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.


Sleepy Sun – Maui Tears

ssunAs vinyl becomes more and more popular among people who want something a bit more three-dimensional in life, it’s probably inevitable that little hiccups happen along the line.  At the moment, I’m waiting for three things to be released, all delayed because of production issues.  The explosion in demand in recent years hasn’t been met by an increase in production facilities, and with more labels wanting to use the services of those who thankfully didn’t scrap all their machinery to make room for computer storage, the queues are getting longer – especially now in this run-up to Record Store Day when more people than ever will be champing at the bit to get their goods  done and ready in time to meet the demand from eBay Flippers fans waiting outside stores all night.

But hey, this is all about personality and passion, not punctuality.  I’d rather something was late and wonderful than on time and  rushed.  Like films whose release dates are timed, set in stone and hyped months in advance to maximise the market and then are bodged together at the end after a series of unforseen delays, records need to be finished and prepared so that whenever they appear, the time is right for them to be there.  And until someone either finds a stash of forgotten pressing machinery in a shed somewhere or has the bright idea (and cash) to make some new industrial equipment, we’re stuck with waits and apologies – and in this case, some digital files while we wait.  Thanks for that!


Best of 2012, 40-31

I’d forgotten how much time these things took to write!  Obviously these are a bit wordier than the usual posts, but there’s the added fun of sitting down and listening to each of these again in turn whilst trying to come up with something  different to whatever I wrote the first time around.  Thankfully, the only problem I have with this is that it’s all rather time-consuming when I get re-lost in ten albums’ worth of stuff and forget to type anything, followed by doing it all over again.  Which is kind of the point in me doing any of this in the first place.

I’ve also got a couple of new things on the way over the course of the next few weeks to break up the “oh bloody hell, another ten already?” typey marathons, including another jaunt down to London to catch up with friends and take in a gig which should hopefully also bring forth a rather unexpected CD.  Ooh, and a couple of milestones for this silly little site which I’m surprised, happy and humbled to be passing.


Anywhere – Anywhere

The nature of musical “supergroups” has changed a lot since the heady days of the 1970s.  Instead of lurching around the globe in individual monogrammed articulated lorries, only meeting bandmates at motorway service stations while conspiring to sound louder and dress more egregiously than each other, all the fun ones nowadays have ambitions no loftier than hanging out with friends from other bands and making records with them – and thank the stars for that.  Even when faced with the Rock Godliness of Them Crooked Vultures, the emphasis remains less on extended oneupmanship soloing and more on being part of a good tune.  It seems that supergroups are much more super when they’re more down to Earth, and that can only be a good thing.  So it’s a pleasure to sit and listen to this coming together of eclectic talent, making a record that sounds immediate and timeless in equal measure.


Sunday Whatever

I’m writing this in a bit of a mood, to be honest.  I was flattened by a migraine yesterday so missed the first of two shows at Jodrell Bank (last year’s show with the Flaming Lips was a stunner), and overnight we had a month’s worth of rain in one go, so tonight’s gig with Paul Weller is cancelled.  Ah well, maybe next year…

On the plus side, my “I’ve got a record player again!” epiphany is paying dividends, to the point where the “From the Past” section (and the section why this whole malarkey exists) is going to suddenly and oddly expand with each “I don’t remember owning that”/thing that’s never been reissued or digitised.  If I ever get round to it, a “stuff out of the attic” section may or not appear soon.  I’ve got to get it all transferred over to the compy first, so this may not happen any time soon and it won’t be very highbrow, given some of the shockers up there…


Only 5 whatevs this week, I’ve got ironing to do before the football and a shopping list for the attic.


Sleepy Sun – Spine Hits

Approaching this one was a strange experience.  I had bought their previous album Fever on the strength of their co-vocalist Rachel Fannan’s stunning work on that year’s UNKLE album, and was introduced to a band and record that absolutely floored me.  And now Rachel’s not part of Sleepy Sun any more, departing suddenly and pointedly towards the end of 2010.  When things such as this happen, it does burst certain bubbles that fans create around their record collection and the people involved in it – and given Sleepy Sun’s tight-knit Acid-folk Rock sound that evokes feelings of community and a certain carefree charm, it’s a bit of a jolt when divisions are revealed behind the final product.

But, for us record-buying folk, the final product is what drives us.  So it was with an intrigued curiosity to see what Sleepy Sun would do next.


End of Year Doings, Part 3

Yes, quite.

Just realised that in doing a top 35 (which isn’t exactly 35 anyway), splitting it into chunks of ten will eventually offend some law of mathematics or other.  Whoops.

Undeterred by this, the last five(ish!) will be individually added daily next week from Monday – although as I’m attempting a jaunt off down to the South Coast on Wednesday for three days this might get delayed a bit depending on internet connection and whether or not I stuff the car into a snowdrift on the way down there.  Will be brilliant when/if I arrive (not least because of a gig I’ve been looking forward to for months), must admit to being a bit twitchy about the journey although I’m sure it’s nothing that a shovel, spare socks and a flask of Bovril can’t sort out…  Will certainly be finished by next Sunday anyway, as I’m getting to the point where I just want it done and out of the bloody way!


Sleepy Sun – Fever

I must admit to not having listened to any of Sleepy Sun’s output until very recently, and it was only because of a couple of great contributions to recent 3rd party output that got me to finally shell out on their latest work to see what they are like when left to their own devices.  So, I suppose this purchase was made out of a sense of polite intrigue rather than anything else, which is a bit of a first.  And as blind picks go, this is one that would impress even Paul the Psychic Octopus.

Then again, has anyone else noticed that Paul just goes for the same box every time?  I suspect that he’s not so much psychic as multi-left-handed…

Mid-afternoon Compilation Saturday: Be Yourself

This week’s venture into the world of Various Artists is a new album, recorded as tribute to an old album.
Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners was his first solo outing and as fine a chronicle of the time as any.
Released in 1971 and at a time when Nash was at a fairly low ebb due to a relationship breakup, Songs For Beginners comes across as an incredible personal record, trying to make sense of everything around him from matters personal to global.  And through all this, his view on everything that affected him enough to create this album is crafted and delivered with an optimism that is difficult not to be positively moved by it.

Tribute albums dedicated to artists are of course very common.  Rarer though are sole albums the subject for the tribute treatment.  Be Yourself is one such recording, and replicates the original down to the track listing.  What makes this all the more special is the inclusion of Graham’s daughter Nile to oversee the project and to also chip in with two songs.

Something that strikes the listener immediately with this album, straight from Port O’Brien and Papercuts’ Military Madness is that it is largely played fairly straight, with no artist straying too far from Nash’s original recorded vision.  Arrangements are similar, tempos identical and the feeling behind the vocal delivery retains the same mixture of melancholy and optimism of the original.  This is most evident in Brendan Benson’s amazing take on the heartbreakingly-honest Better Days, where the the similarities are closest.  This is no bad thing however, rather it’s an artist perfectly capturing the mood and feel of a song and producing a version with incredible empathy.

And this isn’t to say that the various involved parties don’t put some of their own unique personalities into the recordings.  Vetiver’s take on I Used to be a King and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold’s Be Yourself  bring their best chops to the table, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy adds a Hispanic flavour to his translation of A Simple Man (Hombre Sincillo), and folky drone-rockers Sleepy Sun stamp their chameleonic authority on Chicago.
It’s hard to pick an outstanding highlight on this record, as all contributions are all excellent and combine superbly with each other to create an album as whole and complete as the original.

This is essential stuff for fans of everyone involved, including Graham Nash himself.  If you have Songs For Beginners and have taken it to heart, you’ll love this.  If you have this without owning the original, then buy that immediately.  And if you have neither, then purchase both.

Link to Grass Roots Record Co. for details of how/where to get hold of this album can be found here.