Sunday, December 31, 2017

Carnegie Hall - New Year's Eve 1961

Albums of the Year - Chart of Charts

A good friend of mine who had a look at the blog at one point said I was rather anal. Anal! Me, Norman? To disprove it on the last day of 2017, here's one more chart, a combined poll from the five I posted earlier this month, Mojo, Uncut, Q, The Guardian and my own fifty personal choices of Albums of the Year. Jane Weaver and LCD Soundsystem tallied the same points but Jane ended up on top as she was the only artist to feature in all five charts. Hurray For The Riff Raff being the only other Top Ten artist who featured in It Starts With a Birthstone's list. Seventeen in all of mine in here and all in all a chart that pretty well illustrates 2017 in terms of music! (Apologies for the layout which I've had problems with for some reason)

                                     1. Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology       
                                     2.  LCD Soundsystem - American Dream                                                                                                 3. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN                                                            
                                     4. St.Vincent - Masseducation  
                                     5. The National - Sleep Well Beast
                                     6. Lorde - Melodrama
                                     7. The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
                                     8. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
                                     9. Richard Dawson - Peasant
                                    10. Hurray For The Riff Raff - The Navigator      
                                    11. Thundercat - Drunk 
                                    12. Peter Perrett - How The West was Won      
                                    13. Laura Marling - Semper Femina  
                                    14. Wolf Alice - Visions of a Life   
                                    15. Girl Ray - Earl Grey       
                                    16. Oh Sees - Orc   
                                    17. Queens of the Stoneage - Villains   
                                    18.  Sampha - Process 
                                    19. Sleaford Mods - English Tapas                                                                                                            20. Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent   
                                    21. Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins     
                                    22. Sparks - Hippopotamous 
                                    23. The Horrors - V                   
                                   24. Baxter Dury - Prince of Tears     
                                   25. Stormzy - Gang Signs & Prayer  
                                   26. SZA - Ctrl   
                                   27. Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness 
                                   28. Nadia Reid - Preservation       
                                   29. Four Tet - New Energy           
                                   30. Joan Shelley - Joan Shelley 
                                   31. Slowdive - Slowdive                
                                   32. Cigarettes After Sex - Cigarettes After Sex 
                                   33. Susanne Sundfor - Music for People in Trouble    
                                   34. Perfume Genius - No Shape         
                                   35. Kelley Stolz - Que Aura       
                                   36. Les Amazones D'Afrique - Republique Amazone                                                                               37. J.Hus - Common Sense  
                                   38.  Juana Molina - Halo   
                                   39.  This is the Kit - Moonshine Freeze  
                                   40. The Feelies - In Between            
                                   41. Big Thief - Capacity           
                                  42. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here 
                                  43. The Weather Station -  The Weather Station  
                                  44. Gorillaz - Humanz         
                                  45.  Ghostpoet - Dark Days + Canapes  
                                  46. Kelela - Take Me Apart             
                                  47. Benjamin Clementine - I Tell a Fly  
                                  48. Kevin Morby - City Music   
                                  49. Dag - Benefits of Solitude
                                   50. Aldous Harding - Party                                    

Twelve Songs by Bands That Are Named After That Band # 3 The Stray Cats

Songs About People # 520 Rick James

Cake have it and eat it too!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 378 Marvin Gaye

Song of the Day # 1,442 Presentable Corpse

Two songs from 2017 that will make you think that Arthur Lee and Brian MacLean are alive and well and working on a follow up to Forever Changes. Jorge Elbrecht, something of a musical visionary and the man behind projects such as Lansing-Dreiden and Violens, (both also worthy of discovery), is also behind this. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Twelve Songs by Bands That Are Named After That Band # 2 Wilco

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 379 Billy Ward & the Dominoes

Song(s) of the Day # 1,441 Des Demonas

Des Demonas are Washington D.C. Punks with swirling Farfisa organ and a six foot five Kenyan called Jacky Cougar Abok at the mic. The missing link between The Shadows of Knight and Nation of Ulysses their whole eponymous debut from earlier on this year is an absolute delight.

They're a band that have been refining their skills on the D.C. underground circuit for the last six years before finally getting this out of their system in 2017. You get eleven tracks of everything that's so wonderful about Sixties Nugget Garage and the darker side of the Punk and New Wave explosions but sounds like it fits perfectly in the here and now too.

Abok sings in English or Swahili as the mood suits him. Des Demonas meanwhile play as if they're in a wind tunnel. They sound like a band whose touring schedule needs to be watched inexhaustibly so you know the moment they're coming to your town and can make plans accordingly. Composed of players who have done time in the likes of Kid Congo & the Monkey Birds and Make Up as well as several other lesser known excavators of the true spirit of Rock and Roll. These apprenticeships are now coming to full fruition. Des Demonas are curators and exponents of a rare but sacred art.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 380 Orioles

Twelve Songs by Bands That Are Named After That Band # 1 Mull Historical Society

Another totally spurious series inspired first and foremost by the possibility of posting another Mull Historical Society song on Mull Historical Society Day on It Starts With a Birthstone. Again from Loss.

Songs About People # 519 Giacomo Casanova

Cor! relax girls, he's taken. This song may not be about the real Casanova but at least it gives me another excuse to post something by Mull Historical Society on Mull Historical Society Day on It Starts With a Birthstone. This comes from 2009's This Is Hope.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Song(s) of the Day # 1,440 Mull Historical Society

Mull Historical Society Day today on It Starts With a BirthstoneLoss, their  debut album from 2001 is possibly one of the great, forgotten records of the last twenty years - forgotten that is except for the faithfully devoted. A band only in name really as they're almost wholly the work and loving inspiration of Colin Macintyre, a graduate of Tobermory High School, the only secondary school on The Isle of Mull in Scotland.

Loss is a sweeping, majestic album, an incredible melodic, poetic, immersive experience, as if Roddy Frame had met Sufjan Stevens and moved to a cottage in the Highlands with a choir and orchestra section to record together, having named themselves after the local archaeology club. Instead it's actually just Macintyre and those he's gathered around him, inspired by the beauty all around him, the misfits all around him, his Mull upbringing, the death of his father, childhood and his muse. It's a small masterpiece. Small, but a masterpiece nevertheless!

All this time later, Macintyre has a new album out in 2018, produced by Bernard Butler, a memoir called Hometown Tales and a children's book called The Humdrum Drum apparently with singalong tunes. I look forward to hearing more news of all three. In the meantime I'm just grateful for catching up over the last day or so with Loss, more than fifteen years after its initial release. I'd forgotten, or perhaps I never realised, just how good it is! I do now.

Songs About People # 518 Johnny Cash

On a song that sounds almost computer programmed in order to appeal to thousands in the Southern States, Kid Rock pays tribute to the Man in Black while the backing seems ready to break into Sweet Home Alabama any minute, (a trick Kid Rock is very fond of). From his 2015 album First Kiss

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 381 Roy Price

Song(s) of the Day # 1,439 Charlotte Adigery

One of the real pleasures of keeping this blog rolling onward is coming to the end of the year and seeing the 'Records of the Year' charts on the blogs listed on the right hand side of this page and elsewhere. This often allows me to hear about things I've missed out on over the previous months and make some amends by posting them here.

The prize example of this in 2017 is the run down of 'Singles of the Year' on the Australian site The Finest Kiss. This is full of treats unknown to me, noticeably this EP from Belgian based singer Charlotte Adigery. The four tracks therein cover an enormous amount of ground, from Afrobeat inflections, Electro Pop, Art Noir and more and make for the most diverting twenty or so minutes with headphones on I've experienced for quite a while.

Produced by Soulwax at their, (wonderfully named), DeeWee studio in Ghent. Cosmic Disco of the most wonderful kind accompanied by startling, mesmeric promos. The music pulses throughout with remarkable intent.

It's difficult to describe exactly why it's all so magical. The record company Juno Records does a better job than me: 'It features the vocalist singing in a modern soul style - over wonderfully imaginative, left-of-centre, heavily electronic backing vocals that variously doff a cap to early electro, Italo- disco minimal wave and - most surprisingly of all - pastoral folk. It's hard to describe, but uniformly brilliant.'

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Songs About People # 517 Karen Black

Multi-medium artist Ross Black pays tribute to one of the most iconic actresses of the New Hollywood Cinema of the early seventies.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 382 The Beatles

'Only The Beatles could have tossed a track this hot on a B side, just as only they could have seen it reach the Top Five anyway. While We Can Work It Out (the A side) is a very fine Paul McCartney ballad, I'll take Paul's playing and singing here over his singing and playing there. He never cuts a deeper bass groove, just as Ringo never played funkier and George's guitar never zoomed so sharply. Lennon's contribution is a harmony vocal that doubles the lead after the bridge (a Twist and Shout replica) and doubles the song's level of invective in the process. But mostly, what we're hearing here is The Beatles as a groove-oriented rock and roll band, the oldest trick in their book, now infused with their impeccable sense of studio craftsmanship. That Otis Redding chose Day Tripper as the Beatles song in his set is no surprise; it's the closest they ever came to making a soul record.'

Song(s) of the Day # 1,438 Holly Throsbie

There's an incredible purity about Australian singer-songwriter Holly Throsbie's voice. It reminds me inescapably of Olivia Newton John and that's by no means an underhand compliment. Here are a couple of songs from her 2017 record After a Time, a record so straightforward and unadorned that it makes you gasp! In the second track here she duets with Mark Kozelek, and the combination is so apt that you forgive him all his recent misdemeanours. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 383 Jack Nitzsche

Songs About People # 516 Dwight Yoakam

'I'm drinking water tonight 'cos I drank all the whisky this morning...'

One of the finest choices from Sidelong for one of the true rebel figures of Country.

Song(s) of the Day # 1,437 Sarah Shook & the Disarmers

Sometimes the name of a band tells you you might be onto something before you actually hear a note they've played. Such is the case here. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers augers very well. And their debut album, from 2017, more than lives up to that promise. Playing a similar trick to the one Margo Price played so smartly in 2016, North Carolina's Shook and her companions reinvent Country and make it lean, real and raw, devoid of corn and sappiness. 

Well crafted songs always help of course and there are twelve of them here. But the ace up the Disarmer's sleeve is not unnaturally Shook herself. With that distinctive Loretta Lynn twang to her voice, she's a dangerous and real presence, sounding, vulnerable, hurt and menacing and angry at one of the same time. The band play their part to the full. There's something of a swagger here and a willingness to follow the lead of Lone Justice and Jason & the Scorchers as well as the more orthodox Country suspects. It will be interesting to see where they go next!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Blogs of the Year


The blogs listed on the right hand side of this page act as a constant source of the music I find and post about on here. Most of all I prefer individually authored sites, fuelled most of all by personal idiosyncracies and passions and Did Not Chart and A Pessimist is Never Disappointed certainly tick those boxes. The former, written by a Go Betweens enthusiast consistently comes up with oddball indie and soul gem releases which I'd surely otherwise miss, writing about them with unswerving  insight and wry enthusiasm. A Pessimist is Never Disappointed meanwhile is even more unstinting in reviewing any releases of interest on the alternative guitar side of things. But this year I've gone with a new discovery, Raven Sings The Blues a more professionally driven project focusing on all things Psych and Psychedelic. It's a seemingly endless set of suggestions of things to investigate and explore.

It Starts With a Birthstone - Songs of the Year 2017

1. The Shins
2. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
3. Terry
4. Glass Vaults
5. Morrissey
6. The Stevens
7. St. Vincent
8. Selena Gomez
9. Sidney Gish
10. Domiciles
11. King Leg
12. Waxahatchee
13. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
14. Slowdive
15. Steady Holiday
16. Century Palm
17. The Moonlandingz
18. The Flying Stars of Brooklyn
19. Zara McFarlane
20. The Mountain Movers
21. West Princes
22. Alvvays
23. The National
24. Baxter Dury
25. Neon Waltz

Songs of the Year # 1 The Shins

My Song of the Year was one with personal, emotional resonance for me. The lead off single from The Shins return Heartworms, it told the personal history of their leader James Mercer, teenage years of his youth spent at an RAF base in East Anglia with his family and the way those personal memories still play on him all this time later. I heard it first just before I was due to go back to that part of the world myself for work training for the first time since 1990 when I'd graduated from the University of East Anglia in Norwich. It was a deeply poignant return for me and this song accompanied me through it all though unexpectedly the trip only acted as the merest curtain call for a further visit a few more months further down the line for more training which was the occasion of hearing of a terrible personal family loss which cast the darkest shadows imaginable over the close of my year. Music indisputably helps and matters most at times like these. As the song itself suggests over a gentle pitter patter backing worthy of Buddy Holly, 'and that's how, we get to where we are now...' . And on we go too. Simply a wonderful illustration on what narrative Rock and Roll can do as well or better than any other art form, (the video also hits the spot very succinctly).

It Starts With a Birthstone - Albums of the Year

And now my own chart...

1. Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent
2. Les Amazones D'Afrique - Republique Amazone
3. The Feelies - In Between
4. Big Thief - Capacity
5. Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins
6. Oh Sees - Orc
7. Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
8. Kelley Stolz - Que Aura
9. Benjamin Clementine - I Tell a Fly
10. Dag - Benefits of Solitude
11. Ratboys - GN
12. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile -Lotta Sea Lice
13. Kevin Morby - City Music
14. Girl Ray - Earl Grey
15. Perfume Genius - No Shape
16. La Feline - Triomphe
17. Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination
18. James Elkington - Wintres Woma
19. Mick Head & the Red Elastic Band - Adios Senor Pussycat
20. Holiday Ghosts - Holiday Ghosts
21. Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now
22. Peter Perrett - How The West was Won
23. H.Grimace - Self-Architect
24. Baxter Dury - Prince Of Tears
25. Wild Pink - Wild Pink
26. Hurray For The Riff Raff - The Navigator
27. Amadou & Mariam - Le Confusion
28. Novella - Change Of State
29. Tim Cohen - Luck Man
30. CTMF - Brand New Cage
31. '68 - Two Parts Viper
32. Trevor Sensor - Andy Warhol's Dream
33. Faith Healer - Try
34. Mary Epworth - Elytral
35. Grandaddy - Last Place
36. NE-HI - Offers
37. Entrance - Book Of Changes
38. Catholic Action - In Memory Of
39. This Is The Kit - Moonshine Freeze
40. Guided By Voices - How do You Spell Heaven
41. French Vanilla - French Vanilla
42. Spinning Coin - Permo
43. Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai
44. Travis Bretzer - Bubble Gum
45. Sweet Baboo - Wild Imagination
46. Fresh & Onlys - Wolf Lie Down
47. The New Year - Snow
48. Kacy & Clayton - The Siren's Song
49. Bread & Butter - Bread & Butter
50. Karen Elson - Double Roses

There were lots of others that might have been there. Including these:

Priests, The Mountain Goats, Broken Social Scene, Waxahatchee, Beach Fossils, Bonny Doon, Sneaks, Stef Chura, Surfer Blood, Black Springs, Century Palm, DUDS, Mount Eerie, Bedouine, Ron Gallo, Sinkane, Flat Worms, Happyness, Valerie June, Zara McFarlane, Bill Baird, Chastity Belt, Wand, Rhiannon Giddens, Jay Som, Laura Marling, Tinariwen, Spoon, Rose Elinor Dougall, Moon Duo, Julien Baker.

Personal Gigs of the Year # 1 Protomartyr at The Cluny, Newcastle Upon Tyne

And more Protomartyr from when they made it to Newcastle a few weeks later in November:

Detroit's Protomartyr have figured big time in my life throughout 2017. Not that I was unaware of them before that. They had already released three fine albums which I had heard and loved. But this year they dropped their fourth and to my mind finest Relatives in Descent, and last Thursday they landed on my doorstep, playing at The Cluny, in the Ouseburn Valley in Byker, Newcastle. Just down the road from me.

I'd been waiting for this gig for months, having bought the ticket a while back so when the day finally arrived it came as a surprise. Not managing to find someone who'd accompany me, I went alone, a pint at my local before taking a taxi to The Cluny. Second support Luxury were onstage when I arrived. Slightly generic, shouty punk, good enough at this point of the evening, and popular with the crowd.

Main support, Oh Boland! were a further step up. From a small town in Ireland and a three piece with a tall and pogoing bassist in the mould of Kris Novoselic, so Nirvana came to mind but they didn't sound like Nirvana. The expression came to me as they played that they were a Grunge Undertones, a fine idea and they realised this with a fine, sparky energetic and too brief set. I'll write more about them with a Song of the Day presently. They were also very nice guys. I chatted with the bassist and singer after their set and they were thrilled to be in Britain touring for the first time and to be supporting Protomartyr who they clearly revered.

And so to the main act, and a band operating on quite a different plateau from almost any band on the planet that I'm aware of right now. Sure they're intense, about as intense as they get and their themes are undeniably dark, but that's a whole vivid streak of existence in 2017 and to wish it away and live in a state of permanent blissed out happiness is a rather wilful rejection of the state of affairs that surrounds us at this point of time. Protomartyr are not prepared to settle for that and I for one am immensely grateful to them for their endeavour. 

Of course, when writing about this band, it's inevitable that much will be said about singer Joe Casey who is undoubtedly their focal point. The other three are clearly content with this state of affairs providing a phenomenally structured musical backdrop, by turns kinetic, frantic and raging, waves for Casey to surf. When I got home I went straight to Joy Division, an obvious comparison, (I played New Dawn Fades for the record), and Protomartyr are not shamed for a moment. The Fall and Pere Ubu are other reference points, but at this stage in their development they have transcended all influences and are writing their own history.

Casey stalks the stage in a neat suit. Bottles of beer peeping from his hip pockets like molotovs, which he cracks open and consumes over the course of the evening. It's inescapably method of a kind, his face is a picture of involuntary twitches, a thousand yard stare, almost cartoon. The effect is quite mesmeric. I couldn't take my eyes off him all night.

They play a varied set, dipping into their back catalogue, not playing all of the highlights of Relatives in Descent including my own personal favourite The Chuckler. They're blessed with choice. There's occasional, good natured interaction with the audience, but for the most part the songs speak for themselves and Casey sticks to his pre-conditioned script. It's all startlingly good. They encore with Why Does it Shake? from 2015's The Agent Intellect which comes on as some kind of mission statement for the dark poetry they voice, and then they're gone. My gig of the year without a doubt.

Albums of the Year # 1 Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent

It always seemed likely that Protomartyr's fourth Relatives in Descent would be my Album of the Year from the moment that I first heard it at the end of September. It's blistering, raw, ambitious, brave, occasionally bleakly funny and has loads of wonderful tunes and the texture of great literature. It seems entirely apt for the bleak times we're obliged to be living through and a helpful way of trying to cope with them. Here's what I wrote then:

'Detroit's Protomartyr have entered their imperial phase with their new album Relatives in Descent which is released today. It's an astonishing record, building on their already remarkable body of work but this time going nuclear, surging into a mode of  monumental assurance and sheer power beyond anything they've ever done before, (raw power indeed), that marks this down as an instant and unassailable modern classic. Twelve songs in all, each streaked with a staggering confidence and an ability to shift gears mid-track to take you somewhere you were never expecting to go.

It's not easy listening. Nor should it be. These are troubled and troubling times. A new dark fear seems to be stalking the world and Protomartyr understand that only too well and are here to soundtrack it all. Or certainly as much as they can. As reference points, think Pere Ubu, think Joy Division and The Fall, their songs are reminiscent of the troubled surfaces and dank murky seabeds of all three bands, and they're not shamed for a moment by the comparisons. They're that good! 

Three troubled teens who chose to form a band with their alcoholic uncle, (Joe Casey, one of the best frontmen of modern times), who strangely resembles a David Cameron who's let himself go.  Altogether too smart for words, they understand the darkness but also appreciate the light. There are some utterly glorious melodies at play here. I've just listened through to the whole album at one sitting before heading into work, unable to tear myself away from my headphones. Like the very best books, I was sorry and slightly shocked when it came to an end. Undoubtedly one of the records of the year. I need to say more but wanted to post now. I'll return here at greater length later on. In the meantime, make a point of hearing it!'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 384 Chuck Willis

Pop Culture Books of the Year # 1 Grant & I by Robert Forster

Fittingly, an Australian book at the top of the list here during a year when this blog has become more and more Australian. Much awaited by devotees of The Go Betweens like myself. This was finally released in the UK this year and entirely lived up to its billing. A really special book about music, life and friendship:

                                                       'I just want some affection...'

In Karen, his first song of note, his breakthrough moment, Robert Forster sang of the idealised female figure that he yearned for, a librarian. More than any other band, perhaps that there's ever been, The Go-Betweens, (the Brisbane, Australia grounded group Forster formed with Grant McLennan shortly after writing the song), were bookish. Virtually everything they ever recorded was essentially literary and it's fitting that Forster, forty years after he first met McLennan has now written and published a book chronicling their adventures together, the story of a deep but strange friendship.

It's taken a while for Grant & I to find its way to British bookshelves. Initially published last year in Australia, then in Germany, (where the band always found an appreciative audience and Forster met his wife), now here and eventually in the coming months in the States. For those like myself, who revere this band as much as any other, (this blog takes its name from a Go-Between song), it's been a deeply impatient wait, but now I have it, have devoured it in a couple of sittings, and can attest to its being a fine and satisfactory memoir, sure to find favour with devotees of the band.

The Go-Betweens are famously the most critically acclaimed Rock and Roll band that never had a hit record. There are reasons for this, which Forster describes accurately and honestly but he's never remotely unsure about their greatness. Since the untimely, early death of McLennan in May 2006, he's taken on the role of the bands archivist, in the compiling of their first box set, G is for Go-Betweens, a series of articles and interviews, and now with Grant & I.

The book itself is free of the blocks of photos you generally expect with Rock memoirs and biographies. All you get is white paged prose. It's fitting, laying down a claim for the Go Betweens as a band apart and one to treasure for their wordy, poetic ambition and endeavour, a labour of love.

Not unnaturally, Forster writes beautifully in clipped, lyrical prose that comes across as quite effortless but surely isn't. On the front cover there's apt and touching tribute to his gifts from Nick Cave, (a man who should know), 'the truest and strangest poet of our generation'. He along with the Birthday Party, The Go-Betweens, The Saints, The Triffids and many others was part of a brilliant flowering of Australian talent at the end of the seventies and throughout the eighties. Forster documents it all with incredible detail and generosity, bringing that period alive again from the inside for fans like me who appreciated the records so much and constructed our own personalities round the sensibilities detailed within them in our late teens and early twenties.

Here, we get the whole history, the early days in Brisbane where Forster and McLennan first joined forces, their first visits to Europe with dreams of fame and acclaim, their period in Glasgow as Postcard Record recording artists and their gradual emergence as a band supplemented in turn by Lindy Morrison, (Forster's partner for many years), Robert Vickers and Amanda Brown.

Forster places them very much in the context of their times, first with groups of like-minded vision, Orange Juice, The Smiths, (who they supported when they were supplanted in Rough Trade's Geoff Travis's affections and were dropped from the label), Aztec Camera, the Bunnymen and R.E.M. He's magnanimous to one and all, never uses the book as an opportunity to settle scores, instead placing his band squarely within their historical time-frame. Unfailingly honest about the strengths and weaknesses of their eighties albums, his assessment of them is very close to my own take and I imagine that of many devotees. Send Me a Lullaby is flawed and transitional, (strangely for a debut album), Before Hollywood their first great record, Spring Hill Fair, slightly unrealised despite containing some of their finest moments, Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express another classic, Tallulah marred by poorly judged songs, unworthy of the band and 16 Lovers Lane their late pop masterpiece.

Forster writes about the authors, poets and bands that inspired him and McLennan with a clarity and precision that is inspiring in itself. He pays tribute to the people who passed in and out of their lives but most of all he writes about Grant, their friendship and working relationship. This more than anything is what has brought the book into being and it's deeply touching in this respect, particularly as it draws to a close to the band's reformation and towards McLennan's sudden passing as you know it will. The last few pages are traumatic and retelling them still clearly deeply  painful for Forster, even ten years down the line.

Forster doesn't delve into the murky depths. Drugs are brought up only upon his diagnosis with Hepatitis C. McLennan's more troubled dabblings are not mentioned, his drinking is touched upon but Forster mentions how he always maintained his poise and cool even as he seems to descend towards darkness after the Go-Betweens split. In this he remains essentially a friend first and foremost and this determination to pay tribute to McLennan's gifts as an artist and to his incredible character and to guard him from a more critical judgement is understandable. The records they made deserve appreciation most of all. A pop band that was different and could not be easily placed. The most beautiful band in the world. Grant & I does everything it sets out to do and more. It's simply wonderful, like the Go-Betweens themselves.

Song(s) of the Day # 1,436 Parsnip

If Australia got the nod yesterday as 'Scene of the Year' Melbourne is very much the epicentre of that whole thing. The fact that every second band I ever come across nowadays seems to hail from there is becoming an absolute given. Here are my latest discoveries, Parsnip, an all female Garage Band in the classic sense wearing strikingly patterned shirts. Their four track debut EP from earlier this year is a blinder, a ten minute reminder of when The Bangles were good and why the sixties were great. Dance around your living room. It's Christmas Day after all!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Uncut Magazine - Albums of the Year

1. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
2. The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
3. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN
4. The Weather Station - The Weather Station
5. Joan Shelley - Joan Shelley
6. Richard Dawson - Peasant
7. The National - Sleep Well Beast
8. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
9. St. Vincent - Masseducation
10. Hurray for the Riff Raff - The Navigator
11. Slowdive - Slowdive
12. Peter Perrett - How the West was Won
13. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
14. Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness
15. Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society - Simultanality
16. Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
17. Juana Molina - Halo
18. Lorde - Melodrama
19. The Clientele - Music for the Age of Miracles
20. Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins
21. Laura Marling - Semper Femina
22. Ty Segall - Ty Segall
23. Chuck Johnson - Balsams
24. Margo Price - All American Made
25. Robert Plant - Carry Fire
26. Rhiannon Giddens - Freedom Highway
27. Hiss Golden Messenger - Hallelujah Anyhow
28. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid
29. Michael Chapman - 50
30. Susanne Sundfor - Music for People in Trouble
31. Gas - Narkopop
32. Sleaford Mods - English Tapas
33. Oh Sees - Orc
34. Saint Etienne - Home Counties
35. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana
36. Four Tet - New Energy
37. Ride - Weather Diaries
38. Robyn Hitchcock - Robyn Hitchcock
39. Arca - Arca
40. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me
41. Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
42. Thundercat - Drunk
43. Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet - Ladilikan
44. Jake Xerxes Fussell - What in the Natural World
45. Spoon - Hot Thoughts
46. Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder
47. Pond - The Weather
48. Lindstrom - It's All Right Between Us As It Is
49. Michael Head & the Red Elastic Band - Adios Senor Pussycat
50. The xx - I See You

Eight were on my list. Several more might have been: Broken Social Scene, Mount Eerie, Rhiannon Giddens and The Clientele all missed my cut narrowly. There are some things on here and several other countdowns this year that mystify me slightly. LCD Soundsystem most of all which seems to have impressed so many but I find aspirational, forced and irritating, (despite having previously liked much of their stuff). The same goes for War on Drugs, Father John Misty and Fleet Foxes. But this is generally a decent list which reflects the nature of the magazine well.

Personal Gigs of the Year # 2 Big Thief at Think Tank, Newcastle Upon Tyne

From November:

Is an art, like everything else,
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell,
I do it so it feels real,
I guess you could say I have a call.'
Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus

Sylvia Plath indisputably had this gift to distil pain into poetry, so it seems do Brooklyn band Big Thief who I was fortunate enough to catch at Newcastle's tiny Think Tank last night, spitting distance from my flat in the heart of Newcastle. A three-piece now it seems, (which I'll come back to later), with a rare ability to capture the pain that many live their whole lives in. They focus on that pain but their mastery and sensitivity in delineating it transforms it somehow into beauty. That after all is the gift of art.

Led by Adrianne Lanker, (and they are indisputably led, as she's such a mighty talent that she would inevitably lead any band she was a member of), they played before a small, probably not quite sell-out, but deeply committed audience in a set that became an intense memorable early Christmas present for everyone who was fortunate to be there.

Two wonderful albums, this year's Capacity and last year's Masterpiece, already gives them a considerable body of work to cherry pick from, to the point where Lanker asks the audience if they have any requests one song from the close of their set. Plagued by trouser problems, she shuffles on stage wearing the oddest, ill-fitting and precariously balanced leather pants, (she proceeds to discuss the American/ British trousers/ pants dispute). The pair she was planning to wear were locked in a malfunctioning washing machine all morning. The gig goes well despite the trousers. The band play an assured and confident set, sometimes with long pauses between songs as they re-tune and consider what they want to do next but this all adds to the considerable intimacy of the evening.

Two songs in someone shouts from the audience, 'How's Buck?' a reference to clearly absent guitarist Buck Meek. 'Buck's fine,' replies Lanker, 'He's recording his solo album.' This, you can't help but feel,  doesn't tell the whole story and leads me to suspect that there's been some split that may be more disquieting than she is willing to let on. I suspect the lack of Meek slightly diminishes the band's sound and puts more weight on Lanker's shoulders but they're broad and they put on a fine show. This occurs within the strict remit of the Think Tank's ten o'clock curfew, which means the audience don't quite get the altogether classic experience they clearly relish and the band are more than capable of. No encore and much is left unsaid but we more than got our money's worth.

Some of these songs already sound like perfectly formed classics to me. The band have a way of documenting the torments of small town America. They're based in Brooklyn now but Lanker originally hails from Minnesota and it shows. Whatever's happened with Meek I hope it doesn't divert them from the wide road they're embarked on because they have a specific and beautiful talent, as the devoted few that were gathered in the Think Tank last night can testify. At the end of the set I looked across at a cluster of four or five kids who couldn't have been more than seventeen at most, at the cusp of the stage who were in their own small trance, breathing in every last one of Lanker's words and every last note of the band's finely judged musical settings. It was great to see. Music, as Lanker commented at one point is the universal language. A fine night. Watch them go!