OK, last year’s list disappeared, but the album of the year was Deerhoof’s Mountain Moves, with honourable mentions to Bjork’s Utopia and Stormzy’s Gang Signs And Prayers. Without further ado, onto 2018…
Dead Can Dance Dionysus
Janelle Monae Dirty Computer
Richard Thompson 13 Rivers
Young Fathers Cocoa Sugar
Adam Stafford Fire Behind The Curtain
Angelique Kidjo Remain In Light
Miles Hunt The Custodian
Broken Records What We Might Know
Solareye These People Are Me
Anna Calvi Hunter
Breeders All Nerve
Idles Joy As An Act Of Resistance
Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Gretchen Peters Dancing With The Beast
Kim Richey Edgeland
Low Double Negative
Spare Snare Sounds Recorded By Steve Albini
Tracey Thorn Dancefloor
Trials Of Cato Hide and Hair
So, I’ve heard way more albums than this, but this were the twenty that stood out for me. An interview with the winners, Dead Can Dance, will be published very shortly
It’s thirty years since soul legend Alexander O’Neal released his Christmas album, My Gift To You. This year I not only got to see him live (finally! I’d liked his music since childhood) but I got to interview him as well.
In 1988 this was a UK hit, reminiscent of the Nat King Cole version but good enough to stand on its own terms.
And as a bonus, possibly the finest song from My Gift To You.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a creepy video from Low, but the reality is ten years ago they made a rather creepy video for their Christmas single ‘Santa’s Coming Over.’
Now ten years ago I found this more spooky than I do now, possibly due to the arrival of my own child and assorted nieces and nephews, but this is still unsettling. Then again, Christmas is traditionally a time for ghost stories, so goodness only knows what these kids are going to do…
Low’s 1999 Christmas album has become a classic over the years. ‘Just Like Christmas’ is the lead track, and there have been various covers of tracks from the album, including Jimmy Eat World, Snow Patrol and Tracey Thorn & Green Gartside. As far as I can find there wasn’t an official video but this is always lovely to hear.
I’d almost forgotten about this, but this was their 2016 Christmas single ‘Some Hearts (at Christmas Time)’ which is really, rather lovely. As next year is the twentieth (how?!?) anniversary of that Christmas album, who knows what festive specialities may come our way.
So…the Cocteau Twins’ covers of ‘Walking In A Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Frosty The Snowman’ first appeared in 1993 as a single entitled Snow. These have become cult items over the years, and I end up posting them most years because I really love them.
First of all, having grumbled in previous years about the difficulty of getting hold of these two Cocteau Twins tracks, this year they have become available on a 4CD boxset entitled Treasure Hiding: The Fontana Years. This very good news indeed (and there’s a need for good news in the world right now).
The tagline is Three Decades, Two Friends, One Band. And despite a number of band members over the years, the reality is that the Go-Betweens were the project of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan.
Written and directed by Kriv Stenders, the film takes a pretty linear approach, beginning with the two men meeting at college in Brisbane in 1975, and going up to the tragically young death of McLennan in 2006. It is actually pretty hard to find many faults with this documentary. Although two hours long, the film tells its story well-enough that it doesn’t feel that it is being fleshed out, rather that everything we need to know is within.
And it is actually pretty moving. Sure, fans of the band (and I’m proud to include myself in that description) know that the band could no longer continue with the death of McLennan, and as a result his death hangs heavily over the film. While the two men were great friends and responsible for some of the loveliest music ever made, there’s no doubt that they frustrated many of those they worked alongside. Long-term drummer Lindy Morrison and violinist/oboist Amanda Brown speak warmly of the band, and they are those most significant contributors here, after Forster but at times clearly found Grant and Robert hard to deal with. Like an indie version of Fleetwood Mac, there were intra-band relationships, and inevitably the strain of being critically acclaimed (but not selling many records), along with drink and drugs, would take their toll.
Perhaps for me the biggest fault is that when Grant and Robert made a comeback as the Go-Betweens in 2000, the utterly essential role of two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney is completely left out. But there are also baffling concerns as to why the band couldn’t make a commercial crossover, was it the succession of record companies, or that they were so focused on their art they couldn’t write to order?
Bert Jansch is one of many folk artists that I’ve discovered over the past decade or so, along with Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Sandy Denny – and of course, Richard Thompson. His version of Christina Rosetti’s poem ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ is gorgeous. It can be found on his 1974 album LA Turnaround.
It was originally set to music written by Gustav Holst; and the setting by Harold Darke a few years later in 1911 was judged the best carol in 2008. The Darke setting below is performed by King’s College, Cambridge. Funnily enough, while I’m not religious, there is still something incredibly Christmassy to these ears about hearing the Christmas Eve services – and as much a part of Christmas to me as offerings from the Pogues, Slade and Frightened Rabbit.
I’d been really looking forward to this gig for months…
Somehow, a whole variety of things conspired to make it feel like a disappointment twenty-four hours later, and a mood that hasn’t yet lifted. The weather coming over from Edinburgh was poor, and we ended up missing not one but two support acts. The Bronx did at least wait until we had arrived until coming on stage (editor’s note: this may not be *strictly* true) and whilst unfamiliar with their music, they delivered a lively show. The sound over the course of the gig in the venue was not great, so I’m not sure what words I could make out (other than ‘fuck’) but having initially been sceptical I felt myself won over by the end of the set. As in: yes, I’ll investigate these guys further. (Their album from 2003 is rather good.) Feeling deafened even with earplugs in I couldn’t even trying and make notes on my phone to google afterwards, but what can I say about the band? Well, in the best possible way, there was feedback worthy of the Jesus and Mary Chain, aggression worthy of Motorhead, and if I hadn’t given up moshing after a set from Cypress Hill (sadly eighteen years ago, rather than an appearance in Glasgow earlier in the week) I would have loved to have got in there.
Somehow, the headliners’ set left me deflated. I’m still not entirely sure why. The black dog descended, and somehow there wasn’t the emotional connection to the band that I’d thought there would be after hearing them on record. Sure they played ‘Drunken Lullabies’ but the atmosphere seemed far from fun for me. The tour seemed to be a package about promoting alcohol and a venue that seemed to be too full meant that there was nowhere to stand without getting in the way of people in search of yet more booze. It would be nice if venues would stop selling booze whilst bands are on ( – and if you can’t get through a set without needing more alcohol then you need to talk to someone). However, everyone else seemed to be having a great time, so maybe I was the party pooper.
The motorway closure and attendant diversion on the way home pretty much put the seal on the night. Hey ho.
I’d been looking forward to this gig for months…
*yes, really. I do wear earplugs to gigs, after a performance from Godspeed You Black Emperor! a few years ago in Edinburgh was so loud, we had to leave.
So it is December, it’s time to feature Kate Bush and her Christmas music.
‘December Will Be Magic Again’ was featured in her 1979 Christmas Special, and released as a standalone single the following year. As far as I can find, the only video for the song is this performance from the special, and no other promo was made.
In 1993, ‘Home For Christmas’ was a b-side to ‘Moments Of Pleasure’ taken from her then current album The Red Shoes.
The last decade has seen much more activity from Ms. Bush, including her winter-themed album 50 Words For Snow. You should have heard it already, (and you can read my review here) but you can stream it below: