Wednesday 27 December 2017

Is this 2017? (part two)

Some blogger and his #2 fave album of the year (more apologies to The Swede...)

More of my top picks of the year, and the girls are dominant again...

Jane Weaver 'Modern Kosmology'
Until Nadine Shah's album came out, this was my favourite record of the year. A surprise seeing as it is rare I would rate anything so electronic so highly, but that seaks volumes. 'Modern Kosmology' has been hailed by many critics as Jane's masterpiece, and it is a real psychedelic/Krautrock odyssey - glistening synths and floaty vocals abound, but at the heart of everything is a good tune. Really good tunes, in fact. Slow Motion is one of my singles of the year, The Architect comes close too. Blissful, shimmery vibes - a proper lazy summer evening album.

It's telling how this record has appeared on so many Best of 2017 lists I've seen so far. A lot of those have posted Slow Motion so I'm going for The Architect just to be different!

British Sea Power - 'Let The Dancers Inherit The Party'
They never let you down, this lot. Another consistently good set of songs infused with some unexpected twists and turns, a bit of weirdness and melodies that stay with you long after the record has finished. Business as usual then.

Mammút - 'Kinder Versions'
Mammút's first English-language record - and their first to be released outside their native Iceland - proved to be a winner. A bit of a departure on their earlier stuff with more keyboards and a more lush production, but that's no bad thing. Some really good songs and sounds on here, making 'Kinder Versions' probably their best record to date.

Waxahatchee - 'Out in The Storm'
Talking of best records to date - Katie Crutchfield just keeps getting better and better. I played this album more times this year than I thought I would and I still haven't grown remotely tired of it. It's one I keep coming back to.

Here's a killer live take of Never Been Wrong featuring Katie playing one of my favourite guitars...

Public Service Broadcasting - 'Every Valley'
Of course, this one was always going to feature, wasn't it. A record about the decline of the South Wales mining industry doesn't immediately invoke 'album of the year'-type thoughts, but what PSB did with 'Every Valley' was bring the emotive elements to the fore to create exactly that. They also drafted in some special guests to sing some proper vocals for the first time. A sign of things to come, perhaps. Here's the angry Miners Strike song:

Other mentions must go to:
Annie Booth - 'An Unforgiving Light'
Marika Hackman - 'I'm Not Your Man'
Further proof (if any were needed) that the fairer sex seems to be making the best music at the moment. I owe CC a pint for introducing me to Annie Booth.

Spiral Stairs - 'Doris & The Daggers'
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - 'Who Built The Moon?'
Classic songwriting at the heart of these two records. It's Noel's best to date for sure.

And of course, there was Mark Lanegan Band's 'Gargoyle' and the Popguns' 'Sugar Kisses' that have already been written about a-plenty on other notable blogs from over there on my Blogroll. I ought to also mention Wolf Alice, Cold War Kids, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, Prophets Of Rage, Feist and Bully have also got loads of plays this year. I've probably forgotten plenty others too...

The year was tinged with disappointments as well, though. The Charlatans, one of my favourite bands, delivered a bit of a stinker with 'Different Days', very uncharacteristic of them. Same for Weezer's latest offering 'Pacific Daydream', and Morrissey's 'Low In High School', an at times bordering on awful record. I never thought I'd write that about Moz, but then he's becoming increasingly unlikeable as a person so I don't feel guilty about it. Then there was LCD Soundsystem's comeback record 'American Dream' which sounded like, well, like LCD Soundsystem only with not-as-good songs.

And just to prove the girls aren't infallible I did feel a little let down by the latest efforts by Laura Marling and Torres. Laura, who up to this point has been flawless, seemed to have just channelled Joni Mitchell and just made a 'girl-with-acoustic-guitar-by-numbers' record, while Torres just rehashed Lana Del Ray and made a couple of controversial videos to get people talking. Not good enough.

That's yer lot for now. What of 2018? Well, as you know, I've struggled to keep the momentum up as far as blogging goes so I'm not making any plans for this place beyond Bowie Week and the marking of the blog's 4th (final?) Anniversary. We'll see what happens. Some bloody good music on the way though. Django Django, First Aid Kit, Franz Ferdinand, Buffalo Tom and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club all have new stuff imminent. The Breeders, Yak, Gulp and Estrons will probably all put albums out too. We have tickets booked to see British Sea Power and Belly - yes, THE Belly. They're back! So very much looking forward to those. Whether I'll write about them depends on whether I can be arsed.

See you next year.

Friday 22 December 2017

Is this 2017? (part one)

Some blogger and his #1 fave album of the year (with apologies to The Swede...)

I was going to do something a bit different this year for my end-of-year round-up. I started it, but then the malaise that struck me back in the autumn kicked in again and I just couldn't be bothered to continue. Sorry 'bout that. To be honest, it was a bit of a naff idea anyway. Not that some of you would mind that of course...

So instead, here's a quick run through some of my fave records of 2017. There'll be more next Friday. Firstly though, it's worth noting what a great year it's been for female artists. My two favourite albums of the year have been by solo females, while many others are either female-fronted acts or have significant female contributions. My fave songs on the Broken Social Scene album, for instance, are sung by the lady members - Leslie Feist's turn on the title track is just wonderful. Even the Jesus & Mary Chain drafted in Isobel Campbell, Sky Ferreira, Bernadette Denning and the Reid brothers' sister Linda to sing some parts.

Nadine Shah - 'Holiday Destination'
An in-yer-face opus that not only astonished me, but knocked me sideways, upside-down and back-to-front. Direct and confrontational, nothing else had the effect 'Holiday Destination' had on me this year. Its main themes were immigration, the refugee crisis and mental health - not particularly easy listening perhaps, but by god it was moving. This record can stand proudly alongside last year's Savages album 'Adore Life' as one of the albums of the century so far.

(While I'm at it, I'll happily name Out The Way as my song of the year, and Nadine's show at The Globe in Cardiff as my gig of the year too. A clean sweep, no less!)

Alvvays - 'Antisocialites'
Pop album of the year. That's POP! with a capital P. O. and P. Pure, unashamed POP! tunes in a classic indie style. This is how C86 would sound if it came out in 2017. Never fails to get me singing and smiling this one (which is not a particularly pretty sight or sound, but few records can achieve it).

Which leads us nicely to...

The Jesus & Mary Chain - 'Damage & Joy'
Didn't think I'd like this one as much as I did. Jim and William's first album in what must be 1,000 years was - and still is - a pure joy. One of my most played in-car albums of the year and definitely the most welcome surprise of 2017 for me. This song in particular fills me with delight:

Queens Of The Stone Age - 'Villains'
Now MrsRobster keeps her cards close to her chest when it comes to music critiquing (unless it's Björk or anything Paul McCartney has ever been involved with, in which case she becomes almost psychopathic). So when, during a car journey soundtracked by 'Villains', she utters the phrase: "This is a good album," you know it must be pretty special. She loves a good riff and few excel at them better than Josh Homme.

Broken Social Scene - 'Hug Of Thunder'
If you omit the last two songs from this record, it would be Broken Social Scene's finest. Some absolute corkers here, from the rousing multi-member anthems they're known for (Protest Song, Halfway Home), to the arty swagger of Vanity Pail Kids and Stay Happy, by way of the mellow, more restrained moments of Take Me With You and the absolutely gorgeous Feist-fronted title track. It has a lovely warm production too which makes it ideal for these long, cold nights!

Other mentions must go to:
Ride - 'Weather Diaries'

Echobelly - 'Anarchy & Alchemy'
Grandaddy - 'Last Place'
Three excellent comeback records. I was particularly taken by the Echobelly one which is not only drenched in blues, but also shows that far from diminishing with age, Sonya's voice has matured magnificently!

H. Hawkline - 'I Romanticize'

Sparks - 'Hippopotamus'
Records for those who like their music to be a little... quirky? eccentric? different? Both bloody good though.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - 'Feed the Rats'
Crystal Fairy - 'Crystal Fairy'
Proper loud records for when I needed to vent my spleen without actually venting my spleen!

More next week. Have a good holiday everyone.

Friday 15 December 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#29: Babe, You Turn Me On [live]

The double-album set 'Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus' is usually spoken of as one album, but to me, the reason each disc has its own title is because they are two different records. Sure, both have the gospel-tinge that Nick introduced at the time, but while 'Abattoir Blues' is full of energetic, sometimes loud songs, 'The Lyre Of Orpheus' is quieter, more restrained and a bit darker. One of the best things about this set though is it is what turned MrsRobster into a somewhat reluctant Nick Cave fan. She'd never rated him before this, but she enjoyed these albums and can now appreciate Nick's other work. Result!

Babe, You Turn Me On is from 'The Lyre Of Orpheus' and is lyrically wonderful. Nick uses the imagery of nature to describe a courting ritual, but can't resist adding a touch of his humour to proceedings:

  Now, the nightingale sings to you
  And raises up the ante
  I put one hand on your round ripe heart
  And the other down your panties

This version is from the 'Abattoir Blues Tour' DVD filmed at Brixton Academy.

Monday 11 December 2017

Memories of 2017 gigs #10

Support: Chroma, Palomino Party
Clwb Ifor Bach - 9 December 2017

The last gig of the year and again we made it to double figures. This one was a bit of a no-brainer really as it was cheap (always a good thing) and it featured a band I've been trying to see for a while and never quite made it. If Estrons release their debut album in 2018, expect them to become pretty big pretty quickly. Which is why I was looking forward to finally catching them in the tiny Clwb Ifor Bach along with two other up-and-coming Welsh bands.

I knew nothing about Palomino Party, and to be honest it will probably stay that way. They sounded like a throwback to Britpop, but the arse-end of Britpop when all the best bands had either broken up or moved on. They describe themselves as 'art-rock', but let's be fair, so did Menswear. The most interesting thing about them for me was their singer who looked like he'd found Morrissey's lost wardrobe in his sister's make-up cupboard and decided to combine the two.

Chroma have been getting talked up quite a bit around these parts. Hailing from Pontypridd, they make a right racket despite there being only the three of them. They cite Reuben and Biffy Clyro as influences but they sound rawer. Mind, they've only been together a couple of years. Chroma's short set started off promisingly, and the songs also showed potential. The one thing I would say is they need to tighten up a bit, and if singer K-T could reign in the growling and screaming and concentrate on singing in tune, they might be the next ones to watch.

I like a good growl and scream, mind. You know that. Just, it needs to used sparingly to enhance the sound. Tali of Estrons manages to get the balance right, and that is undoubtedly what sets Estrons ahead of the pack tonight. They balance the rawness and energy with good, punchy tunes that stick in yer head. They played a load of new ones in their hour-long set which hints that there might be an album on the way (fingers crossed) and tore through some established faves - Make A Man, Strobe Lights, I'm Not Your Girl, Drop, etc. And they did so with ease, already seeming like hardened pros despite having just a handful of released tracks to their name.

Extra kudos points goes to the band revealing their loathing of the awful TV show Made In Chelsea (a partly-scripted drama about a load of over-privileged posh young people discussing "relationships, yah?"). The music played on this pathetic excuse for entertainment is generally very good, but Estrons revealed that when they were approached by the producers to use one of their songs, they categorically refused, not wishing to be associated with it. Hurrah! I love this band just that little bit more for knowing this.

If only I'd felt like joining the young 'uns in the pit, I'm sure I'd have had a whale of a time, but this time of year really brings me down so I'm not firing on all cylinders. We stood nearer the back where I struggled to see what was going on (combined with the low stage and my rapidly failing eyesight). I think I therefore missed out on some of the energy being transmitted from the stage. Even so, Estrons did excite me enough to look forward to 2018. That debut album should be cracking, whenever it appears.