Below is my annual recollection of some music highlights of the year, for the good guys and gals at [sic] Magazine who introduce me to so much of it.
Although the twelve months of 2016 are likely to be remembered as much for who left us, as for what was left for us, (not to mention leave-ing) there were as always some great records, including Savages, Kiran Leonard, Ed Harcourt and Radiohead. Bowie‘s Blackstar – with the mystique surrounding the timing of its release – was a great record to start a year, and set the tone for tragedy-turn-triumph; the late Viola Beach were immortalised at Glastonbury, and also by achieving a number one album of their own (crucially, not a cash-in job), and there were countless events such as the ‘Glabstonbury’ all-day event I attended, which saw a host of bands and musicians generously coming together for a worthy cause. Here follow my ten highlights of the year. Continue reading →
My ten musical highlights of 2015, in alphabetical order, compiled for (sic) Magazine:
Antemasque – ‘Antemasque‘
In January, I learned that Cedric and Omar, formerly of At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta, had patched up their differences and were back making music together, this time as Antemasque (with Flea, Travis Barker and Omar’s brother Marfred Rodriguez-Lopez also involved). Although the album was released late last year, I didn’t hear the collection of short, frantic, power-pop bursts until 2015, making it one of this year’s undoubted highlights.
The Charlatans – ‘Modern Nature‘
25 years since their chart-topping debut Some Friendly, 2015 saw The Charlatans release their best album in over a decade. Despite the tragic circumstances around its creation (drummer Jon Brookes lost his battle with cancer), Modern Nature is an inspiring, joyous collection of organ-led soulful songs, sprinkled with fitting amounts of both melody and melancholy. The summer’s triumphant homecoming-of-sorts Castlefield show capped a great year for the band.
Review of ‘Keltic Voodoo Boogaloo’, the second album by The Earth, for (sic) Magazine. You can read the full review here. There is also a Soundcloud link to preview tracks online at the end of the review.
Cian Ciaran, the Super Furry Animals keyboard player, sent me a copy and invited me to review the album. Daffyd Ieuan, the SFA drummer who formed The Earth, also got in touch to provide some info on the album. Ciaran mixed record, and is credited with playing Keyboards too.
“When compiling an end-of-year list of 2013′s greatest albums, [sic] proclaimed that one positive of Super Furry Animals taking a hiatus is that ‘we get even more records from the various members.’ Since that article’s featured album, (They Are Nothing Without Us, the second solo work by keyboardist Cian Ciaran), 2014 has already seen worthy releases by singer Gruff Rhys (his fourth solo album, American Interior) and bassist Guto Pryce (the debut record with his Gulp band). And now, as if we have not been spoilt enough,The Earth, formed by SFA sticksman Dafydd Ieuan and former Catatoniasongwriter-and-guitarist Mark Roberts, release their second album, Keltic Voodoo Boogaloo…”
Review of the Gruff Rhys album ‘American Interior’, written for the (sic) magazine site.
“A decade ago, Argentinian footballer Gabriel Heinze transferred to join Manchester United, with two rumours following him to England; that he was a no-nonsense hardman, and that he was fluent in Welsh. Some 200 years previously, whispers of a native American, Welsh-speaking tribe had inspired farmhand John Evans to cross the Atlantic and investigate.
This legendary adventure prompted another Welshman, singer-songwriter Gruff Rhys, to repeat the journey in 2012 by way of an acoustic tour. American Interior is the result of Rhys’s travels, released on a groundbreaking four formats: an album of songs written on and inspired by his Latin American adventure, a book and film documenting the tour, and an interactive app.
Rhys, himself no stranger to pioneering release formats (his parent band Super Furry Animals released 2001′s Rings Around the World on simultaneous CD and DVD, and then were first to Continue reading →
I was asked by (sic) Magazine to compile my favourite ten records released this year. 2013 saw some surprise comebacks (David Bowie, The Strokes), a Psych revival (Hookworms, The Lucid Dream, The Dead Meadow) and the rise of female-fronted rock (Savages, HAIM, Pins), and picking highlights is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, here are the ten albums which stick out for me at this moment in time, for an array of different reasons, but with the one common factor being that I think they are all great records.
After initially restricting their releases to limited pressings, the first full album of the Brooklyn-based garage-punk band was released this year. With shades of The Strokes, The Fall, The Libertines and even a hint of At The Drive-In, and containing pop gems like ‘Borrowed Time’ and ‘Careers In Combat’ from start to finish, we can all be thankful this album was finally made available to a wider, grateful audience, which will doubtless now swell in 2014 and beyond.
You can read other (sic) Magazine contributors’ Albums of 2013 here.
Suede have pulled off one of the most difficult of maneuvers, the comeback album that is actually better than before they went away. Bloodsports has an energy, freshness and vitality that echoes Dog Man Star -era Suede, despite being released 20 years later, and yet does so without ever sounding like it is trying to recreate past glories. A triumph.
Recorded in one, 6-hour Abbey Road session, Harcourt’s minimalist approach to his 7th studio album means the record relies on the strength of the songs. With Harcourt in reflective mood, the songs take on extra poignancy due to this recording process, and the album is all the better for it. Largely just a piano or guitar and Harcourt’s voice, along with a small string section, the likes of ‘Last Will and Testament’ and ‘Hey Little Bruiser’ cement Harcourt’s reputation as a fine songwriter.
Six albums into their career, it is probably fair to say that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are unlikely to ever pull any major surprises with their sound, which could have made the prospect of following 2010’s career-best Beat The Devil’s Tattoo a difficult one. After opener ‘Firewalker’‘s hypnotic, slow-burning groove, the trademark BRMC Blues-Psych-Folk-Country sound is evident throughout, punctuated with moments of touching reflection (‘Lullaby’, ‘Sometimes The Light’), no doubt influenced by the sad loss of bass player Robert Been‘s late father (and band tour engineer), and making ‘Specter’ a fitting tribute.
The single ‘Smother’, taken from Daughter’s debut album, has already started down the ‘Teardrop’ route towards mass use for those emotional TV Drama trailers. And, like Mezzanine before it, the parent album, If You Leave is a delicate, well-crafted record, where any track could feasibly be soundtrack material. However, rather than the Trip-Hop of Massive Attack, Daughter complement delicate, sometimes tribal drums with atmospheric guitars and the gentle vocals of singer Elana Tonra creating an evocative, haunting sound all of their own.
For the 6th QOTSA album, and first for 6 years, Josh Homme, featuring a whole host of Rock A-list guests, delivers a record of the energy and raw rock power we have come to expect of him. There are delightful stomps through ‘If I Had A Tail’, and ‘Smooth Sailing’, the latter adding a Disco flavour, but, it is the piano-led and falsetto-sprinkled gentler songs (such as ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory’ and the title track) which really provoke and hint at a vulnerable side to Queens. Well worth the wait.
Singer John Bramwell recently hinted that I Am Kloot may work on other musical projects (such as film scores) next, meaning Let It All In could be the last conventional record by the Manchester three-piece as we know them for some time. An orchestral sound and brass sections give a theatrical feel in parts, with acoustic, walking basslines and Bramwell’s ever-gripping storytelling fit for any stage.
One positive taken from Super Furry Animals taking a hiatus is that we get even more records from the various members. They Are Nothing Without Us is the second release in as many years by Cian Ciaran, keyboard player with SFA, and contains all the melodic charm and blissful harmonies you would expect from a Super Furry Animal. Rather than merely filling time whilst the Furries are away, Ciaran has a clear focus throughout, singing lines like “I wont help you fatten your wallet / and I hope that you choke on the profits,” on an album of great guitar pop songs.
The upward trajectory of Manchester’s Dutch Uncles continued apace with this, their third album. As with 2011’s Cadenza, the five-piece build layers of small guitar bursts onto keyboard (and now xylophone) phrases, with unconventional time-signatures, before singer Duncan Wallis adds his distinctive, 80s-influenced vocals. But it is when performed live that Out of Touch really comes, well, alive, with the funky bass grooves of ‘Bellio’ and ‘Flexxin’ impossible not to dance to.
I was asked by (sic) Magazine to compile my favourite ten records released this year. I shall be revealing them here a day at a time through to the end of December.
This year saw some surprise comebacks (David Bowie, The Strokes), a Psych revival (Hookworms, The Lucid Dream) and the rise of female-fronted rock (Savages, HAIM, Pins), and picking highlights is extremely difficult.
Nevertheless, here are the ten albums which stick out for me at this moment in time, for an array of different reasons, but with the one common factor being that I think they are all great records.
It can be easy to forget just how big the Arctic Monkeys are, but their cameo at last year’s Olympics and headlining Glastonbury was a timely reminder before this, their fifth straight UK number 1 album. AM sees Alex Turner and co progress the sound of Suck It And See, adding a West Coast Hip-Hop feel, whilst retaining the all the clever lyrical style and delivery Turner is known for.
Review of The Shins’ album ‘Port Of Morrow’, written for (sic) Magazine in March 2012.
“…Mercer can still conjure some wonderful cinematic imagery with his words, and when this is married to the music as effortlessly as ‘It’s Only Life’ and ‘For a Fool’, where the slide guitar seems to be singing back to Mercer’s every line, it is a sheer joy…”