Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Best Music Of 2014

Despite constant doom-mongering in the press and amongst music lovers in general, I can't help but think that the business of making music, if not the business of selling it, is in a pretty robust state of health. The sheer quantity and variety of new music has arguably never been greater. True, much of what comes out today owes a debt to music from other eras, but the best new artists take familiar ingredients and cook up something fresh and exciting with them, and so its been since the birth of The Beatles and The Stones. Part of me mourns the days of my early teens when discovering new or unknown music was restricted to digging through a friend's older brother's record collection, scouring the pages of the weekly music papers, or tuning in to Tommy Vance on a Friday night, but nostalgia is a disease that can leave the sufferer in limbo, in a state of musical dementia, grasping at fading memories of the familiar, whilst stumbling confused and oblivious through the here-and-now. My format of choice may be due its telegram from the Queen, but my means of discovering new music is decidedly 21st century. Give me the internet over Melody Maker and Sounds any day of the week!

A friend quizzed me recently on my favourite albums of 2014. Here's what I came up with; a potent mix of youth and experience, including albums that I would never have discovered without a broadband connection and an undiminished hunger to hear something new. In no particular order then...

* David Crosby - Croz
My five year-old saw Crosby on the sleeve and asked if Father Christmas had made an album. If he had, it couldn't be any more magical. How can a man who's been recording since before I was born still produce music of such beauty and vitality?

* The Dowling Poole - Bleak Strategies
I've long been a fan of the curmudgeonly Willie Dowling, from his days fronting The Grip, to playing alongside the Wildhearts' C.J. in Honeycrack, and his under-appreciated efforts knocking out bitter and twisted power pop with Jackdaw 4. Let's hope The Dowling Poole are similarly under-achieving. I'd hate to see how success and contentment might fuck with the man's artistic muse.

* Morgan Delt - Morgan Delt
Song structure is pretty thin on the ground, but as a psychedelic mood piece Morgan Delt's LP is a corker, combining hazy, swirling, effects-saturated drone with Piper At The Gates Of Dawn whimsy and Hawkwind-esque lysergic paranoia. What a trip!

* Rival Sons - Great Western Valkyrie
I'm not sure any artist has a hope of being world-straddlingly huge in a world of Spotify and panicky, rabbit-in-the-headlights record companies unless they are Simon Cowell-marketed, lowest common denominator, disposable, ring tone fodder, but if ever any band looked and sounded capable of defying the odds, it is Rival Sons. Commanding on vinyl, captivating on stage and far too envelope-pushing to warrant that lazy 'retro' tag, in another era Rival Sons would have had Led Zeppelin looking nervously over their collective shoulders.

* AC/DC - Rock Or Bust
There's nothing new here, but then that's never been the point with AC/DC. If it's reinvention you want, bugger off to Bowie. Rock Or Bust gives you more of what you love with song titles sourced from the most limited vocabulary in rock and a selection of choruses that you can't help but shout along to. The real beauty of this album lies in the fact that despite losing Malcolm Young to Alzheimer's, the band sounds like it's having so much fun. Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

* Lionize - Jetpack Soundtrack
Incorporating elements of funk and even dub into their hard rock sound without ever sounding contrived, Jetpack Soundtrack is my entry into a band five albums into their career. Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes make welcome appearances throughout the album, lending warmth and texture to an otherwise very 21st century record. Kind of how Reef might sound with keys, better songs and some of Clutch's attitude.

* Messenger - Illusory Blues
Fronted by the very fella who reunited me with my Jellyfish LP when it went astray, Messenger are a band thoroughly deserving of the plaudits being heaped on them for their folky, melancholic, psych-infused take on progressive rock. Illusory Blues is an album that fans of both Incredible String Band and Wolf People will find many reasons to love.

*Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Many a naysayer, even before they had heard it, poured scorn on this album made up of leftovers from the Division Bell sessions. How churlish and disrespectful to the memory of Richard Wright! This is an album that grows with each listen and its ethereal, meandering quality provides the perfect tribute to the late keyboard player. I prefer it to The Division Bell in many ways, not least because, for the most part, it's instrumental. Never have Roger Waters' acerbic lyrics been so sorely missed as on Floyd's 1994 album. No disrespect to Polly, but Roger's shoes were big ones to fill.

*Bend Sinister - Animals
I discovered Bend Sinister after reading that they had supported Bigelf on their UK tour late last year and had, by all accounts, given the headliners a run for their money. YouTube reveals a band in thrall to Queen, Supertramp and any number of unfashionable Nineteen-Seventies rock bands. Confident lead guitar work, an adept rhythm section and a vocalist whose voice sometimes brings to mind an over-excited Robert Smith, combine with grandiose arrangements built around melodramatic piano cascades, but never at the expense of a killer tune. Imagine what Ben Folds would sound like backed by a proper rock band and rushing his tits off on Haribo and you get the picture. Check out this fantastic footage of the band, in reflective mood, accompanied by the Vancouver Academy of Music Student Orchestra.

* Agusa - Hogtid
Like a game of Chinese whispers I was led to this band by a series of Amazon customer recommendation links. What we have here is superlative progressive rock that recalls Camel and early Wishbone Ash at their most pastoral, laced with Hammond organ, wah-wah guitar, hypnotic elements of raga and Krautrock and an infusion of Scandi folk. I've seen Agusa described as a jam band, but despite being predominantly instrumental, nothing here sounds off the cuff or unrehearsed. Undoubtedly my album of the year.

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