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 Hanson bros’ 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!

DESERT STORMS AND SKELLINGTONS

APRIL REWIND: THE RETURNS OF RECORD STORE DAY, DESERT STORM AND JULIAN COPE. BUT CALEB SCOFIELD DEPARTS.
It was a wet one, but apart from rain, what happened in April?
Record Store Day 11
We love record shops. Never visit a new town without sniffing them out, never pass the chance to frequent the local, and this is why Record Store Day feels like it should be a big deal but ends up being a bit … contrived frothing over forged rarities? Like a weird-o Christmas Day for reco)))rd shoppers. Weird because the list is dished out by $anta well ahead of the day, weird because the toys have been specially made for the event, weird because none of the toys are trulymadlydeeply drawn from your own well. And if you convince yourself into chasing something from this monopoly of taste, and said thing makes it into the shop that day and you’re able to lay fingers on it, you get the privilege of paying through the nostrils. Some Christmas. If you buy CDs and dare not to have a turntable, forget it – zero specials for you, because you are not part of the Record Store Day M.O. It’s a vinyl-only club, a 7–12-inch exclusivity zone roped off from the Greater Good that is music in physical formats. In shops.
So, 2018 played out exactly the same as 2017, just different records to gloss over once the queues had gone. Tom Waits offered a momentary flutter when the Orphans cover loomed, but it was Bawlers, the zero-interest one of the three. Anyway, just like last year, salvation came from the vinyl sale box where Cannots by Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker popped up – didn’t even know such a thing existed, so it’s a welcome and timely discovery given that Walker’s new album is imminent. Ace find from proper browse. Bye-bye Record Store Day. Hello record shop, next week, as usual.

Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker - Cannots LP

This year’s RSD pick-up. From 2016

DESERT STORM: Sentinels
Much more rewarding than RSD’s general waxploitation was Sentinels by Oxford’s own Desert Storm. Fuck me, this is solid. And big. And assured. And if you like your rock to be, er, metallic and groovus, Sentinels should be on your list. When I last saw Desert Storm I vowed to catch up with their albums but, like an arse, I didn’t. Didn’t go beyond Forked Tongues, which is why Sentinels feels like a huger jump. This, surely, is Desert Storm fully formed. The sometimes caricatured vocal tics of the Forked days have gone and Matt Ryan now gives us proper gruff metal range more like the live shows, veering from gut-low ferals to Jaz Coleman anthemics to part-spoken calm. Kingdom of Horns does this brilliantly, a quietly drifting trip that swings a 180 to the other extreme and back.
Tracks like Drifter will no doubt satisfy the Clutch crowd, but Sentinels is more metallic and the closing two tracks, Convulsion and Capsized, showcase Desert Storm’s star quality in 2018. Check the former’s multi-riff orgy – part doomed stoner, part thrash, part Entombed-sized roll – then cruise on Capsized’s slick downtuned power to a closing solo soar worthy of Crippled Black Phoenix. Check it all here, best of luck, fellas.
JULIAN COPE: Skellington 3
He’s back! Last time, it was personal (Skellington 2, 1993). 25 years on, we get the third instalment, a new batch of the Drude’s so-called orphan songs and ‘acid campfire spirit’. If you know Skellington, you’ll know Skellington 3. Stripped down, often acoustic, sometimes off-key yet oft-times Cope-classic melodic (Parallel University, Very Krishna, Catch Your Dreams Before They Slip Away), it’s a ramshackle shot of a fast-moving Cope in songwriter mode. As ever, head to Head Heritage.
Hardcore bass loss
If you’re on the Hydra Head email list, you’ll have seen the subject line that came through around a month ago: The Caleb Scofield Memorial Fundraising Preorder. Then you’ll have done a double take. Memorial? Sadly, yes. The bass player for Cave In, Old Man Gloom and Zozobra passed away on March 28th after a car accident a road toll. He was 39. There goes the blood of some core Hydra Head noisery, all vital to the world of heavy. White Silence: crank it up to deafening.
’til next time.