• Best Of 2013

    Jan 15 2014, 16h20

    10. A Wilhelm Scream - Partycrasher
    Every year there’s at least one album that for whatever reason I only get round to listening to at about Christmas time, meaning it has only a week or two to try and force its way onto my end of year list. This year the aptly-titled Partycrasher was that album, finding itself at number ten. Just like a certain other band on this list, A Wilhelm Scream are firmly in the camp of ‘quality over quantity’ when it comes to writing and releasing new music- a stance which hasn’t let them down yet. The songwriting on Partycrasher is more fleshed out than on previous releases (there aren’t any sub-two minute thrashes to be found here), while the band seems to have finally mastered the balance between melody and techy instrumentation. The opening four tracks are probably amongst the band’s best, while the rest of the album manages to stay close in terms of quality.

    9. The Computers - Love Triangles, Hate Squares
    When does evolution become reinvention? That’s the question The Computers ask with Love Triangles, Hate Squares, as they go from fairly one-dimensional shouty punks playing surf guitar riffs to a fully-fledged punk/soul hybrid. Punk is no stranger to welcoming in sounds from other genres- ska, folk, thrash, even Irish country music has been embraced- but this is probably the first time that the sounds of 1960s/70s soul music has made such an overt and deliberate impression. It’s a credit to The Computers, then, that this never comes off as gimmicky or contrived, and that each song manages to craft a niche for itself. Love Triangles, Hate Squares sounds so good that, if anything, we should be wondering why this sort of thing hasn’t been done before.

    8. Balance & Composure - The Things We Think We're Missing
    At first I really wasn’t impressed with the preview tracks from The Things We Think We’re Missing; at first the likes of Reflection and Tiny Raindrop seemed to lack melody, making them come across as hazy and distant. While the tracks did grow on me, the album was still pretty much an impulse buy. It proved to be a sound one though, as once I ‘got’ what B&C were going for I really started to enjoy it: it’s supposed to be grungy and atmospheric, and the melodies just take a few listens to really rise to the surface. The album pretty much defined my musical taste for a good month, and led me to Bands I Knew I Was Missing like Title Fight and the entire Run For Cover roster. If 2013 was the year this 90s alt-rock revival became a recognised thing, The Things We Think We’re Missing was one of the front runners.

    7. The Flatliners - Dead Language
    Dead Language was probably both the best surprise and the most predictable album of 2013 for me. It was surprising because I didn’t even realise The Flatliners were working on new material, let alone ready to release it a few months after it was announced. It was predictable because as expected, it’s brilliant- since Cavalcade, every song the band has put out has been incredibly well written (one day they’ll put out the best B-sides album ever) and full of fire. Although Dead Language didn’t mirror the huge jump in quality of its predecessor, frankly it didn’t need to as the band was already working at the top end of the melodic punk spectrum. Consolidation is fine when it sounds this good.

    6. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart
    Given the lyrical themes of the album, my response to Tape Deck Heart was always going to be about timing. Had it come nine months earlier it probably would have hit me like an emotional freight train, and would have probably been higher up this list; in the end that extra space allowed me to appreciate the themes and details without being totally overwhelmed by them. That doesn’t mean Tape Deck Heart isn’t still a great album though: the extra layers of studio gloss suit Turner’s anthemic style, while in support the Sleeping Souls sound as tight as ever. I also think this is the first of Turner’s albums that can’t be divided into the ‘hits’ and the ‘deep cuts’; previous albums may have been similarly unified thematically, but none have been as consistent in terms of quality.

    5. Restorations - LP2
    There’s always one artist who springs pretty much out of nowhere, yet within a few weeks I’ve bought and devoured their entire back catalogue (easier for some artists than others). Filling the Constantines-shaped void that exists in my life (which at that point I wasn’t even aware I had), Restorations are a band whose sound I just can’t get enough of. LP2 keeps the post-rock inspired guitar work, but ramps up the Springsteen-esque rock ‘n’ roll influence and puts the rhythm section on a course of steroids. In fact, I find it pretty much impossible not to air-drum along to songs such as D or New Old, which can only be a good sign. It’s rare to find an album that can appeal to both the primal punk rock and more intelligent indie rock sides of my brain, Restorations manage to do it in almost every song.

    4. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
    Another album that I wasn’t really too fussed about when it was first announced, that all changed thanks to QotSA’s performance on Jool’s Holland. The thing that shone through most was just how good these songs were: while hardly ground-breaking by mainstream rock standards, they did everything well and just sounded great. …Like Clockwork is even better as a whole, feeling cohesive despite the array of guests and musical approaches on display. The piano moments are perhaps the most surprising part; I like to think of them as cracks in Josh Homme’s macho rock and roll persona, allowing us to see more fully what lies beneath. The album’s closing tracks are probably the year’s best, rounding out the record with a beautifully restrained build and climax.

    3. Streetlight Manifesto - The Hands That Thieve
    Toh Kay - The Hand that Thieves
    Despite what Victory Records might say, these albums are best enjoyed as they were designed: together. As with A Wilhelm Scream, a new Streetlight album is an event, something that only happens every few years and something that pretty much guarantees quality. But the nature of this double album (yes I’m calling it that) was still surprising- one electric with horns a-blazin’, one acoustic with voices whispered. By this point we know that Thomas Kalnoky writes and arranges incredible songs, but the electric/acoustic format gives an added layer of depth that we haven’t seen before: the additional final verse in Toh Kay’s If Only For Memories is really touching, and who’d have thought Oh Me, Oh My would find a home in a Parisian café? Although Kalnoky is still rather obsessed lyrically with death, religion and the afterlife, it seems kind of fitting now the band is winding down, and this is a great way to go out.

    2. Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle
    I can still remember the first time I heard the opening suite of Once I was An Eagle: Laura Marling’s performance of the four tracks on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show brought everything to a halt, except for the hairs on the back of my neck. Don’t get me wrong, Marling had had some great moments on her previous albums, but nothing had hit me with as much force as those four intertwined songs did. Predictably, the rest of the album was just as brilliant: those hairs didn’t stay down for long. Structurally, conceptually and instrumentally a cohesive whole, Once I Was An Eagle is a journey from front to back- one made all the more pertinent by Marling’s newfound lyrical openness. The opening half is angry, aggressive and even arrogant; yet the image of Marling as Master Hunter soon gives way to self-loathing, self-reflection and self-doubt- by the time the opening motif returns in the closer Saved These Words, it has become apparent that the album is essentially coming full-circle. Although at times overwhelming, Once I was An Eagle follows the old cliché that you get out what you put in, and boy is it worth the effort.

    1. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
    For a long time The National were a band I really didn’t like; I thought of them as another Pitchfork-hyped indie band that hipster wankers put on their end-of-year lists so they seemed in the know. Amazingly they had achieved this status in my mind without me actually listening to them. Skip forward two years and I’ve been sucked in like everyone else: The National are so good it’s not really fair on everyone else. Trouble Will Find Me might not be the band’s ‘best’ album (probably Boxer), but it’s certainly my favourite: every individual song is written and arranged to the highest calibre, while Matt Berninger’s melodies are simply gorgeous throughout. However, the thing that makes this an Album of the Year for me is the way so many of these songs manage to shift gears and evolve into something different, something far greater. Songs such as Demons, This Is The Last Time and Graceless feature bridges so superb that at times they feel like completely new songs. In the hands of a band as good as The National, this technique is almost lethal.
    My top two this year show two different approaches to writing albums; yet for all of Laura Marling’s conceptual depth, The National demonstrate with Trouble Will Find Me that sometimes making a great album can be as simple as putting 13 great songs together.
  • Best of 2012

    Dez 30 2013, 15h29

    (A year late, but oh well)

    10. Tom Williams & The Boat - Teenage Blood
    I kind of stumbled on this album by accident and it ended up being a bit of an impulse buy. I’m very glad I decided to listen to it- it’s a great folk-rock album with some lovely textures and its own sense of charm and wit. Most of this comes from Tom’s lyrics, which can be surreal and bizarrely hilarious at times. Charming.
    Highlights: There’s A Stranger, Trouble With the Truth, My Bones

    9. Hot Water Music - Exister
    I first got into HWM during their hiatus and I was happy to settle for Chris and Chuck’s solo stuff instead, so a new album was never really something I’d expected- so when I heard they were recording again I was pant-pissingly excited. However on first impressions I was left a little disappointed: the polished production, straightforward song-writing/structures and lack of Sinc artwork meant this didn’t feel like the HWM I was so incredibly fond of. This is still my general feeling towards the album, but I can now appreciate the quality of most of the songs on here- and when looked at in the context of The New What Next and The Draft album it makes more sense. Gruff
    Highlights: Paid In Full, Wrong Way, Drag My Body

    8. Dry the River - Shallow Bed
    The BBC Sound of… is a list I generally pay no attention to as the artists featured are never of any interest to me. However, Dry The River bucked that trend mainly thanks to the members’ roots in punk/rock and the fact they seemed to be a ‘proper’ band. Their debut album. Shallow Bed, is simply beautiful. The vocal harmonies, the melodies, the instrumentation, the production- everything here just leans towards beauty, making for a thoroughly enjoyable listen. (yep, you’ve guessed it:) Beautiful.
    Highlights: History Book, Bible Belt, Shaker Hymns

    7. The Menzingers - On the Impossible Past
    I never really got the hype surrounding The Menzingers when Chamberlain Waits came out, it was a great album with some great tracks but it never seemed to hit me like it did others. Since the release of The Impossible Past that hype has snowballed further- luckily my appreciation of the band has also increased. The album feels like a whole thanks to its flow and lyrical themes, but most importantly its jam full of cracking tunes that work equally as well on their own. I still don’t think The Menzingers are the saviours of punk, but this is a damn fine record. American (muscle cars).
    Highlights: Nice Things, Gates, Good Things

    6. Make Do and Mend - Everything You've Ever Loved
    After hearing the preview tracks released from this album it was clear this was going to be a very different beast to their debut, an album which I played to death. Here they’ve turned up the Jimmy East World influence and introduced a far greater range of dynamics to the album, making it a far more nuanced and interesting listen. Not as good as End Measured Mile, but a necessary step in their evolution. Progression.
    Highlights: Hide Away, Count, Drown In It

    5. The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
    Its beyond a cliché to say that certain albums have the ability to transport you to a specific moment in time, but clichés are there for a reason. Handwritten takes me back to the very first time I listened to it in the summer, the lyrics essentially summed up exactly how I was feeling at that time and everything just seemed to fall into place. It helps that the record has some of the bands best songs, their best recording and the most suitable production style (ie massive- the major label complements them). An album with this much personal and emotional baggage attached had to be on this list. Woahoah.
    Highlights: “45”, Howl, Too Much Blood

    4. Propagandhi - Failed States
    Supporting Caste was my album of the year in 2009, so this had a lot to live up to before it was even out. At first I was a little disappointed with the harder, faster sound here- I’m not a massive fan of their shorter songs, generally sung by Jord on SC. However, after looking at the lyrics in a bit more depth they really started to hit me: although they don’t cover as much ground as previous efforts, its nice to see some consistent themes emerge- especially when they’re hugely relatable one such as the apathy of consumerism. Not quite as good as SC, but still ahead of most other ‘punk’ bands out there. Thrashy.
    Highlights: Unscripted Moments, Note To Self, Duplicate Keys Icaro (An Interim Report)

    3. Jim Lockey & the Solemn Sun - Death
    I kind of knew about JL&tSS before this year as they’re from the town down the road from me, but I’d never listened to them before. When I saw they had signed to Xtra Mile (the home of Frank Turner, Crazy Arm, Against Me!...) I knew they’d be worth checking out, so I went along to their album release in-store thing. ‘Death’ is a great folk/punk/rock album- the opening salvo of singles is pure sing-along quality and the rest of the record keeps pushing on. The lyrics are sincere, political and poetic and the songs brilliantly crafted.
    Highlights: England’s Dead, New Natives, Warriors

    2. Murder By Death - Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon
    I had a love affair with Murder By Death in 2012- I stumbled upon ‘Foxglove’ and from the opening cello strokes that was it: within months I had bought all of their albums and loved all of them equally. I knew they were putting out something new later on in the year so I waited in anticipation, not really sure what to expect from my new love. I’m currently of the opinion that Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is MBD’s best album: Scott Brackett adds a huge amount of depth and variety to their sound with all manner of instrumentation, complementing the cello work perfectly; the production is absolutely brilliant- huge yet clear, with loads of little touches that take multiple listens to even notice; plus the songs are some of the best the band have written. Dark.
    Highlights: I Came Around, Hard World, Ghost Fields

    1. Apologies, I Have None - London
    Just read the review I wrote for this album and you'll get an idea of how much I love it. Its an emotional roller-coaster throughout, with lyrics specific in time and place yet relatable to anyone who feels lost (/loss) in the world. The song writing is incredible too, twisting and turning from one section and song to the next yet still maintaining a cohesive whole- there’s even room for a piano ballad. Soaring.
    Highlights: Long Gone, Still Sitting Tight, Foundations
  • Best of 2011

    Jan 23 2012, 17h47

    10. Dropkick Murphys - Going Out In Style
    Their most 'Irish' album yet, a real change from the previous one and arguably much better for it. The whole concept album thing didn't really stick with me, but still a great collection of songs.

    9. Banner Pilot - Heart Beats Pacific
    On paper better than Collapser, but for whatever reason I never really got into it. Still, massive hooks and upliftingly depressing lyrics make it a great album. They're gonna have to mix it up a bit next time or face becoming the next Pennywise...

    8. Dave Hause - Resolutions
    'Punk man goes solo' is getting a bit tiresome at the minute, but albums such as this prove it can still be effective if given enough thought. On the surface its a pretty basic album, but there's just an honesty and sincerity in the lyrics and delivery that stuck with me.

    7. Random Hand - Seething Is Believing
    One of the hardest working bands in the UK, but they've actually got the songs to back it up. This album has more of a punk/less of a metal sound to it, which probably makes it even better to shout along to.

    6. Bangers - Small Pleasures
    This steadily grew on me and has sneaked in way higher than I thought it would. The lyrics are at times (deliberately) hilarious and relatable for anyone who lives in a shitty little English town.

    5. The King Blues - Punk & Poetry
    Just when I thought they were fading out into mainstream pop, the video for We Are Fucking Angry pops up. Thats exactly what this album is, and it gives the band a (much needed) shot in the arm. 5 Bottles of Shampoo and that bit (if you've heard it you'll know) in The Future's Not What It Used To Be are just brilliant.

    4. Chuck Ragan - Covering Ground
    While I love Hot Water Music, Chuck's solo stuff is just incredible. This album is more striped-back than before, you can see its been honed by months on the road. Opening the Revival Tour with Nomad By Fate- the fiddle in particular- just sent shivers down my spine.

    3. Crazy Arm - Union City Breath
    The follow-up to one of my favourite albums could've been difficult, but you know a band is good when you trust them to make a great album. Way more diverse than their debut, Crazy Arm are miles ahead of every other 'punk' band in the UK.

    2. The Horrible Crowes - Elsie
    I wasn't sure what to expect with this, but even my best case scenario was blown out of the water. Brian Fallon's song writing is just so strong that every track on Elsie stands up on its own.

    1. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones
    His best album by far. Normally FT albums have a few really strong tracks, some good and some not so, but every song on here is great. Then theres the fact that Redemption and I Am Disappeared are probably the two best songs he's ever written.
  • Best of 2010

    Fev 21 2011, 10h03

    10. Against Me! - White Crosses
    Probably their weakest album, the lyrics- aside from a few stand outs -don't seem to have that same bite as before. However, the tunes are still huge, and if it wasn't for the sickly production it would be a lot higher up this list.

    9. Bad Religion - The Dissent of Man
    A bit of a let down if I'm honest. There's some great tracks on here (Only Rain is stunning) but as usual they don't know how to cut the not-so-good ones. I like the slight change in style though.

    8. Off With Their Heads - In Desolation
    Just a really solid album, with brilliantly self-deprecating lyrics.

    7. Fake Problems - Real Ghosts Caught On Tape
    If only this album had come out in the summer, it probably would be a few places higher. The stripped-back style really works as the melodies and lyrics really come to the fore, plus Soulless is a cool rip-off of Walking on Sunshine.

    6. The Menzingers - Chamberlain Waits
    At first I didn't really get what all the fuss was about (punknews I'm looking at you), but after hearing their first album the leap in quality if obvious. I still don't really get the Clash comparisons though.

    5. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
    I gave in to the hype and was pleasantly surprised by this, its nowhere near as pretentious as I thought it would be. Probably one of the most deserving 'mainstream' bands around.

    4. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
    Only 10 songs, but arguably a step up from The 59 Sound which is a huge achievement in itself.

    3. The Arteries - Dead Sea
    Again proving to be one of the best punk bands in the UK at the moment, The Arteries shows maturity to go with their energy and passion. They deserve to be big.

    2. The Flatliners - Cavalcade
    This was going to be #1 right up until a few weeks ago. A huge step up in song writing from the last record (which I still loved), even the B-sides are pretty amazing. The best feature of this album is its diversity, something that prevents me from picking a clear highlight.

    1. Make Do and Mend - End Measured Mile
    Emotional, catchy and just generally brilliant- especially for a debut album. Its the small touches that really make this album, the female backing vocals and strings on Firewater being a definite highlight.