Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 1. onDeadWaves ‘On Dead Waves’

“Posesses a stripped-back, nascent, haunted bluesy quality, which is both arresting and intriguing by equal measure.” – Clash

I would love to say that identifying my favourite album of 2016 was a trial so painful I almost gave up the whole notion of doing this, but that would be a complete lie. I always knew this one would be it, pretty much from the moment I heard it.

onDeadWaves is a powerful collaboration between Mute stalwarts Polly Scattergood and James ‘Maps’ Chapman. They first performed together at the Short Circuit festival back in 2011 and finally put this album together for release this year. As I noted in my review for Clash, the concept of two singers coming together when their lyrics are usually so uniformly downbeat is, at least on paper, a terrifying prospect. But it’s not like that in reality.

This is an album that is borderline profound, completely moving and inventive at every turn, full of mesmerising fragility and cavernous emotional depth, daubed with an oblique Americana; an album that makes you appreciate music slightly differently after its played with your emotions so effortlessly; a music delivered with an intimacy that feels like eavesdropping on private musings.

My review for Clash can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 2. NZCA Lines ‘Infinite Summer’

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“An album chock-full of juxtapositions and deft emotional manipulations, held effortlessly together by Michael Lovett’s soulboy vocals.” – Electronic Sound

NZCA Lines were another band that I fell in love with as soon as I heard their new LP this year, and totally kicked myself for not having heard of them until the occasion of their second album, Infinite Summer. Michael Lovett, the brains behind NZCA Lines, has appeared on Metronomy’s albums and helped Christine & The Queens on the outstanding Chaleur Humaine. His is a prodigious talent, effortlessly creating addictive pop music with the same artsiness that made Chaleur Humaine a great example of the thinking listener’s electronica.

I wrote about NZCA Lines for Electronic Sound. Back issues of Electronic Sound can be found at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 3. LNZNDRF ‘LNZNDRF’

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“In thrall to the methods of Can, if not their actual sound.” – Electronic Sound

I heralded the trio of Scott and Bryan Devendorf (from The National) and Bryan Lanz (from Beirut) as my new favourite band upon the release of their self-titled album for 4AD earlier this year. It would the first of three such occasions where I made that claim.

This was a frighteningly inventive LP, formed out of the same sort of long-form improvised jams that Can used nearly fifty years before in the creation of their seminal early records, only then treated and manipulated to take on a relatively ‘composed’ form. The output was a sort of Krautrock / electronic hybrid whose details reveal themselves over repeated listens.

I reviewed the album for Electronic Sound and interviewed Scott Devendorf for Clash. Back issues of Electronic Sound are available at http://www.electronicsound.co.uk while my interview can be read here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 4. Reed & Caroline ‘Buchla & Singing’ // Erasure ‘From Moscow To Mars’

I felt a little conflicted about including these two on my list, for reasons which I will attempt somewhat clumsily to explain. I then reasoned that this is my list, I’m kind of really proud of what I’ve done to support both these releases, and so on the list they shall remain. I’ve also linked them together for the purposes of convenience.

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“It might have the look and feel of a futuristic tombstone, but From Moscow To Mars, as its title from the oft-forgotten single ‘Star’ indicates, represents a thirty year journey – a journey that the duo are very firmly still on with a new album in the works and plenty more rocket fuel left in the tanks.” – This Is Not Retro

“What emerges here is a distinct sense of loyalty – from Vince Clarke and Andy Bell to one another, and to the enduring art of writing emotional pop music.” – Electronic Sound

First up, the mammoth and some would definitely argue long overdue Erasure box. This was finally released in December after production delays and I reviewed this – atypically for me – for two places: Electronic Sound and then a slightly more personal piece for This Is Not Retro. I am, and forever will be, a massive Erasure fan first and foremost, so my ability to be objective about From Moscow To Mars is one possible conflict of interest. Personally, I think I pulled it off, but you can judge for yourself. The review for This Is Not Retro can be found here. Back issues of Electronic Sound are over at www.electronicsound.co.uk

The second reason for feeling slightly conflicted came in November when I found myself in Birmingham as a guest of the Erasure fan club at the official launch party for the boxset. I was there nominally as a guest but found myself helping out in a couple of ways – blowing up some very sorry balloons (I apologise to anyone who attended and laughed at those) while listening to Vince Clarke and Andy Bell soundcheck their set (including a new song) and then helping out with three hours of meet and greets. It was a special, and slightly surreal experience.

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Second, Buchla & Singing by Reed & Caroline, a charming album of compositions for the Buchla by Reed Hays with beautiful singing by Caroline Schutz. The album was released on Vince Clarke’s Very Records back in October to universal acclaim. I didn’t get to review this one, but trust me, had I done so I would have called it out as very special indeed.

I wrote the press release for Very Records for this album and enjoyed a very pleasant Skype chat with Hays in order to prepare that. Of all the things I have done this year, getting handed that job and helping support the release of Buchla & Singing – in a way somewhat different from just scribing a review – was right up there as a major career highlight, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity.

One of the best tracks on the album is ‘Henry The Worm’. Reed and I spoke about that track at length but I just couldn’t find a way of fitting it into the press release, so here is that little off-cut. I thought it was a nice story. Music sometimes needs to take itself less seriously.

“Around the time my son was born, I wrote a song that’s on the record called ‘Henry The Worm’,” explained Reed. “We named Henry, my son, after a little caterpillar that was crawling around a Mexican restaurant. When we saw the first sonogram I thought he looked like a little caterpillar.”

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 5. Savoir Adore ‘The Love That Remains’

“The best thing to come out of Brooklyn since the last thing.” – Electronic Sound

This one snuck in right at the very end of the year, and caught me totally unawares. I’ve become accustomed, like most people have, to great music coming flooding out of Brooklyn, but Savoir Adore‘s new album was something else. The album was released earlier in the year in the US but only got its UK release in December.

The best reference point I have for this synth-heavy opus – which its creator Paul Hammer explains was influenced by the dominant romantic input to Fado music, the elusive concept of saudade – would probably be Bleachers’ debut LP. Except that where Bleachers seemed to really have to work hard at writing big choruses and infectious synth melodies, Hammer and Savoir Adore never sound like they’re having to try too hard. This gives The Love That Remains a certain polish and sheen that far bigger productions would die for, without ever once sounding completely like a chart pop album.

My review of this will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 6. STRFKR ‘Being No One, Going Nowhere’


Sometimes you alight upon what becomes your favourite music when you least expect it. That was the case with the fifth album by Portland, Oregon’s STRFKR, a band whose name I’d vaguely heard of but whose music I’d never heard, at least not to the best of my knowledge.

I was in Montréal with work and was in a fantastic little café I’d discovered on my travels the year before called Melk, eating a courgette muffin and drinking an espresso for breakfast while marvelling at my ability to mangle French and English while ordering something so simple.

Melk is one of those funky, Scandi places that are all bleached woods, white walls and friendly hipster staff, and on the few times that I’ve been here, are usually playing achingly hip music that I’ve never heard of before. Such was the case on this day, where it turned out – thanks to the wonder of Shazam – that they were playing the new album (Being No One, Going Nowhere) from STRFKR. I was hooked straight away, absolutely loved the pop tones and big songs and spent the remainder of my Canadian trip listening to the album whenever I could, as well as castigating myself for not having gotten into them before. It made the ten minute walk to Melk instead of just dropping into the Starbucks in my aparthotel much more worthwhile than just getting exercise.

The album reinforces what I’ve been thinking a lot this year, which is that we seem to be in a golden period for electronic pop music. We’ve said this before when bands like MGMT first emerged, but it always seemed a bit tongue in cheek to me; today, bands like STRFKR seem to have a genuine respect for the electronic music of yesteryear and a capacity to make what sounds, to youthful ears, truly original, while still appealing to those of us who remember the first flushes of synthpop all too clearly.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: The Departed Ones

We lost some incredible musical luminaries in 2016, chief among which were David Bowie back in January and Leonard Cohen in November. Both artists released powerfully creative albums this year, underlining talents that seemed to have been snuffed out far too early, yet both records seemed to contain clues – in coded form (Bowie’s Black Star) and more obvious form (Cohen’s You Want It Darker) – that death was just around the corner.

I wrote a piece for Clash about David Bowie that was published just two days before he was announced to have passed away. It was written from the point of view of someone who was enjoying a new phase of life whereas in fact it was already over. For Cohen, moved though I was to write the piece below, I never placed it anywhere.

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In was in Toronto when the news broke that Leonard Cohen had passed away. My first reaction, upon reading the news was somewhere between surprise, anger and sadness.
It was a little like the passing of a distant relative – someone who had always been there in the background, who you’d spent some time with but not enough, and who you just figured would always be there.

The front cover of Friday’s Globe & Mail was turned over to Montréal’s renegade troubadour, and it felt like the whole of Canada was undergoing a day of national mourning. Flags were flying at half-mast and there was a general feeling of glumness about the place; this was, of course, little more than optics and coincidence, since Friday was the 11th November and Canada was set for its annual remembrance of those who had lost their lives in the two World Wars of the twentieth century, but it felt like it could have been – should have been – all for Cohen’s benefit.

I never thought I’d get into Leonard Cohen. Growing up, immersing yourself in music magazines, you alighted upon Cohen’s legacy and legendary status, but he just didn’t seem like an artist I’d ever fully understand or whose music I’d ever be able to appreciate. This was mere narrow mindedness on my part, but such is the opinionated arrogance of youth.

Cohen’s ‘Avalanche’ was covered by Nick Cave on his debut album in 1984, but it was never my favourite track on that LP and, besides, at that point (I bought that album in around 1997) it was hard enough for me just to have made the switch the Mute electronic acts to Cave, let alone try to wrap my head around the music of Leonard Cohen as well.

It would take the purchase of Rufus Wainwright’s Want almost a decade later to fully start my appreciation. Wainwright, also coincidentally Canadian, covered Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ at a tribute concert assembled by Hal Wilner, at which Nick Cave also performed. Wainwright’s live version of the song was included on the second part of his Want opus, and completely floored me when I first heard it. It helped that it was about New York, which will always get my attention, but it was the nakedness, the bluntness if you will, of Cohen’s lyrics that truly grabbed me. The Songs Of Leonard Cohen quickly came into my possession, and I’ve been collecting sporadically ever since.

Maybe I still haven’t completely ‘got’ him, but I’ve gotten a lot closer. What you start to appreciate as you spend quality time in the company of his music is that the stereotype of Cohen as this abject, depressed miseryguts is woefully misplaced. Upon announcing his passing, Cohen’s son drew attention to his father’s incredible sense of humour. It’s the only way to explain the song ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On’ and some of the verses in ‘Hallelujah’ (a song that is both spiritual and utterly out-there, something lost on the multitude of pop acts that have covered it). Sure, it’s dark humour, but it’s humour nonetheless.

There’s also this theory that Cohen was just a hapless, thwarted romantic, but that’s also incorrect. A lot of Cohen’s lyrics were unashamedly, nay eyewateringly, frank and open about sex, so one could assume he wasn’t as unlucky as his wistful balladeering would have you believe. Let’s hope the smooth-talking, gravel-voiced, romantic is having the same fun he had in his corporeal existence up there in the heavens.

The untimely death of a perpetual ladies man.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence