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Lo-Fi Heartache Pop v Psychedelic Witch Prog: Best New Music of 2017

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Best Music 2017

This year, a bumper Christmas post featuring my top twenty tracks of the year. And just to crank up the excitement levels to 11, I’m going to sort them into a chart.

Was this a good year for music? If you mean by that, was there bucketloads of good music released, then yes. I heard John Robb on 6 Music a couple of weeks ago claiming there were more good bands around just now than ever before.

This is in all likelihood true. But are there more truly great bands than ever before?

And how does music in 2017 compare with, say, 1967 or 1977?

Oh, those excitement levels might just have dropped but here are twenty very fine tracks. Before I begin though, a quick mention for some of the artists hovering just outside: Catholic Action, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Moonlandingz, Wire, The Hare and Hoofe, Brix and The Extricated, The Eastern Swell, The Secret Goldfish and Peter Perrett.

Okay, time to break out the Christmas sherry, sit down, relax and enjoy!

20. Mogwai: Coolverine
Every Country’s Son is far from the best ever Mogwai release but the track that kicked it off is mightily impressive. Is Coolverine an amusing pun, though, or just a plain cack title? I’m still not sure.


19. Sister John: Thinner Air
The best new Scottish act to emerge in 2017 and seemingly loved by every blogger out there. Sister John’s album Returned From Sea is out on the Last Night From Glasgow label and well worth seeking out.

18. John Foxx and The Maths: Genetic Hymnal
If Heaven actually existed this might just be the soundtrack.

17. Jesus and Mary Chain: Mood Rider

16. Goldfrapp: Anymore

15. Alvvays: Dreams Tonite
Album #2 from Canadian indie pop classicists proves that album #2 doesn’t neccessarily have to disappoint. Coming to Glasgow early next year.

14. The Orielles: I Only Bought It For The Bottle
Featured on this blog back in August, where I declared them ‘The Best Thing to Come Out of Halifax since John Noakes’.

13. LCD Soundsystem: Call the Police
The least surprising reunion ever probably had hipsters taking to the streets of Hoxton and Williamsburg in celebration all the same. It also produced some rip-roaring tunes.

12. Sparks: Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)

11. Alien Stadium: This One’s for the Humans
Steve Mason and Primal Scream’s Martin Duffy join together and make a four-track concept mini-album about pisshead aliens invading Earth. Or something like that.


10. Beck: Dear Life

9. The Breeders: Wait in the Car
One of the comebacks of the year although their Glasgow concert is unlikely to go down in Barrowlands folklore.

8. Young Fathers ft. Leith Congregational Choir: Only God Knows
God Only Knows why this band aren’t bigger. One of the best tracks on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack.

7. Slowdive: Don’t Know Why
Another successful reunion, this time from one of the great showgazing bands.

 
6. Arcade Fire: Everything Now
As featured previously here, where I compared some of the songs on their latest album to the sort of stuff David Brent sang on his Life On the Road tour.

5. The Sexual Objects: Sometimes (Boards of Canada remix)
Within the space of the first note of this remix you know Boards of Canada are involved. So you know you’re in good hands.

4. Morrissey: Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage
Well, I still like his music anyway.

3. PINS with Iggy Pop: Aggrophobe
I had high hopes when I heard the news that Eno was heading into the studio with the sonic genius that is Kevin Shields but it’s this single from some young Lancastrian lasses and a gnarled old American man that proved to be the collaboration of the year.

 
2. Girl Ray: Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove) 
Just as theatre critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote that he ‘could not love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger’, I couldn’t be friends with anybody that doesn’t think Earl Grey is a fabby album. My favourite of the year in fact. Just.

Girl Ray will play The Art School in Glasgow on 13 Apr 2018.

1. Madonnatron: Headless Children
Featured back here.

Earl Grey just edged out Madonnatrons’ self-titled album as my favourite album of the year but Madonnatron, in turn, just edged out Girl Ray’s Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove) as my favourite track of the year. Girl Ray incidentally were described as ‘Lo-fi Heartache Pop’ in the Guardian while Madonnatron describe themselves on their Facebook page as ‘Psychedelic Witch Prog’.

Mesmerizing, angry and disturbing here is Headless Children:

 
For more on Madonnatron click here.

 

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Headless Children & Don’t Go Back At Ten

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As is often the case nowadays, Marc Riley’s 6 Music show is where I first came across Madonnatron, when they came in to play a session. Very good it was too. Since then they’ve recorded another sesh for Marc and their music has been showcased regularly elsewhere on 6 Music. They’ve toured with Meatraffle and The Moonlandingz as well as performing recently at the Green Man Festival.

Now they’ve released a self-titled debut album on Trashmouth Records.

Madonnatron

Movie gurus often instruct screenplay writers to outline characters when we first meet them in only three words and on their Facebook page, Madonnatron describe themselves similarly, in their case ‘Psychedelic Witch Prog’.

If you’re worried about that last part, don’t worry, the album does include a couple of fluid Pink Floydy basslines and the occasional organ sound that I’m sure Rick Wright might well have influenced but these are more from the psychedelic era Floyd. There’s no grand concept here (unless it’s escaped me), no weird time signatures, no ten minute drum solos and no fold-out sleeve designed by Roger Dean (although the Pope might have preferred that).

Psychedelic Witch Post-Punk might be a more accurate three word description – well, Microsoft Word counts hyphenated words as one, so I don’t think I’m cheating here. Saying that, Psychedelic Witch Prog does have a better ring to it.

Madonnatron have only been together for around a year and a half and apparently they couldn’t play their chosen instruments when they started off.

More proof then that Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule – which I alluded to a few posts back – is far from infallible. They might not be as technically proficient as some but they sure know how to concoct a gloriously primal racket with desperate vocals and harmonies that (I guess) are sometimes deliberately discordant but all the better for it.

It’s an often dark, searingly angry and eerie album. And, yeah, it is rather bewitching.

Highlights include Mother’s Funeral and Sangue Neuf, where they strike up a furiously feral chant like a girl gang moonlighting as a garage band; Be My Bitch has a great rockabilly guitar sound with the reverb cranked up really high while Glen Closer comes over like a female goth band that have just recruited Elena Poulou.

Best of all is album opener Headless Children. This is one of the most invigorating tracks released so far in 2017 and it comes with an inspired promo too.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Moon (during the Witching Hour of course):


Three words to sum up the album. Top fucking notch.

Madonnatron are playing live tomorrow at the Windmill Brixton as part of the Strong Island Recordings all-dayer and they’re set to tour the country in early 2018.

If you wanna find out more, here’s where you can find them on Facebook and Bandcamp.

*

It’s been a whole fortnight since I last featured Girl Ray. Luckily they’ve just released a new video for Don’t Go Back At Ten from their fantastic debut album Earl Grey, which gives me a great excuse for including them here again.

‘The joyous visuals,’ according to the Fader, ‘transport things back to a time when TRL dominated the culture’, which I think means it’s a parody of the kind of crap videos that I spend my life attempting to avoid.

No need to avoid this though. Here is Don’t Go Back At Ten:


If you wanna see Girl Ray – and why wouldn’t you? – here are the band’s upcoming British tour dates:

Leeds, Headrow House (October 31)
Manchester, Gullivers (November 1)
Glasgow, Broadcast (November 2)
Newcastle, Think Tank Underground (November 3)
Birmingham, Hare & Hounds (November 5)
Oxford, The Cellar (November 6)
Bristol, Louisiana (November 7)
Brighton, Green Door Store (November 8)
London, The Scala (November 9)

For more on Girl Ray click here.

Best of the Year 2016 (Part One)

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Thirty tracks, ten films and five books, so a festive 45 of sorts. Not a vintage year for music (sadly I seem to say that every year nowadays) but as ever there has been plenty of excellent new singles and albums, in fact, I could easily have compiled a top one hundred.

best-of-the-year-artists-1

This 50-something’s favourites include music by a man in his 70s, a man pushing 70 and a man who died aged 69, namely Ian Hunter, Iggy Pop and, of course, David Bowie but I’m going to kick off with some new talent in the shape of Australian singer/songwriter Gabriella Cohen.

Former front woman of The Furrs, Gabriella has been lazily compared to Courtney Barnett; well, both are female, Melbourne based and get filed under indie but they don’t really have that much in common musically apart from a flair for making instantly enjoyable music.

Cohen’s debut album, Full Closure and No Details, is a self-produced collection of ten tracks brimming with an assurance and vitality that suggest she is definitely one to watch. Here’s my favourite cut from it, Downtown:



I did think Steve Mason deserved to win this year’s SAY Award with Meet the Humans but instead the judges voted that Scotland’s Album of the Year was Varmints by Anna Meredith, which would have been my number two.

One of the things I like about Anna is that in an age where every second Scottish act sometimes seem to be playing almost identikit folk inflected indie, she does her own classical/electronic/art pop/experimental thang with a perky playfulness that proves to be sonically intriguing, sometimes even provocative.

In the past this former Composer-in-Residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has been commissioned to make music utilising MRI scanners and performed ‘body percussion pieces’ which I haven’t seen/heard but which sound more innovative and ambitious than some sensitive indie guy singing songs of yearning on his acoustic guitar.

I’m gonna have to warn you that this video contains strobing/flashing lights throughout. This is Anna Meredith with The Vapours:


And now for some of Anna’s Moshi Moshi labelmates.

A big favourite of Unthought of, though, somehow, where I first came across them, Girl Ray (no relation to Man Ray or even poor old Johnnie Ray) recently recorded a session for Marc Riley and have supported the likes of Ezra Furman and Hooton Tennis Club in the past coupla months. Hopefully we get to hear a lot more of them in 2017.

Here they are with Trouble:


Here’s six more favourites to make up the first third of my musical selections:

Fat White Family: Breaking into Aldi
Rituals: Black River
The Limanas: Garden of Love
Stoor: Witchfinder General
Cate LeBon: Wonderful
&
The Parrots: Too High to Die

For more on Gabriella Cohen:
https://www.facebook.com/gabriellacohenmusic/

Steve Mason:
https://www.facebook.com/Steve-Mason-197724901872/?fref=ts

Anna Meredith:
http://www.annameredith.com/

Girl Ray:
https://www.facebook.com/girlraylondon/