Sunday 3 December 2023

2023: 23 Highlights (pt. 1)

Crikey! Is it that time of year again? That was quick. I shall refrain from the waffle, other than to say it's been a decent year for new music, even if I haven't been to much in the way of gigs this year. It's getting to be very expensive with a few things I really wanted to go to costing more than I'm willing to pay. That said, three gigs are booked for next year already but at least two others exceeded my budget. Concerts, it seems, are now joining the long list of elitist pasttimes that mere mortals like us have been priced out of. I might have to start going to poetry gigs as they are much cheaper (we recently went to one in Cardiff and have another booked in Bath in March).

Anyway, onto the positives - my 23 fave records of 2023 (see what I did there?). As per usual I shall offer up a weekly dose of tunes that have cheered me over the past 12 months, starting with what is possibly my top 4...

Queens Of The Stone Age - 'In Times New Roman'
In which Josh Homme and his crew reveal themselves to be big fans of David Bowie circa 1977-1980. 'In Times New Roman' is in many ways a typical QotSA album - the big riffs, the strong melodies, some off-kilter moments - but it also sounds like they went to Berlin with Tony Visconti and Robert Fripp, listened to 'Low', "Heroes", 'Lodger' and 'Scary Monsters' on rotation for a month and then set about making a David Bowie album. Josh even sounds like the great man at times. It is, quite frankly, brilliant and has been played at least once a week since its release around here.

Margo Price - 'Strays' & 'Strays II'
Two records, not one, but both are equally deserving of a mention, and in all honesty, I think of them as one. Here, Margo moves further away from her country roots and more into fully-fledged Americana, and with a host of collaborators - who include Sharon Van Etten, Mike Campbell and Lucius - 'Strays' 1 & 2 take us on a psychedelic journey of the mid-west with tales of despair, defiance and hope. It's wonderful stuff.

Coach Party - 'Killjoy'
Here's a band who have been floating around for a few years, releasing a string of increasingly well-received EPs and gigging relentlessly. 'Killjoy' is a blast from start to finish, veering from Riot-grrl-infused punk (Parasite) and infectious punk-pop (What's The Point In Life?) to pure melodic indie-pop a la Alvvays and the Primitives (July, Be That Girl). It hurtles through 10 songs in less than 28 minutes but never leaves me feeling short-changed. This is a band to keep your eyes on.

Das Koolies - 'DK.01'
On the two previous occasions I've posted about Das Koolies, you lot have completely ignored it. Out of pure spite, I'm posting about them for a third time. With the Super Furry Animals no longer being "a thing", and Gruff Rhys happy to make quirky, melancholic, country-tinged pop songs your nan might like, the "other four" want to take us back to the fields of North Wales with a massive sound system, a fistful of ecstasy pills and brain-vibrating beats. Of course, there'a quite a few indications that they were four-fifths of one of the best and most influential Welsh bands of all time, and many of 'DK.01''s songs have been works-in-progress for a long time (some date back to the early 90s, in fact), but it does sound fresh and original. And not many acts can get away with making their debut album a double!

More next week.

Friday 28 July 2023

R.E.M. Top 40

A quick post to make you aware of this rundown the members of R.E.M. did for NME. Each member chose their 10 favourite R.E.M. tracks and it makes for interesting reading. Note the (almost) complete absence of IRS-era tracks from Stipe's list? And Bill Berry's inclusion of both Rotary 10 and Voice Of Harold. Can't really tell if he took this seriously or not...

It doesn't look like any song is chosen twice, which makes the glaring omissions even more... glaring. I mean, no Fall On Me? No Radio Free Europe? No At My Most Beautiful? Mind, if you had to choose just 10 R.E.M. songs (a la JC's Imaginary Albums), there's bound to be some controversy...

Here's mine (in no particular order):

World Leader Pretend
Country Feedback
Let Me In
Finest Worksong
Begin The Begin
Fall On Me
Living Well Is The Best Revenge
Life And How To Live It
Turn You Inside Out
At My Most Beautiful

To be fair, ask me next week and half of that list would be different... 

Two vids, including a jawdropping rendition of Country Feedback with Neil Young!


Friday 12 May 2023

Some songs (part 3)

The last one of these before I slither back into my dark little pit for a while. It's been pleasant enough rearing my head for a few days but the daylight gives me headaches...

To kick off this final little foray into 2023's greatest hits so far, I'm only heading up the road for a band I recently mentioned in a piece I wrote for the great SWC over at No Badger Required. The Bug Club never fail to put a smile on the faces of MrsRobster and I. Their quirky Velvet Underground-esque stylings have soundtracked many a car journey this year. Their latest single does not appear on their recent album and it's a bit longer than you'd normally expect from them, but it's teriffic nonetheless.

Talking of the Velvet Underground... listen to this track off the new Amber Arcades record and tell me it doesn't rip-off Lou Reed's Street Hassle. Go on, I dare you! I have to be honest though, I love this track. It's the highlight of Annelotte's new album which is actually a bit of a grower overall.


And finally, a bit of an odd one. The Last Dinner Party have appeared from seemingly nowhere. They've played some gigs in and around the London area but before releasing a single song they were added to a bill supporting the Rolling Stones and signed by a major label. They are at pains to deny they have insider connections, but you can tell from their accents they don't exactly hail from an inner city council estate, so there are plenty of suspicions surrounding their seemingly instant rise. All I'll say on the matter is that this, their debut single, is a dead good song. Not one to play in front of yer granny, and it will no doubt be aired on an episode of the excruciatingly awful toff-fest that is Made In Chelsea, but even so, it's a dead good song. And *ahem* nothing matters apart from that...

I'll get me coat... TTFN.

Monday 8 May 2023

Some songs (part 2)

A few more fave tunes from 2023 so far. Starting off with Heartworms, a one-woman project inspired by the racism and sexism faced by protagonist Jojo Orme and her sheer defiance at overcoming it all. She recently released her debut EP on the revered Speedy Wunderground label and she sounds awfully posh on it, but don't let that put you off. She's worked hard to get where she is so she has my total respect. Worth reading this NME article to get a sense of where she's coming from (and you won't get me recommending much written in the NME from the past 15-20 years...) This track and its accompanying video are just sensational.

The Tubs are a sort-of indie supergroup based in London, but if they don't make you think of early 80s US college bands a la R.E.M., The dBs and the Feelies, then I don't know what will. Obviously I emailed our old (sadly ex-blogging) friend Brian about The Tubs and they were already on his radar way across the pond...

And finally for today - I hope you're already aware of this, but if not... PJ Harvey is BACK! Yes, I know she's never been away really, but she's just announced her first proper studio album since 2016. It's due later in the year, but for now she's given us our first taster.

A third and final post may follow shortly...

Friday 5 May 2023

Some songs (part 1)

I just felt the urge to share a few tracks that I've been enjoying this year. There will probably be two or three posts to fulfil this agenda. I'll let you get back to your lives then. So in no particular order:

Das Koolies are basically Super Furry Animals minus Gruff Rhys. And they are, as you would expect, UTTERLY BRILLIANT. Their debut album is coming later in the year, and an EP was released a couple months ago. Here's the title track of said EP:

I know next to nothing about Sleaze, but when Steve Lamacq played Daffodils on his 6 Music show recently I was smitten. Think a little bit Pulp, a little bit Divine Comedy and a little bit Lawrence (Felt, Denim, Go-Kart Mozart, etc.)... Despite the jaunty tune, it's a rather sad, almost tragic song about someone desperately trying to save his ultimately doomed marriage.

Finishing today on a raucous high. Lambrini Girls is a crap band name, but when their guitars crunch like this, who cares? Another band I know little about, but that will be rectified.

Thursday 29 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 4)

In a year when the UK has become an even bigger laughing stock around the world than ever before (thanks Tories, you've done it again!), the one thing that's kept many of us going is music. Quite frankly, what else do we have? Today, I present the last batch of my 22 favourite albums of 2022 and there's a real international flavour about it. USA, Germany, Sweden, Jamaica, England and, of course, Wales are all represented.

The final seven had to be carefully whittled down from about twice that number, but I think I've made the right decisions. They are not listed in any particular order.

WIDOWSPEAK - 'The Jacket'
I was unfamiliar with Brooklyn duo Widowspeak before I heard Everything Is Simple this year, and surprised 'The Jacket' is their sixth album. More fool me. I've really been enjoying this record.

xPROPAGANDA - 'The Heart is Strange'
Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag teamed up with original Propaganda producer Steve Lipson for the first time in 37 years and made a record that is far better than it had any right to be.

HORACE ANDY - 'Midnight Rocker'
Now 71, Horace Andy shows no sign of slowing down, and his voice is as wonderful as ever. Recorded with Adrian Sherwood, 'Midnight Rocker' has been lauded as one of his best records this century.

After a few ropey overly-woke albums that verged on self-parody, Frank made a welcome return to his hardcore roots (hence the album title). He's certainly at his best when he's like this.

CATE LE BON - 'Pompeii'
It took a bit of time to get into Cate's 6th album, mainly because of its pace, but repeated listens have been rewarding. This clip of her at Glastonbury is just brilliant. The chainmail really suits her!

FIRST AID KIT - 'Palomino'
I had a feeling that the Söderberg sisters were treading water a bit after their last couple of albums, but 'Palomino' restored my faith. A really good set of songs with one or two new sounds creeping in.

Editors' output has been somewhat patchy in recent years, but 'EBM', featuring new member Benjamin Power (aka Blanck Mass), could be their best record in some time. It's certainly been worthy of a few plays here.

And a few notable extras I just couldn't ignore. In alphabetical order...

I'm not one to throw a load more negativity into an already very negative world, but for the record, I just want to state how massively disappointed I was with the following records. I had high expectations for these, especially the first one which, considering how long it's been since their previous record, is particularly poor.

YEAH YEAH YEAHS - 'Cool It Down'
GWENNO - 'Tresor'
ALVVAYS - 'Blue Rev'

And that's it for another year folks. I'm going to let the blog lie dormant again for a bit as I'm not really feeling it right now. We'll see what happens. Ta-ta.

Sunday 18 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 3)

One of the best things about 2022 is that we made it back out on the road again and took in some live shows. Not many - She Drew The Gun, Katy J. Pearson, Cud, David Gedge and Yard Act - but there would have been a couple more if it weren't for illness. We were due to see Little Simz back in the Spring, but I caught the dreaded Covid. Then, last month, on the morning that we were due to shoot off to Cardiff to see the wonderful Stella Donnelly, I got an email to say she had tonsilitis and couldn't perform. A shame, but it is what it is. Hopefully 2023 will bring a few decent shows.

With any luck there will also be some decent albums to rank alongside this year's batch. Here's my third weekly selection.

ALT-J - 'The Dream'
There's something about Alt-J. I really didn't ought to like them, but they always seem to make me not only enjoy their albums, but also make me want to play them lots of times. And so it was again this year, and I reckon 'The Dream' is my favourite since their 2012 debut.

MATTIEL - 'Georgia Gothic'
The opening track of Mattiel Brown's third album suggests a change of vocal style from her. The fantastically-titled Jeff Goldblum dispenses with her usual resonant tone in preference of something quieter and smoother. It's a really good song, but I'm glad the rest of the album has her trademark voice all over it. It's what sets her apart from other singer-songwriters. 'Georgia Gothic' is a little less even than its immediate predecessor 'Satis Factory' (which was one of my top five in 2019), but it's still packed with enough good songs to put it in my top 15 this year. Lighthouse in particular is a highlight which will spin round in your head for days. And in case you're wondering, Mattiel is now officially a duo, featuring Brown alongside writing partner Jonah Swilley, hence why they appear together in the video.

The weird and wonderful world of Aldous Harding got ever bigger and joyous this year with the release of her fourth album, her second to be recorded in Wales and her first to reach number 1 in her native New Zealand. It's got some wonderful - if often strange - songs on it; Fever might be one of the most accessible, yet it's no less intriguing.

LIFE - 'North East Coastal Town'
Hull. I've never been there, but it's always had one or two decent bands. The Housemartins were apparently the fourth best band from Hull at one point, and they had Fatboy Slim in them, so they couldn't have been half bad. Life certainly appear to be putting in a good case for being in the North East coastal town's top 4. Their newest album continues their tradition of impactful punk with plenty of wry smiles and dry humour, only they're now beginning to sound more accomplished, and all the better for it.

WET LEG - 'Wet Leg'
Hands up who didn't expect to see this pair in the list. Thought so. Has a new band ever had such an immediate impact as Wet Leg? They've been everywhere in 2022. Love 'em or hate 'em (and there's surprisingly plenty of the latter), there's no denying that Rhian and Hester don't take themselves terribly seriously. Maybe that's the problem with the haters - they object to people having fun. So they just sit alone in their cold dark rooms and post shit on social media in an attempt to feel a little better about themselves. That's what this song is about. It sounds silly on the surface but it's actually about the effect of social media, the people who use it and, more pertinently, how Wet Leg themselves react to it. And how do they react to it? They make a really daft video and layer tweet after tweet (mainly negative ones) over each other as a way of saying "We don't care! Fuck you!" And so say all of us!

Next Sunday is Christmas Day and you'll no doubt have far better things to do than read my plop, so the fourth and final part of my rundown will appear a few days later when you've all calmed down a bit.

Merry thingy, everyone.

Sunday 11 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 2)

After last week's somewhat male-dominated selection, it's the turn of the ladies to shine. And yes, despite what some people might say - a transgender person who identifies as female is, as far as I'm concerned, female. So to anyone who wants to argue against one of these inclusions - don't bother; my blog, my rules and you're wrong!


EZRA FURMAN - 'All Of Us Flames'
While I've long been aware of Ezra, I've never really been grabbed by her music for some reason. All that changed this year with the release of her 9th (NINTH!) album, in particular the single Forever In Sunset which is right up there with my very fave songs of the year. It's a fascinating document of her fears and challenges - being a transgender, queer, Jewish woman - set to some of her most confident-sounding music to date.


KATY J. PEARSON - 'Sound Of The Morning'
Katy's second album continues the pop-folk sound of her debut, but with an extended pallette. She's branching out, though it's not obvious where she's going, so that's going to be a fun journey for those of us who love her. We caught her live in the autumn and she is every bit as good as a live perfromer as her records suggest. MrsRobster is a big fan of Talk Over Town, one of her fave songs of the year.


THE BETHS - 'Expert In A Dying Field'
This makes my rundown despite it being my least favourite record the Beths have put out to date. There's even a track I tend to skip on it. That said, the rest of it is strong enough to warrant inclusion as it seems whatever they do, they always manage to inbibe it with a great tune and excellent production (all their records are self-produced). I've already bought tickets for their Spring Tour next year.


THE BIG MOON - 'Here Is Everything'
Three albums in and the Big Moon are showing signs that they might just become rather huge in the not-too-distant future. Following their last record, Juliette Jackson had a baby and the result is an album reflecting on pregnancy, childbirth, fears, hope and unconditional love, though it's done in such a smart way that you can still take something completely different from each song.


PLAINS - 'I Walked With You A Ways'
You know how much I adore Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee), so I was eager to see what would result from her collaboration with a singer-songwriter I'm not familiar with, Jess Williamson. Fortunately, it's a gem. It's an unabashed, old-school country album, and a very good one. Both take lead vocals and songwriting duties, but they clearly work so well together, it seems such a shame they've already stated Plains is a one-off project. I'd love to hear what else they could come up with. Here's one of Katie's numbers.

Another five next week...

Sunday 4 December 2022

22 in '22 (part 1)

2022: the year of continual crises. A megalomaniacal leader starts a war with its peaceful neighbour and threatens nuclear destruction of the world. Fuel shortages caused by said war and the world's insistance on sticking with fossil fuels that serve only to make a handful of people extraordinarily wealthy. The rising cost of living in the UK, which is making just feeding their family unaffordable for many, caused by both the above, increased taxes, Brexit and a terrible government. And said government making the UK a laughing stock whilst clinging to power, despite being more divided than any ruling party should ever be, and a staunch refusal to do the right thing and call a General Election to allow someone else to take over and attempt to sort out the whole sorry mess they've caused after 12 years of total neglect and contempt for the people they purport to serve.

Jeez, it's worse than when Bowie died! The one small glimmer of hope is the comfort I've found in music this year (well, that and my daughter's wedding, which was fairly significant...). As I said in last week's little prelude, it's actually been an OK year for good music. MrsRobster and I even went to gigs after a two year absence. So today I'm going to start my annual rundown of my favourite 22 albums of 2022 (hence the post title). This is possibly my top 5, although to be honest there's a sixth one that really ought to feature here as well, but you can't have 6 records in a top 5, so that one will feature next week.

So shake off all those heavy burdens and negative vibes and take a few moments to enjoy some rare positive energy.

BODEGA - 'Broken Equipment'
Kicking off with my (and MrsRobster's) favourite album of the year. I'm amazed on two counts really - how Bodega had escaped my attention until 2022, and that I haven't featured them here at all until today! My bad, shame on me. This album brought us huge joy this year, and we shared the love by telling friends about it. A guy MrsRobster works with on the night shift was incredibly grateful to her for the introduction, proving that something so simple as music can brighten up a life. Bodega hail from New York City. Of course they do. Where else could they possibly come from? It's a place liberally sprinkled throughout this record. There's some Talking Heads in there, some LCD Soundsystem, some New York Dolls... It's just a really, really good record and fully deserving of this prestigious placing at the top of my yearly list. Here's just one of its many great songs.

YARD ACT - 'The Overload'
Hype. Guaranteed to bring out the cynic in me, and it's why I entered into Yard Act's world with a fair degree of trepidation. But, I soon discovered it was a very rare instance of the hype being justified. Heck, even Elton John teamed up with them! Yard Act's debut album is not just another shouty post-punk record, it's a statement of the socio-political state of the world, in particular the UK. Some brilliant lyrics, occasionally touching, often funny, but pretty much on point throughout. They are also a phenomenonally good live act, as MrsRobster and I witnessed last weekend. This track pretty much encapsulates not-so-Great Britain circa 2022. Warning: don't listen to this if you are offended by certain words or vote Tory.

FONTAINES D.C. - 'Skinty Fia'
Talking of hype - Fontaines D.C. could do no wrong when their debut album topped my 2019 list. Its follow-up, sadly, failed to live up to my high expectations. Looking back though, it was clear they were in transition, shedding their first skin and becoming something more mature and accomplished. 'Skinty Fia' is the sound of that transformation having been completed and what we get is a third album which has so much depth and richness in both its music, vocals and lyrics. Opening track In ár gCroíthe go deo (trans: Forever in our hearts) is absolutely spine-tingling, and it sets the tone for the rest of the record. Fontaines D.C. have been reborn.

PIXIES - 'Doggerel'
Interesting parallels between Fontaines D.C. and Pixies. Both released disappointing albums last time round, but appear to have found their mojos in 2022. Also, Fontaines' debut album was called 'Dogrel', while Pixies have opted for the correct spelling for this one. 'Doggerel' is certainly Pixies' best record since their comeback album 'Indie Cindy' back in 2014; a good, consistent batch of songs with a nice dose of trademark Black Francis screaming. It sounds best, as all Pixies albums should, when played LOUD! It broke my heart to actually diss a Pixies album in 2019, so I'm really glad they appear to be back on form.

CROWS - 'Beware Believers'
Crows' long-awaited debut album was one of my most-played albums in the car in 2019. Its follow-up has blared out of my Hyundai's speakers rather a lot this year too. It doesn't depart much in style from its predecessor - I'd describe it as agressively melodic punk with scuzzy psychedelic guitars. Some great songs too. Admittedly I don't know much about Crows besides their music, but to be honest that doesn't matter.

A lot of loud, shouty stuff this week, and strangely for me nothing female-led. Have no fear, I have a very different pot of musical stew to serve up next week...

Sunday 27 November 2022

The 2022 round-up - a prologue

Yep, it's that time of year again. Starting next week, I'll be posting weekly installments of my favourite albums of 2022. It's not been a bad year for music, to be fair. Some really good stuff has come out.  Before all that though, I thought I'd round up a few non-album things that tickled my fancy over the past 12 months...

It's been a while since we had new stuff from our beloved David Gedge and his merry band of troubadors. Six-years, in fact, since the epic 'Going, Going...' LP. They've been busy though. A glut of songs collected over the previous few years were finally recorded and released as their ambitious '24 Songs' project. Emulating their 'Hit Parade' venture waaaaay back in 1992, '24 Songs' saw the release of a brand new 7" vinyl-only single each month. The ever-fluctuating Wedding Present line-up means there is a real range of songwriting styles on there as Gedge shared the duties with his various bandmates. I suspect some of the songs will be compiled and released in album form at some point. I have plenty of favourites among the two-dozen tracks, but one of them is September's We All Came From The Sea.

The hardest-working band in rock 'n' roll (probably) released not one, not two, no not even three, but FOUR new records in 2022. Collectively entitled 'SZNS', the project consisted of a quartet of 7-song EPs each released to mark a season - one for Spring, one for Summer, etc. Each record contained a song that incorporated a 'riff' from the relevant piece from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'. Saying all that, the Winter EP isn't actually out yet (it's due around Christmastime) but that's just mere pedantry. When it does come out, they will have topped the Weddoes' output by 4 songs, so it's a very noteworthy achievement. This track - from the Summer EP - pretty much sums up my life.

And after those seasoned veterans, it's time for some brilliant youngsters...

DIVORCE - 'Get Mean' EP
Now here's a new band I'm getting rather excited about. Divorce hail from Nottingham and have so far only put out three tracks. But each one is bleddy excellent, especially the most recent, an off-beat alternative country murder ballad called Checking Out which is definitely one of my songs of the year. They don't just make great tunes though, they also make wonderful videos that show off not just a theatrical side, but a very humourous one too. All three songs have just been released together as a digital EP called 'Get Mean'. A 4-track vinyl version is due in May 2023 which suggests another song isn't far away. I have high hopes for Divorce.

And if you loved that (and let's face it - you did!), here are the awesome clips for debut single Services and its follow-up Pretty. And here's where you can buy/pre-order the EP.

PANIC SHACK - 'Baby Shack' EP
This lot also look like they're going to rip up the place pretty damn soon. Cardiff's very own Panic Shack compiled their first six songs to form the 'Baby Shack' EP which disappeared off the record store racks in less time than it takes to play it. Copies are already changing hands for more than £60 a shot! MrsRobster (who is also a big fan of Panic Shack) and I will be seeing them in their hometown supporting Yard Act TONIGHT! Should be raucous and we're both really looking forward to it. Raw and loud like good punk should be, but a lot of fun too.

SPRINTS - 'A Modern Job' EP
Dublin has become a proper hub of great music of late. Sprints are the latest ones to have emerged from the Irish capital seemingly fully formed and taking on the world without a care. 'A Modern Job' was released back in March and is their second EP, following on from last year's debut 'Manifesto' and a series of searing singles, including the brilliant Little Fix.

I also strongly recommend Sprints' latest single Literary Mind which just might be their best track yet.

Next week, the first batch of my 22 favourite albums of 2022.