Best of 2014, 20-11

048Of course it’s not a “Best Of”.  It’s just a title I did once and am now stuck with.  For me, it’s a bit of well-meaning guff at a time of year when I could do with distracting myself and others with stuff that I hope to be vaguely entertaining or perhaps interesting.  If not, then it’s given me something to do.  It’d be nice if this is how and why all such lists are created, as the prevalence of them now (which is far greater than five years ago when I first had the notion of doing such a thing for myself) is verging on the ubiquitous, and if they all were just to get traffic (as if such a thing was important) then it’s a bit sad for those who still do it out of sheer enthusiasm for what they enjoy doing.  Maybe we should try to do something else next year, as it all feels like an accountancy exercise when there’s so much chatter of what publications feel that they should include rather than celebrating the stuff that they wanted to put in.

Everything included here and in the previous twelve months, the years prior to that and – with a bit of luck and a fair wind – the years to come also, is a celebration.  I intend to keep it that way.

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Best of 2014: 40-31

017I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to finish this.  Usually, I try to get it all out of the way as close to this side of Christmas as possible, but that’s not going to happen I don’t think, especially as I have a couple more things to park here & elsewhere in the meantime.  Never mind, the whole point of these things is to take in the whole year, even if in this case it ends up being the fiscal one.  And more importantly for me, it’s about getting it right in my own head rather than rushing to be first or making sure that the ‘right’ people get namechecked.  It’s all about what feels right, and at the end of the year where such a thing seemed largely impossible on any number of fronts, it’s nice to be calm and reflective about the whole thing finally.

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Best of 2014: 50-41

009What a strange year this turned out to be.  Leaving aside the various inconveniences and horrors that have kept me away from this place for much of 2014, it’s also been even harder for anyone to get their blogs out there thanks to the concerted efforts of the sort of places that were originally set up to be all social and sharing.  Ah well, I wasn’t comfortable with tarting this place about back in 2010 and I’m not changing now.
It’s also been a really eclectic year – either in the case of the type of records that have been coming out (and also the people making them) or maybe my own shifting tastes during an uncertain, unsettled year.  However they’ve come to me, I’m glad they did and the selection process ended up being a very swift affair, starting off with over eighty candidates and then a few arbitrary orderings and re-orderings before the fifty that will follow over the next few weeks settled into a bunch that feels about right, with a bit of room for things to move about a little bit as I progress.  Some of the ones that didn’t quite make it should have done and some that did will probably feel out of place by the time I’ve finished, but that’s the nature of these things when they’re done as they should be; on a quixotic whim rather than like a process of accountancy that these things end up elsewhere.
And as I look back at previous years to see how I usually do these, I see that I should have started on or around the 12th of November, so whoops.  I’d better get a shift on.

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Kings Of The South Seas

kingsIn the bit between getting home from work and going back out to work again, I’ve been reading Tom Hiney’s On The Missionary Trail, a true tale of two gentlemen of the London Missionary Society who went on a long jaunt around the hitherto uncolonised parts of the late-18th Century world to see just how their previously-dispatched missionaries were getting along.  While there’s a little bit of “well, what did they think would happen?” in places, it’s a remarkable story of not just confronting the best and worst of the cultures they visited on a succession of whaling vessels, but the best and worst of their own – the first tale of cannibalism for example comes from within an American crew, and the least said about those in charge of the Australian penal colonies the better.
All of this fascinating reading comes from the anticipation of this record, inspired by this and other stories of the time.  And while the extensive liner notes make it quite clear that Kings Of The South Seas do not support modern whaling, the admiration for their distant ancestors, the communities around the world and the people changed on both sides (and the germs they swapped) is palpable and well-deserved here.  Because sometimes – to quote an old folk trope – people really did sail out of Liverpool, never to return.

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Black Whales – Through The Prism, Gently

prismIt’s all a bit “fits & starts” here at the moment I’m afraid.  Blame work.  The upshot of all this is that instead of getting to spend time doing this, I’m currently waking up, going to work stupidly early, getting home stupidly late, soup and then bed.  For six days a week.  Ah well, it’s infinitely better than what I was facing this time last year.

On the plus side, the drive to and from work is incredible fun, as it currently involves driving alone down myriad twisting country lanes, unlit and occasionally foggy.  As well as these natural hazards, the journey is now about 40 minutes each way which means that I more often than not get a whole record in while avoiding stuffing my car into yet another hedge/tree/escaped cow.  This one’s been getting a lot of play time during the past couple of weeks and it’s an escape well-received.

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Alain Johannes – Fragments and Wholes, Vol.1

fawThere’s something rather pleasing about using numbers as something other than passing the time or showing how much there is of something.  Tomorrow’s 11/11 is a good example of this as it is with its symmetry and a date that avoids transatlantic confusion, but throw the year into the mix and add the all the digits from 11/11/2014 together and you end up with another eleven.  Which is nice.  So what better date to usher in the release of a new solo record from one of rock music’s busiest men Alain Johannes (he of Eleven, naturally)?

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The Night Terrors – Pavor Nocturnus

pavorHallowe’en is over for yet another year, all my sweets have been extorted by a succession of little demons and I’ve spent far too long assembling a new record player, the instructions to which are only slightly more complicated and abstract than those imprinted on the side of the two Voyager Spacecraft should they be discovered at any point in the universe’s vast future by a civilisation of audiophiles.  The spirit (ha!) of the day is duly extended here by a band whose central sound tends to evoke horrors of yore, bolstered here by the addition of what I read to be the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Grand Romantic Organ, a title that I must admit to previously believing to be held by Sir Les Patterson’s skin.

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Matthew Ryan – Boxers

MatthewRyan-BoxersUsually, and certainly of late, I find it a struggle to find that elusive interesting “in” to a record, that unique moment that allows me to begin a train of thought to wherever.  The most difficult thing for me with this particular one is that it was all to easy to do and I remain unsure about if I want to go down that track.  But here I am and there I go, and as nobody reads this anymore anyway I can relax a bit more and head off to wherever this is going to take me.  It’s that sort of an album, and a fitting end to this brief jaunt around Pennsylvania’s gritty musical output.

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Little Big League – Tropical Jinx

little-big-league-tropical-jinxOnto the second part of this visit to the State of Pennsylvania, which I now discover is more of a Commonwealth anyway.  No idea what that means, but there you go.  And after having my hearing and nerves shattered by 4 and 5am fire alarms here, I am in no state (or commonwealth?) to find out properly.  Little Big League are a band from Philadelphia, Tropical Jinx is their second album and their debut struck such a chord with me last year (it was a well-deserved favourite) that it feels like they’ve been around for a lot longer, something reinforced by the progression and feel of this new one.  October’s been a good month.

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Cayetana – Nervous Like Me

cayetanaShould all go to plan, this should be the first of three consecutive posts about new stuff from three different sets of artists from the same US state.  In the pantheon of “big areas where sounds come from” Pennsylvania’s not the first place that would spring to mind, fairly or otherwise, yet here I am with a trio of really good records each with something different to say.  And as tradition tends to dictate in these matters, it’s fairest that I pick the first one first: the first one to arrive here and the band’s first long-player.  Serendipity also dictates that the next one will be someone’s second record and the third is from someone a decent distance into an established career.  So that’s nice.

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