Sunday, December 14, 2014

a festive fifteen...

It's that time of year when I traditionally tell everyone what new music I've been listening to this year. I do it more as a reminder to myself of what I've spent my money on than an example of exemplary musical taste. But some of you might be interested.

So, in no particular order (except my top 5), here are the albums I enjoyed enough to buy this year.

Robert Plant and the Shape Shifters Lullaby and Ceaseless Road; unexpected from the Led Zep vocalist.

the Hold Steady Teeth Dreams: good, honest, quirky American rock - though I have no idea where they come from!

Nick Mulvey's gorgeous First Mind.

Kate Tempest Everybody Down in which she showed herself to be as adept at rap as she is at poetry for the page.

Deacon Blue's A New House - not as good as 2012's The Hipsters but still a cut above the average.

David Gray's Mutineers not one I expected to like but did, possibly because production was by Lamb's Andy Barlow who bought an unexpected vibe to Gray's usual oeuvre.

Duologue Never Get Lost, their follow-up to the outstanding Song and Dance which delivers a very pleasing electronic groove.

Elbow produced their best record since Leaders of the Free World in the lovely, moving The Take Off and Landing of Everything.

Paul Smith (of Maximo Park) and Peter Brewis (of Field Music) collaborated on the quirky, gorgeous travelogue that is Frozen By Sight (really looking forward to seeing them at St Giles Church on 19 December - our Christmas treat).

U2 Songs of Innocence. Ok, I know there was a lot of fuss about it being delivered free to everyone with an iTunes account; yes, it was a tad gauche but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth especially when it turned out to be the best U2 album for quite a long time. Bono and the Edge produced some of their best lyrics and the band set them to some great melodies. Not having to pay for it was a lovely bonus!

And so to my top 5 (I loved the other 10 but these stood out for various reasons):

Jackson Browne Standing in the Breach in which the old trooper and songsmith to the revolution produced a set of ten songs that not only engage with all the important issues of the day in an intelligent and provocative way, but also offered a back catalogue of Browne's many musical styles. Great stuff.

Damon Albarn Everyday Robots the first solo album from the Blur front man. A minimalist, staccato feast of great tunes and affecting lyrics in which he pondered his history and our lives splendidly.

Lamb Backspace Unwind: a barnstorming return by the trip hop pioneers. Andy Barlow's production is quite wonderful and Lou Rhodes' voice has never sounded better - if there's a better female singer around, I've yet to hear her.

Bill Mallonee Winnowing in which the veteran singer-songwriter produces yet another career defining set of songs - just as he did last year and the year before. His ear for melody and his turn of phrase show no signs of dimming on a set of songs that probe faith in a post-everything world. Quite stunning.

Ben Watt Hendra: this probably edges my album of the year. A fabulous collection of songs reflecting on aging, memory, loss of parents and making sense of the world around us. Barely a note out of place in the second solo outing of one half of Everything but the Girl. He also produced a great biography of his parents, Romany and Tom - one of my books of the year.

Each would make a great stocking filler for a loved one or a sneaky seasonal treat for yourself.

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