Of course, when I say classics, I mean my kind of classics.
Of course, when I say classics, I mean my kind of classics.
So seeing as I surfaced from my
bedroom studio to take in the new Big Blood album, I had a scan round some other crannies of the real world. This one grabbed me, gently mind, but the last song also grabbed my soon to be 7-year old daughter so much that she demanded I play it again and again.
This is folk rock in the early 70s style with a psych-tinged witchiness to it, a lazy description but I don’t like descriptions because they tax my feeble mind. The nearest reference point I have to this is Espers, but with a more lullabilic (neologism alert!) feel, particularly the aforementioned last tune. Also Horse Cult.
The album was recorded over the span of some years and is made by two witch sisters who live in different countries.
Supergroups are usually such a bad idea. At least, they used to be back in the days the majority of music was released on major record labels. I have a suspicion that it might not be quite so straight-forward now that most of the best music is now located away from the mainstream and those oh-so-glaring lights of commercial expectation.
SO anyway, Heron Oblivion are comprised of members of Comets on Fire and Espers, amongst others, two artists who between them made 4 of my favourite albums from the first decade of this millennium, including one of the contenders for Best Tune Ever (that would be Dogwood Rust by Comets on Fire for those of you not into link-clicking and/or not got speakers available as you read this). No pressure, then. To complete the line-up, Charlie is from Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, a name I’m familiar with have never heard music by until I searched for that link.
I first read about this when it came out but for whatever reason I did not check it out. Then someone posted a performance in their year end list, and that did it for me. I immediately slapped myself a bit – though not too hard because that would just be silly and I do try my very best not to be silly – and went and added this to my wishlist. And now with payday having been and gone, I bought it. Possibly my one buy for the month.
This isn’t all that much like either of the bands that made their reputations, it has more of a laid back west coast classic rock from the seventies type of feel, the most obvious reference point being Neil Young and Crazy Horse in the Zuma-era. Having said that, though, the music is recognisably by those same players, even though Ethan is actually playing bass rather than freaky guitar and Noel is playing guitar instead of effects’n’drums. The drums are handled by Meg, obviously. The songwriting is superb, the riffs and the playing are all fantastic, and Meg Baird’s vocals are as transcendent as ever. She has to be one of the best of this generation.
But, as with so much to do with great music, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – yet another reason I don’t tend to go into detail regarding the parts. This album is best digested in a sitting, although as I rarely, if ever, do the shuffling playlist these days then the tunes may very well work in that aspect too, who knows? But do give this album a listen. It has much to offer the receptive listener.
You know, I don’t think this is the best time of year to be saying what my favourite albums of last year were. I mean, I have literally just tried out a bit of the Heron Oblivion album, and my first instinct is that if I’d have got on that when it came out, it would be vying for a place in the list below. And my list last year didn’t give anywhere near enough prominence to Pridjevi and Anna von Hausswolff, mainly because I’d not long got on them – they were to dominate my early 2016. Maybe I should do it at the end of the academic year instead?
We humans do seem to like lists, though, especially those that seem to quantify things. In fact, I suggest a hypothesis – we love lists all the more if their subject matter is inherently subjective and unquantifiable (which is waaaaay more things than you may currently believe).
A funny thing happened to me in 2016. Well, lots of things happened, but this one in particular was that after I put out my album in April, thus finishing a series, I stopped listening to heavy music. Just wasn’t in the mood. There were exceptions – Hey Colossus released a wonderful EP that I mentioned in my summer chat post that isn’t an album but is good enough to be on some sort of year end so at least I’m mentioning it now, and there were a couple of later releases mentioned below, and now that I think about it, Anna von Hausswolff.
This may seem like an order, but it is malleable. Take it all with however much salt you deem appropriate.
Our Solar System – In Time. This album is perfect. Jazzy-Funky-Mellow-Spacerock. Most played album of the year from this year.
Karina Vismara – Casa Del Viento. Acoustic female singer-songwriter isn’t usually my thing. Only, this is wonderful. The vibe is magnificent, as is the songwriting.
Fire! Orchestra – Ritual. The meat of this album is staggeringly ambitious, but doesn’t lose sight of its tribal nature. The sort of trance-like jazz that just doesn’t happen often enough.
Horse Cult – Daydreams and Nightmares. The top 4 of this year could easily all be the winner in their own right, and this is another acoustic one. Like a more medieval/folksy Espers, but again with brilliant content behind the style.
Menimals. In a way I’m using both albums for this entry, saving me repeating it below, because one was pre-this year but I discovered it looking for the later one. Dark and menacing but not depressingly so.
Jon Mueller – Tongues. Another two track album and another with ritualistic drumming and chanting. Pounding trance music.
Narcosatanicos – Body Cults. As mentioned above, not much heavy did a lot for me. This was an exception, and I loved it because it is so very much like their first album, and at the same time it isn’t. I love it when bands do that.
Black Bombain and Peter Brotzmann – Free-jazz meets improvised psych-rock, with frequently brilliant passages.
Scroll Downers – Hot Winter. Sort of grungey indie-rock, I suppose. I realise that doesn’t sell it. They call themselves both ’90’s’ and ‘not 90’s’ so I think they might have trouble with a description, too. However, it is yet again the songwriting that does it, and it also sounds like they had a blast making it.
City of Djinn – Ether and Red Sulphur . I was going to just miss this out because I was worried it was still a bit too fresh but I listened to it again and it was blissed out brilliant, trance music.
Just missed out:
From before 2016
Pridjevi – For me, 2016 was utterly dominated by Pridjevi, helped also because my now 10-year old son has got with the groove on 2 of their tracks as well, and car trips went through a phase of him playing Pozuri Polako on repeat, which must have spent roughly 3 months in the summer going around my head non stop. Far more preferable to his other taste at the time, Goblins From Mars.
Anna von Hausswolff – The only album that came close to the dominance of Pridjevi in the first half of 2016. Not a concept album but sounds like one because of its wonderful atmosphere. That organ sound is transcendent. I keep forgetting how heavy this actually is.
Sungod – One of those all-over-the-map kind of artists. Kind of a less proggy Ozric Tentacles, if you want an inacurrate but
lazy easy comparison.
Big Blood – This band have such a huge back catalogue, and this year has seen me mining the earlier years of it, which were just as good as the later years, but a bit different, naturally. They don’t seem to have done much this year. I noticed on their blog about an album coming out on Turned Word records, but that’s been up for ages and there seems to be no sign. Also, where are Turned Word records? They seem to have no presence since 2012.
Phil Cohran & Legacy. This thing took me by surprise, but probably shouldn’t have. It is stunningly beautiful music.
Pharoah Overlord – Lunar Jetman. Mainly because of the second track, which appeared via a Dusted magazine listing, but the whole album turned out good too. They seem to have finally got with the idea of easier access to their albums though the discography is incomplete.
Bitchin Bajas – Vibraquatic. Really mellow and meditative, and amongst the most regularly played albums of the year.
Gram Rabbit – Braised and Confused. Reading my original post, I’m struck by how much I seem to want to justify the fact that this album is fun. It is fun. But that doesn’t need justification.
Death Blues – Non Fiction. Part of Jon Mueller’s ongoing project, which I’d completely forgotten about since the first Death Blues album came out, so I’ve been trying to catch up when I get the chance. If anything, I like this even more than Tongues.
Fela Kuti – I returned to Fela Kuti, particularly Zombie, and have been playing his stuff regularly since the summer. It was brought on by the B-side of a single by Goat which had a really snaky groove but was only 3 and a half minutes long. I was instatntly reminded of Fela, and had a hankering for that kind of groove, but not the shortened version so I’ve been a regular visitor ever since. I also bought He Miss Road which is frankly wonderful.
Nudity is God’s Creation – This issue came out this year, but the music is from mid way through last decade. Yet another reason year end lists are crap, and yet here I am writing one which is taking me a lot longer to write than it will take you to read. Another reason I didn’t put it in the main list is because I didn’t like the bonus tracks much. They were obviously unreleased for a reason.
So. In conclusion, that’s it.
I don’t think I’ve listened to enough Neo-folk over the years. I mean, I love Espers and still play them often, and I’ve got an album by The Iditarod which is wyrd neo-folk, but either there’s not much of the stuff around, or I simply haven’t crossed paths with it.
Well I can now add Horse Cult to that small collection. This is really good stuff, as good as the aforementioned Epsers. The songs have a more traditional feel with occasional medieval/nursery rhyme type things going on. But there’s also drone, and experiments, and a dense atmosphere of acoustic guitars, flute, fiddle, mountain dulcimer and layered vocals, with a bit of drum. And they reference all the pretty little horses. Also, I once or twice found myself thinking of The Battle of Evermore. Again.
I think I need more neo-folk / dark folk / heathen folk in my life. There seem to be some references here I might follow up. Any other suggestions would also be welcome.
So, by and large, I’m excluding albums I only discovered the last couple of weeks. But not consistently. Also, I’m going to go on about older stuff that thoroughly rocked me this year, so the aforementioned stuff has a chance for next year. Also, confining stuff into years is arbitrary, because years themselves are a bit arbitrary the way we count them nowadays, although they do represent a real cycle. Also, there is no ‘order’ to this list except for the fact that I ordered it into existence because I am a ruthless bastard like that. Also, this paragraph just gained an extra sentence that added nothing to it except extra letters and words.
So: Stuff released in 2015.
Hey Colossus – In Black and Gold : Having just written that this is in no order, this is most definitely the album that brought me the most joy in 2015. I played it incessantly. My subsequent time with their back catalogue brought me just as much joy. And they played a brilliant gig in September. For such a heavy band, they have an incredible way of making their music swing.
Laughing Eye Weeping Eye – Once Was You : This is an album that is utterly unique. It sounds like nothing else, ever. Unless it does, in which case it behooves someone to tell me what that something is. Eerie, droney, a world of its own.
The Myrrors – Arena Negra : Meditative, spacious, at times ecstatic, and they were just as good live.
Les Sorciers Du Theil – Polyte Deshaies : This album came out of nowhere. I think that I may have to give a hat tip to the person who does the psych round up at The Quietus as to where I discovered it. Four heavy and at times insane songs, all bliss.
Follakzoid – III : Kosmiche meets techno, although very heavily in favour of the former. Pulsating, driving, relentless, and very high quality.
Black Bombain – Live at Casazul : Heavy-psych improvisation at its best, with added saxophone. Nuff said.
Alif – Aynama-Rtama : Middle eastern music with an ear for rock-style arrangements. Some of the riffs, the rhythms and arrangements are just mindbendingly good.
Rob Mazurek : Alternate Moon Cycles : Pure, meditative drone. Insanely relaxing.
Big Blood – Double Days II : They actually released two albums simultaneously. Double Days I is a very rare beast – a Big Blood album I’m not overkeen on. But Double Days II is as good as ever, and they finish it off with one of their very best songs. Apparently they’ve got another album ready to go but I see no evidence of it out yet.
People of the North – An Era of Manifestations / Oneida – Positions : Two albums in one entry? I must be having a larf. Essentially the same masterminds though, which is how I justify it. The POTN album has a more jazzy feel, whereas the O album is closer to their classic sound. Both are essential in my life.
Pharoah Overlord – Circle / Circle – Pharoah Overlord : Wot, again? Well, when masterminds use different monikers, it would just be indulgent of me to give them separate entries in a year end list, n’est-ce pas? Repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s what they do best, and it’s what I like best.
Pridjevi – Pridjevi : I never got around to posting about these, and I should have done. So I may still do. This is sunny psych-pop from Croatia, nearest reference point I can think of is Jefferson Airplane, but sunny psych-pop isn’t usually my thing so you may think of more appropriate references.
Anna Von Hausswolff – The Miraculous : Another album I didn’t post on, only bought it in December. She’s brought a band with her this time, as well as an epic church organ. Droney and heavy, and I do like her voice.
Favourite non-2015 music:
Big Blood – The Wicked Hex : Still processing their mighty back catalogue. This is most similar in style to the incredible Unlikely Mothers, and probably as good although Unlikey Mothers contains ‘A Watery Down part 2’ which, if pushed, I’d probably name as my favourite ever piece of music.
Selim Lemouchi & his Enemies – Earth Air Spirit Water : A very varied album featuring probably one of my favourite ever songs in ‘Chiarascuro’ which is probably best described as ecstatic darkness, especially given subsequent events.
Dahga Bloom – No Curtains : There was a time in late Feb and much of March when I barely listened to music due to bad-sinus induced discomfort. This album was one of the few I did, which is odd because it isn’t exactly mellow…
Hey Colossus – Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo / Happy Birthday / RRR : This has been their year as far as I’m concerned. All three of these albums got some very heavy rotation, heavy being the operative word.
Verma – entire discography : I went through a phase in the summer of playing a Verma album every night, without an obvious favourite emerging, so I simply kept rotating them because it is all THAT good.
Follakzoid – II : I now consider this superior to the successor. This is very high quality up-tempo driving kosmiche.
Espers – II : for years I only thought their debut album was really all that good. in 2014 I finally got the follow up, and continued getting it in 2015. I still haven’t quite got the third one; maybe that will come yet.
Puffy Areolas – In the Army / Dishonorable Discharge : although I’ve known the albums for a few years, it was actually this year that they really grabbed my throat, possibly an echo of my discovery and love of Narcosatanicos.
Malayeen : Middle eastern psychedelia at its very best, ecstatic, trance-inducing.
The Wharves – At Bay : this album completely ruled January 2015 for me. Outrageous harmonies supporting great songwriting.
I haven’t included every single thing I’ve posted about, because this is quite long enough as it is. 2015 was an odd year for me in many respects, but absolutely brilliant for music – why else would there be an album from Thee Oh Sees that is as good as ever but doesn’t make the year end? I absolutely luxuriate in the sheer amount of high quality stuff there is out there, and in that respect 2016 has already got off to a superb start.