Right, after that enjoyable diversion, I’m off again.
On to the Top Ten at last, and while the records featured were easy to pick out, putting them in some sort of order I’m happy with has proven to be a nightmare thus far. In short, it’s not done yet! I’ve spent much of this week’s travelling time listening and relistening to each album, and I’m still none the wiser as no sooner have I finished listening to one, then that one leaps up several places until I listen to the others and it all gets a bit messy. But that all just gives me an excuse to listen to them all again and come up with a different order, so as pointless as this whole thing’s been since the start, at least it’s still fun.
There’s also the thing that all of these final entrants, in whatever order they manifest themselves in, are in the last ten not just because they’re really good records (which they are), but have stood out from the others for reasons that aren’t necessarily musical; hopefully the guff written about them over the next three weeks or however long it takes will go a long way to explaining this intangible otherness that’ll all make sense at some point. Fingers crossed on that one.
So, at Number Ten, I have this absolute gem from Germany that I bought on a late-night whim and more or less because of the title and a sepia-toned cover that reminds me ever-so-obliquely of Tove Jansson’s Moomin artwork. And if that’s not a decent enough reason to blind-buy a record, then I don’t know what is.
Recorded by two people in a huge room, Pretty Lightning fill the space given with as much sound as possible. The bluesy drum & guitar combination can’t help but draw comparison to The Black Keys, but this is all liberally coated with a massive helping of Spook that makes the album’s title feel more like a genuine threat, with song titles such as Down With The Moon, Old Lord and An Old Wives’ Tale coming across as chapters in an old Fairy Tale anthology from back in the day when Fairy Tales were full of blood and terror.
A more contemporary comparison would be to the Smoke Fairies’ cyclic Anglodelta riffing, but with none of the brambles removed from the pathway. There is something well off the beaten track about Pretty Lightning’s approach to their craft, with a promise that if you keep wandering you’re bound to come across something rather odd in a previously undiscovered clearing along the way. This is personified in the third track Blazing Bright, where a short, funereal folky intro gives way to a huge slide-guitar and organ whirligig cacophony that can’t help but captivate and startle first-time listeners. Then you have the vast Old Lord, reminding me of Soundgarden at their Louder Than Love peak with their huge riffs and larger ideas anchored to the ground by a very homespun ethic and rusty hooks that make it one of my very favourite songs of the year.
At the heart of all this is the obvious notion that, when presented with a pair of noisy instruments and a cavernous room in which to play them in, it’s a huge amount of fun to be as loud as possible in the process, even when they’re being relatively calm among the eerie drones of The Sound Of Thunder or See No Evil. This has the effect of pushing the vocals towards the back of the record but it all adds to the atmosphere as the echoey voice is carried around each song as if fighting against a storm. And it’s that word Atmosphere that is key here, as from start to finish There Are Witches In The Woods is positively dripping with the stuff. Like all the best storybooks of anyone’s childhood, it’s something that fascinates and unsettles in equal measure, and so fires up the imagination like nothing else I’ve listened to this year. It’s certainly strange (and almost definitely the strangest thing on this entire list), but that’s why I like it so.