Tag Archives: Albums

2014 – A Personal Summary of the Year in Music

It’s been a strange year, definitely a good one but strange nonetheless. The strange part has been the personal side of it. I gave up my job at the end of 2013 to focus on sorting out my health issues after a lot of stress and anxiety troubles and I’ve worked really hard at that with good results. I’m miles better off now than I was this time last year. I think music plays a big part in the process of getting better. Listening to music I’ve loved for years, discovering new bands and, as a vinyl lover, getting my hands on some amazing records. I only started writing this blog a couple of months ago and that too was a deliberate part of the getting better process, it’s important to have something to concentrate on that you can really enjoy and writing about music / records has been great fun. I’m always amazed people actually read this stuff but they do. Admittedly I’ve not written as much here as I’d have liked because I’ve got involved with a great new music website called Overblown so much of my writing time has been dedicated to that recently. Please do go and check the site out, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Rather than any sort of definitive lists I thought I’d just write through a summary of 2014 and talk about my favourite albums, singles and festivals. It’ll probably be quite long so just read the bits you want to hear about and listen to some of the great music 2014 has brought us.

ALBUMS

Without doubt my favourite and most played album of 2014 was Here and Nowhere Else by Cloud Nothings. It’s a powerful record, just 8 songs and half an hour long but it never drops in intensity for a second. It’s loud, seriously loud, with layer over layer of distorted guitar and one of the most impressive screaming vocal performances I’ve heard in years. Just when you think it can’t rock any harder it does. Every second of this album is brilliant.

Somewhat predictably I loved the new bis album Data Panik etc which was released on gorgeous white vinyl for Record Store Day. The songs themselves weren’t new but they were unreleased and they’re so much fun. I’ve never come across another band anywhere that packs so much enthusiasm into their songwriting. Can’t wait to see them play again in early 2015.

I loved the chill and classic songwriting of Atlas by Real Estate along with the beautiful packaging from Domino. A really pleasant surprise was the return of Mary Timony with her new band Ex Hex and their fantastic debut album Rips, it’s so much fun. I surprised myself by loving Too True by Dum Dum Girls, at first listen I had pretty much dismissed this album but it’s pop somehow stuck in my brain and it’s been played many times now. Lost in the Dream by War on Drugs is seriously impressive and provided more great packaging, this time from Secretly Canadian.

I loved the rock of Annabelle Dream Reader, the debut album from The Wytches. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart‘s Abandon Days was a great indie pop record. The screaming punk of Say Yes to Love by Perfect Pussy was a highlight and in Meredith Graves they have the most amazing performer, her blog writings and interviews are always worth paying extra attention to. Other favourites are Glasgow’s own Paws Youth Culture Forever and the debut from HoneybloodParquet Courts Sunbathing Animal, Teeth Dreams by the Hold Steady and Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen. I’ve probably missed a few and there’ll be many others I haven’t got round to buying yet but hey, I can’t cover everything on my own…

SINGLES & EPs

I’ve bought so many great singles this year and heard so many others that it’s hard to know where to start. My opinion could change tomorrow but I’ll start with what feels like my favourite right at this moment.

‘Gustave’ by Post War Glamour Girls was released as part of the Too Pure monthly singles club. Lovely artwork, sweet coloured vinyl and a corking song. Quite different to what I’d usually listen to (I think) but this is a spectacularly good single. It’s the blistering vocal delivery that drew me in, imaginative storytelling lyrics and a great bass sound. Excellent.

Many of my favourite singles have already been written about on this blog so go have a look around for more in-depth thoughts. Joanna Gruesome released a couple of great singles but the biggest thrill from them came in discovering  the excellent Tyrannosaurus Dead and Trust Fund who they shared records with. I’m sure I’ll love the split Joanna Gruesome / Perfect Pussy single but as of writing I’m still waiting for it to drop through the letterbox.

Speedy Ortiz released the Real Hair EP, four great new songs, particularly ‘American Horror’. Mazzy Star did what Mazzy Star does best with the beautiful Record Store Day single ‘I’m Less Here’. The For the Feel 7″ by Bleached was a punk pop blast. Girl Band released a couple of great singles in ‘Lawman’ and ‘De Bom Bom’. They’re just signed to Rough Trade so it’ll be great to hear what they do next. I absolutely love The Death Set, what an incredible racket they make and they delivered the goods with their King Babies EP early this year. The charming indie pop of Deers made a great single with ‘Castigadas En El Garnero’. Menace Beach display endless promise on their Lowtalker EP and ‘Tennis Court’ 7″. Another great Record Store Day (that was clearly a good day) purchase was the Brightside 7″ by the Julie Ruin. Again, I’m only scratching the surface but suffice to say it was a great year for singles.

 

FESTIVALS

It’s May, it’s Barcelona, it must be the annual pilgrimage to Primavera Sound. This years PS was definitely one of the best yet. It’s an amazing festival. Every year without fail they have the best line up. It’s always a great mix of bands I already love, bands I’m already interested in and dozens of other bands to go and discover. It’s an endurance test trying to squeeze as many shows as possible in but it’s so worth it.

This year we saw Arcade Fire, Buzzcocks, Cloud Nothings, Real Estate, Girl Band, Dum Dum Girls, The National, Neutral Milk Hotel, Speedy Ortiz, Courtney Barnett, Twilight Sad, Helen Love, The Pixies, Queens of the Stone Age and  Slowdive among others. There are loads of bands I’m gutted I missed but it’s impossible to catch everything. Just about ever set we watched was excellent but my personal highlight was dancing like mad to Helen Love‘s crazy pogo punk set. Her crowd were so happy and friendly and completely determined to have a brilliant time. Tickets are already bought for PS 15.

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From massive to absolutely tiny. The Iona Village Hall Music Festival was one of those perfect summer weekends. Iona is a tiny island off the west coast of Mull and this festival was put together by Idlewild (Roddy lives on Iona) and featured many Idlewild related artists as well as some guests such as King Creosote and Alexi Murdoch. It’s the most beautiful setting, amazing beaches, wild landscapes and  two ferries just to get there. Add in friends (old and new), sunshine, drinks and great music and you can imagine the rest. The music was great. An acoustic set from Idlewild is always lovely (I’ve seen a lot of them) but my personal highlight was a great set in the village hall from the elusive Alexi Murdoch whose bittersweet personal music is perfect in this setting. If you’re unfamiliar start with his soundtrack to the film Away We Go. The weekend finished off with a ceilidh. The pitch black stagger back to the campsite through all the sheep was pretty unforgettable. We didn’t want to leave Iona. No idea if this festival will be a one off but hopefully not, we’d love to do it all over again.

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Third and last festival of this year was Beacons near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales. Kimberly and I need very little excuse for a fancy dress party so off we went with tents and penguin costumes in tow (Fancy dress theme was Empires and yes, we thought we were clever). We were attracted to Beacons because of it’s great line up for guitar bands, most of whom we’d already seen this year but we can’t get enough. Beacons has a seriously impressive electronic / dance line up too if that’s more your thing.

The festival was great fun. It’s a lovely setting, a nice size and there’s loads of arty tents, stalls, great food and stuff happening all the time. A hilarious dance-off kick started the fun, some dancers were seriously impressive, some seriously funny but the star of the show was the toddler who wandered into the action and tried to copy everyone’s moves.

Music wise we saw great sets from Post War Glamour Girls, Menace Beach, Girl Band, Speedy Ortiz, Daughter, The Wytches, Metz, Cheatahs, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, DZ Deathrays, Action Bronson and Joanna Gruesome. We danced to Optimo (yeah, all the way from Glasgow to dance in a field to Optimo), hung out in the Belgrave Tent, drank a lot of Kopperberg and generally had a brilliant time. We somehow managed to miss Hookworms and Eagulls. Oh well. Horrendous weather on the final day meant we headed home a bit earlier than planned but it didn’t spoil the weekend.  Hopefully Beacons can come up with another killer line-up in 2015.

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And Moving On…

2015 is already shaping up very nicely. January will get off to a great start as we’re off to see bis in Glasgow and Leeds. Other gigs already lined up include Ex Hex, Idlewild and Sleater-Kinney. I’m particularly excited about seeing Sleater-Kinney again and can’t wait to hear their new album. The two songs they’ve shared so far are as brilliant as you’d expect. There’s a lot of new music to look forward to. Menace Beach release their debut album, Trust Fund sound very exciting and their album is out in February. I’m hoping there’ll be new stuff from Metz, Speedy Ortiz and Deers amongst many many others. Kimberly and I will be in Barcelona for Primavera Sound again (The Strokes and Ride already announced) and hopefully we’ll be able to fit one or two other festivals in as well. We’ll just wait and see where the mood takes us.

What is guaranteed is that I’ll be buying plenty more records and writing about them here and hopefully I’ll keep on writing for Overblown too, it’ll be fun to see that site grow as we get more and more great content on there.

Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone. Happy listening!!

 

 

Sleater-Kinney – Start Together 1994 – 2006 Box Set

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I remember reading an article in one of the UK’s music weeklies or monthlies back in 1997  or 98 about what was going on in the U.S. alternative music scene. Sleater-Kinney’s third album Dig Me Out had just been released and the article exclaimed that we just needed to sit back and wait for endless more bands to appear having been inspired by this record. Such bombastic praise is perhaps not particularly unusual within music journalism but in this case it was correct. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Sleater-Kinney is that they went on to repeat this across several more albums, the quality of their output hardly ever wavering right up to their final album The Woods.

A year or so later I saw them play at King Tuts in Glasgow as part of the Dig Me Out tour. The band I played in at the time were opening for them on a bill that also included The Yummy Fur (Oh my god were we excited..) and they were equally breathtaking live as they were on record. This gig was busy, but not exactly packed out. The critical acclaim around the band at this time had not yet translated to record sales and bigger venues than clubs but that was to come over the following years. Dig Me Out and the introduction of Janet Weiss on drums seemed like the major kick-starter for that process.

The rate of development from their 1995 debut Sleater-Kinney and 1996’s Call the Doctor to Dig Me Out is incredible and it all happened across such a short space of time. Ok we’re not quite at Guided by Voices levels of productivity here but the songwriting partnership between Corrin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein provided so much quality in so short a space of time.

After Dig Me Out the standard didn’t drop for a second. The three albums that followed, 1999’s The Hot Rock, 2000’s All Hands on the Bad One and 2002’s One Beat were all fairly similar in nature, sometimes a little more subdued (the Hot Rock), sometimes a little more noisy (All Hands on the Bad One) and perhaps slightly more angry than usual (One Beat). Never any less brilliant. It was only 2005’s The Woods, the bands’ final album at the time and rooted in classic rock, that made any significant departure from their most recognised style. By this time Sleater-Kinney’s popularity had grown considerably over the years. We’re not talking Pearl Jam levels of fame here but certainly a major departure from their Olympia Riot Grrrl roots. Then it all stopped. Their unwavering presence across 12 years would come to an end in 2006 and many hearts would be broken. Until now of course as excitement builds towards the bands 2015 return.

My personal favourite Sleater Kinney album? Usually depends which one I’ve just listened to although I think it’s fair to say I go back to Dig Me Out slightly more than the others. Every song on that album is memorable, no more so than the devastatingly sad One More Hour.

Now for the geeky part. The Start Together box set is a large slice of heaven for vinyl lovers. Sub Pop love to produce a special edition or two, a “Loser” edition as they lovingly refer to these things. The contents of this box are beautiful and the perfect tribute to Sleater-Kinney and their career thus far.

Front Cover of the Photo Book
Front Cover of the Photo Book

Vinyl aside there is a fabulous hard-back photo book crammed full of previously unseen pictures of the band. It’s all presented in chronological order with photos representing the times and tours for each album. There’s also a nice foreword from each of the band members. It’s a great pictorial history of the band in a format that works far better than any online gallery ever could.

The box also came with a white vinyl 7″ single featuring Bury Our Friends from their forthcoming album No Cities to Love. I’ve written about this elsewhere in this blog so I’ll not write any more here.

As for the seven albums, each is produced on a different coloured clear vinyl with a marbled effect. Each comes with an inner lyric sleeve as well. The One Beat LP also includes a poster of the photo from the front cover of the box set. The Woods is a gatefold cover, double green vinyl with music on 3 sides.

The box set isn’t a complete musical history of the band. Sleater-Kinney did release other songs on various singles and compilations. A particular favourite of mine is a split 7″ with Cypher in the Snow as part of the Free to Fight singles series on Candy-Ass Records.

Free to Fight #1 7"
Free to Fight #1 7″

Overall Sub Pop have clearly put a lot of love into this collection. Fans of the band who also love their vinyl will treasure this collection forever.

Next on the want-list will be the Loser edition of the new album, out in Jan on Sub Pop of course!

  • Label – Sub Pop
  • Released Monday 20th October (UK)
  • Format – Limited Edition of 3,000 box sets containing 7 x LP albums on various coloured vinyl + Book + Art Print + 7″ single on white vinyl (one side etched – 500 random copies of this 7″ were signed by the band)
  • Note – After the initial 3,000 boxes sold out the set is being reissued with each LP on black vinyl. Each remastered album has also been released individually on black vinyl