My Morning Jacket blew my head, and eardrums, off on Tuesday night. My wife and I hoped on the chuffer and caught the opening night of their UK / EU tour in the achingly glamorous Kentish Town. Two plus hours of intense and magical power (including a twenty minute ‘Dondante’) means I’ve been leaning toward a calmer soundtrack and indulging in the quiet majesty of Nick Drake’s all-too brief discography the last couple of days.
Nick Drake died at just 26. His mother, Molly, was a poet and folk musician and Nick’s love of music developed at a young age. A quiet child he was nonetheless confident and soon learnt the piano, saxophone and clarinet while his other studies suffered as a result of his love of music (how many musician’s biographies have that in similar?). He spent a chunk of time in France – studying in Provence – while pursuing both developing his guitar and smoking pot. Hey, it was the sixties after all.
When he returned to the UK he enrolled at Cambridge and was quickly got into the burgeoning folk scene, playing shows in London and Cambridge. He was signed to Island Records when he was 20 and recorded three albums Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Later (1971) and Pink Moon (1972). Lukewarm (at best) reception and poor sales – not assisted by his increasing reluctance to perform live. A troubled soul, his depression worsening, Drake returned to his parents house in 1974 where he died on November night following an overdose of an anti-depressant.
Years later with musicians such as Robert Smith, Peter Buck, Kate Bush and even The Black Crowes citing him as an influence, Nick Drake’s catalogue started to receive the praise and attention it so deserved. I think it appeared in a Volkswagen commercial Stateside. I think it was the late ’90s while at Uni I picked up Five Leaves Left and then very quickly thereafter his two other albums so, here, in no particular order or merit, are five of my favourite Nick Drake songs to lend a quietly majestic soundtrack to the day.
For the last couple of years Monday has been a locked-in work from home day for me. Aside from resolving a child care issue it also helps the start of the working week feel a little less of a kick in the nads.
It also means that along with access to good coffee, I have the opportunity to indulge in a post-rock soundtrack for my working day without the usual (‘it’s been ten minutes, how is this the same song?’ or ‘has it even started yet?’) commentary or need to stick headphones on.
For the uninitiated, the term itself came from a discussion of Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis – both bands that helped shape the genre from an early point. I’ll borrow from a couple of definitions here to explain it (dancing about architecture springs to mind at this point) as a “form of experimental rock characterised by a focus on exploring textures and timbre over traditional rock song structures, chords, or riffs” performed by a group of musicians leaning on the traditional ‘rock’ instruments / lineup: two guitars, a bass, drums, keys etc and, occasionally, vocals but applied to “nontraditional rhythms, melodies, and chord progressions.”
There’s a lot of beard-stroking.
Of the many things I love about it is the sheer scope and variety found within what can so easily be perceived as a narrow genre (with offshoots into math-rock, post-metal) and the universality of it – as occasionally pointed at in my Out of Europe series.
Anyway, without going too deep into a history or explanation of, I thought this a good moment to drop some of what I’ve been enjoying today:
Mogwai – The Sun Smells Too Loud
Mogwai, from Glasgow Scotland, are one of the titans of the genre. They got in early in ’97 and have been consistently belting out great albums (and soundtracks) since. The Hawk Is Howling is one of my favourite Mogwai albums – it’s their sixth – and recently added to my record shelves completing their discography on wax.
Explosions In The Sky – Logic of a Dream
Texans EITS are another pillar of the genre who have currently got their fans in a bit of worry: having ditched all other content on their social channels and announcing ‘The End’ Tour without any explanation as to what ‘The End’ is – curtains for the band or new album? We all hope for the latter – it’s been some time since The Wilderness – but touring and making money from music is becoming increasingly hard if your name isn’t Taylor Swift these days.
Pray for Sound – Julia
A band familiar to at least one reader – ‘Julia’ and Waves hits all the right spots.
Astodan – Sagdid
Astodan hail from Belgium. They’ve added a vocalist to their lineup recently but I’ve yet to check that out as I’m still stuck spinning their 2018 album Ameretat – few bands manage that dynamic of melodic, piano-driven calm to pulverising FUCK YES and back as brilliantly as they do across the album (or even one five minute song).
A whole month between posts…. this is getting pretty sporadic to say the best.
Thursday is a pretty good day really – the weekend is just a nad hair away and it’s time to load up on caffeine and hit up Mr Fyfe’s weekly quiz. It also feels like a good moment to cast an eye / ear over what I’ve been enjoying of late.
Pearl Jam – In My Tree (Live at Melbourne Park)
Record Store Day this year was a bit of a non-starter for me. I spent a couple of weeks of this last month barely able to walk thanks to severe knee pain – caused by what turned out to be something called a Baker’s Cyst* – so the notion of getting up at a dirty time of the morning and standing for hours was ruled out. Thankfully the one thing I had my eye on wasn’t this year’s big draw – seems like Pearl Jam aren’t as popular with RSD crowds as Taylor Swift or The 1975 – and I was able to wander down at a much more human time of 11am and find plenty of them left.
Give Way – the sign used in place of Yield in most places outside of the States especially Australia – is a live album that’s long been sought after. It was originally prepped for CD release as a freebie for early purchases of their ‘Single Video Theory’ but minds were changed at the last minute and 55,000 copies were ordered destroyed. Some escaped the cull and became massively valuable. Twenty five years later as part of Yield‘s anniversary (one of their finest and ranked fourth in my list way back when) and the concert – recorded March 5th in Melbourne Park – was unleashed for RSD.
A live Pearl Jam album is always worth wrapping your ears around and this one is another brilliant addition to their already strong selection – it’s a real showcase for Jack Irons’ drumming and the vibe his looser drumming style bought to the band. Sadly the run in Australia would be Jack’s last as he was battling a lot of mental health issues behind the scenes and would soon announce his decision to part ways with the band following the tour – he’d be replaced on the Yield tour by Matt Cameron, documented on Live on Two Legs.
Paul Westerberg – Mannequin Shop
My son is building up a Spotify list of his ‘favourites’ – though this is more any song that takes his fancy. We recently caught ‘Waiting for Somebody’ in the car and it made me dig out Westerberg’s 14 Songs for a spin – it’s still a solid listen but it’s the delightful take on the plastic surgery of the early ’90s that has been stuck in my head since. Much in the same way as I wonder how the writer of ‘Answering Machine’ would feel about today’s lack of real communication I’d have to wonder how Mr Westerberg would feel about the state of enhanced vanity in 2023. Unfortunately though, Paul seems to have gone to ground again.
Adé – Insomnies
I popped over the channel again this weekend past for a couple of days and have been keeping an ear to RTL2 since both to assist with the language learning and the variety of music – it seems hard to find a station here that plays as genuine a variety (though their obsession with Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran gets annoying) . Last summer I heard Adé’s ‘Tout Savoir’ a lot and, this trip, it seems that her song ‘Insomnies’ is the current radio player and another I’ve been enjoying.
Daughter – Be On Your Way
Daughter’s new album Stereo Mind Game is bloody good. Gorgeous sounds and arrangements with Elena Tonra’s vocals breathing through an album of lush shoegaze / moody indie-rock vibe.
Slowdive – When the Sun Hits
Speaking of lush shoegaze… I picked up Slowdive’s Souvlaki recently and have spent many a glorious spin lost in the warm blanket of sound it generates.
Silver Moth – The Eternal
One of those albums I hit pre-order on as soon as it was announced – Silver Moth are a band formed out of a few online conversations during the pandemic. Only members Stuart Braithwiate (of Mogwai) and his wife Elizabeth Elektra had met before they hit the studio on a remote Scottish island and recorded Black Bay in just eight days. It’s a bloody strong album – a multilayered beast of slow-burning yet immediate songs that combine its members’ shoegaze** and post-rock dynamics with two vocalists who’s vocals find a place between Kate Bush and Elizabeth Fraser.
Faith No More – Epic
Another one of those ‘hey, if you like this one, check this out’ conversations with the cub after picking up a 7″ of ‘Easy / Be Aggressive’ recently. There’s very little like this and it remains a fucking awesome tune some (gulp) thirty four years later.
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood
Texas Flood is forty years old this year, which is as little a reason as I need to have been giving this one some attention.
*whether this is something first experience by a chap called Baker or those spend their time kneading dough develop the issue I don’t know.
I haven’t revisited this series for a while. Last I dipped into this theme was 2021, in fact. Thankfully I’ve since been able to return to the continent and am already booked up to do so again this summer.
The stupidity and complete cuntwomblery that is / was Brexit has made it a little tricker – bit more faff at borders – but there is hope that this will soon change as the reality of just what a fucking twat of an idea it was becomes clear and the costs of that blue passport* become clearer cause climb down after climb down…. I’ll stop before this becomes too political again. Where was I? Oh, yes, with Italy on the cards again this summer this felt like a good opportunity to pull this one out of ‘drafts,’ blow off the proverbial dust, finesse and let it loose.
Italy is one of those countries I’d longed to see and doing so in 2011 was a fantastic experience. We’ll be going back this summer and getting to show the cub some of the wonderful things the country has to offer is something that fills me with immense joy. When it comes to culture and, particularly music, Italy is a touchstone and has given so much to us.
But, if this blog doesn’t touch on the expected classical (though Vivaldi is responsible for some of my favourite pieces), discuss opera or, as sure as the Pope wears a ridiculous hat and heads a shameful organisation, won’t add a Måneskin video – what has my digging into music from the footwear-shaped country yielded?
Red Light Skyscraper – 4AM
Let’s get things started with a little post-rock – because it’s usually my way ‘in’ to a country’s music lately. One of the joys of a mostly-instrumental genre is its universality and yet there are differences to be found in the genre from country to country as well as region to region in some instances. Red Light Skyscraper (yes, a very post-rock band name) hail from Siena and lean to a more modern (concise tunes vs, say, GSYBE!’s 20 min epics) and propulsive element, with a few choice samples here and there and some solid driving beats. ‘4AM’ (I’m a sucker for a song with a time in the title) kicks pretty fucking hard once it gets going.
Ennio Morricone – Gabriel’s Oboe
When it comes to film score composers Ennio Morricone, born in Rome in 1928, was one of the very best. Not as grand in sound as John Williams, say, but nobody could create a score as evocative or moving as Ennio Morricone – whether it’s the famous stand-off in ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ or the sheer emotional heft that lived in the swell of strings throughout the score from’Once Upon A Time In America.’ For me, though, very little beats ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’.
Massimo Volume – Le nostre ore contate
These guys have been at it since 1991, save for a temporary break between 2002 – 2008. Their vocalist has a sort of poetic, spoken-word approach to vocals (Italian sounding like one of the more poetic European languages vs, say, German) against a guitar and drum-driven instrumental backdrop that’s almost like post-rock in its build ups, rhythms and structure. All bloody good things and right up my alley.
Baustelle – Charlie fa surf
Now this one I’ve really been enjoying – it’s got a brilliantly upbeat, bounce to it, I really dig the vocal harmonies and it gets bonus points for, in what seems like a made-for-radio tune, including “andate a farvi fottere” (go fuck yourself). It’s always good to learn the important phrases when trying a new language.
Hailing from the Tuscan town of Montepulciano, Baustelle describe themselves as having an “extremely peculiar blend of Italian pop tradition, British pop (Pulp, the Smiths), and French chanson… mixed with 1960s naivety and 1980s imagery.”
Manuel Agnelli – La Profondità Degli Abissi
From what I’ve read there were a few big rock bands to come out of Italy during the ’90s. One of them was a group called Afterhours and this is a solo song from their singer Manuel Agnelli. ‘La Profondità Degli Abissi’ (the depth of the abyss) packs a lot into its three minutes and, even though I haven’t a clue what he’s singing about, it’s an all-out bonkers-yet-brilliant cracker and I really dig the way his vocals build up and soar off with strings.
*I had to update my passport on return from France last year and reluctantly traded in my ‘EU’ passport for the dark blue one but take great amusement from the fact that, inside, it bears greater resemblance to the EU ID cards than anything ever before
According to the mighty notifications bell it’s been eleven years since I started putting words on page here. I did toy with the idea of doing ‘eleven things that have changed since’ but then that would move this blog’s wheelhouse into either the personal or political arenas into which it only occasionally dips. Though I think we could probably all benefit from taking a moment to think of how – a relatively short space of time ago – there was once a time when a certain orange defendant was just an annoying twat of a failed businessman and nobody really considered membership of the EU to be a problem.
It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
Also – thanks to those that have read the increasingly infrequent output of this blog and creating blogs that I continue to read even if I no longer contribute so much.
Anyway, keeping with the music theme I thought I’d mark this historic moment by hurling eleven great Track Elevens at you. Once upon a time only double albums made it to eleven tracks, in the era of CD bloat many should have stopped at that point and now, while we seem to be veering a little closer back to shorter album run lengths, they typically mark an album’s closing point. There is, of course, very little scientific method to the selection and probably a few I’ve missed but, in the immortal words of The Ramones: “hey, you there – let’s get going”
Pearl Jam – Release (Ten)
Ten might not be their best album but ‘Release’ is one of their finest and works as both a great album closer and concert opener.
U2 – Acrobat (Achtung Baby)
Always good to highlight little-known bands. Achtung Baby may be a bit bloated but I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Acrobat’ even if it took the band 27 years to recognise it and play it live (probably in some dingy basement somewhere).
REM – Nightswimming (Automatic for the People)
There are so many brilliant albums from those first few years of the 90s… and Automatic for the People isn’t even REM’s finest. The ‘Ride’ of their side may be handicapped by its first three tracks – ‘Monty Got A Raw Deal’, ‘Ignoreland’ and ‘Star Me Kitten’ probably aren’t anybodies favourites – but then ‘Man on the Moon’, ‘Nightswimming’ and ‘Find The River’ is one of the best ‘final three’ since The Wild, The Innocent… and ‘Nightswimming’ is just pure gold.
The Black Crowes – Descending (Amorica)
Amorica is a damn fine album, damn fine. In retrospect I don’t think it was just the pubes that killed it – 1994 may not have been the optimum time for a southern, blues-rock album to be welcomed by the mainstream. ‘Descending’ is both a long-time Black Crowes favourite of mine and a great album closer. I’ll get out of the 90s on this list soon I’m sure.
Bruce Springsteen – The River (The River)
When The River was briefly a single album the title track sat in the middle of the running order. Expanded to a double it still, kinda did but by lobbing it on to the end of the first half of the album Springsteen puts one of his finest songs in place as a reward for making it through ‘I Wanna Marry You’
Pink Floyd – High Hopes
Until recently a beautiful final word from Pink Floyd. It’s still beautiful.
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced? (Are You Experienced)
Not necessarily stoned…
Portishead – Glory Box (Dummy)
Ah, back to the 90s. Dummy is just sublime and ‘Glory Box’ one of my favourites and they slapped it right at the end of the album.
Dinosaur Jr – What If I Knew (Beyond
Closing off their first album since the original lineup got back together with a great tune felt like a way of saying ‘more to come, stay tuned’,
The Replacements – Can’t Hardly Wait (Pleased To Meet Me)
Yes, the Tim era versions with the ’til it’s over’ was great but this – with Alex Chilton on guitar, horns and strings – is as close to perfect as they got.
The Beatles – Blackbird (The Beatles)
Technically it is track eleven… because that’s what ‘track 3 on side 2’ translates to on CD and streaming etc.
Regina Spektor – Somedays (Soviet Kitsch)
I could, and probably should, write an individual piece on Ms Spektor. Soviet Kitsch is her third album and first for a major and can be seen as the template from which all her future albums would follow: there are pure, well-crafted tunes with just the right amount of refinement while still retaining enough rough edges, quirk and personality to make it engaging and all underpinned by Spektor’s vocals – wonderfully typified by the album closer ‘Somedays’ which she also closed the show with the one time I was able to catch her live some misty years ago.
As it’s that kick in the pills that serves as a reminder that the weekend is over that’s also known as Monday, it feels like a fitting moment to come down from tripping the cosmos collate some of those tunes that I’ve been enjoying of late in the hope that others dig them too.
Top Drawer – Song of a Sinner
I’ve been listening to a lot of Vietnam-era tunes lately (more on which to follow) and I guess the algorithm overlords of Spotify decided I’d enjoy this. They were right. Top drawer (pun intended) garage / psych rock from 1969 of which I know nothing about other than I dig it, man.
Pink Floyd – The Gold It’s In The… (2016 remix)
On a very similar vibe – and bypassing the fact that Roger Waters has travelled so far up his arsehole he’s come out as a Russian apologist for a moment – I’ve been enjoying some of the Early Years takes from Pink Floyd lately and Obscured By Clouds being one of those albums often overlooked it’s always worth revisiting a tune where Gilmour gets to break loose for a few bars.
Blondshell – Sepsis
This is one of those examples of not judging books etc etc…. I saw the name ‘Blondshell’ in one of those ‘artists to look for in 2023’ lists at the end of last year and scrolled on as it was sandwiched between some of those rappers with ‘Lil’ or ‘Big’ and numbers in their names and I figured it was more of the same. However, I went back to the list and read ‘brutally frank, distorted guitar-driven’ and started listening. Sabrina Teitelbaum – who performs as Blondshell – was en route to becoming a pro pop music writer before dropping out and writing her own stuff on a more alt leaning which means there’s a clear songwriting sensibility stapled to that aforementioned ‘distorted guitar-driven’ vibe that makes for great listening.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – The Trip to Pirates Cove
I’ve been listening to a lot of later-period Tom Petty on the road lately. The inbuilt chill to his voice serves as a perfect counterpoint to the throb of the Ferrari’s V12* that helps take the edge off the cocaine. For reasons unknown it took me a long time to get to Mojo (well, I guess the reason was the disappointment of The Last DJ) but it’s a real resurgence of a record and I love both the overall vibe of this one but especially the lyric “she was a part of my heart, now she’s just a line in my face.”
Gretel Hänlyn – Wiggy
I’m determined not to be one of those guys that once the mid-40s arrive they adopt the ‘no music worth listening to has been made since 199X’ and I’m constantly keeping an ear out for stuff that has a vibe I can plunge into. I can’t tell you anything about Gretel Hänlyn – who I caught on the radio – other than she’s a 20 year old singer / songwriter / guitar player from London. Obviously there’s a big 90’s guitar element to this that’s probably why it caught my ear and I’ve come to terms with the fact that, given the age of a lot of current new bands I’m digging, it’s likely that they’ve been taking inspiration from their parents’ record collections.
Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lightning
The cub has some very specific requests when it comes to music to listen to and when he recently requested we pick up a 3-disc ‘Classic Blues’ comp I didn’t have any objections and this tune is always a stone-cold killer.
From the PR:“Fear blisters through this town like a fever…
When Teddy Colne arrives in the small town of Rye, he believes he will be able to settle down and leave his past behind him. Little does he know that fear blisters through the streets like a fever. The locals tell him to stay away from an establishment known only as Berry & Vincent, that those who rub too closely to its proprietor risk a bad end.
Despite their warnings, Teddy is desperate to understand why Rye has come to fear this one man, and to see what really hides behind the doors of his shop.
Ada moved to Rye with her young son to escape a damaged childhood and years of never fitting in, but she’s lonely, and ostracised by the community. Ada is ripe for affection and friendship, and everyone knows it.
As old secrets bleed out into this town, so too will a mystery about a family who vanished fifty years earlier, and a community living on a knife edge.
Teddy looks for answers, thinking he is safe, but some truths are better left undisturbed, and his past will find him here, just as it has always found him before. And before long, it will find Ada too.”
Two things drew me to this book. First – it’s published by Orenda Books and there’s not a book on my shelves with their logo on the spine that I haven’t enjoyed. Secondly, it’s set in Rye. Rye is a small, picturesque town that’s not too far from where I sit and type and, once upon a time, was once. coastal port. It’s one I’ve visited often and happened to have done so just before my copy of So Pretty arrived – massive thanks to Karen at Orenda for sending this one over. It’s certainly changed the way I’m going to be looking at the town next time.
So Pretty is one hell of good book. I cannot think of the last time I was so gripped by a story, or swore under my breath quite so often while reading, or wondered how many more times the hairs on the back of my neck were going to stand up before I reached the end of this novel.
Just as “there is something malignant” about Berry & Vincent, the curio shop that haunts the heart of this novel from which a sense of unease seeps, there’s a deliciously chilling sense of foreboding that seeps out of the pages of So Pretty. And then… well… it dials up the chills with a literal “say Daddy” shudder of a shocker and changes gear as foreboding breaks into full on sinister thrill ride.
It’s a challenge not to give away too much of So Pretty‘s plot away here because this is a ride every reader should take. It’s like a literary roller coaster – that long, drawn out pull up to the peak where you feel the tension rising in as you teeter at the top, realising that Teddy might not be all there, before the sheer, heart-pumping acceleration, twists, turns and terrifying moments that follow. You want to close your eyes and not look but you can’t; it’s just too damn gripping and thrilling as So Pretty races through heart-in-mouth moment after another until it reaches the end and you put the book down, realise you haven’t been breathing for a few moments and almost immediately want to read it again.
Ronnie Turner is a fantastic writer. That’s why this book is so bloody good – it takes real skill to tackle the subjects handled in So Pretty as well as she does all the while creating characters that you care about, painting a detailed and real sense of place and managing to slyly but surely ratchet up that tension – she certainly knows how to keep the book firmly gripped in a reader’s fingers. From multiple narratives – of varying reliability – to gut-check reveals, disturbing vignette after another, real emotional pull and moments of genuine ‘I need to put this down for a second and say “fuuuuuuucking hell” a few times’, So Pretty delivers everything you want in a thriller and more.
Sneaking in a quick ‘extra’ and the reason behind the selection of Ohio’s The National – my local record shop highlighted the upcoming release of the band’s ninth album at pretty much the same moment as I caught ears on their latest, ‘Tropic Morning News’:
Aside from tapping my foot and digging the tune, it got me thinking. See, The National are one of those bands with which I have a strange relationship. Though I can’t recall how I first heard of them, I was really into Alligator when it came out back in 2005 (and since I recently added it to the collection on vinyl it’s had plenty of spins) and jumped on Boxer and High Violet as they followed but somehow that interest slipped.
Whether it was perceived over-exposure as critics rushed to heap praise or was the fact there was so much to listen to and so little time? Who knows but the end result was that for the next few albums I didn’t jump on them straight away BUT did end up hearing enough to get hold of them and fall in love with them and wonder why the fuck I didn’t get hold of them sooner – what was stopping me? Both Trouble Will Find Me and Sleep Well Beast are bloody brilliant and while I Am Easy To Find is perhaps a tad bloated (3 lps) the augmenting of vocalist Matt Berninger’s voice with an array of guest female singers is brilliant way to keep an evolution in sound. They plough the occasionally-anthemic indie rock terrain with a more thoughtful, literate approach with lyrics that are often at odds with the upbeat charge of the music delivered through one of genre’s more distinctive voices while managing to adjust their formula at the right moments to prevent it becoming stale.
So this time I’ve decided to stop the weird cycle and have pre-ordered First To Pages of Frankenstein* and thought this a good opportunity to highlight five of my preferred cuts from the band’s back catalogue.
This is where I came in, on album number three: Alligator. I haven’t ventured further back really but it’s oft-mentioned that this is where the band really found ‘their’ style / sound. It’s a brilliant album without a track I skip but I like the sharp short hit of ‘Lit Up.’
Mistaken For Strangers
Boxer took everything from Alligator and dialled it up a notch. While ‘Fake Empire’ is probably the most well-known thanks to Obama’s use of the tune, ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ has that brooding urgency that always gets my attention.
Whether it was down to new label 4AD’s promotion, the band’s continued up tick with the music press or riding the attention use in a successful Presidential campaign… but High Violet did big numbers for the band and seemed to be their break-out moment.
Don’t Swallow The Cap
I feel like Trouble Will Find Me gets somewhat overlooked – following on from the attention of High Violet perhaps something more immediate and ‘hit stacked’ was expected but the album is one that rewards repeated listens, is a more studied and stately affair than previous but is well worth the time.
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
A shift in sound accompanied Sleep Well Beast. The band’s trademark sonic atmosphere augmented with new elements, faster beats and squalls of noise that add texture and momentum and make it one of their finest.
*not the last two which contain the postscript where the monster says “It’s ok if people call me ‘Frankenstein’ I really don’t mind, ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ is a tad demeaning anyway”
Here we are on week eighteen of January and it feels like a suitable moment to take stock on what – in between sunning myself on tropical shores and spending my money on fast women and slow horses – I’ve been punishing my ears with this last week or so.
Camp Cope – Caroline
I’d seen Camp Cope’s 2022 album Running With The Hurricane crop up on a few ‘best of year’ lists recently and have spent this week hooked on it. It’s absolute cracker.
Alexi Murdoch – Through The Dark
Occasionally I’ll flick on an episode of something while I’m chewing down my lunch (usually in between the second and third meat courses while the servants are refilling the wine). I recently flicked on an episode of ‘House’ in which this song featured and I found myself captivated by it – in a way it recalls those moody acoustic bruisers that Pearl Jam would drop in their middle period.
Laura Cox – So Long
‘Half English – half French, 100% Rock n Roll’ is how Laura Cox describes herself. All I know is I’ve been digging her new album of late – she fits into that blues rock vibe with a nice meaty tone.
Tori Amos – Pretty Good Year
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Tori Amos’ first couple of albums since 1357’s appraisal of Little Earthquakes and they’ve both been rereleased in pretty coloured vinyl packages recently too. My cassette versions of them are holding up ok so I’m not about to drop coin on replacing them but there’s genuine gold in those albums. Related question: does anyone burn cds anymore?
Russian Circles – Ethel
The whole Memorials album is strong but there’s something so transportive about ‘Ethel’ that it’s a regular player on my Post-Rock playlist. I know, even as a lover of the genre, some post-rock tunes can hang around longer than an unwanted politician but this one is in, out, done in just four minutes of brilliance.
Slowdive – Slomo
Speaking of transportive…. I’v played Slowdive’s Slowdive more times than I can count since it joined my collection at the tail end of 2021 and it was only a week or so ago that, when slipping the lp back into the sleeve, I realised it had a download code in there. Since then it’s been on the regular in the car too – there’s something immediately soothing about ‘Slomo’ in particular that makes it as an ideal to cue up for the drive home as it does chilling out at home after a hard day’s drinking and hitting the pipe.
With January dragging its heels and with my usual sense of procrastination spreading posts out ever thinner, the time is probably past to look back at that music of 2022 that tickled my fancy. And yet…
In music terms, at least that which sits within this blog’s wheelhouse, 2022 was a bit of an outlier in as much as there’s not one specific album that stands out as ‘album of the year’ for me.
I listened to a shed load and, I’d like to think, broadened my musical palette somewhat if only geographically. Holding off on the ‘new’ stuff for a moment, it was 2022 that I took a deeper diver into Neil Young’s back catalogue. Having had my curiosity piqued by a compilation cd included with a magazine (one that wasn’t hits heavy) I also picked up his book ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ -typically I embarked on this journey as Mr Young pulled his music from Spotify and so I’ve been exploring his albums (from This Note’s For You thru to Mirrorball thus far) on cassette – this feels somehow appropriate to me. So Neil Young and, in particular, Ragged Glory was a pretty regular sound in 2022.
While it was released in 2021, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram’s 662 was ‘new to me’ last year and got a shit load of plays from me in 2022 as both my son and I get a real kick out of his guitar tone. On a similar note, 2022 was the year I discovered Larkin Poe thanks to a random flick over to a different DAB station. Their 2022 album Blood Harmony is a cracking listen.
Thinking back there were a number of songs that stand out. A good chunk of these came from spending two weeks listening to the radio over in France – which is probably the longest I’ve consistently done so and stayed with the one station. The down side to that being that you hear a lot of Maneskin’s bloody ‘Supermodel’. The upside was hearing songs like Sting’s ‘Rushing Water’ and tracks like Adé’s ‘Tout Savoir’ and Marie-Flore’s ‘Mal barré’. Tracks that wouldn’t normally sit within my wheelhouse but their connection to a great memory means they’re in the mix for 2022’s favourites.
On the subject of individual songs, there were a couple of albums that I expected to like a lot more than I did which were home to some good tunes even if the rest weren’t quite up to muster. I’m thinking here of Eddie Vedder’s Earthling and songs like ‘Invincible’, ‘Long Way’ and Brother The Cloud’ which definitely sit up with his finest. I’d hoped for more from Regina Spektor’s first album in six years but Home, before and after wasn’t quite there. It’s home to a good few tracks though, amongst which ‘Up the Mountain’ got a lot of plays this year.
Anywho, if there wasn’t one particular ‘album of the year’ for me in 2022, there were a good few that stood out and got plenty of spins:
Placebo – Never Let Me Go
This was a surprise for me – I hadn’t bought a new Placebo album since Meds in 2006 but after hearing the lead of singles (including plenty of plays of ‘Beautiful James’ on French radio), streaming the album more times than I could count I actually bought the album toward the end of year and it’s a real solid, consistent return to form for the band that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Emotional Eternal
Apparently the aim of this album is for the listener to find their bliss while Melody Prochet searches for hers. This was another discovery via the radio and the album has had many a play over 2022 – there’s a lot to love on this melodic, psych/dream-pop record with hints of baroque, gallic and shoegaze sounds melding together and gliding along on a trippy vibe from start to finish.
Built to Spill – When The Wind Forgets Your Name
A new Built to Spill album is always worth checking in for – they seem to come along so infrequently these days – and this tight, taut and guitar-tastic offering from Doug Martsch (this time working with Brazilian band Oruã’s rhythm section) is a late-career stunner.
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
The idea that a band could consistently release such brilliant albums as Big Thief have done is bonkers – but then they did call their debut Masterpiece. Seemingly not content with two fucking great albums in 2019, Big Thief hunkered down at the tail-end of 2020 and spent five months recording songs in five different locations. The result, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is that rarest of things – a double album that’s essential throughout: spanning, as it does, the full range of Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting range while still highlighting the strength of the band as a unit.
Soccer Mommy – Sometimes Forever
All signs that Soccer Mommy’s new album was going to be a cracker were in place – the progression evident on Sophie Allison’s previous albums and EPs was evident and Sometimes Forever didn’t disappoint. Appropriately sitting next to last year’s album from Snail Mail in my collection, Sometimes Forever uses those guitar-driven, often slow-build / reveal, mood setters to offset intense and sometimes confessional lyrics to great affect. The pop-minded melodies, big choruses and electronic production touches make this her fullest sound and best yet.
Am Fost La Munte Și Mi-a Plăcut– La Vale
There were a lot of great post-rock albums in 2022 and while it’s a close call with Exxassen’s Le Voyage, Am Fost La Munte Și Mi-a Plăcut’s La Vale has easily had the most plays from me in 2022.
Hailing from Bucharest, their riff-driven take on post-rock has been a favourite of mine for some years now and La Vale is a fantastic slab of the good stuff.
I’ve even put together a playlist of those tunes that stand out as highlights from 2022 – some mentioned here, some not – in no particular order so probably best enjoyed on shuffle, should you be so inclined.