Sunday, November 29, 2015

My Music in 2015 - Albums - Part 1

So, with December 2015 almost upon us, it is time to kick off the season-of-lists. I'm not really convinced how important this all is despite the fact that so many of us take part in it. My rather simple reason is that it helps me take stock of the year and also that I rather enjoy putting the effort into doing the same.
I was going to keep this back for the start of December but since it was essentially complete I thought that I would share it now.

There are no systemic changes from last year. The acts in each list are grouped in alphabetical order and the number of entries in each list is ten. There is no attempt to 'rank' acts in each list, or indeed between lists (there will be at least three such lists of LPs). One thing that has changed not a jot is the influence that music I have seen live during 2015 or previously has had on the overall outcome but then perhaps remarkably there are actually four in this list that I have never seen live. Needless to say all those are very much in my sights in 2016.

I am happy if people would like to make comments and suggestions. I will be equally so if this leads anyone to find music of which they were previously either unaware of had forgotten about. If it tempts you to head out and see some live music then that is a real bonus. It is also, truth be told, quite simply the music that I really liked.
Here are the photos that I promised - one each of four artists that I took at four different festivals this summer.

Don Gallardo and Friends - Saloon stage,  Truck Festival - 18 July 2015.

Flo Morrissey (solo) - The Den stage, Cambridge Folk Festival - 2 August 2015.

Gwenno - Far Out stage, Green Man Festival - 20 August 2015.

Marika Hackman - Garden stage, End of The Road Festival - 6 September 2015.

It is fair to say that Jason Isbell comes very close to the top of the list of artists that I wish to see live in 2016. If the recorded music is not reason enough then this is why.

If you wish to look further into the music of 2015 that is in my mind then, following on from these and as I promised, here is Tracks of 2015 #3.
The second selection of LPs will likely be preceded by a selection of EPs and mini-albums sometime later this week.

New Music 2016 - Part 2 - Lissie - My Wild West

By this time of year I would usually be a dozen, perhaps more, posts into music forthcoming next year. That I am not is not a reflection on the lack of music, nor even on my ability to spot it coming. It is rather more a necessity borne of the sheer quantity of new music I have been introduced to in 2015. Of that more soon.

When she appeared on these shores in 2010 after a couple of very promising EPs, with début album 'Catching A Tiger' in tow, Lissie Maurus found a UK audience surprisingly receptive to her particular brand of alt-country inspired guitar rock. She and the band started playing tiny UK dive pubs and ended an eventually much extended tour with a headline gig at Shepherds Bush Empire that was recorded and released on DVD. The album was top 10 in the UK and certified 'gold' by BPI. It was followed in 2013 by a sequel 'Back to Forever', also on Colombia. I for one never got to like this as much as 'Catching a Tiger'. It was, in some ways, a little flat - it seems as if something or somebody had ironed out the quirks that made her so likeable to start with. Now we get to LP #3 and some speculation on my part as I haven't heard very much of it yet.

There are a two reasons why I have particularly high hopes for this. The first is that she is now free of any shackles, real or imaginary, imposed by Colombia Records. 'My Wild West' is released on 12 February 2016 by Cooking Vinyl Records, a label with a long history of nurturing bands that have an independent streak. The second is that between 'Back to Forever' and this release she has relocated from California back to The Quad Cities on the Iowa/Illinois border, a move that I suspect is reflected in the title of the LP. Much of 'Catching a Tiger' was or at the very least hinted at being about her time spent growing up there.

Lissie - My Wild West:
  1. My Wild West Overture
  2. Hollywood
  3. Wild West
  4. Hero
  5. Sun Keeps Risin'
  6. Don't You Give Up On Me
  7. Stay
  8. Daughters
  9. Together Or Apart
  10. Shroud
  11. Go For A Walk
  12. Ojai
She is playing Shepherds Bush Empire again in 2016 and it is very tempting indeed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I'm still here and still very much listening, watching, and reading too.  The lists seem to start earlier each year, or maybe that is just me becoming older each year. On the other hand, if I'm honest I actually start thinking about them at the time I first go to an outdoor festival, so late June!
I've looked through a few already and, with mine in more-or-less in the bag now but they will not be revealed until about the start of December, the common ground and the contrasts are interesting to me and in some cases rather surprising.
In the meantime here are two playlists, each about the length of a typical CD album, that compile some of my favourite songs of 2015:

These playlists represent a mixture of all those things and also other things that I have liked along the trail this last year. It is quite likely that 'Tracks of 2015 #3' will follow in the next week or so. There is no implied ranking-by-merit by list or indeed within them. 
An astonishingly good song, or even two, does not necessarily make an album; equally an album can be all the more astonishing for not having any particular stand-out track. This is why I am so much heartened by the resurgence of the EP, whether physical or digital. It allows the emphasis on quality over quantity. It is also much more affordable for new and independently minded artists. I shall be including a more in-depth list of EPs and mini-albums this year. The lists of LPs and EPs and mini-albums will be as heretofore presented in alphabetical order by artist.

I almost forgot to mention this - The UK Blog Sound of 2016. I am part of the voting for that for the fourth year and my three choices are now submitted; the resulting 'Top 15 list' will be revealed, here and on other participating blogs, on December 3. The winner (and the four runners-up) will be announced on January 5, 2016.
The considerable organisation and time that this involves is undertaken by Robin Seamer who is also responsible for new music blog Breaking More Waves, which I highly recommend that you visit.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 80 - Rainey Qualley - Turn Down The Lights

This mini-album has been bubbling under the surface since its US release back in early June. It is finally getting some exposure this side of the pond thanks to the recent release of 'Me and Johnny Cash' as a single and to promote that Rainey was live on RTÉ in Ireland to kick things off.

The track list is:
  • Turn Me On Like The Radio
  • Dead and Gone
  • Watered Down
  • Never Mine
  • Me and Johnny Cash
  • Kiss Me Drunk
  • Cool, Wild, Whatever
At the risk of seeming to damn it with faint praise, which if I wanted to do I would have achieved by not writing about it at all, it is country inflected pop. Qualley is a co-writer on all tracks, usually with John Ramey. It is not needlessly ornamented or overproduced. Furthermore it has no obviously weak tracks but also bear in mind that this is not an up-tempo affair by any means.
Not all music needs to be a challenge. I like this for that reason and also for its lack of pretence, or indeed pretentiousness. The whistling at the end of opening track 'Turn Me On Like The Radio' is worth a mention in that respect.
I'd rather like to think that she will be playing live in the UK next year. I can think of several festivals at which she would fit in well. I intend to be at one of them.

Another strange thing about this release is that when I bought it some months ago I could have paid about £7 to download it from Amazon UK but instead I paid only very slightly more than half of that, including shipping, to have the original (Cingle label) CD delivered from the US!

Monday, November 09, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 79 - Lanterns On The Lake - Beings

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the release of new studio LPs in the two months before Christmas was something of a rarity. That is not so much the case now and for a variety of reasons.

A band that I have followed, both live and recorded as well as with mentions in these scribblings, for almost as long as I can remember is Lanterns On The LakeHailing from Northumberland, Lanterns On The Lake comprises Hazel Wilde, Paul Gregory, Oliver Ketteringham and Bob Allan.

Beings - Lanterns On The Lake. Released  13 November Bella Union (UK) and PIAS (N. America).

The second and latest single taken from it is 'Through The Cellar Door'. Theirs has never been music to party to and probably never will be. It is perfect to share with a small group of friends and then remember that some of the best in things in life are the simplest and least extravagant. That approach, as beautiful as it is, doesn't square with the cult of ruthless self-promotion that the top-end music industry regards as normal.

It is certainly none the worse for that.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 78 - Aurora Aksnes - Running With The Wolves EP

This seems to have been one of the biggest 'stories' in a whole slew of UK newspapers for a couple of days. Yes, I am going to comment on it.
Whatever you think about pre-Christmas hubbub or the much-commented-upon John Lewis Christmas TV advertisement that isn't an issue for me. John Lewis Partnership, a UK chain of department stores, has a history of choosing an artist to cover a well known hit song as a sound-line to their annual campaign. The song and the artist chosen are often surprising juxtapositions. In 2012 it was Gabrielle Aplin covering Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the track 'The Power Of Love'.

That the press seems to think that the singer Aurora Aksnes, chosen to cover Oasis' 'Half The World Away' on it, is unknown is quite the issue for me. Where have all you supposed music sleuths been?

She released the 'Running With The Wolves EP' in May this year (Decca, Universal Music Group --- so hardly an underground release) and she certainly hasn't spent the time since then hiding in a cave somewhere in her native Norway.

Aurora, Walled Garden Stage, Green Man Festival, Sunday 23 August 2015.

I guess you just had to be there to realise that something beyond the usual was going on. Always keep your eyes and ears open, and not just for the music alone...
Don't worry about Oasis (they'll love hating the cover and blaming each other all over again), or indeed this saccharine version designed to serve a single purpose. I don't blame Aurora
for taking this opportunity to gain exposure without having to allow any of her own music to be compromised by its use in the advertisement.
Her brand of Scandinavian electro-pop might have been a bit too dark for the target market anyway...  This is the title track.

Unless that is you fancy spending Christmas dancing in a deserted quarry backed by a mysterious metropolis.

The four-track EP is far better than the song covered. Aurora's début LP is due for release in early Spring 2016.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 77 - Mahoney & The Moment - Goodnight Moon

I mentioned only yesterday that New Music 2015 is still very much live as far as my listening and writing is concerned. This is just one song that exemplifies why that is and always should be so.

I have mentioned Mahoney & The Moment before. In September 2013 I commented thus and I don't regret that for a minute. I like this new song so very much. In a sense I am playing catch-up now and I'm enjoying that too.