Mogwai – Atomic...

Prolific Scottish Post Rock innovators Mogwai release their third soundtrack album.

Guest Lists: Torsten Kinsella’s 10 Best albums 2015 Dec12

Guest Lists: Torsten Kinsella’s 10 Best albums 2015...

Since forming God Is An Astronaut in 2002, Torsten Kinsella and his brother Niels have been the creative force behind one of Ireland’s most consistently brilliant and innovative bands. They are regarded as one of the most influential outfits in the Post Rock genre, and have a loyal and sizable fan-base across Europe. Their recently released eight album Helios Erebus is another fine addition to an impressive catalogue of recordings, incorporating all the elements that make them special.

In the first of a series of guest contributions reflecting on the best music of 2015, Torsten provides us with his ten favourite albums of the last 12 months.

Anna Von Hausswolff – The Miraculous...

Like music from another time: Swedish singer-songwriter Anna von Hausswolff sweeps us away to a darkly seductive fantasy realm on her third album The Miraculous. It’s an incredibly striking brew of Goth, Prog-Rock, Folk and Doom Metal, with Von Hausswolff’s lithe and dexterous vocals commanding our attention at the centre of it all. Von Hasswolff would have slotted very comfortably onto the 4AD roster during the record labels most fruitful period during the eighties – there are strong echoes of Dead Can Dance and the Cocteau Twins (to a lesser extent) on this album. A dominant feature of the overall sound on the Miraculous is the use of the Acusticum Pipe Organ, one of the largest instruments of its kind housing an impressive 9,000 pipes. This, along with Von Hausswolff’s operatic vocals, lends the album much of its Gothic ambience, the dark heart beating at its very core. Opening with the nine minutes of ‘Discovery’, the record quickly hits its stride – Hausswolff lets her imagination run wild with ambitious arrangements that fuse and splice so many different genres. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Come Wander With Me/Deliverance’ another track that spares nothing in laying bare her vision – the sparse, ethereal intro slowly dissolving into feedback and chaos and a bludgeoning two note riff. It’s Von Hausswolff’s fearlessness and lack of restraint in terms of the arrangements that is both the albums weakness and strength – there are times when the whole thing sounds like it might collapse under its own semi-pompous weight. But the words and music are delivered with absolute conviction – there is no hint of irony or humour, even when it is at it’s most shrieking and dramatic. It would be no surprise to see ‘Evocation’ feature in the best tracks of 2015...

Mogwai – Central Belters...

Scottish Post Rock outfit Mogwai mark a hugely prolific twenty years of making music with a compilation that  showcases just why they have endured and thrived for so long in what some consider a niche genre. Bands in the Post Rock/Instrumental category often struggle to grow beyond the somewhat narrow expectations of fans of that genre. Any deviation from the Post Rock formula is not generally met with approval, but to Mogwai’s credit, they have always been a couple of steps ahead of the pack and it is for this reason that they are often recognised as such a pioneering act. 2014’s Rave Tapes was a marked  evolution in their sound, and also provided them with their biggest selling album to date, a long overdue vindication of their single minded and uncompromising approach to making music. Central Belters is a beautifully packaged three CD digipak (six LP vinyl box-set) containing just under three and a half hours of music. It offers a comprehensive overview of the bands work, plucking songs from their very earliest recordings right through to their last EP ‘ Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1’ released in late 2014. It is obvious that a lot of care and attention went into choosing, sequencing, and packaging these tracks; by and large, the very best of their work is represented here – some fans will no doubt focus on what has been omitted, but it is hard to quibble with so much of what is included here. From the ear bleeding assault of early tracks like ‘New Paths To Helicon Pt 1’ and ‘Christmas Steps’ through to the more textured, synthetic feel of ‘I Know You Are But What Am I?’ and ‘2 Rights Make 1 Wrong’ it comes as something of a surprise to ...

Slow Meadow – Slow Meadow...

On very rare occasions, we discover new music and it feels like we have uncovered buried treasure. All attempts to ‘review’ or critique this kind of music are rendered useless; we are forced to let the music weave its spell, take a deep breath and just gush. Slow Meadow is the first release on Post Rock duo Hammock’s new label. It is the latest project from respected ambient artist Matt Kidd and it is utterly gorgeous.  So much of the music of the ambient genre acts as nothing other than a gentle wash of sound, but there is much more going on here. The slowly shifting chords form the backdrop as guitars, synths, strings and cello sob and sigh their way through a suite of instrumental songs that is at times, incredibly moving. The music makes the perfect soundtrack for this time of year as summer slowly drifts towards the heavy melancholy of autumn – the airy, pastoral feel of Linen Garden (Part I) conjures up  images of blue skies and summer magic – by the time we reach Part II, the final piece on the record, the mood has changed to one of bittersweet beauty. In between we get the breathtaking ‘Summer Vigil’ and the shoegaze melancholy of ‘Every Mournful Breath’, profoundly beautiful compositions that move at the same glacial pace, but never once is the spell broken across these eleven tracks. Hammock guest on the opening and closing tracks but their influence is subtle and sympathetic to the mood of quiet rapture that Kidd creates.  Listening to this record on headphones, it is easy to lose track of time, to immerse yourself in the wondrous textures and wordless magic of music as astoundingly lovely as this. A rare and precious find –...

Yucatan – Uwch Gopa’r Mynydd...

Let’s get the easy bit out of the way first – Yucatan are Welsh, make music of sky kissing beauty and sound more than a little like Sigur Ros. It might be a lazy comparison, but it’s one that is set to dog the band for as long as they stick closely to the blueprint sound patented by Iceland’s most successful recent musical export. It’s not just that Yucatan choose to sing seven of the eight tracks here in their native tongue – their music employs a similar arsenal of sonic tricks; its the Sigur Ros playbook with all the epic grandeur that goes with that. None of this should deter you from checking out Uwch Gopa’r Mynydd because it is one of 2015’s loveliest records – a dreamy, light infused album of gorgeous music, with its roots in  Post Rock but with just enough personality of its own to make the Sigur Ros comparisons melt into the background. It’s a record reportedly forged and inspired by the natural beauty of Snowdownia – the band resorted to the novel approach of streaming the album a week ahead of release at the summit of Snowdon for those devotees willing to make the trek. ‘Ffin’ makes for a perfect introduction to the album – a beautiful lovelorn melody replete with sighing strings and wide open spaces. The guitars kick in and we are skyward bound. ‘Cwm Llwm’ trails in with twinkling glockenspiel and a ring of familiarity – it’s a few bars in before another lazy comparison springs to mind. Super Furry Animals were one of the first mainstream Welsh bands to sing some of their songs in their native tongue and there are definitely elements of what they do here in the strong melodies and singer Dilwyn...

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress...

They don’t make it easy, do they? Canadian ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been making their stubbornly obstinate, wilfully singleminded music for over 20 years now. Never once have they wavered; their fire and brimstone, apocalyptic vision of the world rarely leaves room for even the merest sliver of light. Fifth album Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress doggedly follows the same blueprint – and herein lies its strength and its weakness. For the second album in a row,  GY!BE mix the sublime with the infuriating. Like 2012 release ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend’, there are just four tracks stretched across a relatively brief (by their standards) 41 minutes. The similarities don’t end there – two of the tracks are as good as anything they have released and when GY!BE are good, they are simply untouchable. But just like on their last album, the other two songs included are entirely forgettable slabs of unstructured noise, lazy inclusions that serve only to test our patience. It all starts so well – opening track ‘Peasantry or Light! Inside of Light!’ screams into action, bold and dramatic, the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Everything that makes GY!BE so special can be heard here – those end of the world blues guitars, the heart pounding climaxes, the off the cuff chemistry that makes these extended jams sound both loose and meticulously prepared at the same time. They follow this with ‘Lamb’s Breath’; ten minutes of the kind of noise you get when a band down tools at the end of a show and leave everything humming. A fitting way to end a gig perhaps, but a whole lot less interesting on record.  ‘Asunder, Sweet’ is another turgid piece of music; more feedback, more drones, increasing in intensity as the track dissolves into the...

Inventions – Maze of Woods...

Inventions is the result of two talented musicians from very different genres leaving their respective comfort zones to create something compellingly unique. Matthew Cooper has been writing and recording under the moniker Eluvium for nigh on twelve years now. He is one of the most innovative artists on the ambient classical scene; Copia, released in 2007 is an essential album for fans of that genre. Mark T Smith is a guitarist with Texan doyens of the Post Rock movement, Explosions in the Sky. Both have been so successful in their respective niches, that they are in danger of becoming slaves to the expectations of their fans, somewhat bound to the rigid, formulaic blueprint of their chosen genres. Inventions affords them the opportunity to push the envelope a little, and Maze of Woods, the second album recorded as Inventions, is a side project that may have delivered the best music either has produced in quite some time. Of the two, the influence of Eluvium seems more pronounced; Maze of Woods definitely edges a little closer to Ambient/Classical than it does to Post Rock – the guitar fireworks that are such a feature of the music of Explosions in the Sky are not evident anywhere here. But there are other elements that neither musician has utilised on any of their previous recordings; the cut up vocal snippets and stuttering beat of opener ‘Escapers’ is very different to anything either has done before. ‘Springworlds’ features the kind of ambient textures synonymous with the music of Eluvium, with Smith adding some nice, understated guitar work into the wash. On ‘Wolfkids’ and ‘A Wind From All Directions’ Inventions show a hunger to experiment with different sounds and textures while the beautiful ‘Moanmusic’ is based around a simple piano motif set against a jarring sonic backdrop. While...

Swans – To Be Kind...

Who could have seen this coming? Thirty two years since they first emerged as the enfants terribles of the New York music scene, Swans have just delivered the year’s most uncompromising, thundering and blindingly brilliant album so far. Nothing even comes close to this;To Be Kind is two hours of music of gut-wrenching intensity, a series of never-ending peaks that take the rudiments of rock music and summons up something that is strikingly original. With To Be Kind, Michael Gira and his cohorts have delivered an album that surpasses their critically acclaimed 2012 release The Seer in all respects. The days when listening to a Swans record was something of a masochistic experience, a brutal form of aural punishment are long gone; To Be Kind is arguably their most accessible album while still challenging and demanding more from the listener than any other rock band would dare to. It’s a record that requires patience – two hours of music spread over just ten tracks with every minute resonating with a clarity of purpose and a vibrancy beyond the capabilities of most contemporary rock acts. Michael Gira turned sixty this year; it is incredible to think that he is still making albums as edgy and vital as this while his peers have settled for the merry go-round of endless greatest hits tours and lame rehashes of past glories. Picking out highlights on a record as consistently brilliant as this is almost pointless – the slow, low slung blues of ‘Just a Boy (for Chester Burnett)’ and the manic ‘A Little God in My Hands’ with its long blasts of dissonant horns set the tone – Gira prowls, growls and yelps his way through these tracks, utterly convincing as some kind of deranged shaman. ‘Bring the Sun / Toussaint...

Mogwai – Rave Tapes...

January is traditionally a slow month for new album releases but 2014 looks set to buck that trend with a number of highly anticipated releases scheduled to drop right in the middle of the post Christmas slump. Scottish Post Rock pioneers Mogwai are first up with the follow up to their well received soundtrack for French supernatural chiller Les Revenants. Mogwai are considered by many to be the godfathers of the Post Rock scene – their debut album in 1995 proved to be the blueprint for that genre -lengthy instrumental pieces that quietly built towards punishing crescendos of distorted guitar noise. They spawned a host of imitators as facsimile bands saw an opportunity to tap into the niche but almost religiously zealous fan-base that had latched on to the Post Rock movement. Rave Tapes is their eight studio album (not including soundtrack work) and sees them further distance themselves from the ‘quiet loud’ dynamic that was such a hallmark of their early releases. It is probably closest in spirit to their 2003 album Happy Songs for Happy People with an emphasis on a more textured approach, with electronic elements very much to the fore. That is not to say that guitars have been discarded completely – they still feature heavily throughout, but this is a more restrained effort where the temptation to go for the big finish is never yielded to. Opener ‘Heard About You Last Night’ showcases this more restrained approach; the sky kissing guitars in the chorus offer the tantalising hope that Mogwai are about to reward us with one of their trademark finishes but it never happens. ‘Remurdered’ is built around a fat, distorted electronic bassline that circles in on itself, hypnotic, trance-like. The ghostly remnants of their work on the...