2017 top 20

warofnature’s top 20 albums of 2017.

Conflict, hatred, posturing self-love, immorality – and that’s just the government. Who knows what the best reaction to a world like this is – we’re in uncharted territory. Kick against it, sure. Act. Organise. Reflect. Laugh at the absurdity of it all. Or just do the ‘la la la’ thing, pretend it’s not happening, and make some killer tunes. All these approaches and more in the music of 2017.

This is the Top 20 (warofnature’s first – a continuation of the annual lists previously compiled on the now dead skinnywhiteboy website). There were loads of great debuts (Declan McKenna, Snapped Ankles, Idles, Mammoth Penguins, Flat Worms). Some old hands (Michael Chapman, Slowdive, Jane Weaver, Ted Leo, Deerhoof, Andrew Weatherall). And some continued growth and maturity (Protomartyr, Thee Oh Sees, Irma Vep, Do Make Say Think).

My personal favourite new find, other than the debutantes, was Michael Chapman – a ridiculously prolific Cornish folkie whose first release was in 1969. ’50’ marks this history with his first state-side recording and it’s very special in a Leonard meets Mark Lanegan kind of way.

But best of all this year was Jane Weaver‘s ‘Modern Kosmology’, her 8th album. It showed all the perfection that you would expect with this amount of experience – not a note out of place – but also won on its sheer variety, depth and joy. Immediately accessible, its deep space voyages get better and better with every listen. A modern klassik.

Here is a Spotify playlist of the best of this lot, and a whole load more. 

20. Andrew Weatherall – Qualia

AW Qualia

19. Deerhoof – Mountain Moves

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18. Floating Points – Reflections Mojave

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17. Thee Oh Sees – Orc

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16. Flat Worms – Flat Worms

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15. Do Make Say Think – Persistent Illusions

14. Jlin – Black Origami

13. Slowdive – Slowdive

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12. Ted Leo – Hanged Man

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11. Zola Jesus – Okovi

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10. Irma Vep – No Handshake Blues

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9. Michael Chapman – 50

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8. Sleaford Mods – English Tapas

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7. Idles – Brutalism

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6. The XX – I See You

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5. Declan McKenna – What Do You Think About The Car?

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4. Snapped Ankles – Come Play The Trees

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3. Protomartyr – Relatives in descent

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2. Mammoth Penguins and Friends – John Doe

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1. Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology

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sebadoh – live review

blown amps, no egos

Image result for sebadoh concorde 2008

In a world of styled and preening indie bands, Sebadoh stand out. Tonight’s lesson in punk rock marked a welcome return for one of alternative music’s pioneers.

This was the tally at the end of the night. Songs played in 90 minutes: 30. Bass amps blown up: 3. Guitars disrespected with stickers: 3. Egos: 0.

Egos: 0. How often do you see that? Sebadoh have two drummers, three vocalists, three guitarists and three bassists…but only three members – Lou Barlow, Eric Gaffney and Jason Lowenstein reunited 14 years after their ‘classic’ line-up. It could be there’s no time for egos. But what’s more likely is that they use their skills as a means to an end, rather than a platform for ‘showmanship’ or adoration, which is a rare thing.

Taking the lineage of groups like Hüsker Dü and Black Flag, Sebadoh formed as a side project to Dinosaur Jr, and produced eight albums in ten years. Two records were particularly influential – ‘Bubble and Scrape’ and ‘Harmacy’ – and succeeded in achieving a near perfect blend of noise and melody through an obsessive DIY work ethic and a filter of drug use and tape hiss.

Tonight we had groups of songs from almost every era, with instrument swaps in between. ‘Weed Forestin’’s ‘New Worship’ opened things for the first group, with Barlow getting screaming distortion from his acoustic guitar. Other early tunes – ‘Broken’ and ‘Moldy Bread’ included – resulted in the first blown bass amp. With ‘Mindreader’ from ‘Harmacy’, Lowenstein kicked off the vocals – his way with a terrifying scream undiminished by the years. Between songs, we heard about Barlow’s fear of joining ‘Space Book’ and his surprise that ‘anyone turned out to see us at all.’ After all, this three piece are each 40-something years old.

By the end – and two more broken amps – we’d had ‘Soul and Fire’, ‘Bouquet for a Siren’ and an encore of fan favourites ‘The Freed Pig’ and ‘Gimme Indie Rock’. We’d smiled and sweated and clutched our ears in pain, and went home happy and grateful that there are still bands that haven’t stepped out of a salon…that still give everything…that are still punk rock.

Concorde 2, Brighton, 27 April 2008

Original music criticism for Brighton Noise

brian’s back – again. live review

[from the archive]

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There’s a certain car crash factor that draws people to Brian Wilson. The man that created a musical legacy with ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘God Only Knows’ has also been a mentally ill recluse and drug casualty. When the damaged genius returned to live public life in the 80s, the ‘Brian’s back’ campaign heralded hope in a revival of his obvious talents. Instead, the reward was sappy Americana and a distinct feeling that something had been forever lost.

Tonight, at the premiere of Wilson’s new work ‘That Lucky Old Sun (a Narrative)’, there was fresh hope. Lately the signs have been good. In recent years, performances of Pet Sounds, and the successful reconstruction of the long-lost Smile tapes, have both captured something of the good old Brian.

Performed in the second half of the show, TLOS marks Wilson’s first serious effort since 1973’s Holland album to write a concept piece. Based on Frankie Laine’s much covered 1947 hit of the same name, Wilson unfortunately located this ‘concept’ in 1950s Californ-i-a, underlined by heavy handed projections of surfers, happy hobos and nostalgic black and white photos of the Wilson brothers. The music overall was a schmaltzy and unmemorable pastiche of previously successful Wilson formulas. Take the Wrecking Crew’s percussive rhythms and some Beach Boys chromatic close harmony, add some boogie-woogie piano thumping, a smattering of flute and strings, and you’ve got it. Cars, girls and surfing seem like sad themes for him to be dwelling on in his 6th decade.

The first half was a different story, consisting almost entirely of 60s Beach Boys gems. ‘Girl don’t tell me’, ‘Dance Dance Dance’ and ‘Catch a Wave’ shook out the first night nerves, at first hindered by a sound system set to ‘cavernous’. With a frankly beautiful version of Spector’s ‘Then I kissed her’, the band relaxed and things started to gel. There was a stirring ‘In my room’ – with seven wonderful voices behind it – ‘She knows me too well’ and ‘Please let me wonder’. All great tunes that rarely get a live outing. They even threw in an oddity from 1967 album Wild Honey: ‘I’d love just once to see you’ (in the nude). The highlight was an admirably restrained ‘God only knows’, with that perfect coda that you never want to end. Spine-tingling stuff.

With TLOS out of the way, Wilson and band returned for a long encore of Beach Boys dross. The 50-something crowd seemed to like it, and tried to remember how to do the twist through ‘I get around’, ‘Help me Rhonda’, ‘Barbara Ann’, ‘Surfing USA’ and ‘Fun fun fun’ – sandwiched between Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B Goode’ and the Beatles’ 40 year old ‘She’s leaving home’.

There were empty seats tonight. The car crash factor has evaporated. Brian isn’t just back – he’s here to stay. But on tonight’s evidence it would be better if Brian went.

Brian Wilson, Royal Festival Hall, London 10 September 2007

BOriginal published music criticism

john and jehn: john and jehn – album review

[from the archive]

I remember Eddie Izzard saying there’s a fine line between cool and uncool. One toothpick in your mouth – cool. Two – uncool. Well, French couple John and Jehn walk that line on their debut…and try so hard to be the former that they mostly end up as the latter.

These two upped and moved to London “…for the music…to put ourselves in danger. At some point we had to say, ‘Let’s go to fuckin’ war’.” Pretentious? Moi? Well yes – these two are more-arch-than-thou, more-arch-than-me and for that matter just about everyone else.

That would be enough to put you off for good, but there’s more. They make a big deal of being boyfriendgirlfriend (shock, horror), good looking (apparently Jehn is ‘mesmerising’, John is ‘chiselled’) and intellectual (they name drop David Shrigley into interviews). But so what if the music’s rubbish, right?

Well partly right. Imagine ‘The Sugarcubes’ and ‘Velvet Underground’ fed through a Casio VL-Tone. J&J both lend vocals that epitomise the Gallic shrug – tuneless spoken word, drawling like a codeine addict, percussive yelps and self-consciously clever lyrics about, for example, how 20L07 stands for “age, love, heaven.” Sometimes all that posturing gets tiring. Sometimes it comes together – like on ‘You, far away’, which is particularly reminiscent of the Velvets. On ‘Survive’, you can almost imagine J&J are early Fall covering America’s ‘A horse with no name’…which is alright by me.

Elsewhere the monotony is all ‘so cool, so what’.

Two toothpicks.

Released 24 April 2008 on Universal

Original published music criticism

mes

I have a few musical regrets – bands I could have seen but  decided not to at the spur of the moment. Nirvana at Rock City was one. Ramones in Hammersmith. Throwing Muses/Pixies on their first UK visit. Well, The Fall at Hammersmith Town Hall was another. 1985*

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The set list at the gig. Copped It / Couldn’t Get Ahead / Disney’s Dream Debased / Fortress / Clear Off / Barmy / Lay of the Land / The Classical / Cruiser’s Creek / 2 x 4 / No Bulbs

30 fall albums from worst to best.

*mind you, would have I have got in as a 14yo?

king naat veliov and the original kocani okestar – live review

[from the archive]

Eastern Europeans battle for your head & feet

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How does one dance to a Macedonian wedding band? That was the dilemma facing the good people at the Brighton Dome in the second half of this double bill of Eastern European folk.

Although music of Romany origin is little known in Britain, film buffs will have heard Naat Veliov play on Emir Kusturica’s film ‘The Time of the Gypsies’. A fat, charismatic Telly Savalas look-alike, the King’s music is highly influential in the ex-Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia. In keeping with its use in weddings and festivals, Balkan brass bands play happy, high tempo dance music. The Orkestar is based on trumpets, (including Veliov’s brother Orhan) saxophones, tuba and percussion, which maintain a funky, syncopated attack.

The King’s impressive girth swung with the rhythm, and his cocky skill with the trumpet was really quite sexual. The impression overall was akin to Herb Alpert on speed, and by the second tune the crowd were up doing an impression of string in a wind tunnel. With guidance from a few flag-waving Macedonians in the aisles, the audience picked up enough dancing tips to make it happily through a long set without dislocating anything.

Encores were demanded and given, and it was a sweaty, smiling audience who eventually spilled out onto the street.

King Naat Veliov and the Original Kocani Orkestar, Brighton Dome, 14 May 2007

Original music criticism for the Brighton Magazine

pata pata

What a tune.

Pata Pata, released in the US in 1967. Original song released 1959 by ‘The Skylarks with Miriam Makeba’

 

 

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