As 2012 draws to a close, I feel obliged to draw a line under my consideration of albums from this year although, as ever, I’m still listening to new stuff, some of which will undoubtedly be critical omissions from this list several weeks hence. But enough.
As happened last year, I’ve stretched beyond my intention to go from 10-20. But if last year that was because a lot of LPs from about 17-25 felt of a similar quality, this year it feels that this selection is stronger than the equivalent records from last year. In fact I don’t think that there’s a lot to choose between some of these records and some that will be featured in the Top 10 tomorrow.
With comparative strength in depth tehrefore, I don’t think ordering these 11-25 will make any sense at all in future (I suspect that any day will generate a radically different order) so, in alphabetical order here are the 15 LPs that would fill positions 11-25 were I to be hierarchically minded.
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (review)
Discovered through their support slot with Bob Mould, it turns out they’ve more of a profile than I realised. Strays a little towards cartoon punk at times for me but half of the LP is ferocious, intelligent rock which I like a lot.
Julian Cope – Psychedelic Revolution (not reviewed)
I’ve got out of the habit of buying Cope LPs when they come out but always enjoy them when I catch up. There wasn’t a lot new on here but, if it doesn’t aim for the pop territory of, say, ‘Interpreter’ it’s an LP which still focusses on songwriting and melody for a significant proportion of its running length.
Disappears – Pre Language (review)
Crunching drums (courtesy of one S Shelley), heavy riffs and a Mark E Smith type vocal delivery make this an interesting American rock record. Interesting droney dynamics too although perhaps these lead to a feeling of samey-ness by the end of the album.
godspeed you! black emperor Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (not reviewed)
My first exposure to this lot (for some reason) but I think I get it. Epic instrumental pieces which work perfectly for the side of me which loves arty, experimental rock. Works well in some moods, less well in others!
Jesca Hoop – The House That Jack Built (review)
The only LP to make it into this year’s list that was discovered courtesy of that one time stand-by – the Uncut compilations, THTJB is a quirky inventive pop record that covers quite a lot of bases. Good songwriting too.
Human Don’t Be Angry – Human Don’t Be Angry (review)
At times a significant and successful departure from the trademark Middleton sound of old, occasionally it wasn’t so easy to see the difference. And one or two tracks weren’t that great. But overall a hit with some great songs.
Last Harbour – Your Heart, It Carries The Sound (not reviewed)
Another late addition to the list this is still working its way into my head. The first two thirds seem excellent, but it maybe runs out of steam a little towards the back end. Ideal for anyone looking for the new Cathal Coughlan.
Cate Le Bon – Cyrk (review)
Introduced to CLB through FOUND’s cover of ‘Eyes So Bright’ from her first LP, ‘Cyrk’ is a collection of dark, mysterious psychedelic pop tunes, courtesy of Cate’s almost gothic delivery. A treat to be savoured over time.
Miaoux Miaoux – Light of the North (review)
An odd mix, around 60% of ‘Light of the North’ is good enough for a top 5 place this year- the rest I don’t care for much at all. So, today, it’s perched precariously just outside the top 10 but there’s some really great stuff including ‘Better For Now’ and the last 3 songs in particular.
PAWS – Cokefloat! (review)
Another record that wows me for large stretches thanks to big crunching guitars married to pop tunes, it loses me in others when it heads in the direction of the meat and spuds rock of the Libertines when they weren’t very good. Maybe it would have helped if I’d seen them live.
Karine Polwart – Traces (review)
A gorgeous folk record dripping with melody and emotion ‘Traces’ grabbed me in a way that predecessor ‘This Earthly Spell’ didn’t. I’ve always enjoyed Karine’s contributions to the Burns Unit and ‘Traces’ is on a par with the best of these.
Dan Stuart – The Deliverance of Marlower Billings (not reviewed)
Another late entry for consideration (courtesty of being a birthday present), ‘Deliverance…’ probably leas just too much to being very trad Americana for my tastes but there’s no denying that the former Green On Red man is still a consumate songwriter.
TOY – TOY (not reviewed)
This was arguably not making it into the Top 20 a few weeks ago but it’s snuck up on me over the last couple of plays. Sometimes I find shoegazey stuff a bit nebulous but ‘TOY’ finds a groove particularly when the kraut-rock rhythms kick in.
The Unwinding Hours – Afterlives (not reviewed)
The last addition to the list, I resisted look into this for long enough after being disappointed by the debut but then I didn’t love everything Aereogramme did either. A bit lighter and more polished than the debut but with better songs. IMHO.
Whigs & Rakes – Acclimatize (review)
A bit of a cheat since it was definitely released in 2011 but it was released so late in the year that it wasn’t going to make anyone’s list. But it’s such a fine alt.rock LP, it deserves a little time in the spotlight. A great live band too.
Coming up tomorrow – my 10 favourite LPs of the year.
The Bad Books – MPT Live Band of the Year
It’s been another great year for live shows. So doing it differently from last year, here’s the top 10 performances (rather than shows) I’ve witnessed in chronological order:
25/2/12 Human Don’t Be Angry, The Arches, Glasgow (review)
15/5/12 The Big Sleep, Nice’n’Sleazy’s, Glasgow (review)
1/6/12 Bob Mould, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London (review)
7/6/12 Lee Ranaldo, Brudenell Social, Leeds (review)
15/6/12 Marin John Henry, Electric Circus, Edinburgh (review)
25/8/12 Kid Canaveral, Electric Circus, Edinburgh (review)
25/8/12 The Bad Books, Electric Circus, Edinburgh (review)
23/11/12 Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat, Twa Tams, Perth (review)
30/11/12 Cancel The Astronauts, Electric Circus, Edinburgh (review)
22/12/12 FOUND, The Caves, Edinburgh (review)
It’s strictly one performance per act otherwise this would be dominated by my live band of the year the Bad Books. Yep, there’s a good reason I’ve been stalking these guys over the last 12 months or so and I would thoroughly recommend that you catch them live as soon as you can in 2013.
It has to be said though that Cancel The Astronauts ran them very close indeed. They seem to be taken for granted a little, perhaps because they’ve been around for quite a while, but they’re also ferociously good.
The surprising thing about that list is that, whilst the Electric Circus in Edinburgh isn’t my favourite venue by a long way, 4 of my top 10 performances in 2012 were witnessed there.
During the year I went to fewer gigs (38) than in 2011 (41) but saw more acts – 118 acts compared to 106. (and neither figure takes account of the SAY Award ceremony).
In 2012 I saw 18 acts perform more than once (2011 – 13, 2010 – 9). The 18 acts were as follows:
The Bad Books, Cancel The Astronauts (7); Martin John Henry (6), Hookers for Jesus (5), Kid Canaveral, Vladimir (4); Human Don’t Be Angry, Meursault, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat (3); Randolph’s Leap, FOUND, RM Hubbert, Behold The Old Bear, TV21, Sam Barber & The Outcasts, Playground Tactics, Edinburgh School for the Deaf, Withered Hand (2).
I saw 7 acts more than once in both years:
Kid Canaveral , Cancel The Astronauts, Edinburgh School for the Deaf, Martin John Henry, FOUND TV21 and Hookers for Jesus.
Geographically I went to shows in Edinburgh (16), Dundee (9), Glasgow (5), Cupar, London, Leeds, Perth, Glenrothes, Newport-on-Tay, St Andrews, Dunfermline (1).
The shows were spread over 29 different venues, 14 of which I visited for the first time.
Best new venue – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds.
Worst new venue – The Flying Duck, Glasgow.
The most visited venue was once again in Dundee but this time Beat Generator Live (5) rather than Dexter’s.
The biggest gap between shows was a massive 58 days (compared to 24 last year) between the last show of 2011 (Vladimir on the 29th of December) and the first of 2012 (HDBA in Glasgow on 25th February.)
Human Don’t Be Angry / Martin John Henry / Andrew Pearson and the Riflebirds – Undercover@Madras, St Andrews – Sunday 25th November 2012
Even rock’n’roll it seems isn’t immune to the vagaries of the recession. This was demonstrated by the last Human Don’t Be Angry band show for the foreseeable future (in St Andrews on Sunday) where the band had downsized in number from a quartet to just a trio of Malcolm Middleton, Martin John Henry on bass and Scott Simpson on drums.
And that wasn’t the evening’s only surprise as the show turned out to be somewhat different affair from what I’d expected.
The venue itself was somewhat unusual – a marquee in the centre of St Andrews. Set up as part of the St Andrews Festival, the large stage was dressed for a run of performances of a play and, with its winter trees, it provided a pleasing aesthetic quality to the show.
The size of the tent though was a problem as the audience of about 50 was drowned in a space which must have accommodated at least 300. There was therefore something of a dead atmosphere to the proceedings even if the acts did their best to energise the crowd.
There was also something of a problematic ‘quieter’ sound arising from the intervention of Fife Constabulary during the soundcheck. In retrospect the organisers must surely have regretted not starting the show earlier because the consequence of the strict 11pm curfew was that Malcolm’s planned solo acoustic encore had to be dropped in its entirety.
Song-wise too the Human Don’t Be Angry set was surprising. Given that the banner is being put on hold whilst Malcolm Middleton returns to his solo career, I was largely expecting a re-run of the September show in Edinburgh.
Not a bit of it as two new songs were unveiled. Much closer to traditional rock songs rather than the largely instrumental led HDBA stuff, the effect for me was similar to when Malcolm introduced both ‘Shadows’ and ‘Red Travelling Socks’ into his band shows several years ago. These two tunes are surely too good to lie dormant until HDBA is re-activated and the smart money must be on Malcolm taking these tunes back from The Other Guy.
Sound-wise the loss of the extra guitar made quite a difference particularly since the rhythm section was quite muffled throughout. As a consequence the show was far closer in spirit to the solo HDBA sets than could reasonably have been expected as the focus was very much on Malcolm’s guitar.
But actually, the show really didn’t really suffer as much as you might have expected. Without the extra guitar, the whole thing seemed slightly cleaner compared to the wall of noise of previous shows.
So there were plenty of highlights, particularly the blissful guitar coda on ‘Askipliio’, the crunching metallic finale to ‘Monologue: River’ and the ever brilliant ‘1985’. Even if police clearly don’t make good sound engineers.
If you push me, then I would prefer to see a ‘solo’ Middleton band show but a return for HDBA in a couple of years is still something to look forward.
Human Don’t Be Angry played:
1. Intro 2. Mumbo Jumbo (? maybe!) 3. Monologue: River 4. H.D.B.A. Theme 5. First Person Singular, Present Tense 6. Jaded 7. New song – Stranger? 8. 1985 9. New song – “Any way the wind blows” 10. Asklipiio
The two support sets were far quieter affairs.
The half a dozen songs from Martin John Henry were entirely acoustic (no loops this time) but there’s a purity about Martin’s solo sets which is spellbinding and it was nice to hear the likes of ‘A Love Economy’ again. And does ‘Spectres’ betray some influence of the headliner’s main man?
1. A Prelude to Entropic Doom 2. Arc 3. A Love Economy 4. Hattonrigg Pit Disaster 5. Pest 6. Under The Stairs
Andrew Pearson and the Riflebirds were depressingly young* – and playing to such a large tent (even if mainly empty) they seemed to be very nervous. Yet they quickly gained in confidence as the set progressed and the four piece (guitar, bass, clarinet, accordion and occasional electronic flourishes) came over as a more reserved Randolph’s Leap. Particularly since the final tune shared the lyrical whimsy of RL
More photos from the show can be found here.
*Actually it’s maybe the other way round – maybe I’m depressingly old!
‘They’ll be jumping from the ceiling next!’
Human Don’t Be Angry / Martin John Henry – Electric Circus, Edinburgh – Friday 15th June 2012
After seeing the first Human Don’t Be Angry full band show back in February, last night’s Electric Circus show offered MPT a chance to catch up with HDBA with the benefit of knowing the LP.
Not surprisingly the impression from February that HDBA is a different proposition live was quickly confirmed. Whilst the laptop provided all the electronic gubbins so crucial to the record, the presence of 2 guitars guaranteed the whole thing a rockier feel and made sense of the various Mogwai comparisons which have been bandied about.
Perhaps surprisingly though the show didn’t alter any perceptions on the relative merits of the different songs. ‘1985’ is my favourite on record and it was also my favourite on stage last night, whilst definitely gathering momentum from being played live by human beings. It’s probably the one that got the best reaction from the audience too.
‘Asklipiio’ remained my favourite ‘one with words’ complete, in this setting, with a section of near metallic white noise at one point.
Sometimes lesser songs on a record can be brought to life live and this was definitely the case with the closing number (think it was ‘Whatsleft’) . But there remain a couple which were just a little too noodly for me on the album – ‘Getting Better …’ was one of the few times when my attention wanders.
Human Don’t Be Angry are very much at a tangent to Malcolm Middleton’s solo work – but a very welcome one at that.
1. Intro 2. The Missing Plutonium 3. After The Pleasuredome 4. 1985 5. First Person Singular, Present Tense 6. Jaded 7. HDBA Theme 8. Monologue: River 9. Getting Better (At Feeling Like Shit) 10. Dreamer 11. Asklipiio 12. Whatsleft
Before taking up bass playing Angry Band duties, De Rosa front man Martin John Henry delivered a short solo set.
I’ve seen Martin play on his own a good few times over the years but this was one of the best. Helped with a crystal clear sound, Martin sang as well as I’ve ever heard him and he seemed really relaxed on stage, despite the fact that the audience almost obsessively avoided the dance floor in front of the stage.
One of the highlights was a first ever acoustic outing for ‘Flight Recorder’, which I couldn’t imagine would work. But it did.
Ah, yes – the lemmings. Halfway through the HDBA set I’d looked down at the monitors and thought that the laptop’s monitor (told you it was important!) looked very precariously balanced on the edge of the stage. At which point with a squeal of ‘Oh No!’ it promptly dived off the stage.
Bizarrely, 30 seconds later, Malcolm’s monitor did exactly the same thing. Which proves that when HDBA get danceable, they’re so hard to resist even the monitors join in!
Martin John Henry setlist:
1. Hopes and Little Jokes 2. New Lanark 3. Cody 4. Flight Recorder 5. Ribbon on a Bough 6. Under The Stairs 7. Tinto
Of course, both records are also available in all good independent record stores.
More photos from the show here.