Monday, 18 January 2016

Q#105 - December 2015 to January 2016

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Q’s Compilations
Volume #105 December 2015 – January 2016

Newsflash – survived 2015. I hope everyone had a nice time over the “holidays”, speaking of which I actually managed to have one and went back to the UK for three weeks (with a short jaunt to Amsterdam for a change of scenery). 2015 might have been fairly barren of joy but it was relatively fertile when it came to music I enjoyed, so I’ll get right to it and give you some of my favourites.

01) Young Guv - Crawling Back to You: Keen listeners may remember Kelly, I’m Not a Creep from Q#103, one of the most infectious songs of 2015. I almost used the Ripe 4 Luv, the title track of the record, but plumped for this anthemic power-pop gem. The record was released on Slumberland Records back in March and is the project of Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook.

02) Slonk Donkerson - Watching Every Channel at Once: At this stage I’m not sure what else I can say about Slonk Donkerson that I haven’t said already. However, I’ll just copy/paste what I wrote for Free Williamsburg’s Top 25 albums of 2015 post: What’s in a name? Slonk Donkerson go against the grain where most guitar bands around New York in recent years have concentrated on punk/hardcore/garage rock, the now four-piece align to a more classic rock sound, with hints of Moving Pictures-era Rush sprinkled on top of their initial early-REM/Husker Du/Meat Puppets influence. The band’s keen sense of melody and thoughtful compositions really stand out in today’s climate. These songs would sound equally at home played to a crowd of 50 or 50,000 people. We’re clearly fans of the band, having featured them frequently throughout the year.

03) Tenement - I'm Your Super Glue: Another entry from Free Willy’s to 25 albums post: If “punk” means doing whatever you want, then Tenement are the punks of 2015. Releasing an epic 23-song, 74-minute double LP; the band deserves a medal for the sheer number of hooks on this album alone. It’s not all about fist-pumping anthems, however, the Wisconsin trio have crafted a flowing album that also includes piano ballads, a little folk interlude and the downright bizarre 9-minute instrumental “A Frightening Place For Normal People.” Ultimately, Predatory Headlights is an album to just hit play, sit back, and be taken on a ride. If there is a better example of a record showing off pop-songwriting with a fuck-you attitude I have yet to hear it this year. “And the things you never say to me are so sweet”

04) Screaming Females - Criminal Image: And another Free Willy entry! After 2014’s Live at the Hideout, the New Brunswick trio returned with their 6th studio album; their first in three years with Rose Mountain. Upon release, remarks were made about how this was a more “commercial” Screaming Females record, with Wishing Well leading the album’s promotion, and while that one track (and perhaps the second single, “Hopeless”) might possibly have some mainstream appeal, it doesn’t smack of a band trying to sound popular, they are just good songs. Regardless, the album itself is choc-full of the band’s signature riffs and guitar solos. As an aside, they remain the best live band you can see at the moment, in my opinion.

05) Swervedriver - Deep Wound: I Wasn’t Born to Lose You is the band’s first album since 1997, and the Oxford legends have not lost any magic at all. As I wrote for Q#101, not all reunions are just cash cows. Deep Wound was actually released as a single in 2012, but it fits on the album perfectly.

06) Royal Headache - Wouldn't You Know: Another copy/paste from FW - Melbourne’s Royal Headache have not hidden from the fact that following up 2012’s self-titled album was hard. The number of times the band have broken up, or claimed to have broken up, is numerous. Indeed, they have even said this will probably be their last (although they sounded much more positive in a recent interview in The Big Takeover), all that can be done is see every album or show as a gift. What elevates Royal Headache from just being another good garage-punk band is Shogun’s soulful vocal masterclass, which at times croons, and often punches with a hurt that can’t be faked. While the band are known for their high-energy songs and particularly their hurricane-like live shows, it’s the mournful, “Wouldn’t You Know” and downright infectious, anthemic “Carolina,” that captures the heart of the album. “So what would you know, what a little love can do?”

07) Courtney Barnett – Depreston: Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit is the quintessential indie (in the all-encompassing sense of the word) album of the year. The record is a literate success, taking you to places you haven’t been or experiences you haven’t had and yet feeling like you have, made even more personable with a masterful take on various universal themes; a line like “I don’t know quite who I am, oh but man I am trying. I make mistakes until I get it right” could sound all a bit too emo in lesser hands. The music itself is no slouch either, with driving rockers like “Pedestrian at Best” and “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” mixed up with the slow folk-jangle of “Depreston” and the epic blues of “Small Poppies.” I was enthralled the power-trio live show at Bowery, and I’d make an argument that you only come away with a deeper appreciation for the record after seeing her perform.

08) Jim O'Rourke - Friends with Benefits: Rather embarrassingly I didn’t even know Jim O’Rourke had a solo career outside of his production/mixing duties, but all it took was hearing this song (which opens Simple Songs) to get hooked on the record. I’ve read that it’s not as strong as some of his other albums, and if that’s the case then bring it on. “It's been quite a long, long time, But not enough to find a line, To get me going once again. Just one word I could respect, But then what do I expect? You missed that boat a long time ago”

09) Sufjan Stevens - All of Me Wants All of You: One of the highlights of the year was the re-opening of Kings Theatre, possibly the most beautiful concert venue I have been to, and it’s a short walk from my apartment. I mention this because Sufjan was the first person I saw play there. Carrie and Lowell is certainly one of the darlings choice this year, but it’s an album that deserves the heady praise.

10) Earl Sweatshirt - DNA (feat. Nakel): It’s fair to say that an album called I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is not going to get your pulses racing, but I often find the saddest, depressing albums have more beauty. Sparse arrangements are the key to this album, which is also lyrically pretty bleak.

11) Follakzoid – Earth: Another FW entry - Chile, and in particular, Santiago’s blossoming psyche scene has spawned numerous bands that are producing some of the best music of the last decade. Along with The Holydrug Couple, the other premier-league band is the krautrock-influenced Föllakzoid, they wowed me at Rough Trade earlier in the year, and the band’s third album (helpfully titled III) is my personal #1 release of 2015. If you just want to get into an involuntary groove, III will do that; most the songs are long and repetitive pieces that have a pulse. While previous material has had more of a straight-up krautrock 4/4 snare-driven rhythm, III concentrates on the bass drum and toms to create a deeper trance, the bass guitar is like a lullaby that plunges you in deeper, while the guitars and keyboards float in and out, delivering the odd jab. You don’t listen to Föllakzoid, you are a slave to them.

12) Viet Cong - Bunker Buster: Too much has been said about the band’s name, which is a pretty boring topic if you ask me (the band are set to change it at some point), as Salman Rushdie said “'Nobody has the right to not be offended”. The unfortunate side issue has taken away discussion about what is one of the strongest albums of the year, which also has one of the best songs I have heard in years, Death, which featured on Q#101. Bunker Buster is one for people to nerd out to a little bit with its 6/4 beat.

13) Deerhunter – Breaker: Fading Frontier seems like a bit more of a low-key album after 2013’s glam-tinged Monomania, but it does get under your skin just like any Deerhunter album can. Breaker is just a downright beautiful song. “I'm alive, I don't credit the source, I just drive, And then the fog rolls in And then they're blind. My enemies, They're just trying, Trying to kill me”

14) Mac McCaughan - Lost Again: Superchunk frontman Mac McCAughan released his first “solo” album (discounting his Portastatic albums…) and Non-Believers veers more towards the melodic side of early 80s post-punk rather than the darker, more angular sounds that the genre seems exclusively wedded to these days. “All these houses are split in two, I'm driving down your street, I'm kind of looking for you, But I'm kind of looking for me”

15) The Holydrug Couple – Concorde: Plagiarising myself again - Chile’s grip as psych-rock leaders strengthened this year with a slew of releases, mostly from Blow Your Mind records and their two flagship bands, The Holydrug Couple and Follakzoid, both put out stellar records. Moonlust is the duo’s third album, and their second via New York label, Sacred Bones. There is more focus on texture and keyboards than Pink-Floyd-esque guitars of earlier material, but it’s a move they take in their stride. If you want to relax and bliss out for 40-minutes I can’t recommend a better option than Moonlust.

16) Sheer Agony - I Have a Dream: These Canadians (they are from Montreal) might win an award for most inappropriate name, because Sheer Agony are anything but to hear. Sticking to a somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach, their record is called Masterpiece. The band identify as Soft Boys Worship, and it’s as good a reference as any. I Have a Dream is one of the singles from the album (whatever that means these days), and while I would have used a different track but for time constraints, it’s a short jab of delightful jangle-pop.

17) Twerps – Stranger: There does seem to be an almost quintessential sound to Aussie (and Kiwi) indie-rock, and Twerps nail it. Range Anxiety seems to have been somewhat unfairly left off many end of year lists, which might be due to it being released so early in the year that people forget, or maybe they just don’t have great taste, who knows.

18) Mikal Cronin - Made My Mind Up: I think Mikal Cronin should be a bit of a superstar, with three fantastic albums in his discography, his live shows are also consistently impressive. Released on Merge, the helpfully titled III, continues to show off his songwriting hooks.

19) John Carpenter – Vortex: Yes, horror director John Carpenter released one of the most compelling records of 2015, via New York’s Sacred Bones label. Very much a cult icon for his soundtrack work as much as his direction, Lost Themes is strictly speaking his debut “album”.

20) Jessica Pratt - On Your Own Love Again: This is the title-track to Jessica’s second album, released on Drag City. If you want a folky/finger-picked record of 2015, most people will steer you towards Sufjan Stevens, but Jessica’s album is a real hidden gem. “I guess I'll try to keep on believing, You're just someone out there in chains, You're just here on your own love again”

And there you have it. My gig-going was down a little bit, I made it to 125 shows (down from 147 and 155 of the two previous years), but still a pretty respectable score! Anyway, here is hoping 2016 is a good year for everyone, it hasn’t started terribly well with the tragic loss of David Bowie!

Until next time

Peace and love - Q 

Please note that the zip file has a password: Q105

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