Seven Great Records of 2012

Bobby_MooreI have loafed about this Christmas – reading, drinking, watching films and generally living the life, which has been great, but now I find myself with just a few hours in which to throw this together…

To be honest, it feels like I’ve already done this once already having been asked to nominate five 2012 records for the January Lpgrp session. I managed it with some difficulty (particularly as my Lpgrp line manager made me nominate one to be the best of them all – wild stab…), so seven should be a piece of (Christmas) pudding, eh?

Well, no. Partly because it means I’m only allowed to add two more, and partly because I change my mind as frequently as night follows day. (In fact, I can’t actually remember which one of my five was the top-rater… Just as well…)

Should give a few honourable mentions to records I really liked but didn’t quite make the cut – today’s cut at least… Really liked the best bits of the TOY record, the poppier efforts from Django Django and Alt J, the garage/psych labours of Goat, Pond and the Allah-Las and that hefty ska record from Prince Fatty and Mutant Hi-Fi. Coming up on the rails, Clear Moon by MountEerie has also grown on me an awful lot…

Anyway, here, in no particular order, my Lucky Seven for 2012

 

Bend Beyond – Woods

A real sixties-fest, this, bubblegum-ish vocals, garagey guitars and woozy, effect-laden keyboards. The album’s full of great pop songs and on stage, Woods showed a heartening willingness to “wig out” when given the chance. Great record and great live.

 

 

The Marble Downs – Trembling Bells with Bonny “Prince” Billy

Was loving this album, heaps and heaps, even before their brilliant stop off in Cheltenham… Lots of humour, a fair amount of pathos and a fascinating clash of British and American folk traditions – brass bands wrestling Americana stylings to the ground, even down to the derby/darby pronunciation clash in Ferrari in a Demolition Derby

 

 

Plumb – Field Music

Thrilled to bits to see the fabulous Brewis Boys getting a Mercury nomination, and had even begun to think they might sneak off with the prize themselves (a tad over-optimistic, I know). Still a sparkling record, chaotic, complex, fidgety and damn clever. Somebody on Twitter described Plumb as being like seeing Funkadelic covering the King Crimson back catalogue… [This is a great clip…]

 

 

Young Man in America – Anaïs Mitchell

Another fine record, massively augmented by a couple of very memorable live performances. I can’t remember if this got my Top Vote for lpgrp, but it may well have, and I’ve certainly bought this for a friend this Christmas claiming it‘s the one record of the year he should listen to. Haunting, intelligent and at times crushingly bitter. A magnificent piece of work…

 

 

Lions’ Roar – First Aid Kit

Another glimmering country gem, only this time cooked up on the wild plains of Sweden. Saw First Aid Kit at Green Man a couple of years ago and they were pretty good. One for the future, I remember thinking. I didn’t anticipate a record as strong and as fully formed as this coming out as soon as it has, though. Probably the standout track is “Emmylou” but, again, this is another collection remarkable for a whole range of very strong songs throughout.

 

 

CYRK – Cate Le Bon

Seem to have written quite a lot about Cate Le Bon over the last month or so, most of it incidental, and a slightly luke warm performance at Green Man took the sheen of this for a while. But a couple of days reacquainting myself with this gawky fizzer of a record reminded me what a cracking piece it is. Anyone know who the drummer is on this clip? (I don’t want to know…)

 

 

The Echo Show – Yeti Lane

Haven’t seen this show up on any one else’s lists, but I absolutely love it. Another band who impressed themselves upon me at End of the Road, with a graceful and stylish set on the last night, none of which was lost in this their second record, their first as a duo. Smooth, experimental and somehow very French, it reminded me of Air or Stereolab, but with a bit more oomph and a dash more geekiness.

 

 

There it is, then. Probably should’ve found space for the Gravenhurst record, and probably should’ve listened harder to the new Grizzly Bear and Tame Impala ones, but, hey! Whaddya gonna do, eh?

Lucky Seven – The Joy of Sets

dexys2OK, regular Christmas readers of this organ will remember that it often takes me a while to get into this end of year malarkey, but once I’ve warmed up…

So, anyway, I’m venturing forth and starting with some great gigs I’ve been to this year. I’m always a bit sheepish about recounting my gig tally for the year – usually I can do this on the fingers of both hands, although this year I’ve had to take off my shoes and socks too. (I have buddies who talk about getting close to three figures, think about it…)

That being as it may… here we go, chronologically:.

 

February: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins @ The Fleece, Bristol

My first visit to the Fleece, if I remember rightly, and really enjoyable evening it was too. Hot, pubby, beset with sound problems yet still gentle and intimate. Spent a lot of time following Creosote and his warm, delicate songs, but Hopkins impressed too, sympathetically colouring in around the King’s bold lines. Really nice support spot from Withered Hand too.

Only Living Boy in New York

 

April: Trembling Bells with Bonnie Prince Billy @ Frog & Fiddle, Cheltenham

Possibly my highlight of the year. Oldham was as unconventional as you’d expect, by turns daunting, witty and self-effacing, employing a new and impressive set of quirky gestures and never less than whole-hearted in the delivery of a terrific bag of songs. Trembling Bells were also powerful and more than a little scary, and a storming set was delivered with what can only be described as Gusto.

Every Time I Close my Eyes (We’re back there)

 

June: Anaïs Mitchell & the Young Man Band @ St Bonaventura’s, Bristol

Another massive treat in the warm, DIY surroundings of one of my favourite venues. Performed most of the wonderful Young Man in America record, and a good selection from her earlier stuff, all with affection and intelligence, and was supported expertly by one of the most talented bunch of musicians I’ve seen for ages. And she signed a copy of Hadestown for me.

Saw her later in the year solo in Oxford, which was also brilliant but didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of this gig.

Tailor

 

June: Andrew Bird @ Trinity Centre, Bristol

Another debut venue, and another beautiful evening in Bristol; and if we’re talking expert musicians you’ve got to tip your hat towards Andrew Bird. I’ve never seen a man play the fiddle like this guy, bowing beautifully, then strumming it like a yuke, then back to the bow all within a verse sometimes. Played a good long, occasionally theatrical set and finished it up with an Ol’ Timey clutch of toons. Didn’t know whether to stroke my beard or grin like a loon…

Desperation Breeds

 

July: Wooden Shjips @ The Fleece, Bristol

This was the steamy, roller coaster of an evening you kinda hope for when Ripley Johnson and his awkward crew lumber on stage. You know what you’re going to get with the Shjips, meandering, uncomplicated and repetitive yet somehow fascinating and complex at the same time. The Elevators of the 21st Century… Another evening where the support band, three young lads from Weston called Towns, added to the fun.

Flight

 

August: Dexy’s @ Green Man

So to the festival season.

Despite the rain, there were some fine moments at Green Man as usual –some of them young (TOY, Savages, Field Music), some of them old (Van) and lots of them Welsh (Cate le Bon, H Hawkline, Sen Segur, Pen Pastwn). But the most enjoyable set of the weekend came from the wild-eyed bugger himself. Only managing to get through 5 or 6 numbers in his hour (so gloriously teased-out was each one), Rowlands, and a band that included long-suffering confidante Pete Williams; Mick Talbot and spurned chantoose Madeleine Hyland mugged their way through a hugely pleasing set. Highlights included This Is What She is Like, Lost and a gigantic version of Come On Eileen. Wow!

Lost

 

August: Woods @ End of the Road

There were some even better sets at my End of the Road debut this year too. Honourable mentions should go to Yeti Lane, Gravenhurst, First Aid Kit, TOY (again) and a bedraggled Midlake, but my favourite section of the weekend was Saturday afternoon’s belter from Woods. Their records often major on the slightly fey, slightly geeky tones of Jeremy Earl’s vocals and Woods’ bubblegum sound. On stage. however, the shackles were off and some great garage-y, psychedelic meandering went on. We also heard a lot of stuff which was new then, but which appeared on Autumn’s Bend Beyond.  Happy daze.

Cali in a Cup

A rush of blood to the head like Johnny Ace…

Whoa!

An absolutely splendid evening last night at the Frog & Fiddle inCheltenhamin the magical company of Trembling Bells with Bonnie Prince Billy. A terrific event – one of the best…

I can’t imagine how Richard at Kiss My Face managed to get Will Oldham to come to the intimate surroundings of the Frog & Fiddle in Cheltenham, but a glance around YouTube shows that this must be one of the smallest gigs he’s played for a long time – the previous time I saw him was in the relatively palatial setting of Colston Hall. I remember coming away from that gig thinking that it’d been a fairly detached almost cold performance, and how much better it’d be to see him at a small venue.

Ah. Prescience…

There’s a real spirit of eccentricity about Oldham and Trembling Bells’ joint release, The Marble Downs, and you could really see it in the interplay betweenOldhamand singer Lavinia Blackwall as soon as they set up.

Having made a fairly coy appearance for one song of the acapello warm up of Muldoon’s Picnic, Oldham trooped on for the main set, clad in purple scarf shrouding his face like a boxer, with the ubiquitous baseball cap, a blue blazer, jeans and open toe sandals. I was tickled to see that he’d also painted his finger (and toe) nails black for the occasion. It was also good to see that Oldham has developed a whole new set of physical tics, at times thrusting one stiff-palmed arm aloft, at others gripping his trousers intently. At different points, he also played guitar, kazoo and some sort of melodica.

Launching into the poignant harmonies of Lord Bless All right from the start, they played one of the best sets I’ve seen for absolutely ages, an absolute belter. Blackwall’s voice soared over and underOldham’s harsher tones, sometimes to soulful effect sometimes in raucous good time country and western sing-along’s. It was as if they know they have a great collection of songs and were keen to belt the shit out of them.

Most of the tracks from Marble Downs were represented, and a few songs from the Palace Brothers song book were added. We were also treated to a Merle Haggard cover (The Bottle Let Me Down) from Blackwall and a great version of Scott Walker’s Duchess. Highpoints were the acid exchanges of I Can Tell Your Leaving, and the bittersweet observations of Love is a Velvet Noose.

I’ve recorded the set, but there are a few glitches and a few interventions from over-enthusiastic punters (guilty as charged…). Here are some of the best bits:

I Can Tell You’re Leaving

Duchess

My Husband’s Got No Courage in Him / Riding

New Year’s Eve’s the Loneliest Night of the year

Love is a Velvet Noose

What a treat…