Our writers celebrate a great year in music with a list of their faves. Tuck in.
John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Sorry, but if you can’t find something to love here, there’s something wrong with you. In fact, track three, Guess How I Know, describes you, you braindead, heartless zombie. The chorus of You and Him is also about you. You and Hitler should, indeed, get together, learn to knit and wear matching sweaters.
Already a massive fan of Grant’s first two albums, I couldn’t wait to see where this constantly evolving, yet instantly recognisable singer-songwriter would take us next. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Grant’s a unique wordsmith, managing to weave the mundane and the fantastic into his lyrics without ever seeming glib or trite. Who else could start a song with a line about haemorrhoid cream, chuck in a chorus about being unable to compete for sympathy with cancer-stricken kids, and still make it one of the most charming things you’ve ever heard?
There are too many fantastic examples of lyrical genius to contain in one review, but other tracks make a voodoo doll a heartfelt representation of real love through difficult times and Angie Dickinson sound like a depraved sex act. He can take you from the verge of tears to hysterics and back again, and he’ll do it via a road less travelled by pretty much anyone else working in music today – seriously, what more do you want?
Asaf Avidan – Gold Shadow
I know, I know, I picked the difficult second album from a former indie folk dude from Israel. What an insufferable twat I am.
But honestly, before you skip down (if you haven’t already), know that since it arrived in my life, I’ve had nothing but love for this album. The sort of love where you don’t like being away from it. The sort of love that makes you angry that things like ‘safety’ and ‘the social contract’ mean it’s not acceptable to have it pouring through earphones at all times.
Avidan’s a star in his home country, but in Europe remains best known for One Day, a German dance remix of Reckoning Song, released when he was still with The Mojos. Gold Shadow arrived in January to almost no international fanfare – and virtually no reviews – which is probably why I didn’t stumble across it until September.
The child of diplomats, Avidan’s extensive travelling is evident in a shitstorm of musical influences: folk, Americana, rock, reggae, soul, jazz. Even Bond themes have left their mark. Almost anything you read about him – if you can find it, eh? – will point out he sounds like a woman. And he does, mostly particularly Billie Holiday. But he also sounds like Bob Dylan, like Ryan Adams, like Janis Joplin, like Jack White and, most importantly, like no one else.
The most hidden of all the hidden gems, Gold Shadow is the beautiful sound of someone ploughing their own furrow and worth 45 minutes of everybody’s time. Do it. No really, don’t make me come down there.
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: I have chosen two favourite albums of 2015. Yes, I realise ‘favourite’ means ‘preferred to all others’, but I also have two best mates. Deal with it: I’m a delightful enigma/indecisive.
First up is Nadine Shah’s Fast Food, the Geordie singer-songwriter’s second album. Lean and poised, it’s also lush and ferocious and heart-swelling. She’s clearly drawn to the dark and brooding: her debut album, Love Your Dum and Mad, tackled mental illness, and Fast Food maps out her life’s loves in all their passion-soaked and soul-scarring messiness.
Framed by post-punk guitars and clattery percussion, Shah’s distinctive voice can be scorching or tender, its stark, soulful, howling quality more than capable of ripping open your ribcage to break your heart.
Standout track Stealing Cars is beautiful for its classy simplicity, the sparse, rickety beats spotlighting Shah’s remarkable vocals. If you’ve ever been in love, know what love is or can just spell the word love, you need this album.
Much more wry takes on romance and the possibility versus probability of a happy ending feature on I Love You Honeybear by Father John Misty. Difficult second album, my arse. Former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman delivers a rich, splashy WOW of an LP that occasionally makes Rufus Wainwright sound a little underdone.
Once you’ve stopped playing Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins) on repeat (give yourself two, three days maybe), there are 10 other songs to fall for, skipping deftly and playfully through pop, blues, folk and country.
Tillman may be the picture of bearded hipster cynicism, but this is a paean to true love, capturing that life-altering jolt when it finally appears and strips away all self-protection. It’s an album to really listen to: Tillman’s lyrics, packed with dark humour and cocked eyebrows, are wonderful, and his stories eminently relatable.
For my selection, I’m going to cheat and name my favourite album of 2015 as being one I’ve actually worked on. I’m not saying this out of pure sentiment, or even for CYNICAL SOLID GOLD promotion, but because I’ve genuinely enjoyed the entire journey and am chuffed to the gills with the final product.
Bobby Gillespie Presents Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down has been the last six months of my life, along with Bobby’s too (I’ll allow that). Anyone who remembers the Select magazine mixtapes Bobby Gillespie made in the 90s will know he has great taste in music, championing old buried treasures, rare versions and also the lost art of ‘sequencing’ (look it up, iPod shuffle generation).
Many friends of mine would try and recreate Bobby’s selections by trailing round record fairs looking for the releases he’d championed – and you knew you’d found a kindred spirit in a stranger when you both reach for that lost Big Star album at the same time.
This new album for Ace Records creates the mood of the morning after the night before. Or the morning after you’ve still not been to bed, more likely. The joining factor is not the history of the records or the story of the bands but simply how you feel while listening to them, and making you all feel it together. It’s both incredibly personal and totally universal.
Unafraid to have three short records by the same artist in a row in order to take you on a journey, or to revel in the darker side of cheery pop artists like the Monkees and the Beach Boys, Bobby Gillespie also finds the punk/junk-addict side to formerly clean-cut doo-wopper Dion and the political side of Link Wray.
It’s a new mirror being held up to old familiars. The sleevenotes feature both Bobby’s stories and impressions of seeing these bands and also features photos of his own records, complete with a signed Ron Wood record dedicated “To Bobby”. None of us should ever stop being a fan of music and this is a paean to loving music.
Available on CD and clear vinyl gatefold LP, the cover photo was taken by legendary fashion photographer Corinne Day (RIP) and designed by the brilliant Matt Cooper (Franz Ferdinand/Primal Scream). And dare we say it – we’re all pretty damn pleased with it.
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