Jessica Pratt - On Your Own Love Again
Albums that mainly feature a singer and an acoustic guitar are not usually the type to get me very excited or keep me coming back to them, but Jessica Pratt's second album On Your Own Love Again is a very special acoustic folk album. The album sounds (and looks) like it's come straight out of the blossoming scene of New York's Greenwich Village in the 60s or 70s; Pratt's voice and guitar are recorded in such a way that there is air and space around them, as if the microphone just happened to be nearby where she was sitting for a nice intimate session. Pratt fits perfectly into this scene and the sexual, poetic and psychedelic hints that come along with it are certainly present in this album.
The songs themselves, at first airing seem fairly simple, but gradually unspool into a carefully woven tapestry of ideas and images. Pratt's songs focus around potential lovers and the dynamics that come between them, keeping them from their desires. She sings them so softly, using harmonies sparingly but to great effect, and the mellifluous vocals she produces makes her tales of desire all the more engrossing and tickling. Aside from the back and forth between the characters of her songs, she also has a knack for imagery, take for example the opening line of "Game That I Play": "People's faces blend together like a watercolour you can't remember in time," - one of my favourite images in music this year.
On Your Own Love Again is at its best when Pratt is lamenting a changing or lost relationship. "Jacquelyn in the Background" pines over a meek friend that she once knew ("drifting through the day, I look so long, I can't say I've found another friend like you and I"), on "Moon Dude" she pityingly looks at a guy who feels "the escalators humming, they are pulling you from nothing but your loneliness," or struggles with painful memories of a former partner on "Wrong Hand" ("One too many dreams I had before and they play in my mind, I see you standing where you stood, alone in my mind").
These scathingly honest love poems are delivered in Pratt's idiosycratically light and feathery voice, which floats even higher and more gracefully in conjunction with her expert fingerpicking, her unusual chord choices and the spare but effective additional instrumentation that lurks on the peripheries. On Your Own Love Again is a solo album in the truest sense; written by a solo artist about personal internal experiences, recorded and delivered in a way that gets across the character and heart that the singer has put into them - as if she's speaking directly to the listener. It's a truly intimate album because of all of this, and ideal for a quiet night of solo contemplation - of which I have had many in my time.
Have I bought this on vinyl?: Yes, it's produced to sound a little dated, so it sounds best on dated media!
Aphex twin - computer controlled acoustic instruments pt. 2
AFX - Orphaned deejay selek 2006-08
OK so slightly cheating here by having two releases occupying one slot on the countdown, but my justification (as if I need any) is that they're both by Richard D. James (even though they're under different aliases), they're both short releases (around 26-27 minutes each), and they both deserved to be on this list which is already way too packed. So fuck the haters, here's a double entry for Richard D. James aka Aphex Twin aka AFX aka so many other names that we probably don't even know.
Last year Aphex Twin brought out the monumental Syro, his first album in over a decade and also my personal favourite album of the year. I don't think anyone expected him to release more so soon, but it seems the floodgates are truly open now. Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt. 2 came out very early on in the year, not too long after Syro's release, but is a very different beast to that behemoth of an album. As you can possibly guess from the title, the release is comprised of songs played on traditional acoustic instruments (quite unusual for Aphex Twin), but done so by specially programmed computers and robots (ah, there we go). Despite this fairly oblique methodology, Acoustic Instruments features some of James' most accessible tunes to date. The opening "diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13" sounds like something that would play as the tension heightens in a highly strung action movie - it's all bassy piano notes and carefully metered out percussion, until the piano starts to chew on itself and churn the song up. "DISKPREPT1"'s main piano lead could be described as 'catchy' or 'tuneful', but the gently tapped ride cymbals added to the reverb on the bass notes gives it a more self-reflective quality. "piano un10 it happened" is the latest in a long series of stunningly beautiful solo piano tracks that James has sprinkled into his releases over the years, and once again it proves that he is an eminently talented composer at heart.
More than simply the method or the music on this release, what sets it apart further is the way it's recorded. When listening to it it almost sounds as though he's taking the listener right inside the piano and laying their ear on the string while they're struck - you can hear every hammer contact and string contraction. It's a fascinating mini-album and a concept that would certainly be worth returning to.
Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-08 immediately announces itself as a very different release as it shoots out of the gate with a breakneck click and interwoven blips of fuzzily textured synths. The rest of the release follows suit, hewing slightly closer to last year's Syro, but instead of trying to build up great monolithic pieces as he did on that album, here he has instead constructed a series of relentless neo-rave tunes that you could never really rave to because they're just way too hectic and unpredictable. Orphaned Deejay's tracks flow together in one big suite, barely letting the momentum drop for a moment. Instead it's the elements around that central burble that swish in and out, drill up into the song from below or just fall out of the sky. While the percussive elements are ensuring that the BPMs stay high, the other myriad layers of analogue synth that James adds seem to be going at half time, draping themselves over the clicks and blips to give the whole experience an aura of paranoia and claustrophobia. The percussion itself changes subtly too, from thin, flitting beats to booming kick drums and back again in the space of a few bars. The effect can be so disorienting sometimes that it feels as though James is making the air around you swirl as if it were in a gigantic centrifuge. The EP is relentless throughout it's 27 minutes, that even if you're purely sitting and listening to it you can't help but feel a little worn out. This is probably what James intended, as he immediately grabs your attention and doesn't relinquish it as he lopes carelessly through fields of trippy beats and unexpected divots until he's reached the end of his intended work out, with you panting at his side.
After years of absence, Aphex Twin is truly back and firing on all cylinders, with 3 fantastic releases in the last couple of years (and a ton of other stuff dumped onto Soundcloud). The titles of this year's offering both suggest that they're part of an ongoing series of albums of a similar ilk (Acoustic Instruments billed as 'pt. 2' while Orphaned Deejay dates itself as originating 2006-2008), so let's hope there's plenty more to come from Mr. James in 2016.
Have I bought this on vinyl?: Yes to Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt. 2, but have not yet found Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-08.