Saturday, 31 December 2016
And so finally, finally, this turbulent year draws to a close. A year in which so many thousands of innocent people around the world lost their lives in horrific circumstances, the balance of political power shifted to a terrifying degree and where the grim reaper's scythe laid waste to unprecedented swathes of the entertainment industry. As a rule, I like to draw a line beneath what's gone before and stride forward into the new year with a renewed spirit of optimism, though this time around, like many of us I suspect, I'm struggling to muster any positive feelings at all for 2017. Let's hope we're all wrong.
One music industry loss that slipped by almost unnoticed this year, at least by the mainstream media, was that of the mighty Prince Buster, in September at the age of 78. His influence and legacy are virtually incalculable and certainly too far-reaching to summarise in a mere few hurried lines. So I'll stick to doing what I do best and play some music. This song seems a particularly apt one to go out on.
Happy new year everybody and thanks for stopping by over the past 12 months.
Prince Buster - Enjoy Yourself, It's Later Than You Think
Wednesday, 28 December 2016
So to my favourite 10 albums of 2016. In truth, some of the positions on this list (and on Part 1 here) could be interchangeable, depending on my mood - the Top 5, however, is set in stone.
10) Julia Jacklin - Don't Let the Kids Win
An extremely strong and assured debut from this Australian singer/songwriter. Highly recommended.
9) Heron Oblivion - Heron Oblivion
The pastoral folk of Meg Baird from Espers, meets the crunching electric wig-out of Ethan Miller and Noel Von Harmonson from Comets on Fire. Like Sandy Denny jamming with a full throttle Crazy Horse.
8) Hintermass - The Apple Tree
Jon Brooks (from The Advisory Circle and Pattern Forms) and Tim Felton (from the much missed Broadcast) concoct an album that combines big dollops of pastoral loveliness with occasional splodges of gentle blippy weirdness.
7) Nick Cave - Skeleton Tree
Stark, beautiful, devastating.
6) David Bowie - Blackstar
If I'm lucky enough to still be around in 20 years time and am questioned, by an as yet unborn whippersnapper, about the defining music of 2016, I'll simply whizz over to my hologramic record collection on my trusty hoverscooter and play them 'Blackstar'. And even in 2036, I've no doubt I'll still break down in tears when 'I Can't Give Everything Away' kicks in.
5) Community Radio - Look Now You're Cursed
The third of four Australian acts in my Top 10. Hats off to Brian for introducing me to these guys. 'Look Now You're Cursed' is chock full of superior guitar pop. I'm running out of superlatives - listen to it and buy it here!
4) 75 Dollar Bill - Wood/Metal/Plastic/Rhythm/Rock
Much like the Our Solar System album mentioned in Part 1, I can get lost in this one for hours. Swipe me, it's fantastic! Essentially a duo, 75 Dollar Bill move freely between Malian desert blues, Indian drones, Mississippi delta stomps plus all points in-between and either side. I'm delighted to see 'Wood/Metal/Plastic/Rhythm/Rock' turning up on so many end of year best-of lists - all thoroughly deserved accolades. (Sample the whole LP here)
3) Chook Race - Around the House
I've been banging on about 'Around the House' for the last few months to anyone who'll listen. Even if no-one's listening, I still bang on about it. Check out this poptastic lo-fi jangle-fest for yourself (here) and you'll fall in love with it too. (Please come and tour the UK guys.)
(.........and there's nothing between the top two, so..... )
=1) Alasdair Roberts & James Green - Plaint of Lapwing
Alasdair Roberts' work may be rooted in the folk tradition, but actually extends far beyond mere genre limitations. 'Plaint of Lapwing' is a collaboration with James Green of The Big Eyes Family Players and is released on Clay Pipe Music, a London based label run by illustrator Frances Castle. This album sits easily among Alasdair's finest, the warm analogue feel of the record belying the file-sharing nature of its creation. Never one to stand still, in 2016 Alasdair also contributed to 'Wild Hog', the lovely second album by The Furrow Collective and already has a new solo collection, 'Pangs', prepared for release at the end of February 2017.
=1) David Thomas Broughton - Crippling Lack
When you fall under David Thomas Broughton's unique spell (as I did in 2005 with 'The Complete Guide To Insufficiency'), you're in it for the long haul. Broughton is part superb singer-songwriter, part avant-garde performance artist - his sonorous baritone, guitar and various electronic gizmos are looped, dissected and reassembled to inject sometimes spontaneous elements to each individual performance. 'Crippling Lack' is a huge undertaking for both artist and listener. Three slabs of vinyl weighing in at a hefty 100 minutes - featuring guest turns from the likes of Beth Orton, Rachael Dadd and Aidan Moffat - though crucially, not a single second is wasted. A towering work. (Check out the full album here.)
Saturday, 24 December 2016
Here's trio of seasonal tunes to set you up for the festivities. Have a happy, peaceful Christmas, however you choose to spend it.
Frank Cosmo - Merry Christmas (1963)
The Kingstonians - Merry Christmas (1967)
Jacob Miller & Ray I - Deck the Halls (1978)
(While Frank Cosmo was doing his thing, here's a reminder of how I spent Christmas in 1963)
Tuesday, 20 December 2016
In 2016, for the first time that I can remember, I reckon I listened to more old records than new. If you knew me, you'd know what a tough thing that is for me to admit. Is it my age or a reflection of the terrible year we've endured? I don't know. What I do know is that, judging by a few of the other year-end round-ups that I've been keeping an eye on, I've missed out on some good stuff. Rest assured though, they're all on my never-ending list - I'll get to them, eventually.
So anyway, here's the first part of my album rundown - I'll put the Top 10 up between Christmas and New Year.
20) King Creosote - Astronaut Meet Appleman
One of three albums issued by KC in 2016 (I featured a wonderful song from another of them here). Whatever the quantity, the quality never drops.
19) Teleman - Brilliant Sanity
An album that revealed its charms to me gradually. I was unsure about 'Brilliant Sanity' on release. How wrong I was.
18) Ette - Homemade Lemonade
A fine pop record that, for me, just pipped 'Say It All With a Kiss', by Carla's other band TeenCanteen, also released this year. I'd be very happy to see either or both bands undertake proper UK tours in 2017.
17) Marisa Anderson - Into the Light
A solo album in the truest sense, with every instrument played by Anderson who describes the LP as '...an imaginary soundtrack to a science-fiction western'.
16) Meilyr Jones - 2013
A rumination on a tumultuous year that saw the end of his band, Race Horses, and his personal relationship. Baroque flourishes jostle with big pop songs - and pop songs don't come much bigger than one I featured in an earlier post (here). Here's another one.
15) Leonard Cohen - You Want it Darker?
One of two incredibly dignified musical exits this year, though of course the other was a great deal more shocking to us all. 'You Want it Darker?' is almost unbearably poignant, showing an artist at the peak of his powers until the very end.
14) Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression
The surprise of 2016. 20 years after the last Iggy record of any substance, this terrific LP came out of nowhere. A full artistic rebirth or a full stop? Time will tell.
13) Kikagaku Moyo - House in the Tall Grass
A comparatively recent arrival, discovered via a comment on a post over at Is This the Life and rarely far from my reach since then.
12) Ryley Walker - Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
I found myself a little underwhelmed with this album to begin with, though something kept pulling me back to it again and again - seeing Ryley transform the songs in a live setting no doubt helped me appreciate the bigger picture. Remember the days when we gave every new LP in our collection this much time and how richly we were rewarded for our efforts?
11) Our Solar System - In Time
Brooklyn's marvellously named Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records have put out some extraordinary records this year, though none has been played to death by yours truly quite so much as 'In Time' by Stockholm's Our Solar System. Consisting of two long pieces, we're talking 'interstellar jazz-rock' here if you believe the blurb, though that description doesn't begin to do the music that this band makes any justice at all. It's the sort of album that could see you overshoot your destination should you choose to play it in the car - I know, I've done it.
Friday, 16 December 2016
Over the past few weeks, a succession of time and brain-space constraints did their utmost to put the kibosh on my attempts to pull together a 2016 end of year round-up. As a consequence, the LP re-evaluation process was a lot less thorough than I would've liked and some worthwhile stuff will have no doubt slipped through the cracks. Before moving on to my albums of the year though, I'll kick off with ten individual tunes (11 actually) that I've returned to time and again in 2016 - these are either stand alones or (spoiler alert) taken from albums that finished just outside of my Top 20 of the year. In reverse order, natch.
10) Slow Club - In Waves
A well thought of band that I've never really got to grips with until now. 'One Day All of This Won't Matter Anymore' is a very good LP and 'In Waves' is irresistible.
9) Ultimate Painting - Bills
Low key, yet insistant lead track from the band's third LP, 'Dusk'.
8) William Tyler - Highway Anxiety
The lead track from his third solo album, Tyler has also played with Silver Jews and Lambchop. A marvellous tune that stretches out like a wide open, erm, highway. If it isn't picked up for a major motion picture one of these days, then someone is seriously missing a trick.
7) Vanishing Twin - The Conservation of Energy
Formed in 2015 by members of Fanfarlo, Neon Neon, Broadcast and Floating Points, Vanishing Twin make a warm and inviting pop noise, tweaked with a gentle hint of esoteric psychedelia. Their videos are very cool too.
6) Meatraffle - One Track Mind
It's been a year of consolidation for Meatraffle following 2015's fantastic 'HiFi Classics' LP. In 2016 they put out just two tunes (that I'm aware of), 'The Bird Song', a limited edition Speedy Wunderground 7" and 'One Track Mind', which appeared on a various artist Trashmouth Records EP for record store day. One of my favourite bands out there right now.
5) The Blackeyed Susans - The Good Life Never Ends
'The Good Life Never Ends' was written by the late great David McComb of The Triffids for his final band Costar, though his recording has never received an official release. The song clearly means a lot to The Blackeyed Susans, as they previously recorded an intense live reading of it in 2008, for a David McComb tribute album.
4) Teenage Fanclub - I'm in Love
The album is good, but 'I'm in Love' is a song right up there with their very best.
3) Sleaford Mods - TCR
Along with Meatraffle, Sleaford Mods are my favourite British band of recent years. As serious as your life and funny as hell.
2) Palms on Fire - Sword and Shield
A cracking tune, recommended to me by more than one of my blogging chums. An absolute standout from 'Where Are The Grey Clouds Going?', released back at the start of 2016. Pop perfection.
1) Girl Ray - Trouble
Very possibly the best pop song about 'apathy and hating yourself'.....ever! If the bassline doesn't move you, you seriously need to get your ears syringed. I'm expecting big things from this lot in 2017.
My most played track of 2016 was actually a reissue, so not technically eligible for this rundown. I've enjoyed the song so much this year though, that my review wouldn't be complete without it. My sincere thanks go out to blogging chum Brian for introducing me to this absolute nugget.
Hipflasks - A Lovely Scar
(The Hipflasks album is available to order here)
Monday, 12 December 2016
On this day 36 years ago, I was laid low with a nasty case of the mumps - eating, drinking and even breathing with considerable difficulty. In the evening, my best mate unexpectedly knocked at my parents' front door and we stood for a moment, one of us at each end of the hall, about 10 feet apart. I was in no condition to hold a conversation, so few words were exchanged and I was puzzled as to why he'd chosen to put his health on the line to visit me when he could've just picked up the phone to find out how I was. He reached into his backpack, pulled out a record in a carrier bag, crouched down and slid it along the floor, the length of the hall. 'I thought you'd want this, however rough you're feeling', he said. I picked it up and took the record from the bag. It was 'Sandinista' by The Clash, which had been released that very day. A brief nod of gratitude was all I could muster in my fevered state. He turned, opened the front door and was gone.
The Clash & Mikey Dread - If Music Could Talk / Living in Fame
Tuesday, 6 December 2016
Initially only briefly available as a download back in 2010, Damien Jurado & Richard Swift's informal album of covers, 'Other People's Songs, Vol. 1', has this week received a belated official release via Secretly Canadian. On the record, Jurado & Swift re-imagine an eclectic mix of tunes from the likes of Kraftwerk, Yes, Chubby Checker, John Denver and the cast of Oh Calcutta! Here's their lovely reading of 'Hello Sunshine', originally released in 1976 on the self-titled LP by Relatively Clean Rivers. The Relatively Clean Rivers album has itself had the full reissue treatment in recent years, bringing down the price accordingly, though if you prefer your vinyl to be of the vintage persuasion you should head over to Discogs sharpish, where a mint original awaits you for a mere £1763. Can anybody lend me a fiver?
Damien Jurado & Richard Swift - Hello Sunshine
Relatively Clean Rivers - Hello Sunshine
Saturday, 3 December 2016
In September I tentatively started re-listening to my 2016 purchases in preparation for the inevitable end of year retrospective bonanza, but for one reason or another, I didn't get very far. Now, with only a few weeks to go, I find myself woefully unprepared. It's time to buckle down, but a relatively recent discovery, released in 2015, is completely hogging my head-space at the moment. Step forward Manchester's own Nev Cottee and his 2nd LP 'Strange News From the Sun'. Think Lee Hazlewood. Think Alan Tyler. Think Richard Hawley. In fact don't. Just listen to the sheer quality of 'If I Could Tell You', then check out the whole album here. It's seriously good stuff.
Thursday, 1 December 2016
Gregory Isaacs, the Cool Ruler, reached the peak of his popular success with the 1982 LP 'Night Nurse' and the following year's 'Out Deh!', both on Island Records. He released dozens more albums before his premature death in 2010, but never hit the same creative heights again. Retrace Gregory's career before 'Night Nurse' however and virtually anything he touched is worthy of investigation. Take 'Ba Da' for instance. Recorded in 1974 and produced by Winston Holness (aka Niney the Observer) - it's crucial stuff.
Gregory Isaacs - Ba Da
Though we all knew the day was coming, the death of Glen Campbell on Tuesday was still a painful blow. In the days since the announcement...
The mysterious Dubwood Allstars originally released 'Under Dubwood' in 2012 and I featured it on these very pages at the time. Wh...
As the winds increased still further and the rain began to fall in sheets, Mrs S & I retired with haste to the nearest cover. It was one...
Unless something really extraordinary occurs between now and December, 'Bright Phoebus' by Lal & Mike Waterson will be my reis...
Walthamstow was like the Wild West in those days. My cousin and I, Christmas 1965 In the second half of the 1980's, my cousin's...