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!

Earth, Godflesh and a mint skirmish

REWIND NOVEMBER

After all the live action and new discoveries from Audioscope, here’s a swift round-up of some new-ish listening from a couple of genre heavyweights.

When you find that Justin Broadrick and BC Green have revived Godflesh after more than 10 years apart and finally got some tunes to gift to the world, all you really wanna know is whether these morsels of new ‘flesh – a pre-album EP – are true to the big G’s legacy.

And, of course, they are. Decline & Fall is as Godflesh as you’d dare hope: four tracks of mechanised yet human heavy-industry beats, deep-stained by social decay, dereliction and absence – at least, that’s what comes to my mind (the true heirs to Sabbath?). Playing with Fire is an especially hope-less highlight in an EP that’s reassuringly stark and Godflesh pure, and all bodes well for A World Lit Only By Fire (in my tape deck – yep, cassette it is, why the bloody hell not? – awaiting a grim grey day for a first play).

Dylan Carlson’s posse seem to switch modes with almost every Earth record these days and they’ve done it again on Primitive and Deadly. Cello is out, big rock action is in, and it’s a beaut. Reviews have made reference to Pentastar: In the Style of Demons, and you can see why, but this record is way bigger. While Pentastar came out only three years after the radically insular Earth 2, Primitive comes off the back of all that AND Earth mk II – Hex, Bees, geophysical Americana, wilderness spirit, Angels I and II, drcarlsonalbion – and the five tracks swell to bursting with full-bodied rings, elemental drones and life-affirming amplification. Makes you feel good to be alive.

Right then. Who’s heard of Franklin Mint?

No, me neither, but a track of theirs (Emperor of Everything) got aired on 6 Music’s Freakzone the other week and I swear it coulda been fired out of the 90s on an Alternative Tentacle. Less hyper-maniacal than Nomeansno but channelling some of that restless post-hardcore prog-ness, these Bristol Misters impressed and could well be a name to check.

No such anonymity for David Bowie and the music world is a better place with him back in it. Bowie’s resurgence continues with new track Sue (or In a Season of Crime) – seven minutes of wired skittery jazz being chased down the lost highway to his boldest-sounding stuff since Outside and Earthling … and that is very much a Good Thing. More please, Mr Jones.