Well, before I start, I should mention that one of those little milestones I was looking forward to was passed earlier in the week. I have no idea what constitutes good traffic on one of these things but I have to say that when I started this I neither expected nor was looking for anyone to stop by and read anything. So I’m really surprised that this site has been visited by 18,000 people so far this year who aren’t either me or spambots. So thanks for that, hope everyone who has read anything here has liked what was written enough to have a listen to whatever it was I was writing about, and thanks to those who hated whatever I’ve written little enough to not bother leaving any snotty comments! The next, different, milestone is very close and the Baileys is already on ice. That’ll be the substitute Baileys, as the last one met with a fortunate incident.
These listy posts seem to be getting longer and longer. I’m guessing that this is a yardstick for me still agreeing with my choices so far as not only have they been fairly easy to write about (in most cases for the second time of asking) but where I’m supposed to breeze through them here to get an idea of how to sum each one up and justify their inclusion, I then sit and listen to each and every one from start to finish with a huge grin on my face. Which is why they’re taking so bloody long to type up.
Hopefully during the next week I’ll have a bit of time to do something other than just continue this – there’s been a few really good records out this past week (that sadly I cannot include in this countdown for fear of buggering everything else up), and I might try to do a quick favourite singles/EPs thing as well. Or I might just get bogged down in moving furniture about again.
30. Anywhere – Anywhere
Catching the attention not just because it does that thing of a band, album and track all sharing the same name at the same time, but also because it’s a really good album to just sit back and listen to. Sounding like the tightest band playing the loosest jams, it’s effortlessly complicated and relaxed and frenetic at the same time. All very sonically oxymoronic, all very sonically exciting. It also has that little intangible something where just as you think you’ve got a bit that sounds like someone else and before you can go “was that Sally Oldfield doing Radiohead?”, it’s gone again. Lush stuff, and a nice reminder of my Ozric Tentacled youth.
29. Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
Occasionally on this blog’s own Facebook Page thingy, I post the weirdest search terms that have brought people here via the medium of Google. It’s an annoyance though when someone’s just typed in an album name with various filesharing names attached in order to bypass the artists’ revenue stream. It is in equal parts annoying and baffling when that search term has been applied in double figures to this record, which was given away as a free download already. I guess that’s as good a sign as any that sharing someone else’s copyrighted material is attributable just as much to laziness and habit as it is to wanting something but not being fussed enough to pay for it. Ahem. Anyway, this double album of lovelies is as good as it was unexpected, featuring as it does much of Joseph’s unique stock in trade of heart warming and heart-rending balladry, plus a side helping of more experimental stuff and patiently-crafted ideas. All in all it’s a great double-set, a kind gift to fans and passers-by alike, and something that gets played a lot here. Now stop trying to illegally download stuff that costs nothing in the first place, it just makes you look silly.
28. Om – Advaitic Songs
Intense doesn’t even begin to describe this one. Starting meditatively enough, it’s all nice and calm (if slightly otherworldly so) until about 40 seconds into State Of Non-Return when it all goes a bit mad. For the uninitiated, Om (and it’s amazing just how many different ways there are of expressing a name containing only 2 letters if the internet is to be believed) are stoner drone rock distilled to its very essence, requiring almost total disconnection to get to the heart of it – which is probably the point of the Hindu philosophy that underpins the record. Superficially it might come across as a bit scary, or perhaps a proto-Black Sabbath covering the first, live Jane’s Addiction album, but it soon gets past all that and it then becomes so easy to get lost in the beautiful strings and hypnotic drones. A strange in-car favourite of mine.
27. Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune
It’s no secret that I do enjoy my film soundtracks. This isn’t a normal soundtrack though which is why it’s included. It’s testament to Georges Méliès’ work that a film made 110 years ago can still spark the imagination enough for this French duo to rescore the film and have enough inspiration left over to make an album featuring that score plus a further 200-ish% of material (because let’s face it, it’s not the longest movie ever made). It’s all fittingly perfect retro sci-fi here, eliciting memories of Ulysses 31 (utterly true, as I’ve just checked), bringing together the wonder, baffling vastness and sheer fun of outerspace transport and its associated goings-on.
26. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Playing in woodland has certainly paid dividends for Sweden’s Söderberg sisters Johanna and Klara, as the ability to be as loud as possible whenever they wanted to has given their voices and music a power that their peers can only listen to with envy and wonder. It’s the strength and confidence of their performance that sets The Lions Roar so highly in everyone’s estimation this year, it’s a style that grabs the listener’s attention and cheerfully beats them into submission so that even the most ardent hater of most things Country (and I do count myself in this bracket, even though many entries on this blog and this list show me to have softened a tad over the years) will find themselves going “what the bloody hell was that?” before dashing off to the nearest record store or new-fangled equivalent in order to drink in more of this. Given that the music they play is centred around another country to theirs whether it be the Nashville recordings from their family’s collection or their own growing up listening to Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit take these influences and put themselves and their home firmly at the centre of their songs, granting The Lion’s Roar a unique place in a musical sphere that has happily outgrown Country and also (with others) helps to expand the scope of Americana by a couple of thousand miles.
25. Dylan LeBlanc – Cast The Same Old Shadow
Starting an album with a track entitled Part One: The End has two effects on this scribe: firstly, I’m struck that – before a note is played – this is as clear an indication as anything that this isn’t going to be the cheeriest album in the world; secondly… actually, I’ll come back to that later. Following on from 2010’s Pauper’s Field debut, Cast The Same Old Shadow is a huge progression from an already excellent start point and it’s an easy record to love provided that you are emotionally comfortable in sitting through an experience akin to listening to Radiohead’s Exit Music (For A Film) ten times in a row. There’s certainly plenty of the Muscle Shoals spirit on display, but the whole story of this album unfolds beyond mere Southern Gothic into new and exciting territories. It certainly is almost unbearably sad in places, but that makes it perfect for those almost unbearably sad times. Given Dylan’s surprising (in the context of the maturity of his compositions and general worldweariness) youth and the fact that there is no Part Two on this record (told you I’d come back to that) leaves me with no doubt that Dylan LeBlanc’s name will be one that will be mentioned a lot more and with even more paeanistic fervour than his career has already garnered in both the near and distant future.
24. Daniel Martin Moore & Joan Shelley – Farthest Field
Almost certainly the gentlest album of the year, and despite its fairly brief runtime (clocking in at just over half an hour) Farthest Field is in absolutely no rush to be going anywhere. Even during the very quietest moments, there’s just a hint of finely-aged reverb that makes both artists’ voices and instruments chime pleasingly in the ears. DMM and Joan compliment each other perfectly on this collection of lazily-swinging porch tracks that are so laid back that the act of recording them actually feels like a bit of an intrusion. If you can imagine Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell getting together for a spot of fireside lullabying, then you’re a good way towards getting the hang of how Farthest Fields sounds. Perfect end-of-the-night climbdown music.
23. Stealing Sheep – Into The Diamond Sun
Falling straight off the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ into my affections, this Liverpudlian trio mix each of their musical personalities to come up with a percussive, electronic/guitar hybrid where everything probably shouldn’t make the sense that it does. Reminding me ever so slightly of a more genteel and folky Haysi Fantayzee (and that’s a reference I never thought I’d ever have to dig up) but more of the delightful televisual storytelling of Oliver Postgate filtered through their musical imaginations, adding a touch of 1980s anarcho-pop, a smidgeon of Edwardian whimsy and a couple of carnivorous fish and we’re laughing. It’s sweet, it’s occasionally spooky and it’s completely enchanting.
22. Human Don’t Be Angry – Human Don’t Be Angry
Having an opening track that references Back To The Future is always going to pique my interest, as is a project title that is taken from a literal translation from the German version of the board game Frustration. What I really love about this record is the synapse-firing response I had from listening to it, setting me off in all manner of different directions and listening to a whole crate of stuff that would normally have passed me by. It’s certainly very 1980s-influenced, but not from the usual sources that appear in contemporary sources – Human Don’t Be Angry comes across as an incredibly personal collection gleaned from some of the slicker productions of that era, both musical and visual (there’s a lot of stuff here that wouldn’t go amiss as Miami Vice wistful montage segments), and amongst its grooves is my favourite song of the year in Monologue: River that is possibly the finest song Kate Bush never made. It’s a slightly skewed look back at the most pastel-shaded decade, with After The Pleasuredome feeling especially maudlin, but Malcolm Middleton’s view of the time is one that many of its inhabitants will recognise, and this album is as good a recollection as ever whilst also being bang up to the now.
21. Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward – Waiting For The Storm
There is a bit of a theme running through the last few records on this list, although I promise that if it was intentional on my part, it was wholly subconscious. For sitting happily at the end of Waiting For The Storm is yet another childhood treat in the form of Chigley’s Biscuit Factory Beer-o-Clock signal The Six O’Clock Whistle, which leads me to hope that this record is the first part of a trilogy. That of course isn’t the only reason why I play this record constantly, the main reason being that this is an incredible baroque collection that fans of Nick Drake should be snapping up by the handful. Taking influences from all over the place and crafting them all into their own incredibly moving sound. At its heart though is a musical travelogue from these two Glaswegian guitarists who have bonded once more after growing up together and then spending their careers moving on their own separate roads, taking on different cultural influences along the way and then meeting up again to create their own musical definition of Home. It’s certainly Scottish in feel, but uniquely distilled into something rather special indeed thanks to the protagonists’ own travels and travails.