I think it’s fair to say that February wasn’t a great month here. But never mind, it’s gone now and what started out as a rather mundane and unremarkable day somewhere in the middle of it was brightened up by an email received from a band whose debut EP I had in these pages a mere few years ago, offering me a listen of their brand new (and second) full album. Such an unintentional birthday present was gratefully received, yet it’s a measure of the craziness of the whole of the last four weeks that it was only last night I was sufficiently Not At Work enough to sit back and take it all in. And what a treat it turned out to be.
Back in the days where people weren’t too fussed about genre labels, when experimentalism regularly hit the high points of the charts and when nobody really gave much of a stuff how much records weighed, remixes reigned supreme. These were mostly shuffled off to the margins of b-sides and exclusive 12″ singles, but there was the occasional album of rejigged and reworked music for our pleasure. Remixing was all over the place, some remixers became more venerated than the people who employed them, and then it all seemed to tail off rather quickly, or at least vanish underground to a place where most people couldn’t find them, except for the very determined. The occasional gem bobbed up to the surface (the Soulsavers’ sublime take on Starsailors’ Four To The Floor being a prime example), but it all went quiet as some remixers went back to being DJs, others started making their own records from scratch, and others carried on messing about for diminishing audiences. This record is a celebration of decades of messing about with other peoples’ stuff.
Blimey. The post-Christmas slump went on for a bit longer than I thought it would this year, so here we are in the middle of February with the first mention of a record this year. Whatever passes for normal service will resume whenever, but at least I have much to be going on about until I catch up properly. All of this is of course an entirely opposite approach to the tireless and mysterious Servant Roberts, who announced this record late on a Wednesday evening, followed by despatching the same for it to arrive that very weekend. The world needs more of his like. And to put the tin hat on such speedy service, and in keeping with his paymasters’ previous musical jiggerypokery, this is not just one record but two…
Even before I get onto anything else, this was one of those occasions where a special round of applause should be reserved for those least mentioned of a touring company, the bus driver. How he got that thing there last night must have been little short of miraculous. After my fun, if slightly concerned drive there (I could be heard going “are you sure?” to my Satnav more than once as I was sure was deliberately leading me astray down roads where the provision of a single track would have been a blessed luxury), it was a curious delight to enter the tiny arena of Hebden Bridge’s Trades Club with the rest of a crowd of just shy of 200 people to catch a couple of highly memorable sets.
On the last day of the year, it’s my favourite record of the year. When I first heard this in April by accident, I was pretty sure that this was going to end up on the top of the 2014 pile. After a small amount of doubt in the middle of Summer, I can’t believe that I thought that it could have been anything else at any point. All good and great albums are supposed to be something different as well as something that, for want of a better term, just “fits” whether that tessellation comes in the form of the meeting of moods, becoming a subconscious part of a specific event, or merely by dint of becoming the zeitgeist of a whole litany of events. This is it. The only record I heard this (almost last) year that does all of that.
This record and the one that follows were pretty interchangeable during the month or so that it took to put this whole Top Fifty together. I’m pretty sure I have them the right way round though, as I hope to explain tomorrow (yes! I
will might actually get this review of 2014 completed in 2014!). As it’s a personal statement, it’s only fitting that the ones that made the most personal impact became such favourites of mine, and for such disparate reasons. With this one, the impact is something created rather than reflected, and that’s a gift well worth celebrating.
Genre pigeonholing, don’t you just love it? Ever since Faith No More were dubbed “Funk Metal” back in the 1980s, mankind’s desire to label things that sound a bit different to everything else has seen labels get sillier and sillier. Then again, it all started with Rock and Roll, which makes little sense anyway. I did try to find something all-encompassing to encapsulate whatever goes on during the course of this record, but nothing fits. Even the current trend for “Post-” anything doesn’t seem to work, as even looking up something as outwardly clever as “Post-Blues” brought up Booker T and the MG’s, Jethro Tull and Chris Cornell, so it’s anyone’s guess really. Ultimately though, it doesn’t really matter except to people who don’t read past an arbitrary number of stars and the first sentence of anything. What does matter is how something moves you, and Phantom Radio moves like nothing else. A Post-Lanegan record, perhaps?
Sometimes, something just grabs you and doesn’t let go. Inventions, a coming-together of Explosions In The Sky’s Matt T. Smith and Eluvium’s Matthew Cooper is most definitely one of those somethings. The first play of this album overwhelmed and reprogrammed the senses, and a later, memorable playthrough on a train journey down to London cemented its status as a record to be cherished. It’s a record that suggests constant movement, described before a single note is played thanks to the arresting cover art, taken from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope tracking a pulsar’s journey over the course of 51 months. As a visual accompaniment to the music, one could do a lot worse and very little better at describing wonder in a single image.
It’s all going in fits and starts here, and with three days left until the end of the year it’s all getting a bit fraught here. It will be finished though, even if it’s nudging midnight at the last timezone on the planet. It’s an enjoyable pursuit, not only because of the excuse to revisit and re-evaluate all the best musical bits of 2014, but just to have a bit of a laugh and kill a bit more time while doing so. These things do have a habit of being a bit po-faced and serious, and whenever it feels like enjoying something starts to approach seriousness, it’s time to step away, put the kettle on and think about playing outside for a bit.
As an aside, doing this sort of thing isn’t the same as it was when I started. Every platform I use to try to let people know what I’m doing here has been taken over by people uninterested in sharing experiences and engaging in a like-minded word-of-mouth spirit of community, and instead concentrate on letting me know that unless I spend (a lot of) money, it’s all guaranteed to be a bit pointless as I cannot reach my “customers”, and presumably this will also mean that people wanting to have a gander at/interact with this site (or a whole host of other, better ones) are going to find it a bit more of a struggle to do so. I don’t want any, and have no need of, customers. Next year, I’ll start afresh, or at last the same as I did 5 years ago when the intention was to quietly not be read while I put things in order.
Vinyl. Vinyl vinyl vinyl. It’s all you ever hear about nowadays. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as it’s a lovely format, although postmen the world over would perhaps beg to disagree, although it’s a format a lot more fetishised and snobby than it was back when it was a bit more of a necessity. It’s a happy accident this year that almost all of my top ten records this year are all here in variously-hued plastic (including this one, which finally arrived in physical form not 24 hours ago after being caught up in the now-standard pressing delay), and it has to be said that it’s a format I like in a lightsaber-ish “for a more civilised age” thing. It’s a bloody expensive hobby though, so where uncertainty strikes I’m more likely to go for the cheaper option. Not here though, as I knew I was going to be onto a winner so the extra expense was well worth it.