May 31, 2020

Best electronic music albums of 1995: Grand Final – Tricky versus Bjork

I hope you've been following the battle to find the best electronic music album of 1995. It has, frankly, taken ages: this grand final has been a long time coming.

We started this contest with 16 albums by the greatest names in bleepy beats, including Aphex Twin, the Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and Autechre. Bout by bout, an album has been eliminated, often for incredibly spurious reasons. Why spurious? Because (a) the judging criteria has included egg songs, elephant birthday presents and the size of caravans, and (b) the only judge has been me, and I'm often sozzled on the contents of my cleaning cupboard. Who knew Toilet Duck tasted of bubble gum?

Disclaimer: Toilet Duck does not taste of bubble gum. Do not drink cleaning products. I am building a sophisticated comedy character through exaggerated fictional activities, so you should ignore that comment. As you should, for that matter, everything I ever write.

For the grand final, I'm going to use a random number generator to arbitrarily select some previously-used judging criteria. This is in the sincere hope that the eggs one will come up again: I miss that one. Fingers crossed.

Let's welcome our contestants for the grand final. They are:
Maxinquaye by Tricky
Post by Bjork
The New York Times declared Maxinquaye as the "first album-length masterpiece" of trip hop. Spin magazine praised the way Post broke the "flow of whiny rockers", while another publication said it set the scene for the incoming cyber age. Two massively important albums. Only one can win.

Let's boogie.

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

Nice to see the caravan criteria back, last seen in the quarter-finals. The sheer scope of Post would overwhelm a humble caravan door, thereby impeding entry. And if you told Bjork to get into a caravan, she'd slap you across the schnozzle. But the more I read about Tricky's chaotic recording sessions, the more cluttered Maxinquaye sounds. Fitting his album into a space that small would be like trying to squeeze all your furniture into next door's bird nest. Don't let Tricky anywhere near my caravan: at the very least, he's going to snap a hinge.
Winner: Maxinquaye

Criteria two: which album cover would make the best face tattoo for Fat Roland?

I feel quite sad about face tattoos. Post Malone's "always tired" tattoo makes him look, well, always tired. A face tattoo on my podgy boatrace would make me look like a confused balloon or a sofa infested by spiders. Despite my previous fondness for Tricky's red, I really should go for Bjork. I'd look great. I'd look like Bjork. The actual Bjork. "Mummy, why has that man got a Bjork CD drawn on his face?" "Ignore the strange man, Jemima, he's one of those bloggers." Yeah. It would be brilliant.
Winner: Post

Criteria three: which of the two would Jesus listen to?

Neither contestant fared well in this judging criteria back in round one, with me finding BT and Autechre more Christ-friendly than Tricky or Bjork. So which of these two heathen long-players deserves the attention of the saviour of the world? Maxinquaye feels more like John the Baptist, prophesying the future in Hell Is Round The Corner. With her evocations of nature and mystery, perhaps Post is more druidic than I'd given it credit for. It's easy to see which one Jesus would plump for. 
Winner: Maxinquaye

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

In the semi-finals, I was unconvinced about putting Tricky's album in the fridge. There was too much contaminated filth in his dirty beats. And although there's something delicate about Bjork's music, like ice crystals, Post was Bjork in a boisterous mood: "I won't sympathise anymore," she warns. Should someone that feisty be stored near eggs? I'm beginning to think it's Tricky we should keep in the fridge, at least to stop his smoky beats from going off.
Winner: Maxinquaye

Criteria five: which album has more bangin' choons?

Cast your mind back to May 2007. The charts were full of Nelly Furtado and Shakira. On the 1st of that month, I published this blog post declaring that Bjork had released a "choon". It was poorly written and didn't really explain what the tune in question was, but it pointed towards Bjork's propensity for bold melodic motifs, clearly evident on Post. Have I ever written a blog post about Tricky releasing a "choon"? No, I haven't. Sorry, Tricky.
Winner: Post

Criteria six: which album has the sexiest track titles?

I unfairly compared Maxinquaye to 50 Shades Of Grey in the quarter-finals, while I referred to Bjork's track listing as "proper phwoar". And while Tricky's Overcome and Suffocated Love suggest a certain level of bedroom tomfoolery, I really can't deny the sexiness of Bjork's cheeky Enjoy and You've Been Flirting Again. "This is sex without touching," she says. She's talking about her track titles. I bet her record company was very confused.
Winner: Post

Criteria seven: an honest appraisal of both albums
I would usually cram this final judging criteria (criterium?) with a bunch of random gubbins from Wikipedia. But as a respectful sign-off to this blog series, I thought it would be nice to give some serious consideration to these grand finalists. The 1990s would have felt different if either work had been absent. Tricky consolidated the blunted electronics of the Portishead aesthetic, although you could argue that trip hop in general has not aged well. Bjork made herself a star with her album, which was show-tuned and filmic, although you could argue her most acclaimed work lay elsewhere. Only one of these albums, however, burned like a magnesium fire; a moment of production madness that summed up the hybrid nature of 1995's music scene like nothing else. And no, it's not easy to sing along about eggs to...
...Winner: Maxinquaye

The best electronic music album of 1995 is: Maxinquaye by Tricky. I reckon six of the 16 albums featured in this contest were serious considerations for first place, but it's former Massive Attacker and trip hop pioneer Adrian 'Tricky' Thaws that takes the title. A thoroughly worthy winner for a genre-crunching, beat-breaking, lyric-smudging work of paranoid perfection. "Don't wanna be on top of your list," says Martina Topley-Bird on Tricky's Overcome. Sorry, Martina. Best of 1995 it is.

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.