I was alerted to the work of John Grant by way of BBC6music playlisting the title track from his ‘Queen of Denmark’ record, and was further drawn in through learning of the support of members of Midlake as his backing band.
I’ve written previously on this and other blogs of the regard in which I hold John Grant, especially live, so will try and keep it brief here. He is though, an extraordinary artist and performer – a tall, broad and striking creature, with even greater voice, all of which belies a being that is seemingly at all times shy and even insecure – which for the listener adds up to a peculiar mixture of charming, sad and awe-inspiring.
Enough of the superlatives (well, nearly)…QoD is a brilliant, heartbreaking, record – musically and lyrically. Any of the tracks could get a special mention, my favourite however is ‘Sigourney Weaver’…and this version is pretty special…
Also from 2010: The National’s ‘High Violet’ (replete with ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ – another contender for best song this century) and the self-titled debut from androgynous psych Japanese krautrockers Bo Ningen.
A very honourable mention too for The Megaphonic Thrift’s ‘1000 years of deconstruction’ ep and ‘Decay Decoy’ lp…which I discovered a little bizarrely after witnessing the Norwegian psychey noise pop group as support for a country gig at the Borderline. I fell in love with them there and then.
Fucked Up’s ‘David Comes To Life’ is an incredible piece of work.
I first became aware of the Canadian (post-?) hardcore outfit during a chance encounter at Reading Festival and picked up the album soon after. It really is like nothing else I’ve experienced…a concept album-cum-rock opera focusing upon a love story amidst the society of Thatcherite 70s and 80s Britain. Make of that what you will.
The record is inherently hardcore punk but as with much of the band’s work, woven throughout are wonderful melodies and musicality, with supporting vocals from Kurt Vile, Jennifer Castle and Cults’ Madeline Follin – all of which juxtapose brilliantly against Damien Abraham’s unstoppable roar.
‘Queen of Hearts’ is just immense, and this video is equally brilliant…
A very good year otherwise as well, with other magnificent releases including Cliff Martinez’ outstanding soundtrack to Nicolas Winding-Refn’s ‘Drive’, Joy Formidable’s ‘The Big Roar’, Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Gentle Spirit’ and Mogwai’s ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’.
Another Reading Festival discovery, followed a week later by an even better performance at End of the Road.
Toy’s self-titled debut is a brilliantly assured piece of psychey shoegaze from an unnervingly young and talented band – elevated above the recent spate of (still mostly great) ‘nu-gaze’ guitar-driven bands with the addition of a swirling wash of keys and synths from Alejandra Diaz. It is, to coin an oft over-used phrase of mine, a fucking lovely noise – evidenced by the magnificent ‘Kopter’…
A diverse and brilliant mixture for 2012’s other notable releases: more 70s desert prog with Howlin Rain’s ‘The Russian Wilds’, a full album of wonderful noise with The Megaphonic Thrift’s ‘The Megaphonic Thrift’, Paisley Underground via Mexican desert storytelling from Dan Stuart’s ‘The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings’ and Eat Lights, Become Lights’ ‘Heavy Electrics’ – which very much does what it says on the tin. Relentlessly.
2013’s best album, discovered by me on the Thursday night of EOTR 2014…Ezra Furman’s ‘Day of the Dog’…
We walked out of the Tipi tent following Ezra’s ‘secret set’ with broad smiles…my immediate (100% positive) assessment of what I had seen “a young man imbued with the soul of a 50yo Lisa Simpson, backed by the E-Street Band, singing Velvet Underground songs”. And I stand by that.
The album is full of stories and sadness and tenderness and humour and charm and love. Furman is a great talent, deserving of what I am convinced will be a great career.
Herewith my favourite song of 2015: ‘And maybe God is a train’…
More from 2013: Fidlar’s self-titled debut, Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Fanfare’ and Kiran Leonard’s extraordinary ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ (keep an eye on this one…alongside Ezra…so talented it is not funny).
Gruff Rhys’ ‘American Interior’ is one of the greatest pieces of art this century…which ever medium you choose…book, film, album or live telling. It confirms as well Rhys’ position as an absolute genius of this music generation, if further proof were indeed needed.
The work follows Gruff’s retracing of farm boy John Evans’ American adventures in the 1700s…who sought to prove the hypothesis that North America had been discovered by a Welsh tribe hundreds of years before Columbus. Such is the scale of the work, to say much more would constitute spoilers to what I recommend is an experience everyone reading this should seek out…especially if you get the opportunity live…although ‘100 unread messages’ does précis the whole thing quite well, and I defy you not to dance to it…
Some other very definite favourites from 2014: Mogwai’s ‘Rave Tapes’, Teleman’s ‘Breakfast’ and Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s ‘Days of Abandon’.
So there we go. The end. For anyone who has made it this far thank you for indulging me – I hope at least some of it has been of interest and that you may have discovered something new that you love too.
It has been a challenging and thoroughly interesting exercise and I think after a number of reviews I pretty much stand by the choices. By its nature, the least objective piece of music writing I’ll probably ever manage (at least for another ten years or so when maybe I’ll make it up to sixty) which I hope along with the excessive hyperbole can be tolerated if not excused. It is affirmation all the same though of so much that I love about music.
I am also well aware the whole fifty years’ worth needs a bloody good edit.
To sign off…a very appropriate line I read from Lauren Laverne just this evening…
“Music is a banquet…THE WHOLE THING IS A GLORIOUS FANTASY”
…and long may that continue.