Wednesday 30 December 2020

20 for 2020 #4

I'm not going mention any of the records that disappointed me this year - there were a few. God knows we've had anough negatives over the past 12 months. I'd rather focus on the positive side of things, so here's the final selection of my favourite albums of 2020.

PUBLIC ENEMY 'What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?'
What makes me happy is that Public Enemy are still making music in 2020. What makes me sad is that the messages they were preaching in 1987 remain just as relevant in 2020. For their 17th album, Chuck, Flav and Lord roped in friends from the hip-hop community including the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Ice-T, Nas and Cypress Hill to name a few. A couple of old tracks were given a makeover too including 1990's anthem Fight The Power, one of the most powerful protest songs of all time. In the current landscape, it's never sounded so necessary.

CULTS 'Host'
There were two distinctive firsts on Cults' fourth 'proper' album: they used mainly live instruments instead of synths and electronics; and it contained songs written by vocalist Madeline Follin, who had been hording them for some time. The result is possibly their best album to date.

SORRY '952'
Another duo - Sorry hail from London and released an intriguing debut album which kind of defies categorisation (though if you like Beetlebum-era Blur, you might well enjoy it). There's a lot going on here, and they certainly wear their influences proudly on their sleeves. I play this album when I'm not sure what I'm in the mood for, and it always does the trick.

LAURA MARLING 'Song For Our Daughter'
I mentioned earlier in the year how Laura Marling's latest effort is an absolute joy. An album of intimate and sparsely-arranged songs for an imaginary daughter, it was inspired by an eclectic bunch of writers and musicians including Maya Angelou, Graeme Green, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen and Robert Icke. Laura Marling is fast becoming a national treasure, and she's still only 30!

And to finish off, how about the comeback record of the year? Despite reforming in 2000, the Psychedelic Furs toured for the best part of the next two decades without releasing any new material. And then this little beauty hit the shelves, a full 29 years after their last record 'World Outside'. Got to say, it was worth the wait. Some brilliant, brilliant songs on this one.

Shout outs must also go to:
Sparks - 'A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip' (one of Mrs Robster's faves)
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - 'Viscerals' (definitely not one of Mrs Robster's faves...)
Ian Skelly - 'Drifters Skyline'
Mourn - 'Self Worth'
The Strokes - 'The New Abnormal'

OK, I'm done. I could make this list twice as long but that would be boring. Hopefully this time next year I'll have just as much to write about, maybe I could even get a few gig reviews in as well!

Back to the burrow I go. Wake me up when something good happens...

Wednesday 23 December 2020

20 for 2020 #3

Another five of my faves of the year, all of these have been played a lot. This is probably the most stylistically diverse selection of this run of articles.

YOUNG KNIVES 'Barbarians'
Young Knives' fifth album was their first in seven years, and if you were expecting anything along the lines of classics like Weekdays And Bleak Days, Here Comes The Rumour Mill and Turn Tail, you were in for a shock. For 'Barbarians' is completely bonkers, a turbulent masterclass in off-the-wall experimentation rooted in chaos and nihilism. They ask the question: "What if cruelty to others is just part of who we are? How do we live with that?” 'Barbarians' is the rather disconcerting answer.

WILL BUTLER 'Generations'
If you want to know who the real brains behind Arcade Fire's best moments is, just listen to 'Generations', the second solo record by the Canadian band's keyboard player Will Butler. In complete contrast to the Young Knives, Butler offers hope and optimism wrapped in terrific melodies and exhuberant delivery. The closing track does sound like that song from Toy Story (it really does!), but the rest is good enough to let that slide.

WIRE 'Mind Hive'
Once again, Wire hit the mark. 43 years after making one of the greatest, most influential debut albums of all time, they delivered their 17th album and they somehow still sound fresh. It met with some of the highest critical acclaim of their recent career too.

THE KILLERS 'Imploding The Mirage'
Now, this one was a bit of a surprise. Ever since their brilliant debut, The Killers have got worse and worse. I personally lost them when they released the dire Human and hadn't gone back since, until I heard some of the tracks from 'Imploding The Mirage'. I know I risk losing whatever crdibility I have left, and it doesn't reach the heights of 'Hot Fuss' - not a lot does - but it reminded me that, on their day, The Killers can be such a good band.

TORRES 'Silver Tongue'
Another one I featured back in my Lockdown posts, and I still haven't lost any of my love for what is by far Torres' best record to date. After an acrimonious split from her record label 4AD, she refocused her energy into writing an album of songs about love and relationships. But, as you'd expect, these aren't typical soppy ballads, and it's difficult to pin a genre on it. It's just beautiful.

Next Wednesday, the final five.

Wednesday 16 December 2020

20 for 2020 #2

Last week I gave you my Top 5 albums of the year. The thing is, it wasn't quite that simple, as when it came down to it, only the top 3 were unarguable. For positions 4 and 5, I had three to choose from. In the end I plumped for Nadine Shah and Katy J Pearson to take the slots.

So while the rest of the albums in this series are not listed in any particular order, the first of today's choices is 'the one that got away', the record that just missed the top 5 by an absolute whisker.

Phoebe only became known to me in the latter part of the year. I can't really believe how she'd escaped me before. 'Punisher' is an album of personal, confessional, sometimes confrontational songs that no one her age should be able to write. But she's channelled her experiences into making some of the most beautiful songs of the year. The apocalyptic I Know The End also has one of the most stunning videos of 2020.

I was a big fan of Polly's debut album way back in 2009. It took her four years to follow it up and sadly that one didn't do much for me. Her new album, arriving a further seven years later, is a real return to form. Plenty of quirky songs that veer from dark masterpieces like Red, to gentle piano ballads, to strange electronic spoken word pieces. She's not one to rush things, but on this evidence that's no bad thing. Another exceptional video here.

What a record this is! Mali's finest Songhoy Blues have been building to this, their third album, which knocked me for six. As wll as the sociological lyrics that depict struggle and adversity, the power of the music is ramped up a notch, giving us their hardest hitting set of songs to date. "Ir Badala in Songhai means "I gon't give a fuck", and is inspired by the youth in Mali, especially young women, who are pushing back against patriarchy & societal controls. This song celebrates that courage, fearlessness & agency through the story of a woman ending her relationship, and choosing her own destiny."

BOB MOULD 'Blue Hearts'
After last year's album of sunny, happy songs, Bob made a quick turnaround with a record of extra-loud angry noise. In many ways, it sums up the times we live in, especially this past 12 bizarre months. My fave track on the album is also its most melodic, but its message is as powerful as Bob's usual barrage of sound!

IDLES 'Ultra Mono'
Having reached mainstream-level status, Idles are showing no signs of letting up. Some may write them off as punk for the woke generation, but you know what? They make great music. That's all I care about. 'Ultra Mono' saw the band reach out to friends and acquaintances, and as a result you'll hear David Yow of The Jesus Lizard shouting on this, as well as a piano intro from, erm, Jamie Cullum...

More to come next week.

Wednesday 9 December 2020

20 for 2020 #1

Well. Fuck me! That was one completely messed up year, wasn't it? The things we'll tell our grandchildren about 2020. The pessimist in me wonders if they'll say: "We know what a pandemic is granddad, we've had six of them in our liftetime!"

And on that jolly old prediction of the future, let's look back at the sounds that got me through the weirdest 12 months I've ever known. I've already told you about some of my fave records of the first half of 2020 in my Lockdown posts, but it's time to round up the whole damn year. There have been quite a lot of really good records, despite many getting delayed and delayed again, now not due until 2021. But, of those that did make it out into the big bad world, I've chosen what is probably my top 20. These are the albums that kept me going, the ones that made me smile, that made me sing, that made me feel some sense of normality when the rest of the world was bulk-buying bog roll, hand sanitiser and alcohol.

I'm going to give you five records a week for four Wednesdays - today you get my Top 5, the rest will be in no particular order. All five of these are nestled snugly in my vinyl collection.

I mentioned this album back in April and said it would be right up there on my best of the year list come December. And what do you know - it is. not only that, it holds the honour of being my album of the year. A wonderful record I haven't remotely tired of.

IST IST 'Architecture'
Another one I featured a while back - it's perhaps to easy to write off Manchester's Ist Ist as mere Joy Division revivalists, but while their debut album evokes the spirits of Ian Curtis et al, it also has some exceptional songs. So good they are in fact, that 'Architecture' is also one of MrsRobster's fave albums of 2020. High praise indeed.

THE BETHS 'Jump Rope Gazers'
New Zealand's best new band continue to show their worth. Their second album feels a little darker than its predecessor, yet after a few listens it truly sparkles. The title track could well be my song of the year. In Elizabeth Stokes, The Beths have one of the most promising songwriters in pop music right now. The video is, I think, some metaphor on falling in love. Personally, I think you should listen to the song without the visuals. It's perfect that way...

NADINE SHAH 'Kitchen Sink'
It's bound to happen one day that Nadine Shah will let us down, but she is showing no signs of that at the moment. 'Kitchen Sink' is another collection of songs tinged with biting social comment and sharp wit, delivered in Nadine's inimitable style.

And wrestling with Ist Ist for the title of debut album of the year is this little beauty. Katy J. Pearson has been teasing her album all year. When it finally arrived, we weren't disappointed. I absolutely love her voice, which certainly evokes Stevie Nicks in places - a very good thing in my book.

There'll be another selection next Wednesday.