Well, it’s been one of those years. For one reason or another, my record searching out ability, and time or inclination to sit down and write something about records, has been seriously curtailed this year. And so it seems appropriate that the first two records in my list weren’t even released this year. So it goes.
The Obligatory Album From Last Year That I Only Heard This Year
Cotton Jones – Tall Hours In The Glowstream
Tipped off by the marvellous Song, By Toad, this was my go-to album for the first few, dreadful months of the year. I almost wish I hadn’t listened to it so much as it’s now extricably linked to a horrible period of mine (and my friends) lives, but sod it. A great record and one I wish many more people would buy.
The Obligatory Album From A Few Years Ago That I Only Heard This Year
Sam Amidon – All Is Well
Seeing Laura Viers live was a pleasure enough, but not as much of a pleasure as seeing support act Sam Amidon and going “Whoa! Dude! This rocks!”. Ok, I didn’t say that. But as I texted my wife (who was late) with a “The support act is brilliant” and rushing her through the Union Chapel to our seat at the front, I realised I’d found a new hero. Sam Amidon takes old, old songs and plays them with that wonderful ability of making something complicated sound simple. I dare you, go and try and play “Wedding Dress”; not as easy as it sounds.
Career Highlight Albums From Artists With Long Enough Careers Already
This year, three bands/artists have made unexpectedly great records that stand up in comparison, or even outshine, anything they’ve done before. In no particular order:
Low – C’mon
Call me strange if you like, but I’d say that this is Low’s best actual album, as in, a record you want to listen to all the way through, again and again. Yes, “Secret Name” and “Things We Lost In The Fire” may be slowcore’s finest moments, but when did you last listen all the way through, eh?
MP3: Try To Sleep by Low
Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Again, other albums may have better individual moments, but this was Mogwai making a record that felt more complete than anything before. And “George Square Thatcher Death Party” is song title of the year, no question. Excellent performed live, too (https://loftandlost.com/2011/02/28/mogwai-and-the-twilight-sad-live/).
MP3: Rano Pano by Mogwai
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Already won the Mercury Prize and likely to top most writer’s lists, and deservedly so. There’s no-one else out there making records like this.
The Obligatory Nod To Bill Callahan and Will Oldham
Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
With every Bill Callahan album, once you get over the inital obsession, you find two or three superb songs in amongst a bunch of other good songs. Those songs may well vary by listener, but you can be assured they’ll stand up against anything he’s done before. Show me someone still doing that.
With Apocalypse it’s “Baby’s Breath” and “Riding For The Feeling”. The former is plain creepy, the latter one of the finest evocations of a travelling artist you could ever hope to hear. Even now, 50-odd listens on, I’m still gobsmacked at just how beautifully composed it is. Not his best album, but it’s sure as hell better than what most other artists can produce.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Wolfroy Goes to Town
After a number of disappointing records, Mr Funky Beard himself has toned things down again and made his best record of recent years. Like Apocalypse, it recalls his greatest years but doesn’t repeat them, but unlike Apocalypse it doesn’t really stand up to the comparison. But then, this has the definite feel of a grower to it, so maybe next year I’ll be raving about it.
The Obligatory Instrumental Post-Metal Album
Psychic Paramount – II
Fantastic. Noisy. Absolutely f**ing barmy. The moment during DDB where the mad post-Krautrock intro suddenly, without any warning, thunders into a churning, destructive noise, is possibly my musical highlight of the year. I suspect that is what a train crash sounds like. And you know those bands who have an opener called “Intro”, and make it a nice, easy introduction to an album? II’s “Intro” lets you know exactly what the record will be like. Barmy, like I said.
Honorable mentions: Russian Circles with Empros and Mastodon with The Hunter, neither of which I’ve listened to enough yet (and yes, I know that Mastodon aren’t instrumental, but I can’t be arsed to do a separate thing)
The Obligatory Acoustic Instrumental Troubadour
Michael Chapman – Trainsong
Fantastic. Not noisy at all. And not barmy either; just utterly beautiful. What this man can do with a single guitar at the age of 70 is beyond 99.99999999% of the world’s guitarists, and yet his supreme technical skills never get in the way of a damn fine tune.
The Obligatory Paul Thomas Saunders Mention
Paul Thomas Saunders – Lilac And Wisteria EP
How, or why, this man is not a household name yet is beyond me. “Appointment In Samarra” is the most beautiful, melancholy piece of music I have heard all year. I just wish he’d pull his horrendously talented finger out and write a full CD of songs.
Well, that’s Part One out of the way. Part Two, in all its slightly shorter glory, is over here.