2018 was a bit of a year, really. There was a strong showing in the first few months of the year and it felt like the early albums would be difficult to beat. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy or the fact that, for one reason or another, I wasn’t able to review too many albums in the latter part of the year but the early albums were very difficult to beat. I’m only featuring albums that I reviewed here, so great pieces of work like the magnificent Stone Foundation album “Everybody, Anyone” doesn’t get a mention. Oops, it just did. Anyway, as always in no particular order, here are my five favourite albums of the year.

“Southern Wind” – Dean Owens & Will Kimbrough

I’ve been a fan of Dean Owens since my introduction to “New York Hummingbird” six years ago. Dean’s a consistently great performer whose songs cleverly combine universal themes like love and loss with a particularly Scottish outlook. Over the last few years he’s been increasingly involved in collaborations (with Amy Geddes as Redwood Mountain and the upcoming Buffalo Blood album with Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt) and “Southern Wind” was a joint project with the superb and in-demand guitarist Will Kimbrough. The album is a classic; there’s no filler and lots of killer and you can clearly hear the influence of the wonderful Ronnie Lane, particularly in “Last Song”. I wasn’t going to single any particular song out, so how come that just happened. It’s a meeting in the mid-Atlantic between Leith and Nashville and it’s a Thing of Beauty.

Here’s the original review.

“Psychopastoral” – Phil Burdett

Coincidentally, I first met Phil Burdett on the same night I met Dean for the first time (this stuff isn’t just thrown together, you know) and they’ve both had very different journeys since then. If I had to pick one word for Phil’s attitude to his music, it’s uncompromising, and I mean that in a very, very good way. His back catalogue is all worth checking out, but his latest project “Psychopastoral” is something else. It’s a song cycle which tells the story of the journey home spread out over 24 hours. Sounds simple? This Phil Burdett. The songs are linked by spoken-word interludes and (courtesy of Lyndon ‘Songdog’ Morgan) and musical fragments created mainly by Senor ‘Al’ Franklinos. I know, it sounds like it could be a bit pretentious, as I said, this is Phil Burdett; it works perfectly. And Phil’s gone one step further than Pink Floyd by making the whole project one massive track nearly an hour long to force listeners to hear the project the way it was intended to be heard. Didn’t think I’d ever write a sentence with Phil Burdett and Pink Floyd in it.

Here’s the original review.

“Out from Under” – Michael McDermott

We can link this back to Dean Owens as well, because Will Kimbrough plays on this, as he does on a lot of Michael’s recent material. Told you he was in demand. The title song is big in an E Street Band style and, let’s face it, Michael will always get those Springsteen/Dylan comparisons and for all the right reasons. He’s a superb songwriter who understands the American songbook and its highways and byways and isn’t afraid to take a trip down any one of them. The album shifts seamlessly from the pathos of “This World Will Break Your Heart” to the joyful Motown exuberance of “Rubber Band Ring”. I said back in May that I hadn’t heard a better album this year and I stand by that now.

Here’s the original review.

“Anger Management” – Gerry Spehar

I loved Gerry Spehar’s previous album “I hold Gravity”. He’s a natural songwriter with a gift for a telling image. So just combine that gift with an exploration of the state of modern America following the election of Kurious Oranj. It’s political in less direct ways as well; “Bitch Heaven” digs into the story of Woody Guthrie’s campaign against Trump Senior and the Beach Haven property, while “Son of an Immigrant” double-underlines the blindingly obvious truth that the vast majority of Americans are immigrants if you go back far enough, including the current occupant of the White House. It’s an angry album, but Gerry is managing the anger by diverting it into creative channels. This is an important album and we should all listen to it.

Here’s the original review.

“Out Past the Wires” – Rod Picott

OK, quantity isn’t everything, but Rod Picott defied the current trend for shorter albums and EPs by releasing a double album (twenty-two songs in total). If you have the material and it’s good enough, get it out there. It’s good enough, it’s more than good enough. Will Kimbrough plays on it and also Neilson Hubbard (notice a theme here) but it’s not just about the playing arrangements, it’s also about the stories and that’s what Rod Picott is really good at. In fact, the stories are so important that Rod’s also publishing a book following the lives of some of the characters appearing in the songs and that should really be worth reading.

Here’s the original review.

 

You should have realised by now that I would get the last word on this one.  We’ve had some varied and interesting selections from our regular team and from several guest contributors.  Many thanks for that to Billy Ray Martin, Dean Owens, Lilygun, Skye Edwards and Steve Jenner.  As well as all of the great music we’ve highlighted on MusicRiot, we’ve also seen a great selection of books about music and music-related subjects so, in no particular order, here are my favourites from 2012.

“Going to Sea in a Sieve” – Danny BakerProduct Details

I realise that Danny Baker is a bit like Marmite: he tends to provoke strong reactions.  If you already like Danny Baker, this is a must; his writing style is very conversational and he has some wonderful stories to tell from a career stretching over 40 years in the music and media industries.  The real beauty of the book is that none of the anecdotes seem to be overplayed; if anything, he seems to play down stories of meetings with Elton John, pre-success Queen (which is hilarious) and Michael Jackson.  I’m already looking forward to the next volume.

“Mind the Bollocks” – Johnny SharpProduct Details

There’s a link to the previous book here; both were written by ex-NME writers, but that’s where the similarity ends.  Here, Johnny Sharp (who wrote for the NME as Johnny Cigarettes) skewers pretension, hype and plain drug-induced nonsense in a book that’s absolutely overflowing with schadenfreude.  As a counterbalance to stabbing his former colleagues in the back, he’s not afraid of exposing himself to ridicule where it’s deserved, which adds to the overall credibility of the book.  Interestingly, one of the so-called facts torn apart by Sharp was the article from “The Word” in 2010 claiming that the charts were now dominated by stars who had been privately educated.  It’s ironic that Billy Bragg used this so-called fact in his John Peel lecture for 6 Music recently.

“Pulphead: Dispatches from the Other Side of America” – John Jeremiah SullivanProduct Details

This is a fascinating series of essays which are mainly, but not exclusively, observations on some of the more interesting nooks and crannies of popular music including perceptive pieces on Christian Rock festivals, Michael Jackson and Axl Rose.  Moving away from music, Sullivan discourses on reality TV, how he dealt with his brother almost dying of an electric shock, smoking weed in Disneyland and rogue palaeontologists and anthropologists.  His point of view is always more or less skewed and always entertaining.

“Unknown Pleasures:Inside Joy Division” – Peter HookProduct Details

Having read Hooky’s first volume of memoirs “The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club”, this was always one to add to the library.  Hooky, like Danny Baker, writes in a very conversational style and is incredibly honest about his own mistakes, particularly in the events leading up to the suicide of Ian Curtis.  When he isn’t dealing with tragedy, however, he’s hilarious in a very readable, self-deprecatory style.  I’m already looking forward to the next instalment dealing with New Order.

“Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippy Dream” – Neil YoungProduct Details

OK, I admit it; I’m a Neil Young fan.  I read the Jimmy McDonough biography, “Shakey”, which Young didn’t authorise but didn’t actively obstruct but left it feeling slightly let down, so the idea of an autobiography grabbed my interest from the start.  The experience of reading the book is a bit like a Neil Young guitar solo; you never know where it’s going next, but you know it’s going to be interesting.  He intersperses autobiographical material with enthusiastic promotion of the various technology projects which he’s developing, including the Lionel model railway, the environmentally friendly Lincvolt car and the Pono high quality music player.  In an age of jaded superstars, it’s great to hear someone being enthusiastic about his projects and constantly reiterating his love for family and friends.  You finish this book feeling that you actually know something about Neil Young and that’s the mark of a good biography for me.

All of these books are worth reading if you want to know a little more about what lies behind the music and the headlines from the viewpoint of people who were actually involved.  You might also want to have a look at Carole King’s “Natural Born Woman” and Pat Long’s “The History of The NME”.

Have a great New Year.

Well, we’re coming towards the end of the first MusicRiot High Fives season and we’ve got one last guest contribution.  If you’ve visited MusicRiot at all in the last 6 months, then you might have noticed a few pieces featuring Lilygun; ok, I admit it, you couldn’t miss them if you tried.  The reason why we’ve featured Lilygun so much is really simple; we think they’re a great band.  The album’s great (it’s in my High Five), they’re stunning live and they are a great bunch of people to have a beer with.  And they were happy to share their favourite five albums of the year with us; so here they are, in no particular order.

“MMXII” – Killing JokeProduct Details

“MMXII” is Killing Joke’s fifteenth studio album since the band’s formation in the late 70s, following on from their 2010 release “Absolute Dissent” and sees the original line-up back in action again.  The album is characterised by end-of-days and environmental themes and has been positively reviewed across a wide spectrum of the music press.  “Rapture”, a song about the Killing Joke live experience was available earlier this year as a free download and “In Cythera “ was released as the lead single from the album.

“Choice of Weapon” – The CultProduct Details

The Cult haven’t been around quite as long as Killing Joke, although both bands are usually labelled as post-punk, although they moved in different directions after breaking through with The Cult filling a more mainstream niche.  After claiming in July 2009 that The Cult would never make another album, founder member Ian Astbury announced in January 2011 that the band would be recording a new album.   The lead single from the album “For the Animals” was released in March 2012 via a stream on the Rolling Stone website.

“Lonerism” – Tame ImpalaProduct Details

If you’ve been on another planet for the last six months you might not have heard of Tame Impala; we won’t accept any other excuses.  There’s a very good reason why this album has been all over the NME and 6 Music and everywhere else that celebrates contemporary music; it’s very, very good.  This is the second album (following “Innerspeaker” in 2010) from the  Australian group led by Kevin Parker.  The track “Apocalypse Dreams” was the first single from the album and is the first song to be co-written with band member Jay Watson.

“Bag of Bones” – EuropeProduct Details

I suppose it’s appropriate that in this supposedly apocalyptic year we should have an album released by band responsible for “The Final Countdown”.  This is another band which originated in the late 70s and “Bag of Bones” is the ninth album in a career which began with “Europe” in 1983.  It’s great to see that the album is available in CD and vinyl formats as well as the obligatory download.  If you have any doubts about the credibility of the album, you might be interested to know that there’s a guest appearance from the legendary Joe Bonamassa on the title track.

“Born Villain” – Marilyn MansonProduct Details

This is the first album since Manson ended his deal with Interscope and is released on his own Hell,etc. label.  As always, the album polarises critical opinion but if you’re already a fan, you’ll love it.  If not, then there’s still a chance; it’s an interesting concept (whether villains are born or created by society and whether villains are more interesting than heroes) which is worth exploring.  The singles released so far are “No Reflection” and “Slo-Mo-Tion”.

Thanks to Belle and Anna-Christina for your sharing  your choices with us and many thanks to all of our contributors for helping to put this piece together.  Have a great Christmas everyone.

And last but not least from the Riot Squad, we have John Preston’s Top 5 albums from 2012.  Starting tomorrow, you can find out what some of the artists we’ve reviewed this year have been listening to.  Of course, I’m not going to tell you who’s contributing yet; you’ll have to visit the website over the next couple of weeks for that.

 

Fiona Apple -- “The Idler Wheel…”Product Details

Her best album of 4, Fiona Apple is a true original; a breath taking talent and completely, criminally overlooked in the UK. You can change this; buy this outstanding albeit challenging (worth it though, believe me) CD and show her the respect and love she deserves for continuing to make songs as brave, bare and uncompromising as she has here. You’re not worthy of course and she’d rather spend a weekend with her piano and dog than share a beer with a hipster like you but you won’t find a better singer songwriter to fall head over heels with. Listen to ‘Regret’ and be quietly, hopelessly terrified and then just surrender.

Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra -- “Theatre is Evil”Product Details

Charismatic, tireless, controversial and forever ‘on’; Amanda Palmer’s fan-funded, 16 track opus is a thumping and relentless feel good(ish) blast. The chamber pop strings and piano of “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” has, on the whole, been traded in for massive 80’s synths, rock guitars, thuggish pop choruses and has an energy and vitality that nothing else I’ve listened to this year comes close to matching. This is probably best demonstrated in the garish, hysterical and euphoric “Do It with A Rockstar” video where all of these elements collide beautifully. My go to choice to blow the morning blues away when you’re still half asleep and making your way into work on a rainy Thursday morning; it may be a cliché but play this one LOUD!

Brandy – “Two Eleven”Product Details

In 2004 Brandy released what was probably her most consistent and cohesive album, “Afrodisiac”. Crucially it was also one of the last top notch productions that RnB superstar Timbaland (and Missy Elliott’s musical soul mate) was responsible for before his, and also RnB’s, decline. He went on to produce Miley Cyrus and New Kids on The Block and Mary J Blige was produced by Eurotrance cheese maker RedOne and autotune replaced real vocals. Brandy resisted jumping on this ill-conceived bandwagon and has now returned with a heartfelt, beautifully sung, sleek and modern RnB album. Timbaland isn’t around this time but Frank Ocean and Bangladesh are and they really do provide Brandy with a sound-scape that enables her to fly.  Check out the Lykke Li-sampled, dancehall-incorporating and completely bonkers “Let Me Go” if any further proof is needed. So along with new comers such as Dawn Richard and Solange, things are thankfully moving forward again in a very positive, new direction within the RnB genre.

Lana Del Rey – “Born To Die Paradise Edition”Product Details

When one of the most intriguing and original pop stars of the last ten years debut album didn’t quite deliver the goods as expected in the wake  of her destined to become classic single “Video Games”, the disappointment was palpable. Lana Del Rey has more than redeemed herself however on this re-release featuring 9 (on the ITunes version) new, very high quality songs which ditches some of the kitchen sink production mistakes of the original album and replaces them with a warmer but, importantly,  even more desolate sound. “Ride” demonstrates that vocally and songwise Del Rey is no one-trick pony and possesses enough personality and pathos to carry a big song in a way that her contemporaries may struggle with. America’s new sweet heart.

Rachel Zeffira – “The Deserters”Product Details

Released at the beginning of this month, this is a late comer but without doubt an essential release which you will thank me for tracking down. This is beautiful, ornate and soothing music of the most other-worldly kind and also the most seasonal (as in winter not Christmas) of my picks. Last year I included Cat’s Eyes on my Top 5 and Rachel Zeffira is one half of that duo so it’s nice that this album, which has the DNA of that debut but mixed with something altogether more spectral, has proved that she can stand alone and make an album which sounds unlike anything else I’ve heard this year.