Friday, December 31, 2010

"The title of this episode is new approach": on solidarity and striptease and the year ahead (for Andy and Karl)

"You've had a quiet year," somebody said to me over Christmas: and they said it with such conviction that I had to check my own recollection.

I started the year on attachment at the National Theatre Studio, and ended it in a writer's room at the Royal Court, writing the first draft of a new play called The Extremists which I hope will continue to emerge over the coming months. I made Who You Are for Tate Modern (with the help of a dozen partially or wholly naked friends, in whose company it was a complete joy to run through the Turbine Hall at the end), and a companion piece for Queer Up North, Where You Stand, which is still online in a video version. I wrote and directed Henry & Elizabeth, with the brilliant Philip Bosworth and Claire Burlington, and after a chilly press night it toured very happily for a couple of months, generating along the way an assortment of anecdotes that kept me thoroughly entertained for a few hours when I met up with Boz and Claire a couple of weeks ago. With Jonny Liron I made the various-artists compendium piece World of Work for the Sussex Poetry Festival, and Fool's Errand for a memorable event at University College Cork; and back in Cork later in the year we duetted on a Michael Basinski piece at SoundEye. I made two new performance scores for Jonny, in situ and Angry, Red, and he took a first swing at in situ at the inuagural Situation Room event (a series that's been a crucially important thread through the second half of the year); and he and I did a fair bit of r&d work together in our Action one19 guise. I started writing poems again, seriously, for the first time in ages, and did readings at the Sit Room (twice) and SoundEye, and in Brighton for Chlorine and at Loughborough Uni. I took part in Future Editions for Artsadmin at Forest Fringe, and delivered House of the Future for Tim Etchells and Ant Hampton's Some of the Futures at the ICA (possibly my best half-hour's work of the year). I wrote on Michael Basinski for Damn the Caesars, and on Bob Cobbing and Marina Abramovic for Gobsmacked; I did a workshop at Whitechapel Gallery for London Art Book Fair, and seminars at Kings and Royal Holloway. I posted on average more than once a week here at Thompson's (and you know we ain't talkin' epigrams and haiku, baby), and threw up some unexpected stuff at David Rylance's Transductions blog. I worked through the casting process for my Pinter double-bill at the Ustinov early next year (with very cool results), and I embarked on editing a poetry anthology which will come out in the early spring from my own teeny-tiny Ganzfeld Press. For several weeks I kept my head above water by selling secondhand CDs via Amazon, meaning I spent a giddying amount of time in post office queues. I went to the theatre as often as I could, and saw a lot of great art. I went to live music gigs more than usual this year, especially down the road at the lifesaving Cafe Oto (a considerably more significant presence in the changing ecology of live performance in London than their incoming neighbours). I read books, and discussed stuff on discussion lists, and joined Twitter at last, and I ate some good food and watched some great movies (and two whole seasons of Juliet Bravo on DVD), and on Christmas Day I spent ten hours writing a manifesto that I hope you'll never see but that I equally hope I have the courage to live by in the year ahead.

Oh and hang on, I did about seventy performances over five months in fourteen different cities all around the UK and Europe, in my first ever professional acting role for someone else, in one of the most acclaimed and talked-about plays of the year. (It was The Author, if you're new here. Welcome!)

"It didn't feel like a quiet year," I said, and attempted a little chuckle.

So, look, this rant-alogue is not designed to induce marvelling or excite pity (or terror). It's OK: Muttley doesn't want a medal. (Unless it's got chocolate on the inside.) It's just there to help frame the post that follows. This late-December's retrospective musings have felt rather different than in previous years: the question that a couple of previous recent posts have touched on remains in the front of my mind: namely (mutatis mutandis): What did you do in the war, Daddy?

My friend's observation threw me a little because, although we're not terrifically close, he's someone who I think of as an ally and someone who works professionally in theatre, and as such he's a hundred thousand times more engaged with my work than, y'know, almost everyone else who's currently alive. And yet I and the two dozen other people who genuinely believe that theatre can change the world, continue genuinely to believe that theatre can change the world. Believe, in fact -- and at this point, saying two dozen others may be a bit of an overestimate -- not only that theatre can change the world, but that it is already doing so, and that it is better placed to do so than almost any other medium or enterprise that doesn't depend on huge amounts of cash. This minority-of-a-minority view must surely be wretchedly delusional, hopelessly self-regarding, possibly actually harmful to its cause...?

Well so here are three moments from this year that I think I won't forget, and which will perhaps appear initially not to add up to much that's pertinent to this question of usefulness but which I nonetheless want to call as witnesses.

One which I wrote about already, in my festival diary post for August 7th. A Saturday morning, sitting around the kitchen table of a beautiful house in Edinburgh, with the directors and cast of The Author. Every day we 'check in' like this -- it's one of the most valuable things I've been exposed to this year. Everybody speaks: not necessarily at length, not necessarily with great profundity. We just talk a bit about how we're doing, about what's on our minds, what's been present in our hearts and thoughts since we last sat down together. You get to hear from everybody, and they get to hear from you. It's a fantastic lesson in how direly we normally treat the question "How are you?", both in asking and in answering it; how meagre are our expectations for the feasible scope of what follows. In the practice that Karl James and a smith have developed, "How are you?" re-emerges as a radical question, a revolutionary touchpaper. More than once over the course of the rehearsal period and the early shows, when we were checking in daily with this level of care, I would find myself on the edge of tears, expressing things that I hadn't even realised I was feeling, or which were so current and unprocessed for me that I wouldn't have been able to speak about them had there been any expectation of neatness or certainty.

This one morning, what I found myself wanting to talk about was feeling lucky. Fortunate, privileged, I'm not sure exactly what. Lucky. To have had the opportunities to work hard enough, and take enough risks with myself, to be able to exist, year after year, as someone whose central life commitment is to making art, making theatre above all. To have been given the space and the self-belief (however shaky) to make that commitment even slightly plausible. To be in that position (and at the start of four months of a decent regular income) when people I loved -- on that morning, I was thinking particularly of Jonny, who had just started a punishingly hard labouring job for less than minimum wage -- were enduring so much, just to get by: people every bit as creative as me, and every bit as deserving of the same opportunities. Of course, there's more of that story to tell -- when I was Jonny's age, after all, I was selling life insurance over the phone in a call centre for five quid an hour, and struggling to find my feet in London, and making far less art work than Jonny's managing, and surely that's the arc of the journey for lots of us -- but the sense of privilege was nonetheless very strong that morning, as I sat in a sunlit kitchen with some of the bravest and most beautiful people I know, and with the double good fortune that the answer to the obvious question -- Q: What am I going to do with this privileged position I've been given for a while? -- A: I'm going to do The Author -- was right at hand and, to my mind, so sufficient in itself.

That feeling of being moved to the brink of tears in considering the shape of my relationships with others immediately links me to the next moment I want to recall: from not much more than a fortnight ago, seeing Sam Amidon at Cafe Oto. It was an amazing gig, one of the most moving and extraordinary I've ever been to: partly because I've spent so much of the past couple of years engaging really closely with Amidon's work and it was kind of overwhelming to be standing, in a packed room (and a space that I think is truly lovely anyway), so near to him at times that I could have touched him -- one of my friends did, actually, by way of congratulation after the set was over, and I wondered at the degree of awe I was feeling that meant I could no more follow suit in that moment than if Sam had been in space. I find him so beautiful, as an artist and as a person, as a presence in front of a roomful of people, that I can hardly stand it. Afterwards, standing outside in the bitter cold, I leaned up against Jonny for a minute or more, not able to speak, just wanting to be in contact with someone. I felt extremely moved above all by Amidon's lack of guardedness as a performer, which is something it's hard to describe, you sort of have to experience it I guess -- it's a kind of charisma, a kind of radiance, a real feeling of openness, but it signals over and above all those things, I suppose because it feels like an extension of the ethical (and in his case maybe spiritual) positions that his work occupies: I don't know but I'd guess he places himself in relation to music in quite similar ways that I place myself in relation to theatre. He reminded me very much of what Utah Phillips used to say Ammon Hennacy told him about pacifism:

"You came into the world armed to the teeth. With an arsenal of weapons, weapons of privilege, economic privilege, sexual privilege, racial privilege. You want to be a pacifist, you're not just going to have to give up guns, knives, clubs, hard angry words, you are going to have lay down the weapons of privilege and go into the world completely disarmed."

I've very seldom seen anyone stand in front of an audience as disarmed as Sam Amidon -- though it will certainly be what defines the central performance when I do Hamlet with Paul Dano (if you wouldn't mind mentioning it to him when you see him, as he may not currently be aware that I'm planning it...) -- and trying to talk about it really choked me up.

But I was already kind of in that place because of an experience I'd had right at the end of Sam's set. He does this very sweet (and sweetly improbable) cover of R. Kelly's song "Relief" -- here it is on his current album:

So the chorus of the song begins: "What a relief to know that we are one / What a relief to know that the war is over": and this is the cue for a singalong with the audience, and, man, we're there, we're ready, we'd probably join in singing multiplication tables for the rest of the evening if Sam asked us to. The room is packed and hot and the light is beautiful, the music is quiet so despite there being so many people there the singing is lullaby-soft, and to sing "What a relief to know that we are one" along with them gives me goosebumps. But there's no gap before the second line, and I feel like I really don't want to sing "the war is over", because, as Amidon himself comments during this live performance in Dublin, "that's the part that's not true"; but also I do want to sing it because I don't want to not be singing it while everyone else is singing it, and because I suppose I can make it stand in for the John & Yoko sentiment that "war is over if you want it", a pop slogan which I'm more used to feeling able to subscribe to, not least because it has the unusual virtue of being at some level more or less true (though I've always thought it could use the addition of the word "enough" -- "if you want it enough"). So I think I'll sing it, whatever, it doesn't matter; but when I get to it, I can't. A little strangled croak comes out, I can feel my throat tighten in that trying-not-to-cry way, and for the rest of the song, when that line comes around, I simply let it go past, like someone else's suitcase at baggage reclaim. I couldn't lend my voice to it, even though there can't have been anybody in the room singing those words under the impression that they were somehow a true reflection of anyone's reality anywhere on the planet. (Thinking of that gorgeous scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan where Fozzie Bear, who's having a crack at going back to nature, sits with his teddy, surrounded by hibernating feral bears, and, unable to sleep, he marvels at his comrades: "How do they do it?") So much of the past few weeks has been taken up with questions -- urgent, searching, deeply uncomfortable questions -- about what solidarity (or #solidarity) means, and that upsetting jolt between line one and line two of an R. Kelly song, the experience of careering straight from singing and feeling "we are one" into an instant of such complex fragmentation, at least seems to refer to those questions, even if it doesn't (yet) indicate an answer; maybe the question, rather than the answer, is where the information is anyway.

For the third moment I want to mention -- actually a pair of connected moments -- you'll feel the elevator lurch upward, as we find ourselves suddenly in the world of high art. I've said it to people before, in fact no doubt I've said it here before at some time or another: if I were to make a list of my top ten films, or at least if I were to make such a list under the influence of some kind of truth serum, I'm certain that more than a couple would be porn. By and large we still disdain to take pornography seriously as a meaningful cultural production, and often those who do take it seriously do so only because they want to argue that it's harmful, inherently violent, etc. I disagree with that analysis -- I don't disagree that there is harmful and (regressively) violent porn, but I think I've learned a huge amount through trying to think seriously about the difference is between good porn and bad porn, and about what might be bad about good porn and good about bad porn; there's a great deal of stuff that I've found not only (or not even) arousing but also moving, provocative, inspiring, inventive, critically alert, politically astute, artistically ambitious and -- often -- highly self-aware. I've thought hard about the moral and ethical and political arguments that are levelled against porn, and of course I've thought in particular about where feminist critiques of pornography connect with gay male erotica, which is what I mostly -- though not exclusively -- watch. At the very least I'd always want to assert that not all pornography is the same, any more than all Hollywood film is the same or all body-based live art is the same, and that to think about it categorically is to underestimate the extent to which its relation with its users is performative at the point of reception, and to that extent highly susceptible to contingency and contextual detail both at an individual/personal and a sociocultural level. In that light, over the past two or three years I've found it particularly instructive to consider the ways in which online structures and channels for the distribution of pornography have opened up so many spaces, both established and fugitive, in which, without obvious coercion and generally without commercial incentive, people are able to create images of themselves that connect them with the syntagma of pornography and may help to enlarge and further potentiate that language. The sexual imaginary as it appears in those cultural locations is now in far higher resolution than the gross and ever-more preposterous caricatures of erotic identification that circulate in the broadcast and print media at the service of market imperatives.

Which takes us -- come with me, will you? (You don't have to if you don't want to -- just skip the next couple of paragraphs...) -- to a video which during the course of this year has been kicking around some of the gay versions of YouTube, such as (in this case) Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: 'Hot French Boy Does Amasing Streeptease' [sic]. (Handle with care, folks: he does a lot more than just streep, bless him; by about 3 min 20 he's doing something with a Chupa Chup which I presume the originators of Chupa Chups did not have in mind for their almost-fruity lollipops. I cannot imagine that an official sponsorship deal has been arranged, though if this really is a viral ad, I should think it's done the trick. I mean, talk about product placement. Boom tish.)

I can't remember what hotel room I was in now, where in the world we were, which is a pleasingly rockstar-like circumstance from which to launch this inquiry. But I do remember following the link, from a blog I really like, to our French pal, and finding him exceedingly Hot and his streeping indeed Amasing, but the wi-fi at the hotel not being quite up to the job, meaning we made slow progress together -- not always a bad thing, of course. As I waited for the next few-second instalment to buffer, I wondered whether this video really was what it purported to be -- this homemade stuff, solo or otherwise, is so popular now, with its badly framed images and the weird shapes its subjects sometimes have to throw, that some commercial studios seem to be starting to mimic it. (The different camera positions in this one suggest at least an unusual level of sophistication and attentiveness for a regular amateur, though it's not impossible. The Kylie soundtrack marks it out too I guess.) I wondered whether it mattered, ultimately, though the notion that this really was just a young guy alone in his bedroom performing for love rather than money was clearly in lots of ways more satisfactory. In any case I thought about the confidence that the young men who do this (in their thousands, everywhere) seem to have, in their bodies, as performers, as sexually self-identifying individuals, turned out towards a kind of community; and how the web has enabled them to see each other in places and modes of behaviour that still signal at least partly as private, to learn from each other, to share themselves, not for profit or fame, but for the pleasure of sharing, wanting to be seen. Just as we (that's "we") still tend to consider viewing pornography as an essentially furtive act, we're inclined also to rush to denigrate the work these boys make as "exhibitionism": and I suppose if that's what we want to say it is, then fair enough. Lord knows I've learned enough over the years from attending exhibitions.

(Do I feel differently about young women making videos like that in a heterosexual context? Yes, on the whole. But again, I wouldn't trust any categorical pronouncement on the topic.)

Some time after making the remote acquaintance of my (and perhaps now your) Hot Amasing comrade, I found myself sitting on the floor of a small dark room on the second floor of the Museu Colecçãu Berardo at the CCB in Lisbon, watching José Maçãs Carvalho's video piece 'Striptease as Textuality' in the fascinating exhibition A Culpa Não É Minha. Carvalho's piece shows a woman performing a (by comparison with Hot French Boy) rather prosaic striptease -- maybe not even that, maybe just undressing -- while an English text is spoken in voiceover to accompany the image; the same text then appears projected in English and spoken in Portuguese:

And so I was reminded of that earlier halting striptease by a line in that text: "it is the delay in the stripping that makes it exciting". And as I watched the piece loop around a few times I started to relate the French boy's video, and all those thousands of similar videos being posted online all the time, to the thesis of 'Striptease as Textuality': that, because it precludes actual physical touch, the logic of striptease is of a series of essentially unsatisfying revelations, each of which serves only to precede the next; there is in its grammar no final target, just a dead-end vertiginous staring into an unknowable mystery. I wasn't quite sure: there was definitely something in that, but it didn't seem to describe my experience online. Partly of course that was because the French guy went so much further than stripping, entering the adjacent logic sequence of the jerk-off video, whose ending is both more clearcut and, implicitly, more inviting of participation (of a sort).

Still, there was that final thought in the text, suggesting that in the (non)-culminating standoff at the end of the line of stripping, "we are returned to the mystery of our own origins. Just so in reading or listening." [italics in the original] This seemed to come rather abruptly out of nowhere, and appeared to endorse my suspicion that, though its source wasn't cited anywhere, this text was extracted from a longer passage. Wondering who the thinker behind it all might be, I ran through the mental list of usual suspects, but nothing would ever have suggested to me its actual author: sitting there in that Lisbon gallery I'd been listening to the words of David Lodge. In fact to be absolutely exact I'd been listening to the words of Lodge's fictional American academic Morris Zapp, in the novel Small World: and Zapp is using the striptease customer as an analogue for the reader in pursuit of meaning:

The attempt to peer into the very core of a text, to possess once and for all its meaning, is vain -- it is only ourselves that we find there, not the work itself. [. . .] To read is to surrender oneself to an endless displacement of curiosity and desire from one sentence to another, from one action to another, from one level of the text to another. The text unveils itself before us, but never allows itself to be possessed; and instead of striving to possess it we should take pleasure in its teasing.

So: this would seem to support very encouragingly my remark about pornography as a performance, with all the contingencies of performance. By 'this', I don't mean Lodge's / Zapp's description of critical reading, which may ring more or less true, or not, and may appeal, or not; no, I mean the fact that the metaphorical coupling of reading and striptease, as I encounter it in Carvalho's work (itself dating from 2001), emerges, a trifle bizarrely, out of an English campus novel of the mid 1980s. What reading means now, 26 years later at the end of 2010, feels very different (the very idea of reading as the pursuit of pleasure, or at least reading as a game, seems parlously insufficient); and what striptease means now, compared with what it meant in pre-internet 1984 when Lodge published Small World, is certainly wildly different. Perhaps, though, it could be said that those shifts are at least parallel, that reading now is to watching striptease now as reading then was to watching striptease then. That we are now more than ever in search of usable information, not the (literally) dubious pleasures of the po-mo game; that we read for the gesture behind the surface, the desire behind the sign; that what we crave is contact with others, and that some meaningful, informative contact is possible even in the remoteness of cyberspace. ("This article," wrote Rene Ricard in his seminal 1981 essay 'The Radiant Child' -- though he might as well have been saying it about this article -- "is about work that is information, not work that is about information.") What we doubt, what we distrust, is the indirect. I trust other people when we are able to contact each other directly; I distrust the intervention of the organization, the institution, the machine, I distrust the influence of money, the interests of old media. When I watch my French hero (who knows if he's even French, of course?) so expertly and generously performing his striptease -- and the rest -- I read his body, I read his arousal, and I trust them, partly because I see some version of my own body and my own arousal reflected in his generosity, in his leap of faith. I see the image, but I also see the desire behind the image, and I do not think it is only cynical. I am not in the grip of a fantasy, I understand what this is, this mediated transaction; but when watching him come makes me come (like I'd last that long, ha ha), it is a correspondence that has some meaning -- and not only, I think, for me, though obviously only specifically for me -- in exactly the way that I can be personally intimately moved and altered by a poem that addresses me as "you", even though I know the poet wasn't thinking of me specifically at the time he wrote it. "Now and with the least hurt, this / is for you.", writes J.H. Prynne at the end of 'Against Hurt', and my understanding of myself as that "you" is not just unimpeded by, but is of course actually inspired and enlarged by, how complicated, in the context of the poem, that "you" is: almost as complicated as I can't help thinking "I" myself am.

So, those are the three-ish moments I'm dwelling on as the minutes of the year tick away: and I'm struck by the places where they happen. They happen in small rooms (really or conceptually or both), in relation to small numbers of people. Around a kitchen table where someone is asking "How are you?" and I will be heard when I in my turn actually say how I actually am. In a small concert venue with a lot of other people, phasing in and out of unison with them and wondering whether that's also phasing in and out of solidarity or whether it's the careful maintenance of solidarity; in a small concert venue with an artist whom I can't bring myself to touch, but by whom I am deeply touched; outside the venue, leaning my body against my friend, not having to speak. Sitting in a darkened gallery room on my own, constantly shifting in relation to an artwork that intrigues and delights and bothers me. Feeling an intense erotic connection with a beautiful stranger I will never meet, but who knows that I'm there like a poet knows I'm there, and is signalling to me in an exemplary exhibition of courage and grace and giving-stuff-away and a defiantly queer refusal of the ideology of privacy.

I've sat in some very big rooms this year and watched people grappling there with enormities and (sometimes) banalities: David Hare at the National, Slavoj Zizek at the RFH, Laurie Anderson at the Barbican, Miroslaw Balka at Tate Modern... And I got a lot out of all those experiences. But what changed me, what changed the things I can imagine doing when I get up tomorrow, were encounters in small rooms. A chat with Karl James. Kieran Hurley's Hitch. Richard Youngs at Oto, singing a cappella. Jonny Liron and Andrew Oliveira standing naked together at the Sit Room. Listening to a draft of a smith's new show on my iPod. Cork Shape Note Singers. Lunch at Whitechapel with Andy Field. Jo Clifford happening to sit down next to me at the Traverse. A B&B bedroom with Godard's Film Socialisme on my laptop. Laughing in the car with Boz and Claire. A little room with a snow-covered floor in the company of Jimmy Stewart. John Cage at Kettle's Yard, John Cage on YouTube, John Cage in the book I'm reading, John Cage at #21 in the Top 40. John Hall and Peter Hughes's Inscriptions at SoundEye. Holding Francesca Lisette's As The Rushes Were in my hands. An afternoon with Mervyn Millar, just playing around with stuff. Watching the otters at the Oceanarium. Oh, my word, the otters.

Of course if those things and those things alone changed the world as much as they change me, we wouldn't be starting from here. But it's worth bearing in mind what I think marketers call 'effective rate'. It's not how many people you reach in one go that matters, necessarily: it's how many people you can move -- and be moved by; change, and be changed by. If I have two really honest face-to-face conversations tomorrow, and two people -- no, three people: I was there too -- go away thinking about something in a way they haven't thought about before, such that each of them go off and have new conversations with other people the next day, it's conceivable that I've had a higher effective rate than, say, that night's episode of Hollyoaks. That's how it happens, right? ...No, maybe not, but there's something there. Don't you think?

Theatre, like reading, like striptease, doesn't mean the same thing this year that it did ten years ago and it won't mean the same next year either. To each according to his need, innit. What I most want to see us doing in the coming months is creating testimonial space. The space in which it's possible to speak, possible to be heard. Possible to really say how you really are when you're asked. The most powerful-feeling idea I'm carrying around in my head at the moment -- seeded, as so much has been this year, by John Holloway's essential Crack Capitalism -- is that everyone already knows. It's not that we, the enlightened vanguard, have to convince people that the ways in which we're presently compelled to live are violent, unjust and unsustainable. People know that, they're not stupid. They just don't have access to any kind of space in which it's OK to know it. It's a scary thing to know, to know that you know; like a scream you can't let out for fear of giving away your presence to the intruder in your house. The implications of facing up to that knowledge are terrifying. For us too, of course: we're not immune to that fear. Where do we go to begin to peek through the gaps between our fingers? Where do we go where we can lay down our arms? How do we learn to see each other, and be seen for who we really are? Where do we fucking get to work, in the knowledge that these are not rhetorical questions?

What would it feel like to not be afraid any more?

We've talked a lot in the past few years, in the upstream theatre world, about creating safe space, about the vital importance of having a safe space in which to fail; we've talked about different kinds of risk, about helping audiences to take risks, helping ourselves to take risks. In some ways I've sympathized with this rhetoric, in other ways I've been frustrated by it. I've certainly been frustrated by what it's too often ended up meaning: comfort blanket processes for risk-averse producers, money-back guarantees for audiences, a lack of critical rigour on all sides, a mistrust of the ambitious and the visionary. 

But maybe it's time to refresh our relationship with that language, with the good and careful aspirations from which those ideas arise. It seems likely that 2011 will be a year in which a lot of people desperately need a safe space. In which a lot of people feel like they're experiencing failure -- what may feel like their own failure, but is no more or less than the failure of a cruel and bogus system in which their whole life's work is invested. A year in which a lot of people might need help dealing with the frightening levels of risk in their lives. And in which a lot of people, maybe more than we can possibly know, might welcome a space in which to be heard. A kitchen table to sit around; a group to sing along with; kind and beautiful strangers, clothed or unclothed, to connect with. The space to say how you are, and know you're heard; the space to hear others say how they are, and know you can trust what they say. A space in which to testify, with your voice, with your body, with your presence. To begin to peek through the gaps between your fingers. To begin to imagine a life with less fear in it. A safe space in which to fail -- maybe even joyously -- in your allotted task to keep making capitalism, to keep participating in violence, to keep enacting spectacle, to keep agreeing that that's just how it has to be.

A space where putting a lollipop up your bottom will earn you nothing but respect and admiration.

Interesting that José Maçãs Carvalho slightly modifies the words of Morris Zapp. As in watching a stripper, "just so in reading," says Zapp. "Or listening," Carvalho adds, diligently italicising his codicil. What's striking about the elision in that manoeuvre is that reading and listening are not necessarily quite the same kind of activity. Reading tends to be targeted on a particular text in any particular moment; attentive listening may have a 'text' of one kind or another, a speaking person, a specific signal we're listening for, but equally it may be about a kind of open engagement with whatever's out there. A kind of leaning forwards, a leaning into the world, to catch it, to catch more of it. What it produces is not the doubtful wonder of "mystery" that for Zapp (and, who knows, perhaps for Lodge) marks the horizon of the narrative of performed undressing, but the informed wonder of identification with the not-yet-known. Perhaps this, ultimately, is the most articulate form of testimony we have at our disposal: not speaking -- with the voice, with the body -- but listening: listening attentively as the world sheds its layers; listening as our social environment gradually takes off the clothes of systematic oppression and finally dares to get naked. Listening as the most active imaginable testimony to our capacity to learn, and to change, and to really be with each other.

The title of this post comes from a wonderful essay from 1971 called 'On A Clear Day You Can See Your Mother', by the lesbian feminist critic Jill Johnston. I picked up a secondhand copy of her collection Admission Accomplished after seeing (on YouTube) her reading a version of the same piece, as her contribution to the now infamous New York 'Theater for Ideas' debate on feminism, presided over by that hairy human dose of ipecac Norman Mailer and recorded for our continued appreciation as the documentary Town Bloody Hall.

You might have seen some of Town Bloody Hall when Nic Green placed it at the core of her brilliant Trilogy, which I caught at the Barbican at the start of this year, and which has remained an inspiration ever since. I've been thinking about it a lot as the ideas I've explored in this post were bumping together in my head over the past few days. Even if you didn't see Trilogy you'll surely have heard about its amazing final sequence, in which Green invited women in the audience to come up onto the stage -- I saw it at the Barbican -- and stand together, naked, en masse, for a rousing, reclaiming performance of 'Jerusalem'. I've been thinking about Trilogy in relation to the signalling of naked bodies (though of course this had not a shred of striptease about it), and the performance of solidarity; in relation to theatre as a safe space for risk-taking; in relation to singing along and not singing along. (I didn't mind the separatism of that final image, because I understood why it was necessary and what I was doing in helping to hold and witness it -- though I understand the spatial separation was less stark in some of the other, smaller venues that the piece toured to, and I do wish I'd seen it elsewhere, partly because the rest of the piece didn't always scale up comfortably to that enormous theatre; but I did struggle with the idea of singing 'Jerusalem', and struggled with that struggle.)

It's odd, though, how quickly any large group of people starts to make me fret. As an image, as a spectacle, to see that many women standing naked together, on their own terms, was unforgettable: but as ever, I wanted to know about the people who weren't in that picture. I wanted to hear from the voices that weren't clothed in the words of 'Jerusalem'. It wasn't that chorus demanding its chariot of fire that has stayed with me in a truly meaningful way (though I'm sure it will have for pretty much everyone who stood inside that image and many who looked on and cheered), as much as the utterly distinctive, renegade voice of Jill Johnston, from earlier in the evening, in a kind of counterpoint with a much smaller group of naked performers. The pieces in Johnston's Admission Accomplished look rather like the birth of a kind of informal queer theory, more than a decade before the earliest writings of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, before even Guy Hocquenghem's pioneering Homosexual Desire. It's a breathless, cartwheeling voice, unparagraphed, undisciplined even: as Johnston says in her introduction: "...I was alternately silly and furious, writerly and inflated, diverting and dogmatic, devil-may-care and paranoid, whimsical and pontifical, cool and megalo -- often at lightning-speed shifts within a single column." Exactly the kind of ardent playfulness that Morris Zapp might advocate: except with Johnston, that playful quality arose not out of there being, finally, no reliable information, but out of there being nothing but information: it was all reliable information: information that looked like that, that took those forms, that demanded to be spoken out, to be given its distinct and authentic voice. After all, she'd started as a dance critic. In a way she always was a dance critic, whatever she happened to be writing. We could all do worse than be dance critics.

Jill Johnston died in September this year, after a stroke, at the age of 81. Along with John Holloway's Crack Capitalism and Guy Hocquenghem's astounding The Screwball Asses, and kind of sitting somewhere between them I suppose, Admission Accomplished has been one of the most important books I've travelled with this year. All three are about movement, about bodies moving, about testimony that moves as quickly as the lives it's trying to describe -- it has to, right?, because otherwise, language is just a drag on the ticket. I mean: wow, we're living through times when Suzanne Moore can get a basically decent and sensible piece about anarchosyndicalism as a set of ideas with real currency published in a national broadsheet. What shall we do? We can choose, in these times, to re-create fixities and continue to slam home our kindness in the face of radical right-wing assault. Or we can choose to move, and build, and knock down, and move again, and rebuild, and never stop moving, and never stop building. Because we know, we do know, you do know, that it's possible to live the lives we need. Our task now is to find a way of imagining those lives without being afraid of our capacity to change, and without fearing the crucial imperative to lay down the weapons of our privilege.

Now, more than ever, theatre is an instrument of escapism. Ecsaping into the real. Escaping at last into real life. We can actually do this in 2011. Tell your friends. Get naked. Testify!

But enough about me. How are you?


The Official Thompson's Furtive 50 of 2010

Hello you! At one point it seemed very unlikely that I'd post this Christmas the now-traditional Furtive 50 listing of my favourite albums of the year. Mostly I suppose because I've been on the road so much, and had so little time away from work projects, I've not been chasing new music in recent months to anything like the degree that I have in previous years. Also, of course, one currently finds more present than ever in the front of the mind a nagging question about the best use of one's time. Could I really justify the rolling-out, in business-as-usual mode, of an exercise that's always so incredibly expensive of time and concentration?

Well, yes and no, was my conclusion: so I'm presenting this year a Furtive 50 Lite, more suitable perhaps for these straitened times. I haven't wanted to get bogged down in it as I customarily do (and always curse myself for doing, sooner or later); on the other hand, the brave new world I'm trying to work for in these turbulent times -- or any of the temporary autonomous zones we might inhabit on the way -- would hopefully contain more exciting music, not less: and I do think one way of accessing brains, for the purposes of a little beneficent rewiring, is through the ears.

The downscaled Furtive 50 therefore contains brief comments on the first ten albums in the list, and then a simple packdrill of the remaining 40. (In recent years, all 50 have had little reviews, and then another 50 albums have been listed as honourable mentions: a ludicrously over-the-top enterprise, really, though I'm sure many regulars will miss it, as have I to a degree.) There's also a playlist of tracks from the top 20 albums followed by an assortment of other particularly notable items from the year, including a fair sprinkling of pleasing cover versions, cos you know how a good cover makes my socks roll up and down.

As always, I'll be pleased to hear your thoughts; and as ever, if there's anything here you like, please consider legitimately purchasing the album in question, as directly as possible from the artist, and in object form if you can. I'm not pro- the music industry machine as such, but I doubt many of the artists represented here make much of a living from what they do, and I reckon we should hope to value them in every way we can.

Buon appetito, team!

* * *

#1 The Books, The Way Out

The Books amaze me, man. Their humane, meticulous art operates at such vertiginously high resolution, it's a wonder they ever release anything at all. This, their fourth album, is the first they've issued since 2005's exquisite Lost and Safe, and when I heard it was on its way after this five year hiatus, my initial reaction was, ooh, I hope they haven't rushed it. How do they do it?! If anything there's an even greater concentration of detail in some of these collages than we've heard previously, the Twombly-like spaciousness that has always characterised their aural fields occasionally giving way to the elaborate, lurid, neurotic busyness of a Lari Pittman or Kenny Scharf (especially on the hurtling luge-ride of 'I Am Who I Am'). These visual-art analogues are not, I think, misplaced: The Books have always been about geometry and spatial relationships, about a rigorous mathematics of patterning, a rectlinear musical language of fifths and picture frames, offset by the melancholic poetry (half-found, half-contrived) of their cut-up tape sources. Here, they're drawing mainly on fragmentary utterances snipped from the output of new age gurus, tele-evangelist types and self-help merchants; this might seem over-explored territory, worn-out even, but it suits The Books quite perfectly, not least in its exhaustion: their constructions have always implied a wry critical engagement with the zones where language and identity fail to endorse each other, where meaning and saying are always performances, and where conscious artifice can be depended upon to reveal the most about who we secretly are and who we yearn to be. Not, by and large, ecstatically received by jaded critics hungry only for whatever's next, The Way Out reminds us that actually we haven't heard this yet, however familiar it may seem at one level; a more careful attention draws out the abundant strangeness of words rewritten slightly out of sync with the structures that would normally locate them, and the remoteness of strangers in their most intimate acts of self-exposure. It's a creepy album at times, uncomfortably close, but for insight and pointedness it's in a class of its own; and as ever with The Books, its intense, often claustrophobic spaces are always ventilated by a benign carefulness, ineffable poise and a dry wit smart enough to make you laugh out loud and gasp with surprise at the same time. No hesitation in calling The Way Out a great work of art.

#2 Sam Amidon, I See The Sign

Three of the very most amazing experiences I've had this year have been in a room with Sam Amidon. I saw him live for the first time in May at Bush Hall, where some minor sound problems led him to abandon his mic altogether at a couple of points and just sing, unamplified, from the front of the stage; and more recently at Cafe Oto, where he was close enough to touch -- though I didn't: I mean how would you ever let go? And then there was the moment earlier in the year when I sat down with this, his third album proper, and played it through from beginning to end, not moving, scarcely breathing. There is no musician I can think of anywhere in the world whom I revere more than Amidon, not yet thirty and as shockingly unguarded in his stage presence as he is dizzyingly accomplished as a singer and multi-instrumentalist. The previous record, All Is Well, was at the top of the Furtive 50 a couple of years ago, and underscored the key sequence in my piece with Jonny Liron, Hey Mathew; so I couldn't have been more excited or more apprehensive in coming to the new album. And, perhaps inevitably after all that, it's a stunner. What really grips is the immense skill with which Amidon finds the material that best suits his voice, with its quiet ardour and its turns alternately towards the raw and the mellifluous. Perhaps the voice is at its best in the live setting, where it searches out the room and its audience so engagingly, almost imploringly; littler and more constrained in the recorded environment, it nestles instead within Nico Muhly's sparklingly clever arrangements, and cosies up to duetting partner Beth Orton, especially on 'You Better Mind'. In the end there is just a trace of politeness about the record, which is not so much wrong as irrelevant (though it sits interestingly alongside the eschatological strain in a couple of the lyrics); the most striking moments are those where that impeccable restraint helps to build pressure, not least on the matchlessly compelling title track and the gorgeously delicate curveball cover of R Kelly's discomfiting 'Relief'. No doubt about it, Sam Amidon is the real thing, realer than we're used to, a musician of rare gifts and uncommon grace.

#3 Tristan Perich, 1-Bit Symphony

Let's begin by reminding ourselves that iTunes is not yet even a decade old. (It reaches its tenth birthday on January 9th, if you want to send a card.) Ten years ago the only music files I had on my hard drive were a handful of tv theme tune clips that sounded as if they were being played on wax cylinder, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. But of all the albums listed in this year's 50, the number that I own in some material form is precisely four: and perhaps the weirdest aspect of this is how quickly and painlessly I've (and, may I venture to say, we've) uncoupled the idea of recorded music from the idea of the object as delivery platform. As someone trying to think hard about non-commodity art practices, I might be expected to revel in the receding importance of the object -- and obviously, as those personal stats suggest, I'm at least seduced by the speed and convenience of the download and the storability of information (after all, I keep the equivalent of upwards of 8000 compact discs in a little grey box on my desk) -- but actually I'm increasingly concerned with questions around preserving the space in which we have a tactile, sensual relationship with manufactured materials. In that context, no album I heard this year was more thrilling and engrossing than Tristan Perich's 1-Bit Symphony. Thrilling partly because I had to send away for it and wait for it to come in the mail; partly because it's a gloriously elegant piece of design; and partly because, strictly speaking, object though it is, it's not actually a recording. 1-Bit Symphony is not a CD, though it comes in a CD case. What you see is a rudimentary-looking electronic circuit, which includes a headphone socket at the side of the case. Plug in, flick the little switch, and you're off: what you suddenly hear burbling torrentially in your ears is, at a stretch at least, a live performance. 1-Bit Symphony is programmed directly onto the microchip that sits in the middle of the circuit: turn it on and the work is 'performed', you might say. One-bit music is the aural equivalent of a monochrome bitmap image and as such it has a certain ugliness: but scaled up to meet Perich's ambition in writing symphonically for it -- and, Lord knows, he's not kidding around -- the mismatch becomes remarkably moving, almost overwhelmingly so, with thick pixellated tonal swarms buzzing in and around your cranium: imagine the Ride of the Valkyries developed as a game for the Sega Mega Drive, scored by Glenn Branca for an orchestra of a hundred stylophones, and you're just beginning to get there. Undeniably an amazing achievement both in concept and execution, in some ways it ought to be a pretty grim experience, and certainly it's gruelling, but for long stretches it's also like plugging your headphones directly into the national grid on Mardi Gras: fascinating, oddly emotive, and bursting with life.

#4 The Soft Moon, The Soft Moon

One of the most characteristic sounds of 2010 turns out to have been what, in relation to vinyl LPs and cassette tapes, we used to call 'wow and flutter' -- that slight pitch modulation that indicated a little warp in the plastic or a tiny variation in the turning of the capstan. It's an effect that later artists would aim for on purpose: think of the slow grinding tremolo Kevin Shields deployed on My Bloody Valentine's Loveless -- I still remember a friend coming round to my college room as that album played on cassette, and insisting that my tape machine must be broken or the batteries must be running down. Later still, it became part of the tonal language of electronica artists like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. It's an interesting extension of the idea of noise, or low fidelity, as an index of human authenticity: the failure of the machine, the fallibility of the recorded object, as if digital memory could only finally be trusted if it could be made to sound as hazy and inefficient as its organic equivalent. It's an element in several albums I'm listing this year (especially on Twin Shadow's brilliant track 'When We're Dancing'), where it seems to speak to a nostalgia for the vulnerability of vinyl or tape, the wounded-animal imperfections that help make pop music crucially lifesize, and that enable a near-holy communion between the stranded individual in her suburban bedroom and the recorded artefact that ventriloquizes her doubts and submerged desires. What's important about The Soft Moon (actually a solo project by San Fransisco musician Luis Vasquez) is that it seems not to simulate, with a fan's affection, the wow-and-flutter post-punk of Joy Division or early Cure or the stark electro-dramas of The Normal, but simply to pick it up and extend it into a contemporary era where the austerity and desperate alienation of the late 70s are starting to bite again but the scattergun nihilism of punk won't provide for the requisite critical response. Track titles such as 'Dead Love' and 'Sewer Sickness' suggest the mood of this extraordinarily compelling album, but what really makes it work is the precision and tautness and energy of these songs, their resounding hollowness. The propulsion and wavering dissonance of 'Tiny Spiders' and the exhilaratingly caustic 'We Are We' feels as urgent now as the best of its antecedents did thirty-odd years ago: leaving this listener, at least, with a lasting sense not of bleakness or desolation but rather, actually, of a romantic and visionary project, smartly conceived and startlingly made.

#5 Oneohtrix Point Never, Returnal

Crazy but true: the fifth best album I've heard this year is in large measure slightly disappointing. Or, to put a more positive spin on it: 'Nil Admirari', the first track on Returnal, is probably the most ecstatically beautiful five minutes of abstract recorded sound I've put in my ears since the highest points of Astrobrite's Whitenoise Superstar. It's a hectic and ravishing multiple pile-up of splintering noise, eerily distorted voice channelling devotion or anguish (or nostalgia for the heyday of Digital Hardcore), broken Argos catalogue beats and, right at the back, someone playing the church organ at your dream wedding; it's formidably complex but not so chaotic as to be illegible -- a virtuosic piece of sound organization, which serves partly to remind you how much music (not least capital-N Noise) actually fails as design. It's also completely unlike the remainder of the album, which is much more like the Oneohtrix we know and love: a warm aquarium of analogue synth tones, hardly moving forward at all for the most part but scintillatingly alive with refracted light and sometimes exerting an irresistible undertow. As ever, Daniel Lopatin draws on pretty much the whole history of electronic ambient, with particular redolences here of Klaus Schulze and (perhaps surprisingly) of The Orb at their chilledmost, making it an adaptable record whether you're after a deeply immersive, attentive listen, or simply a comfortable bed for a Sunday afternoon when you're mostly concentrating on something else. It's very lovely indeed -- and a terrific companion piece to the Emeralds album (below): ah, Editions Mego we love you longtime -- but I do hope that that opening squall might be indicative of a direction that Lopatin might be interested to explore further.

#6 These New Puritans, Hidden

Probably more column inches and blog furlongs have been written on this album than almost any other record this year, both avidly pro and implacably anti (and one or two points in between). I still don't know quite where I stand with it, and that in itself suggests to me that this is a genuinely significant and worthwhile piece of work. Certainly it's not what one might have expected after the band's debut Beat Pyramid a couple of years ago, which was jagged and vigorous and kind of fun, albeit in an alarming sort of way. Well, they've retained the jagged for Hidden: but aside from that, boy, it's something completely different. The only record of modern times that I can think of that's in any way comparable is Scott Walker's The Drift, which I hated (as indeed I imagine I may end up hating Hidden, though I doubt it). I think there are two points of correspondence: a strenuous seriousness of purpose that frequently places the band walking that ticklish line between sobriety and sententiousness; and an ambitiousness in terms of the sonic palette employed (here, most prominently, a brass and woodwind section, with rudimentary but effective arrangements by frontman Jack Barnett) that actually, paradoxically, ends up producing a sense of continuity that borders on constraint. (Oh, bassoon, again?) Also, 
like The Drift, it's astonishingly well recorded. But crucially, unlike the Walker album, it doesn't end up being only about itself and its insulation as a quasi-fictional space; on the contrary, it sounds like a bleeding-edge dispatch from a contemporary world that's still coming into formation. Its musical referents, particularly its pivotal fixation on the modality of the minor second, speak to a culture of aggressive globalisation (and to a resistance to that culture) and to a diachronicity that seems discriminating and argumentative, even if it's not always clear what exactly its argument is; the postmodern supermarket has been blown to smithereens and These New Puritans come across like a whole tribe picking through the wreckage, a Lord of the Flies choir stranded in Dalston Kingsland Shopping Centre. For a group who initially seemed like they might be not much more than a superior pack of art-school scamps, they've seriously stepped up to the plate here. Hidden welcomes careful listeners.

#7 Four Tet, There Is Love In You

Kieran Hebden has never been less than interesting, but he's only intermittently made work that's approached greatness; not counting some of the output from his collaborative duo with the awesome Steve Reid, you'd probably have to look back to Rounds (2003) for an album that really, yknow, slipped the surly bonds of Earth and touched the face of God. (It's not too much to ask, is it?) But this release from the beginning of the year is unmistakeably the work of a master, not just in glimpses but without a moment's lapse. Considered as a whole set it's probably the most straightforward material we've had from Four Tet: it's luminous in its clarity, undistracted, artful but not attention-seeking. There Is Love In You eloquently speaks in a solar-powered, ozone-infused language of blips and tinkliness, spinning intricate webs that seem to entangle tiny fragments of female vocals, and secured by perky, fresh-sounding three-dimensional beats. Dance refuseniks (*raises hand, malcoordinatedly*) will have fun: it makes bits of your body move, more-or-less intelligently, whether you like it or not, but it never really threatens to drag you out of your seat. That said, Hebden is superb at shaping the ride of a track, to the extent that the structures of some of these cuts may exert some emotional traction and you could easily never know why. No record this year does more to make the naked golden pleasures of naked golden pleasurefulness seem as though they might, after all, be enough.

#8 Tobacco, Maniac Meat

As reliably, it now seems, as the Trumpton clock -- never too quickly, never too slowly -- Anticon somehow manages to continue to tell the time of that intriguing parallel future love paradise that Seal will only ever visit during bouts of food poisoning. Presumably they must on occasion put out a record that feels irrelevant: but shucks, I've never heard one. This year brought as beautifully blighted a crop as ever: Dosh's restlessly inventive (if slightly overstuffed) Tommy, and Cerulean, the decidedly odd but truly scrumptious debut from Baths, as well as Josiah Wolf's sublime Jet Lag (listed below). My pick of the bunch though is Maniac Meat, the second album from Tobacco. Tobacco equals Tom Fec equals one-fifth (but the biggest fifth) of Black Moth Super Rainbow: and fans of that band's perfumed wooziness -- like a 70s Flake commercial finally tipping over into the drug-saturated orgy it's been primly pretending not to notice it's inciting -- will recognize almost everything about Maniac Meat except its harum scarum drive. Where the smokiness of BMSR is a languid purple haze, Tobacco belches the yellow sulphurous smog of the knackered exhaust on Satan's very own second-hand Firebird Trans-Am. I think it's fair to say that no animal was unharmed in the making of this picture: nothing makes it to disc without being passed through Fec's arsenal of marmalizatrons, from the self-obliterating vocals to a bank of analogue synths that sound like a kitchen full of souped-up food processors and handheld vacuum cleaners absent-mindedly humming imaginary ringtones. Even special guest Beck emerges from these wreckages sounding bloodied and a little cut-up. And yet the effect as it hits your ear is perfectly agreeable, even cheerful, full of confidence and swagger: chaps, this is a very sexy record, and you'd be advised to let it have its filthy-dirty way with you, safe in the knowledge that in the morning, neither of you will remember a damn thing.

#9 Chris Burn / Philip Thomas / Simon H. Fell, The Middle Distance

Hard to imagine the Furtive 50 that didn't have a Simon Fell record hovering somewhere in its loftier echelons: hard to imagine and foolish to try. In another superb year for Simon Reynell's enterprising and imaginative Another Timbre label, any one of at least half a dozen discs could fairly have been included in this list -- and in addition to the Cornford/Rogers album below I should also at least mention by name Angharad Davies and Axel Dörner's very fine AD (possibly the record least like Huey Lewis & the News's Fore ever to be released) -- but in the end the name in the gold envelope is The Middle Distance, from the label's clutch of piano-centric releases at the top of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, on your left you will hear the dependably brilliant Chris Burn, who has long been a crucial figure in the landscape in which I attempt to orient myself (I'll give you a clue, it looks a bit like the cover of the album); to your right, Philip Thomas, whose work I know less well, something I'll obviously have to rectify. Thomas's piano is flagged as "prepared" but Burn's close and not-unboffiny attention to techniques of extension and modification in improvisation means neither of them exactly brings the plangent tones of a Richard Clayderman to proceedings. Fell, at the centre of the sound image but seldom one to 'hold' a centre in the anchoring way you might associate with improvising bassists (unless you can get anchors with helium in), is as acutely mobile and suggestive as ever. What the trio describes is an abstract field teeming with life, even at its most reverberantly quiet; full of micro-encounters and blink-sized incidents, so carefully planned in the moment of their execution and so imaginatively heard in the same moment by the three musicians that you might understandably over-credit serendipity for the incredible effects of these intelligences at work. A record I can't imagine ever becoming familiar: quite possibly the reverse.

#10 Keith Fullerton Whitman, Generator

Now here's a name that I didn't know at the start of 2010 but which seems to have popped up in all kinds of places with almost alarming frequency over the past few months. Whitman's most lauded work of the past year is probably his fascinating and virtuosic Disingenuity but it was the earlier Generator that really made my cochleas do happy twinges. I'm afraid I'm not enough of a tech-head to really appreciate what's going on procedurally in these recordings: as I understand it, though, the seven tracks (ranging in duration from ninety seconds to 23 minutes) are essentially untreated, improvisatory performances with analogue synths, where multiple signals are sent to the instrument(s) in parallel and the music arises out of the sorting and processing of those signals, and Whitman's live shaping of the output. I've no idea how revolutionary this is as a method -- the proper synthy fanboys seem highly excited by it -- but the results certainly sound exceedingly lovely: layers of arpeggiation creating some captivating patterns of interference which some reviewers have likened to the effects of op art. There's a clarity to these pieces which is very attractive and refreshing, and a fecundity to the best of them (particularly the astounding "Generator 2", which, if it really is being created extempore, strikes this layperson as a very remarkably achieved feat) that seems to unite all the best virtues of minimal electronica and maximalist tendencies in IDM. What could easily be austere is entirely accessible, but it's driven by an integrity and an experimentalism that appear wholly uncompromised. Generator is likeable and admirable in just about every way.

And the remaining 40:

#11 Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz; #12 Henry Threadgill Zooid, This Brings Us To (Volume II); #13 Owen Pallett, Heartland; #14 Emeralds, Does It Look Like I'm Here?; #15 The Burns Unit, Side Show; #16 Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; #17 Jónsi, Go; #18 Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma; #19 Twin Shadow, Forget; #20 Les Savy Fav, Root For Ruin

#21 So Percussion / Matmos, Treasure State; #22 Kelley Stoltz, To Dreamers; #23 Oval, Oh; #24 I Am Kloot, Sky At Night; #25 Taylor Deupree, Shoals; #26 Paul Dunmall / Chris Corsano, Identical Sunsets; #27 Tinashé, Saved; #28 Norma Winstone, Stories Yet To Tell; #29 Yellow Swans, Going Places; #30 The Daredevil Christopher Wright, In Deference to a Broken Back

#31 Teebs, Ardour; #32 Midlake, The Courage of Others; #33 Perfume Genius, Learning; #34 Yeasayer, Odd Blood; #35 Caribou, Swim; #36 Gil Scott-Heron, I'm New Here; #37 Beach House, Teen Dream; #38 Kate Rusby, Make the Light; #39 Josiah Wolf, Jet Lag; #40 M.I.A., MAYA

#41 Grace Petrie, Tell Me A Story; #42 Laurie Anderson, Homeland; #43 Toro y Moi, Causers of This; #44 Sky Sailing, An Airplane Carried Me To Bed; #45 The National, High Violet; #46 Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty; #47 Violens, Amoral; #48 Stephen Cornford / Samuel Rodgers, Turned Moment, Weighting; #49 Konono N° 1, Assume Crash Position; #50 Diskjokke, En Fin Tid 

And here's some listening matter:

Track listing:

1 The Books: 'I Am Who I Am' from The Way Out (Temporary Residence)
2 Sam Amidon: 'I See The Sign' from I See The Sign (Bedroom Community)
3 Tristan Perich: 'Movement 1' from 1-Bit Symphony (Cantaloupe)
4 The Soft Moon: 'We Are We' from The Soft Moon (Captured Tracks)
5 Oneohtrix Point Never: 'Nil Admirari' from Returnal (Editions Mego)
6 These New Puritans: 'Hologram' from Hidden (Angular Recording Corporation)
7 Four Tet: 'Angel Echoes' from There Is Love In You (Domino)
8 Tobacco: 'Lick the Witch' from Maniac Meat (anticon.)
9 Chris Burn / Philip Thomas / Simon H. Fell: 'Looking Ahead Seeing Nothing' [extract] from The Middle Distance (Another Timbre)
10 Keith Fullerton Whitman: 'Generator 1' from Generator (Root Strata)
11 Sufjan Stevens: 'Get Real Get Right' from The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
12 Henry Threadgill Zooid: 'It Never Moved' from This Brings Us To, vol. II (Pi Recordings)
13 Owen Pallett: 'Keep the Dog Quiet' from Heartland (Domino)
14 Emeralds: 'Shade' from Does It Look Like I'm Here? (Editions Mego)
15 The Burns Unit: 'Trouble' from Side Show (Proper Records)
16 Kanye West: 'Dark Fantasy' from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella)
17 Jónsi: 'Sinking Friendships' from Go (XL Recordings)
18 Flying Lotus: 'Zodiac Shit' from Cosmogramma (Warp)
19 Twin Shadow: 'When We're Dancing' from Forget (4AD)
20 Les Savy Fav: 'Dirty Knails' from Root for Ruin (Wichita)
21 The Daredevil Christopher Wright: 'Hospital' from In Deference to a Broken Back (Amble Down)
22 Jim O'Rourke feat. Haruomi Hosono: 'Close To You' from All Kinds of People Love Burt Bacharach (AWDR)
23 Junip: 'Always' from Fields (City Slang)
24 So Percussion / Matmos: 'Treasure' from Treasure State (Cantaloupe)
25 Paul Dunmall / Chris Corsano: 'Identical Sunsets' from Identical Sunsets (ESP Disk)
26 Elbow: 'Mercy Street' from Mirrorball/Mercy Street [single] (RealWorld)
27 Scoutt Niblett: 'Strip Me Pluto' from The Calcination of Scout Niblett (Drag City)
28 Caribou: 'Kaili' from Swim (City Slang)
29 Shamantis / Justin Bieber: 'U Smile (800% Slower Version)' [extract] (via Soundcloud)
30 Gayngs: 'Cry' from Relayted (Jagjaguwar)
31 Take That: 'What Do You Want From Me?' from Progress (Polydor)
32 Tony Bevan / Dominic Lash / Phil Marks / Paul Obermayer: 'Box of Frogs' from A Big Hand (Foghorn)
33 Kelley Stoltz: 'Rock and Roll With Me' from To Dreamers (Sub Pop)
34 Miniature Tigers: 'Mamma Mia' from Truffles (Modern Art)
35 Seafieldroad: 'Fucking Manchester' from There Are No Maps For This Part Of The City (Biphonic)
36 I Am Oak: 'O-ku Monogatari' from Sou Ka (Rainboot)
37 Beck: 'Need You Tonight' from Kick (via Record Club)
38 Norma Winstone: 'Sisyphus' from Stories Yet To Tell (ECM)
39 Wyatt, Atzmon, Stephen: 'What A Wonderful World' from For The Ghosts Within (Domino)
40 Sam Amidon: 'Walking On Sunshine' from Sun Salute: A Tribute to Katrina and the Waves (Brooklyn Vegan)

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