Really, I’m not big on lists, music criticism, reflection or history. Yet for some perverse reason I’ve posted Annual Best of posts pretty much since I started this blogging thing. The main reason being it compensates for poor memory. In doing this list I had to check my calendar and a pocket of receipts to verify what I’ve done over the last 12 months. Shocking isn’t it, age is catching up with me, living in the moment is the only option.
This years version is split over live & recorded. I’ve not included any musical purchases of music not released this year (unless indicated or where I’ve cheated). I’ve also cut back on the critique in relation to the recorded stuff, theres column inches of that self absorption out there. Lists and best off are just examples of the bubble that the commentator lives in, my aim if any above aid-memoire is to guide you dear reader to somethings that may have not burst your bubble. Also, don’t look for chronology or ratings, I’m not responsible enough for that. So, lets start with gigs, these chronologically listed.
Jan 10th – British Sea Power – Derby Theatre
More intrigue than fandom. This was the tour where they played with a Brass Band. I only really knew their first two albums which I recall liking. The concept worked well when it gelled but I did find some of the orchestrated parts shoe horned in. Worth a look though.
Jan 16th – J Mascis – Rescue Rooms
Slacker Prince of Shred. I’ve seen him a dozen times but never solo. A great way to start the year especially as it wasn’t that packed and I got to stand front & centre. He played a great selection of tunes from his not insubstantial song book. The treat though was up close view of his loop building on the fly. I would always jump at a chance to see J.
Feb 22nd – JAMC – Rock City
The first time I’ve seen these. Like many bands they were on a ‘play x album back to back’ Rock City was absolutely rammed and the sound was monstrous as you’d expect as they slowly pushed past 11. The album was Psycho Candy which to be fair is a great album, the first half of the show was best of the rest which I think I preferred.
March 22nd – Hookworms – Rescue Rooms
These Sheffield boys share a label with some local bands so have played here before. They work on the long near drone punctuated by great melodies and a flying vocalist. Definitely worth a visit and really enjoyable event.
April 22nd – Wire – Rescue Rooms
Another band that I’ve enjoyed over the years but never seen live. This was a standout surprise of a gig. They played almost entirely new material and it held my attention throughout. They walk their own groove, a little like Hookworms with long limited chord songs but great dynamic and masterful sonics. A highlight of the year.
April 30th – Nick Cave – RCH
This came with a lot of loaded expectation. One of my favourite artists who I’ve seen several times over the years. The last time he played the Royal Concert Hall was on another ‘Nick Cave’ solo tour with the proto Grinderman line up. That was ‘intimate’. This was expansive. A near full Bad Seeds line up, lots of pretty lights and long long show. Cave is the king of stage craft, interacting with the audience, chatty light and full of jokes. And the songs are immense and played to perfection. Not just gig of the year but in the list of best evers.
June 19th – Prolapse / Grey Hairs – The Maze
I was attracted to this by the support band, local grunge paddlers Grey Hairs. They released their debut LP this year which is jolly excellent. They gave good gig on the small stage in the Maze. I think I missed Prolapse first time around. A post MBV/Curve/Slowdive shoe gaze band with added regional kitchen sink drama. It was good.
July 25th – Ex-Easter Island Heads – BoHunk Inst
I missed these when they played in 2014 so was keen to make sure to see them this time around. They play electric guitars, lain flat and in odd tunings by variously hitting them with batons & sticks. Invariably long tunes building on rhythm and repetition. It’s very hypnotic especially in a small gallery venue when you are standing at arms length from the performers. Look them up on Bandcamp. Worth a listen I guarantee.
Sept 10th – CUZ – The Maze
CUZ are Sam Dook and ace of bass Mike Watt. Again great to see them in a small venue like the Maze and managed to chat with Mike a little before the gig. They played a hybrid pop, rock, world music set. Very diverse and quite unlike the album they had recently produced when played live. Watt is a master though and worth seeing in any setting. Apparently the last time he played Nottingham was with J Mascis & the Fog which I saw. Forever ago.
Sept 14th – King Crimson – Birmingham Symphony Hall
Another gig proceeded by huge anticipation. KC don’t tour often and hadn’t played in the UK for several years. Now a seven piece band with three drummers and decades of incredible complex music to draw from. Unlike Cave they have no interaction with the audience. A pre-recorded message from band leader Fripp with a request to not take pictures before the band come out immaculately dressed in dark suits. Expertly rehearsed they played songs from their 50 year history including devastating versions of ‘Starlesss’ and ’21st Century Schizoid Man’. World class genius.
Oct 10th – Hey Colossus & Kogumaza – The Chameleon Arts Cafe
The Chameleon Arts Cafe has a performance space in the upstairs of an already small upstairs bar. They also have enough PA to put on a loud show in Rock City. Supporting were local hard drone (?) band Kogumaza (again, check Bandcamp, they are excellent) who use finely balanced analogue / retro effects with huge volume.
Hey Colossus release two albums this year and have rightly got them selves a lot of attention. Three guitarist, bass, vocals & drums, slow builds to roaring noise. There was paint falling from the ceilings at this one. Another stunning show and a must see band.
Oct 15th – Sisters of Mercy – Rock City
From the distant 80’s Goth scene I couldn’t resist the pull of Andrew Eldridge and the current Sisters of Mercy. Rock City was again completely packed even though it was a early (7.30!) show. Barely visible through the dry ice Eldridge, two guitarists & Doktor Avalanche ripped through the hits. A dense mass of youngsters slammed and swayed their shoulder dancing girlfriends while I hid on the balcony. I hadn’t seen them since the late 80’s but they gave good gig. And of course closed with Temple of Love & This Corrosion.
Oct 16th – Space Lady – The Chameleon
This was pure curiosity. The Space Lady (Susan) was a street performer from San Francisco who uses a Casio keyboard and a beguiling manner to re-interpret songs from the seventies mainly. A gig is like being introduced to an obscure mystic who has plainly discovered a level that you can’t quite imagine. Precious and as hard to nail down as smoke.
Oct 22nd – GSYBE – Warwick Arts Centre
From out of left field GSYBE announced a tiny handful of UK dates. Closest to me was Warwick Arts Centre which has been rebuilt since I was last there to see Bauhaus quite a few years ago. God Speed released a great album in the early part of the year which was essential a single 40min piece of music in four movements.
I arrived early and by immense fortitude managed to stand front and centre throughout. I had anticipated the kind of crushing volume used by Swans but it turned out they have a more user friendly approach. It was loud but clean and precise. Like King Crimson they avoid anything more than a quick wave hello and a nod of the head goodbye. In-between was tidal storm of music whipped up by musicians who knew each other intimately on stage. Unmissable performance which I won’t forget.
There was supposed to be one more but I ducked out due to frailness. Next up in 2016 is Bob Mould, ‘\w/’ as the kidz say.
Albums that crossed my horizon…..
So here’s a less than comprehensive list of albums I’ve enjoyed this year. To help you along I’ll include some YouTube videos (the only irritation being regional restrictions and future take down notices – get it while its hot I say).
No chronology here. Sorry. Probably available for academics out there.
Black Mass – Dumb Flesh
A recent find although this came out early in year. One of the guys from Fuck Buttons, I’m more with the noise than the groove. Side four of the vinyl is a long nameless ambient piece which is a stunner.
Hey Colossus – Black & Gold and Radio Static High
See above about their gigging. They put out two albums this year and I couldn’t choose between them. A cracking band with a signature sound. Nothing not to like. This from Blank & Gold.
Grey Hairs – Colossal Downer
Local vendors of post grunge Stooge noise. They have a knack with covers (Final Solution & Jump Into The Fire). This is from the album though. Honourable mention to Colossal Downer for an iconic cover image.
Pop Group – Citizen Zombie
From one of the standout gigs of 2014 to a great return to the studio in 2015. Mark Stewart and the Pop Group didn’t loose a beat from their 1980’s edgy punk funk conscious dance grooves. Immaculate.
BJM – Thingy Wingy & Musique de Film Imagine’
Always prolific (thats a dumb thing to say isn’t it) and always idiosyncratic and beyond the curve. Anton Newcombe gave us two BJM albums. Played the grooves off both of them.
BJM & Tess Parks – I Declare Nothing
Another Anton project from earlier in the year. This with Tess Parks who had appeared on the Musique de Film Imagine album. Absolute corker of an album. Tess growls through the project in the classic European ingenue style.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and other Distresses
Near gig of the year and near album of the year. Huge in scale but the result of tight personal connections in the band. This is the closing section of the album. Played live the entire piece was name Behemoth which is appropriate.
Rocket From The Tombs – Black Record
A surprise entry. Cult Cleveland progenitors of avant-rock came through with a new line up and finally put down some old songs. Given the age of these guys its a damn miracle. This might well be my album of the year. And of course David Thomas.
Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes
After the sublime 2014 album Benji this came with a heap of expectation and TBH it didn’t fulfil on first listen. A couple of months on though it started to sink in. Kozalek had dug even deeper into his personal life and took pretty much himself and drummer Steve Shelly into an acoustic orchestral fantasy life.The songs change pace and the though train derails before jumping back with such intricate detail you can smell the food he mentions and feel the cold on the film set. It needs slow absorption.
Jeff Bridges – Sleeping Tapes
The Dude made a self help album for insomniacs. Yep. Pretty sure its great but I have no idea what happens at the end. If you want we can pretend to be crows.
Steve Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase
I had some appreciation of Wilson from his ‘Raven Songs’ album. For a short period I played the hell out of this. Through this I also found his long form drone albums. Admirable artist with a wide interest and substantial talent.
Courtney Barrett – Sometimes I Sit & Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Acres written about Courtney. Great album, you can see why she hit a groove. But what do I know…. I’m a phoney..
Wire – Wire
30 years at the forefront of obscurity and they can still put out a ground breaking album. At this rate in tens years they will be an overnight success. Seriously though, epic album and they use beautiful guitars.
Bjork – Vulnicura
Appearing on lists all over the place. Bjork’s lack of given fucks helps but this albums narrative of relationship fracture made it into something more human than some of her previous albums. I still can’t got Moto Crash out of my head though. The videos though….
Bob Dyan – Bootleg – The Cutting Edge
My first cheat. Yes its old but there where literally hundreds of unheard versions, sessions, breakdowns and sweepings on this. Bobcats three years of wild mercury sound. The full release needed something like 19 hours to absorb. More of a historical artefact than an album release.
Bob Dylan – Shadows in the Night
And on the other side of his career, confounding fans and critics, Bob puts out a album of Sinatra covers and shows with a pitch perfect lo-fi band & production that He Can Still Sing. This is utterly sublime……
David Gilmour – Rattle That Lock
When I first heard this it didn’t ‘grab me’ but after watching the BBC Making Of doc I was persuaded by its merits. Still enjoying it but still waiting for Comfortably Numb. This track is about encouraging young people to social insurrection so not a bad message. So Long Syd.
Keith Richards – Crosseyed Heart
The vampiric eternal life form and human riff Keef came back with a solo album. What I loved about this was the production. They had gone with studio ambience, it sounds like a band in a room, its primal, no flashy solos. The soul of rock’n’roll. Its just music, man….
Twelve – Houston V – Houston IV (HERACLEUM MANTEGAZZIANUM) – Houston We Are All Going To Die – NO_COUNTRY
The most prolific artist in the country came through with four full Twelve albums in 2015. These have accompanied me on numerous journeys, each has a different tone but mines the same electro Kraut Rock / Motorik mines of beat and groove. The penultimate frontier.
Miley Cyrus – ‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’
This might be considered a surprise last entry. This album was fascinating in the same way that being given strange food when blindfold and trying to decide if you like it or not is fascinating. The feeling on the palette is uneasy but the gag reflex hasn’t kicked in so it must be OK? Still undecided but would definitely advise you don’t play it on the school run. You go girl….
So there you go. There are about half a dozen albums that have been recommended that I didn’t get to, Joanna Newson, Father John Misty, Public Service Broadcast, Jenny Hval, Low (which I’m sure I’d like) and also a bunch I tried but (shockingly) didn’t get.
Apologies to all who tried to guide but for the life of me I didn’t get…….
Jamie xx – In Colour
Panda Bear meets the Grim Reaper
Sufijan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
New Order – Music Complete
Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool
I promise to try again unless some fool brings another record out in the mean time.
Seasons Greeting to you all and remember as Uncle Frank taught us ‘Music Is The Best’.