Category Archives: Music
10. They Might Be Giants – ‘Glean’
There are some people who think They Might Be Giants career began and ended with 1990’s Birdhouse In Your Soul. These people are idiots. TMBG are one of the most consistently excellent bands working today, who have, to date, released seventeen studio albums plus a whole plethora of other material.
Glean began as an updated version of their classic Dial-A-Song service (where fans could call an answer machine onto which the Johns had recorded songs). They recently took the idea online and ‘Glean’ is essentially the collection of the best of those songs, and in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from these boys, it’s a quirky treasure trove of pop nuggets and idiosyncratic stories.
Opener Erase is pure Linnell pop goodness, while Music Jail, Pt. 1 & 2 is Flansburgh at his Flood level quirkiness. Sorry, that last sentence probably only made sense to about eight people. Look, it’s really great, go buy it, then all their other albums. Thank me later.
9. Turbowolf – ‘Two Hands’
I must admit I never really took to Turbowolf on their first album. I was never quite sure what they were supposed to be. Not that being uncategorisable is necessarily a bad thing but they just never quite clicked for me.
Now, armed with a new rhythm section, they’re back with their second album ‘Two Hands’ and I’ll be putting my two hands in the air and admitting I was wrong (see what I did there? You don’t get quality journalism like that in the NME). ‘Two Hands’ is a dirty bomb of kinetic energy. Thick fuzzy riffs, clattering drums, and with singer Chris projecting his insane lyrics over the top.
Solid Gold is a big filthy groove stomp of a song, American Mirrors sounds like doing cocaine on a rollercoaster, and Good Hand sounds like T-Rex being played by Monster Magnet.
They may still be uncategorisable, but ‘Two Hands’ is fiercer and more focused than they ever sounded before.
8. Lyla Foy – ‘UMi’
Lyla’s 2014 album ‘Mirrors The Sky’ was a lovely discovery for me last year. So much so that it made my top 10 of the year. UMi feels very much like a companion piece to ‘Mirrors…’. A lilting, dreamy, lovely little seven track mini-album that makes me sleepy in the very best possible sense.
River is simply gorgeous (listen to it on headphones, the backing vocals are amazing!) and Tiger ranks among her best songs, but much like her last album, there’s really not a sour moment on the whole thing. It may all be over in a little under half an hour but I guarantee you’ll be reaching for the play button the second it’s finished. That is if you haven’t already drifted off into a wonderful dream about clouds.
7. Chris Cornell – ‘Higher Truth’
Cornell’s last album, 2009’s ‘Scream’ raised more than a few eyebrows. Its slick Timbaland production did not sit well with fans of his heavier output. Cornell apologised in the best possible way by getting Soundgarden back together and recording 2012’s excellent ‘King Animal’. Now he’s back on his own and while ‘Higher Truth’ is unlikely to appease the rabid Badmotorfinger fans, it is. In many way, the anti-‘Scream’.
In lesser hands this is a collection of songs that could run the risk of sounding twee or mawkish, but in the hands of Cornell (and long time grunge collaborator Brendan O’Brien) ‘Higher Truth’ is an earnest stripped back, heart on sleeve, acoustic rock album, and it’s pretty damn lovely.
Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart and Our Time In The Universe are the closest the album comes to straight up rock songs, and while they’re definitely both highlights, it’s the gentler numbers that really creep up on you. The near bluegrass Dead Wishes or the stunning Before We Disappear create images not of a dark grunge band but of two old songsmiths, sat on a back porch, playing for the love of it.
As I say, if your favourite Cornell tune is Slaves And Bulldozers this may not be for you. But if you’re in the mood for some beautifully organic song writing, sung by one of rock’s greatest vocalists, you will find so much to love on ‘Higher Truth’.
6. Veruca Salt – ‘Ghost Notes’
Well this one was a nice surprise. The first Veruca Salt album in nine years and the first to feature the classic line up since 1997’s ‘Eight Arms To Hold You’. With the formidable tag team of Nina Gordon and Louise Post back together (along with Jim Shapiro and Steve Lack bringing up the rear) they have made an absolute corker of a record.
Ghost Notes tales the melodic fuzz we’ve come to expect from this lot (or maybe that you vaguely remember from seeing Seether on MTV back in the 90’s) and imbues it with a depth and maturity that sometimes borders on the genuinely beautiful.
The Sound Of Leaving and Empty Bottle are stark, beautiful and passionate while the likes of The Gospel According To Saint Me and Love You Less prove that they can still knock a great fuzzy pop song.
It’s really great to hear Post and Gordon’s voices back on the same record. Let’s hope this is the (re)start of a beautiful friendship.
5. Therapy? – ‘Disquiet’
Enemies to grammar Nazis the world over, Northern Ireland’s Therapy? have been a bloody consistent (and persistent) lot. Even the weaker moments in their fourteen (FOURTEEN!!!) album career have produced some amazing moments. ‘Disquiet’ is not one of their weaker moments. A decidedly more melodic beast than their previous couple of releases, ‘Diquiet’ may just be the closest in sound they’ve come to their mighty ‘Troublegum’ album in a long time.
Opener Still Hurts feels very much like a spiritual successor to Knives the opener from the aforementioned ‘Troublegum’, and Insecurity could have sat happily anywhere on their 1994 opus. This isn’t straight imitation though, the chorus of Tides soars in the bleak way only a Therapy? chorus can, and closer Deathstimate (they’ve always loved a good portmanteau word) is a broody Sabbathy beast with a monster riff hanging off of it.
Therapy? have produced some phenomenal work in their 26 years and if Disquiet is anything to go by, they show no signs of stopping.
4. Skindred – ‘Volume’
BOOM! Just over a year after they released ‘Kill The Power’, Skindred are back with what might be the album of their career. The sound is absolutely huge! Monster guitars, play Godzilla sized riffs while frontman Benji continues to be one of the most underrated vocalists in rock.
Opening salvo Under Attack explodes from the speakers with a riff guaranteed to have you bouncing off the walls. Title track Volume is straight up one of the best tunes they’ve ever penned, The Healing has an absolutely monster riff hanging off of it, and closer 3 Words is actually pretty damn gorgeous and heartfelt.
Then there’s Mr. Benji Webbe. Fusing searing metal, soulful reggae and fearsome ragga styles into one glorious whole, he is one of the most unique and gifted vocal talents around, and on top of that, one of the most magnetic frontmen to grace a stage.
Get this album, go see them live, and give ‘em a Newport Helicopter from me (you’ll know).
3. Clutch – ‘Psychic Warfare’
Regular readers will know that I was a big fan of 2013’s ‘Earth Rocker’, but ‘Psychic Warfare’, for my money, outshines it. Taking the pure rock fury (see what I did there?) of the previous album but adding some more colour and variation, this is possibly the closest in sound they’ve come to their magnum opus Blast Tyrant. If you aren’t already in a full sprint to the record store after reading that sentence then I’m just going to assume you already own a copy.
Opener (intro track aside) X-Ray Visions gives you everything you want from a Clutch song, driving guitars, grooving drums, and Fallon’s fascinatingly off-kilter lyrics, it gives Earth Rocker a run for its money in terms of sheer, balls out drive (plus how many times have you heard a singer introduce his band by their star signs?). Firebirds contains some of the best lyrics Fallon has ever written and Quick Death In Texas is one of their best songs period. And we’re only at track 4!
Other highlights include the funktastic Your Love Is Incarceration, the dirty lounge blues of Our Lady Of Electric Light, and closer Son Of Virginia which, to my ears at least, sounds like the boys channeling ‘Murder Ballads’ era Nick Cave (imagine a Fallon / Cave collaboration. Go on, imagine it?).
Psychic Warfare is the boys on top form. And to be honest, it’s almost pointless even writing about it because if you were going to buy it, you probably have already, right?
These last two albums got swapped between the number 1 and 2 slot so many times that I just decided to make them both joint number 1. They’re impossible to compare and each brilliant in their own way.
-/1. Chelsea Wolfe – ‘Abyss’
I’ve been dreading writing about this one. I mean, how do you sum up an album like Abyss in a few pithy paragraphs? What words do you use? Beautiful, harrowing, hypnotic, devastating? It is an album that defies words. It is an album to be experienced, to be felt, not thought about.
I didn’t get it at first. I mean I liked it sure, it was heavy as shit, with Ms. Wolfe’s signature wail on top of it all. But I didn’t ‘get it’. Then I listened to it on headphones and my mind exploded. This isn’t an album for the car, or to put on in the background. It deserves to be listened to in a dark room through good quality speakers, without any other distractions. That when you finally realise what a densely layered beast Abyss truly is. Among the wall of doom guitars float delicate vocal loops. Ethereal strings and broken pianos play among the carnage.
You may have guessed by now that this is not a happy album. In fact it is one of the darkest albums I have ever heard. But it is also so beautiful it nearly makes me cry. I can’t even bring myself to highlight individual tracks as it needs to be experienced as a whole. Once I start listening I cannot turn it off.
Abyss is not for everyone, but if you think you can handle it then you owe it to yourself to check out this truly stunning piece of work. Thank you Chelsea, don’t go getting happy on us any time soon.
-/1. Sleater Kinney – ‘No Cities To Love’
Comeback albums have always been greeted with some trepidation. Often very large rose tinted glasses are required to convince yourself that the magic you heard in your youth is still evident. And yet, for the second year in a row, our number one slot has been taken one.
It has been ten long years since SK’s excellent swansong The Woods. Time which has seen the ladies embark on numerous other musical projects and even a successful TV sketch show (the excellent Portlandia). But now it’s like they never left.
Everything that makes Sleater Kinney such a great band is here in spades. The jittery guitar riffs, the vocal interplay between Tucker and Brownstein, and Janet Weiss’ propulsive drumming, all wrapped up with their trademark socio-political lyrics.
This isn’t a left turn for the band, there is nothing on here that will shock or surprise old school fans, it is simply what Sleater Kinney do best, done really fucking well. Unlike Ms. Wolfe’s album, I can’t claim No Cities… will change your life, or redefine what you think of modern rock music, and that right there is the biggest compliment I can give. It earns its number one slot on the sheer strength of ten incredible rock songs. This is not just a great SK album, it’s possibly the best thing they’ve ever done. Ten sublime slices of catchy, beautiful, furious alternative rock that never put a note wrong.
Over their 20 year career, Corin Tucker has gone from someone who basically wails in fifths to an absolutely formidable vocalist, and her talents really shine through here. From the staccato rage of ‘Price Tag’ to the soaring anguish of closer ‘Fade’ she is nothing less than superb.
No Cities To Love came in early (it was released at the end of January) and has fearlessly batted away all competition for the next eleven months. It is simply a fantastic album that you will want to play again the second it stops. More please ladies!
Honorable Mentions: Faith No More – ‘Sol Invictus’, Eagles Of Death Metal – ‘Zipper Down’, Foo Fighters – ‘St Cecilia’, The Dead Weather – ‘Dodge & Burn’, The Front Bottoms – ‘Back On Top’, We Hunt Buffalo – ‘Living Ghosts’.
Somewhere back in the mists of time I wrote this article. It was a ranty yet lighthearted list of the people who get on my nerves at gigs, from the talkers to the fuckers who watch the entire show through the screen on their phone. It got a pretty overwhelming response (thanks, in no small measure, to a reposting on the Roadrunner Records Facebook page), plus it also prompted readers to suggest offenders who I may have missed. Prompting me to start compiling a second list for later publication.
In the interim between articles, my girlfriend at the time went to see a band with her sister. At some point in the night she was groped by an arsehole in the crowd. On confronting him she was greeted with the usual “I was only ‘aving a laugh darlin'” sort of response that has sadly become so expected from this type of prick. So she threw her drink at him, at which point he pushed her quite hard, and if it wasn’t for the intervention of his slightly less meat-headed friends, I dread to think where it would have ended up.
Guess what landed the number one spot on my second article?
I was supposed to be at the gig with her that night but was feeling unwell so stayed at home. I was beside myself with anger and guilt that I wasn’t there to protect the woman I loved, and to this day I regret not being there to punch that little weasel in the face.
But that is not the point.
A woman should not need a burly protector in order to enjoy a band. In the same way that she shouldn’t have to dress conservatively or stay sober. And what this highlighted to me personally is how easy it is to enable sexist behaviour through ignorance. Let me explain.
Firstly, I sincerely hope that everyone who reads my humble blog thinks it’s wrong to feel up an unwilling female at a rock gig. If you don’t then please leave…have they gone?….good. I’m sure you were all appalled by the behaviour of the ‘gentleman’ in the above story, and would have been apoplectic if that happened to your friend or partner. I was livid. Beyond livid. I wanted to strangle the fucker to death….and yet I had recently written a list of eight types of people I considered to be the top ‘persona non grata’ of a rock concert, and he wasn’t on there.
Why? Well two reasons. Firstly, I am a 6’3″ tall man who, despite truth to the contrary, looks a bit scary. The closest I’ve come to getting sexually assaulted at a rock show is accidentally getting elbowed in the bollocks in the moshpit of a Wildhearts gig once. The article I wrote wasn’t ‘The 8 Worst People To Meet At A Rock Gig’ as much as it was ‘MY 8 Worst People To Meet At A Rock Gig’.
The second reason is really the main point of this article (see, I do reach the point eventually), and that is that most of us have a tendency to assume that everyone else follows the same moral compass that we do. Sure we know there are rapes and murders and wars but we like to think (or maybe ‘hope’ is the better word) that the person next to you in the supermarket, the bar, or the gig, is generally decent. It’s this thinking that probably prevents us all from being hopeless agoraphobics. Terrified of the outside world. I assume that the person next to me at a gig wouldn’t grab a strange girl’s behind for no other reason than ‘it’s a bit of a laugh’ because I know I would never do that, and as a result it has made me blind to the fact that it does go on. A lot!
Through my incredible female friends I have had my eyes opened to the sort of shit women put up with on a day to day basis. It is through them that I have gone from being someone who respects women to someone who proudly labels themselves a feminist (it turns out there is a massive difference). One of those friends has recently launched an awesome campaign called Safe Gigs For Women which aims to bring greater awareness of the sort of acts mentioned at the start of this article. One point she brings up again and again is this is not about separating the sexes (like some sort of junior school disco), it is about uniting everyone who thinks this sort of behaviour is unacceptable as this is the best way to filter out the small but persistent element that’s trying to ruin it for the rest of us.
So, if you believe that gigs should be a unifying and inclusive place for people of both sexes to enjoy then click on the logo below, share your stories, show your support, and let’s help make the mosh pit a more beautiful place.
When I began compiling this year’s list I was pretty sure I would struggle to think of even 10 albums worthy of mention. But as I trolled through my iTunes ‘recently added’ I kept finding more and more, and as you can see from my lengthy ‘Honourable Mentions’ list, in the end I was struggling to get it down to just 10. 2014 has really been the year of the sleeper hit. Albums that have crept in under the radar and nested in my brain, slowly growing without me really noticing. Only on review did I realise quite how much awesome music had been made this year. But hey, enough of my yacking. Let’s get down to brass tacks…
10. Valley Of The Sun – ‘Electric Talons Of The Thunderhawk’ Hands down the winner of 2014’s greatest album title, this is a monolithic, groovy slab of stoner rock from the unlikely town of Cincinnati, Ohio. Valley of the Sun make way more noise than three people should rightly be able to. All the ingredients for a great stoner album are evident. Fuzzy bass, grooving riffs, soaring 70’s rock vocals, and just the right amount of cowbell (ie. loads of it!). This is an incredibly assured debut album and I can tell you from experience, they’re even better live (their drummer is a maniac!). Check out the chorus hanging off of this bad boy and you’ll see what I mean. 9. Ginger Wildheart – ‘Albion’ For the third year in a row Mr. Wildheart makes an appearance in our top 10 and I must admit this one nearly slipped my mind. After 2012’s Pledge Campaign smashing ‘555%’ and last year’s pop / metal double whammy of Hey! Hello! and Mutation, ‘Albion’ almost seemed to arrive without much fanfare. It’s just the new Ginger Wildheart album. Fortunately that’s much like saying ‘just the new Scorsese movie’ as the guy never disappoints. All the things that make a great Ginger album are evident in spades. Soaring melodies, inventive riffs, songs that jump from out and out pop to crunching metal in a matter of minutes. There may not be many surprises on Albion compared to some of his other releases but if you’re after incredible melodic rock that never fails to stir the emotions then there’s really only one man I would turn to. 8. Lyla Foy – ‘Mirrors The Sky’ There aren’t many albums in my collection that one would describe as ‘chilled out’. There’s a bit of Sneaker Pimps lurking in there and an Ennio Morricone collection that has some relaxing moments on it, but other than that it’s pretty much on the other end of the scale. Therefore this wonderful little album from London based songwriter Lyla Foy is both the literal and metaphorical ‘sleeper hit’ of my year. Coming to my attention when, of all things, horse based, animated comedy Bojak Horseman decided to end an episode with her song Impossible instead of its usual closing theme. The song got under my skin so much that I found myself on Spotify listening to the entire album. For want of a better description, Miss Foy sounds somewhat akin to Lana Del Rey but at no point did I feel like cutting myself. All mellow synths, jangly guitars, and restrained, sensual vocals. It is deceptively catchy indie pop at its best and it’s fucking beautiful. Someone make this girl a star. 7. Sons Of Merrick – ‘Of English Execution’ But enough of this relaxing stuff. Kent boys Sons of Merrick aren’t interested in your spiritual well being, they want to strip the flesh from your bones and pour cheap booze on the open wounds. Their first album, 2009’s ‘Tight Nerves & Suavity’ was a rollicking slice of ragged stoner metal, yet was very much the sum of its influences. Of English Execution sounds like them and them alone. Still retaining the dirty Down style groove, the boys have added a proggy experimental edge to their sound. While monsters like Volley’d And Thunder’d and Hideously Taloned (what a song name!) will sate the riff mongers out there, the brooding epic Of Dusky Palour and loony closing instrumental The Rats Are Coming / The Werewolves Are Here (!!!) really show how much they’ve grown as songwriters and musicians. Vocalist Nick Berkshire has grown so impressively as a vocalist, and backed by such a talented bunch of bastards these boys are a force to be reckoned with. 6. Malibu Shark Attack – ‘Malibu Shark Attack’ I can’t really add anything that I haven’t already said in my review earlier this year. Indie hip hop at its best. Just go grab a copy! 5. The Hold Steady – ‘Teeth Dreams’ I was worried that The Hold Steady had lost something with the departure of their keyboard player Franz Nicolay. 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever, while still better than most band’s albums, lacked the spark that made ‘Stay Positive’ and ‘Boys & Girls In America’ such instant classics. Having returned from hiatus they have seemingly embraced the fact that they’re a guitar band and made a wonderfully earnest album of stripped bare guitar rock. No bells and whistles, just great tunes led by Craig Finn’s trademark story telling lyrics. Teeth Dreams should please fans old and new, blending the raw honesty of the early albums with the melodic sensibility of their later work. It might not quite reach the heights of ‘Boys & Girls…’ but it’s pretty damn close. 4. Jack White – ‘Lazaretto’ Let’s get this out of the way, I never liked The White Stripes. All that monotonous drumming and lack of bass player never really worked for me. As a result it took me a while to be talked round to listening to White’s first solo album ‘Blunderbuss’, but when I did I was blown away. It was how I always wanted The White Stripes to sound. Lazaretto makes Blunderbuss look like shit, if you’ll pardon my French. It is easily the most effortlessly cool album since Queens Of The Stone Age’s ‘Like Clockwork’. Veering from all out Prince-esque groove, to the gentlest of piano led bluegrass, it plays like a CV of everything that makes Jack White one of the most talented and creative songwriters around today. If you’re not humming the piano riff from Alone In My Home after the first listen then there’s something wrong with your ears. Believe me, it’s taking the suppression of every part of my male ego even to post this video – 3. Möngöl Hörde – ‘Möngöl Hörde‘ And now on to the biggest surprise of the year. Folk troubadour Frank Turner had been threatening this project, which sees him returning to his hardcore punk roots and teaming up with old Million Dead bandmate Ben Dawson, for some time. I was excited, but I never anticipated the monster that this album turned out to be. At little over half an hour ‘Möngöl Hörde’ is a blistering exercise in intelligent, face melting, post hardcore, and boy is it exciting. Despite being just a singer, guitarist and drummer (they have no bass player, repeat, they have no bass player!), they sound enormous. Frank is especially in top, throat grating form, as he belts out tales of marauding Mongolians, celebrity tape worms, and how he really, really, hates emoticons. His lyrics are furious and hilarious in equal measure, bringing to mind such lumiaries as Jello Baifra rather than today’s metalcore crowd. That’s not to say it’s mindless. In fact a lot of it is incredibly catchy. Take one listen to lead single Casual Threats From Weekend Hardmen and you’ll be ‘whooing’ along for the rest of the day. I had the pleasure of catching these guys in London and it was terrific. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we hear from them. 2. Manchester Orchestra – ‘Cope’ Did I say that ‘Teeth Dreams’ was raw and honest? My apologies, I had forgotten that this was coming up. Playing more like a spiritual successor to their 2009 album ‘Mean Everything To Nothing’ than the more mellifluous ‘Simple Math’, ‘Cope’ is Andy Hull at his soul bearing, heart bleeding best. Gone are the strings, the gentle acoustic numbers and the lilting southern rock of their last album, this is pure ear-bleeding grunge guitars and wounded animal vocals, cornered but furious. But this isn’t metal, these are still some of the most beautiful and melodic songs you will hear all year. Like Neil Young channeling Kurt Cobain, this is pure, unfiltered, alternative rock and it’s incredible. Andy Hull’s introspective, small town tales tug at the heart while being strangely inspirational. The title track is one of the bleakest and most beautiful songs they have ever written and even lighter songs like Girl Harbour drip with brutal sincerity. Manchester Orchestra may be the greatest alternative rock band of the last ten years. 1. Afghan Whigs – ‘Do To The Beast’ There are two types of people in the world, those who love Afghan Whigs, and those who have never heard Afghan Whigs. Possibly the most under rated band of the 90’s, they went from raw grunge rockers to dark, sexy soul rock pioneers over the course of six albums before disbanding in 2001. Ten years later they reformed for a handful of gigs, but it was three years after that that they finally announced they’d be making a new album. Had time been kind to the Whigs? Would this be simply a cash in album made by a bunch of comfortable, middle aged men? I think its position on the list answers these questions. Of course I already new the answer. I had seen them back in 2013 and they were nothing short of stunning. Although nothing could prepare me for just how sublime ‘Do To The Beast’ turned out to be. It does exactly what a comeback album should do. It harks back to the band’s signature sound, but at the same time brings something fresh and never before heard. This isn’t ‘1965’ pt 2, this is entirely its own…er…beast. Obviously there’s still much for lovers of their back catalogue to get their teeth into. Opener Parked Outside is classic Whigs. That threatening two chord riff recalling the darker moments of ‘Black Love’. Dulli’s lovelorn lyrics read almost like call to arms and an announcement to the fans who’ve stuck with them (‘If time can incinerate what I was to you, allow me to illustrate how the hand becomes the fuse, if they’ve seen it all show them something new’). The Lottery, meanwhile, stirs memories of Gentlemen (from the album of the same name) with its jittery riff and soaring, majestic chorus. But there’s an unexpected spring in the step of new Whigs. ‘Matamoros’ is the first Afghan Whigs song you could genuinely dance to, and Can Rova even has, dare I say it, a house beat underneath it. But it works. All of it works. Which is why this is my album of the year, and that’s without even mentioning the laid back delight of Lost In The Woods, or the dark, heart wrenching beauty of It Kills (‘it kills to watch you love another’). If you have yet to discover the wonder that is The Afghan Whigs then ‘Do To The Beast’ would be a worthy way to start. Honorable Mentions – Machine Head – ‘Bloodstone & Diamonds’. Weezer – ‘Everything Will Be Alright In The End’. The Menzingers – ‘Rented World’. Boy Hits Car – ‘All That Led Us Here’. Foo Fighters – ‘Sonic Highways’. Slipknot – ‘.5: The Grey Chapter’. Mike Doughty – ‘Stellar Motel’. Royal Blood – ‘Royal Blood’. Atmosphere – ‘Southsiders’. Sage Francis – ‘Copper Gone’. Christian Fitness – ‘I’m Scared Of Everything That Isn’t Me’. Mastodon – ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’. Linkin Park – ‘The Hunting Party’.
The story behind Malibu Shark Attack is as fascinating as anything found on their debut album. The band consists of Belfast based Producer Rocky O’Reilly and Atlanta based vocalist Tribe One. Rocky had found some success in his previous band Oppenheimer whose music has appeared on such shows as Ugly Betty and How I Met Your Mother. Tribe One had previously fronted hip-hop act The Remnant. These two people had never met.
As quoted from their official bio ‘as one uploaded tunes and hit the hay, the other would wake up and start recording lyrics and stories’. By the time I discovered them supporting MC Lars in London they had been in each other’s company for exactly four days. Considering the fact that I immediately went over and bought the album after their set, you would never have known it. What they have created is an album of heartfelt and intelligent, yet joyous and uplifting indie hip-hop. Rocky’s 8-bit bouncy synth tracks beautifully complimenting Tribe One’s considered lyrics, perfectly balancing each other, never allowing the songs to become too maudlin or too light in touch.
The album launches from the gate with a triptych of upbeat, toe tappers. ‘Better Of As Friends’, with its wonderfully self deprecating lyrics, humbly explains the new project to the most stubborn fans of their previous acts (‘This isn’t rock n roll, it sounds so thrown together, what happened to Oppenheimer? I liked they’re old stuff better’). Stomper ‘Yo Into New York’ with its driving synth bass hook and shout along chorus and ‘Doing It Wrong’, an uplifting yet laid back ode to following your dreams, set the precedent for what’s to come. This may be upbeat but MSA are no novelty act. They share as much with artists like Sage Francis and Atmosphere as they do the ‘nerd hop’ scene of MCs Lars and Frontalot. There’s a melancholy but it’s an optimistic one.
Things do get serious though as the following two tracks show. ‘Back To The Start’ is an ode to lost friends and the beautiful ‘Internal Organs, in which Tribe One, at his most bitter, decries love and the pain that it causes (‘They say it’s better to have loved and lost, I say it’s better if we’d never been involved. Cos it doesn’t make it any easier to shrug it off knowing our connection will eventually dissolve‘). The song plays like a beat poem performed over and eerie children’s song, eventually reaching a stirring finale of guitars and mariachi trumpets. It is a beautiful high point on the album.
This review is in danger of turning into a track by track account and that’s just lazy journalism, it’s just so hard to leave any of them out. I will however spotlight two last high points of the album. Firstly the eponymous Malibu Shark Attack. If Better Off As Friends is an apology then MSA is a joyous celebration of their collaboration, with its shimmery synth riff and so many quotable lines it seems churlish to single out one. If I was the sort of guy who liked to wave his hands in the air like he just didn’t care, this would be the song I’d do it to.
Lastly there’s Plans For The Weekend. Words cannot describe how much I love this song. It has become the anthem of my summer. A celebration of the simple joy of asking out someone you like (and them saying yes), it is so unremittingly upbeat it would have Edgar Allan Poe dancing. it also showcases just how good a rapper Tribe One is. The way he spits out the rapid fire chorus while still imbuing a warmth and passion would put some much bigger rappers to shame. It also contains the only use of the term ‘YOLO’ that hasn’t made me want to claw my own eyes out (‘And there’s just so much that he don’t know, what if she won”t go and he’s stuck solo? What if she doesn’t even answer the phone though? Only one way to know, so fuck it, YOLO’).
Oh yeah, and that’s Ash’s Tim Wheeler on guitar. He appears on several track alongside a number of guest vocalists including Jesse Dangerously and MC Lars himself.
So there you have it. It’s Hip Hop you can dance to but made by two intelligent and talented individuals who have clearly put their hearts and souls into this project. I’m so chuffed to have seen them live as I imagine it can’t be easy to get the pair together. Hopefully they’ll come to London again soon.
There really are far worse ways you could part with £7 – http://malibusharkattack.bandcamp.com/releases
Here’s the brilliant Better Of As Friends featuring Belfast based vocalist Bee Mick See, who does appear on the album, just, er, not on this track.
When I’m not skewering pop culture with insightful and witty articles I also play the bass. Why is this relevant? You may ask. Well it is relevant because an album I had the good fortune to play on has just been released. That album is ‘The Act of Letting Go’ by Cellarscape and it sounds even lovelier than it looks.
Cellarscape is essentially one man, Mr. Paul Terry. A man I have known since school when we were thrust into the school jazz band as two slightly hapless drummers who couldn’t care less about jazz and really just wanted to play Chili Peppers songs. Since then we have been connected at the musical hip through a weird plethora of projects up to the present day.
I offer up this little piece of personal history for a reason. Paul has been doing the rounds of interviews recently to promote the new album, mostly getting asked the same sorts of questions. So I thought it would be fun to interview him myself as his long time friend and collaborator and hopefully gain a slightly different insight into the man behind Cellarscape.
Are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin…
How has your approach to songwriting changed over the years and how has it stayed the same?
I think with each record I’ve gotten a little bit braver and a little bit more confident to embrace the more angular ideas as they come to me. The way it’s stayed the same is that I still just trust my gut or go on a ‘feeling’/’sense’ when it comes to the direction that a song goes in, and also when I decide it feels completed. I know that’s not a very tangible answer, but I don’t think ideas are ever that, and that’s what I’ve always found exciting about music. From a melodic motif that comes into my head whilst walking along London’s Southbank, to a midnight moment jamming on my guitar in the studio, or a lyrical idea on a flight to the States – I never know where the next song idea is coming from. You just have to make sure you do your best to try and hook and land it when it swims by.
You are Cellarscape’s sole songwriter, but have there been any instances where a contribution from another musician has made you go back and revise a song?
However complex a song becomes – in terms of the arrangements and different instruments that I feel it needs – I always obsess over one thing first: to be a song that feels strong to me, it must have the same emotional content, tone, and I guess “strength” when it’s played on just an acoustic guitar. I’ve always worked this way, and I find it’s a good test of checking whether the song feels finished. Once I’m happy with the guitar part, the vocals, and the lyrics, if I play it all the way through and it feels in my gut that it’s a finished song, that’s when I get excited, because that’s when the work begins for the recorded version. For some songs like ‘Keepsake’ on the new album, it can be a case of feeling that very few additions are needed – maybe some backing vocal harmonies and some detailed counter-tones – but for other songs like ‘Timelapsetiredsky’ or ‘Circa 39’, I can hear that there is a lot more layering of sonics and instruments to come. When other guests musicians come in and record their parts, because I obsessively work out in my head the dynamic progression/story of each song, it’s often a case of the ‘picture/painting’ of the completed song coming more into focus, so it’s always an exciting time when the layers begin to build. When James Bellamy recorded his piano section for ‘Resolutions’, I always knew I wanted the piano to carry the first verses and chorus, but I was originally thinking of bringing the guitar back in earlier. However, the combination of just piano, vocal, and bass felt unexpected and strong for the first chorus, so the guitars’ return became like a punch back in for the following verse. Small adjustments like that happen quite a lot, and it’s important to listen and respond to the feeling you get that an adjustment is needed. It happens the most when I’m recording and arranging the samples and beats. That’s the area where things can morph and shift and make the song better, as it’s a process of discovery. The sessions where I made the homemade beats for this new album were surprising in the best way, and really helped create weight for a lot of the record’s shifting tones and intentions. Vocally, I owe a lot to Tony Lewis who engineered my vocal sessions for the new album. He really, really pushed me, and I can’t thank him enough for doing that, simply because having someone push you to do the absolute best vocal performance you can, can make or break a song.
Are there any songs in your back catalogue that you dislike or at least would change if you could go back?
I wouldn’t say dislike, because that feels mean… And my records are like my musical babies. However, I think there are some songs and moments that I don’t think I quite captured on record what was in my head – and that’s okay, because when you’re making a record, at that time, you put your heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into it, so at that time you did your best. But on reflection, years later, it’s okay to acknowledge that you would’ve preferred that the recorded version had a different vibe, or that you sang it differently, because that means you’re learning more and more about the next kinds of songs you want to write. One example is when we play ‘Little Wisdom’ (from the 2009 record ‘Animation, Suspension’) live, I think we capture the emotion of the song more than the album version does.
Conversely, what song(s) are you most proud of?
Mostly the ones on the new album ‘The Act Of Letting Go’. Some of the guitar parts are really challenging to play, and others are hard to sing, but I really wanted to push myself a lot with this new record. In terms of me diving into territories of complicated arrangements, I’m very proud of ‘Timelapsetiredsky’, as that required a lot of work. Writing that song and making its structure work was kind of like writing a mini-album! James Bellamy and I worked really hard on the string arrangements for that one and we’re thrilled how the finished song turned out. But for me – musically challenging aspects aside – the proudest moments are when I feel that I’ve captured the emotion of the song properly. The duet I do with my dear friend Anneke van Giersbergen called ‘The Same Place’ – I’m very proud of how that one turned out. Anneke did an incredible job of her vocals, the string quartet nailed their parts, and thankfully, my guitaring and singing didn’t ruin their great work. It’s a very important song to me, and I am so grateful that everyone absolutely nailed the emotion of it. From the older records, I’m still very proud of ‘Repeat, Erase, Unite’ (from 2006’s ‘Copilot’) because its style and tone became a big light-bulb moment for me in terms of what songs I wanted to write. And ‘Snowglobe’ (from 2011’s ‘A Theta/Delta Union’) was a big game-changer in terms of me experimenting with a lot of layered and unusual homemade samples, and I’m still very happy with it.
What five albums have been the most influential on your songwriting?
Five? Are you kidding? I can’t name just five. Five HUNDRED would be more accurate, but I’ll single out five records that are definitely part of that huge list:
‘Ocean Machine’ by Devin Townsend. I’ve listened to that album so many times over the past 18 years. It’s nearly 20 years old, and to me, it will still sound as fresh, relevant, important, and timeless hundred years from now. It’s an epic record in every respect – the songs flow from intensely heavy to heartbreakingly fragile, and everything in between. I could never make a record anywhere near as amazing as Ocean Machine, but Devin’s work on that album – and his entire career, from Strapping Young Lad through to DTP and his latest project Casualties of Cool – will always be my biggest influence. Devin is a true artist. He just makes musical art that makes sense to him, no matter what the soundscapes involve.
‘Superunknown’ by Soundgarden is another one. Chris Cornell is one of the greatest songwriters, guitarists, vocalists, and lyricists ever. He is a poet. I’m very obsessive about my own lyrics, and redraft and refine countless times until I feel they are right for the song, and Chris Cornell’s lyrics blow me away every time. ‘Superunknown’ is a perfect record. The track order is perfect. The songwriting is angular, unexpected, fascinating, and always anthemic.
‘Boys For Pele’ by Tori Amos. I’ve got all of Tori’s records and she’s one of my favourite artists, but I’ve singled out ‘Pele’ as I was listening to it a lot when I was at college and was teaching myself the guitar to help get the song ideas out of my head. Her narrative and musical ideas are extraordinary. It’s a really defiant record – it plays out how it wants to, and doesn’t care for a traditional album structure. I love Tori’s commitment to her vocals: the expressions and intonations are utterly captivating.
‘F♯ A♯ ∞’ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor definitely springs to mind. What an amazing and unique band. I adore albums that are cinematic, and you don’t get much more filmic than dear Godspeed.
‘Haunted’ by Poe is a one-of-a-kind record – a musical sibling to Poe’s brother Mark Z. Danielewski (my fave author)’s debut novel ‘House Of Leaves’. It’s also a deeply personal album to Poe, and its structure and songs are perfectly arrange and connected. The pop-rock hooks and more menacing moments are perfectly juxtaposed.
You mentioned you duet with Anneke van Giersbergen on this album. If you could choose any male vocalist to duet with on the next album (I’m thinking more Hunger Strike than Dancing in the Street) who would it be?
There are so many that I would be honoured to have the chance to sing with. They’re both very different vocalists, but it would be amazing to get the opportunity to do a song with Craig B from The Unwinding Hours (formerly of Aereogramme), or Mike Patton. Both are passionate about doing the art they want to do.
What are the benefits to being a solo artist and what are the drawbacks?
The drawbacks of being a solo artist, and an independent artist, are that I have to basically do everything, including the marketing, etc. But they are also the benefits – ideas that come to mind can be acted upon with anyone else trying to talk me out of doing them.
If you could play any other instrument what would it be and why (and don’t say bass!)?
I’d love to be able to play the cello or piano. And, y’know, I’ve played a bit of bass in the past anyway… (This is true, Paul was forced to play the bass on Cellarscape’s ‘Fifth Phoenix’ EP after I bust my shoulder snowboarding. – Ed).
You rarely discuss the true meanings behind your lyrics. Why is that?
It’s because they may start out as my lyrics, but once other ears have heard them, they’re not really “mine” anymore. When you get affected by songs you love, your own personal experiences and emotions get intertwined with the lyrics, and so you effectively make the song mean something very specific to you and your life. And this happens instantaneously – it’s a pretty magical thing. So it wouldn’t be right for me to break that spell for someone who has made a Cellarscape song mean something specific to them and their life. Someone being emotionally affected by a song or film score I’ve written is the greatest gift – I can’t ask for more than that.
You’re a self-taught musician. How has this helped and hindered you as a songwriter?
I think it’s definitely helped way more than hindered. It’s meant that, by ear, I just find the chords and notes and sounds that feel appropriate for the mood of the song. I can’t walk into a room and jam with other musicians, but that’s okay – I enjoy the solitude of crafting my strange little musical stories.
Your first instrument was the drums but your last two releases have not had any drums on them. What were the factors behind that decision?
2011’s ‘A Theta/Delta Union’ was a very conscious and deliberate move away from drums, because I wanted to make a record that explored a more minimalistic style. It was a record where gentle homemade samples were more important than crashing drum sections, which would’ve ruined the dynamics of the songs. ‘The Act Of Letting Go’ is an extension of that mindset. Being a drummer, laying down a traditional drum part for this new album just felt like I was taking the easy option – I’d be going back down a road I’ve been down before on 2009’s ‘Animation, Suspension’. I always want to push myself into new territories rather than go back to things I’ve done before. Drums may return on a future record, but only when the record demands it. The drumming side of me is still a big influence on all the songs though – even the solo acoustic ones – because strong rhythms, and shifting time signatures are hugely important to me.
You’re given two nights at The Roundhouse in Camden with an unlimited budget. What do you do?
Unlimited budget? Well, first I’d make it a free entry show. Next, I’d book loads of my favourite bands to play there too, so it would be like a mini festival. Then I’d get some of my favourite artists to paint huge murals for the event. Then I’d get filmmakers I love to make projections for the Cellarscape set. Then I’d make it like a convention/market place, where all around the perimeter, all of the bands, artists, filmmakers, etc, could set up merch stalls so they could sell their wares and meet their fans. Then I’d book a full orchestra and adapt a bunch of Cellarscape songs for those performances, have it filmed by multiple cameras, and give every one who comes to the show a voucher at the end where they could redeem it for a Blu-ray of the show when on its release… because you did say “unlimited budget”. (I love this answer! – Ed)
Tell us, in a single sentence, why we should buy your new album.
If you like songs that are melodically strong, emotionally-driven, but also are prone to unexpected shifts and changes, then I think you might like my new album.
Thank you very much Mr. Terry. If you’d like to know more then everything you need to know is at the bottom of the page. But first please enjoy the video for lead single ‘Epinephrine’, which features a certain handsome bass player as the assassin.
Official Website – www.sbrecords.co.uk/
Twitter – twitter.com/PTprojects
Facebook – www.facebook.com/cellarscape
Photos by – http://www.nikijonesphotography.com
Waves was featured in our albums of 2013, and as I explained it was released to anyone who helped fund the Kickstarter campaign but on the express instruction that it was not shared, reviewed or otherwise leaked to the public until its official release date. Hence why I could say very little about it in our write up.
But now it has been released and it would be completely remiss of me not to write a few words about this startlingly original and stunningly beautiful album.
To bring you up to speed, Bitter Ruin are Georgia Train (vocals, keyboards) and Ben Richards (vocals, guitar). Their early releases were stripped down, acoustic affairs which still showed from the start their flair from the theatrical. None more than in debut single ‘Trust’.
Waves is their full length debut and sees them expand their sound to include a full band and some luscious strings. This intent is most clearly stated on ‘Stampede’ (the opener on the special edition but sadly not on the regular release), the most bombastic song of their career to date and a personal favourite, it really showcases how far they’ve come in terms of sound and orchestration. It also has a belter of a chorus.
However they do still make time for the gentle moments. Lilting opener ‘Diggers’ with its hypnotic backing vocal and acoustic live favourite ‘Child In A Seacave’ reveal the more restrained side of the band, the latter really showcasing the vocal talents of Ms Train. Oh did I not mention? Georgia has one of the most intoxicatingly powerful voices you are ever likely to hear. Her vocal control is nothing short of astounding, whether she’s belting it out like Joni Mitchell reborn on ‘Leather For Hell’ (an appropriate title if ever there was one) or covering every note in the scale in the wonderfully quirky ‘Ticker Don’t Tock’ she is nothing short of captivating. Ben is no slouch either, providing a rich male counterpoint to her soaring soprano tones and further adding to their uniqueness.
Don’t get me wrong, this album is not for everyone. Many will find the quirkiness off putting, but if you’re willing to open your ears and your mind to something beautiful and different then Waves has so much to love. Here’s the new single for the gorgeous ‘Love Gone Left’. Now go let Waves wash over you (see what I did there?).
A while back I posted and article entitled ‘The 8 Worst People To Meet At A Rock Gig’. The response it got was nothing short of overwhelming. In fact it got more hits than all the other articles on this site put together. Clearly I was not alone in my anger at these people.
Since posting I have received a large number of suggestions for other folk who deserved a place in the rogue’s gallery, so I thought it was time for a revisit. So here are five more people who get on our last nerve when we’re trying to watch a band, as voted by you, the people.
5. The Couple
The couple are the guy and girl who try to get as close to the stage as possible despite the fact that the girl is 5 feet tall and about 8 stone. The guy then spends the rest of the gig defending her from incomers who are doing nothing more that enjoying the mosh pit. As I’ve said before, the pit is an inclusive place, but why would you want to spend an entire gig protecting the person you love from physical injury?
I only once found myself in the position of the couple. It was watching the Chili Peppers at Brixton Academy. My tiny girlfriend and I had worked our way through the crowd to a good spot but the second they hit the stage and launched into ‘Suck My Kiss’ the crowd went insane and she went flying. I literally lifted her off her feet and carried her back a safe distance. I’ve never done it again. Why would you?
Extra vilification goes to the couple who spend the whole gig with their lips locked together. Why the hell are you even here?
4. The Farter
How could I have forgotten this guy? A mosh pit is already a place of special fragrance without this guy clouding it up with his toxic storm. Coupled with the fact that inside an airless room full of sweaty people the damn thing can linger for minutes, and the fact that you can’t even usually tell who it was so you have nowhere to direct your hate.
I recently attended a Status Quo gig with my Dad at the O2 in Greenwich. I don’t care what you think, they were great, sadly the old man farts that assaulted my nose throughout were not.
Next time you’re heading to a gig, think carefully about the last few meals you’re having. Other people’s olfactory senses are depending on it.
3. The Protester
“Oh you made a giant banner to show how much you fancy the bass player, that’s cute”. Guess what isn’t cute? Blocking the view of the 15 people stood behind your dullard self. There’s a little something called line of sight and when you raise a large canvas obstruction between me and the stage I CAN’T FUCKING SEE!
The same goes for all you flag bearers. I don’t care if come from Wales, nobody does, you’ve only come to Donnington, it’s not a great feat. The worst of it though is being at a festival when it starts to rain. As the heavens open you’ll suddenly you’ll find yourself surrounded by hundreds of people who’ve never heard of a Pac-a-mac, and instead decided a golfing umbrella was a much more sensible choice. I hope you’re not too attached to your eyeballs.
2. The Bombardier
We’ve all been there. That awful moment at a gig when you get hit by something wet. Was it water? Was it beer? Was it urine? You don’t know, and frankly there’s fuck all you can do about it even if you did.
This is all thanks to The Bombardier. The knucklehead for whom every gig is some sort of Olympic games for cunts. Thanks mate, I really wanted your dregs of beer and spit down the back of my head, and that’s if you’re lucky. I once got caught on the back of the head by a thick plastic glass so hard that it broke the skin (it was at a Biohazard gig so I did my best to style it out). If I wanted to get physically injured at a gig I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself thank you very much. Drop your glass to the floor like a normal person and then preferably leave.
1. The Groper
How can I put this in a way that everyone will understand? If you deliberately feel up a girl during a gig who isn’t your girlfriend or hasn’t given you express permission to do so YOU ARE SEXUALLY ASSAULTING HER!
How was that? Clear enough?
This person was left off the original list because, being a guy, it’s not one I have been a victim of. However it is clearly the most heinous of all the crimes we’ve listed. It shouldn’t even need saying but women have a right to enjoy a gig without being molested by some tragic pervert who thinks they’ll get away with it because of the safety of the crowd.
Sure, sometimes where your hands end up in a mosh pit is pretty much out of your control, but if you wilfully feel up the poor girl in front of you or crowd surfing over you, you deserve to be beaten. Pure and simple.
And if you’re that special kind of asshole whose reaction is “Come on love, I’m just having a laugh”, try to imagine if a sweaty, 6 foot guy came over and grabbed your junk ‘just for a laugh’. Not very funny now is it? Prick!
So there you have it! Have I covered all bases or are there still some bastards out there going unpunished? Let me know.
The canny among you may notice that the last entry in this here blog was entitled ‘The Land of Sunshine albums of 2012’. Yes we have been closed for exactly a year. We’ve retarmaced the high street, put new hanging baskets outside the pub, and finally replaced that rusty gate by the town hall.
We’ve also been listening to music. Lots and lots of music. For, and I don’t make statements like this lightly, 2013 may have been the best year for music since 1993. It was so chock full of amazing albums that I feel I must begin by making an apology to the following artists, whose albums I haven’t even had a chance to properly listen to.
Sorry! Stone Sour, Killswitch Engage, Childish Gambino, Suede, Rob Zombie, Airborne Toxic Event, Jimmy Eat World, Transplants, Phil Anselmo, Tomahawk, Nine Inch Nails, Coheed & Cambria, and Cage The Elephant.
Phew! Right on with the show!
10. Hey! Hello! – ‘Hey! Hello!’
You only have to take a look at last year’s top 10 to know my love of Mr. Ginger Wildheart, so it’s unsurprising to find him back in the rankings again this year.
In a year that also saw him release an excellent, two disc, noisy metal opus called Mutation, it’s this like gem of pure sunshine that wins a place in the final 10.
Hey! Hello! is a collaboration with American vocalist Victoria Liedtke, she sings, Ginger basically does everything else (talented fucker!). The result is ten tracks of pure pop punk goodness. It’s a sound that’s not going to come as a huge surprise to the average Wildhearts fan but the inclusion of Victoria gives the songs a sunniness that elevates them above even Ginger’s most poppy arrangements of the past.
Not that it’s not without it’s edge. ‘How I Survived The Punk Wars’ is a frank and brutal address from Ginger to anyone in a band who thinks they have anything coming to them without putting the work in (this guy knows more than most), but mostly it’s huge, life affirming pop hooks with pick-you-up lyrics like ‘Hey, it’s OK. Not all days can be a beautiful days’. You can’t argue with that.
9. Biffy Clyro – ‘Opposites’
Biffy’s last album, 2009’s Only Revolutions, was a lightweight affair for the Kilmarnock boys. Sure it had some cracking tunes on it, but anyone hoping for a return to the schizophrenic lunacy of Infinity Land were to be disappointed. One of the tracks was deemed suitable for X-Factor for Christ’s sake, although admittedly under a more user friendly title (ironically, ‘Many of Horror’ is a more than appropriate title for that show).
Opposites isn’t exactly going to please the Infinity Land fans either but in terms of scope it sees the Scottish trio branching out into territories as yet uncharted. A double album, the first disc reflects the sort of chart bothering Biffy we’ve come to expect since Puzzle. It’s no surprise that the lion’s share of the singles have been from this disc. That’s not to say one should jump straight to disc 2. There’s some gorgeous stuff on here, and tracks like ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ and ‘Little Hospitals’ even hark back to the Biffy of old.
But it’s the second disc that truly shines and wins them a spot on this list. From the rollicking ‘Stingin’ Belle’ through to the rousing ‘Picture A Knife Fight’ this is Biffy really spreading their wings. Sure it’s still pretty commercial, there’s no ‘Glitter & Trauma’ or ‘Toys, Toys, Toys…’ on here, but take a listen to album highlight ‘Spanish Radio’ with its Mariachi band or the Nina Simone as played by Fugazi of ‘Trumpet or Tap’ and you’ll hear a band still focussed on broadening their musical horizons wherever possible.
8. The Julie Ruin – ‘Run Fast’
On the surface they exhibit the same pop sensibility as Hanna’s previous outfit Le Tigre, however the pop beats under lie a fury and cynicism that Hanna has not exhibited since her Bikini Kill days. Always the talented lyricist, she spits out lines like ‘You’re a roadblock, dressed like a solution, an ambush with no ammunition’ and ‘I hear you talk talk, but I can tell you’re more histrionic than historical’ with testicle shrivelling sincerity.
Musically the electro-pop is mixed with some searing punk guitars and some excellent male backing vocals from Kenny Mellman, adding a great counterpoint to Hanna’s feminine fury.
While you’re at it, check out this year’s excellent documentary on Hanna called The Punk Singer and find out why we should be glad to have this lady back in our earholes.
7. Godzilla Black – ‘The Great Terror’
GZ’s first album was an awkward beast. Brilliant and wilfully difficult in equal measure. With The Great Terror, John Mackenzie and his band of noisenicks have not so much expanded their sound as bought a half acre of grounds to house it on.
While it still contains the twisted Mike Patton-esque brilliance of their debut (‘One Out One In’ could have easily spewed from the mind of the great man himself), there are also moments of glorious, dream like trip hop (‘The Blue Music’) and even pure 60’s pop (‘Murder On The Beach’). There is some glorious bass work from (the sadly now departed) Ben Thompson, and Toshi and Dale from the mighty Melvins even show up on a couple of tracks to hit things and generally add to the cacophony.
This is not an album to put on for a romantic night in with the missus, but if you have a thirst for challenging rock music, then you could do far worse than this.
Here’s the disturbing and brilliant (and probably NSFW) video for the brilliant and disturbing ‘Screaming Black and Blue’.
6. Clutch – ‘Earth Rocker’
That said, most of us in the former camp can agree that 2009’s ‘Strange Cousins from the West’ was not the band’s finest hour. Not a bad album by any means, just not a great Clutch album.
That is not something that can be said about Earth Rocker. A barrelling, pumped up, hairy chested, fist pumper of a record, that brings to mind the band’s mighty Blast Tyrant opus. Ok so it doesn’t quite scale the heights of that record, lacking the diversity that album had, but boy howdy does it come close. ‘Crucial Velocity’ has a chorus that sounds like being strapped to the front of a steaming train, and the title track, with some wonderful vocal tics from singer Neil Fallon, states their intent completely. As he proclaims in the opening lines ‘What’s this about limits? Sorry I don’t know none’. These four are way more fired up than any group of men who resemble aging truckers have any right to be, but thank fuck for them!
5. Bitter Ruin – ‘Waves’
This album is not officially being released until early next year, however those who helped fund their kickstarter campaign got copies a few months ago. The band have asked that no reviews go live before the official release date so I’m afraid I’m not really allowed to talk about it. So here’s some info on the band themselves.
Bitter Ruin are Georgia Train and Ben Richards, and unfeasibly talented duo who, since 2007, have been crafting their own unique brand of theatrical folk rock.
Waves is their debut full length album. They blend sumptuous pop sensibilities with a quirky, offbeat kink that wouldn’t sound out of place in a West End musical.
Georgia has a voice that could shatter glass at 100 paces, her range and vocal control is so extraordinary that it’s quite easy to forget that poor Ben has a really good voice too. They have been honing their craft playing live shows with such people as Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer, and have such a great DIY ethic that you will often see them outside, after their shows, signing CDs and generally socialising with the fans.
I saw them recently at London’s Highbury Garage with a full band behind them and it was truly mesmerising.
Well, I can’t really say much more about the album. It’s inclusion here would probably suggest that I like it, a lot. But that would be purely speculation, I couldn’t possibly comment. What I can do is share their brand new video for the first single ‘Diggers’ and promise you a full album review in 2014.
4. Pearl Jam – ‘Lightning Bolt’
In 2006, after a few years in the wilderness, Pearl Jam released their self titled eighth album. While not perfect, it represented a new lease of life in the band, and a fired up energy that most bands of their age rarely exhibit. This continued with 2009’s Backspacer, a collection of even stronger songs, that had all of the energy of the self titled but with a wider scope in sound more befitting their back catalogue.
This year they brought us Lightning Bolt, an album that sits so comfortably as the final part of a trilogy that I wonder if they hadn’t planned it all along.
Lightning Bolt is the sound of a band who are finally completely comfortable with their elder statesmen status. This is not a grunge album but a classic rock album, not trying to be cool, just trying to be great, and succeeding.
Punky numbers like lead single ‘Mind Your Manners’ sit comfortably beside beautiful rock ballads like ‘Sirens’, one of the best songs the band have ever written. There are also sounds hitherto unheard in the Pearl Jam oeuvre, ‘Let The Records Play’ has a bluegrass swing to it while ‘Infallible’ sounds like a darker version of something that could sit on a latter day Take That album (bizarrely, I mean that as a compliment).
Pearl Jam have spent their whole career since Ten trying to get away from doing anything they don’t want to do. With Lightning Bolt it feels like they’ve finally found their happy place. Roll on album eleven!
3. Tegan & Sara – ‘Heartthrob’
Way back in September of last year I eagerly booted up Youtube (that’s what you do with Youtube right kids?) to hear the new Tegan & Sara single ‘Closer’. As the opening strains of synthesiser floated from my laptop I must admit the rock fan in me furrowed his brow and wrinkled his nose. “Oh no!” I cried, “they’ve gone synth-pop!”.
Clearly they’ve always been poppy, even way back when I first heard their 2004 album ‘So Jealous’, also the electronic side has been creeping in more and more as their albums progressed, coupled with a few guest appearances with dance artists such as Tiesto and Morgan Page, but this was really synthy, and I wasn’t sure I liked it.
That all changed roughly half way through the first chorus when I suddenly realised it was one of the best pop songs I’ve ever heard. Fickle ain’t I?
It’s not just ‘Closer’, the whole album is full of shiny, 80’s tinged pop tunes, and you know what? They’re all brilliant!
While the instrumentation may have changed, there’s still all of the heart that went into their previous works. Just listen to ‘Now I’m All Messed Up’ or the utterly gorgeous ‘I’m Not Your Hero’ and you’ll hear the twins have lost none of their melancholy. This is pop music with soul, like it used to be before X-Factor sucked the life out of everything.
So, put on your best dancing trousers and enjoy the song that would be my favourite of 2013 if it weren’t for a certain ginger fella from the desert!
2. Korn – ‘The Paradigm Shift’
“Hi we’re Korn, you may remember us, we were quite big in the 2000’s. Then we lost one of our guitarists to Jesus, made some more experimental albums, then one that sounded like the old stuff, then that Dubstep one. I know a lot of you have drifted away over the years, maybe some of you became accountants and shaved off your dreadlocks, perhaps you started listening to metalcore, or perhaps you just sit at home listening to ‘Follow The Leader’ and screaming “WHY DON’T THEY SOUND LIKE THIS ANY MORE?!”. Well, we just wanted to let you know that we got our guitarist back and decided to make one of the best albums of our career. It mixes the juggernaut ferocity of the Issues / Untouchables days with just the right amount of the Dubstep stuff (ie. not too much). We hope you like it.”
Listen and learn kids!
1. Queens of the Stone Age – ‘…Like Clockwork’
Following a botched knee operation, there was a time when Josh Homme considered never making music again. Frankly the rest of his band deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for talking him round. In a year of simply incredible music, one album still managed to soar above the rest, and that album was this album.
While some songwriters are happy to tread water, simply rehashing whatever has worked before, Josh Homme and his motley crew of band mates have been constantly changing and evolving ever since he stepped away from the mighty Kyuss way back in 1995.
A lot of folks were put off by the esoteric nature of their previous album, 2007’s Era Vulgaris, but I thought it was their strongest album to date. Like Clockwork (I’m dropping the ellipsis for the sake of neatness) outshines their last release in every way.
Seemingly blending the greatest elements of all of their previous albums and fusing them into one sexy sounding beast, from the slinky ‘Smooth Sailing’ to the rollicking ‘My God is the Sun’ to ‘I Appear Missing’ possibly the greatest song they’ve ever written, there really is no weak spot on the whole damn thing.
With the boy Grohl back behind the kit, he and bassist Michael Shuman form one hell of a rhythm section, it’s almost a shame that Dave has his own band to think about as I’d be happy seeing him stick with these boys for a while. Plus where else can you hear Mark Lanegan harmonising with Elton John?
Like Clockwork is the sound of a band at the height of their powers and here is my favourite song of 2013.
Honourable mentions – David Bowie – ‘The Next Day’, Alterbridge – ‘Fortress’, Vista Chino – ‘Peace’, Sleigh Bells – ‘Bitter Rivals’, Girls Against Boys – ‘The Ghost List’ EP, They Might Be Giants – ‘Nanobots’, Future of the Left – ‘How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident’, Oaf – ‘Birth School Oaf Death, ‘Frank Turner – ‘Tape Deck Heart’ (You were soooo close Frank!).
If 2011 was the year that I lost my slender grip on popular music then 2012 was the year I pulled my trousers up to my nipples, sat back on my front porch and embraced it. Because frankly most of the new bands that have been championed over the last year have been bloody awful, and not in a “I don’t understand how you kids listen to this noise” sort of awful, but more in a “this is really, very uninteresting” sort of awful.
Fortunately for me there are still bands out there making interesting music, and here are ten of them. Some are even less than 10 years old. Take that you kids! Now get off my lawn!
10. ‘Colonel Blood’ – Fighting With Wire
Fighting With Wire are a Northern Irish three piece who deal in spiky little nuggets of melodic rock. Imagine Biffy Clyro mixed with Foo Fighters and a sprinkling of Feeder from way back when they were good (which is at least two albums before you were thinking).
Their debut Man Vs Monster was an absolute belter, and while their follow up lacks some of the bite of its predecessor it is absolutely jammed full of glorious melodies. Take a listen to the title track and you’ll see what I mean.
9. ‘King Animal’ – Soundgarden
SoundGarden are one of my all time favourite bands. I must have listened to Superunknown at least 100 times and getting to see them play in Hyde Part over the summer was one of the highlights of my year. So I approached this album with both huge excitement and massive trepidation.
I had heard ‘Live To Rise’ from the soundtrack to The Avengers which was cool but sounded to me like a Cornell solo track more than a Soundgarden one and then the first single ‘Been Away Too Long’ which again I thought was OK, not great. Fortunately King Animal had a lot more to offer. While failing to reach the heights of Superunkown or Badmotorfinger, it was not without its beautiful moments. In fact it’s the quieter moments on King Animal that really stand out, like ‘Taree’ or the gorgeous ‘Bones Of Birds’ really showing a maturity to their songwriting. Welcome back boys!
8. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – ‘Theatre Is Evil’
I have already sung the praises of Miss Palmer’s previous band Dresden Dolls on these very pages. However when I heard people describing the new album as ‘very poppy’ I was worried that dear Amanda may have sold out for an easy buck.
Well that’s what I get for ever doubting the lady’s genius, as Theatre Is Evil knocks her previous studio album Who Killed Amanda Palmer? into a cocked hat (and I thoroughly enjoyed that album). Wonderfully diverse and endlessly inventive it almost makes me forget that she was once in an awesome two piece with a fella named Brian (almost). Here’s the brilliantly decadent video for ‘Do It With A Rockstar’ which is probably NSFW.
7. ‘On the Impossible Past’ – The Menzingers
I happened upon these guys when I was forced to by a magazine to stave off boredom on a long train ride. There was a small review of their album in which the reviewer described them as a better Gaslight Anthem. So, being a fan of the aforementioned band I snapped up the album as soon as I got home.
Well if you take a cursory glance further down this list you may spot that the reviewer and I didn’t exactly agree on his point but all the same On The Impossible Past is a tremendous record full of earnest punk rock songs that gets better with every listen. As a footnote I should say that while they didn’t quite pip Gaslight for me on record, I was lucky enough to see both bands live during the year. These boys were better by a mile. No videos sadly so just listen.
6. ‘Synthetica’ – Metric
Ah Metric, sweet Metric. I really don’t have a bad word to say about this band. OK if I have to say one bad thing then it’s that Synthetica might, just slightly, by a gnat’s wing, not quite be as good as 2009’s incredible Fantasies. But it’s really close!
Once again they’ve produced an album packed full of beautiful, melodic wonders that get under your skin and grow and grow until they have taken over your brain. Just take a listen to the uplifting ‘Breath Underwater’, the haunting ‘Dreams So Real’, or this, the incredibly sexy lead single ‘Youth Without Youth’. I love you Metric! Don’t go changing.
5. ‘Handwritten’ – The Gaslight Anthem
When I wasn’t looking it seems that Gaslight Anthem went from being some young upstarts from New Jersey to somewhat of a rock institution. Everyone from the punks to the rockers to the indie kids seem to love these guys and for good reason. They write bloody great songs.
That said, I have to confess that I found their last album (2010’s American Slang) a little lacking. While containing some great songs, I thought the production was too light and lacking the bite of their classic The ’59 Sound record. No such worries here though as not only does Handwritten have all the bite I require, it may also be the album of their career so far, and this, the lead single ’45’, their best song.
4. ‘The Church of Rock n Roll’ – Foxy Shazam
It turns out these guys have been around for ages and this is actually album number four, and what an album it is. To me they sound like The Darkness without all the knowing winks. That may sound awful but hear me out as this is one of the most fun albums you’ll ever hear. It’s Queen style classic rock, played with vigour and enthusiasm and fronted by a singer with an amazing set of pipes.
Ah fuck it! Just watch this!
3. ‘The Plot against common sense’ – Future of the Left
- I’ve been championing these guys for quite some time now. Their previous two albums were both slices of spiky, acerbic genius. On this album they’ve added second guitarist Jimmy Watkins plus bassist Julia Ruzicka from Million Dead and created the most well rounded and diverse album of their career so far. Titles like ‘Failed Olympic Bid’ and ‘Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop’ prove that frontman Andrew Falkous is showing no signs of growing old gracefully.
- Here’s the lead single, it’s fast!
2. The Afterman: Ascension’ – Coheed and Cambria
- Coheed are one of those bands who can put people off before having even heard a note. They’re part metal, part prog, part emo. Their albums are all based on a series of science fiction graphic novels written by the singer. They call their albums things like ‘Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness’.
- But look past that and what you’ll find is one of the greatest bands working today, and this, their 6th album, stands as one of their very best. It contains all the hallmarks that make a great Coheed record. The superb musicianship, the soaring melodies, and the crushing riffs. But it also contains some of the most beautiful pieces the band have ever written. Like this for example, the simply gorgeous (almost) title track.
1. ‘555%’ – Ginger Wildheart
- Not only the album of the year but surely the story of the year. To recap, Ginger of The Wildhearts, gets disenchanted with the music industry. Decided as one last hurrah to release an album as a pledge project where fans pledge money in advance to pay for production of the album in return for a copy once it’s finished. It hits 555% of its predicted target. Ginger makes a triple album instead, and ropes in a whole bunch of his buddies to help him.
- But a great story does not earn you a number one slot on this list, oh no! What does earn you the place is releasing a 30 track album where every single song is a belter. Seriously there’s not a bad track among them. Some, like ‘Westward Ho! (A New Reputation)’ and ‘Just Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’ rank among some of the best songs the man has ever written, and this is coming from someone who has, on more than one occasion, stated that Ginger is the greatest songwriter of all time.
- He’s already released a further three albums through the same setup and looks like he has no intention of stopping. I find it galling to believe that in a world full of shitty music we nearly lost one of its treasures.
Notable mentions: ‘Hot Cakes’ – The Darkness. ‘Banga’ – Patti Smith. ‘Sweet Sour’ – Band of Skulls. ‘What We Saw from the Cheap Seats’ – Regina Spektor. ‘The Russian Wilds’ – Howlin’ Winds. ‘Rize of the Fenix’ – Tenacious D. ‘A Brief Crack of Light’ – Therapy?
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!