Power Trip – Nightmare Logic Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
The Menzingers – After The Party
Creeper – Eternity, In Your Arms
Grave Pleasures – Motherblood
Ghost – Ceremony and Devotion
The Bronx – V
Stray From The Path – Only Death Is Real
Code Orange – Forever
Havok – Conformicide
Kreator – Gods of Violence
Employed To Serve – The Warmth of a Dying Sun
Hyborian – Vol. 1
Royal Thunder – Wick
Beastmaker – Inside The Skull
Body Count – Bloodlust
Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage
The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Chris Stapleton – From a Room (Vol. 1)
Greta Van Fleet – From The Fires
Power Trip – Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)
Metallica at the Genting Arena, Birmingham
Ghost at the Great Hall, Cardiff University
Guns N’ Roses at London Stadium
Skindred at Bloodstock Festival
Gojira, Code Orange, Car Bomb at the O2 Academy Bristol
Grave Pleasures at the Exchange, Bristol
Venom Prison at Thekla, Bristol
Stray From The Path at the Globe, Cardiff
Creeper at the Tramshed, Cardiff
Avenged Sevenfold at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
New Black Moth
Trivium, Code Orange, Power Trip and Venom Prison live
New Monster Magnet
New Machine Head
Machine Head live
New Judas Priest
Judas Priest at Bloodstock
GNR at Download
Ozzy at Download
Blazing sunshine at Steelhouse
Roger Waters live
New Orange Goblin
New Mammoth Grinder
New Black Moth
League Of Gentlemen
Walking With Dinosaurs
Bluebirds in the Premiership
Hello. My favourite thing about end of year lists is finding stuff that I missed out on the first time around. In that spirit, here’s a massive stack of records I enjoyed this year (and some wibble that I wrote about some of them) in no particular order.
I hope that this time next year my list will consist of a single album by Dillinger Four.
As I reminisce on the gigs I’ve been to throughout the year, a sudden realisation washes over me after a painful, head-scratching 10 minutes. Disappointingly, I can only count a meagre seven, in addition to two day-long festivals and one weekend festival. That’s a hugely unsatisfactory effort on my part, and I blame this entirely on being forced to spend my final uni days moping around a library, struggling through essays on existentialism and a dissertation on music and mental health (well, should’ve been – I actually spent most of my final year bingeing on Fargo and pretending Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was “research”). For this reason, alongside the fact that Exeter’s Cavern had been largely destroyed in a fire, I didn’t go to anywhere near as many as I wanted to. The shameful list of shows I actually attended in 2017 goes as follows, in chronological order:
Fickle Friends @ Exeter Phoenix (Attended at the suggestion of a friend. Even after several G&Ts, it was distinctly average, with the weirdest support act I have ever laid eyes on.)
Bear’s Den @ Exeter Lemon Grove (Amazing.)
Redfaces @ Exeter Phoenix (My band were the support act. They’re actually getting pretty big now, and all of them were absolutely lovely. My four friends were the only audience members.)
Laura Marling @ Exeter Lemon Grove (Last minute press pass. Beautiful.)
Exefest @ Exeter University (Cascada, The Hoosiers, Wheatus… we left promptly after Example started a DJ set.)
Poltimore Festival @ Poltimore House (An adorable local grassroots festival that gets bigger and better every year – Matthew and The Atlas headlined.)
Isle of Wight Festival (Attended solely for Arcade Fire, who did not disappoint. Also featured the inimitable and fascinating Rod Stewart.)
The National @ London Eventim Apollo (Battled with the flu to drive from Cardiff to London and back, almost didn’t make it through. Finished the night with Lemsip and a headache. So rock and roll.)
This Is The Kit @ Cardiff Globe (Birthday. Sent from heavenly folky Bristol Gods.)
Mutation @ Cardiff Globe (Really fun night with Laura, worst hangover I’ve had for years. I don’t think I fit into the raging metal vibe very well.)
Looking back, the show that sticks with me the most (in a self-aware attempt to shift my attention away from the National) has to be Bear’s Den, as one of the most intimate, special moments I can remember from the year – and probably at any gig I’ve ever been to. The end of their set saw the bespectacled, bearded fellows huddle in the middle of the crowd, playing an entirely unplugged performance of a track from their debut album, ‘Bad Blood’. It would’ve been rude to whisper during such a breathtaking, intimate and profound moment such as this, and I was absolutely blown away.
Most of my favourite music this year stemmed from getting my first real-life-full-time-actual-adult-job here at Stereoboard, which somehow, miraculously for me, involves spending all day writing about and discovering new bands, while listening to BBC 6 Music in the background all day. In doing so, I’ve stumbled across some amazing things. Here are just some of them.
Sampha – ‘Process’
Nadine Shah – ‘Holiday Destination’
Alex Lahey – ‘Love You Like A Brother’
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – ‘Lotta Sea Lice’
The War on Drugs – ‘A Deeper Understanding’
Grizzly Bear – ‘Painted Ruins’
Since being here, I’ve also done a handful of reviews of varying opinions – one astounding, one fine, and one I didn’t like at all.
The National are one of my favourite bands, and their latest record only skyrocketed this opinion further. It is triumphant, having reached number one status in the UK and received a Grammy nomination, and holds nothing back with a one-two punch of daring guitar solos by the Dessner brothers and Matt Berninger screaming his face off to Turtleneck, then hitting home with that graceful lyricism, gorgeous instrumentation and a style of storytelling that never ceases to amaze me on some of the softer songs. Each record sees the band develop further, honing their craft to perfection, and ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is no different.
OTHER COOL STUFF OF 2017
Campaign I Have Eternally Mixed Feelings About And Need To Voice (But Ultimately Dislike)
Arcade Fire – ‘Everything Now’
‘Everything Now’ is a particularly on the nose, self-aware critical commentary. Everything is monetised, capitalism is bad, massive corporations bring emptiness to everyone’s lives, and the current culture of immediate gratification will be the ruin of us all. Fine. This isn’t groundbreaking territory though – for years people have dissected and critiqued the way we live our lives through screens and massive corporations. So why make the point? And why make it in such an extravagant fashion?
Arcade Fire are not the type of band to create a fictional company to take over their marketing strategy, a fictional social media co-ordinator (who, when it all went to shit, released a fictional statement about taking his fiction too far, and got sacked from his fictional role), ridiculous, diva-esque demands and strict dress codes to their shows. On the flip side, it’s impossible to know whether any of these things hold any truth (#FakeNews), or if everything was calculated to go down as it did. The whole thing is bizarre, and it’s not the same band who wrote ‘Funeral’ or ‘Neon Bible’, which, incidentally, make similar points more eloquently. I’m not convinced the lack of depth on the album can be excused by such an obvious, and frankly embarrassing, conceptual point.
Mr Jukes – ‘God First’
Having recently re-listened to ‘So Long See you Tomorrow’, the final material from Bombay Bicycle Club before they parted ways on an indefinite hiatus, it’s clear to see the direction Jack Steadman, frontman, was desperate to go in, pulling the band towards sampling, more electronic sounds, and complex rhythms. On his solo (well, not so solo, given the number of collaborations including De La Soul, Horace Andy and Lianne La Havas to name a few) debut ‘God First’, Steadman takes the listener on a journey through modern jazz styles, old school RnB samples and breakbeats to meld genres into one awesome listening quest.
Musicians Doing Cute Non Musician Things
Orlando Weeks – ‘The Gritterman’
After announcing the end of bill-topping indie band The Maccabees (RIP) with huge farewell performances this summer, it is refreshing to see frontman Orlando Weeks injecting some adorable goodness into the world. His latest project, The Gritterman, is a children’s book-come-album-come-live-show about an ice cream man whose big dream is to help his community during the winter months by gritting the roads. Wholesome and heartwarming, perfect to get you in that Christmas spirit.
New Songs I Discovered and Can’t Stop Playing
Pip Blom – Babies Are A Lie
Hatchie – Sure
NARCS – Raus!
Allusondrugs – I’m Your Man
Weaves – #53
Alvvays – Not My Baby
This Is The Kit – Hotter Colder
Django Django – Tic Tac Toe
Manchester Orchestra – The Gold
Everything Everything – Night of the Long Knives
Esper Scout – Compass
Drahla – Form of Luxury
All in all, I leave 2017 with a desperate need to see more gigs, a desire to increase my band t shirt collection and with a heavy heart, as this has been an ultimately life changing year for me. What’s next?
I’ve survived another year! In the process I’ve gained a few pounds and new friends, lost my voice after screeching along at numerous gigs and a shedload of money by spending way more than I should on fantastic records and merch.
It may be a sombre subject, but I didn’t feel I could reflect on the year without commenting on how I’ve been inspired by the strength of the victims who have stood up against their abusers within the music industry, and elsewhere, throughout this year, and many more prior. It is heartbreaking that we cannot go a day on Twitter without another instance surfacing, but I am glad that the true extent of the problem is finally beginning to be seen and challenged.
That being said, I refuse to let those awful humans detract from what has been an otherwise great year for new music. Check out what caused my ears to prick and heart to swell, Grinch-like, below.
I’ve listened to a lot of records in the last 12 months, but there are two that have refused to wear out. After the year we’ve had, it’s perhaps not much of a surprise that they’re both fuelled by politics; one by the desire to highlight the day-to-day consequences of the racist, misogynistic, heteronormative, uber capitalist soup we swim in, the other by the need to take that anger and scream it in someone’s face. Also, given that it’s me doing the listening, it’s not a surprise that they’re both scrappy punk records heavy on the hooks.
They’re Martha’s ‘Blisters in the Pit of My Heart’ and the Lippies’ self-titled debut.
I caught on to Martha a bit late. I heard ‘Courting Strong’, their first LP, a few months after its release and it swiftly became one of my favourite albums. Ever, of all time etc. So, ‘Blisters…’ had a lot to live up to. When Christine first came out (as part of Alcopop’s ‘Sensible Record Labels 2’ comp) I wondered aloud to the Twitter void if Martha were capable of writing a bad song. MJ, who produced ‘Blisters…’, replied that it wasn’t even in the top five on the record. He was right.
Once I had a copy of it in my grubby mitts, I listened to it straight through three times, marvelling at how the hits just kept coming. Over time, the specifics of each story – from anarchist detectives to precarious employment and soul-crushing Catholicism – became clearer, along with the intricacy of their harmonies. When I interviewed JC about it, we spent a good chunk of time talking about Paul Heaton’s ability to fuse social commentary with solid gold pop songs. Martha can do that, too. They’re a special band and I’m already looking forward to their next step.
Sadly, the opposite is true of the Lippies. Six weeks after putting out their full length bow they split. I never got to see them live, don’t own a physical copy of the record and due to my all-round tardiness didn’t write anything about them. Here’s to rectifying that bit here. The Lippies were the sort of punk band that played as though a single bolt might come loose with a second’s notice and send them crashing to the kerb. They had something of ‘…And Out Come The Wolves’-era Rancid about them. Every melody, every feminist lyric begged to be yelled along to. Tonia Broucek formed the band to get things off her chest and appropriately her vocal performance here was ridiculous. There are moments where her lungs should give out, but she won’t stop. I am gutted we won’t see what might have happened to the Lippies down the line, but I really love this record. That’s enough.
On top of all that, we should all agree that Mitski’s Your Best American Girl is the song of the year and just move on with our lives. Also, see below for a big old list (in no discernible order) of other stuff I’ve really liked and head here for bits I enjoyed reading/writing. See you in 2017.
The Falcon – Gather Up The Chaps
Sheer Mag – III EP
Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years
White Lung – Paradise
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Touché Amoré – Stage Four
Solange – A Seat At The Table
Mitski – Puberty 2
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
The Hotelier – Goodness
Chris Farren – Can’t Die
Super Unison – Auto
Planes Mistaken For Stars – Prey
Tegan and Sara – Love You To Death
Domo Genesis – Genesis
PUP – The Dream Is Over
Kevin Devine – Instigator
Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math
Joyce Manor – Cody
The Dirty Nil – Higher Power
Case/Lang/Veirs – Case/Lang/Veirs
Basia Bulat – Good Advice
Mikey Erg – Tentative Decisions
Mount Moriah – How To Dance
Andy Shauf – The Party
Big Eyes – Stake My Claim
Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You
Tender Defender – Tender Defender
Slowcoaches – Nothing Gives
Swanning – Swanning EP
Cate Le Bon – Crab Day
The Thermals – We Disappear
Naked Hour – Always on the Weekend
Oathbreaker – Rheia
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Cayetana – Tired Eyes
Dead To Me – I Wanna Die in Los Angeles
Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate
Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
Beyoncé – Lemonade
AJJ – The Bible 2
Direct Hit! – Wasted Mind
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Camp Cope – Camp Cope
Vince Staples – Prima Donna
La Bella – Ides
Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Shura – Nothing’s Real
Happy Diving – Electric Soul Unity
Crying – Beyond The Fleeting Gales
Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan – Take It, It’s Yours
Tancred – Out Of The Garden
PKEW PKEW PKEW – PKEW PKEW PKEW
Wussy – Forever Sounds
Trust Fund – We Have Always Lived In The Harolds
Gouge Away – , Dies
Savages – Adore Life
Sad13 – Slugger
A look ahead to…
it’s that time of the decade again folks, where we actually book studio time for a new record. so set your metronomes to MAX and get FUCKED.
Spotify Release Radar, Metallica return, Avenged Sevenfold surprise release, Guns N’ Roses announce Not in this Lifetime tour, Ghost’s ‘Popestar’ EP, Creeper, Music Venue Trust’s Fightback, Lemmy’s statue at the Rainbow, Download festival, Steelhouse festival, Ed Force One lands at Cardiff Airport, Stranger Things, #TeamNegan, Westworld, Danny Dyer on Who Do You Think You Are, Green Room, Deadpool, The Magnificent Seven, Star Wars, Tim Peake, Wales at the Euros, the Warnock Effect.
Worst of 2016
Trump, Brexit, Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Harambe, death everywhere, Brian Johnson steps down, goodbye Twisted Sister, venues closing, touts, Team Rock goes bust, Metal Hammer shuts down, Lemmy’s statue at the Rainbow, a year without Motörhead, Nick Jonas guitar solo, fuck Vodafone, Pokemon Go, hold the door, Glenn’s eyeball.
This year has put me in mind of a sketch from ‘The Day Today’ where a swimming pool supervisor reels through the number of people that died during his employ, year by year. “In 2016, pretty much everyone died.”
I guess it’s mainly because everyone is a celebrity these days. Look on Wikipedia, and the number of notable people dying in each year has increased hugely recently, due to the fact that being notable is quite a common occurrence these days. But come on now…. Bowie and Prince? Two artists who, thanks to my parents having quite the excellent music collection, I grew up with and listened to on pretty much a daily basis (except for the times when my dad was going through another prog rock reminisce). Hell, even the recent loss of Pete Burns came as a shock.
Anyway, this is meant to be a celebration of all the good stuff that’s come out of 2016. My music buying has been somewhat slowed by forking out as much on my wedding as I would on music in five years, but there have been some excellent albums flying around from a wider selection of genres than I’d usually lend my ear to. I must be growing out of the music snobbery phase which has thus far lasted 20 years or so.
Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ would have made my top 10 regardless, although admittedly now that I know that he was dying while recording the album, it does make it a lot more poignant. The strain in his voice and the content should be expected from a man who gave 50 years of his life to his music, but I base my opinion on the fact that this is a strong set of songs, not because they are his last.
My biggest surprises of the year came from Lambchop and Underworld. The latter’s ‘Barbara, Barbara, We Face a Shining Future’ gained a disappointing, ill-researched two-star review from me when it first came out, but my word is it a grower and it’s ended up being my most played record of 2016. But that is coming under threat from Lambchop’s recent ‘FLOTUS’ LP which I simply can’t get enough of, despite the pretty much omnipresent use of the vocoder. Sprawling, 12-minute opener In Care Of 8675309 is definitely my song of the year.
There have been some excellent offerings from Welsh musicians this year and the two stand-outs entertain different ends of the psychedelic spectrum. HMS Morris’ ‘Interior Design’ and ‘Fforesteering’ by CaStLeS should be well backed for next year’s Welsh Music Prize. Right Hand Left Hand’s eponymous debut along with the 2015/16 winner Meilyr Jones’ ‘2013’ were definitely up there for me this year too.
Live performances of the year? Well, one of them was a criminally under-attended show featuring Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert back in May. They both worked on Emma’s amazing ‘In Search Of Harperfield’, released in January and which has been getting repeated plays and wearing out the needle on the record player ever since. Was also very impressed with The Irascibles (HUB Festival, August)– a psychobilly band containing a certain ex-Young Marble Giant.
The 1975 – ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’
‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ is an overproduced, overwrought and overindulgent mishmash of a thing. So, just how Matt Healey and co. have managed to take such inauspicious ingredients and turn them into the musical equivalent of a moreish Eton mess is all the more mind boggling. Indie-pop has never had it quite so good.
Bon Iver – ‘22, A Million’
Cryptic and convoluted, Bon Iver’s third full-length release may have lacked appeal on paper. However, on ‘22, A Million’ mainman Justin Vernon does what he does best by distilling raw human emotion into a delicate, finely crafted musical experience. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what the bloody hell he’s on about, only that you feel what it is that he’s saying.
Conor Oberst – ‘Ruminations’
Featuring just a guitar, harmonica, piano and, of course, Oberst’s voice, ‘Ruminations’ is easily one of the most sparse records of 2016. Such minimalism completely works in the record’s favour, though, as we are truly able to focus on the carefully-woven tales of heartbreak and tragedy that Oberst so plaintively tells. Sometimes the simplest music really is the best.
Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Love & Hate’
From the epic grandiosity of opener Cold Little Heart, you know you’re in for a treat with Kiwanuka’s second full-length LP. The album certainly doesn’t hold back in terms of its scope, with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. But rather than its scale, its Kiwanuka’s increasing ability to blend sentiment with soul that truly sets ‘Love & Hate’ apart.
David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’
A swansong like no other, ‘Blackstar’ is Bowie’s final gift to the world.The record represents the singer’s unparalleled ability to turn even the most lamentable of circumstances into something worth celebrating, while simultaneously bookending what is an incredibly vast and varied body of work. An artist in the true sense of the word.
Honourable mentions: Radiohead – ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, Teleman – ‘Brilliant Sanity’, Metronomy – ‘Summer 08’, Green Day – ‘Revolution Radio’, C Duncan – ‘The Midnight Sun’.
TOP 5 SINGLES OF 2016
Francis and the Lights – Friends (feat. Bon Iver)
The 1975 – Somebody Else
Two Door Cinema Club – Bad Decisions
Warpaint – New Song
Christine and the Queens – Tilted
Honourable mentions: The xx – On Hold, VANT – PEACE & LOVE, Blossoms – Charlemagne, Mystery Jets – Bubblegum, Creeper – Suzanne
So 2016’s been a bit weird. The Misfits reformed, a reality star is set to be president of the US and loads of people got robbed playing Pokémon. I cut out dairy and egg and started shitting everywhere, I worked with children for a month and I thought moving all my belongings from Zone 6 to Zone 2 in London, on the tube, was a great idea. It wasn’t. But some brilliant albums came out and I saw some of the best live shows ever. So here you go.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation
Dillinger are going out on top, aren’t they? Jesus Christ. Literally not a second wasted here, the final two songs being the most surprising moments of this band’s entire career. See them live before it’s too late.
The Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence
Just Devin being Devin, innit? Grandiose, overblown and yet another slew of songs that’ll fit perfectly in the multi-instrumentalist’s setlist.
Gojira – Magma
A stylistic shift had Gojira turning up the groove and phasing out the speed. There’s still traces of death metal, it’s still the heaviest matter in the universe and now it’s ready for big stages.
Milk Teeth – Vile Child
The best 90s rock album that wasn’t released in the 90s. As if this is their debut.
Perturbator – The Uncanny Valley
Dance music for people who want to just hail Satan.
Venom Prison – Animus
An actual deathcore album – death metal mixed with hardcore, properly. The most pissed-off thing in 2016 apart from post-Trump Twitter.
Panic! At The Disco – Death Of A Bachelor
Frank Sinatra channelling Queen through a synthesiser and doing a premeditated backflip. Probably Panic!’s finest moment and, let’s face it, they’re gonna be dragging this through UK arenas soon.
Ihsahn – Arktis.
Brain-bending post-black metal with pop-ready melodies stapling it to the ears. Not as good as ‘After’ but still rather good.
Weezer – Weezer (The White Album)
Happiness wrapped up in ten songs. Best Weezer record since The Green Album.
Rotting Christ – Rituals
Got that one wrong, didn’t I? Gave it three stars first time round. That was foolish. This is fully ferocious.
letlive. – Underworld, London
Haven’t seen letlive. since Download Festival 2011. This was even better. Jason Butler’s a beast and this generation’s greatest frontman; a ridiculous stage presence with something to actually say.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Old Blue Last, London
Gojira – O2 Arena, London
Made Volbeat and Alter Bridge look like damp snot-rags. The best live band in metal.
Architects – Brixton Academy, London
Possibly the most powerful show Brixton Academy’s ever witnessed. A special moment for a special band.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Ricoh Arena, Coventry
First time seeing the Boss; he did Save My Love and it was beautiful. Saw him two days later and he was just as perfect but, y’know, first time and everything.
Everyone dying, Kings Of Leon releasing an album and not having enough money to see the reformed Misfits.