2020 MUSIC: 4 MORE ALBUMS

Did you check these three beast albums of 2020 in a previous post? Feeling stuffed? Nah, course not. IT’S CHRISTMASSSSS…. so here’s some extra musical scoff from 2020. Non-metal this time, but still rocking hard like Rudolph on ‘roids.

JEHNNY BETH: To Love Is To Live

Savages’ Jehnny Beth out-savaged her band with I’m the Man‘s distortion fest, the first single from her solo album. No wonder Atticus Ross pops up throughout. No wonder she was down to support Nine Inch Nails this year. But, as with NIN, there’s a ton more variety and nuance here, from the icy sky-scraping opener I Am to the heart-acher piano and hushed breeze of The Rooms. But it’s Heroine that steals it, the kind of skitty jazz flutter that could have blown out from Bowie’s Blackstar band. A soulful, magnetic trip.

WIRE: Mind Hive

This could be a companion to Jehnny Beth’s album. Articulate, artful and fully capable of menace but opting for classy restraint, it’s well clear of one-dimensional ruts. But this is Wire, so this is obvious. Biggest surprise? The addictive Cactused, whose backing vocals make Wire-y pop perfection.

GIL SCOTT HERON & MAKAYA McCRAVEN: We’re New Again

Gil Scott Heron’s I’m New Here is so good that its 10th anniversary spawned two new collections. One is an expanded version of the original with an extra disc of tracks. The other is this, We’re New Again: a re-imagining by jazz drummer Makaya McCraven. And if that’s not the perfect frame to look again at Gil’s poetic street wisdom, I don’t know what is. The original’s cool electronics get switched for organic beats and tough swing, especially on New York Is Killing Me and Me And The Devil. I’m no jazz buff and hadn’t heard McCraven until this. But it’s a very smart reworking of an already great album.

JULIAN COPE: Self Civil War

Yeah, this was a welcome start to the year. Back when lockdown hadn’t been invented, the Arch Drude dropped Self Civil War and, cliche alert, it was a return to form. Cope is always essential, but not all of his recent projects sustained longer interest beyond the first fawning, as noted here. But this one does. Bookended by a couple of stretched out guitar sprawl epics like wot he used to do, Self Civil War earns repeat listens. Puts a smile on, too – see You Will Be Mist and Berlin Facelift. Much needed this year.

So that’s that for another year, a few highly nutritious non-pork scratchings from 2020. And I couldn’t even write words for Clipping’s album Visions of Bodies Being Burned, because I don’t know how to.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS! And check these other 2020 records and music highlights if you haven’t already.

2020 MUSIC: LOCKDOWN LEGENDS

Everyone knows it’s been a weird year. But who stepped up, musically, to make lockdown bearable and even enjoyable?

Here’s a shout out to those music-world bods who gifted us and made 2020 a hell of a lot more sane.

METALLICA

Of course Metallica. They released S&M 2. They did a drive-in show. They recorded stripped versions of Blackened and Would? from their homes and streamed an unplugged set. But best of all, they launched Metallica Mondays, right at the start of lockdown when we most needed some anchor points to stabilise our confused heads. What a move: put a whole gig online from any year at the same time every Monday. A weekly date. And they did this for the whole of lockdown #1, which meant about 26 consecutive weeks.

Best bits? The rambling, and always touching, Lars introduction brought a smile every time. The way Fuel kicked open the Munich 2015 gig. The House of Vans set from 2016.

But the 2019 Manchester set is the ultimate repeat view. Pissing-down rain made for many dramatic rock band visuals – the water spattered Master of Puppets drums being one, a drenched Trujillo doing Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth) straight after Rob and Kirk’s I Wanna Be Adored doodle being another (find it at 1 hour 6 minutes).

ROBERT FRIPP AND TOYAH WILCOX SUNDAY LOCKDOWN LUNCH

Did not see this coming. The diary entries that Robert Fripp put up during the height of lockdown offered an insight into his dedicated, reflective self. But these Sunday lunch performances with wife Toyah? Insight of a wholly different sort, the warmest of weekly invitations. Toyah always vibrant. And Fripp? Take your pick. Doing odd duets, cranking out Sweet Child O Mine, doing Nirvana… yes, it really happened and much more too. Got to love Fripp’s laugh at the end.

BANDCAMP FRIDAYS

Bandcamp already Do the Right Thing by musicians. And when the pandemic threatened musicians’ survival, Bandcamp stepped in with an initiative to support them: Bandcamp Friday. For any music bought on the first Friday of the month, Bandcamp waived their fees so that artists got more of the revenue. Perfect thinking. I found myself trying to buy something (and mostly succeeding) on each of those Fridays.

PRE-ORDERING NEW MUSIC

OK, not a legend in itself because it’s a verb, but it’s a behavioural change that struck me this year and, like Bandcamp Fridays, became another Right Thing to Do.

It’s Old Man Gloom’s doing. By pre-ordering their new album(s), they said, the record label (Profound Lore) would get some money in. Pre-order and you help keep things afloat. Deal. Same with picking up a pre-order down the local record shop … get some cash their way, help them survive 2020’s financial shitstorm. If you were going to buy the album anyway, be prompt if poss.

And you know what? It’s been fun doing this. It’s revived the excitement from adolescence when you just had to buy an album the day or week it came out. It’s easy to lose that experience as an adult. Reserving some purchases for physical release day brought a bit of it back. Nice.

DANNY CAREY’S PNEUMA DRUM CAM VIDEO

If you need meditation, this is it. This video makes you feel good to be alive. HOW DOES HE DO IT??? And how can watching someone master their craft somehow make it even more mysterious than when you hadn’t seen it? The ‘reaction’ videos get addictive, especially when it’s teachers doing the reacting. This is a great reaction video, mostly for the guy’s valid reason for not getting into Tool, and then his crestfallen expression at the end. You feel for the guy and love the fact that another Tool conversion is made. This drum teacher reacts clip is another goodie. OK, must stop. Wormhole beckons. But the star of all this is Danny Carey.

BBC RADIO 6 MUSIC

Or, whatever your chosen radio station is. Because our broadcasters have been unsung heroes in this shit year as well. Programming was changed just enough to reflect the bigger communal spirit. New features brought in listeners and recognised key workers.

As a listener, at home every day, I felt like we really were in this together. And the broadcasters did a stellar job of getting the balance right without being gauche, superficial or patronising. They entertained and informed and kept spirits up. MASSIVE THANKS TO 6 MUSIC (and not just because we’re friends with this guy).

2020 MUSIC: 3 GREAT ALBUMS

Festive greets to anyone who found this post! If you want exhaustive 2020 music tips, go to a proper source. If scant and quick is more your bag, here are three beasts that go down heavier than a frozen turkey on Christmas Day.

Ready? Let’s get stuffed. More to follow in later posts.

MR BUNGLE: The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo

You know what it’s like when you haven’t played Slayer for a while and then, when you do, you’re left grinning and pulverised by their OTT? Giddy disbelief at the relentless ferocity in a song format. And it feels so good because it’s like coming home.

Mr Bungle The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo
Mr Bungle: feelgood thrashing

This is what Mr Bungle 2020 captures too. Despite, or maybe because of, the pant-shittingly brisk pace whipped up by three core Mr Bungle mentalists and two Big Four godheads, it’s probably the feelgood album of the year. It’s frantic, vital and comes with a shitload of commitment and prep. Scott Ian said that to nail the complexity of the riffs, he broke them down into 1-2 minute parts and spent days at a time on a single fragment. Said he changes what he’s doing 93 times during Sudden Death. Said that only when he got up to 214bpm in warm-ups was he ready for the shows. Said he got arthritis from practising so hard. Coming from one of the longest serving riff meisters in thrash, this says a lot about the work that went in and you can really hear it. Theory nerd and scales master Trey Spruance had to learn how to play metal again so he could get through a track, then a gig, of intense metallic shreds.

Weirdest of all, they did all this to service a bunch of tunes by their 1986 teenage selves. Could it join the all-time thrash greats given that it’s both 30 years late AND of the time? Who knows. But the one thing you can’t escape is the love and affection oozing out of these speed metal grooves – love for the genre, for the source demo and for each other. This is not a band going through the motions.

And the more you learn about the backstory, the more magical the whole thing becomes. One day it might even become mythical: like, did it actually happen? It’s a proper sideways take on a reunion. But Bungle had the tools, brains and work ethic to do it. Treat of the year.

OLD MAN GLOOM: Seminar VIII Light of Meaning and Seminar IX Darkness of Being

The late Caleb Scofield was honoured post-humously on Cave In’s last album, Final Transmission. Now his distinctive bass force and song-crafting talent is honoured again on this double release by Old Man Gloom. Fucking hell. Every Gloom album is an event, such is their absurd mix of metalcore, drone, static, sci fi terror and primate myth-making, but these two albums hit a combined gear that shifts them nearer to their peak Seminar II-Seminar III-Christmas run. Has the loss of Scofield given the music a heavier purpose? Very likely.

Old Man Gloom Seminar XIII Light of Meaning
Snow Man Gloom: noise to the core

Across the two discs we get the full range of OMG moods and modes, amplified by Nate Newton, Caleb Scofield and Aaron Turner all sharing vocal duties. Also getting a mic spot and shaping the music is Stephen Brodsky – not a previous Gloom member but absolutely blood family. And the Cave In touch is obvious on tracks like Final Defeat and especially Death Rhymes, an acoustic sledgehammer to the gut and a peak moment from both sets. At the other end of the OMG spectrum, By Love All Is Healed‘s lyrical sensitivity is obliterated by Turner’s sub-human roar. And so it goes on. 11-minute sprawls, one-chord hammerings, deep space terror, super short concrete blasts, aching heavy beauty – all the Old Man Gloom elements you know and love, spread across two full-lengthers. Headphone bliss.

HUNTSMEN: Mandala of Fear

Never heard of this band until Stuart Maconie played the track Ride Out on his Freakzone show. Here are my words about the track from that month’s Rewind:

‘YES. Not the opposite of no, but Yes the band – because if that early vocal doesn’t remind you of Jon Anderson, you’ve never heard Jon Anderson. And if you have heard him, you’ve never heard him over a super dense prog thrash attack that’s Rush-taut (how tightly packed is that rhythm guitar?) but way heavier. Shit me, it feels good. Of course, Huntsmen’s Anderson is part-time and gets blown into next decade by a metalcore breakout, making this one of the most exhilarating tunes of the month.’

It’s all still true. And the rest of this double-disc album? A monstrous metallic rock effort. Doom and prog tinged but not remotely downer or indulgent. Aggressive vocals and clean harmonies. Flashes of brutality balanced by space-psyche soar. Everything in its right place. If Pelican had more range AND male-female vocals, this might be where they’d end up. A proper hidden gem.

Huntsmen Mandala of Fear
Huntsmen: just say Yes

So that’s that, three masterful metalworks from 2020. Check the next couple of posts for other 2020 music highlights.

’til then!