Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance

Top 25 LPs of 2012

Oh Christ, how do I start this without descending into a hyperbolic self-parody… have I already done it? In for a penny? It’s hard for me to talk about Deerhunter without babbling and making weird arm movements. I’m far too attached to them, to the point that I often actively avoid listening to them because I’m scared of the inexplicable possibility of growing to hate them (a thought that may make sense only to me, I apologise). Maybe one of the reasons why this band is so great is because it’s guided by two opposites. Tall, loud eccentric Bradford Cox writes slightly twisted and warped songs, with cryptic ideas and lyrics, while still being absorbing and beautiful. His best friend, however, is the short, quiet and good-natured Lockett Pundt, who writes (equally brilliant) far warmer and more melodic songs, with, somewhat less enigmatic lyrics. While his first solo outing as Lotus Plaza was promising and rewarding, it felt both a little over-saturated and the songwriting  didn’t rank with his best. Then, out of nowhere, this happened.

Recorded entirely by Pundt (and with a live band in mind), ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ isn’t just a record that dragged its maker out of his bandmate’s shadow, it’s one of the most wonderful indie-rock records for years. It’s also one of the most perfect mergers of whirling shoegaze and accessible pop. It opens (after a brief celestial synth intro) with ‘Strangers’, a lush hymn to finding friendship in unlikely places, which chugs slowly to a stop as if the tape machine is running out of battery; the yowling guitar flexes on ‘White Galactic One’ touch back to his noisier roots, but there’s a euphoric crunch in them that wasn’t there before, while the chiming ‘Eveningness’ has one of the year’s most memorable riffs. The hope and optimism shines through this album like heat, especially on songs like the quieter and more intimate ‘Dusty Rhodes’ (written for his fiancée who he married a few months after this record came out) and in the blunt affection rife within ‘Remember Our Days’. Its only moment of real heartbreak comes at the tail end: ‘Black Buzz’ was written for his friend who was struggling with drug addiction; the change in tone when this song comes on is as clear and disarming as a light-bulb blowing. Deerhunter are returning to the studio next year, and, after a record like this, you’ll forgive me for getting my hopes up.
For fans of… My Bloody Valentine, Deerhunter, Tame Impala, Galaxie 500
Click here to hear Strangers.
–Joe Anthony Hill

Death Grips – The Money Store

Top 25 LPs of 2012


“What the HELL is that?” sums up The Money Store rather succinctly. It may be the first thought in your head when you play it; it tends to be what people say when I’ve played it at parties (when I’ve been optimistic to the point of foolishness), but also, once you dig deeper, and you start to pick this carcass apart, and you start to wonder what the HELL is making THAT noise? What did that poor synthesizer on ‘The Cage’ do to be treated like that? Are those Serena Williams’ tennis grunts on ‘System Blower’? (Yes.) Is that a working tumble-drier being pumped full of water and sewage on ‘Black Jack’? (No.) When people ask us what Death Grips sound like, some of my friends and I tend to say “Hip-hop turned up to 11”, but after this long listening to it, it’s so much more (turned up to 11). You can hear the vicious industrial burn-outs of Ministry mingling with the cut-paste sirens of Public Enemy, the diesel-powered punk of Black Flag merging with the boom-box psychedelica of The Chemical Brothers. All this backs the bellowing rants of MC Ride, one of the most alarming and magnetic frontmen since Iggy Pop’s heyday, sounding like a drooling bath-salts casualty covered in petrol spitting and barking on the other side of your windscreen.

The real triumph of The Money Store, however, is that even through all its ruthless lack of compromise, its anti-social sentiment and caustic noisemaking, it is stuffed to the brim with instantly accessible hooks that will bury into your skull and stay there. The bastardised-oriental chorus lines of ‘Bitch Please’, the zing-zing tooth-rotting synths in ‘The Fever’, and the instantly iconic yells of “I’m in your areaaaaa!!!!” from ‘Hacker’: all of them sound like they’ve been exhumed from a garbage heap of sugar and syphilis, but it’s so thrilling, raw, addictive and catchy that you can’t wait to swim in the oily mess. Equal parts danger and fun, art and trash, thrills and stomach-churns: logically, this record shouldn’t exist, and yet here it is. Welcome to The Money Store.

For fans of… Public Enemy, Lightning Bolt, Shabazz Palaces
Click here to hear The Fever

–Joe Anthony Hill

Lower Dens – Nootropics

Top 25 LPs of 2012


Views are not those of Music’s Not Dead, they are mine. I don’t work there, even though I wish I did.

Often a short-form of saying a band is frustratingly uninspiring and safe is by saying “My mum’s favourite band”. Take That, James Morrison, Take That, Leona Lewis, Take That, Coldplay and Take That are just a few that fall into this category. I don’t really agree with this kind of categorisation because, when it comes to music, my mum is brilliant. I asked her what her favourite album of the year so far was a few weeks ago and she settled on ‘Nootropics’ by Lower Dens, an album that charted nowhere and isn’t even famous enough to have its own Wikipedia page. (I do take credit; she denies the existence of the Celine Dion albums she got rid of years ago.)

Written when the band were reading up on bizarre leftfield philosophies by authors you and I have probably never heard of, ‘Nootropics’ is very much the work of a full band – though frontwoman Jana Hunter was a solo musician in her own right, she couldn’t have made this record on her own. The opener, ‘Alphabet Song’, starts gently with hissing hi-hats, wheezy organs and warm guitar slides, evoking being lost in the woods with some friends and some torches. While it sounds mysterious throughout the whole record, there’s still a certain warmth to it nonetheless. Jana Hunter’s voice is spectral and cavernous over the tightly-wound music. Songs towards the start of the record, like the wonderful and propulsive ‘Brains’, seem to explore discomfort with the modern world, but as the record becomes looser and less restrained, it starts to revolve around themes of regressing into a more animalistic state. The music itself becomes more atmospheric and seems to slink into a dark recess the further it progresses. The bass gets more and more dominant and the rhythms get slower and slower, as if it’s sinking into hibernation. By the time the closer ‘In The End Is The Beginning’ starts, you know that it’s found a level of murky darkness it’s not coming out of; even so, it’s a weirdly nice and comfortable form of darkness, like a mammal covering himself with earth to sleep through the winter. A beautiful, subtle and eerie rock record, ‘Nootropics’ is one of the most unique albums I’ve heard in a long while.

Atmosphere is the order of the day here; things like Jana and Geoff Graham’s ghost harmonies, Nate Nelson’s almost total reliance on cymbals and snares and remarkably restrained guitar work by everyone involved, make for a record that drags you straight into another world. I think that’s why I decided to review this record this week; October’s nearly upon us, the sky is greyer than John Major’s Spitting Image puppet, I’m about to enter the second year of a degree that I feel utterly unprepared for and all I want is for the world to stop. Hibernators unite, retreat to the Lower Dens.

(Their first, and wonderful, LP ‘Twin Hand Movement’ is also available.)

For fans of: Beach House, David Sylvian, Talk Talk, The Cure (a la Seventeen Seconds)
Click here to hear Propagation

– Joe Anthony Hill

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

Top 25 LPs of 2012

‘The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw, and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do’. Say that out loud. Am I the only person who thinks that’s a great (if long) title? Conversely, Fiona Apple’s latest offering is a surprisingly stripped back affair, and yet, in terms of songwriting and composition, its her deepest and most accomplished work to date. Everything about ‘The Idler Wheel’ sounds natural, organic, like it’s being played from a disc made of wood – Apple’s piano has never sounded more natural, or more thunderous. Maybe, if this record proves anything, it’s that you can slap all the engineering glitter and paste you like on her, but nothing sounds better than when her voice and piano are pared to the bone, free from effects and garnish. The other real star here is Charley Drayton, her touring drummer, and now co-producer. His rattling, rumbling, hissing jazz drumming is the pairing that Apple’s bassy somersaulting voice seems to have been made for. Her use of sounds and textures is more creative than ever as well – ‘Daredevil’ is backed by a skittering thigh-slap rhythm, ‘Werewolf’s most joyous moment is perversely backed by samples of screaming children and ‘Periphery’ is held together by the crunch and scrape of velcro.

What’s more important, however, is that this is the best set of songs she has ever written – the silent-movie-esque creepy-crawly pianos on ‘Left Alone’ back a self-deprecating anxiety diatribe; ‘Every Single Night’ is one of the best songs ever written about insomnia, sounding halfway between Billie Holliday torch-song and a lullaby-gone-wrong; ‘Regret’ sees her veering close to losing all control, but instead you can’t help but feel bowled over when her voice cracks like someone snapping a plank on their knee. While ‘The Idler Wheel…’ often centres around sad personal subjects, it’s at once compelling and joyful, because you can feel the catharsis in every note. You know that this is a woman who loves to make this music, and it’s an infectious feeling. The last track ‘Hot Knife’, is its happiest moment and covers that glorious buzz of falling in love, with high-low layered harmonies, rolling timpani and spiky peaks and troughs. Fiona Apple was already one of the best American singer-songwriters of her age, but ‘The Idler Wheel’ feels like the record she has been wanting to make for over a decade – it’s a magnificent, cerebral piece of work that is as dense and complex as it is skeletal.
For fans of… Bjork, Kate Bush, Regina Spektor, Ben Folds, Jeff Buckley, PJ Harvey
Click here to hear Every Single Night

–Joe Anthony Hill

Beach House – Bloom

Top LPs of 2012

Apparently I wasn’t the only person getting annoyed people said “Do Beach House really need to make another album?”
“What the f**k is that?” said frontwoman Victoria Legrand. “That only matters if you’re just listening to sound. It’s this pathetic era we’re in where people are like, “I’m done with them, I need a new sound; I’m a baby, I need something every five minutes.” A lot of people listening to music now don’t listen to the songs at all. They just go, “Good tones…” and that’s it. But we’re obsessed with songs. Sometimes, I feel like people aren’t listening to our songs, they’re just listening to the sound.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself. ‘Bloom’ is a collection of SONGS, and the SONGS on it are ruddy wonderful. Beach House do have their distinctive sound (let’s not forget that) of shimmering keyboards, with guitars and puttering drum machines that sound both icy and warm, but the SONGS aren’t easy to overlook. ‘New Year’ has one of the most gorgeous euphoric choruses and breath-holding sequences in the genre; ‘Troublemaker’s divebomb guitars and hushed organ wheezes seem as uncertain as Legrand’s chorus of “Someone like you…” caught between affection and regret, while ‘WIld’ provides the album’s highpoint in its partnership of troubled lyrics and triumphant swoops (“Our father won’t come home, ’cause he is seeing double.”) Beach House may have a unique sound that’s now completely their own, but while that’s what got people listening in the first place, if anything’s going to make them stay, it’s the “SONGS”. And stay they will.
For fans of… Cocteau Twins, The XX, Deerhunter, Mazzy Star
Click here to hear Wild

–Joe Anthony Hill