It may seem like there’s always a nailed-on candidate for our albums of the month. But there’s all sorts of reasons that an album may not be chosen as AOTM. Way before we did the podcast, we were still having the same discussions and dilemmas. So why would it get derailed? Sometimes it’s as simple as the fact that we’ve already got it and have rinsed it before it could be chosen – Caribou’s Suddenly and Roisin Murphy’s Roisin Machine are both good examples of this last year – or sometimes there’s a veto from in the camp. Or it simply falls at the wrong time: your album’s released in March, you have June, and by the time your choice comes around, its old news.
I think we can all agree that should time be taken again for Roisin, we’d have chosen her over Sufjan 99 times out of 100. Hindsight is an easy out. But we loved it so much it sometimes feels like taking the less worn path (though Sufjan is hardly unlikely) is a better choice than choosing something everyone will love. Other times while one – or more – of us loves it, it’s pretty clear that it would be likely hated by the other. I know what I’ll be playing still in a year.
With Ep11 and April’s AOTM in question, this is a great example of that dilemma. @misterstory put me onto Menneskekollektivet by Lost Girls, a strange, ethereal collection of 5 tracks from Norwegians Jenny Hval and Havard Volden, that he brought to my attention as one of the 4 ‘new tracks’ up with Episode 10. 11 minutes of hypnotic music that’s part spoken word, part dancefloor chug, then in between meanders into the areas in between. I was half-captivated, half confused by it, but it definitely stuck in my head. And it pointed me to the album, which was just as off the wall, but just as beautiful. While it was in the mix for April, we also knew that it really wouldn’t be a ‘David’ album, and we weren’t sure it was a Nolan one either, and so it went to the cutting room floor. Which is odd as the album we chose – Genesis Owusu‘s Smiling With No Teeth – was just as ‘out there’ in many I(but different) ways. But it just seemed to be an album which would be a choice that would land with the four of us better. Having said that, we chose Macca, and look how that turned out for Ep7!
Going a bit deeper into the album than even Joey has so far, Love Lovers is probably the standout of the 5 tracks (total: 44 minutes for, yes, only five tracks). A tribal beat that morphs into techno, as Hval’s spoken words then wailing notes and Volden’s chords drive the melody, until it breaks out into an epic peak. Carried By Invisible Bodies also weaves around, its chords de- and re-tuned throughout, a sort of woozy, disorienting melody that I’m still not sure if I’d ever have the cojones to play out anywhere. It definitely skirts the fine line between musical genius and pretentiousness, and no doubt knows that. But the artist background of Hval (and this being considered an accessible counterpoint to her solo work!) makes this less of a surprise when you delve deeper.
We could probably do a whole series of albums that never quite made it to a chosen each month – we don’t by any means have just those 12 albums in our lives each year – but this one definitely stood out. For every choice there’s always one that ends up on the floor. If I had time again, I’d have chosen Everything Everything’s Reanimator because – no diss to Yves Tumor, my EP3 choice – I’m still playing it, all the time. In fact it’s turned into one of my favourite albums of the last 6 months. In music as in life, you live and learn.
Episode 10 of This Is Not Happening finds us sticking with female artists but switching from the UK to Canada with the Weather Station's Ignorance. Tamara Lindeman's group released its 5th album in 2021, and it marks another progression from folk-tinged songwriting to full-blown grown-up pop that touched on so many of our big influences. We all went on a journey with this, with Joey at the helm. We also put together an 'inspired by' playlist to sit with the album. In the second part of the show, we jumped off the deep end by picking a new track, secret santa-style for each other! Here's the longlist, but the four we chose are:David – Nolan chose: Brother Ali – Sensitive. Guy – Joey chose: Howlin' – Bind Joey – David chose: Charlotte Adigery – Bear With Me (And I'll Stand Bare Before You) Nolan – Guy chose: Vagabon – Water Me Down (Pancy Remix)April's album of the month and all our playlists, new music and discussions from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. So check them out so to see what we 're talking about and if you like it, we'd love to hear from you. Socials are below. Episode #11 will be digging into the kaleidoscopic debut from Genesis Owusu: Smiling With No Teeth . An Australian-Ghanaian whose melting-pot influences have created one of the most fascinating and memorable albums of the year. Coming to you before the end of May. This Is Not Happening:Created by Joey, Nolan, Guy and David.Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.Twitter: @thisisnothapngInstagram: @thisisnothappeningpodEmail: email@example.comReviews: http://www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening
Episode 9 of This Is Not Happening lands on another massively hyped album from the last year: Arlo Parks: Collapsed In Sunbeams. From being crowned BBC’s ‘Sound of 2020’ and labelled ‘the voice of a generation’, the pressure on a debut album hasn’t been this heavy in a long time. We dissect it to see it lived up to the expectation, with Nolan at the helm.
In the second part of the show, we come back to picking our favourite new music since the turn of the year, with a really intriguing set of four great tracks We chose:
Well, this is going to be an interesting Album of the Month.
Each one of us on the blog/pod has a history with Sufjan Stevens. Some longer than others, some with more passion than others. But that doesn’t mean that we agree on all things Sufjan. Quite the opposite it appears. And if there was a Sufjan album to force a wedge between our personal preferences … then this is it.
My history with Sufjan was a little delayed given the wave of adoration that followed ‘Illinois’. Apparently I was a little slow on the uptake. Illinois was released in 2005 (gulp). I didn’t get to it until around 2009. I can mark the time well as my wife was pregnant with my first child and we (over) played it to death. She didn’t have the greatest pregnancy and now can’t listen to the album as it is so synonymous with feeling sick and bloated. Not Sufjan’s fault but still. I then bought the Age of Adz the day after my daughter was born. This album marked a seismic change in instrumentation from Sufjan … one that came with a very mixed (and in the case of David, surprisingly aggressive) reaction. I loved it, but hey, I’d just had a little girl. I would have loved most things.
Then came a silly Xmas album in 2012 … and then in 2015 we chose Carrie and Lowell (C&L) as album of the month. And I think we all agreed it’s close to perfection. As albums that I love to cry along to go, it’s right up there with Put Your Back N 2 it by Perfume Genius. It’s deeply personal, beautifully sparse, hypnotically produced and perfectly written.
A bunch of oddities have been released between then and now. But The Ascension is Mr. Steven’s first proper album since then. Much to David’s shock, the album is ‘Electro Sufjan’ again. But I would state that it is a very different proposition to Age of Adz. Age of Adz was full of pomp and theatrical posturing. I get why some hated it. I didn’t and that’s cool.
I think this album is at least as personal and introspective as C&L. Sufjan was moving from New York to the countryside of America and didn’t have access to his banjos, guitars and traditional range of instruments. He has said that he was limited to what he could plug into his computer. For me, this album does feel like he was ‘constrained’. But I am not sure if this is in a bad way. It’s a very different Sufjan Stevens we hear on this album and I am ok with that. Some have suggested it sounds like he’s ‘trying to hard’. I think this album sounds like he’s ‘trying’, i.e. this doesn’t feel 100% natural and feels less than 100% comfortable … but I am ok with this. I think I am getting into this vulnerability.
Let’s talk about its length. It’s long! 80 minutes. Exactly 100% longer than my preferred album length. There are some long old tracks on it too. The longest, America (12 mins) was the 1st single so it’s not like we didn’t have warning. He also shared Sugar ahead of the release date which clocks in at 7+ mins. He also shared a 15 strong track list for the album. So I guess this has to be considered as a ‘double album’ which isn’t usually a good thing.
You have to make a commitment to this album. I think it only makes sense when you do. I’ve practically listened to nothing else for a whole week. And I have been rewarded. I don’t ‘love’ this yet. But I am loving listening to it. As each track starts, I know that I like each one. There are no tracks here that I would remove. This is true for very few albums. Some tracks i like. Some I love. I think a few of my all time fave Sufjan tracks are on this album. He’s a great song writer and he’s doing something very different. I think we should respect that and applaud it.
Sufjan Steven’s is one of the few artists that when he’s reviewed, lazy critics don’t simply list a bunch of people he sounds like … cause he doesn’t. Other people sound like him. However, there are moments where for the 1st time I’ve thought … oh … he’s doing a Thom Yorke thing there (Ativan) or a Caribou drum production thing (I want to die happy and a few others). I don’t think he’s mastered the electronic craft yet and is therefore referencing others but again … I’m cool with that.
There are a few moments where someone should have tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘that’s enough Sufjan’ (i) America should be an 8 minute track, the last 4 minutes? Sorry but no (ii) Ativan should be 4 mins for the same reason.
So. At this point in time. I am very glad this is in my life. I am glad he’s done what he’s done. Oh, and Video Games is such a surprise. Where did that come from? Single of the year? (I can hear all of your screaming at me for suggesting that one).
Commit to it. Give it some space and time. It does deserve it.
This blog is about music. What we like. What we listen to. What we want others to hear about. But perhaps it’s also an advertisement of who we are, too. So this is a post about the next – striking, interesting, challenging – album of the month, but it’s also a bit more than that.
As Camus said, life is a sum of all your choices, and as human beings we are often predisposed to taking the easy route. Whether that’s professionally, personally, in our cultural spaces, online, we often surround ourselves with things that look and sound like us, subconsciously or otherwise. As a white, straight middle-class and middle-aged guy, my cultural tastes aren’t completely blinkered, but it’s fair to say that a lot of the music I like is by people that are quite like me. But recent events have certainly made me look at that more closely and what I move towards naturally, and so it’s a chance to think about what I listen to, what I watch, and what that says about me and who I am. It’s a conversation we should all be having with ourselves.
When we think about music, and what we’ve written about on this blog, I’ve looked at my choices of music, especially albums of the month I’ve nominated (around 30 since we started) and it’s been a sobering how vanilla I’ve been. Yes, I love hip-hop, I like disco, soul, r’n’b, electronic music – all genres and scenes that are built on or by people of colour. And many things I love in those scenes and that I listen to, love, recommend, highlight are by those artists. Off the top of my head: Prince, Sampha, Donna Summer, Sylvester, Gwen MacRae, Michael Kiwanuka, N.E.R.D., Little Simz, Farley Jackmaster Funk, De La Soul, Loletta Holloway, Derrick May, Frankie Knuckles, Honey Dijon, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Jocelyn Brown, Whitney Houston, Dizzee, Tribe, Beyonce, Bobby Womack, Carl Cox, Chaka Khan… this list is actually huge when I look at it in my collection. But…. In this blog, it’s only Michael Kiwanuka (twice), N.E.R.D. and Sampha that I’ve nominated as my pick, against a much wider and diverse range of artists that have been nominated. And, here we are.
I therefore could’ve chosen some easy hits: albums I knew I’d have liked by artists I already knew (I’ve nominated Roisin, Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, John Grant after all). And when Everything Everything had an album out this month, it was an obvious choice. But then what would I be saying with that? What would we be opening our minds to? What challenge would that be? I realised that making unconscious, simple choices is what structural inequality is built on. No, choosing an album by people that look like me is hardly equivalent to saying ‘All Lives Matter’, but it’s important to question choices and do something you wouldn’t normally do.
This what brought me to Yves Tumor. They’re an artist that I knew almost nothing of, bar some appearances on ‘albums to watch’ or ‘this is out this year’ lists for 2020, but I wasn’t familiar with their music. Which is why it’s a good choice because it’s fresh, and something to approach without any context for us, unusual as it is. Heaven of a Tortured Mind is actually Yves’ fourth album, and it’s the creation of Shane Bowie (though even that isn’t ‘confirmed’ as their name). Reading into their music history it’s just part of a narrative of a rootless, shapeshifting journey from Tennessee to perhaps Berlin, or LA, or Italy (again, no one is ever sure where they’re living, and that’s how they want it). But first and foremost, musically, it’s absolutely not playing to the crowd or expectation. It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album that doesn’t really sound – as a whole – like anything else I have heard. Of course there are touchstones in many of the tracks and familiar links to artists we know, but it’s something different.
Listening to it a few times, despite the inability to pin down any one genre, there is real groove and melody to Heaven To A Tortured Mind. In amongst the noise, the echo, reverb, distortion, the detuned notes and general off-kilter-ness of it all, it’s clear that Tumor is a musician, and a talented one. But it comes in a box that is murky and unvarnished, and takes some time to go from first impression to working out how you feel about the album. And yet there are some absolutely accessible and memorable tracks that get to you immediately. The soaring brass and heavy percussive march of Gospel For A New Century, Kerosene!’s trading of Tumor and Diana Gordon’s vocals with rasping guitar licks that trade Prince as much as they do lyrically with words of desire and lust. Hasdallen Lights melds strings and low, funk bass, while Romanticist’s languid groove and shuffling percussion burn like the ashen embers of modern R’n’B, at once merging into Dream Palette’s almost punky shout. There’s so much genre-twisting, yet in isolation what seems like a collection of loose tracks, somehow takes on a more obvious form as a single, linear journey, finishing with the quasi-70s soul licks of A Greater Love. It’s as intriguing as it is confounding. And after a good number of listens, it’s still not entirely clear what to make of it. But searching for new musical horizons isn’t meant to be smooth or simple.
And while this isn’t instantly accessible, chart-intended music, it is also the most accessible of the quartet of albums so far. Stretching out through ambient, industrial, noise-making and only sparingly using vocals, Tumor was far more suited to Warp’s aesthetic on previous work, where 9 or 10-minute tracks were as common as 3-minute efforts. This latest appears another evolution, intended or otherwise, to tentatively embrace convention, even if it’s small steps. And for all the influences and supposed touchstones (think Prince, of course, 70s soul, 90s shoegaze and industrial sounds, TV On The Radio, as well as contemporaries such as Moses Sumney’s inventive soundscapes or even Tame Impala’s psychedelic, feedback laden guitars) they feel very much Yves’s own universe. The other take I instantly had of the album is that there’s so many great hooks and melodies that I could see every one of the tracks as the backing to a great hip-hop tune, also always a good sign of pretty brilliant musicianship.
Then there are the videos. Since Yves Tumour came to being, the visual impact has been as important as the sonic. If you only watched Gospel For A New Century, with its lucifer figure, writing semi-naked bodies, with Hades reimagined as a sort of dystopian nightclub, that would only half describe its first time sensual assault. Throughout their career, the visual aspect has been a striking accompaniment to the music. 2019’s Lifetime had Tumor as a beaded, chokered, horned being, then sporting a Mohican. Licking An Orchid was a discomforting infra-red lament with juddering camerawork. In one of their more conventional works, Noid has them as an arrested black person on the street, an enduring and powerful image, but is just as striking as their more otherworldly imagery. In every aspect of their creative life, it feels like it’s an aspect them assume total control of. Perhaps its because the rest of their life remains much of a mystery. Famously aloof – conducting video interviews only showing the top of their head, then switching the camera off, or refusing to confirm where they’re living or working – they’d rather focus on artistry than themselves. But having worked under a raft of pseudonyms, life may be easier when you have nothing to focus on but the creative.
What’s abundantly clear is there aren’t many around like them, not least at the forefront of music. And this can only be celebrated, even if what Yves Tumor’s meant to be and what their music is meant to mean remains deliberately ambiguous, intentionally unlinear. Gone with physical music’s domination are the days of what we can expect, what genres people should make, and how an album should be constructed. But with music so obsessed with the single, the shuffle, the 3-minute quantised, compressed pop commodity or hip-hop banger, it’s good to know that not everyone subscribes to this. If everything Tumor does isn’t easily digestible, then let’s celebrate that.