Another more than pointless addition to year end lists…here are some of the things I’ve enjoyed listening to, reading and watching this year.
As always, thank you to my friends with better taste than me for keeping me in touch with what’s going on and to the invaluable weekly list from Piccadilly Records in Manchester, the best record shop in the world.
There weren’t any absolute jaw dropping, life changing albums this year but looking back on the year there were more good records than I probably gave credit for as I moaned about the state of music.
Top of the list is the debut from The Fernweh that missed most album of the year lists as it was released in early December. It’s a beautiful bit of psychedelic folk pop and an outstanding debut. There were also great debuts from Lump (Laura Marling’s new project, a fantastic debut of kosmiche electronica), Boy Azooga, Gabe Gurnsey, Halo Maud, Shame, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Flasher and Stella Donnelly. So I guess there has been lots of good new music!
There were also glorious returns from Neneh Cherry (one of the most politically urgent records of the year), Spiritualised (bedroom symphonies) and Kristin Hersh (her hardest solo album with two of the great drummers, Dave Narcizo and Rob Ahlers, all over it).
Here’s the top 20 rundown and accompanying playlist:
- The Fernweh by The Fernweh
- Lump by Mump
- Broken Politics by Neneh Cherry
- 1, 2, Kung Fu! by Boy Azooga
- Physical by Gabe Gurnsey
- Je Suis Une Ile by Halo Maud
- Songs of Praise by Shame
- Persona by Rival Consoles
- Hope Downs by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
- Freedom by Amen Dunes
- Constant Image by Flasher
- Be The Cowboy by Mitski
- And Nothing Hurt by Spritualised
- Thrush Metal by Stella Donnelly
- Qualm by Helena Hauff
- Iran Iraq IKEA by Les Big Byrd
- Empty Words by Whyte Horses
- Little Dark Age by MGMT
- Possible Dust Clouds by Kristin Hersh
- Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts
Honorable mentions to Quiet Slang, The Beths, Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe, BODEGA, Johnny Marr, The Advisory Circle, TVAM, Bjorn Torske, Beak>, BC Camplight, Snail Mail and The Orielles.
Two stellar reissues this year. The first is the lost John Coltrane album, ‘Both Directions At Once’, which is a wonderful reminder of the genius of one of the jazz greats. The second is A Certain Ratio’s ‘acr:set’, a record of one of the most influential but often forgotten Factory Records acts. One of those bands that set a new path for the future that bands like LCD Soundsystem would seize.
I’m not a big fan of compilations. Far too many feel like they’ve been lazily slapped together to make some cash from existing materials. But this year two stood out as they did what a great compilation should do: take you on a journey. I’d urge you to give Agnes Obel’s ‘Late Night Tales’ a spin at night and when you feel like dancing throw on ‘Life and Death on the New York Dancefloor Vol 1’, put together by Tim Lawrence as an audio celebration of the music from The Garage and The Loft in the 80s NYC and is a great accompaniment to his book of the same name.
They’re eclectic, but they’re all good from the effortless GBV/The Fall cool of BODEGA’s ‘Jack In Titanic’ to the brainworm that is Ravyn Lenae’s ‘Closer (Ode 2 U) to Stella Donnelly’s ‘Mechanical Bull’, the year’s stripped back jaw dropper.
Five stellar shows this year:
LCD Soundsytem/Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hollywood Bowl. Two of the bands that defined my arrival to America on the same bill and at the top of their game. Seeing it from two rows back in the pit was something else.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, LA Forum. Church. That is all. The most magnetic performer with a terrific band. Thank you Jay for making it a ridiculous few days in LA.
BODEGA, The Hemlock. Gutted this place is no more. BODEGA blew the doors off this tiny venue.
Johnny Marr, August Hall and The Fillmore. On the back of his best solo album yet, two cracking shows with the best guitarist of his generation and his crack band. Was luck enough to meet him briefly and he’s a ridiculously nice and generous human being.
NIN, Bill Graham. Great show taken to the next level with two Bowie covers that teared me, and a good chunk of the crowd, up.
More non-fiction than fiction this year, but all terrific reads:
Breaking News by Alan Rusbridger. The story of how The Guardian adapted to the changing media landscape, the mistakes made by them and others and the future (good and bad) for journalism. All told by Alan Rusbridger, one of the great editors.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makai. A heartbreaker about the nature of friendship with two interlinked stories told in alternate chapters. The first is about the impact of AIDS in Chicago in the 1980s on a group of friends. The second is set in modern day Paris and explores the aftermath. An emotionally draining read.
Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz. A lovingly put together history of the band that feels more like one of their albums than a book. There’s playlists, maps, recipes. You can feel the sweat put into every page.
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. The absurdity of life in jail. Some of the most vivid characters created this year.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. The author of Sapiens and Homo Deus turns his mind to some of the most pressing issues facing us as human beings today. Didn’t already agree with it but one of the more thought provoking reads of the year.
Like books, a lot more documentaries this year. The MIA film is brilliant. (Somehow, I think I’ll be adding Spiderverse after I get to see it this afternoon).
Watched less than ever this year, but some great shows. The third episode of Inside №9, the story of a hitman told in reverse, is genius.