If you ever attended a Titanics, Bombastadors, or late-era Stupid, Stupid, Stupid & Steve show, you would have seen me playing the Taylor Renegade. I bought this incredible, ridiculous, steampunky horn directly from Grand Wizard Trumpetmaker Andy Taylor in 2006, when he sold her to fund some other crazy custom brainwave or other.
The Renegade was one of the original Taylor Custom Shop creations, originally inspired by Andy watching a plumber work with compression fittings and thinking how much easier it would make his job if he could just bolt a horn together. The result was a one-of-a-kind ML 0.46“ bore Bb trumpet in raw brass, with a hexagonal bolt motif running through the bracing, thumb ring, tuning slides and leadpipe right up to the heavy matching mouthpiece. Andy‘s on record as saying that the design and build of the Renegade fed into what later became his signature Chicago series.
She‘s gorgeous to play. She has a warm, dark tone, and a vast dynamic range: from a whisper to, well… I don’t know how loud she goes. The more you put in, the louder you get out, and I’ve never managed to get the sound to break. Incredibly responsive, but also an absolute beast. HEAVY, and needs some serious air. This is not a horn you should play for the entirety of a two-hour funk show, take it from me…
I did an awful lot of travel for work this year, and this shaped my listening habits. Train listening tends to be instrumental, or close to, and London Tube/walking music needs to be increasingly aggressive to get me through the commute. As a result there’s a definite bias towards the less-than-subtle, which means a few records (Cat Power, Marisa Nadler, Courtney Barnett, Totally Mild) didn’t get a great deal of attention.
Big shoegazey washes of guitar and reverb-drenched vocals cleverly disguise that this album has great pop songs. standout track, however, is the 10-minute ‘Clouds of Orion’
Aptly titled, this album of protest punk is as euphoric and uplifting as only a mob-vocal chorus can be. Astonishingly good live, too.
I know nothing about this guy, save that he makes proper hip-hop. There were a few decent rap records out this year, I think this is the best.
Incredible. Experimental doom-glitch-dronepop made up predominantly of heavily-processed samples of previous recordings. Brutally, terrifyingly catchy.
Brownout follow last year’s album of Sabbath covers by reclaiming the Public Enemy back catalogue in the name of funk. The arrangements come close to out-heavying the Bomb Squad originals in places.
Madison Washington’s first full-length channels J Dilla, The Bomb Squad and Rakim alongside the jazz/avant-garde influences that were front and centre on last year’s ‘Code Switchin’ EP.
Fugazi’s rhythm section lay the foundation for a noodly shredfest which manages to stay (just) the right side of proggish self-indulgence
Probably the least subtle record on the list. Humungous riffage, bellowing sandpaper vocals, absolutely brilliant.
This has snuck onto the list in the last 2 weeks. Queasy squelchy noise rock which gets under your skin. Needs further attention.
There were several additions to my ‘Make me feel like I’m in Bladerunner’ playlist this year — Ital Tek, Answer Code Request, Throwing Snow — but this is the one that stuck for me. The soundtrack to probably half my train journeys since its release.
Comments are open for yours!
I was washing out a can of Punk IPA earlier this year and noticed a slightly unusual addition to the Best Before printing on the bottom of the can. On further inspection this appears to be a Thing They Do, and it reminds me of nothing more than the odd messages that could sometimes be found in the run-out grooves of records. I always used to check new purchases for these little Easter Eggs but the practice seemed to die out as catalogue numbers were stamped by machine rather than hand engraved into the master. So this little discovery tickles me no end.
In my opinion, 2017 was a fantastic, fascinating year for music. It was also home to a hectic, baby-having, sick-filled December, meaning that I’ve been short of time to do a proper job of this list.
So what follows is something of a brain dump, mainly compiled at 4am whilst feeding or winding a baby 1. So I’m afraid it’s light on wit and context, but does provide a decent overview of my listening this year, and should hopefully provoke the usual discussion.
Lower Slaughter- What Big Eyes
Once upon a time there was a band called Slunt, who were billed as being a cross between AC/DC and L7. This was a massive oversell , and their album was very disappointing. Lower Slaughter, with their female-fronted blues metal, come much, much closer to that tantalising description. I do not know if they are named after the village in the Cotswolds, but I really hope so.
Caustic old school punk that fills the void left by the lacklustre Sleaford Mods album
Afghan Whigs- In Spades
For my money, their best record since ‘Black Love’ . The cathartic party tracks are present and correct but the best songs here are slow-burn growers which gradually worm their way into your psyche.
Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs - Gems from the Equinox
The Soul Assassin is back to remind us that he was making twisted gothic broken soul beats before there was a R2A. A genuine tour-de- force.
Algiers- The Underside of Power
McAlmont & Butler, recorded live in Hell.
Billy Woods- Known Unknowns
Come for the Blockhead / Aesop / Homeboy Sandman collabs, stay for the coming-of-age of a new hip-hop superstar
Princess Nokia- 1992 Deluxe
I’m genuinely surprised how much I like this , but it’s been a staple for most of the year.
Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body kids still daydream
Hip-hop concept albums are less common than the genres’ love for pretention would suggest. This record is mellifluous, important, and a rare positive voice in rap.
Sharon Jones - Soul of a Woman
A fitting tribute to the great Miss Jones. Her final recordings, lovingly and luxuriously turned into what I believe will become regarded as her greatest album
USA Nails- Shame Spiral
Marika Hackman-I’m Not Your Man
El Michels Affair- Return to the 37th Chamber
Wu Tang Clan - The Saga Continues
Nadine Shah- Holiday Destination
In fact, with the exception of light proofreading/editing and the final Markdown conversion in Editorial, this post was composed entirely as described, on an iPad Pro using MyScript Nebo, and an Apple Pencil.↩︎
2016 was a year of musical grazing. I seemed to have a limited attention span this year, and as a result very few albums got the requisite rotation for me to feel like they were really ‘mine’. As a result, this list is a bit of a hodgepodge, the ‘Honorable Mentions’ list is longer than I’d like, and my favourite discovery / most listened-to album (A Hundred Years A Day by The St Pierre Snake Invasion) isn’t even eligible, as it came out in 2015.
As usual, these are in no particular order, and links are all to Apple Music.
Each new Teenage Fanclub album makes me love them more, but this one struck a (shimmering, jangly) chord. It was also The Wife’s introduction to this marvellous band, which was a great excuse to dig out the back catalogue (Bandwagonesque stands up). Highlights for me are always the Norman Blake tracks and here ‘The Darkest Part of the Night’ is the standout.
Daptone do garage psych-rock. A dirty, squalling shriek of a record; The Make-Up without the archness. My most-played album this year, by a slim margin, and vital on vinyl.
Awful band name, but if you can get past that this is a noise-pop gem. Switches gears between crushing hardcore and gorgeous slacker-pop melodies effortlessly.
A post-metal Jimi Hendrix Experience. There are clearly some serious jazz chops here, but in the main they’re kept in service of some serious grinding riffage.
The Wedding Present’s ninth studio album kicks off with four tracks of predominantly instrumental post-rock (betraying the album’s other life as a film soundtrack). It’s slightly unexpected, but given this album is longer than a lot of hip-hop records, there’s room for a bit of experimentation before we crack on with business as usual. And crack on we do - Gedge’s ear for a deceptively catchy melody, a self-deprecating lyric and a wry rhyme are as sharp as ever.
Kickball Katy Goodman done went and growed up on me. After two albums of beautiful whimsicalia, and one terminally flawed by its inability to live up to the promise of its perfect lead single, this is the one where La Sera come together. Produced by Ryan Adams, and with Goodman now sharing songwriting and vocals with her guitarist husband Todd Wisenbaker, this has a distinctly different sonic makeup: more Smiths than Shirelles, with a healthy dose of Zeppelin in there for good measure.
Early in the year I asked Rob to recommend me music that would make me feel like I was in Bladerunner when I listened to it on the Tube. He gave me a number of recommendations, of which this is my favourite.
Nope, nope, nope. Pithy, one paragraph write-up of Cohen’s final album? Not going to happen in a way that does it any justice at all. I was 15 the first time I heard that voice, during the opening credits of Pump Up The Volume, and it left a mark. A beautiful, heartbreaking listen.
Let’s have yours in the comments, please!
By my reckoning, 2015 was one of the best years for music in some time. We seem to have reached the point where 90s indie rock is a bona-fide touchstone for new bands, so there are a slew of albums that have familiar aspects to them.
Apple Music has certainly had an impact. For whatever reason, Spotify never gained any traction for me, and having all my music in one place whether it’s streamed or owned has an appeal. There’s only been one album I’ve tried to find that hasn’t been available, which is a pretty good average, I think. Links below are all to Apple Music.
So for the first time in a few years, I’ve actually struggled to get this list down to a manageable size. I’ve based the cut on what I listened to most, and (in one or two cases) based on what I think might not make it onto other people’s lists in the interest of maximum variety.
So often, the first album of the year that I buy ends up on this list. Sleater-Kinney’s comeback album is a glorious piece of Talking Headsy post-punk, slathered in crunchy/melodic duelling guitars.
Not at all what I expected from this album after Barnett’s 2013 ‘A Sea Of Split Peas’ EP, which was predominantly acoustic, quirky melancholia. This album sports a fuller sound to back her witty, sarcastic poetry of the mundane.
My first listen to this album made me realise how little we still hear English regional accents in rock music, Shah’s Tyneside burr at odds with the twangy road-trip Americana reverb. There are touches of Sharon Van Etten or ‘Stories from the City…’-era PJ Harvey in the first few tracks, but the album really finds its feet on ‘Nothing Left To Do’, where Shah intones a single lyric over simmering, shimmering layers of guitar.
A remarkably accomplished debut album, which runs the gamut from ethereal shoegazey pop (‘Freazy’) through snarly feral punk (‘You’re A Germ’) to Jane’s Addiction-style stadium indie-rock (‘Turn to Dust’).
One of about nine hundred albums featuring Ghostface Killah that were released in 2015, one of two in contention for my best of list, and without a doubt the funniest album cover of the year. Canadian jazz trio BBNG lay an appropriately sparse background for Ghost’s eccentric stream-of-consciousness.
There’s a kind of singing that always makes me sit up and take notice - the point where a singer may not quite be able to reach the note they’re after, but they’re striving for it. Hitting that note, or getting as close as they can physically get, is so desperately important for them, and often the not-quite-getting-there is what makes the song. ‘Painted Shut’ is full of these moments. Not because France’s Quinlan’s vocal ability is limited — quite the opposite, she has one of the most astonishing voices I’ve heard in years, capable of a howling rasp reminiscent of Kurt Cobain or Janis Joplin — but because of the risks she takes with phrasing and melody that turn every song on this record into something really special.
Imagine Tanya Donelly-era Throwing Muses as snotty punk brats, or maybe the Pixies fronted by Transvision Vamp’s Wendy James. Sound good? Then you’ll be wanting to give this a listen. Pure pop songs, buried under crunchy guitars, feedback and a voice in serious need of a Strepsil.
This is what happens when you take a man, pin his brain open and force-feed him The Bad Seeds, Gallon Drunk, The Stooges, Jonathan Fire*Eater, the Cramps, 70s Euro horror/soft porn soundtracks, and Fox News, then make him play every night in a dive bar run by David Lynch. This is a sick, dirty, filthy, evil, nasty record, and one I’m determined to pick up on vinyl next time I’m near a decent record shop.
I wasn’t sure whether to include this, or Viet Cong in my final list. In the end, the sheer strangeness of this record pushed it slightly ahead. This is a truly odd, queasy-making noise of a record which has the dubious distinction of being the only one on this list that The Boy has tearfully insisted I turn off. Again, nineties alternative influences (Pavement, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave again) abound, but this time through the lens of growing up with techno and trance, with lyrics pulled directly from the singer’s diaries from when he was hospitalised with mental health problems at the age of 15. It’s as disorienting as you might expect, but also had a giddy tribal enthusiasm to it that pulls you in.
Sleaford Mods didn’t click for me until I watched their mid-Saturday-afternoon Glastonbury performance. Something about that setting - the clear vitriol in Jason Williamson’s eyes as he spat and growled and sweated and swore like Ian Dury arguing with Mark E Smith in front of a confused tentful of indieboys and alternagirls - made it all make sense. Carter USM for the age of austerity (and I mean that with much affection).
Czarface: Every Hero Needs A Villain 7L, Esoteric and Inspektah Deck make a proper hip-hop record for old heads
Ought: Sun Coming Down What the new Parquet Courts album should have sounded like
Leatherface: Razorblades and Aspirin Old-school Sunderland punks’ retrospective discography release that has held up surprisingly well
Drenge: Undertow Back in February I was sure this was a shoo-in for the list. Surly fuzz-pop
Ghostface Killah: Adrian Younge Presents 12 Reasons to Die Part 2 The other good Ghostface collab, a more straightforward gangsta Kung-fu blaxploitation yarn from the composer of the Black Dynamite OST
Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss A beautiful, expansive doom-folk-metal Portishead album
Anna von Hausswolff: The Miraculous Occupies some of the same sonic space as Chelsea Wolfe, and I think I confused them for a while. This has more organs
Viet Cong: Viet Cong I don’t understand how this is so catchy. I actually walked into work singing “if we’re lucky, we’ll get old and die” in a jaunty voice
Let’s have yours in the comments, please!