Jan 6, 2021

Happy new 2021 Fat Roland


Happy 2021, idiots.

Yeah, you heard. I called you an idiot and you can do nothing about it. This is the new me: confident, assertive, dominant, and wearing a special hat that says "I am the best".

In previous years, my new year's resolutions have been pathetic. Staying off Facebook, answering emails more quickly, being nicer to dogs, that sort of thing. Those resolutions are for small-minded losers. The new me, the 2021 me, is going to have a big mind.

Everything is going to be bigger.

Strap in, because these ten 2021 resolutions are so full of confidence, they're going to blow your socks off. You have rubbish socks, by the way. Yeah, you heard.

Resolution 1:
Beat Gary Kasparov at chess

I reckon I can take him. I watched that chess drama with the gaudy wallpaper and I'm an expert at chess now. The castle goes down the edges, the donkey does a sideways jump like it's avoiding an ants' nest, and the tall one just stands at the back and does nothing. Easy. Once I've trounced him at chess, I'm going to destroy him at Ludo.

Resolution 2:
Become a superstar DJ like they had in the 90s

I mean, how hard can it be? Stick a cassette tape on, pretend to move all the knobs, move the vinyl back and forth while saying "wickedy-wah", get on the front cover of Mixmag. I'm going to wear a tie-dye shirt with smiley faces on. The only song I'll play is Doop by Doop.

Resolution 3:
Populate Mars

Pretty simple. Buy a nice house on Mars, preferably near a newsagents and a well-maintained public leisure centre. And then populate the planet by either sexy bonky times or a mass cloning programme. I've not worked out the details: my many offspring can sort that out. I'm sure my logic's pretty solid on this one.

Resolution 4:
Patent a two-tier urinal system

Men! Fed up of queuing for a wee in public toilets? Want to avoid todger-tinkling tailbacks? I will invent a two-tier urinal system to speed things up. I can't reveal too much for intellectual property reasons, but Tier One is "Measured Micturition", which involves a tape measure and a waterproof notepad, and Tier Two is "Splash And Dash" which involves standing in the doorway and arcing over the loo queue. Just hand me my million pounds now, Dragon's Den.

Resolution 5:
Host the 2021 Olympics

I will become an Olympic host, just like a country. I don't know if we're due an Olympics this year: Sebastian Coe won't return my calls. But I will totally host it single-handedly. I might not have stadiums (the correct plural of which is "stadiumii"), but I can run around my living room in jogging bottoms balancing an egg in a ladle. Not a real egg, obviously, I'm not stupid.

Resolution 6
Become the world's tallest man

I'll just stand on some bricks or something.

Resolution 7
Win all the marathons

All of them. London, Munich, Sydney, Bhutan, everywhere. Eddie Izzard did loads of marathons because standup comedians run about a lot on stage, so it was a natural progression. I don't want to do any actual running: I'm pretty sure if you bung the finish-line marshals a few quid, they'll plant a few bogus "this way" signs so my competitors get lost and/or fall into a crocodile pit.

Resolution 8
Become 'Back Flip Guy'

Just imagine. I'm in a board meeting. Some suit is pointing at figures on a white board. The big boss at the head of the table asks for blue-sky thinking. I do a back flip right out of my chair, and everyone says it's "well skill" while doing the gangsta hand-snap thing. Hey! I'm the Back Flip Guy! It's what I do! See also: AA meetings, supermarket queues, rollercoasters, egg-ladle racing.

Resolution 9
Invent Star Wars

Do you know how much money Star Wars made? It was like a thousand pounds or something. I'm going to get rich by inventing Star Wars, although I'd get rid of all those little furry animals and the droopy-faced racist guy and all the robots and anything to do with space. It's basically going to be a dozen films of me sat in my pants playing computer Solitaire. The merch is going to be amazing.

Resolution 10
Use the word "horse" instead of other more useful words

My final resolution is going to horse your brain. I'm going to horse a seventy-foot horse in front of a crowd of horse, while horse-rope walking across a huge chasm which is horse metres high. Everyone will totally horse, and within horse weeks, horse will ask me to horse a horse, with horse horse and horse. Horse horse ladle, horse, horse on horse horse. Horse— (that's enough horsing around - ed)

Further Fats: Top ten ways to write a top ten music list (2012)

Further Fats: The only new year list that counts (2017)

Dec 31, 2020

Best electronic albums of 2020: one

1 dj python fat roland electronic albums of 2020
1 – DJ Python – Mas Amable (Incienso)

I know what I want in a number one album. I want fat chunky chords dancing for my pleasure, or Aphexian ambience dripping over the sides, or drum machines that seem out of control, or cool samples that I can make into memes or...

I did not expect Mas Amable. Nobody expected Mas Amable.

What an astonishing piece of work. This is the second album produced for Anthony Naples' Incienso imprint by DJ Python, who is a person and not a snake. There's little in his techno discography that suggests that one day he'd come up with an album so beguiling, it renders any concept of track listing meaningless. 

It's like you're listening to a secret album beyond what's laid out in front of you.

Mas Amable is a reggaeton album (Python calls it "deep reggaeton"). The unmistakable rhythm conjures images of sunny beaches and palm trees, yet Python uses this as a basis for something quite unique. Is it eight tracks? Is it one long track? Is it three tracks if you squint your eyes hard enough? 

The beats occupy some ethereal moon, and your mind is a pebble being washed by the tide.

It starts in an ambient haze, until that ubiquitous rhythm tumbles in. The drums begin to morph, not that you notice. A third of the way into the album, wistful IDM chords appear. They rarely venture beyond variations of the same triptych, and indeed it's a three-chord structure that subtly begins and ends the album, albeit at different tempos.

When the spoken word comes, you're so deep in the Mas Amable spell, you don't notice the darkness of the lyrics: "It's okay to feel hopeless because the world is hopeless. It's okay to think about dying." I can feel the universe falling away around me.

She also says, "Where was the place where you felt okay? Go to this place."

Throughout this countdown, I've said that there isn't much that separates the the briefest of 'special mentions' and the top level of my list. Such was the quality of albums this year. But it was always going to be Mas Amable for the top spot. There's nothing else like it.

We are all unique snowflakes, and this is the snowflakest of them all.

I know what I want in a number one album, but I'm wrong. This album has shown me something different. I've gone to the restaurant expecting my usual hot-flagged chicken and fries. But the waiter has shown me a plate of delicious steaming fog that is on, but not quite on, the plate and I really want that fog, and now the fog is telling me to find my happy place because the world is a mess and is it one fog or three fogs and I squint my eyes and I wonder if it tastes like pea soup.

Addendum: I've just found out that Boomkat also selected this as their top album of 2020. They called it a "mutable organism imperceptibly transforming before our eyes". This is very okay, Boomers.

Congratulations to DJ Python. And thanks to you for reading my words in 2020.


Best electronic albums of 2020: two

2 kelly lee owens fat roland electronic albums of 2020
2 – Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song (Smalltown Supersound)

Ooo, it's a corker. If you've not fallen for Inner Song yet, do it now. Listen to it. Eat it. Bathe in it. Tattoo it on your face.

Previously, I've rather brashly compared Inner Song to Leftfield's Leftism, not because of its sound, but because of its eclectic approach to production. In the same way Leftfield embraced dub reggae shanties alongside hard house, Kelly Lee Owens' second album encompasses soulful vocals, wall-shaking club cuts, and every frequency inbetween. I have no doubt that if this album had been released in the mid-90s, it would have been a go-to coffee table album just like Leftism.

She uses this variation as structure. There's a pin-ball nature to the track listing, volleying between sugar soft vocals and aerobic techno workouts. It's like watching a tennis match between Betty Boop and Mr Motivator. And Owens nails every return because she's possibly the most talented producer in Britain at the moment.

There are two headline moments on Inner Song. The first is her buzzy Radiohead cover Arpeggi. The second is her collaboration with fellow Welsh musician John Cale, whose druggy drawl on Corner Of My Sky was described by James Spearing at Picky B*stards as "the best thing anyone from the Velvet Underground has done since 1972".

On any other album, those two remarkable moments would be the things you remember the most. Not here. Everything else is so dang brilliant. The descending synth on Melt! The euphoria of Jeanette. The the cheeky bass drum nudging its way into On

Whether it pounds or patters or pumps or purrs, each track has an, erm, inner song you'll want to play again and again.

Small print: please do not tattoo this album on your face.


Best electronic albums of 2020: three

3 mason bee fat roland electronic albums of 2020
3 – Mason Bee – Play Flights (Pollen Kit)

The popular techno band Plaid built up a formidable reputation over the years, playing cool beats on their disco machines to Orbital and The Black Dog fans. "That chord sequence sounds a bit off," we'd yell over the music, and we'd love it.

What many of their fans don't know is that throughout their career, they've been accompanied by a bee. It was often hard to see, what with the mirrorballs and dry ice, but the techno band Plaid wouldn't be seen anywhere without their busy little bee.

There have been a few close calls at their live gigs. The Southbank Centre has a particularly aggressive air conditioning system, and they nearly had their bee sucked off. There was also a near miss once, backstage with DJ Food and a rolled-up newspaper. But generally, their bee— oh hold on—

Apparently, it's a person. Not a bee. Sorry. Should have checked, I suppose. Please ignore everything I have written so far.

Benet 'Mason Bee' Walsh has been a key part of Plaid forever, with so much of their sound defined by his plaintive guitars. Now he has stepped into the solo spotlight for this delightful instrumental album. It's folky, it's gentle, it's quite 70s. But this is the guy from Plaid, and THOSE chords and THAT signature bite is present. There's so much going on. I fell for this album in a big way.

I've banged on about Play Flights for Electronic Sound, saying he's "taken the harmony from Plaid and drizzled it in honey" before dropping the necessary cheesy line that this was "the bee's knees". For Picky B*stards, I said it "evokes pastoral fields, sunny afternoons in the ‘70s, and picnics in slightly-alien forests" before going on about poop too much.

What I haven't explained is the emotional tug this album has for me. When Covid hit, my world turned briefly upside-down. I didn't cope with the stress, and although I was lucky enough to be able to pivot my job in events, things got very wonky quickly. 

Yes, I know, boo-hoo me, let's all get out our tiny violins! I do realise I've had things easy.

However, just before that hit, I was caning this album, Like, proper Spotify Wrapped caning. And that's relevant. Because when I think back to the "normal times", this album is the soundtrack. When I listen to Play Flights, I feel a mixture of comfort and grief. For that reason, and because of the cracking noises Mason Bee makes, this album makes me wibble when I listen to it.

Yep. Crying at a bee. This is what I have become.


Best electronic albums of 2020: a steady special mention, special mention, special mention

special mention moby fat roland electronic albums of 2020
Throughout this countdown, I have herded many albums into a pen labelled "special mentions". Here is the final lot of special mentions for you to ogle longingly at. Oh and my notebook tells me the following selections are labelled "pop / chart".

I've always had a soft spot for Moby, and although it got mixed reviews, I enjoyed All Visible Objects (Mute), especially its nod to his younger rave days. Speaking of feeling young, there was a fresh energy to Disclosure's third album Energy (Island), all chart-friendly and chirpy and cheesy smiles. 

I've never fully got Sparks: the quirkiness is lost on me. That said, there was a lot to admire in A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (BMG), with my Electronic Sound review praising their wryness, lyricism and "earworms with moustaches". Another duo I got to review in 2020 was Erasure. Their eighteenth (!) album The Neon (Mute) was a "glittery cannon of anthems", in which the "neon flickers with regret".

I always love a Pet Shop Boys album. Early in the year, they released Hotspot (x2), revisiting subtler melodies and giving us the prophetic stay-at-home anthem I Don't Wanna. Nice to see Years & Years making an appearance (the band not the television programme) (obviously) (duh).

Another bunch of old party-heads releasing an album in 2020 was The Orb. Abolition of the Royal Familia (Cooking Vinyl) was a likeable jumble of soulful pop and dubby ambience, and featured the usual gang (Eno! Youth! Hillage!) alongside tributes to Stephen Hawking and Jello from the Dead Kennedys. This was, by the way, only their seventeenth album. I can hear Erasure's mocking laughter.

Finally, pop-pickers, there's this wacky pairing. Eccentric knob-twiddler and Sigur Ros collaborator Dan Deacon gave us Mystic Familiar (Domino Recordings), his first album since 2015. It had DIY songwriting, crashing drums, wonky electronics, and an anthem or three. And eccentric sample-fiddlers The Avalanches were back with We Will Always Love You (Astralwerks), which they said was an “exploration of the vibrational relationship between light, sound and spirit” although was much more straight-laced than that.

I think that's it for my special mentions. I've probably missed something. Tom Vek did an album, didn't he? Too late. I need to publish this in about 60 seconds. I really am writing to deadline – cor blimey.


Best electronic albums of 2020: four

4 romare fat roland electronic albums of 2020
4 – Romare – Home (Ninja Tume)

I am a very chilled person. I once thwacked my head getting out of a car and didn't say "ouch" for about ten seconds. My friends who witnessed the incident mentioned that odd response gap for a while afterwards. Fat Roland: he's got lazy neurons.

Home is a stupendously relaxed album. These infectious mid-paced head-nodders lay out like origami unicorns being unfolded by a sloth. Even on bangers such as Sunshine, the lead melody lopes. Should music lope? It does here. At the album's most euphoric moment, the choppy chords of High, we're on an afternoon stroll of 90bpm.

That's not to say it's without its dramatic moments. That first sluggish piano drop. That first seismic bass drop. Often the lack of a drop. The detuned suspense of You See. The half-cooked vocal samples sprinkled throughout, climaxing with that amazing vocal grunt on Heaven. A hint of blues and soul flavouring everything. And wood blocks. Nice to hear some wood blocks.

I'm pretty sure a saxophone appears at one point, but it disappears after half a second: I'm not sure it's heard again. That's the key to Home: dropping in ideas, but holding them back. Creativity through restraint. Romare has taken primary colour tropes – over-simplistic melodies and obvious build-ups – and transformed it into casual tribal techno that I'll be listening to for years. Half the success was simply loading his workstation and mousing down that BPM count.

One positive side of 2020 is that it has been, for some, a year of slowing down. Destressing. Thwacking that head and not worrying about the pain for a while. There's no better accompanying soundtrack than Home.


Best electronic albums of 2020: five

5 rival consoles fat roland electronic albums of 2020
5 – Rival Consoles – Articulation (Erased Tapes)

Rumour has it Mr Consoles graphs out his tracks before composing them, like Charlie with his conspiracy theory board in It's Alway Sunny In Philadelphia. Apparently he's also scribbled ideas on napkins, like politicians trying to fix a vote.

However he preps, Articulation is more than just a carefully planned loud-quiet aesthetic. Listen to the sorrowful squawks of the melody in Still Here. The stretched saws of Vibrations On A String, all wistful and woebegone. Oh my heart.

This is probably his most soundtrack-y album yet: a snatch of harpsichord comes and goes, gentle strings ripple in the background, a light brush here, a ghostly woosh there. "Rival Consoles" suggests a battle, but this is more intimate than that: "Friendly Consoles" maybe, or "Hugging For A Little Bit Too Long Consoles".

We're in the final five of my countdown now, and honestly this album has been yo-yoing up and down my top ten like a trampolinist's testicles. But it was always going to be top ten because this is a sonic world I want to live in forever. It ticks my 'Jon Hopkins box'. And apparently, it's all planned out, like a terrorist attack or a day trip to Whitby.

Other possible names:
"Pen-Pal Consoles"
"Passive Aggressive Consoles"
"Only Speaking Through Lawyers Consoles"
"I Couldn't Have Partied Because I Medically Can't Sweat Consoles"
"Viral Consoles"


Best electronic albums of 2020: six

6 shinichi atobe fat roland electronic albums of 2020
6 – Shinichi Atobe – Yes (DDS)

Before we get stuck into this album, take a look at the photo at the bottom of this blog post.

Shinichi Atobe's new album arrived at Demdike Stare's Manchester headquarters on a CD-R, sent from Japan, accompanied by the track listing and this photograph. That's it. Nothing else.

He remains an international man of mystery. The music is easier to figure out: simplistic house tracks, ripples of rhythm, playfully basic melodies, structures that are stillwater-smooth, repetition that verges on mind control. Easy.

If I delivered these blog posts like Atobe delivers his albums, I'd be in trouble. "Fat Roland's shoving crayon-scrawled toilet roll through the letterbox again, and why's he included a photograph of his only nipple?"

But then, these blog posts are scrappy, first-drafty. Yes, however, is perfection. Every moment seems carefully tended, unhurried, unconcerned with trends, just pure harmonic hypnotism, pure Shinichi.

Atobe, possibly