Tuesday 30 December 2014

Albums of the Year 2014

And so to the final post of 2014, my favourite albums of the year. It was a devilishly tricky old business ranking them, with positions changing a number of times as I listened and re-listened to the shortlist, though the top five were never in any real doubt. I've featured several of these artists on the blog over the past 12 months (click on the red highlights to check out the original posts and music) and hope to return to a few of those that have yet to grace these pages in the future.

Top 20

1. David Thomas Broughton & Juice - Sliding the Same Way
2. Quilt - Held in Splendor
3. Mazes - Wooden Aquarium
4. Boy and Bear - Harlequin Dream*
5. Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe
6. St Vincent - s/t
7. Robert Plant - Lullaby & the Ceaseless Roar
8. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold
9. Micah P Hinson - MPH and the Nothing
10. Gruff Rhys - American Interior
11. Gogo Penguin - V2
12. Courtney Barnett - A Sea of Split Peas
13. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
15. Real Estate - Atlas
16. Pete Fij & Terry Bickers - Broken Heart Surgery
17. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
18. Big Blood - Unlikely Mother
19. Karl Hector & the Malcouns - Unstraight Ahead
20. The Soundcarriers - Entropicalia

Favourite Reissues/Compilations etc

African Gems (Various Artists)
Haiti Direct - Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978
Wilco - Alpha Mike Foxtrot
Musi-O-Tunya - Give Love to Your Children
Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako
Virgin Front Line - Sounds of Reality
Bob Dylan - Basement Tapes
Captain Beefheart - Sun Zoom Spark
Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
William Oneyeabor - Complete
Bunny "Striker" Lee - Full Up
Hailu Mergia - Tche Belew

Bubbling Under...

King Creosote - From Scotland With Love
Temples - Sun Structures
Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems
Tinariwen - Emmaar
Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness Of Dancers
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
Steve Gunn - Way Out Weather
Sinkane - Mean Love
Damien Jurado - Brothers & Sisters of the Eternal Son
The Furrow Collective - At Our Next Meeting
Ibibio Sound Machine - s/t
Joan as Police Woman - The Classic
Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal
School of Language - Old Fears
Tuneyards - Nikki Nack
Joe Henry - Invisible Hour
Sleaford Mods - Divide and Exit
Eno & Hyde - High Life
Teleman - Breakfast
White Fence - For the Recently Found Innocent
Childhood - Lacuna
Golden Gunn - s/t
The Coral - The Curse of Love
Hookworms - The Hum
Rachael Dadd - We Resonate
Tweedy - Sukierae

It just remains for me to say a big thank you to everyone who stopped by in 2014 and also to all the bloggers out there who I read, listen to and am inspired by every day. A Happy New Year to you and those you love.

Let's do it all again in 2015.

(*Special thanks to Shell Hunter over at Tune Doctor for the Boy & Bear release date info!)

Sunday 28 December 2014

Still My Home

Christmas - a bit of driving, a bit of eating, a bit more driving, a bit more eating, a massively long country walk, yet more eating, still more driving, still more eating then one last weary drive. There was also a fair amount of snoozing scattered throughout.

The house is bone-chillingly cold, but the wood-burner is already roaring away and, as Viking Moses notes, it's 'Still My Home'.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Aldous Harding

Did I miss a meeting? We're in the dying days of the year and I've only recently bumped into New Zealand singer/songwriter Aldous Harding for the first time, despite her self-titled debut LP having been released back in the summer. Methinks there's something very special going on here. One to watch in 2015.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Christmas 1961

It's Christmas Day 1961, my second festive season, but the first at which I'm old enough to sit up and take notice. I'm clearly having a ball, while Mum keeps a close eye on me to ensure I don't become too over-excited. We're wearing paper hats, meaning the post-dinner crackers have been pulled. Dad has no doubt just finished the washing-up. The trusty family radiogram is probably piping soothing yuletide vibes into the room, via the BBC Light Programme.

Charles Brown's 'Please Come Home For Christmas', was first released in December 1960, but became a US hit 12 months later, right about the time this photo was taken. I doubt it made the Two Way Family Favourites playlist though, more's the pity.

Wishing you and yours a happy, peaceful festive period, however you choose to celebrate it, from all the gang at Swede Towers.

Friday 19 December 2014

2014 - Unfinished Business

Inspired by my recent re-discovery of an end of year top 20 LP chart from 1984, I'm attempting to forge a similar selection from the albums of 2014. I'd forgotten how tricky it is. In recent years I've just produced an 'in no particular order' list for anyone who's interested and actually trying to rank each record this time around is proving a problematic task. I think I'm just about there, but leaving out so many great titles is heartbreaking, particularly if I didn't get around to featuring them on these pages in 2014.

With this in mind, here are a couple of tunes from albums that didn't quite make my Top 20, (though if I made another list from scratch tomorrow, they might well feature on it) 'The Soul of All Natural Things', the title track from the first Linda Perhacs LP in 44 years and 'How We Be', the lead single from Sinkane's fifth album, 'Mean Love'.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

African Gems - World Music Album of the Year 2014

If you are going to treat yourself to just one 'World Music' LP with your Christmas money this year, I would wholeheartedly recommend 'African Gems' on SWP Records. This isn't Jit-Jive, nor Afro-Beat or even Saharan Desert Blues. 'African Gems' is a compilation of field recordings made in Uganda, Congo, D.R. Congo, Chad and Cameroun between 1965-1984, where droning horns, polymetric xylophones and percussive soda bottles jostle for your attention. It's an extraordinary set of recordings, occasionally verging on the avant-garde while simultaneously remaining hypnotic and accessible.

Here's a 7½ minute sample, containing brief excerpts from a few of the tracks. Find out more about this remarkable LP here.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Sleaford Mods

There's no middle ground with Sleaford Mods, you'll either like 'em or loathe 'em. After seven years of toiling under the radar, suddenly they're visible, possibly due to the fact that they've finally released a record that isn't profanity-laden and so can be played on the radio. 'Tiswas' still hits hard, just minus the copious effing and jeffing that litters everything else they've done. It also contains the best couplet of 2014 - 'Cameron's hairdresser got an MBE, I said to my wife you'd better shoot me'.

Monday 15 December 2014

This Here Music, Mash Up the Nation - London Calling at 35

'London Calling' by The Clash was released 35 years ago this week. When discussing the album, I invariably paraphrase Brian Clough; 'I wouldn't say it's the best LP ever, but it's in the top one.'

Friday 12 December 2014

(Little) Boys Keep Swinging

I took a sabbatical from work in 2010 and was able to spend a great deal of time with Mum during the final months of her life. When she felt up to it, I'd throw the wheelchair into the back of the car and we'd go for a pub lunch, visit a garden centre or just take a drive in the country. Increasingly though, the destination for our outings was the hospital, for tests, X-Rays, blood transfusions and, ever more regularly, periods of in-patient care.

Unfortunately, when I think of Mum now, it's often as she was in those last few months - unwell, infirm, dying. Luckily though, there are many photos in the family archive to remind me of how I should really remember her. Take this one for example.

It's the Summer of 1964, we're on holiday at Jaywick Sands and I'm a four year old scaredy cat on the swings, barely moving and steadfastly refusing any offers of a push. Mum tries to encourage me by going higher and higher herself, showing me that it's safe. I'm at once excited and terrified, for her and for me. She's laughing, full of fun, full of mischief, full of life. And this is how I think of her today, the fourth anniversary of her passing.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Come See, Come See, Remember Me - 1984 Part 3.

A last look at my favourite albums of the year back in 1984. This was my top ten, thirty years ago.

'Gravity Talks' was Green on Red's debut full length LP, released in the USA in 1983, before appearing in UK record shops to coincide with the band's first visit to these shores. Green on Red were another band that I saw live many many times and I was delighted to catch up with main man Dan Stuart once again, earlier this year (here).

Do I really need to say anything regarding the inclusion of The Smiths first LP in this list? I don't think so. Other than to note, perhaps, that it's way too low down the order.

The were a lot of good, retro-tinged, guitar bands coming out of Australia in the mid-80s and The Hoodoo Gurus debut LP arrived as part of that wave. Albums two and three, 'Mars Needs Guitars!' and 'Blow Your Cool!', were probably superior, but 'Stoneage Romeos' is still a fun ride.

I saw Miles Davis in concert twice during 1984 and the time spent in the same room as this giant of 20th century music, overshadowed virtually everything else all year. Hence the high position for 'Decoy', a good late period LP, but, in my opinion, not as strong as its predecessor, 'Star People', or successor, 'You're Under Arrest'. Great to see this clip again though.

Rank and File operated within the short-lived Cowpunk genre. 'Long Gone Dead', the second of their three LPs, is a lot of fun, but is absolutely not the fifth best album of 1984!

Unfortunately, the nearest I ever got got to catching the mighty Gun Club in concert was passing a worse for wear Jeffrey Lee Pierce in the entrance to Dingwalls one night, as I was on my way into the venue to see another band. Mind you, this performance was a pretty cool thing to witness on tea-time telly at the time. (Somebody tell Jools that his mic is still on!)

I've no qualms about the lofty positions occupied by Lloyd Cole's first LP and REM's second - both terrific pieces of work that still hold up effortlessly today. Which brings us to The Triffids, with two albums in the top 10. 'Treeless Plain', was another one of those records that only arrived on a UK label in 1984 following its actual release (in Australia) the previous year - and a stunning debut it is too. With the benefit of hindsight, it's obvious that there are serious omissions from this list and erroneous inclusions in it, but if I had to make the top 20 again today, the number one would be the same. I've watched this clip a few times over the past couple of days and still struggle to make it through without becoming emotional. David McComb - gone, but never forgotten.

(Addendum:  A wider look at the full sheet upon which my Top 20s LPs of 1984 are listed, reveals a 'late addition' scrawled in the margin - and what a belter it is. The Nomads are still rockin' today, thirty years on.)

Saturday 6 December 2014

Come See, Come See, Remember Me - 1984 Part 2.

Towards the end of 1984, I and the rest of the staff at the record shop in which we worked, each put together lists of our top 20 favourite 45s and 33s of the year. I recently rediscovered my original handwritten copy and wrote a little about my singles selection here. Today I'll look back at the bottom half of my album top 20.

1984 was an ominous year for Madness, with Mike Barson announcing his departure from the ranks. Their music had gradually moved away from the early 'Nutty Boys' sound and I particularly liked (and still like) the darker elements of 'Keep Moving' and its successor 'Mad Not Mad'. 'Neville-ization' by The Neville Brothers was a tight little album, recorded live at Tipitinas two years earlier and pre-dating the band's, Daniel Lanois produced, success. 'New Sensations' is an oft overlooked Lou Reed LP, which, along with 1980's 'Growing Up in Public', I played an awful lot at the time and continue to enjoy.

All of which brings us to The Go-Betweens, a band that I had the opportunity to see in concert more than once, but, for many reasons, never did. A major regret. Here's the much missed G.W.McLennan, with 'Bachelor Kisses'.

I got into Jamaaladeen Tacuma via his recordings with Ornette Coleman in the 1970s and followed his solo career for a while into the 1980s. Unfortunately, while the playing on 'Renaissance Man' is undoubtedly top notch, it's a record that sounds very much of its time and isn't one I can listen to now.

'Born in the USA' also has production values that are very 1984. It was a massive LP in that year and continued to be so in 1985, but although it contains some great songs that I still enjoy in a live context, I don't return to the record very often these days.

In addition to the records I was listening to, my top twenty also reflects the concerts I attended during that period, the next two entries being good examples. I must have seen The Violent Femmes half a dozen times in the 1980s and any one of their first four albums is deserving of your attention. 'Hallowed Ground' is only bettered by 1986's 'The Blind Leading the Naked' in my opinion.

True West weren't around for very long, splitting in 1987, in fact I think I might have even caught the only two London shows they ever played, early in 1985. 'Drifters' is too high in this list. It probably shouldn't have made my top twenty at all. It's a very good LP, but not a great one. It does, however, contain one bona fide corker in 'Look Around'.

'Trap Door' is too high as well. It's another good LP (mini album actually), but not a patch on T Bone Burnett's fantastic self titled LP, which came two years later.

And so to Rain Parade, another live favourite. On my handwritten draft, I've mistakenly written 'Emergency Third Rail Power Trip', their fine LP from the previous year. I must have realised my error though, as I stapled an addendum, 'Explosions in the Glass Palace', to the sheet. This makes more sense. 'Explosions...', another mini-album, was actually released in 1984 and features the Paisley Underground classic, 'No Easy Way Down'.

This short series concludes next time with my remaining 11 favourite LPs from 1984. Yep, I said 11.

Friday 5 December 2014

Panda Bear

New music from Animal Collective's Panda Bear. 'Mr Noah' is currently available as the title track of an EP and will also appear on his forthcoming LP, 'Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper', scheduled for release in the second week of January.

Thursday 4 December 2014

R.I.P. Nick Talbot a.k.a Gravenhurst

What an awful week. First Bobby Keys, then Ian McLagen and today, news that Nick Talbot, also known as Gravenhurst, has passed away, aged just 37. Here's a short film about Bristol and the impact that the city had on his life and music, which was uploaded to Nick's YouTube page just a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Version City #36 - Hannah Peel & Låpsley sing New Order

Post 1982, I was never much of a New Order fan, odd tunes have grabbed my attention here and there over the years, but generally their appeal has somehow passed me by. I thought I'd be happy if I never heard 'Blue Monday' again, but, in the last week alone, I've bumped into two sweet versions of the tune.

Hannah Peel recently uploaded four interesting covers to her YouTube account, including 'Blue Monday', the others being 'Tainted Love', OMD's 'Electricity' and 'Sugar Hiccup' by The Cocteau Twins. They're all absolutely charming and deserving of a few minutes of your time. Check them all out here.

I only heard Låpsley's delicate music for the first time this very morning, thanks to Drew over at Across the Kitchen Table, so can tell you virtually nothing about her, but while clicking around a few of her tunes (try this one to get the idea), I found that she too has a nice reading of 'Blue Monday' in her back pocket.

Monday 1 December 2014

Jane Weaver

A big high-five to Swiss Adam over at Bagging Area for pointing me in the direction of the new Jane Weaver LP, 'The Silver Globe'. Two minutes into the featured track, 'Argent' (think Stereolab jamming with Neu), I was clicking around and buying the whole album - I've played nothing else all day. I could bang on about how good I think 'The Silver Globe' is for half an hour, or you could go here, to read a track by track commentary by Jane herself, while streaming the whole bloomin' record! What are you waiting for?

Don't take my word for it though, here's a taster, the Hawkwind sampling, 'The Electric Mountain'.

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