be trickier than I initially supposed. But here we have the protagonist refreshingly choosing the route where he bares proverbial soul and inexperience and completely trusts the opposite side (person). Liberating, as it is currently in fashion to say. It may all sound so simple but it does indeed take great bravery to be truly humble about yourself and to stop caring about how you are perceived or how superior you should come off as. So, thanks, Father, for making me reevaluate my life with your corny songs about your sexual dorkishness. “When you’re smiling and astride me // I can hardly believe I’ve found you and I’m terrified by that” indeed.

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – The Low End Theory (1991)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

 

I was teen-ager too, you know. And pagers were truly hip for a while but the world has changed so drastically since the time I went to school and was vaguely aware of that thing called “hip hop” (I knew it involved baggy pants) that I am not even sure it happened in the same life anymore. So I listen to this Tribe called Quest in hopes to get, you know, reminded of the glorious 90s. Or possibly even understand what was happening in the world when I was too young to understand anything.
 
A Tribe Called Quest are cool. They have a really cool name. They have cool verses. They have cool beats. They have a cool flow. They fuse jazz atmosphere with hip-hop attitude in a real cool way, if you are to believe the allmusic take on this record. They are just all-around cool.
 
So remember that comment about baggy pants before? Yeah, most of my peers grew on diet export hip-hop and some local examples. I kinda didn’t. I didn’t even suspect it qualified as music. I thought it was just for the kids with baggy pants who wanna act tough, yo! So in a way it is delightful for me to hear just how cool and even demanding respect a bunch of former teenagers without pagers can actually get.
 
What I am trying to say is that you can treat this record as a cool backdrop for your evening, something to jam to or even treat it as a research-worthy artefact of another time (and in my case another culture). If you want a more insightful take, I suggest you go read yourself some real reviews but really, why on earth would you reading about this thing instead of listening to it? The product is dope, I promise.
 
[Note: This album was assigned to me way back in February because I betted incorrectly that Leo will get no Oscar this year either]

SPECIAL TRIBUTE REVIEW: NEGATIVLAND – These Guys Are from England and Who Gives a Shit (2001)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Dedicated to the memory of Richard Lyons


I’m not sure if this is currently in print or not. This stuff has been legendary since Island records forced them to take it off the market in the early 90’s. As you already know from reading other reviews, this is the infamous Negativland collage of the U2 song “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with a tape of radio celebrity Casey Kasem letting out a litany of four-letter words during the taping of “American Top 40”. This CD contains various versions of the basic theme, including a “radio friendly” version which has the expletives bleeped out by sound effects like car horns, etc., which is still quite funny.

Even listening to it all these years later it’s still very effective. One reason is that the subjects open themselves to ridicule as much as they do. To quote a reviewer on another website (don’t remember who, sorry!), making fun of U2 never goes out of style. Casey Kasem’s voice is so instantly recognizable, and his style so candy-assed, that it’s totally hysterical to listen to his profanity-ridden tirades. Kasem’s comments actually help mock U2’s preposterousness. Introducing their song he rattles off their names, and when he gets to “The Edge” he breaks off and says “this is B.S.! Nobody cares!”, and then states the title of this CD. I think that echoes a lot of people’s reaction to the guitarist’s stupid monicker.

This is being promoted as “semi-legitimate” or “bootleg”, with Negativland’s label’s name modified to “Sealard”. I’m not buying it. Keep in mind these are the same guys who circulated the fake news story about a kid killing himself after listening to “Christianity is Stupid”. These guys are savvy media pranksters. Nevertheless, given the previous hullabaloo over this recording, you’ll want to pick this up before it ends up on someone else’s Bonfire of the Vanities.

This review is also posted on Amazon here.

SPECIAL REVIEW PROJECT: 2015 IN REVIEW – Best and Worst Albums of 2015

2015 IN REVIEW
By Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Every time a year ends, music websites and publications all around the world publish lists that feature what they consider the best albums that were released on that year. These albums come with great compliments and, usually, intriguing names and cover arts, tantalising me. This has always been a sort of shame to me, as I felt that I was missing on good music, year after year. So, I’ve finally decided to do something about it, and on February 2016 I started a sort of “Project 2015”, in which I would listen to a bunch of critically-acclaimed albums from last year, and decide which of them I liked and which I didn’t.

At first, it was more of a personal thing, just me writing on an excel file which albums I thought were worthy of further attention after a first listen. However, with the chat of the Only Solitaire group, it ended up getting bigger, as people would suggest me albums, or would ask to see my excel (this made me make it prettier and more comprehensive). By the time we did group-listens of some albums from the list, it was clear that it turned into more than that, and I decided to “publish” it on this blog post, as well as on my facebook account.

Throughout February and in early March I listened to 73 albums released in 2015. I didn’t listen to all of those from beginning to end, but I made sure to listen to each of them long enough to be able to make my opinion. I also want to make it clear that this is meant to be my personal reactions to these albums, shaped by my taste in music, and nothing more than that. Those albums got inside the list from many sources, most of them figured in Brazilian and international best-of-2015 lists, but some came from chat suggestions, and some came from stuff I happened to find and thought were interesting to be listened to. I didn’t get everything I saw on those lists either, only things I thought seemed promising to my taste.

On the excel tables, I did a small description of the sound of each album, and I gave each a one-line review, which was painted green for a positive reaction, yellow for a neutral reaction and red for a negative reaction. I also selected, like the (in)famous Pitchfork website, a few albums to receive a Best New Music award.

Of all the 73, there were only 7 albums which received a negative verdict, including the much acclaimed Kamasi Washington album, The Epic. I guess I just don’t like jazz, but I found the length of it personally offensive, it’s more than three hours long! The worst of the bunch, however, was Defeater’s Abandoned, which started with clichéd dramatic pianos, then a pathetic screaming started, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

22 albums got a neutral reaction. Cidadão Instigado, which is sometimes appointed as one of the best Brazilian rock bands of the XXI century, is yet to be able to touch me, their Fortaleza wasn’t bad but nothing that I would want to spend time listening to. Another disappointment was Frevotron, which promised a modern electronised update on the frevo genre, but sounded like anything but frevo. On the international side, Father John Misty sounded half as good as Elton John on his good songs, and was utterly boring on the others, coupled with pretty bad lyrics. I really wish Robin Pecknold would return to music, because the rest of the Fleet Foxes are nothing without him. The biggest waste of a cool cover belonged to this category, Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP, which was just one more album that followed this recent trend of beautiful arrangements and instrumentation coupled with a lack of good vocal hooks. Bike, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Passo Torto & Ná Ozetti were also guilty of that.

A special mention goes to albums that felt genuinely deep and intriguing, but just weren’t suited to my tastes, like the weird schizophrenia of Oneohtrix, the ambience of Nicholas Jaar and Mount Eerie, and the noise-plus-religious-chants duo between Cadu Tenório and my admired Juçara Marçal.

The last and largest category consists on albums I gave a positive verdict, 44 out of 73. Among those, it’s worth mentioning the great moment Brazilian music in general, and hip-hop, specifically, is living. Searching for inspiration in folkish afro-traditions, the 70s post-tropicália or on the sleazy brega, artists are mixing genres and producing unique albums. If one listens to Ava Rocha, Melodia Preto Bendi, Jonas Sá or Johnny Hooker, they would get an idea of how diverse and vibrant the Brazilian scene is.

International music, however, seems very fragmented, and the only visible tendency is a reduction on the use of guitars. But even those were put to good use by Courtney Barnett or Viet Cong. Many well-established artists did not disappoint this last year, with Magma, Joanna Newsom and Tame Impala releasing good follow-ups that add nicely to their discographies. Modest Mouse, on the other hand, disappointed me with their forgettable Strangers to Ourselves, which included a semi-rap-song with lyrics about cleaning his pistol!

Among the 44 positive albums, there were 12 that I considered the finest of 2015. Two were electronic pop: from the Brazilian state of Pará, Jaloo mixed pop with carimbó to make a very catchy and diverse album; while from overseas, Canadian Grimes wrote, sang, played and produced by herself a kaleidoscopic masterpiece. Still on the electronic world, but far more avant-garde, was Holly Herndon’s Platform, with dazzling vocals that reminded me of Stockhausen’s Stimmung. 

The last two foreign albums that figured on this top 12 were both very personal, although they had very different moods. Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell might not be as good melodically as some of his previous albums, but is incredibly touching, and pretty much bares his soul. To Pimp a Butterfly stands out for the stunning amount of different “voices” Kendrick Lamarr has.

Back to Brazil, Elza Soares’ Mulher do Fim do Mundo is also very personal, and through her coarse 70-year-old voice, and great arrangements, entrances the listener in her world. Great arrangements are also a feature of banda-fôrra’s debut EP, which left me with great expectations for their future. Bixiga 70 gives us another dose of great afrobeat, perhaps their finest.

Finally, on the hip-hop front, I loved particularly four albums. Or rather, three albums and one EP, as Senzala Hi-Tech amazed me with a new kind of afro-vodoo-hip-hop with 90s Native Tongues influences, and they only needed 6 tracks to do so! The Instituto collective called so many great artists to perform on the collaborative Violar, it just wasn’t possible for it not to be awesome. Rodrigo Ogi’s RÁ! is worthy of the capitalisation and exclamation, as it has great grooves, great lyrics, great hooks and a great variety of moods.

Last, but definitely not least, the album I consider the best of 2015: Emicida – Sobre Crianças, Quadris, Pesadelos e Lições de Casa…It can be touching, it can be scathing, it often is both, simultaneously, it is simply marvellous! One of those albums where I just felt the wonder that it music, and on the first listen!