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2015 - A Year In Review

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Another year passes; a year of turmoil and tragedy, where as ever the poor are made to pay for the greed of the 1% in an ideologically driven fatwah in the name of capital. Still, there's always music, eh? Looking at last year's lists, it seems 2015 overall has not quite hit those high standards, but there has still been a veritable small hillock of commendable releases, and here I will scratch at the surface with my annual roundup.

Again for your delight I have put together a Spotify playlist, where the relevant release can be found in that digital Fagin's lair of goodies pilfered from the struggling artist...or summat. There will be other links in the main body for those artists who either eschew or have no truck with the miserly streaming beastie. So, sit back and light a big one, boil some sprouts, chase a reindeer, whatever floats yer bauble, and plow your way through this little lot...





Album titles link to reviews, * = my personal highlights

Julie Tippetts & …

The MOJO CD - 2015

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1. Courtney Barnett - Pedestrian At Best
First up, someone I've never heard of, old fart that I am. Ms Barnett chanels Elastica chaneling Wire. Enjoyable enough, with lots of punky pizzazz, unremarkable but for Courtney's declamatory vocals.

2. Sleater-Kinney - Bury Our Friends
So, this is what Sleater-Kinney sound like. From The Libertines school but less messy, just. Gets by on pure charm.

3. New Order - Restless
Like Sleater-Kinney, another band with a comeback album out this year. New Order had their moments for me, but quickly became formulaic. They now have a replacement doing a wan impersonation of Hooky, and it sounds like it always sounded like. All rather predicatable.

4. Songhoy Blues - Soubour
A great band from Mali, a place that seems to be the current centre for interesting African music. A beguiling mix of African blues, rock'n'roll and punky energy. Championed by Damon Albarn, the Blur frontman knows a good thing when he hears it, obviously.



5. Gaz Coo…

frostlake - White Moon, Black Moon

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Martin Archer's Sheffield-based Discus Records is a home for the wilfully strange, and the occasionally unfathomable, but with frostlake the label presents its most conventional face yet. frostlake - the lower case "f" is deliberate - is a mysterious pagan goddess who weaves hymns to winter spun from the crystalline mists of the dark months on her debut album White Moon, Black Moon. She is also a member of Discus acts Juxtavoices, and Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, the former an enticing "anti-choir", the latter a magnificent improvising cosmic rock beast. On her solo album and left to its own devices her muse crafts delicate but dense psych-folk, in so doing highlighting her many and varied talents, showing that she is not content to be pigeonholed into one genre.

This introspective and beautiful album stirs into life with Black Winter swooping across the still land, a song sung from the perspective of a bird in flight, frostlake's picked guitar and ec…

Buzzcocks - The Roadmender, Northampton, 21st November 2015

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Sometimes it is a good idea to leave the serious stuff behind, cease being over-analytical, and simply let your hair down - purely metaphorically in my case, you understand - and have a good time. Such was my approach to an evening of arthritic rug-cutting at Northampton's primary scuzzy music venue last night. Well if truth be told The Roadmender is, and has been since the mid 1980s, Shoesville's only dedicated music venue outside of the pub circuit, a sad state of affairs for the third biggest town by population in the country.

Anyway, after a curry and later a pint of sublime ale by the name of Release The Chimps, me and my mate enter the hallowed dimly lit halls of said venue, to find it packed to its 300ish capacity. I was expecting the audience to be entirely populated by fifty-somethings putting out collective backs attempting to pogo, but thankfully I was wrong, as the crowd was a nice mix of ages right down to teens, who seemed to know all the hits. The sight of an o…

Ángel Ontalva - Tierra Quemada

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A mark of a good album is how much it resists being filed away in a neat little niche, and Tierra Quemada by Spanish guitarist Ángel Ontalva is defying my efforts in that direction very nicely indeed. You may know Ángel as the guitarist and leader of Spanish heavy eclectic prog band October Equus, but this album proves there is far more to this man than meets the ear on hearing his band's music, nicely angular and coruscating stuff as it may be. Indeed, anyone familiar with Ángel's work will know he likes to branch out.

Three consecutive releases show the highly varied and always interesting scope of Ángel's muse. 2012 saw the release of Mundo Flotante, his first solo album, and a thoroughly enjoyable and languid album it is, too. Then in 2013 we had two concurrent releases; Permafrost from October Equus, and its companion album Isla Purgatorio, which was something entirely different to the band's usual output and was released as October Equus Quartet, essentially the…

Baron - Torpor

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With their previous album, the rather upstanding Columns, Brighton post-everything-rockers Baron described themselves as playing "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Psych Art-Rock", and now they have moved on, adding vegetables and Germanic ambience into the mix, becoming purveyors of "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Pastoral-Kraut-Drone-Lettuce-Rock". A nifty little pigeon with asymmetric eyes fits in that odd-shaped hole, I'm sure.

Based in Brighton and employing some big fish from the small but highly talented pool of musicians that you will find cropping up in other bands based in that fair city, such as Diagonal, and Autumn Chorus, both of whom may or may not be currently in stasis, Baron are led by singer and guitarist Alex Crispin. Alex has a distinctive baritone croon that paints his songs of mysticism and pastoralism in a melancholic hue, aided and abetted by his favoured guitar sound, reverbed and echoing, swirling round in the wide open spaces afforded by the airy mix.

The Bob Lazar Story - Self-Loathing Joe

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In the modern era of music making, a pet saying of mine, aimed at the surfeit of truly average, sometimes awful music out there that was made only because of a working knowledge of cheap audio recording and manipulation software, regardless of any actual musical talent, is "bedroom music that should have stayed there".

Hundreds of these recordings that back in the day would not have progressed beyond the guitarist's parents' garage, let alone made it it to a studio are uploaded every month for the benefit or otherwise of the universe at large. Of course, I appreciate the irony in all that, being an amateur myself, but hey I can take it!

Here we have an ex-pat Scouser and occasional cab driver now residing in Christchurch, New Zealand collaborating over ye interweb with a drummer ensconced in Los Angeles, USA collectively under the name of The Bob Lazar Story. From what I said at the beginning of this piece, you might be forgiven for thinking that I am about to set s…

Tētēma - Geocidal

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Mike Patton as part of Faith No More played a big part in one the best albums of the 1990s regardless of genre, the brainfrying acid punk metal cinemascape that was Angel Dust. Since then I have dipped in and out of Patton's career, especially his projects away from the band, whom he joined in 1988. Faith No More split ten years later and since then Patton has developed into something of a musical polymath. His career covers all bases; from continuing to front his previous band, the absurdist pop-metal outfit Mr Bungle who ended on a high in 2000 with the superb California album, to experimental solo albums, via the avant garde improv group Hemophiliac with John Zorn, to singing Italian oldies from the 50s in front of an orchestra under the name of Mondo Cane, and not forgetting the barking but wonderful experimental metal outfit Fantômas. Oh, and he's dabbled in opera, too, as well as acting in films and composing film scores, and of course he joined the newly reformed and s…

Magic Bus - Transmission From Sogmore's Garden

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Hailing the that hotbed of rock'n'roll excess, Totnes in Devon, Magic Bus are rather accurately musically described on their PR sheet as turning out "sun-drenched harmonies and vintage prog rock noodling". That kind of retro warning would normally have me groaning, but Transmission From Sogmore's Garden is such a charming affair, you'd have to be an even more battle-weary old scrote than moi not to appreciate its thorough winsomeness.

There is a review on Amazon that is headlined "Better than Caravan?", well, obviously not, but these chaps and chappess have certainly been playing the first few albums by the Canterbury instigators on heavy rotate, along with large helpings of the the first two CSN(&Y) albums. There are worse things to be influenced by, it has to be said.

Opening with Sunflower, Magic Bus lay their cards on the table. This band are not going to be pushing any envelopes anywhere soon, but hey, that's just fine. Nostalgia cert…

Karda Estra - Strange Relations

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Last year a curious album by the name of Strange Relations came my way, and over the months since it has slowly revealed its many delights to me. For many years now, Richard Wileman has been ploughing a thoroughly individual furrow as Karda Estra, releasing several albums since debuting with A Winter In Summertime back in 1998. While I have heard some of the back catalogue, it is this strange and beguiling twelfth album that has completely hooked me.

Marrying complex rhythms and a modern classical sensibility to an exploratory nature allows Richard to make a unique music that would probably fall within the avant sphere if one was looking to conveniently categorise. "Avant"  can mean whatever you want it to, but would always suggest a sense of adventure, and Strange Relations has that in joyous quantities.

The six-part suite of music that comprises Strange Relations was co-written with Muffins' drummer Paul Sears, and the duo are joined in the composing credits on Strang…

The Kettering Vampires - perform Nico & The Velvet Underground

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Kettering n. - The pattern left on one's posterior from sitting too long in a wicker chair 
Vampire n. - Iain Duncan Smith

The Kettering Vampires have nothing to do with either definition, nor, disappointingly, are they from Kettering. Welcome to an alternate universe where "Blodwyn P. Teabag records some overdubs on a tune called Shit Weasel", bands are called things like The Thurston Lava Tube, and there is a cult around a long extinct band called The Deep Freeze Mice. This is all the fault of a bloke called Alan Jenkins, as indeed are "The Kettering Vampires". Alan came up with this name for a band that were previously called The Otter Sandwich. According to Alan "A couple of the guys have a history in the business - usually when somebody tells me they have a history I have to send out some hired bastards to erase all trace of it". Alan's name is on the cover because "a record with my name on it automatically ensures seven figure sales and…

Emmett Elvin - Emmettronica 1998 - 2012

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Following on from the artistic triumph that was last year's appropriately titled Bloody Marvels album, Emmett Elvin, keyboard and electronica wiz of this and all other parishes has re-released his eclectic compilation Emmettronica '98 - '05, that traces his imaginative and wide-ranging solo recordings all the way back to a time of hope, now with 13 extra tracks, being the first 13 of the download accounting for the extra seven years added to produce the 1998 - 2012 tag.

Emmet tinkles ivories, plastic or real, and does odd things with synthesisers for Guapo, Knifeworld, and Chrome Hoof, but here he is let loose to follow his own peculiar and individualistic muse to his heart's content, and we are privileged to be able to hear the results of Emmet's 14 years of messing about in studios.

Sparse Eno-esque electronica collides with alien Herbie Hancock funk, mangled techno beats, avant garde larking about, and an ear for a decent melody as the good spaceship Soyuz Elvin…

Metallic Taste Of Blood - Doctoring The Dead

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With a name as redolent as Metallic Taste Of Blood, in addtion to the gruesome cover of their second album Doctoring The Dead, it is indeed a surprise that the music this multi-national trio make does not make one feel queasy, but rather conjures an atramentous and shifting sonic ague that draws in the listener, whether they are willing or not. While metallic, this music is not metal, prog or otherwise, for it transcends genre description.

Doctoring The Dead inhabits the outer reaches of a similar universe to Mike Patton's gloriously visceral Fantômas and their literally and metaphorically bloody great Delìrium Còrdiaalbum, but while Fantômas is cackling to its collective self and getting deep down into the process of the operation without anaesthetic, Metallic Taste Of Blood are merely observing through a two-way mirror, later to dissect the corpse of Fantômas's bloody offerings.

Not as obviously demonic as Patton's wilfully strange band, but nonetheless as dark as a botto…

The Nerve Institute - Fictions

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This latest album by The Nerve Institute has a rather strange backstory, in that it was recorded back in 2008 and released in 2010 under the name Ficciones by Sinthome, a name given to an earlier one-man project operated by American composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Judge - not the Beavis & Buthead guy by the way. As Mike says in a highly informative interview with my TPA colleague Jeremy Rowden: "Nobody really heard Fictions, which was originally called Ficciones, on its first release, so I thought it might be worth reissuing now that a few people know who I am. The new version has been remastered by Udi Koomran, who’s a wizard, and sounds way better."

Well I was one of those who never heard the original, and judging (no pun intended) by this rather lovely and compellingly complex beauty currently occupying my soundstage, I'm glad that Udi Koomran and AlrOck took the time to re-release it as a Nerve Institute waxing, much to the surprise of the main man as…