Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"People still hate each other, they just know how to hide it better"

The first in a(n occasional) series of posts about the films of my adolescence.

You don't know till afterwards why you cared. The art that attracts you in your teenage years - when our engagement is at its most fresh and frantic; the art that lays the co-ordinates of your taste - comes, at its best, as a surprise: strange, shocking, shaking, a sensation registering for the first time. But its resonance, unlike its unfolding experience, doesn't come from nowhere: in some sense, you were meant to see, to hear, to read these artworks; there was something in you with which they registered - not simply at the present of viewing, but in the multiple versions of you that reside in your past, and will shift and unspool into your future. Iain Sinclair isn't wrong when he calls films (and, I would add, records) "implanted memories": they come to haunt us anew with the passage of time, unfolding beyond their runtime; you come to recognise that they were a part of you, and you hadn't known it until then.

When I first saw Ghost World, films weren't shown on TV as soon as they'd finished their theatre release (my taped copy has adverts for a showing of Bring It On the same week), and Channel 4 still sometimes showed interesting movies. I'm convinced I was still in 6th form, but couldn't say which year. (I know this only because I remember reading the comic book by Daniel Clowes a year or more later, when I'd graduated and was unemployed over the summer.) This was only just after we'd switched to a DVD player, rendering useless all of the VHS-taped films I'd gotten into the addict's habit of watching (Vanishing Point, 8 1/2, Taxi Driver, The Man in the Moon, etc.) It became one of my staple films to bore friends with; I watched it repeatedly (by) myself. Which is surprising: the only things that really registered were Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca's (Scarlett Johansson) sense of disdain for the claustrophobia and stupidity of high school, something which occupies only about the first 5 minutes of the film; neither could I feel smug about getting the film's reference-points (I didn't listen to jazz then, nor to very much blues), although the comic book, with its repeated references to Sonic Youth and the Ramones, did rather better for that.

In a certain sense Ghost World is an answer to the high school film, with its flattened emotions and caste-system certainties that in fact reflect the narrowed worldly parameters (and straight-up thickness) of teenagers - the anti- or post-high school film, beginning where they end (prom and graudation). Enid and Rebecca mirror this in the narrowness of their friendship: at the beginning it really is just the two of them, against the world, united in a negativity that Rebecca seems to be already slipping away from. They're thrust into a(n adult) world that has no place for them, that fulfils none of the promises - of freedom, of empowerment, of satisfaction, outside of the cloistered world of high school - that it advanced, that can only make demands. Teenage disaffection turns, in Enid's case, to bafflement and a disgust, tempered by cynicism, that eventually tips into despair at the absurdities that adults advance upon them as the preconditions of carrying on living - as in her one day of employment on the popcorn stand: "You don't criticise the feature!" "What, it's my schtick?" "A world", Camus writes, "that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger." Thus Enid and Seymour: united by a sense that the world will not accommodate them, that it has systematically refused them any possibility of a relationship with it; that it is not as it should be. (Whereas Rebecca, with her well-adjusted good looks, is perfectly able to slip the role she had as one half of Enid's disaffected pact and assume another, as the cute coffee shop girl - as the Wikipedia article on Ghost World puts it (euphemistically), she "matures into a sensible young woman".) The overlit suburbia the girls drift through is recognisably the world of Daniel Clowes' comics - the estranged expanses of Ice Haven and David Boring, normal and conformist to the point of breeding malign weirdness, where inexplicable things occur and patches of grotesquerie break out like rashes (cf. the 'Satanist' couple in the cafe in Ghost World), colonised by anonymous strip-malls, multiplexes, chain coffee-stores, fake 50s diners. To such an unsatisfying phenomenal world, Enid and Seymour are ghosts: observers, unable to participate in its life, who are themselves seen only out of the corner of one's eye - remember how they only come into contact with Seymour by pranking him, accidentally seeking him out; cut up outside Wowsville, he hurls curses at the driver, a sign of a man perpetually ignored - "this kind of thing must happen to him all the time".

There have, of course, been more than enough documents of teenage alienation - the nineties, when Daniel Clowes first drew and published Ghost World (serialised in Eightball), was chock full of them. But Ghost World is set apart by the dryness and the economy of storytelling Terry Zwigoff brings to it, that neuters any tendencies to, on the one hand, sentimentality or self-pity (about the vanishing of youth, the 'preciousness' of adolescence, etc.) and, on the other hand, stupidity in its relation to the adult world, neither accepting any quarter with it nor elevating its protagonists into heroes for resisting it. It's unsurprising that Clowes apparently wanted, in his artwork for the comic, to make the same subtle use of period signifiers as Catcher In The Rye - Enid possesses the unclouded vision and snappiness of mind, but also the same dispassion and sense of unfillable lacks as Holden Caulfield, but transposed into a female protagonist. Years ahead of indie movies that allegedly confronted the disappointments of real life (cf. Lost In Translation, 500 Days of Summer, etc.) Ghost World denied any sense of resolution or easy happiness to its characters, whose not-altogether-comfortable worlds become (as you would expect, in the nature of drama) upset, but don't reconstitute themselves in anything but the most unsatisfying forms - Rebecca as the conformist barista (though she seems unperturbed by that life, her rightful inheritance in a sense), Seymour, bereft of both Dana and Enid, Josh denied the ambiguous possibilities of a relationship the comic suggested, and Enid departing for what might well be the afterlife. Ghost World is the only film I know of where the characters remain, by the end, unredeemed. There's a terrible and brilliant clockwork logic by which all of the characters' possibilities of escape, of happy resolution, crumble away in interlocking patterns - of how they drift apart. It was only in the months, and years, after leaving school, abandoned to the same hopeless drift, coming back to it, that I grasped what freighted Enid's arc - that she was, as Anwyn says, speaking of Salinger's characters "struggl[ing] in every chapter... against their fear of becoming the person that might say: yes, this will do." Unlike most teen-angst films, it admits of the adult world, with all its frustration, impotence, guilt, disappointment but also its possible (if frequently strangled) possibilities and elations - of life not lived alone, of love not empty. (Enid's complaints about "extroverted, pseudo-bohemian losers" ("You guys up for some reggae tonight?") are, as I've learned at university, absolutely correct).

And of course, Ian Penman is absolutely correct about Thora Birch: she's not only far more interesting in her role than Scarlett Johansson, but far sexier - "And?, in real life?, that imperious cool bitch act of Enid's? It would totally have boys and men (and cats and dogs and eunuchs and aliens) totally at her big booty big booted feet." (My friend J., after he lost his virginity in Amsterdam, related the anecdote to me with the words "and she looked just like the girl in Ghost World". To which I answered "Wot, Scarlett Johansson?" At which point we both frowned.) One of the greatest and saddest ironies of Hollywood in the 00s has been the disappearance of Birch and the rapid ascent of Johansson (whose subsequent work, Lost In Translation aside, gives me little reason to feel she's receiving her just deserts in this): Johansson, pale, affectless and boyish with her shorts and throaty voice, made a template for every female cipher in the next decade of indie cinema (most of them played by her), where Birch, over the course of the film, constantly slips between subtle emotional gradations, conveying the sense of a girl unable to find what she wants, what possible identity or role she might adopt. She plays deadpan, cynical, defiant ("It's obviously a vintage 1977 punk look, dickhead"), desolate, overenthusiastic, whimsical (the delightful scene at Anthony's and afterwards), frustrated, tender and all the degrees in between. Her relationship with Seymour seems so believable precisely because of the sense of shifting and often paradoxical affections she conveys; you feel, indeed, that this is an substantial, autonomous person on screen dealing with the real flux of life and self. She condemns in advance the lifeless adolescents of Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park and the marionette MPDGs who would soon populate indie cinema like a plague of boils. Enid's disaffection is also possibility - the opportunity and wish for authentic life so quickly and cruelly closed down. She's also the subject, as IP notes, of one of the great scenes about the power of music, as Skip James' eerie, androgynous voice rises up behind her through thick crackle, and, each time the track comes to its end, without saying a word she puts the needle back to the start - and almost the only scene to do so (convincingly) with a woman, "rather than some nerdy fanboy collector guy", refuting the idea, so often pushed in film, that music is a substitute for life, rather than another part of life - its richness, pain and possibilities. And love. Always love.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bookmarked/Commentary Pages/Honest Work

"This [a hop-field and sand-mound] was the spot where I was receiving my education; and this was the sort of education; and I am perfectly satisfied that if I had not received such an education, or something very much like it; that, if I had been brought up a milksop, with a nursery-maid everlastingly at my heels; I should have been at this day as great a fool, as insufficient a mortal, as any of those frivolous idiots that are turned out from Winchester and Westminster School... I went to return it my thanks for the ability which it probably gave me to be one of the greatest terrors, to one of the greatest and most powerful bodies of knaves and fools, that were ever permitted to afflict this or any other country."
--William Cobbett, Rural Rides.

Friday, July 23, 2010

R.I.P. Robert Sandall (1952-2010)

I was only ever familiar with Robert Sandall as a broadcaster - more specifically, as the co-presenter of Radio 3's Mixing It, the new music show which went out every Friday evening, and which functioned not so much as a gateway to experimental music, as the drug itself in its purest form: absolute musical crack. He and Mark Russell presided over a weekly slew of strange, frightening and wonderful records with gentle sardonics, wisecracks, and deep knowledge and open-mindedness, that changed forever the places I put my ears (this was where it all went wrong, in other words). The program's sudden and mysterious cancellation in 2007 was a disgrace to the BBC's public service remit, and though he and Russell did a couple of shows on Resonance based on the old format, it didn't stick (no doubt partly due to Sandall's apparently long-term ill-health). A deeply unfortunate loss.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Results/Incoherent Threats

Disclaimer: personal post, do not read if you're easily bored and/or dislike self-centred whining.


I must be happy, he said, it is less pleasant than I should have thought.

Well, seeing as I blogged my A-Level results all that time ago, in a rather melodramatic fashion, I figured I should do so again for the end of the second year of uni, in part as it gives me an excuse for another one of those boring posts where I discuss university. So, an overall First for this year, with Firsts in three modules, and a mid 2:1 in the other. I was hoping for an overall First in that last module (on 20th century avant-gardism), and thought I did rather better in the exam than I evidently did, which is disappointing, but feh, etc. To reprise the question: was it worth it? Certainly more so than last year, when I wore out myself getting results that didn't, in fact, count. And this places me in a good position for next year, and afterwards: the final grade calculation allows students to discard their worst module result out of the eight they take over the last two years; aside from one (on critical theory), next year's modules hopefully will cause fewer problems.

I suppose I won out, after a fashion. In case you didn't know, or didn't guess from the posts on here, most of my first year was pretty unpleasant - not in any particularly interesting way, but simply in the sense of being bogged down by constant, low-level misery, a seemingly impenetrable isolation that soon ceased being helpful or even conducive to productivity. My reaction to abandonment among my alleged peers, the accelerated, vicious revelry of the fresher period, the destruction of every part of what (I thought) had been a stable, responsible adult life was to retreat - the only option, in retrospect. If I had made the decision to rectify my position earlier, I might have avoided the problems of this year - in which I ended up living in a situation conducive to no-one's comfort. The barely improved isolation of the suburbs in Coventry - a city beautiful for its traces, and its sense of community, but notable for the fact that almost none of my close friends lived there - at least gave me the chance to concentrate on work, which explains the (academic) successes. But the fact remains that I am, after a fashion, happy. Not to give the impression that carrying on is some kind of heroic achievement (though there have been times, in years now gone by, when getting out of bed was a full-blown mission), but I'm glad to have been able to do so.

I was not one of the care-free ones, not before university, not during it and not now: not one of those who drank themselves into laughter, who harbours memories, who went on road-trips, who slept their way through the club, who ascended to positions of (minor) power through sheer socialising (there are plenty of them). I'm not one of those happy to specialise myself out of existence, those for whom learning is a matter to be dispatched before moving onto 'real' interests (e.g. trash TV, banking, interning for Vice, etc.), those prepared to allow a vicious and irredeemably stupid oligarchy to systematically destroy what I set my life by. In the years to come, there will be no memoirs, no reminiscences centring on now - except in the sense that life catches up with you, not in the form of cataclysmic events, but in spite of you. One day you find, not that the world has settled into the patterns you wanted, but that you know how to engage with its flux, its impossibilities, its necessities and incomprehensible content. I'm still here, in spite of the biters and haters, in spite of me, and I'm not prepared to stop it.

Perhaps my best years are behind me, when there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn't want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn't want them back.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reborn In The Rhythmachine

she recorded the video for her single, Tightrope, in the Palace Of The Dogs. A sanitarium that she insists exists (though it appears to be fictional according to the power of Google), the Palace allegedly housed the likes of Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix, and, by her own admittance, herself. "I was a patient there," she announces, but archly refuses to say any more. "I can't really talk about it cos it still exists, and I've signed a clause where I can't disclose information, but I recorded music there so …"

We should keep in mind Kodwo Eshun's insistence that Sun Ra's claims to be from Saturn should not be taken metaphorically, but as a form of counterfactual truth, a hyperstitional weapon against hegemonic social 'reality', and an official history that posits black people as its pitiful objects, not the subjects of change.* The line about the working-class provenance of her uniform - one hardly expects to see this kind of thing in the Guardian! - puts us in mind of others who subsumed their identities in pursuit of collective myth-science, the dispossessed regaining agency through creation: Drexciya, Underground Resistance, Mantronix, Public Enemy, Andre 3000's designation of himself as a "blue-collar scholar" - and note how every one of the potential insane in the video for 'Tightrope'** also wear the uniform.

*Adding only further fuel to my argument that We Were Right, we should note that Plan B took notice of, and got excited about Janelle Monae long before the rest of the music press (minus the hip-hop mags, of course).
**Almost entirely off-topic, but it should be noted that the official End Times verdict on 'Tightrope' co-star Big Boi's album is that it is "boss", and an essential purchase, above and beyond the aforementioned 'Shine Blockas'.

UPDATE: firstly, we discover, via an interview, that Ms. Monae very much knows her black sci-fi - most obviously Octavia E. Butler. Secondly, we find, via Ubuweb's wonderful Twitter feed, this 1980 documentary on Sun Ra, which emphasises the extent to which the Arkestra was a communal venture, in which the music supplanted and empowered the individual band-members.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Ten Songs 8

1. Dexy's Midnight Runners - 'Let's Make This Precious' (live on The Tube, 1982)

It's been so long since my last update that the occasion for the picking this song - the fuckin' turning of the year - has been and gone. And now it's July. Nonetheless: I still had rather a lot of alcohol in my system when, on New Year's morning, I was flushed enough with optimism to find myself humming this. (About the last time I felt optimistic.) The studio version doesn't have a patch on this live TV rendition, delivered by perhaps the punchiest line-up in all of post-punk and New Pop: the culmination of Kevin Rowland's speed-freak push for the limits of Northern Soul, for a purity and drive that threatens to cancel out the body, turning soul into pure spirit. The relentless backbeat - even the organ is in a hurry, and knows exactly where it's going - is topped with horn-charts that threaten to blow the roof off; the drop-out at 1:53 (and it's indicative that Rowland talks about recorded music - "spin me a record that cries pure and true" - rather than other human beings at this point) is so obviously just a build-up to another climactic high it barely feels like a breath of relief before the handclaps and organ come back in. "First bear your heart and cleanse your soul": this is the point where Rowland's self-erasing megalomania met musical rigour to match and convey it; the moment where the idea that the urgency that gives a human life meaning - the heartbeat-rush of passion in the face of death - became indissoluble with music. You believe, coming away, anything is possible. Nietzsche would have been proud.

2. Toro Y Moi - 'Human Nature' (unreleased)

To say I missed the boat with the whole 'hypnagogic pop' thing - or whatever it's being referred to as these days - would be making a massive understatement. The fact is that I take little to no notice of what's going on in the music world these days, unless it's a new Xiu Xiu album or something: after Plan B closed I was deprived of my main source of information, and soon afterwards I stopped reading The Wire, simply because the writing was so uniformly unenthusing (after Mark Fisher left as acting deputy editor, so did half my favourite writers) and, um, I had better things to do with my time like, y'know, my degree. (In fact, I believe the issue including David Keenan's article on h-pop was the last that I bought.) ANYWAY (sorry for boring you all there): I still have my ears, and I still hear a track once in a while - in this case, after Joe Stannard posted the video on Facebook. After Jackson's death, it's doubly haunting to hear such a delectable cover of perhaps his last sincere sex-ballad before the descent of the post-Thriller period. The sparse space of Jackson's original becomes a pool-side shimmer of synth, over the almost archaic piston-pump digital kick and hi-hat, little snatches of detail - nagging wriggles of guitar, swarming synth-arpeggios that go almost unnoticed in totality of synthetics - and the voice almost subsumed in the haze, an architecture as intricate and fastidiously constructed as any Timbaland production, but out-of-focus. The vocal is almost studiously thin in comparison to Jackson's precision, laconic in the midst of the track's suspended, non-climactic drift. An act of love.

3. Drive Like Jehu - 'Here Come The Rome Plows' (from Yank Crime (Swami))

Begin with one shock. Repeat.

4. Ikonika - 'Fish' (from Contact, Want, Love, Have (Hyperdub))

The strangest thing is hearing records anew: I've had the Ikonika album for months, but it was only when my friend M. put (I think) 'Yoshimitsu' on at a party that my head turned. (It's partly because I tend to listen to records while working, with only half an ear on the stereo, but that's by the by.) Anyway, I've only just noticed how damned fun this track is - the rave-arpeggios of 'r.e.s.o.l' aside - the point, perhaps, where Ikonika most shrugs off the doubt and melancholy that runs through the record like a grey rock-seam. The opening sci-fi blare of the synths is quickly reinforced by crisp, popping kick/snare patterns and a bass presence as thick and all-encompassing as Burial's. The electronics split and detune as if Abdel-Hamid were cranking the pitch control with one hand on the keys, finally exploding into splurges of treble notes and Space Invaders bleeps. It's always apparent the powerful hold Abdel-Hamid has over the well-built architecture of the track, layers dropping out and expanding to suit different possibilities of dynamics and texture to pull the listener towards the end: the dry pops of raw electricity it ends with point towards the difficulties of the rest of this fascinating record.

5. Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane - 'Shine Blockas' (from Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam))

The video, of course, is punctured by an absence: in the course of the two years it took for this album to be produced and released, Gucci Mane was imprisoned for parole violation and then violating the terms of his probation; he flashes up as a series of photos, but nothing more. It's perhaps appropriate: Big Boi, outside of the influence of Andre 3000, seems to drift, as he did on his half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, back from the psychedelics of their most powerful collective work to the locus classicus of whips, drinkin' and ballin', the Real of the street. This is perhaps the strangest track to emerge out of that cloud of concerns, its mid-tempo bed of clicks buffeted from both sides by Gucci's smeared, clipped moans and sudden surges of drum-machine, points of light blinking through the blinding illumination of the keyboards - the shine of success that haters threaten to block, and which oscillates between reality and potential, bright actuality and far-off future. As in another celebrated track laying at the edge of hip-hop, you can feel impacted in the filigree electricity of the production, the inhuman nag of the percussion, the joy, anger and melancholy of a life consumed entirely by the grind and flow of cash - a life that, since the crisis, has been increasingly fraught with doubt. Big Boi's flow is less pointedly staccato than usual, slipping around on an unstable but perfectly calibrated production track; the celebrations are edged around with doubts - "we choose to lead not follow/It's a hard pill to swallow/Better yet prescriptions spill, cos there might not be tomorrow".

6. Flying Lotus - 'Do The Astral Plane'/'Sateliiiiiiiite' (from Cosmogramma (Warp))

From one end to another: if, in 'Shine Blockas', the weightless production is the utopian element cutting against the celebratory and struggling materialism of the raps, the incredible, baroque production of Cosmogramma is hip-hop as Afro-futurist escapism, outward-bound flight, as the bent-sideways funk of 'Do The Astral Plane' (compare with Boxcutter's celestial party joint Arecibo Message from last year) and the wheedling voice, amid hovering bass and a beat that ticks like a speed-freak's lip on 'Satelliiiiiiite', prove. (An off-topic aside: the only thing surprising about the resurrection of The Funk in wonky and its associated musics is how long it took producers to clock the pleasures of dirty south's boot-shuddering bass and slippery electronics. What are they, eunuchs?) I can't help feeling that the kinship between the two productions highlights the very falsity of the underground/mainstream binary that lets this be put out on a nerd-tastic label like Warp rather than, say, Def Jam: the combined space (in every sense) and rococo density of Fly-Lo's work, and that of his hip-hop contemporaries, is irresistibly gorgeous, but what it cries out for is an MC; that's precisely what made Outkast's Stankonia, cLOUDDEAD, Madvillain, Sa-Ra or Jneiro Jarel's Shape of Broad Minds project so compelling - the crossing of psychedelic currents and electric voice-play. ALL THAT ASIDE: 'Astral Plane' builds up from minimal foundations - pops, clicks, voice smeared into synth, scat-syllables - until a bumping kick/snare, honking, hot-stepping synths, shaker and a clave rhythm enter, the whole being scattered with trumpet wrapping around the contrails of bass, resembling nothing so much as one of Walter Gibbons' more built-up mixes (excepting the electro 'clink' that also filters through the production of 'Shine Blockas', and the digital cuts). 'Satelliiiiiiite' possesses the menacing presence of the earlier 'And the World Laughs With You' (what Kid A should have sounded like) and 'Mmmhmm', and, indeed, the later, crackle-ridden 'Recoiled': an enormous, swollen bass presence, metal and shaker rattling with nervous trouble, dotted with lounge-synth blurts, a DJ Screw voice sputtering into an isolated whine - "Sit up on my satellite/Get it right, get it right" - that dies out even further, into nearly 2 minutes of lounge funk, smooth bass resounding in an empty cosmos. Stranger and stranger.

7. Locrian - 'Ghost Repeater'/'Procession of Ancestral Brutalism' (from Drenched Lands and Territories (both At War With False Noise/Basses Frequencies/Small Doses/Land of Decay))

I don't know. It feels kind of dumb to enjoy extremity: I should have grown up by now, and have moved on to subtler, more adult pleasures than the overwhelming grind of sonic weight and texture (cf. Borbetomagus' negatively sublime Snuff Jazz). Nonetheless, I love these guys: Locrian are an improvising trio from Chicago whose work extrapolates from the chainsaw treble of black metal towards the miasmic drift of dark ambient and noise; both of their CD albums - 2009's Drenched Lands and this year's Territories, featuring Nachtmystium's Blake Judd and Yakuza's Bruce Lamont - capitalise on the experimental promise of Sunn 0)))'s Black One, featuring slow-moving dronescapes that crackle with menace, building into huge, shredding assaults. Both 'Ghost Repeater' and 'Procession of Ancestral Brutalism' evolve over 10 minutes, black metal riffs bursting out of the fog of noise with nothing to drive them on, the inhuman, abjected hunger of BM finally palpable, harried and buffeted by blown-out keyboard and spectres of voice, and exhausted percussion, somewhere between the ritualism of Xela's In Bocca Al Lupo and the despair of Khanate. On 'Procession...', what sounds like shortwave hiss gives way to a raging riff at about two minutes that eventually explodes into something off the last Wolves in the Throne Room album, but still wears a sense of enervation. Hails, etc.

8. Arthur Russell - 'Soon-To-Be-Innocent Fun' (live, from Terrace of Unintelligibility (Rykodisk))

"He looked like a farmer." It can't have been because Arthur Russell wore plaid shirts - although we do see him, in Matt Wolf's documentary Wild Combination, blue-plaid-shirted against a cerulean background with recording equipment - as we also spot Robert Wilson, who basically ended Russell's potential career in the avant-garde, after the debacle of 1983's Medea, adorned in one. A late photo shows Russell in an Oskaloosa cornfield, the maize-leaves brushing his acne-scarred cheeks, the sky behind him redolent of the blue expanses of 'Let's Go Swimming'. The camera, in Phil Niblock's film of Russell performing songs from World of Echo, is close up against that face, lit in shards of red, green and white, moving over the body of the cello as he works percussive brushes and shading strokes verging on the metallic out of the strings. He introduces the song in a whisper, and hardly moves above it throughout, the words - never, even on his disco records, particularly clearly enunciated - droned, smeared, muttered, clipped, tweaked into falsetto, in unexpected ways, like a courting boy too shy to know what to say. The shuffling motive movement of his cello, the mantric repetition through chorus and verse structure, suggests the grooving energy, the loops, the eternal return of disco, but reduced to a shadow, to a private voice echoing out of the dark. It's the intimacy, the (allegedly) childish open-heartedness of 'The Letter' or 'A Little Lost' - "The rain falls for three hours", the lover and loved inside - turned to a bare series of gestures abstracted by dub echo, of "blushes and blurs" (Jon Dale), another attempt to re-enchant the world. The light shows up his scars again - ravages that, if you didn't know, might be taken for the wasting effects of the AIDS that claimed him a few years later. We remember, for a moment, he was just an awkward country-boy.

9. Owen Pallett - 'Lewis Takes Off His Shirt' (from Heartland (Domino))

A "nerd-fox" (Miss AMP), no doubt, and one whose almost-ridiculous compositional nous constitutes much of what gets the gentlemen and ladies hot - "if he can do that with a violin, imagine what he can do with", etc. Heartland, the new album under his own, more copyright-friendly, name, is an enormous buzzing hive, a legs-and-groins scrum of love, and 'Lewis Takes His Shirt Off' perhaps the most finely-honed thing on it, a high-BPM electro-pop track whose rhythmic undercarriage is closely threaded with chortling and sighing woodwinds and brass, and girded with strings. The lyrical humour that marked the Final Fantasy albums - I doubt there's anyone else with the cojones to name a record He Poos Clouds - and usual nonsensicality sticks around at least in part - "A hegemony armoured with a thousand-watt head and seven inches of echo". But it's the drastic, ascending pull of the track that keeps the listener gripped: "I keep up my velocity".

10. Oneohtrix Point Never - 'ǂPreyouandiΔ' (from Returnal (Editions Mego))

How to parse that title? 'Before you and me'? 'Prey you and I'? Or perhaps 'pray', as in something like 'pray, let us go then, you and I'? It matters, after a fashion: what sets Oneohtrix Point Never apart from many of those currently dabbling in revenant forms is the attention to his work's sensual properties, the fealty it holds to the textural pleasure of pop, the magnetic pull it encodes between 'you' and 'I'. His videos might suggest postmodern terminal decline, play in the ruins of culture, but they also access pop's anti-entropic charge, its powers of disturbance and resonance - as in the track that samples 'Lady in Red', schmaltz turned, via detournement, into a lonely cry echoing into the distance - these fragments I have shored against my ruins. So it is with the final track on the new album: far more reliant on the sampler than the work on Rifts, its first seconds flush with micro-samples like Oval glitches, fractured splutterings of sound, the thump and crumple of flattened percussion and digital flutters coalescing into something straddling the border between chorale and synth-scape, neither quite voice nor electronics, as undisturbed and immersive as the earlier 'Pelham Island Road'. In his pop, you can see every fracture, and hear every pleasure.