My Top Ten Gigs of 2014

•February 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I already posted this a while ago but inadvertently posted it as a page instead of a post. So here it is again.

As I seem to most years now, in 2014 I saw a stupid amount of bands live. These were the ten gigs that I enjoyed the most.

10. Future of the Left at Sheffield City Hall Ballroom (Tramlines Festival)

Part of Northern Music Company’s amazing lineup at Tramlines, this was the third time I had seen Future of the Left, and probably the best gig of theirs that I have seen.
The setlist mixed songs from last year’s How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident with old favourites such as adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood, Arming Eritrea and You Need Satan More Than He Needs You. There was the usual wit and wisdom from front man Andrew Falkous, and some interesting antics from guitarist Jimmy Watkins as he ventured into the crowd taping beer bottles to people’s heads.

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9. Royal Blood at Sheffield Leadmill

Royal Blood’s ascent in the year 2014 was a rapid one as they went from playing venues such as Sheffield’s Harley pub, to a number one album and a tour which sold out in minutes when tickets went on sale.
Much of this success is down to how good the Brighton two piece are live, and this gig was no exception to this.
As the gig took place on Hallowe’en, the gig began with the spectacle of a coffin being carried through the crowd to the stage, from which singer / bassist Mike Kerr emerged. Both he and drummer Ben Thatcher wore skeleton face paint.
The songs (not many of them as the band has released only one album) sounded even better live than on record.

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8. The National at London The O2

The National are a band who many (myself included) felt were better suited to small to medium venues, so when it was announced that they were to finish their Trouble Will Find Me tour with a gig in the vast space of the O2 Arena, this came as quite a surprise.
However the band did not disappoint, playing one of their longest sets ever, with 28 songs played, and their sound filled this vast space superbly. Singer Matt Berninger got more drunk as the gig went on, swigging from a bottle of wine which he eventually threw up into the air before it smashed on the stage.

7. Post War Glamour Girls at Leeds Brudenell Social Club

This gig came the day before this Leeds four piece released their debut album Pink Fur, and so the album was played start to finish, including fantastic renditions of songs like Little Land and Service Station Blues, and for the finale, album closer Brat with a small choir of friends from other bands.

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6. ‘mclusky’ at London Buffalo Bar

This was the third gig that original mclusky members Andrew Falkous and Jack Egglestone (both of Future of the Left) played this year, after two Welsh gigs to support Newport venue Le Pub, this one was in aid of the Buffalo Bar in Highbury, which is about to close. The lineup was completed by FoTL bassist Julia Ruzicka, and The St. Pierre Snake Invasion singer Damien Sayell, who both filled in for bassist / vocalist Jon Chapple.
The tiny venue was treated to a setlist including songs like Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues, Collagen Rock, and of couse She Will Only Bring You Happiness, featuring the singalong of the lyrics ‘our old singer is a sex criminal’.

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5. Nine Inch Nails at Nottingham Arena

This was the second gig of NIN’s UK tour I saw this year, but I think this one was better than the gig at the O2 I went to.
Despite the release of album Hesitation Marks last year, the setlist was mostly made up of older songs, such as Terrible Lie, Survivalism and a bombastic rendition of The Great Destroyer. The light show was also something to behold.

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4. 65daysofstatic at Manchester Cathedral

I had already seen 65daysofstatic perform 2004 debut album The Fall of Math live in full at their 10th anniversary show at London’s KOKO venue, but this second gig in the unique surroundings of Manchester Cathedral was probably better.
The pounding noise of songs such as Default This and The Fall of Math caused plaster to cascade down from the ceiling onto those below. As a bonus, after the encore of most of the band’s most recent record Wild Light, they played Debutante from their 2010 album We Were Exploding Anyway.

3. Arcade Fire at Glastonbury Festival

The Canadian ensemble seemed like a perfect choice to be Saturday night headliner at Glastonbury when they were announced at the tail end of 2013, and their performance was a joy to behold, creating a real carnival atmosphere at the Pyramid Stage with songs such Reflektor and Here Comes The Night Time.

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2. St. Vincent at Manchester Albert Hall

St. Vincent as well as being a fantastic musician is also a magnificent performer. During her show at the splendid renovated Wesleyan chapel that is the Albert Hall, she hypnotised the audience with her robotic moves (at times co-ordinated with guitarist Toko Yasuda), theatrically fell down a set of steps, told eccentric anecdotes between songs, and during the final song Your Lips Are Red, even dangled precariously from a balcony.
It wasn’t only Annie Clark’s performance that was first class however, songs such as Digital Witness sounding superb. Her guitar playing was masterful.

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1. Manic Street Preachers at Manchester Albert Hall

My favourite gig of the many great gigs I saw in 2014, in the end had to be Manic Street Preachers, performing their masterpiece third album The Holy Bible in full, at the Albert Hall in Manchester.
Many of the songs from the album, which some see as being slightly autobiographical about certain aspects of lyricist and guitarist Richey Edwards, had rarely been played before.
This was clearly an emotional occasion for the band, as well of course as the devoted fans who had tickets.

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My favourite albums of 2014 – the top ten

•December 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

2014 has been a truly fantastic year for albums and there’s been many, many albums released that I’ve really loved.
These are the ten albums that I liked the most.

10. Future Islands – Singles

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The fourth album from Baltimore’s Future Islands is a masterpiece of new wave electronica driven by the extraordinary vocals of frontman Samuel T. Herring, who hams it up throughout the ten songs. The highlight of the album is undoubtedly Seasons (Waiting On You).

9. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

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Annie Clark returns for her fourth studio album, an album which is quite probably her best yet.
There is a wonderful eccentricity about the album, which deals with such themes as the internet, in Digital Witness, and being alone in the desert, in Rattlesnake.

8. Tim Wheeler – Lost Domain

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The debut solo album from Ash frontman Tim Wheeler is a personal one, with its subject being his late father’s struggle against the onset of dementia. The centerpiece is the magnificent 10 minute song Medicine.

7. Woman’s Hour – Conversations

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This is the debut album from the four piece London-based electronic outfit. Singer Fiona Burgess’ vocals are similar at times to Sarah Blackwood or Alison Goldfrapp. The album is chilled out and highly enjoyable.

6. The Juan MacLean – In A Dream

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John MacLean’s solo project’s third studio album is glorious disco-pop. MacLean’s own vocals combine well with those of his regular collaborator, Nancy Whang (of LCD Soundsystem). The high points are opener A Place In Space, and I’ve Waited For So Long.

5. Warpaint – Warpaint

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Californian four piece Warpaint have become very popular on the festival circuit since the release of their 2010 debut The Fool. The follow-up is equally as good if not better. The album is given a more polished sound by the production of Flood and the mixing of Radiohead’s Nigel Godrich.

4. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World

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This Canadian two piece (drums and bass guitar) band achieved cult status with their 2004 debut album, but after they went their own separate ways and bassist Jesse F. Keeler formed MSTRKFT, it seemed unlikely that they would release another album.
However, ten years later DFA 1979 did indeed return with another album. The Physical world takes the same dance-punk formula as on You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, and amplifies and then polishing it. Keeler and drummer / vocalist Sebastien Grainger sound like they had never split up and showed obvious influencees Royal Blood how it’s done.

3. Duologue – Never Get Lost

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London-based Duologue are a band who should really be a lot more well known than they are. Their debut album Song & Dance was one of my favourites from last year, and they wasted no time in releasing the follow-up.
The sound is more polished on this second album but still owes a lot of its sound to latter-date Radiohead, which is a good thing.

2. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

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Futurology is the twelfth studio album from the band from Blackwood, and comes only a year after their last album Rewind The Film and follows a very different formula to the previous, mostly acoustic album.
The electric guitars are back, but unexpectedly, Futurology is rooted in Krautrock, none moreso than in the bombastic Europa geht durch mich, featuring guest vocals from German actress Nina Hoss. There is even a prog-rock instrumental, Hugheskova (Dreaming a City). Those looking for a traditional Manics song are not left disappointed by the likes of Walk Me To the Bridge and the title track. The album has similarities with Rewind the Film in that a number of guest vocalists feature, including Hoss, Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside, and Welsh harpist Georgie Ruth.

1. Post War Glamour Girls – Pink Fur

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My favourite album of this year is the debut from Leeds four piece Post War Glamour Girls.
This is band I first saw two years ago at the Live at Leeds festival. Such is the evolution of their music that none of the songs they were playing in 2012 made it onto this album (and in their current sets barely any songs from this album are played).
It is an album of varying styles but a key factor throughout are the vocals of James Smith, whose similarity to Nick Cave (and also Tom Waits at times) are what drew me to the band in the first place. Smith’s vocals are complimented by those of bassist Alice Scott, particularly on songs such as duet Red Terror. The album is bookended by the songs Sestra and Brat, which share some lyrics.

My favourite albums of 2014 – 20 to 11

•December 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As I’ve previously mentioned, this year really was a fantastic one for albums.
I’ve now reached the start of my twenty favourite albums from 2014. At this stage, I’m even going to give a short review of each one.

20. Erasure – The Violet Flame
Back in 1988, when I was a child, the first album I ever bought was Erasure’s The Innocents on cassette tape.
Over the years Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have released some great albums but in recent years the quality had dipped somewhat.
In 2014 however, they made a return to form with their sixteenth studio album The Violet Flame. Songs such as Sacred, Dead of Night and Elevation take Bell’s vocals and Clarke’s synthesisers and add a modern twist.

19. Dreams Divide – Tears From the Night Sky
I was really impressed with this duo’s debut album when it was released in 2011, and this album takes that sound and improves it even further. David Crout’s vocals combine beautifully with Gem Davison’s vocals and synths. An excellent EBM album.

18. Interpol – El Pintor
When it was announced just before the release of the band’s self-titled fourth album four years ago that bassist and founder member Carlos Dengler was leaving the band I wondered if this would mean the end of the band.
This year though they came back even stronger with fifth album El Pintor. Singer Paul Banks took over on bass duties and as a band he, guitarist Daniel Kessler and drummer Samuel Fogarino sound tighter than ever.

17. Pulled Apart By Horses – Blood
Pulled Apart By Horses are a band I had followed for the last four years since their emergence with a rip-roaring set on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury, and they had been known for their shouty choruses and epic riffs. Third album Blood is actually an album full of proper songs with melodies and the first of their albums where the songs sound better on record than live.

16. Möngöl Hörde – Möngöl Hörde
The debut album from Frank Turner’s side project Möngöl Hörde marks a return to his post-hardcore roots in the band Million Dead. The main selling point of Möngöl Hörde is the hilarious nature of their lyrics, with tales being told on the album about the likes of Natalie Portman’s tapeworm making its escape, and a zombie unicorn making its way in the world.

15. New Build – Pour It On
New Build is a side project from Hot Chip’s Al Doyle (also of LCD Soundsystem) and Felix Martin and Pour It On is the follow up to their 2012 debut album. Electronic music features heavily as you’d expect, also with elements of house. The highlights of the album are opener The Sunlight and also Look In Vain

14. Kele – Trick
Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke follows his 2010 debut The Boxer with an album that makes even more of a departure from the sound of his band. This is an album of highly enjoyable electronic dance music. Indeed there is barely the sound of a guitar throughout the album.

13. Mogwai – Rave Tapes
The Scottish post-rock band return with their eighth regular studio album. The sound is much more electronic than their other work and there are even vocals on some of the tracks. They have also composed some soundtracks recently (such as for the 2012 series Les Revenants) and Rave Tapes sounds like it could be the soundtrack of a 1980s sci-fi.

12. Savages & Bo Ningen – Words to the Blind
Last year, Anglo-French and Anglo-Japanese four piece bands Savages and Bo Ningen collaborated to perform their own 37 minute ‘sonic poem’ Words to the Blind in a performance at the Red Gallery in London, which was recorded and then put onto record. The vocals, guitar, bass and drums are all performed simultaneously and the result is quite breathtaking.

11. Paul Wolinski – Full Bleed
65daysofstatic’s Paul Wolinski’s second album after his 2011 debut as Polinski, Labyrinths, is shorter than the first but just as impressive. Over the course of its 25 minutes there are constant changes as harsh walls of noise are intercut with melodic piano. It’s like the world being destroyed, rebuilt and then destroyed all over again. In places it is also reminiscent of 65dos’ ‘re-soundtrack’ of Silent Running in places.

My favourite albums of 2014 – 40 to 21

•December 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The third part of my run-down of the albums I liked the most this year.
I loved all of these albums but this year there just wasn’t room for them in my top twenty, such was the quality of this year’s releases in general.

40. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun
39. Spring Offensive – Young Animal Hearts
38. Summer Camp – Beyond Clueless
37. FKA Twigs – LP1
36. Devin Townsend – Z²
35. Swans – To Be Kind
34. James – La Petite Mort
33. Perfume Genius – Too Bright
32. Philip Selway – Weatherhouse
31: 2:54 – The Other I
30. Honeyblood – Honeyblood
29. Christian Fitness – I Am Scared Of Everything That Isn’t Me
28. Talons – New Topographics
27. Wild Beasts – Present Tense
26. Esben and the Witch – A New Nature
25. Blood Red Shoes – Blood Red Shoes
24. This Will Destroy You – Another Language
23. Mono – The Last Dawn
22. Mono – Rays Of Darkness
21. Brody Dalle – Diploid Love

My favourite albums of 2014 – 70 to 41

•December 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The second part of an unwanted run-down of my favorite albums that I have had time to listen to in this, the year of 2014.

70. DZ Deathrays – Black Rat
69. Knife Party – Abandon Ship
68. Blonde Redhead – Barragán
67. Caribou – Our Love
66. Paws – Youth Culture Forever
65. 100 Onces – 100 Onces
64. Cleft – BOSH!
63. Owen Pallett – In Conflict
62. MØ – No Mythologies to Follow
61. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
60. Jimi Goodwin – Odludek
59. The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
58. Alain Johannes – Fragments and Wholes, Vol. 1
57. Her Name Is Calla – Navigator
56. The Black Keys – Turn Blue
55. We Are Scientists – TV en Français
54. The Horrors – Luminous
53. Kasabian – 48:13
52. The Phantom Band – Strange Friend
51. The Antlers – Familiars
50. Royal Blood – Royal Blood
49. Hookworms – The Hum
48. Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio
47. Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
46. Band Of Skulls – Himalayan
45. Aphex Twin – Syro
44. Truckfighters – Universe
43. Slash – World On Fire
42. Emigrate – Silent So Long
41. The Pineapple Thief – Magnolia

Live – Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible at Manchester Albert Hall (December 10th)

•December 22, 2014 • 1 Comment

2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Manic Street Preachers’ seminal third album, The Holy Bible, and also the 20th anniversary of the final gigs that guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards played with the band before his disappearance in February 1995.

I am sorry to say that I had not even got into the Manics until 1996 so the 16 year old me missed out on the experience of the gigs at the Astoria of December 1994. When it was announced that the Manics were to perform every track of their masterwork in sequence in Glasgow, Manchester, Dublin and London this December, I of course was eager to get a ticket, which I managed to do in a mad online scramble when the tickets went on sale in September. I had only heard a few of these songs played live and indeed some had never been played before this tour.

Arriving at the Albert Hall in Manchester for the first of two gigs at this excellent venue (a restored Wesleyan chapel) just over two hours before the doors opened, there was the usual queue of brave souls who had been there for much longer, clad in a mixture of military gear, leopard print and glitter.
The cold, windy conditions outside the venue seemed to fit with the harsh abrasive nature of The Holy Bible.

At 7pm the doors were opened and the faithful were admitted inside. Long serving Manics tour DJ Robin Turner served up an array of excellent tunes (these gigs had no support bands, instead there was a DJ set, echoing the Astoria gigs where the Chemical Brothers spun records along with Andrew Weatherall) and the hour and 45 minutes before the Manics took to the stage seemed to fly by.

James Dean Bradfield clad in sailor suit

James Dean Bradfield clad in sailor suit

At 8:45pm the time had come at last, and as the Chemical Brothers remix of Faster played over the PA the audience of eager Manics fans erupted into noise.

The intro track of opening song Yes played and many recited back word for word ‘You can buy her, this one’s here, this one’s here, this one’s here, everything’s for sale’. The band took to the stage, singer James Dean Bradfield in sailor suit, bassist Nicky Wire in a camo top and face paint, reminiscent of a famous photo of 20 years ago and drummer Sean Moore in a camo t-shirt.
Yes was played with vigour. Bradfield in particular echoed his younger self as he spat out and snarled the lyrics such as ‘dumb cunts’ and ‘tear off his cock’.

As second track Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart started, it sunk it even more that all 13 of the brutal but beautiful tracks from The Holy Bible would indeed be played. The crowd screamed back the line ‘Fuck the Brady Bill’ as indeed they had mostly sung back every line so far.

Of Walking Abortion was another where the crowd gleefully shouted back at the band ‘Who’s responsible? You fucking are!’

The more melodic She Is Suffering was followed by Archives of Pain, a song which had made its live return in the Manics’ gigs earlier in the year. This is one of the bleakest songs on the album and was challenging one for the band to play, particularly the bass notes for Nicky Wire.

A gleeful Nicky Wire in camo top

A gleeful Nicky Wire in a camo top

Then followed Revol, a glorious punk anthem about the sexual fetishes of world leaders and revolutionaries, which sparked even more movement in the audience. This was becoming like a Manics gig of old.

Two rarely played songs were next, the haunting tale of an anorexic teenager, 4st 7lb, and the Mausoleum, with the line ‘No birds! No birds!’ another which was screamed back by the majority of the audience.

The next three were songs which had regularly featured in Manics set lists over the years, Faster, This Is Yesterday (this time a full band electric version rather than the oft performed JDB solo acoustic version) and Die In The Summertime.

After this there followed one of the most eagerly anticipated songs of the night, The Intense Humming Of Evil, about Nazi concentration camps. After this song, Nicky addressed the crowd about how nervous playing the song had made him.

To finish, as with the album it was P.C.P., a live favourite which was of course lapped up by the Albert Hall crowd.

A costume change for Nicky

A costume change for Nicky

After a 10 minute break, the band emerged, with costume changes – JDB in black suit and tie, and Wire in one of his trademark blazers festooned with patches and badges, for a second set featuring songs from latest album Futurology, a smattering of hits and even rarely played B-side Donkeys.

Another unexpected performance was when Wire sung Futurology album track Divine Youth, which has vocals from harpist Georgia Ruth on the album. Nicky’s vocal style is of course very different and certainly not as angelic sounding but this still worked.

The set was brought to an end as is so often the case by 1996 anthem and the Manics’ best known track, A Design For Life.

This was probably my favourite Manics gig of the 12 times I’ve seen them and the Cardiff Castle gig in June next year can’t come soon enough!

Setlist

Yes
Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart
Of Walking Abortion
She Is Suffering
Archives of Pain
Revol
4st 7lb
Mausoleum
Faster
This Is Yesterday
Die in the Summertime
The Intense Humming of Evil
P.C.P.

Motorcycle Emptiness
1985
You Stole the Sun From My Heart
Dreaming a City (Hughesovka)
Your Love Alone Is Not Enough
If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next
Donkeys
Walk Me to the Bridge
Divine Youth
You Love Us
A Design for Life

My favourite albums of 2014 – 100 to 71

•December 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything on here, but I’ve decided I would bore the hardly anyone who will read this with a countdown of my favourite albums of 2014, which has been a wonderful year for music.

Many of the albums listed here would easily make my top ten albums of most other years.

So without further ado, here are the first 30 of my favourite 100 albums of this year. Just a list for now. I might bother to ‘review’ some of the higher ranked albums.

100. …And You Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – IX
99. Johnny Marr – Playland
98. The Jezabels – The Brink
97. Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
96. The 2 Bears – The Night Is Young
95. Jungle – Jungle
94. SBTRKT – Wonder Where We Land
93. Andy Burrows – Fall Together Again
92. Temples – Sun Structures
91. Then Thickens – Death Cap at Anglezarke
90. Amplifier – Mystoria
89. White Lung – Deep Fantasy
88. Eagulls – Eagulls
87. The Xcerts – There Is Only You
86. Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – Tyranny
85. Kill It Kid – You Owe Nothing
84. Brontide – Artery
83. Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything
82. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
81. Alexis Taylor – Await Barbarians
80. Black Moth – Condemned To Hope
79. Karen O – Crush Songs
78. Marmozets – The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets
77. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
76. Blueneck – King Nine
75. Maybeshewill – Fair Youth
74. Bo Ningen – III
73. Jack White – Lazaretto
72. Johnny Foreigner – You Can Do Better
71. Electric Six – Human Zoo