BEST OF 2014: 11. Kiasmos – Kiasmos

When Erased Tapes released their celebratory box set ‘Collection V’ last year, with ten artists contributing ten tracks across five seven inch singles, my initial attention was drawn by exclusive tracks from Olafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick and, of course, Nils Frahm. Their offerings didn’t disappoint, but equally exciting was the chance to dabble with other artists and sounds from this most consistent of labels. I wrote in some detail about the label’s magnificent 2013 here and, in that piece, I observed that “Kiasmos were my revelation, with skittering beats and the dramatic sense of slowly building release in ‘Driven’.” A collaboration between Janus Rasmussen and the aforementioned Arnalds, the duo had been tinkering together since 2007, but had thus far released a track on a split 7″ in 2009 and an EP in 2012. There was very little to provide a further fix and so, wholly enamoured of this remarkable track, I immediately fired off an email begging the label for more. Nothing yet, but an album is on its way for 2014, I was told.

11 Kiasmos

And here we are, with a self-titled debut that genuinely excites. Combining live drumming, strings and a grand piano with synthesisers, drum machines and various sonic wizardry, they have produced…a classical techno album, an ambient dance record, a belter by anyone’s standards. It’s hard to say exactly what the hell this is, but it gets under your skin from the very first listen. Like the very best electronic musicians, Rasmussen and Arnalds meticulously control the rise and fall of these tracks, building and building layers before detonating the emotional surge that the genre does better than almost any other. As sparse at it can seem – the little flecks of piano on ‘Dragged’, the soft percussive early stages of ‘Lit’ – there is a true emotional resonance to this material. It will scoop you up and carry you along, be it the early hours of the morning through a pair of headphones or booming out of speakers at the height of summer. Just as the songs slowly mutate, so too their impact upon the listener as circumstances dictate.

Recorded in Arnalds’ own studio in Reykjavík and with delightful little details like a lighter being flicked replacing the sound of a hi-hat, ‘Kiasmos’ is a strikingly special album. ‘Bent’ offsets a beautiful piano part with a writhing, mutating synth line that takes the whole thing up to another level, while ‘Thrown’ concludes proceedings with a purposeful throb that sinks into a breathtaking orchestral wash. Erased Tapes are now at the stage where you can buy every single one of their releases without even the merest hint of risk. That said, this one’s a little different. Where the beauty of so many of the records they put it out is bare, haunting and immediate, here it is entwined in a nagging pulse, a writhing energy and a relentless euphoria. It’s hard to say without sounding like an arse, but ‘Kiasmos’ just sounds so alive.

BEST OF 2014: 18. Douglas Dare – Whelm

It’s no secret that I’m partial to a bit of Erased Tapes magic. If I’m not rhapsodising about A Winged Victory For The Sullen, then I’m extolling the virtues of their glorious box set or gushing over the work of Nils Frahm. When one of their press releases arrives, there is a slight frisson of excitement at what wondrous musical delights might be attached. It’s rare that I’m not immediately smitten with each release, such is the standard of the label’s output to date, but the debut EP by Douglas Dare was a tricky one for me. I’ve come to realise that my major issue with it was the fact it didn’t really sound like other Erased Tapes offerings. This, of course, is a ludicrous thing to hold against a record, especially one by a new act. But something didn’t click, and I did give it a few goes. Which makes the presence of ‘Whelm’ in my top 20 of 2014 all the more surprising, to me at least. Knowing I would be reviewing it, I made sure that the album got plenty of time to breathe and tried to approach it without prior ambivalence. It took a few times around, it has to be said, and I would advise you against dismissing it after a cursory listen, because there’s something very special indeed going on in these ten songs.

19 DareThe glitchy piano template from which London-based newcomer Dare built this commanding record may initially prompt comparisons with James Blake, but ‘Whelm’ is a far more intense beast. Indeed, it is Beasts of the Wild variety who spring to mind on the album’s more sonically dense material, especially the brutally propulsive ‘Swim’. Dare’s powerful voice is largely kept high in the mix, curling around songs like another instrument while his trusty piano keeps order. The woozy title track seems deliberately designed to unsettle the listener at the halfway point of an album that is in turns both richly emotive and beguilingly, bewitchingly uneasy.

The record is accompanied by a beautifully simple lyric book, describing the words contained within as “nine poems.” The introductory page from Dare outlines the subject matter of ‘Whelm’, ranging from love and loss to the 21st century obsession with time. There is something rather affecting about an artist concluding his missive to the prospective listener: “I have so much more to see and feel. But still, like water, my thoughts will wash up a new idea every day.” It goes some way to explaining the over-ahem-whelm-ing sense of intimacy that pervades these ten tracks. While not enormously sonically similar, there’s something of that utterly captivating aura of the early Antony & The Johnsons music about Dare’s performances here. I still can’t quite capture what didn’t sit right with me about the EP, but I have no hesitation in urging you to spend some time with this superlative debut offering. ‘Whelm’ may be my favourite headphone listen of 2014.

BEST OF 2014: 29. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos

Modern-classical label Erased Tapes is reaching the point where any of its releases can be bought risk-free, safe in the knowledge that the music therein will be breathtakingly beautiful. Last year, I was more than a little taken with their celebratory 7″ box set, which offered a decent overview of their magical roster. Peter Broderick, Rival Consoles and the staggeringly splendid Nils Frahm are amongst their artists, with A Winged Victory For The Sullen proving to be suitably impressive colleagues. A partnership formed by Dustin O’Halloran, whose 2011 solo effort ‘Lumiere‘ is worth seeking out, and Stars Of The Lid‘s Brian McBride, they offered up their first, self-titled outing three years ago. It was a slight, but stirring set which only really grew in my affections in recent times. The early signs that the two artists had stepped it up a gear were present on the track they contributed to last year’s box, as well as April’s ‘Atomos VII’ teaser EP.


Atomos‘, comprising eleven tracks simply titled ‘Atomos I-XII‘ with the curious omission of ‘Atomos IV‘, is a score for a dance piece by Wayne McGregor of the same name, more than sustains this reputation, building on the ambient duo’s debut and occupying a majestically sparse soundstage. I often struggle to truly capture modern classical music in words and, when reviewing albums like this, it’s one of the few times when I’m glad I only have 105 words to play with. This is music that seeps inside you and pulls you along with it. Give it the time and attention it so richly deserves and it will more than reward you with the kind of euphoric swells that only strings can truly offer. I’ve seen plenty of commenters responding to positive reviews of this record with accusations of banality, but when it comes to ambient modern classical music I think you either get it or you don’t. If some of Frahm’s calmer work has previously played free and loose with your emotions, then this will surely delight in similar fashion.

Think of the eye-poppingly tense moments in any given noirish Danish drama and ‘Atomos XII‘ will remind you of the accompanying soundtrack. Indeed, whether it’s the ambitious opener ‘Atomos I’, with its ten-minute trajectory divided into almost claustrophobically dense strings and then celestial synths, or the transcendent swell of ‘Atomos VIII’, this is a slow-burning, deeply resonant collection with a stirring potency and the capacity to truly wow.

BEST OF 2013: Erased Tapes

As somebody who buys an awful lot of records, it’s always a delight when you find a label you can resolutely trust. You see their logo on an album and simply know it’ll be worth buying. Several years ago, I wrote about how Bella Union had reached that point for me and, after another faultless year, to that lists gets added the quite beautiful work of Erased Tapes.

Always ones to obsess over the presentation of the music, independent label Erased Tapes opted to mark its fifth anniversary with a beautiful, handmade box set containing all new material from its impressive array of artists. Established by self-styled ‘kooky German’ Robert Raths, its catalogue to date has featured modern classical music alongside a little post-rock and minimalist electronica. As I said, buy a record bearing their name and you won’t go far wrong. I’ve previously written about the wondrous music of Nils Frahm in some detail, including a recent piece on the majesty of ‘Spaces’ which made Number 6 in my countdown. Olafur Arnalds and Peter Broderick are the other two artists whose music drew me to the quite remarkable output of this really rather special label. Their delicately packaged CDs and meticulously designed vinyl pressings have always represented the care and belief that is central to how Erased Tapes is run. In 2013 alone, they released a remastered version of Broderick‘s ‘Float’ as ‘Float 2013’, Frahm‘s afore-mentioned ‘Spaces’ along with a reworked version of his ‘Juno EP’, Lubomyr Melnyk‘s exquisitely epic ‘Corollaries’, a stunning EP by Rival Consoles and an EP by upcoming talent Douglas Dare entitled ‘Seven Hours’. All this, plus the must luxurious and ambitious title of their entire existence.


This beguiling box is a truly fitting monument to a label that really views the music as art to be cherished. I initially balked at the price – and I’ll tell you now, it really isn’t cheap – but this is about getting ten tracks you won’t find elsewhere spread across five splendidly presented seven inches in a delicately crafted box. If you price it according to your average shop bought singles, then it’s not a bargain, even taking into account RSD. But that’s not really the point of ‘Collection V’. In a sea of records, this is one item I can lose an afternoon with. The diverse music in this set has become an event, a ceremony, a spectacle thanks to the distinctive and reverential way in which it has been presented. To me at least, several of these artists deserve such a pedestal, and the music held within does not disappoint.

The headline acts here may be new tunes from Arnalds, Broderick and Frahm, but there’s no filler in this fine collection. Anne Muller‘s ‘Walzer Fur Robert’ is a glacial, modern classical merry-go-round, whilst World’s End Girlfriend‘s ‘Bohemian Purgatory Part 2 (NSKG version) is a pounding sound collage that is unlike anything else here, but which sounds ferocious with a gentle crank of the volume. Codes In The Clouds deliver a skittering, spin-dry wash of guitar, whilst the A Winged Victory For The Sullen Chamber Orchestra brings proceedings to a close with a curiously drifting piece, a little like somebody trying to weave music out of the sound of massed musicians warming up. Rival Consoles, whose recent ‘Odyssey EP’ is a must listen, rope in Broderick for an uncharacteristic vocal, beamed in somewhere from soul music of the early Eighties. Broderick is in majestic form for his own piece ‘Give A Smile In 5‘, with Frahm offering up ‘Little Boy In A Space Suit’ which will warm the hearts of ‘Felt’ fans in an instant. Kiasmos were my revelation, with skittering beats and the dramatic sense of slowly building release in ‘Driven’, while The British Expeditionary Force‘s ‘End Of The New End’ is a slinky little piano-driven bit of lo-fi indie. Arnalds’ ‘Happiness Does Not Wait’ aches in the same stirringly lyrical way that so much of his best work can, and it remains a delight to think of how he played such a crucial part in one of the year’s TV highlights with his soundtrack to ‘Broadchurch’.

As much as the exquisite packaging makes this an item to treasure, it is not an elaborate exercise in clearing out the cupboards. These newly recorded songs make for a quite beguiling compilation in their own right and a fitting introduction to a label that has yet to put a foot wrong. The songs were only made available digitally on Christmas Eve, making the box exclusive to vinyl for six months and providing purchasers with a festive gift. If the price rules you out, the £8 master tape download available by clicking the picture above seems an absolute steal for the music found here. However, if you are a vinyl obsessive who has been mulling over this set, I can emphatically assure you that you’ll not regret it. Some items are genuinely unique. Some imprints are truly special. ‘Collection V’ is a bold celebration of magical artists on a magical label which actually warrants the tag ‘deluxe’. A fitting monument to my label of the year.

BEST OF 2013: 6. Nils Frahm – Spaces

I’ve never really seen the point of live albums. They don’t actually serve to reignite the visceral thrill of having seen an act, nor provide the vicarious thrill to those who’ve never had the pleasure. Often deployed as contractual filler, on occasion they throw up an interesting reinterpretation or two, but rarely serve as the go-to titles for any artists. Thankfully, this isn’t really a live album, more a collection of expertly-selected and delicately-woven field recordings, covering two years of performances by one of my absolute favourite artists, Nils Frahm. His music played during the signing of the register when I got married this summer and I continue to point everyone I can in his direction. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of seeing him live, and ‘Spaces’ doesn’t really do much to address that. In many ways, however, it is the first album of his to really capture the breadth of his quite remarkable talent. Where previously he has worked to various limitations – ‘Wintermusik’ was originally a festive gift for family, ‘Felt’ was recorded within a piano deliberately muffled to be playable in the small hours and ‘Screws’ was confined by a broken digit – this feels like an album with no boundaries. When I crafted my 105 words for Clash on this wonderful record, I describe it as the “sound of an artist unleashed”, and I think I was onto something. This is not a career overview, nor is it simply a collection of new music. It is a mutation, a collage, of the sounds that pour out of Frahm. His lyrical playing and knack for finding the precious spaces between the notes are why I treasure records like this one so much.

‘Spaces’ is comprised of eleven tracks and seventy six minutes chosen from over thirty concerts Frahm recorded in a two year period. Some things here will be instantly recognisable to those already immersed in his work – a beautifully expanded ‘Said And Done’ from ‘The Bells’, a suitably demure ‘Over There, It’s Raining’ from the same record and a bare take on ‘Familiar’ from ‘Felt’ – while others offer strange subversions and melding together of previously released tracks. ‘For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More’ is a staggering, near-seventeen-minute long collision of material from the recently reissued ‘Juno’ single, whereby he recorded two pieces for Peter Broderick after the fellow Erased Tapes artist loved the sound of a synthesiser Frahm had in the studio, and utterly essential afore-mentioned album, ‘Felt’. If you want to get a sense of the many directions this man’s truly special music can go in, then that elongated piece may be the best place to start. The synth stabs gradually recede into uplifting washes of sound before the whole thing branches off and Frahm plays the inside of his piano with, er, toilet brushes. Frantic piano accompanies and the track starts swirling towards a brash crescendo. It’s one for the headphones and loud on the speakers.

The new material is fairly remarkable also, with the eight minutes of ‘Says’ having drawn particular praise from all over. It’s a sublime synthesiser piece which gently bubbles through five minutes of tranquil layers before exploding into a conflagration of all of the instruments Frahm uses on stage, producing the aural equivalent of shooting stars in the closing ninety seconds. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of music released this year and reason enough to get hold of this album. ‘Hammers’ wheels along at a frenetic pace, sounding not unlike early Noughties Radiohead, while ‘Improvisation For Coughs And A Cell Phone’ pretty much does what it says, capturing and reacting to the presence of others in the room.

What drew me to this man’s music in the first place was his indefatigable desire to play with sound, see where it can go and ride out the results until they all make sense. The control of the tracks he has previously released always seemed to demonstrate his ability to be deft and to be precise. ‘Spaces’ captures all of that exploring, that enthusiasm and that passion as it was being poured into his work. Watch the clip above of a take on ‘Toilet Brushes-More’ to see the sheer delight on Frahm’s face as the room responds to his efforts and you get a sense of what’s happening here. ‘Spaces’ may not give me the sense of having seen him live but it really does offer a different, or at least enhanced, take on what it is this most remarkable of artists can do. If my raving over ‘Screws’ last year didn’t prompt you into action then, for your sake, I hope I’m up to the task of enthusing you this time.

In the sleeve notes, Frahm says: “I guess ‘Spaces’ works best if you put it on a record player, with your phone and computer turned off, imagining you were in one room with me, where I play for you.” It certainly warrants such focus, revealing its breathtaking layers to anyone willing to look. The vinyl edition will make it out some time in the new year, once a decent test pressing has finally been managed, and it will be a very special thing indeed. However, on this occasion, I would suggest you don’t want to wait. Seek this special record out now and use it as a lift during festive lulls, take it with you on crisp New Year’s walks and embrace it as the artists suggests. It’s easy to be evangelical about an artist when they’re this good.

A Guide to Record Store Day 2012

Big names, big crowds and big spending are all set to combine once more for 2012’s Record Store Day on Saturday April 21st. With somewhere in the region of four hundred ‘exclusive’ titles being foisted on the potentially music-buying public, it’s hard to imagine anyone not finding something they might like. Provided they like vinyl, of course. But then why wouldn’t they? Last year, I spoke to a number of record shops around the UK for a piece primarily concerned with allocation of stock, the quantities produced and the effect of the day on their shops and their customers. Having proved to be one of the most read things I’ve ever written on this here site, I thought I should offer some sort of shameless follow up. So, incorporating some of the various search terms which have guided people to the site in the last few weeks, allow me to present my guide to surviving Record Store Day:

Should I make the effort to get to an independent record shop for RSD?

Without a doubt. In fact, you should make an effort to get to an independent record shop full stop. You clearly like your music if you’re loitering on a site like this and where better to get recommendations, bargains and all round musical bonhomie than your local record shop? Many of the UK’s finest indies are putting on all kinds of entertainment for the day, be it live performances, discounted regular stock or alcohol. This is a day primarily about celebrating the shops which have kept us in decent tunes for many years and will hopefully continue to do so for many more, rather than focusing on how many times you can sell catalogue titles by pressing them on 10” or tartan vinyl.

I had wanted to ask about the records being released. What should I be looking out for?

Well, unless you’re an obsessive collector of a certain band, multi-coloured vinyl reissues are best avoided. Yes, they’re labelled as ‘limited’, but don’t let that word fool you into thinking that it also means ‘essential’. £27 for a Kinks album is not what this is all about and I’d imagine you can track down a pretty decent original with that kind of money from one of the UK’s many splendid second hand vinyl shops. Check out the full list of items before you venture out next week and be absolutely certain about what you want and what you think you really need. It’s easy to get swept up in the mania in the store when the last copy of Viva Batshit’s see-through, poster-bag, first time on vinyl of a poor demo version of an old b-side special release is batting its eyelids at you, only for you to get home and realise you bought a turkey. Just ask everyone who bought the Death Cab For Cutie album sampler 7” last year. There is some great stuff out this year, but the sheer number of items is ludicrous. On the plus side, it should ensure that eBay scalpers should get shafted on plenty of records this time out.

Ah, yes. Imagine I’m a shameless music-hating, money-grabbing bastard. Is it worth my while getting my camping chairs out next week and taking a flask of bovril and a graphic novel down to my local store at 4am?

Ultimately, a few things will sell for shitloads, but there seem to be fewer GLARINGLY OBVIOUS EASY MONEY items this year, unlike the Blur, Beatles, Stones and Radiohead singles of the past. Anyone who overpays for Elbow and Marling bonus tracks, pressed on vinyl from a digital file, deserves what they’re getting in my book. Just ask any scalpers who fell for the Black Friday nonsense in November. Aping a similar event in the US, UK stores were encouraged to stock all kinds of steaming shite at super-inflated prices. Oddly enough, it didn’t sell that well. NirvanaNevermind‘ singles 10” boxset? Still, very much, available. Pink Floyd triple 7” boxset with jigsaw? Actually being sold off at a reduced price. Ludicrously marked up Lennon Imagine‘ box? You get the picture. I actually saw The Doors‘ ‘LA Woman’ 7” box, which retailed around £50, being sold off by a dealer at a record fair last week for £25. With so many titles available, there will be easy money to be made due to ridiculously limited runs on certain key items – the Gorillaz 10” picture disc springs to mind, along with the rabid Beatles fans who’ll snap up the overpriced 7” box – but you pays your money, you takes your chance with all of this stuff. Frankly, as long as the thoroughly splendid people who run our independent record shops make their money on it all, I find it hard to get too angry about it. However, when limited numbers bring out the quick-buck-brigade and leave empty-handed those tempted out for the first time in ages, it does tarnish the event a little. The scalpers will be there – the best approach is not to buy stuff from them on eBay until the price drops below what it cost in the shop.

Ok, ok. I’m not a scalper. I’m just a fan. When should I start queuing for Record Store Day?

Speaking from past experience, I was eighth (although curiously eleventh by the time the doors opened and the camping-chair-bovril-wanker chums had turned up) in the queue at Rise in Bristol last year by arriving a little after 6am. The first twenty were let in to get initial dibs and I got everything I wanted. This varies from city to city and based on access to indies. I know that Rockaboom in Leicester had early hours queues for 2010 and 2011, but the East Midlands is a barren wasteland for indie stores. There were some fairly eye-watering photos of the queue at Rough Trade East posted on Twitter last year and the message is pretty clear: if you’re after one of the really rare items, get there as early as you can. Between 5 and 6am should ensure you’re ok, but don’t hold me to that.

5am? Really?

Or, rock up at noon, pick up the odd overpriced 7”, grab some decent new music from the normal racks and catch a live performance from a band. Your choice. Remember, we’re celebrating independent record stores here, not major labels and their capacity to make money by endlessly reissuing records you already have.

Alright then, grumpy. Let me try again: what should I actually be looking out for?

Well, it depends on your taste, but Bella Union have some lovely looking stuff coming out, including a gorgeously retro Jonathan Wilson 12” featuring three covers and a belated vinyl pressing for The Czars‘ (John Grant‘s old band) final album, ‘Sorry I Made You Cry‘. Field Music are offering up two Pet Shop Boys covers, wrapped in a charming sleeve, while Richard Hawley is launching his 10” single club. The wondrous Erased Tapes folks are issuing a 10” featuring a collaboration between Olafur Arnalds and the truly brilliant Nils Frahm, entitled ‘Stare‘. It’s gorgeously sparse, floaty, electronic ambient music and well worth a listen if you’ve previously enjoyed the work of either artist. Here are some tracks to whet your appetite.

Any last tips then?

Set yourself a financial limit. It’s very easy to get lured in by limited, exclusive, one-off, today only style gubbins but far harder to find the willpower to actually play the bloody thing three months down the line. Don’t take it too seriously – there’s every chance that some of the stuff you want will have sold out by the time you get to the racks. Is it the end of the world? Probably not. Very few items were impossible to get hold of over the last few years, and many remain available today. Hot Chip and Slow Club vinyl album pressings from RSD 2010 were remainder for £7 a year later, while the Flaming Lips box from RSD 2011 can still be found in numerous shops for a £100 to this day. Remember, it’s about the places selling these items. Take them a cake, a smile and an interesting conversational nugget and you’ll have a wonderful day. But, most importantly, make sure you go back again before Record Store Day 2013.