Saturday, 26 December 2009

My Favourite Albums of 2009

Firstly, this list is purely based on what I think. It's entirely my own opinion and certainly doesn't match up to most "Albums of 2009" lists. There's no Humbug (Although I do think it's a brilliant album), no Primary Colours (Good album; very overrated) and no It's Blitz (I haven't even heard that album to be honest). I didn't exclude these albums to seem cool or obscure, they just didn't mean anything to me. The albums I've picked all had some sort of effect on me; they either relate back to a happy memory or just made me think about things differently. Anyway enough rambling...

Reverend and The Makers - A French Kiss in The Chaos
I think I made my opinion on this album pretty clear here. Reverend and The Makers were my definitive band of 2009. No doubt when I think back to this year it'll be them that will be at the forefront of my musical memories. It may surprise you to learn that, before this year, I wasn't the biggest R&TM fan. Like everyone, I enjoyed Heavyweight Champion Of The World when it was released back in 2007 but they were always just another throwaway band I could take or leave. Seeing them live for the first time back in July changed this. Ironically, it was a gig I wasn't even planning on going to until I got offered a spot on the guestlist. I've been to plenty of gigs over the last two years, some better than others, but that gig was a bit special. Maybe it was the relaxed atmosphere, the showmanship of Jon McClure, the enthusiasm of each band member or the outside acoustic set afterwards; whatever it was, it effectuated in the most enjoyable gig I've ever been to. Even so, when A French Kiss In The Chaos was released a few weeks later, I wasn't banking on it being quite so enticing. This is a big step up from The State of Things, R&TM take everything to a new psychedelic level and Jon's politically incisive lyrics prove that someone does care. There is hope in modern music, we have someone willing to stand up and try to make a difference about stuff that actually matters. It's just a shame not many people are inclined to listen. I've seen this band live three times now and each time I've left feeling fully satisfied and judging by their on stage antics (personal highlight: trapping the roadie on stage in Edinburgh which resulted in one very beer soaked man) the band enjoy every minute of it. And that's what Reverend and The Makers are; they're fun, they're talented and, most importantly, they're real.
Album Highlights; No Soap (In A Dirty War), Hard Time For Dreamers, No Wood Just Trees.

The Rifles - Great Escape
2009 was a year of transformations. The Horrors went new wave, Franz Ferdinand went electro (well, sort of) even Jack Penate tried his hand at incorporating some new genres into his sophomore record. But amongst all this, one band stayed true to themselves - step forward The Rifles. Great Escape is simply just 11 (well 12 if you count bonus track Lazy Bones) great rock anthems. From start to finish we’re met with strong melodies, catchy choruses and lyrics anyone can relate to. First track Science In Violence is a typical in-your-face opener with it’s punchy guitar chords, crashing symbols and catchy vocal chants. This gutsy style is continued for the next few tracks until we come to the gem that is Toe Rag, undeniably one of the best lyrical tales of mundane life since The Jam gave us Smithers-Jones. But for me the real high point of the album comes in the shape of the eerily evocative Out in The Past, in my opinion the best song The Rifles have ever written. Joel Stoker’s vocal talent really shines through in this song and the last “all I saw was you” is so hauntingly beautiful that all claims of The Rifles being another lad-rock band are blown right out of the water. This is further backed up by the lone ballad of the album, closer For The Meantime, a Beatles inspired track that sounds maybe a little too like Strawberry Fields Forever. Great Escape might not be a ground breaking album, it may not be anything we haven’t heard before; it’s simple but it’s brilliant.
Album Highlights; Out in The Past, Toe Rag, Sometimes.

Frank Turner - Poetry of The Deed
The first time I listened to this album I was disappointed. See, what initially attracted me to Frank Turner was the passion with which he delivered his vocals and Poetry of The Deed just seemed a whole lot less...angry than his previous two releases. But the truth is, Frank hasn't got any less passionate - he's just simply matured. So that's why, after a few listens, I learned to love Poetry of The Deed for what it is; a brilliant album by a brilliant artist, regardless of how it compares to Love Ire & Song and Sleep is For The Week. One thing that has remained constant throughout all three of Frank's albums is his lyrics, you'll be hard pushed to find any modern songwriter with lyrics as great as his. This is proven in the albums shining moment Try This At Home were Frank tells us "there's no such thing as rockstars/there's just people who play music/and some of them are just like us/and some of them are dicks". While this is the album's best track it's by no means isolated at the top. Poetry of The Deed is crammed full of emotive tracks that give us an insight into Frank's life and cement his place as a folk-punk troubadour well worthy of Billy Bragg comparisons. As well as his talent at producing fantastic albums, Frank also happens to be one of the best live acts I saw this year so I'd advise you to snap up tickets for his upcoming tour before it's too late!
Album Highlights; Try This At Home, Live Fast Die Old, The Road.

Yves Klein Blue - Ragged & Ecstatic
Yves Klein Blue are probably my favourite discovery of this year. The Brisbane four piece made such an impact on me live that I got their debut album shipped over from Australia. Ragged & Ecstatic is an eclectic collection of uplifting pop delights. It’s exactly what a debut album should be - fun, infectious and full of youthful energy, with Michael Tomlinson’s impassioned and witty lyricism at the forefront of it’s appeal. Songs such as Make Up Your Mind and Getting Wise showcase Tomlinson’s unique vocal style as well as allowing the band’s ebullient personalities to shine through before the album briefly loses control with the boldly named Digital Love, a much heavier number. That’s one of the most impressive aspects of this album; the band’s seemingly effortless capability of sliding between joyous and playful (the ska-tinged Summer Sheets) and dark and contemplative (Celebrity Death; a chilling ballad inspired by the media’s treatment of celebrities). Ragged & Ecstatic is as inventive and imaginative as anything you will have heard this year. Tomlinson’s lyrics manage to effectively convey his views on life, in both a personal and universal manner, and successfully prompt us Into considering our own place in this world. I don’t like to tempt fate but the sheer swagger and energy of this record is reminiscent of early Arctic Monkeys or even, dare I say it, The Libertines.
Album Highlights: Polka, Make Up Your Mind, Reprise.

Fake Problems - It's Great To Be Alive
If the world has any sense Fake Problems will make it big in 2010. I really enjoyed their debut album, How Far Our Bodies, go but this is just something else! The aptly named It’s Great To Be Alive is a quirky collection of quality punk songs. In fact, no, better than that; punk songs that you can dance too. It’s obvious Fake Problems enjoy experimenting with their music. Take Dream Team for example, it has handclaps, cowbells AND xylophone, how many bands could comfortably pull that one off ?! The entire album is interspersed with unconventional little touches like this which help Fake Problems stand out a little from the crowd. Closing song, the uplifting indie-rock anthem Heart BPM is one of the greatest things I’ve heard all year and ends the album on an awesome singalong of “When you're young/ When you're dumb/ When you're drunk as hell and in love/When you're sad/When you're no on/ Pretend you're something more than you are/But your not”, a chorus which proves Fake Problems have progressed lyrically as well as musically. These guys are touring the UK in April and I can vouch that their live show is even more impressive than their recorded work so get involved!
Album Highlights: Heart BPM, Tabernacle Song, Dream Team.

Twin Atlantic - Vivarium
Okay, it’s a mini album…but I’m still counting it. I don’t download leaks, ever, so by the time this came out I was probably one of the only massive Twin Atlantic fans that hadn’t already heard it. And the reviews I’d heard from fellow devotees weren’t too positive. The main gripe appeared to be that there was only one song on the entire album (Better Weather) that we hadn’t already heard, whether that be live or recorded. For me, that isn’t a problem. Vivarium is a collection of Twin Atlantic’s best songs to date, it’s not aimed at hardcore fans, it’s a way of letting new listeners hear exactly what the band are all about. And for that purpose it’s perfect. The album immediately reels us in with the explosive Lightspeed and is essentially non stop catchy hooks and ferocious drums for the next six songs. A highlight comes in the form of Caribbean War Syndrome, starting off pretty mellow there’s always the threat of an explosion and it comes a minute from the end of this epic six minuter as Sam screams “This campaign is criminal, criminal scream fucking insane/Bring me the contract, sign me up to blow these fuckers away”. The boys manage to blend a bit of tranquillity in with all that ferocity with last song Better Weather, it was always a brave decision to leave out fan favourite Crash Land but this beautifully written rock ballad more than makes up for it!
Album Highlights: Human After All, Caribbean War Syndrome, Audience And Audio

Jersey Budd - Wonderlands
There’s been a fair bit of hype surrounding Leicester singer-songwriter Jersey Budd; he’s best mates with The Rifles, he attended the same school as Kasabian (Tom makes an appearance on She Came Back)…heck, he even received a Christmas present from Liam Gallagher! But for a change the hype is well justified. Wonderlands is a solid debut and has resulted in many declaring Jersey the “British Bruce Springsteen”. And it’d be hard to argue with that - he has the looks, the charm and, most importantly, the tunes to become just as big as The Boss. This may not be the most profound album of the year but Jersey’s optimistic take on life, which is displayed in the lyrics to most of the album, along with his wonderful voice and lovely instrumentation (organs, pianos, strings…Wonderlands has it all) combine for something nearing perfect. Each track has it’s place on the album and I wouldn’t class any of them as fillers, something which is quite rare these days. It’s also worth checking out his b-sides (Step Out of The Shadows and Long Way To Go) which also have something to offer.
Album Highlights: Visions of You, When We Shine, All In A Dream

Other Albums I Enjoyed This Year
Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top
Idlewild - Post Electric Blues
Dave House - Intersections
Maximo Park - Quicken The Heart
White Lies - To Lose My Life
Richard Hawley - True Love's Gutter
The Cribs - Ignore The Ignorant
Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
The Maccabees - Wall Of Arms
Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Julian Casablances - Phrazes For The Young
Florence + The Machine - Lungs
Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More
We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls

Thursday, 24 December 2009


As it's Christmas Eve and you're no doubt sick of hearing cheesy Christmas songs everywhere you go...have another one;

"The Magic of Christmas" was written by Bright Light, Bright Light's Rod Thomas and features a whole host of musicians such as; Copy Haho, Los Campesinos!, Slow Club, Sparky Deathcap, Sky Larkin, Dananananaykroyd + many more. It makes a nice change to hear a good, wholesome Christmas song by decent artists instead of the usual commercialised pop bands, I've listened to this non stop for the past few weeks and don't even feel guilty! Anyway you can download it for a mere 69p from here. All proceeds go to the RSPCA so support the cause.

While you're at it check out one of my favourite Christmas songs; "It's Christmas So We'll Stop" by the wonderful Frightened Rabbit. This is 5 minutes of pure perfection. It may not be your typical cheery festive song but Scott Hutchinson's sheer passion mixed with heartfelt lyrics and a well placed string section and choir makes this a poignantly beautiful song. Obviously they only get to play it live once each year and I was lucky enough to catch their Christmas show at the ABC in Glasgow a few days back and I must say it was one of my favourite gig moments of 2009!

(credit to Susied89)

This year the newspaper The Sun ran their own "12 Days of Christmas" which involved 12 different artist covering festive classics. I haven't watched most of them (to be fair I'm not really interested in Mika or The Twang) but The Rifles and Jersey Budd were on fantastic form with their fun filled version of Sleigh Ride.

And finally, it may not be music but I think this is worth checking out. Jon McClure (Aka Reverend of Reverend and the Makers) has written a series of short films, the first one being about the lies children are told at Christmas etc. The main guy in the film also stars in R&TM's No Soap (In A Dirty War) video and there's also appearances from the lovely Laura Manuel and Andy Nicholson (former Arctic Monkey, current Book Club-er and soon to be Maker).

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Courteeners - Cross My Heart & Hope To Fly

The first time I heard this song, on Zane Lowe's first play naturally, I had to pause it to make sure there was no background music playing. In my defence the intro is just about as far away from anything on St Jude as possible. Only when Liam Fray's vocals kick in does this bare any resemblance to a Courteeners tune

To start with I wasn't too sure about all the "oooh's", it just didn't seem right. How could the band that gave us the rawness of Kimberly and the simplicity of Please Don't produce something so...grand. Two or three listens later and I loved it. Different doesn't always have to mean bad and in this case it certainly doesn't. Cross My Heart & Hope To Fly keeps all that's good from The Courteeners first album - danceable riffs, catchy hooks and Liam's fantastic lyrics - and then just takes everything up a notch (and it has handclaps, any song that includes handclaps is a winner to me!). Hearing this has given me high hopes for the tour in March. If this song's anything to go by then second album Falcon should be a stormer!

Download Cross My Heart & Hope To Fly
And Pre Order Falcon

Unsigned Band #2 - The Backhanded Compliments

Formed from the ashes of Milburn and Union City, The Backhanded Compliments are Tom Rowley (Vocals & Guitar), Ryan Sellars (Bass) and Joe Green (Drums). Being a massive Milburn fan I got into these guys pretty much as soon as they started. Fast forward a year and a bit later and I finally got to see them live supporting Reverend and The Makers at the HMV Picture House.

The Backhanded Compliments almost seem like a natural progression from Milburn - darker, heavier and more mature but still with the same Northern charm. The biggest difference lies in the nature of the lyrics. BHC's lyrics are more cryptic, even sinister at times, which sets them apart from most modern day indie bands. In fact only Tom's vocals, sung with a strong Sheffield accent, will give critics an excuse to label them "indie". That's not to say his voice is generic though. In fact it's pretty unique, harsher than Joe Carnall's, it suits the band's songs perfectly.

Unfortunately, thanks to a stupidly early stage time, not many people were inside the Picture House by the time The Backhanded Compliments took to the stage. Which is a shame considering they put in an exceptional performance. For being a three piece they make an insane amount of noise. To have a sound that fills an almost empty 1500 capacity venue is no mean feat but these guys make it look easy. It’s obvious that, individually, the three of them are outstanding musicians. Tom manages to produce layer upon layer of guitar work (which includes some superb riffs) and still pull off a perfect vocal performance whilst Ryan quietly holds everything together on bass. However the real star of the show has to be Greeny, I've genuinely never seen anyone drum with such ferocity and pace. He truly has to be one of the best drummers I've ever had the pleasure of seeing live.

My only complaint would be that their set was far too short, it felt like second support Yves Klein Blue (who also put on an impressive display) were on for twice as long as The Backhanded Compliments. Nonetheless, the six or seven songs they did play - which included my favourite, Master of Disguise, and the awesome The Devil Digs Down - showcased their ability and, if they conversation I overheard after they finished is anything to go by, managed to make a good few people take note.

I can honestly say that, even if Reverend and The Makers weren't fantastic as always, it would still have been worth the lonely journey to Edinburgh and the £18 (!) train fare just to see The Backhanded Compliments live. These guys are well worth checking out; imagine Milburn meets some of the songs from Humbug, only a lot more intricate. Add a hint of Queens of The Stone Age plus some Nick Cave inspired lyrics and you're almost there. Then again, as always, I'm biased.

The Devil Digs Down;

Master of Disguise;

Official Site