May 30, 2020

Best electronic music albums of 1995: Semi Final 2 – Bjork versus Leftfield

Bjork's Post and Leftfield's Leftism

It's the second semi-final in the ongoing contest to decide the best electronic music album of 1995. I'm too excited to look. Someone blindfold me. Poke out my eyes with spoons. Sellotape me into a box and mail me to Peru. It's all too tense to bear.

The winner of this bout will go through to the grand final to meet yesterday's winner. We will then know the best 1995 album and there shall be no more debate. See the series so far here, and see the 16 albums I began with here.

As with the last semi-final, I am judging these albums with some slightly unconventional criteria. Hoping to win my semi-thumbs-up in this most semi-gladiatorial of battles is:
Post by Bjork
Leftism by Leftfield
The hyper-balladeer meets the space shantiers. Jeeves, can you please lube up the contestants and place them into the firing cannon of destiny. One shall win. One shall be spurned forever. The semi-final is go.

Criteria one: which album is best stored in a fridge?

The crystalline atmosphere of Post seems ideal for cold storage, which is a good job because Leftfield lose this on two counts. Firstly, they've got a song called Melt which, let me remind you, is extremely triggering for fridge systems. And they've got some buttery punk loudmouth singing "burn, Hollywood, burn". Only Bjork can deliver safe storage for my dairy goodness.
Winner: Post

Criteria two: which album is the best soundtrack for the lockdown?

The violently happy Bjork would be an ideal companion for being stuck at home. You can both just sit there, "listening to the irritating noises of dinosaurs and people dabbling outside." That would have been the best choice, if it weren't for the futurist defiance of Leftism. "I've got to stand and fight," they say. "Will it ever be the same again?" they ask. The bold sounds of Leftfield are what we needed to narrate a lockdown.
Winner: Leftism

Criteria three: which album would make the best birthday present for an elephant?

I'm not sure the zoos are open as I write this, so I had to make do with throwing CDs at a horse. The rider was furious, and I waffled something about people in Cheltenham breaking distancing rules, which didn't help. But then I played Bjork's It's Oh So Quiet and the shushing really helped calm the rider down. The horse kicked me in the face, but that's beside the point. I'm sure it could please an elephant.
Winner: Post

Criteria four: which album's track titles are a secret code to unlock the secrets of the Illuminati?

To be honest with you, I wasn't really thinking when I included this judging criteria. I'm not into any of that illuminati nonsense, and I don't think Prince William looks much like a lizard. Leftfield have the chanting lyrics of Afro Left and the dubby spaciness of Storm 3000, while Bjork's track title Army Of Me sounds like a the name of a one-man illuminati conspiracy blog. She wins on the track title technicality. But truly, I'm out of my depth here. If we really are run by a cabal of space blobs, I'd be the last one to notice.
Winner: Post

Criteria five: which album can you dance the Macarena to?

The only song acceptable for dancing the Macarena to is the song Macarena. However, if you are going to flout Macarena rules, then you should probably bust your moves to Leftism. Nothing against Post: the carnival vibes of I Miss You are perfect for repetitive choreography. It's just that Leftfield's beats hit harder and for longer: we're talking an extended, dark, after-hours Macarena. A sexy Macarena
Winner: Leftism

Criteria six: Which album cover would make the best face tattoo for Fat Roland?

I've always wanted to improve my face: I look like a spud that's been dumped in a river bed. If I had the Bjork album tattooed on my face, then I'd look as good as Bjork, which is very good indeed. If I had the Leftfield album inked on my face, I'd look like some kind of jaw-eyed cyclops. "I'm a space blob," I'd say as people ran screaming. Horses would throw CDs at me. This sounds amazing: Leftfield's all-seeing eye wins.
Winner: Leftism

Criteria seven: miscellaneous and worryingly random
In the worst decision since, er, most decisions in the UK for the past ten years, this section is curated using the random page button on Wikipedia. Here goes. Which album looks brownest? Leftfield, despite Bjork being dressed as an envelope. Which album needs a good wash? Bjork because she sings about standing by the ocean. Which album is a reptile? Despite Leftfield's illuminati leanings, it has to be Bjork for the only reason that Isobel is a great name for a turtle. Which album should have been covered by Jerry Garcia? Jerry lived just long enough to see the release of both featured albums – he would have chosen Bjork. Which album should be played in Liw Castle in Poland? Playing Leftfield in a flipping castle? No brainer. Which album could soundtrack a 1930 German thriller? The sheer drama and intensity of Leftfield would be ideal for this. Which album would be the subject of a satirical story by The Onion? For her headline-grabbing antics and "oh so quiet" dramatics, Bjork.
Winner: Post

Overall winner and going through to the grand final: The gap between the contestants was so narrow, you couldn't have fit Bjork dressed as an envelope between them. The winner is Post by Bjork: her amazing Nellee Hooper-produced album elbows its way into the final. I'm gutted to lose Leftfield: they lost the Mercury Music Prize, and now they lost this.

16 albums began this contest (see the original 16 here) and only two remain. The best electronic music album of 1995 is about to be decided. Don't go turning that blog dial: there's an epic final battle coming our way.

Further Fats: See the whole Best Albums Of 1995 series here.

May 29, 2020

Best electronic music albums of 1995: Semi Final 1 – Goldie versus Tricky

Goldie Timeless and Tricky Maxinquaye

In a thousand years from now, when the apocalyptic nuclear dust settles, the few remaining mutated humans will whisper in hushed tones: "do you remember when Fat Roland did his Best Albums of 1995 thing?" And then some more of the remaining mutated humans will reply with their elbows, "Who?"

It's time for the semi-final of my competition to crown the best electronic music album of 1995. If you're not up to date with this, see the series so far here, and see the 16 albums I started off with here. The winner of today's face-off wins a place in the grand final. 

I've refreshed the judging criteria and, as ever, there is only one person on the judging panel: me. Facing my wrath for this semi-final is:
Timeless by Goldie
Maxinquaye by Tricky
The Walsall metalhead meets the Bristolian wild buncher. Let's fire up this sausage and see if it bursts.

Criteria one: which album is best stored in a fridge?

I feel that if I left Maxinquaye within a mile of my fridge, my butter would be mouldy within minutes. Tricky's got a serious case of cross-contamination in those filthy beats. In contrast, I'd happily nestle Timeless against my yoghurts and tripe. It's a clean album and works best at cool temperatures. I'm not having Goldie in my freezer, though: he'd swipe my Ben & Jerry's. Ice cream's the only thing he can eat, what with those gold teeth.
Winner: Timeless

Criteria two: which album is the best soundtrack for the lockdown?

Both albums trade on a certain level of paranoia, with Goldie's inner city pressure and Tricky's cack load of drugs. Neither can relieve the lockdown but they certainly could reflect it. It's the Tricky album that best sums up the cataclysm that is the Covid crisis in lyrics like "hell is round the corner where I shelter" and "how can I be sure in a world that's constantly changing?" and "how do I hide my own view in Zoom?"
Winner: Maxinquaye 


Criteria three: which album would make the best birthday present for an elephant?

This one is easy. Maxinquaye is custom-made for wrinkly elephants as they trample across muddy plains. Their flat feet drum in trip hop patterns. Listen to them trumpet, the pure fat sound of a– oh hold on, someone's at the door. Back in a mo. ... Ah, sorry, that was Elmer the Elephant and he says Timeless is, and I quote, "da bomb when I'm toking on a patchwork blunt." This one has to go to Goldie. Don't blame me; blame the fictional elephant who coincidentally turned up at my door just now.
Winner: Timeless

Criteria four: which album's track titles are a secret code to unlock the secrets of the Illuminati?

Glad you asked. To detect illuminati coding, we're looking for three things in the titles: lizards, triangles and anything that rhymes with 'David Icke'. Tricky's Abbaon Fat Tracks has four letter As: are these triangles? Would lizards live in Goldie's Sea of Tears, or am I thinking of turtles? I had another listen to Tricky's disturbed whispering throughout his album, and he's definitely unlocking some Dan Brown kinda shizzle right there. He's like a whispering Icke.
Winner: Maxinquaye 



Criteria five: which album can you dance the Macarena to?

For those living in the future, I'm writing this in times of social distancing, so I'm unable to carry out a controlled Macarena experiment on the 143 bus through Withington. However, Goldie's tricksy tripping rhythms are ideal for Los del Río's popular Spanish dance. I can picture it now: ardent arm thrusts, bombastic belly wiggles, underpants flying everywhere, the harrangued bus driver trying to catch me with an oversize fishing net. A mí me gusta!
Winner: Timeless

Criteria six: Which album cover would make the best face tattoo for Fat Roland?

Not having had a tattoo, I'm never quite sure: do you have to draw in the white bits? Thing is, the Goldie album already has a face on, so it should be ideal, but it would end up as a tiny face on the end of my nose and everyone would get confused. I'm often huffed and puffed and red in the cheeks, so if you tatted Maxinquaye across my fizzog, hardly anybody would notice – I'm going for that one.
Winner: Maxinquaye 

Criteria seven: miscellaneous and worryingly random
For no reason other than I hate you, this final section will be decided using Wikipedia's random page function. Which album would make the best portable flamethrower? Maxinquaye because, as we've established, Timeless is too chilled.  Which album would make a great hockey puck? Maxinquaye because it would be made of Black Steel. Which album has the best nom de plume? Easy: the 'Maxin' bit of Maxinquaye is named after Tricky's mother Maxine. Which album makes the best sewage pump? Timeless because of the (inner city) pressure. Which album would be enjoyed by a southern carpenter bee? Their faces look exactly like the Metalheadz logo, so Timeless. Which album would win the 1999 Qatar Open singles competition? Maxinquaye because he'd be on the (massive) attack.
Winner: Maxinquaye 

Overall winner and going through to the grand final: After a nail-clenching buttock-biting semi-final, Tricky storms it at the end to win a place in the grand final. The album stormed end-of-year polls after its release, so it's very worthy. Alas, for Goldie, the time ran out. Time. Timeless. Time ran out. Geddit?! No. Dammit.

The second semi-final will hit the internet faster than a speeding patchwork elephant. Watch this space. In the meantime, see all the original riders and runners here.

Further Fats: See the whole Best Albums Of 1995 series here.

May 28, 2020

Decapitated Seals and Adamski's skinned llama: remembering Killer

Clip from the video for Seal's Killer

In May 1990, Adamski's Killer knocked Madonna's Vogue off the top spot of the UK singles chart. Madge was too concerned with Greta Garbo and Rita Hayworth, and didn't see the keyboard wizard sneaking up from behind.

Killer wasn't just a breath of fresh air: it was a fully-bellowed gust up the jacksie. It was clearly informed by Adamski's rave DJing, but that bass drum / bassline combo was something new. The Italo-house piano, the 909, the bit where Seal's voice goes "be-ee-e-ee". So good.

The track was recorded amid noisy protests over the Tories' anti-rave legislation. Seal was a penniless singer, while Adamski was relying on the government's Enterprise Allowance Scheme (as was I around that time). Lots of dance music felt politically charged. Killer seemed to suck in all that energy, then blast it out in a fully clubby and commercial way.

Watch the original verson with decapitated Seals, young Adamski wearing a skinned llama, and. um. some random science lab tech things.


The track was a huge smash. Only four artists outsold Adamski that year: the Righteous Brothers, Sinéad O'Connor, Elton John and king of all rappers Vanilla Ice. The single hit number one in Zimbabwe and Belgium and — wait for it — hit number 112 in Australia. 

George Michael's bland version brought the track back to UK number one in 1993. I was horrified. It sounded like yer dad discovering your rave records and putting on a live entertainment night with a buffet. Still, I was obsessed with Killer and bought every subsequent cover / remix on vinyl. Even the George Michael one. Sigh.

Here's Seal and Adamski appearing on Top of the Pops on Christmas Day 1990. No jeans and a t-shirt with these two. Just look at them. Adamski looks like a little peroxide tearaway and Seal looks like a gymnast biker. Both are in full live flow, with Adamski taking bits of his other tracks and throwing it all into the mix. Brilliant.



May 27, 2020

Essential Hardcore got me started, ahem, on rave music

Essential Hardcore CD cover

When I was a young droog, much of my musical education came from chart rave, and from compilation CDs.

One compilation I had forgotten about, until I tripped over the above image online, is 1991's Essential Hardcore

It's image was not original. It had a cherub on the cover, reminding us of New Order's Technique, and the acts listed on the front, a style later copied by terribly-named series The Best... Album in the World...Ever!

What was notable was its track curation. The album never leaves strays too far from the environs of commercial dance music, but there's definitely a change in flavour as it progresses.

At the start are charty bangers like Rozalla's saxophone-fuelled Faith (In The Power Of Love) and 2 Unlimited's ubiquitous Get Ready For This. Not great. The kind of music that clueless people mention when you say you're into techno.

Then we get into classic rave. The likes of Bizarre Inc's Playing With Knives, Altern 8's Activ 8 and Slipmatt & Lime (SL2)'s DJs Take Control, with the London breakbeat's duo's biggest hit On A Ragga Tip still a few months off.

By the end of the album, we're into the slightly harder stuff. Lords of Acid's moody and stomping Take Control. Joey Beltram's The Omen (Psycho Mix). And Dutch duo L.A. Style with their jackhammering James Brown Is Dead. It's a great introduction to rave. 

And the The Shamen's wibbly Possible Worlds was a great way to end the album. Most people only knew them for Move Any Mountain, and this was a gateway drug to their more trippy side.

Please let's not talk about the inclusion of Simply Red's Something Got Me Started, though. Crumbs.

This was actually the fourth in the Hardcore series, previous iterations being Hardcore Uproar, Hardcore Dancefloor and Hardcore Ecstasy. All of them showed the dark and light side of charty dance music. The first one included Betty Boo, and Together's ravetastic top 20 single Hardcore Uproar, from which the series no doubt got its name.

I'm glad I rediscovered this again. Back in the olden days, it was useful to have compilations like this – Essential Hardcore and its sister albums played a key part in young me navigating my music taste. Hear a patchy stream of the album tracks over on YouTube.


May 26, 2020

20 great electronic music albums from 2010


A friend on Twitter was asking for recommendations of 2010 electronic music albums.

I don't mean 2,010 electronic music albums. That would be a big ask of anyone, like requesting someone list their top thousand favourite turnips then staring at them while tapping a notepad until they finished. No, that wouldn't be a nice thing to ask.

I mean electronic music albums from the year 2010. The year of Bad Romance and CeeLo Green's sweary break-up song and, er, Susan Boyle's Christmas album. The year, as it happened, of great electronic music.

And so, here it is. My list of recommendations. And because I'm a good boy, I took two tracks off each album and made this Spotify playlist.

There are notable omissions from my best-of-2010 blog posts. That's because tastes change, and a Fat Roland has a right to change his mind if a Fat Roland wants too. I think I now have better taste in music. I also, incidentally, have a better taste in socks, outdoor coats and egg recipes.

List ahoy!

20 great electronic music albums from 2010 (selected tracks playlist here)
Actress – Splazsh
Autechre – Oversteps
Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Caribou – Swim 
Chemical Brothers – Further
Daft Punk – Tron Legacy
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Four Tet – There Is Love In You 
Hot Chip – One Life Stand
LCD Soundsystem –  This Is Happening
Lone – Emerald Fantasy Tracks
Lonelady – Nerve Up 
Lorn – Nothing Else
Luke Abbott – Holkham Drones 
Magnetic Man – Magnetic Man
Massive Attack – Heligoland
Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise
Robyn – Body Talk
Shobaleader One – d'Demonstrator
Underworld – Barking 

May 11, 2020

Best electronic albums of 1995: the semi-final showdown

Timeless, Maxinquaye, Post and Leftism

The battle to find the best electronic music album of 1995 is about to reach a spluttering climax. It's time for the semi-finals.

Sixteen albums went into this competition, facing up against each other in a series of tense one-on-one knock-outs. They faced hash judgement from a panel of judges that consisted of, er, just me. Only four albums remain. They are:

Timeless by Goldie
Maxinquaye by Tricky
Post by Bjork
Leftism by Leftfield

That's right. There are only four of them. The same number as the Beatles or Abba or The Proclaimers looking into a mirror.

The following artists didn't make it to this semi-final: Aphex Twin, Moby, the Chemical Brothers, Higher Intelligence Agency, BT, Carl Craig, Global Communication, Sabres of Paradise, Nightmares on Wax, the Black Dog, David Holmes, Autechre and your gran playing the spoons (disqualified before the competition began).

Moby got knocked out of the competition because of confusing signals from Eamonn Holmes. The Black Dog fell by the wayside because I compared them to a Viennese Whirl. And most controversially, the Chemical Brothers lost out in the first round because I disliked their attitude towards eggs.

This has not been a normal competition.

In the forthcoming semi-final showdown, Goldie's drum & bass classic will grind up against Tricky's towering trip hop debut, while Bjork's oh-so-massive masterpiece will grapple with Leftfield's legendary LP. Only two albums will make it through to the grand final to decide the best electronic album of 1995.

And yes, my judging criteria will no doubt get crazier. Why make things simple, huh.

The very next blog post will be the first semi-final between Golden Balls and the Trickster, er, I mean, Goldie and Tricky. Watch this site for a battle so epic, Lorraine Kelly will do an especially vigorous "och, noooo". In the meantime, catch up on the competition so far to find the best electronic music album of 1995.

May 3, 2020

I recommend three, oh, three great acid tracks


For a couple of days last week, I took over @303OClock, a Twitter account dedicated to posting acid tracks twice a day at 3:03 O'Clock.

I thought I would record my takeover here, because Twitter is ephemeral like mist or memory or biscuits, while a blog post is forever, like Jesus or shame. 

The brief was my favourite acid tracks from 2010–2019, and although I don't think my choices were especially original, I was pretty happy with my selections.
Recent takeover people have included Perc Trax, DJ Food, EOD and Ghostly International. So no pressure then.
Hardfloor's Good Luck Scharm isn't easy to come by, and I was pretty dismayed at the booby nonsense in the homemade video. Still, I chose this track because there's nothing more cobweb-clearing than Hardfloor in full tweak. It's so nice the boys have kept going: in lockdown times, I have to work on my motivation, and this is exactly the energy I need.
I was disappointed not to be seeing Daniel Avery at this year's Blue Dot festival, a wonderful shindig whose 2020 event fell foul of the coronavirus crisis. I chose Drone Logic not just for the Chemical Brothers-style scuzziness, but for the sheer joy you can get from a very basic acid melody. In the words of Robert Leiner, it's a kind of magic.
And finally, Ceephax Acid Crew's Legend of Phaxalot. I could have chosen any number of his works, especially from his brilliant 2020 album Camelot Arcade.  This was my comfort-listen choice: I can't imagine life without Ceephax.

I've banged on about my love of acid before, including hearing it on odd-shaped speakers, how I would make acid house parties compulsory, and, er, how acid house is for losers. Um...

Do give @303OClock a follow for a twice-daily dollop of acid. It's not only an antidote to all major diseases, it also makes you better looking and will instantly make you a millionaire. Citation needed. 


Apr 30, 2020

Best electronic music albums of 1995: Quarter Final 4 – Carl Craig versus Leftfield

Carl Craig and Leftfield albums

What is the best electronic music album of 1995 (see the series so far here)? You no doubt have an opinion, especially if you check out the 16 albums that started this competition off. But opinions are like holiday homes on the Costa Daurada: everyone's got one. The only opinion that matters in this ongoing competition is mine. And if that sounds egotistical, then, er, sorry about that. Yeesh. I'm a real douche.

This is the last quarter final before we move into the semi finals. The stakes are high. Today's bout is between:
Landcruising by Carl Craig
Leftism by Leftfield
Carl Craig and Leftfield both began their careers in 1989, and both went on to shape electronic music. A sped-up spin of Craig's Bug In The Bassbin supposedly lay the groundwork for drum 'n' bass, while the 'field are credited as starting the genre of progressive house. It will be a shame to lose either of them. Brace yourself.

Criteria one: which album feels too big to fit into a caravan?

Carl Craig pays tribute to his motor city hometown, evoking sunny drives with the window wound down. Following that logic, it would be pretty difficult to fit a road inside a caravan. On the other hand, Leftfield's space shanties evoke an entire universe of texture and colour. Their sound system was so incendiary, it once stripped the plaster off the roof of a venue. Fitting Landcruising into a caravan might be like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle, but getting Leftism into that glorified shed would be like shoving a whole flipping solar system into the atoms of the needle itself.
Winner: Leftism

Criteria two: which album has the best individual noise?

Carl Craig's got some great vroom vroom car sounds. I would have preferred choo choo sounds, but sometimes you've just got to take what you're given. Leftfield have barely any transport sounds: not even a tractor. That said, they've got tonnes of strange and wonderful noises: bleepy radar bits on Original; funny bubbly bits on Melt; an electronic wobble board bit on Release The Pressure; and a bit where a guy goes waaaah like he's doing a mad skateboard trick which I suppose technically is a form of transport.
Winner: Leftism

Criteria three: which album makes your record collection look coolest?

I remember Leftism coming out so clearly. It was beautiful chunk of vinyl, and looked superb on my coffee table next to my nose flute. "Look at this lovely album," I would tell visitors. "Is that a nose flute?" they would enquire. "Stop looking at the nose flute," I would scream. I didn't get many visitors. Leftfield are cool, but Landcruising looks way cooler. It's dark and mysterious, and the clash of the car emblem and the dot matrix text only raises questions. You'd not keep it on a coffee table: maybe that's why it's cooler.
Winner: Landcrusing

Criteria four: which album would you play to ward off a tiger?

A walkover for Leftfield. They've got John Lydon on their side, threatening to open things up and burn Hollywood to the ground. He's the original Tiger King. If Johnny Rotten was cornered by a snarling tiger, he'd smear it in butter, which tigers famously hate. Carl Craig not only fails to repel tigers, he's a positive tiger magnet. Want proof? He's from Detroit and their baseball team is called the Detroit Tigers: that's how bad he is at warding them off. Useless.
Winner: Leftiism

Criteria five: which album has the sexiest track titles?

Carl Craig's track titles are a bit dry. Home Entertainment, Technology, Mind Of A Machine. I'd imagine a date with this album would result in an early night: me getting into bed on my own while Landcruising fixes the VHS player. Leftism fares a little better: the track titles Open Up, Melt and Release The Pressure could all be mistaken for b-sides to Madonna's Justify My Love. Even then, I'm not terribly excited, even if the Leftfield title Inspection (Check One) is a euphemism lifted straight out of a Carry On film. Oo-er missus.
Winner: Leftism

Criteria six: Which album would sound best played on the panpipes?

The staccato synth stabs of They Were rolled off my panpipes like lemmings off a cliff, and the wandering lackadaisical melody of One Day Soon floated seamlessly into the air like, er, lemmings floating up a cliff. A good result for Carl Craig. And while the opening siren call of Leftfield's Melt was easy to follow, the panpipes sounded naff against their speaker-rattling production. A win for the lemmings, Er, I mean... a win for Carl Craig. Just to clarify, Carl Craig is not a lemming. If anything, he looks like a handsome baby seal.
Winner: Leftism

Criteria seven: miscellaneous and worryingly random

Because I'm reckless and want to watch the world burn, this final criteria is generated using Wikipedia's random page function. Which album could scale an Austrian mountain range? Carl Craig because he's land cruising. Which album has fourfold rotational symmetry? Leftism thought their album didn't quite hang together at first, so Carl Craig must be more symmetrical. Which album would win a TV talent show? Leftfield because John Lydon would show off to the judges. Which of the two albums would make the best Mongolian poet? Leftfield's 21st Century Poem may ignore thousands of years of pre-2000 Mongolian history, but at least they have a poem. Which album would make the best Christmas tree to create a home for the cartoon chipmunks Chip n' Dale? Carl Craig and I'm not explaining why.
Winner: Landcruising

Overall winner and going through to the quarter-finals: A landsliding win for Leftfield, as they scoop five of the seven sets of judging criteria. Looks like they're the one to beat as they move to next week's semi final. In 2005, Carl Craig released a reedited version of Landcruising called The Album Formerly Known As..., updating some of the sounds, Maybe he was anticipating this very competition. Too little too late, Carl. Too little, too late.

Next week, I launch the semi finals of this stupid contest to find the best electronic music album of 1995. Stay tuned. See all the original riders and runners here.

Further Fats: See the whole Best Albums Of 1995 series here.