Review of 2014 pt.4 - PC Music

PC Music

Possibly the biggest musical revelation this year for me was the emergence of PC Music. Every time I rave on about it I am forced into the situation where I have to describe what PC Music is. It is hard, but essentially PC Music is: a record label, collective, sound, scene, revolution. It's a bunch of middle class kids who grew up in the nineties and noughties, surrounded by Aqua and 3 Of A Kind and Junior Senior - pop music that was sickly sweet and covered in tack, but at its core really damn good. As the 00s wore on, young people got 'cooler', East London rose to prominence as a hub for trust fund trendsetters and unbearably hip artists and the music of 'cool' became less fun, less innocent, less natural. I feel like PC Music flips all of that on its head. The artists within and affiliated to PC Music each deconstruct pop music in their own way. Each PC Music artist revels in an anonymity that leaves their music distinctly formalist: who gives a fuck who made it, how it is presented or whether it is acceptably 'cool', this is plain good pop music. Amplifying cuteness to an extreme, the music is often deceiving in its presentation - behind its aesthetic are arrangements that are often highly sophisticated and intricately detailed. These artists have lifted the musicianship and professionalism from 'serious' indie music and dropped it into the hollow frame of gooey chart-smashing pop music. A strong awareness of both the mainstream and underground is prevalent, while the music gives nods to everything from 80s balladry, footwork, UK bass and even the avant-garde. Decorated with chipmunk vocals, bubblegum synths and kitsch beats, the sound of PC Music has an often over-bearing sense of humour. And sure it may be simple and sweet on the outside, but there is no doubting the brains of this lot.

Although founded in 2013, the label really exploded this year. GFOTY's 'Secret Mix' was the first PC Music release I ever heard - a nine minute patchwork of infuriatingly good dance music. GFOTY breaks through the boundaries of 'annoying', turning repetitive samples into mesmerisingly percussive loops. In the mix, pop music is stripped to its bare minimum while retaining a clear appreciation for it: she rallies quickly through classics by Celine Dion, Toni Braxton and Carly Simon. Yet this is not ironic, it's sincere and affectionate, a dizzying ode to the pop music everyone secretly loves.

In the phenomenal 'Hey QT', the sound of PC Music stuck its foot in the door of the mainstream. Released on XL (alongside Adele and Thom Yorke, no less), QT's first (and so far only) release was a smash hit. A slight departure from the more experimentally inclined output of early PC Music, 'Hey QT' is an instant classic, ludicrously catchy and a genuine challenge to chart mediocrity.

At the head of it all is A. G. Cook, 24 year old founder of the label and leading innovator in the collective's sound. 'Keri Baby' is a ludicrously catchy song, restlessly flitting between hooks and beeps. Yet it is the richness of the sound and the depth of its arrangement that makes this so good: rather than just settling for a killer hook and being done with it, A. G. Cook decorates every last inch of the song's palette. Hannah Diamond's flawing vocals ("kinda real, kinda oooh") are simply the icing on the very very sugary cake.

And it is Hannah Diamond who is responsible for possibly my favourite track of the year, 'Attachment'. This is a song the defies the already high expectations of PC Music's million-miles-an-hour aesthetic. On 'Attachment', Diamond takes it slow, effectively forming a 'post-ringtone' ballad; a heart-wrenchingly honest song with lyrics that pierce through its playful aesthetic to provide something really emotional, even poignant.

Review of 2014 pt.3 - Albums


This year was a funny one for me. A few years ago I would have been on top of every new release, with an opinion on anything remotely buzz-worthy. This year my listening habits have been much more indiscriminate; I have spent a lot of time playing catch-up, without a care for release date or newness. I had mild obsessions with Neu! and Judee Sill, binged on Sean Nicholas Savage, studied to Woo and swooned over Haruomi Hosono. There were a few 2014 releases that really stood out, so here they are:

Ariel Pink - pom pom
From the very beginning, one of the biggest inspirations behind Dig That Treasure! has been Ariel Pink. His DIY ethic has fuelled my passion for independent scenes, his outsider touch has informed my interest in naivety in pop, and his ludicrously good music taste has pointed me in the direction of many, many, many tracks. pom pom, released in November, feels a bit like Pink's lap of honour. It's a fairly self-indulgent run-through of his clearly extensive knowledge of pop (and its dark corners), making stops at the Middle East ('Dinosaur Carebears'), the '60s ('Dayzed Inn Daydreams'), and whatever the hell 'Jell-O' is. The record was totally divisive among critics but I believe this is one of his best works. It is an album that oozes with confidence: it is funny, sad, loud, quiet and really really catchy.

Woo - When The Past Arrives
This record was a real grower - not in the sense that disliked it to begin with, but rather that it is an album of such subtlety and delicacy that at first it can drift by you without much effect yet, with each further listen it gets bolder and bolder. Each deft and understated melody has slowly ingrained itself into my consciousness. Songs like 'Satya' and 'Teddy Bears' are particularly gorgeous but it's '1001 Decisions' which really blows me away. This track is evokes such warmth and comfort; it is poignant but yet so uplifting. A stunning return from Woo.

tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack
I feel like this record has a lot in common with pom pom. It is witty and affecting in equal parts, restless and constantly surprising. I can't really put into words why I like it so much, but Nikki Nack just feels like a coming together of years and years of critical listening. Merrill Garbus really knows what she is doing... she has a clear vision of what she wants and a strong (yet sensitive) understanding of all things pop. She transcends 'genre', forming a sound that is intercontinental and truly unique. 'Real Thing' has got to be the stand out track here, but really the whole record stands up as a solid piece of work.

Stephen Steinbrink - Arranged Waves
I have been following Steinbrink since my buddy Christian from the legendary (but now defunct) label Holy Page got me into him back in 2012. (Side note: Holy Page is a real trove, exhibiting the best of America's underground. It was through Holy Page that I was introduced to Hleger and Ed Askew among many others). Anyway, I was really excited to see Stephen Steinbrink get the credit he's been due for years - he is coming over to Europe in the New Year and has recently signed to Melodic. His latest record, Arranged Waves, was a triumph for everything that he represents; it was everything it needed to be and more. The key track here is 'Sand Mandalas', but it is really worth investing your time in the whole thing.

Avi Buffalo - At Best Cuckold
I got into Avi Buffalo way back in 2010 when he put out his self-titled debut. He disappeared for a few years and then returned with At Best Cuckold, a really mature record and a clear progression, if only at the expense of some of the charm that coloured his debut. 'So What' is appropriately angsty and 'Overwhelmed With Pride' is absolutely gorgeous, although my favourite track has got to be 'Think It's Gonna Happen Again'. The record is a real testament to Avi's two best assets: his sensational guitar playing and his distinctive falsetto.

Ava Luna - Electric Balloon
I came across these guys while looking for things to do in Copenhagen - it turned out they were playing there on my second night in the city. I remember the first time I heard 'Ice Level', the song that turned me onto the group. I was so struck by its sound; how nuanced, dynamic it was. I then got my hands on Electric Balloon, a record very unashamedly proud of its influences (no-wave, post-punk, r&b, Stax records) yet simultaneously so distinctive in its own sound. 'Plain Speech' is my favourite on the record but it's more an album of moments than songs: the Byrne-esque vocals on 'Daydream', the Dirty Projectors chirps on 'Crown' and those "uh-ohs" at the beginning of 'Genesee'.

Review of 2014 pt.2 - Live Performances

Live Performances

The past twelve months have been exceptional for live performances. I might predominantly write about 'World music' and older, now-defunct groups, but I was somehow lucky enough to catch multiple artists that have been featured on the Dig That Treasure! blog and radio show.

In London, Momus played the city's best venue, Cafe OTO, Keel Her headlined Old Blue Last, and Kiran Leonard sold out his first headline show in the capital at The Waiting Room. Elsewhere around the continent I saw Jerry Paper blow away an intimate show in Berlin, while this autumn I caught Canadian underground hero Sean Nicholas Savage in Brighton.

Of course, the year's live highlight was the very first 'Dig That Treasure! presents' show. On December the 5th, after months of planning and organisation, I hosted a triple bill of exciting off-kilter pop music. Let's Eat Grandma opened the night, leaving a sold-out Cafe OTO crowd speechless. The teenagers couldn't have made a better impression at their debut London show; their fearless outsider-pop perfectly suited the venue.

End of year list-topping Jane Weaver followed with a dense sound finding the middle ground between Krautrock and lush dream pop, a highlight being the dizzying eight minute epic 'Don't Take My Soul'.

By the time headliner Laetitia Sadier had taken the stage, value for money had well and truly been met and a fantastic level of entertainment had been displayed. But celestial Sadier pushed this quality through the ceiling, completing an "immensely satisfying night" in real style.

Other live highlights of the year included my second visit to the utopian End Of The Road festival, where The Flaming Lips and tUnE-yArDs proved their worth as two of the world's best live acts, and a further two sets from Kiran Leonard completed a blissful weekend. Elsewhere I managed to catch Malian group Songhoy Blues provide a ridiculously fun dance party at Hackney's Visions festival (where I saw Leonard once more). I witnessed These New Puritans take their genre-defying Field of Reeds to the Barbican centre, art-pop weirdos Ava Luna rock out in Copenhagen, and fellow Resonance FM buddy Peter Lanceley host his first 'Hollow Earth' night in Brighton.

Review of 2014 pt.1 - Dig That Treasure!

2014 was the first full year of Dig That Treasure! Having come into existence late-summer 2013, the remaining months of that year saw me building the foundations of the blog and radio show. It feels like the turn of the year was when everything kicked off. Despite large chunks of the year being quiet (I travelled from May-July and was distracted by study in October) the Dig That Treasure! name really gained momentum in the last twelve months.

This blog was started as a reaction against zeitgeist blog-buzz sites that all write about the same music in the same manner, providing little that is different or stimulating. By nature then this blog - keenly encompassing music regardless of decade, country or 'genre' - is not best suitable for an 'end of year list'. It's not that I avoid new music, because I don't. Rather, it's that new music isn't my priority and I would not listen to something purely because it was new. I will happily spin anything without much care for when it was released.

On this blog I've only ever posted in four formats: the standard track review, the band profile, the radio show catch-up, and the guest post. I decided after much deliberation that I'd break this mould for a special 'Review of 2014' post. What follows is a fairly lengthy ramble through the past 12 months, starting with a review of all things Dig That Treasure! before moving on to discuss my favourite musical happenings of the year.

Dig That Treasure!

I published three very exciting guest posts this year. In January, interdisciplinary artist KARESS contributed a mix of J-pop, K-pop and synthpop. February saw producer, Glass Ghost member and Here We Go Magic collaborator Eliot Krimsky contribute a collection of "iconic songs of alienation". In March I published a seriously leftfield mix of "wordless vocalisations", compiled by Otis Fodder, member of the legendary The Bran Flakes.

There were twenty-eight episodes of the Dig That Treasure! radio show on Resonance 104.4fm, one of which was dedicated to an incredible session by Adrian Knight, later released on Bandcamp as the first Dig That Treasure! Records release. Eternal thanks to Ed Baxter and everyone else at Resonance for the opportunities I've been handed.

Despite moments of quiet, the blog continued strongly. Highlights included a discussion of Francophile Japanese pop music, a biography of Joe Meek and a look at dictatorial Zaire. Elsewhere, I contributed an article on Ethiopian pop music to Tom Robinson's Fresh On The Net, and an essay on the impact of dictatorship on Soviet pop music to new culture website Retrospective.

December saw the first ever 'Dig That Treasure! presents' gig, with a triple bill of cosmic female-fronted acts featuring headliner Laetitia Sadier supported by Jane Weaver and Let's Eat Grandma. It was a sell-out and a resounding success, best encapsulated by this glowing review from John Doran of The Quietus. 

David Darling & The Wulu Bunun - Lugu Lugu Kan-Ibi

On this blog I often cover music that is indebted to intercultural exchanges; products of traded ideas, or the obsession of one culture with another. I've written previously on the Francophilic tradition of Japanese pop, the admiration of Ethiopian pop by Western indie rock acts, and the exotic fantasies of island life. But this is quite different. On the record Mudanin Kata, American composer and cellist David Darling matched the a capella songs of the Taiwanese aborigine tribe the Wulu Bunun with his own New Age accompaniments. Unlike, for example, the exotica of North America and Europe that reinterprets or - more often - completely constructs fantasies of the Pacific islands in a playful imaginative way, Darling's project involved actually taking recordings of the tribe's ancient song and altering them. It was a project with the potential to be tacky or even disrespectful. Yet, the sensitivity with which Darling handles the aborigine songs is remarkable, and his arrangements are subtle and tasteful: they are there to amplify the effect of the melodies, not overpower them. There's a duo of tracks on the record that work as a suite. Whether that was the intention or not, they complement each other perfectly and are tied together by field recordings of what is presumably the Taiwanese rainforest. 'Ku-Isa Tama Laug' is followed by 'Lugu Lugu Kan-Ibi', these two tracks characterised by beautiful cyclical melodies. I feel like this project is a real testament to human compassion, sensitivity and appreciation.

Label: Riverboat Records
Year: 2004
Genre: Traditional, New Age, Folk

Resonance FM 4/12/14

The latest Dig That Treasure! show on Resonance 104.4FM travelled from Ethiopia to India, Italy to Australia. I span a duo of tracks from American goofball Biff Rose (the latter featuring Van Dyke Parks), as well as a tune from an even bigger goofball, Tiny Tim (covering The Ronettes). I closed the show with a rare demo of Stereolab's classic 'Cybele's Reverie' in anticipation of the Dig That Treasure! presents Laetitia Sadier show. Listen below!

Dig That Treasure (4/12/14)
Orion Salih - Aykessen
Alessandro Alessandroni - Mitzi
Biff Rose - Ball Me Out To The Take Game
Biff Rose - Evolution
Tiny Tim - Be My Baby
The Reels - Cry
Veera Bamrungsri - Mercy
Stereolab - Cybele's Reverie (demo)