31 December 2014

Albums Of The Year: 2014

Taylor Swift 1989 2014 Albums of the year

It's the last day of the year and everywhere I turn people are doing end of year lists, so I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and use this as an opportunity to list my top 10 albums of 2014.

This year as been a strange one in terms of buying new music. Most of it has been spent saving what money I could for a house move, meaning I had to ban myself from buying as much records as I usually would. It was tough. Even so, I still picked up bits and pieces here and there, just not as much as I would have done previously. Although there are still many records from this year that I still need to check out or spend a bit more time with.

In alphabetical order these are the albums of 2014 that have brought the most joy and comfort to my tired ears:

Alvvays - Alvvays
Strong melodies, twanging, breezy reverb-saturated guitars. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed an indie-rock record as much as this. Just an utter pleasure from start to finish including a couple of stone-cold belters including Archie, Marry Me.

Beck - Morning Phase
I've always preferred the more downbeat, mellow Beck to the funky wannabe-Prince version and this album delivered that by the bucketful. With his Dad providing string arrangements and the Seachange-era band backing him, Beck put together an album that sounded hopeful while still shaded by a nagging sense of melancholy. Beautiful and my go to Sunday morning record. 

Camera - Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide
Their first album has been one of my favourite records of recent years and even though this follow-up is slightly more 'out there' and experimental than that first LP and doesn't quite match their debut, Camera are still one of the better modern-day Kratrock bands, and Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide still had enough going on to warrant repeated listens.

East India Youth - Total Strife Forever
Gentle, home-brewed electronica that mixed both instrumental tracks and songs with vocals and felt like being wrapped up in bed under a warm duvet on a cold winter's morning.

Ex-Easter Island Head - Large Electric Ensemble
The beginning of 2014 went by in a blur due to a lot of work-based travelling that saw me taking long-haul flights to Japan (twice), South Korea and Hong Kong for the first three months of the year. It was exhausting and made me a bit ill and spaced-out, but during that time I had this record on my iPod and it felt like much-needed nourishment for my soul every time I put it on. 

Future Islands - Singles
Yes, it was that Letterman performance that brought them to my attention. I didn't initially feel what this album was about, but after spending sometime with it, most notably on airplanes and in various departure lounges (this year's theme), something about being in those transient situations finally made this record click with me. There's much to explore within the emotional depths that this record reaches.

Hookworms - The Hum
I've seen this band graduate from the UK's underground music scene and start to make a noise on a wider national scale over the past four years, and their second album cemented their reputation as one of the country's greatest guitar bands.

Kogumaza - Kолокол LP
Another great UK guitar band and every time I listen to them I discover something else hidden in their music, a new texture or sound, like their songs are living, evolving organic entities. This album mixed speaker shuddering riffs, atmosphere, and volume to startling effect.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pika Pika Fantajin
Not a J-Pop fan really but I was introduced to the strange, twisted world of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu on a work visit earlier in the year and haven't stopped listening to her or watching her gloriously oddball music videos - a place where she thrives. This album is unlike anything else I've heard this year, a full-on assault of pop that's slickly crafted and exists in its own world. 

Mark Kozelek - Sings Christmas Carols

Sun Kil Moon's Benji has been winning the plaudits this year, but this is the Mark Kozelek record that I've enjoyed the most. It shouldn't work, but his straight-faced, stripped back covers of well known Christmas hits and standards is perfect festive listening. Will become a festive go-to album for years to come. 

Neil Young - A Letter Home

Another album that on paper shouldn't work, yet it somehow transcends its basic ingredients. Recorded at Jack White's Third Man Studios direct to vinyl in an antique recording booth, the sound may be shaky and lo-fi, but the well-chosen covers and dedications to his mum make this a sentimental journey that isn't sickly and sweet, but full of romance and charm.

Sleaford Mods - Divide And Exit
An old fashioned tale of a band working hard for year before finally getting the break they deserve. A resolutely DIY outfit, from the record label through to recording and touring, Jason Williamson's barbed, spiked lyrics have clearly hit and nerve with a public desperate for someone to speak up and tell it how it is. Divide and Exit's gritty realism was just that.

Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments To An Elegy
The Smashing Pumpkins reunion has been patchy to say the least and even if it doesn't compare to past glories, Billy Corgan can still write a tune when he buckles down. Monuments To An Elegy is packed full of tunes that it came as a bit of a shock after the proggy, meandering Oceania. For Pumpkins standards, the 9 song MTAE was a concise, short shock of modern alt rock that tipped a hat to new wave of the early 80s. The tunes were back too.

Taylor Swift - 1989
It's easy to be sniffy about pop music, especially when the charts and radio stations are pumped full of flim-flam, but once in a while an album and artist will come along that transcends genres and becomes part of the cultural furniture. Think Madonna and Michael Jackson at their peak. Taylor Swift became a cultural icon with 1989, an album packed full of super smart songwriting, hooks and beats that even though it was released in 2014 it will be the sound of 2015 and beyond. 

Ty Segal - Manipulator
A double LP of garage rock that struck the right balance between fuzzed-out guitars and melody showing that Ty Segal is a modern day songwriter of some magnitude.

The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream
I loved Slave Ambient so much that I was scared of listening to this new War On Drugs record in-case it ruined my opinion of the band. Fortunately, it built upon the sound of that last album and took the band even further down the spaced-out Tom Petty vibe road. A faultless mix of shimmering guitars and Americana.

While we are on the subject of end-of-year round ups, I put together this article for LeftLion called Top of the Notts 2014 - a run through 20 favourite Nottingham-related releases of the year.
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26 December 2014

The Cure - Hammersmith Apollo (21 December 2014)

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The merchandise adorned with an image of a spinning top should have given it away, but even that couldn’t prepare us for what a special night The Cure’s first of a three night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo would be.

Seeing The Cure in relatively ‘intimate’ surroundings was a refreshing change from the larger shows that they most often find themselves playing. I’ve seen them at outdoor festivals, the Royal Albert Hall, and at Wembley Arena - they were all great shows and spectacles, but nothing quite like tonight’s performance. Playing in this theatre to a majority hardcore Cure fan contingent really seemed to focus the band’s sound and they look and felt energised – Robert was playful, Simon was throwing shapes, and the whole band looked more relaxed than I’ve ever seen them before and it made for a stunning show. For all of the image of The Cure – big hair, eyeliner, black clothes – you can easily forget that lurking behind all that is a powerful rock band who have been harnessing their sound for over 35 years.

A photo posted by Pawl K (@heypawl) on

If tonight The Cure sounded invigorated, so was their setlist. Away from festival headline slots, the band took the opportunity at this ‘Christmas show’ to dig deep and reunite themselves and their audience with some long forgotten treasures. Over a mammoth 40 song set what what we were essentially treated to was a 30th Anniversary Show for The Top.

Throughout the three hour long show, starting with the claustrophobic swirl of Shake Dog Shake, the band played all of 1984’s The Top, not in order but with tracks from the album scattered throughout the set, something the band probably hasn’t done since the album was released. Robert Smith had promised surprises during this run of shows, but I don’t think the sold out Hammersmith Apollo crowd has been expecting something quite like this.

A photo posted by Pawl K (@heypawl) on

The songs from The Top sounded mighty as well, you would never have thought that many of the songs hadn’t been regularly performed. The album is an under-appreciated, and due to being largely ignored by the band in recent years, largely long-forgotten part of The Cure’s back catalogue. But the band did it justice, and in this setting it sounded full blooded, striking the right balance between the murky psychedelia, oddball weirdness and oppressive playfulness that runs throughout the songs. All in all the vibe was the right kind of heavy.

The Cure have mentioned doing a third set of Trilogy shows involving The Top, Head on the Door and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. These not-yet-announced trilogy shows must be in the back of the band’s mind as they play these Hammersmith Apollo dates. While we were treated to The Top in its entirety, the band also dusted off a couple of Head On The Door-era gems in the shape of Kyoto Song and the B-side A Man Inside My Mouth, with the Kiss Me… pick being a dusting-off of Like Cockatoos, which fitted in perfectly alongside the strangeness of The Top tracks.

A photo posted by Pawl K (@heypawl) on

Keeping in mind that not everyone in attendance will be a hardcore Cure fan, the remainder of the main set tread a familiar path of hits, although played with renewed vigour; while the inclusion of Before Three was a personal highlight – a gorgeous song from the 2004 Ross Robinson produced The Cure LP.

After playing for two hours the band left the stage to return for four sets of encores that lasted well over an hour and felt like another show. The encores mainly focussed on The Cure’s early post-punk / pre-Pornography output. Charlotte Sometimes and M were pleasing inclusions, while the remaining The Top songs that featured were the first performance of The Empty World since 1984, Dressing Up, and Piggy In The Mirror (not played since ’97). The final set of encores made sure the night ended on an upbeat note as the band ran through some of their more poppy numbers ending on a blazing Hey You with its apt refrain of “Your the one that looks like Christmas”.

A photo posted by Pawl K (@heypawl) on
As ever, Chain Of Flowers has a decent roundup of the show.

Setlist: The Cure, Eventim Apollo, London, UK, 12/21/14

1. “Shake Dog Shake”

2. “Kyoto Song”

3. “A Night Like This”

4. “alt.end”

5. “Wailing Wall” (First time since 1984)

6. “Bananafishbones”

7. “The Caterpillar”

8. “The Walk”

9. “A Man Inside My Mouth” (Live debut)

10. Close to Me”

11. Lullaby”

12. “High”

13. “Birdmad Girl”

14. “Just Like Heaven”

15. “Pictures of You”

16. “Before Three”

17. “Lovesong”

18. “Like Cockatoos” (First time since 2004)

19. “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”

20. “Want”

21. “The Hungry Ghost”

22. “One Hundred Years”

23. “Give Me It”

24. “The Empty World” (First time since 1984)

25. “Charlotte Sometimes”

26. “Primary”

27. “The Top”
Encore 2:

28. “Dressing Up”

29. “Piggy in the Mirror” (First time since 1997)

30. “Never Enough”

31. “Wrong Number”
Encore 3:

32. “Three Imaginary Boys”

33. “M”

34. “Play for Today”

35. “A Forest”
Encore 4:

36. “The Lovecats”

37. “Let’s Go to Bed”

38. “Why Can’t I Be You?”

39. “Boys Don’t Cry”

40. “Hey You!” (First time since 2004)
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17 December 2014

Grey Hairs - The Nottingham Christmas Covers Party 2014 (Full Performance)

Grey Hairs' set at The 13th Annual Nottingham Christmas Covers Party at The Bodega on Saturday 13 December 2014. 

They played: 
Dr Feelgood - She Does It Right
The Nerves - Hanging On The Telephone
Public Image Ltd - Public Image
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner

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7 December 2014

LeftLion Update

It's been a couple of months since my last update concerning LeftLion, so I thought that it was about time for another. I also want to keep this blog semi-regularly updated, even if it's with small updates like this while I think of something more interesting and worthwhile to post about. 

LeftLion Magazine Issue #61 Front Cover
The biggest news concerning LeftLion since my previous post is that following a successful Kickstarter campaign the magazine has now gone monthly. 

The first of the monthly magazines was issue #61. One of the best things about working on LeftLion is the opportunity to work with people I really admire and respect and this was the case when I asked Kagoule to take part in our 'photo interview' feature In Focus. This issue also included one of my favourite interviews that I've done for a long time. I often find interviews to be a frustrating experience, because if I haven't met the subject before it can take a while to warm-up and get a rapport going, which is when both parties relax and the conversation really starts flowing. Although in the limited time you often have to sit down and chat this doesn't always happen, meaning answers can be stunted and the person doesn't necessarily give you as good a response as you hoped or know you can get from them. This definitely wasn't the case when I met up with Nightbreed's Trevor Bamford in a pub on Mansfied Road. He spoke with the clarity and intelligence of someone who is passionate about the goth scene. I'm pleased with how my feature with him came out. We changed-up the music reviews section by trimming down the number of reviews to 8 from the previous number of 12 and introducing a longer 'featured' review, which in this issue was No Romeo by Indiana. I reviewed The Boot EP by Cappo, one of the best Notts hip hop releases for a long time. 

Issue #62 was the first monthly monthly magazine and for personal reasons - moving house and being overseas with work - I didn't do much writing for this issue although I was still involved with the usual admin and sorting things, but definitely not as active as I usually would be. Despite that I still had time to pitch in with the music reviews and gave my thoughts on the recent release by Trekkah

Away from the magazine, on the website I reviewed the first of two nights Sleaford Mods did at Spanky Van Dykes. I hadn't written many gig reviews recently before doing this one because I was getting tired of doing them and felt that I was repeating myself. I think the break did me some good as I approached this one with a clean slate and felt like I captured the spirit of the night and the band well, and it helped me re-think how to approach covering live shows. It's not often I can say this, but I feel pretty pleased with how it came out. I saw Owls and Fists at The Maze. Did a Q&A with the Berlin-based band Camera to help promote a show of theirs I was putting on at The Chameleon. The Sound of the Lion #30 podcast features tracks from the music reviewed in issue #61. Website Q&As are a good opportunity to cover an artist who may not seem 'typical' LeftLion material or isn't quite suitable for the magazine, which is why I enjoyed putting some questions to pop starlet Bianca and Seckou Keita. After a four year break the multi-venue charity music festival Hockley Hustle returned at the end of October and I was on hand to cover it. To accompany my Nightbreed article I collaborated with them to put together a Sound of the Lion: Goth Special that features songs from the Nottingham goth scene past and present. Natalie Duncan is an exceptional talent so it was a pleasure to ask her some questions and then go to Nottingham Contemporary to cover her epic night of collaboration with various Nottingham artists. One of my favourite new-ish acts in the city is Keto who, even though she has been performing around the city for a couple of years now, I have only shamefully been aware of, but I started to make amends by featuring her on the website. Finally, Sound of the Lion #31 has a song from each of the releases reviewed in issue #62. 
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