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!

5 GREAT 2019 ALBUMS pt II

THE FESTIVE LIST THING CONTINUES (BUT IT’S SHORT, C’MON … )

Holly Herndon and Pelican starred in 5 Great 2019 Albums part I, but what else stormed our senses this year? Check these three, see if you agree.

RAKETKANON: RKTKN #3

Raketkanon 3

Appearing nowhere (why?) on any end-of-year lists are Belgian noise-art rock post-post punk ish provocateurs Raketkanon. More varied, catchy and moody than #2’s non-stick abrasions, RKTKN #3 inhabits a world all of its own where twisting riffs, carousel keyboards and Cold War espionage vibes co-habit with icy post-metal breaks, awkward discord and unplugged breakdowns. Vocals shift from whisper to hardcore and back. Really can’t place it.

The gentlest track – the addictive Melody – tiptoes through a post-grunge downer on an art-pop tip, while Hannibal is the exact opposite, a repetitive no-depth one-chord blare. Harry rides a killer machine-funk beat. Nothing sticks for long yet nothing’s twitchy either. RKTKN #3 is only 33 minutes but rides an ever-moving narrative through a weirdo urban/rural hinterland where anything goes … that’s Raketkanon.

 

KXM: Circle of Dolls

KXM Circle of Dolls

King’s X didn’t manage to release their new record this year – we’ll have to wait till 2020 for that – but the ever prolific Dug Pinnick did get an album’s worth of downtuned riffs and heavy melodics out with album #3 from the KXM groove machine. And there are no great changes from the first two KXM albums, thankfully. It’s just a bit harder, a bit richer.

What’s great about KXM is the adulterous kick you get from hearing Pinnick’s liquid, lived-in vocals and bass backed by tough Ray Luzier beats and the timeless George Lynch tone. It’s a metallic King’s X, though it’s not really fair to make out that King’s X are the parent band because it’s Lynch who kicks everyone into action. KXM don’t reinvent rock, but they do put their individual prints on it. Kinda like Rush do. And if you liked Dokken’s guitar sound but not the band, KXM is the right place because Lynch is all over it. He’s set up home in a place you actually want to visit.

Standout tracks? War of Words and Mind Swamp kick it off with aggression, but the softer, darker Lightning showcases everything – pure King’s X vocal lines while the deft solos and mood-setting percussion hint at voodoo. Class.

 

In the previous post, we said No Rankers. But the last album in this very short list is pretty damned special so if there was to be a favourite, it might just be this:

CAVE IN: Final Transmission

Cave In Final Transmission

Following the still-unbelievable death of Caleb Scofield in 2018, Cave In finished the in-progress tracks in tribute to their bass brother and as a fundraiser for his young family.

It’s an emotional listen. The usual Cave In spectrum of noise, hardcore, spacerock and loose acoustics is covered but, with the loss of an active musician top of mind, the bass parts are loaded with significance. Consciously or not, we notice them even more.

Final Transmission is a great Cave In album.

Shake Your Blood throws an absolute monster of a Cave In hook, but it’s bitter sweet – the lyrics knock you back, especially being clean-sung (screams and roars are absent). Lunar Day‘s soft burned drones and Strange Reflection‘s doom-heavy riff show the range on display, yet it’s the calamitous bone-rattler Led to the Wolves that ends the tribute. Chaotic perfection.

Bold, heavy, intense and defiant. And, through it all, THAT bass.

 

Festive rocks off to all, see you in 2020.

5 GREAT 2019 ALBUMS pt I

NO TOOL, NO CULT OF LUNA, NO DESERT SESSIONS – BUT FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS

Welcome to the end of the last December of the decade! Nothing different really, is it? But it is the end of the year and that means it’s best-of 2019 time.

YES. All those lists. Who listens to so many new albums in a year that they’ve got room to pare it down to a mere 20? Liars, surely.

So, here in Realistic Corner, we’ve got a top 5, but really it’s a great 5 – Five Great Albums From 2019 That We Know Well Enough To Review Briefly But Fairly And Recommend Absolutely And In No Particular Order (No Rankers).

But that’s probably not a catchy enough title for a list.

So we’ll call it 5 Great 2019 Albums with the caveat that Fear Inoculum, A Dawn to Fear and Desert Sessions Vol 11&12 are of course bloody immense albums, but time is a bit short to do them justice here.

Anyway. Five other goodies to scroll – two now, three more after a chunky mince pie break.

Happy Christmas!

HOLLY HERNDON: Proto

20191218_0939361309075085.jpg

If Frontier from this album doesn’t sweep you to a new dimension, something’s gone very wrong. Track of the year? Very very possibly.

Frontier is what happens when you get a cappella Artificial Intelligence rooted in Native American chants, finished off by a surround-sound electronic assimilation of The Human Voice.

It’s a wild, ceremonial symphony, an infinite digital choir bathed in shafts of light. If churches were the future, this is their sound. La Sagrada Familia of holy spaces.

And the rest of Proto? Equally without category and definitely beyond my scope, as you can tell from these fumbling words, but it pushes some avant, high concept Clipping/Bjork/Gazelle Twin electro buttons. Proto stuns. Like a new life-form stuttering into the world, Holly Herndon’s mind-blowing work is both techno futuristic and primal ancient. Dance and flight with vocal beats. Believe.

PELICAN: Nighttime Stories

Pelican Nighttime Stories

Like Mogwai, Pelican tend to refine rather than reinvent, and their first new album in six years does not threaten that approach one bit. Nighttime Stories might not have made it big in any end-of-year lists – only one of the army of Metal Hammer writers put it in their top 20 (and even then it was 18th or 19th) – but that’s no indicator of quality.

If you’re a long-time Pelican fan, you’ll not be disappointed.

Midnight and Mescaline flexes early metallic muscle with an un-Pelican esque pace injection, but Abyssal Plain outdoes it – not with its breezy alt-rock hook but with the black-metal-paced shred that burns it. Twice. What a moment(s). It Stared at Me wraps you in moonlit mellow while Full Moon, Black Water pulls metronomic metal from ground-splitting bass heaviness … it’s the Pelican you’ve always known and loved, but now a bit tougher.

5 Great 2019 Albums Part II coming soon.

RIFFS AND RECORDS OF 2018

A SEASONAL LOOK BACK AT SOME HARD-HITTING FAVOURITES OF THE YEAR (100% subjectivity alert)
Feastive gratings, deer reader! How was your 2018? What were the chimney-top highs and reindeer-dropping lows in your world of rock?
In the spirit of seasonal listmania, as we await the clattering arrival of ol’ whitebeard, let’s share the gift of listening pleasures with the help of some wildly contrived categories, all in the name of musical goodwill and making our collective music collections EVEN BETTER.
Shall we?

Snowmania!

’tis the season to be chilled

PORCINE PSYCHE SLUDGING BASTARDS of the year

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs: King of Cowards. For my crummy penny’s worth, Feed the Rats didn’t match The Wizard and the Seven Swines’ basket-cased crash landing. Not quite. This new one does, though. Shockmaster’s Melvins-worthy riff sticks like wet tar, A66 ends with the heaviest moto-pulsing Hawkwind you’ll ever hear and vocalist Matt Baty doesn’t so much sing as expel, right down to the vein-throbbing last ounce. As usual. What do we call this music? Gut metal? Primal scream, howwwwl rock, slam and hurl? Don’t matter. All we need to know is, it’s physical.

70s SOUL POP STOMPING REMAKE of the year

Ty Segall: Every 1’s a Winner (from Freedom’s Goblin). A close one, this. Corrosion of Conformity bagged big 70s cover points with heavyweight Queen – Son and Daughter – dropping a bonus sphere on No Cross No Crown, but for addictive unruly garage pop splendour you gotta go for Ty’s sticky glam-funk fuzz pop. Hot Chocolate makes you feel good.

RUSSIO-FRANCO FALSETTO POST-PUNK ELECTRO-O-O of the year

Shortparis: Nacxa. Big thanks to Mary Anne Hobbs for introducing Shortparis on her 6Music Recommends programme. Worldly beats, goth paranoia, Joy Division shadow play, killer album. Check this review and find some links to the intoxicating Shortparis sound.

TIME-STOPPING TECTONIC PLATE-SHIFTING RIFF of the year

Sleep: The Botanist (from The Sciences). What. A. Statement. I mean, the album’s ace, surely the most cohesive thing they’ve done; Holy Mountain’s too in thrall to Sabbath, and Dopesmoker’s an untouchable one-off that exists in its own category. The Sciences, though, has songs and sequencing, a proper album structure, and the last of those tracks is definitive. Riff heroic, solos cosmic, wholly unshakeable and cool as fuck. Stuff it in your pocket and become invincible.

ODD-NAME OX-PROG of the year

Masiro: Geodesics. Very new from the Oxford band, but it’s made such an impression that it goes in as a best-of – let’s see if it stacks up after a few more months. Fits well with TesseracT and Cave In, like an instrumental partner in technical space rock. Mini write-up right here.

BRUTE-FORCE OX-FORGED METAL of the year

Desert Storm: Sentinels. In March, Judas Priest delivered Firepower and it was so steely – like, consummately metal, the old school way – that it the propelled the metal masters up to #3 on Metal Hammer’s end-of-year list. Rejuvenated Judas or what? But March also gave us Sentinels by Desert Storm outta Oxford, which is also metal but earthier of origin. Less escapist, less fantastical, less clean, a stone-solid riff stack. Eight months on and that Convulsion/Capsized ending still cuts it.

SHOCK LOSS of the year

Caleb Scofield. The serious bit … did Hydra Head dominate your musical discoveries in the early 2000s? It did mine. The Isis/Old Man Gloom/Cave In/Pelican scene felt like a family, and Scofield’s bass was a core member. If you haven’t checked Cave In’s Antenna for a while, do it now. Cue up Seafrost: prime Scofield bass in a track that disintegrates into whiteout, Arctic ambience and guitar wails that climb on chill winds. A fitting, wintry tribute.

INDUSTRIALISED PANEL-BEATING of the year

Gnod: Chapel Perilous. Aka the Album they Ignored at Ritual Union, but even that interminable live effort cannot detract from the overcast majesty trapped within the walls of this perilous factory. Donovan’s Daughter unlocks it with 15 minutes of relentless moto-pounding, Uncle Frank Says Turn It Down slams it shut with untamed Helmet riffage.The rest? Psyche warfare, corrosive effluence and Swans transcendence. A vital sprawl.

SHOEHORNED GNOD PUN of the year

Gnodley & Creme. Aaaah, sorry. Festive indulgence on my part. Then again, Sunn O)) and Scott Walker did Scott O))), so why not ponder a northwest summit of Salford and Stockport? Anyway, Godley & Creme’s Body of Work came out in 2017, but it’s 5 CDs vast so it became a 2018 listen. Still ploughing through to be honest, but it’s a showcase for dazzling pop invention. Why would you buy this? Probably because you’re curious for experimental pop and you’re three and a half decades late for Godley & Creme. Well, that’s my reason. The 80s childs among us will have Wedding Bells and Cry stuck in the unconscious, maybe even the murkier Under Your Thumb. Body of Work packs the whole G&C journey and it’s a precocious trip crammed with ideas, pop smarts and studio-muso innovation … Zappa de doo wop and kaleidoscopic adventures, a massive revelation to the G&C first-timer.

SKRONKY DISTORTED HAG of the year

Nine Inch Nails: Bad Witch. If you’ve ever wished for a more urgent, fired-up, experimental studio outing from Nine Inch Nails after years of brooding perfection, Bad Witch is it. Shit Mirror makes a classically violent start, but after that we get a new Reznor voice with vibrato (pure Chris Connelly), zombie sax, bass space and NIN-style destruction. Bad Witch: faith healer.

PROG MENTAL HEAVY SHREDDIES of the year

Between the Buried and Me: Automata I. ‘kin ‘ell. There is no rest in this 35-minute EP. Technical, progressive metal played with heart and scream, millions of mood and tempo shifts, and just enough scattershot hooks and solos to unleash your arena rock nerd. Pushing a fair few Mastodon/Voivod/Opeth/Porcupine Tree buttons, it’s a shiteload of music packed into half an hour.

PROG MENTAL HEAVY SHREDDIES #2 of the year

Between the Buried and Me: Automata II. Obvs. And although it’s wrong to say that II is less metal, because it is still totally metal, it is right to say that it’s more genre-eclectic. Remember Devin Townsend’s swinging Bad Devil from his Infinity album? That swing is all over Voice of Trespass, a track that spends 13 minutes going absolutely everywhere, as does the rest of Automata II. BTBAM have no limits.

RARE WORD AS ALBUM TITLE of the year

TesseracT: Sonder. Another one for the prog set, but no death growls and less of Between the Buried and Me’s rapid-fire switcheroos – Sonder turns out a clean heavy P-rog with spacey ambience and mid-tempo riffs that lurch, bend, stop and start. Perhaps not immediately striking, but the quality’s obvious and after a few plays, it pulls you right back.

NICE LYRIC BOOK SIGNED BY ARTIST of the year

Franklin Mint: Scrage. It’s been four years since the So….dinosaurs EP and Scrage follows exactly as you’d want – twisting tunes, knotty off kilter riffs and sideways lyricism. Nomeansno always come to mind with Franklin Mint – it’s the vocals, without the mania – but beyond that, they’re hard to pin. Just like Tool’s Opiate was.

RE-WRITING THE LIVE PERFORMANCE RULE BOOK of the year

King Crimson. Yep, them. The band that turns 50 next year. How so? Because they delivered a show so exceptional that the words are out of reach. Aware of the contradiction, here are some words from my unfinished notes: Seeing them live for the first time tells me two things: first, a healthy stack of studio albums is a frakction of the experience this band offers. And second, a live date sends you back to listen again to every bit of Crim you thought you knew, but to do it properly this time. Live Crimson clears the senses. King Crimson showed how intense rock music could be and really … they were just too good. Band of the year.
So, there goes a tiny snapshot of some big impressions in 2018. Time now to crack the shortcrust on some mince pies and hope Santa finds those live King Crimson CDs in time … and with that festive thought, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

MARK LANEGAN LIVE + 2017 MOMENTS

DECEMBER REWIND: MARK LANEGAN BAND PLAYS OXFORD, PLUS A 2017 REWIND

Gargoyle. When you see Mark Lanegan stand dead still on stage, face lived-in and unbreaking, you wonder if the name of the album is a knowing, unmoving nod to his stage self.

Then you cast the thought off. Lanegan does not come across as a guy who does send-up, not in public at least. Gargoyles survive centuries though, and Lanegan’s voice has the same survivor’s trait, but the man himself …. at times he looks like he might not get much beyond another day. He only moves from and to the mic when he has to get a drink, and does it slowly with a limp. Every time he moves, he grimaces. Definitely not the imposing moody bruiser you’ve imagined – no, he looks like a veteran fighter in semi-retirement, taking the stage with reluctance. To anyone who hasn’t seen him in person before – me – it’s a bit of a shock. Puts you at unease.

Is Lanegan’s voice diminished? No. Not a bit. It’s exactly what you know from the records – rich, lived-in, strong with weary edge, and he doesn’t falter or miss all night. Death’s Head Tattoo and Gravedigger give us an early rush before Shelley Brien takes co-vocals on Hit the City‘s highway cool. Nocturne pulls out those Euro-driven post-punk synth-pop stops, pulsing like Simple Minds’ Theme for Great Cities, and it’s these tracks, the ones that drive you through metropolitan nightscapes, that work the best. Riot in My House showcases Jeff Fielder’s liquid solos, and that guy is stellar, totally immersed in the songs – he’s into it, bodily into it, with creeper-hop moves and dapper hat that are more acid jazz moonlighter than rock supremo. Class act, as is the whole band. Methamphetamine Blues closes the set with clank ‘n’ growl, then the encore gets stripped to guitar and voice only. Brien joins for a closing Bombed.

It’s a great gig, but an odd-funny one too (and we’re not even going near support act Joe Cardamone’s Holy War filmwank). You could say that Lanegan’s voice doesn’t fit the higher energy rock that he now does, yet it totally works. You could also say that he doesn’t fit the trad rock set-up on stage and you’d be right. And you would put cash on “Mark will be out in 15 minutes to sign any merchandise you have, he’d love to meet you” not being the last words of the set, but they are. A meet and greet with Mark Lanegan? Get the fork outta here.

But sure enough, he appears walking slowly with a cane, joined by Shelley, and they take their seats at the merch stand. They sign stuff, they shake everyone’s hands, it’s a cool thing to see. Would they sign my ticket, please? Of course they would. Happy new year, guys.

LANEGAN TICKET

MOMENTS OF THE YEAR

We’re already drowning in end-of-year lists, but I’ll add a drop’s worth anyway. What’s the criteria? Music moments 2017 – pretty much new, a little of the old, simple as that. The big 2017 reviews shame us into seeing how far off the pulse we non-music-biz mortals really are, but they give us plenty of stuff to check as well: a last grab at being remotely current.

They also make us wonder what everyone sees in LCD Soundsystem. 

Again.

NOTHING IS DEFINITIVE. Let’s go.

KXM – Scatterbrain
Rapid-fire prog-pyro technics launch the second KXM album. So, who KXM again? Dug Pinnick (King’s X) + George Lynch (Lynch Mob/Dokken) + Ray Luzier (Korn). Many of Pinnick’s projects overlap his mother band’s sound, but KXM does push a bit further out because Lynch has a tone all his own, and Ray Luzier lays down some pristine metallic double-kick action, yet the bedrock of it all are those big stop-starter funk-heavy grooves. Check Panic Attack for an epic Lynchian solo over heavy-Beatles harmony. If you’re looking to fall back in love with guitar heroes and musos who serve the song, submit to KXM’s hard-rock mastery.

King’s X live in Bristol
Might as well get straight on to the other 2017 Pinnick high: King’s X live, in the UK. After a life-time’s fandom, seeing them for the first time was odds-on to be Gig of the Year, and it was. It still is. This is what it felt like. King’s X, we salute you.

Buzz and Dale
First it was Crystal Fairy who crunched our worlds with revitalised riffage, then Melvins took us on A Walk with Love and Death double header, with Death possibly the best Melvins album since Freak Puke and one that draws on Stag‘s vintage lurch without ever doing a retread. Dale Crover put a solo record out, too – haven’t heard it, one for next year, surely.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
Chanced upon these raucous fuckbags back in January and pounced on one-track EP The Wizard and the Seven Swines. One of the best listens of the year. Debut album Feed the Rats landed in 2017, and though more hinged, it’s still a righteous slab of sludgy noisy drawn-out psyche.

Robert Plant – Carry Fire
Any Robert Plant record is a big deal, no matter how it turns out. Carry Fire isn’t the global psychedelic melt that we might expect from the Sensational Space Shifters – more wistful Welsh valley than charging Mali burn – and its restrained mood is at odds with Plant’s life-affirming interviews, so what gives? Once The May Queen has skipped past, side A keeps it slow and you’re straining for a kick, but after that – Carving Up The World Again onwards – it hits the Plant mark. Bones of Saints echoes Mighty Rearranger, Carry Fire conjures bazaars and street heat while Keep it Hid tiptoes a Space Shifter electronica shimmy. Given time, the slower tracks grow, but best of all is Heaven Sent at the record’s end – heavy, slow-droning surf, one of Plant’s darkest. Majesterial stuff as always, just a bit more hidden. Slow-releasing heat.

Dead Cross – Dead Cross
Old Kids on the Block? Yeah, but the joy of hearing Patton THIS animated and Lombardo THAT ferocious in a 28-minute ultrablast is hard to top.

Ministry – Rio Grande Blood
Jizzy Pearl played Wasted in America at the Bullingdon in 2017. Of course, it launched a Love/Hate listening phase, and that somehow led to a Ministry revival as well – you know what it’s like. Must have been a bands-of-92 thing. Anyway, Ministry. Don’t know how long you stuck with them, but I stopped buying after Houses of the Mole, not for any great reason other than the stacks of other new bands and sounds to grab hold of. Suddenly you’ve got a four-album Ministry deficit and the guitarist has died. Shit. What happens when you then get stuck in to Rio Grande Blood? It blows your head. Senor Peligro is ferocious, aggressive, surely one of the hardest tracks they’ve ever done. Cue immediate Ministry gap fill, and if you can stomach a bit of gross-out reading while you do the same, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen is it (get it on Kindle). Frank, funny and disgusting, it’s an unbelievable tale (literally, in the Robert Plant anecdote Led Zeppelin in 1983, really???) where you can’t help but be charmed by Alien J. Lotta self deprecation, whole lotta self abuse, some horrible fucking stories. Get past the first few pages and you won’t stop.

Prince – Around the World in a Day
The Prince education continues, and this album … well, Tamborine and America. How hard is the funk on those tracks? ’nuff said. Staggering.

Chris Cornell 

We all know the story. We all know it doesn’t sit right, either. Going beyond Soundgarden, Carry On and Songbook have kept Cornell’s flame flickering this year, and the more you listen, the deeper that talent  and loss – goes.

Myrkur – Mareridt
Already referenced here as a winter soundtrack, Mareridt covers many more bases than Myrkur’s debut album M. It is less metal – much less – but more diverse, more coherent and more euphoric in an icy, nightmare folk kinda way. Ghosts of black metal. #2 in Metal Hammer’s 2017 review.

Wire live in Oxford
Chairs missing. Doors opening. (non) review right here.

Paradise Lost – Medusa
20 years after last picking up a Paradise Lost album (One Second), Medusa became an impulse buy. Don’t know why. Must have been the subliminal dark arts of the reviews and interviews, and it’s still too new to know well, but it’s got a mature, heavy crunch. Slow-moving and resolute, Medusa is grounded – exactly what we need in fast, unstable times. Just goth enough, feels like a stayer. Let’s see.

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Mary Anne Hobbs and Stuart Maconie are all over Kamasi Washington on 6 Music, as are many others, but if you’re open to The Jazz yet rarely snagged, Washington’s triple disc debut The Epic would be way too much. Maybe he knows this. Maybe this is why he put out Harmony of Difference, a 32-minute 6-tracker (at EP price, bargainheads) that uses counterpoint theory – not something I know about, but Harmony is a rich, fullsome listen that might even beat a path to The Epic… one day.

What else for 2017?

Drore

Mastodon!!! But Emperor of Sand tops the Metal Hammer poll, so go read a proper write up over there instead.

Other 2017 stuff not yet managed: king crimson live in chicago QOTSA – big|brave  motorpsycho hannah peel godflesh  mogwai nine inch nails gy!be – the bug vs earth and so on anon anon anon…

HAPPY NEW YEAR, see you in 2018!

2016: the worst, the best

Festive salutations and a happy new year!

Hope the bigfella Claus delivered the goodies, but whatever delights came spilling out of his magic sack, 2016 was a tough gig. What a remorseless cull of rock and pop names, and it didn’t even break for xmas – George Michael on Christmas Day, Rick Parfitt on December 23rd. Surely there’s got to be a little bit o’ room for a little bit of Quo in everyone’s collection, so how about spinning a handful of harder-rocking SQ to celebrate Parfitt and keep the party going at the 12 bar, even if it’s only in your head? Mystery Song, Don’t Drive My Car, Over the Edge and Is There a Better Way will all do the trick.

So, another bit of chat about the music events and highs of 2016? We’ll list a few, right after the shortest of December Rewinds.

REZNOR’S RETURN

Nine Inch Nails came back in recorded form with a new EP. Not the Actual Events appeared earlier in December and a first listen to Burning Bright (Fields on Fire) shows Reznor and soundtracker-turned-bandmate Atticus Ross on slow-grinding, doomy form. More to follow in 2017?

SHOCK of the year

David Bowie. Not over that one, even a year later, and Blackstar is still a difficult listen. The upcoming new Five Years documentary in January will no doubt be the most fascinating, and the most emotionally-charged, of the lot as it covers his last years.

TRACK of the year

OK, so the track came out in 2015, but Bowie’s Blackstar is a highlight for ANY year, as is the re-tooled Sue (Or in a Season of Crime). Iggy’s American Valhalla and Nick Cave’s Anthrocene are right up there for edgy atmos. And for something more manic, Spit Out the Bone is on heavy rotation over here too – fast and melodic Metallica with Hetfield in his most convincingly aggressive voice since the Black Album.

MISS of the year

As in, a gig on your doorstep that you really should have gone to. And in Oxford a few weeks ago, that was Primal Scream. Why a no go? Fear of too much Moving On Up and Rocks and Country Girl, not enough Vanishing Point Xtrmntr Evil Heat aggro. What did they play? Moving, Rocks, Country, but also Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Swastika Eyes and Kill All Hippies. ‘KIN ELL… ludacris decision making on my part. Kiran Leonard also a bad miss.

LUCKY MISS of the year

As in, a gig on your doorstep by a band you don’t know but, coz of who’s involved, you’ve got innerest piqued. Step forward Honky, the band of Butthole Surfers and Melvins bassist Jeff Pinkus. Check the music online – not great. Reject gig. Wonder if gig ended up being one of those ‘should have been there’ moments. Check trusted review source (Nightshift page 10). It wasn’t.

NEW SOUNDS of the year

Still getting into these new-to-me discoveries, but semi industrial groove psyche dealers Blackash from Birmingham and Belgian avant noise punks Raketkanon are doing the job nicely, as are Blackstar band leader Donny McCaslin – beefy modern jazz with a drummer who absolutely kills it – and downbeat electroni-cists worriedaboutsatan, who also have their music making its mark in Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation. Lofty company for the satanworrieds. Three Trapped Tigers and The Comet is Coming brought explosive prog math and Heliocentrics-fuelled heavy beats jazz-ish respectively.

ALBUM of the year

The old guard put out a lot of great great stuff this year, and the top 3 are linked by maturity, mortality and death: Bowie, Iggy and Nick Cave reached new highs in heavy themes, and Blackstar is the peak. Once January 10th revealed its scalp,  Blackstar became forever more than just a record.

Others: FUCKINGMETALLICA, Mogwai, Melvins, Crippled Black Phoenix, Kandodo and McBain, Cult of Luna w/Julie Christmas, Thee Oh Sees

PRINCE of the year

Prince. ‘nuff said. Check this clip, worship non religiously, then get a music fanatic’s view of Prince’s passing from Henry Rollins in what is one of his best LA Weekly missives of the year.

FISHY MEDIA FEATURE of the year

Did you see this feature in the Guardian back in the summer? Fishbone. Yes, Fishbone. Why??? Don’t know. But if, like me, you never got round to actually buying their albums when Swim and Freddie’s Dead and Everyday Sunshine were doing the rounds, here’s the prompt you need to pick up The Reality of My Surroundings and Give a Monkey a Brain…. the only downside is the 20-odd years without these phenomenal heavy funk rock ska metal explosions tripping out the (monkey?) brain.

BIG 3 AT 30 of the year

Three of the Big Four put out their meisterworks thirty years ago: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, 1986. Anthrax shunted Among the Living out a few months later, in 1987… heady days for head bangers, right?  Some, if not all, are ingrained so deep that we don’t even need to press play, but when DID you last press play and listen to Master of Puppets, Peace Sells and Reign in Blood end to end?

There’s nothing to say about Puppets. It’s pretty much perfect and reveals much less on a new listen, precisely because it was THE album of that bunch. Some say it needs a remix but nah, leave it – keep the mud on. Peace Sells and Reign in Blood can still bring surprises, though. With possibly the best opening track of any major thrash record, Megadeth’s #2 sounds even more accomplished today, and you can feel the chaos darkening the vibe. As for Reign in Blood, this is still the anomaly because it’s the least metal of the classics…way more disturbing and a truly diabolical force summoned in 28 possessed minutes. Still deadly.

Happy new year, have a great start to 2017. ‘til next time!

XMAS LISTS AND A 2015 REWIND

REWIND DECEMBER: THE BIG AND THE BRAVE AND THE SUNN AND THE TOP AND A TEENYTINY LOOKBACK AT 2015

Festive salutations! How’s your end-of-year listmania? Drowning in the scale and volume of it all?

Me too, but more of that later when we get on to a super-slashed no-budget scrap of a list of twentyfifteen music highlights. First, a question:

What have ZZ Top got to do with Christmas?

On the face of it, beyond a pair of slowly whitening beards, nowt. No xmas tunes, no songs about ice or snow, nothin’. Sink a little deeper though and you find good-time vibes. Bar-room vibes. Infectious groove-time vibes and cheek-tongued naughties and, most crucial of all for the festive season’s softly softly low-light ambience … warmth. Not the warmth that comes from a Texas blue-sky beatdown – that would be horrific, this is CHRISTMAS fercrissake – but the warmth that comes from the fingers of a proper human person type being. We’re talking about the Un-Rivalled Guitar Tone of Billy Gibbons, pure as the last snowfall.

Yep, warmth is what we need at this time of year, or least it would be if it weren’t so maddeningly mild, but what the fork – we can’t let a little thing like temperature change our winter playlister habits, can we? So, along with the xmas tunes and the Scandi ice merchants and the vintage storytellers that keep us company on these long nights – Cave, Waits, Dylan, Young – we need some feelgood warmth and this year, it’s ZZ Top who are doing the job. Mebbe that’s just me ‘coz I’ve got a ZZ soft spot burned 30-years deep by a 7-inch Sharp Dressed Man and an Eliminator/Afterburner double dose, but even if you don’t have those Texan rocks buried deep from way-back at Woolies, you can do a lot worse than spin some Top this winter. Try Rhythmeen from 1996 and see where the Black Keys were getting ideas from. Thicker and phatter than those synth-edged ZZ blockbusters of the mid 80s, Rhythmeen’s blues-based robo riffs (see why Josh Homme’s a fan?) roll and flow as much as they rock, and the whole thing just makes you feel GOOD. Check the slow-bar crawl of Vincent Price Blues or Hummbucking Part 2‘s non-stop fills and see if they don’t put a guitar-loving grin on your frontal. Then have a(nother) drink. ’tis Christmas after all.

Right then: highlights of 2015?

Let’s have a little one that happened just a handful of hours ago on the December 23rd:

SunnO))) with Scott Walker were played on the radio just after midday.

MIDDAY SUNNO))), can you imagine? Was a great bit of listening and it came about because Mary Anne Hobbs had Stephen O’Malley guesting on 6 Music – well worth grabbing so you can hear his thoughtful reflection on the role of patience in the way we approach music. Also worth a visit, if it’s still available, is his Freakzone show from the other week. Top curating.

As for the records of 2015, were do you start? Catch up is the name’s game and there are tonnes of albums missed but if there are four that I’d want to share, it’s probably these:

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. We all know what GY!BE are about but even by their standards, this is going some. Beefed up and warmer than previous outings but with zero loss of intensity, Asunder is an arthouse beast of a record.

Ryley Walker – Primrose Green. Acoustic songwriter in the Tim Buckley/John Martyn vein, blazing with a group of sharp-as-shit jazz musos who don’t smoothe the raw edges – check Sweet Satisfaction for evidence. Fiery folk, anyone?

Led Zeppelin – Coda (reissue). Always a much better collection than it’s given credit for – you can’t argue with We’re Gonna Groove, not ever – this 3-CD expansion is a gem, not just for the two Bombay Orchestra tracks but also the Bonham-does-Meters hard funk piledriver St Tristan’s Sword and the loping alt-Levee If It Keeps On Raining

Big|Brave – Au De La. Only just got this so I’m in no way familiar enough but it’s making a pretty colossal impression with its, what would you say, Feedbacker Boris meets Thee Silver Mt Zion  post/drone sprawls? Heavy and spacious, it’s on Southern Lord and was recorded by Efrim Manuel Menick so that probably tells you enough. Better go and play it some more

but not before some intoxicating late night ZZ.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS, MERRY NEW YEAR! Bowie Blackstar within sight now…

p.s. Old Man Lizard reviewed and profiled in this month’s Terrorizer, and Undersmile’s Anhedonia makes the Terrorizer Top 50 albums of the year. Not bad, eh?

A pessimistic best-of-2014

REWIND DECEMBER: DC revivals, a cellar-bound phoenix and the heaviest music blues … things haven’t gone well

Festive greets and merry new years to anyone casting an eye over this page, even if you’ve got here by mistake. What tunes are you spinning over the hols? I don’t know about you but this time of year always brings about a change in listening choices over here. Plenty of storyteller stuff – Bob Dylan, Mark Lanegan, Tom Waits, Nick Cave – piling up alongside some warming Americana, cooling Icelandic/Scandi moods like Bjork and Cult of Luna, and an unhealthy dose of classic rock/metal by the bands we (I) grew up listening to, aka the DNA years.

And now that there’s an album called Rock or Bust grabbing a few acres of coverage in the music press, it’s AC/DC that are top-of-mind in the old band stakes. When was the last time you played For Those About to Rock end-to-end? Can’t remember? Then here’s what to do: crack open that blackengold gatefold, stand in front of the speakers and let its ten-track purity fire you back to simpler times. Sure, there are a couple of fillers, but with such stellar fare as Evil Walks, COD, Inject the Venom and Spellbound pressed into the wax, not to mention the triple A-grade quality of THAT title track, you’ve got a dead cert for a winter/Christmas playlist. Snowballed is even more of a seasonal bonus.

Before nominating a best-of-2014, what else has been going on?

Crippled Black Phoenix were in Oxford at the Cellar this month for a gig that was, sadly, a mite under-attended … by the band. To quote Commander Justin Greaves on this, the eve of a European tour:

‘You might have noticed we’re a couple short. The guitarist and bass player didn’t show up to rehearsals, they’re not here so … we’re gonna have to mix it up a bit. No guitar solos tonight. Well, not many.’ He introduces Arthur (?) on bass, who’s had to learn the songs in an afternoon.

Does it ruin the mood? Nah. I mean yeah, the solos are a soaring highlight when the Phoenix are in full flight (as they were at the Wheatsheaf a couple of years back) but, even without them, CBP’s modus operandi – expansive jams, Meddle-esque Floyd, Isis weight – is impossible to resist and a damn good show. Let’s hope they get everything resolved.

Right then. Best of 2014. It’s top 50 end-of-year mania in the real press, but we’re gonna cut that down by, I dunno, 47 or so, and mention a couple of highlights.

Earth: Primitive and Deadly. Mentioned this briefly <a title="REWIND<in the last Rewind so no need to witter further here. Immerse yourself.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Spaceshifters: Lullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar. The Spaceshifters’ time is now, as anyone who saw their Glastonbury or Glastonbury Abbey or BBC Maida Vale gigs knows – they’re in the zone and having a ball with their kaleidoscopic tapestry of the trad, the tripped and the trance via north Africa, north America, desert blues and, of course, Plant’s own sprawling roots and thirst for musical adventure. With a truly global spirit at work, they’ve grabbed Mighty Rearranger’s cross-culture essence and given it some serious float. Having read how the band put this record together, I bet there are hours of outtakes, loops, offcuts and jams that would be mindblowing … what do you reckon? Multi-disc Lullaby Sessions for 2015? We can but wish.

Time for our last 2014 highlight in this festive break.

Did someone say ‘season of good cheer’?

Hardly. Not with an album called Things Haven’t Gone Well. Not with track titles like Failure, It’s Not Going to Get Better, Hopelessness and Worthlessness, and everybody’s favourite Christmas knees-up, Tremendous Misery Sets In.

Welcome to Music Blues, the 2014 solo project by Harvey Milk’s Stephen Tanner.

Is he taking the piss with all that? Probably not. The album was written during times of personal crises and depression, but despite the none-more-bleak titles and the squalid cover art, there’s triumph and – dare we say – optimism in the widescreen wrecking-ball slams metered out by Tanner’s Harvey-heavy slo-mo instrumental surges. If the hugeness of Boris (the massive bonus track on Smile, say) and Melvins (Lysol) has you grinning with jaw-dropped loonacy, Music Blues will surely do the same.

Of course, there are bags of albums missed this year but so what? Can’t catch ’em all, there’s always next year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!