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Incidental Music: The Best of 2019

It's been a great year for music! Some absolute crackers have come along, in terms of gigs, albums, and tunes. I have managed to sift through what have I heard and seen, and these are my highlights....

2018 wasn't a particular vintage year for music, and I was struggling to come up with my top album - although it was pretty excellent(BC Camplight, btw) - and trying to find volunteers for my top 12 albums! This year, there was no such problem, it was more a case of what to leave out. It was a year of immense variety, a year where you had artists like the incredibly creative Black Midi, disco-funk funsters Warmduscher, Irish post-punk-poet-indie maestros Fontaines DC alongside spiritual jazz from The Comet Is Coming, grime from the likes of Dave, power ballads from Angel Olsen, and plenty more beside. There were constant delights popping up in different genres, and of course, it was totally impossible to listen to everything there was, even via streaming services! That said, vinyl became increasingly widely available over the year, as did the number of outlets - many run by enthusiasts - selling it.

Sadly, as ever, we lost some wonderful artists this year. Amongst those who departed were: Peter Tork from The Monkees, Mark Hollis from Talk Talk, Keith Flint from the recently-invigorated Prodigy, surf guitar hero Dick Dale, golden-voiced crooner Scott Walker, Ranking Roger from The Beat, Roky Ericksson from the 13th Floor Elevators, cajun gumbo maestro Dr John, singer-songwriter David Johnston, Ric Ocasek from The Cars, drumming legend Ginger Baker, and Paul Barrere from Little Feat. Just imagine what kind of jam session that could have been....

In terms of gigs, I was lucky enough to see a couple of all-time heroes, Nick Cave, and then The National, but my top gigs were seeing Bodega and local favourites Working Men's Club at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, Richard Dawson at the Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds, and WH Lung, with Working Men's Club (again) at the Band on the Wall in Manchester. And Warmduscher at the Brudenell in Leeds and Fontaines DC at the Ritz in Manchester will both live long in the memory.
Richard Dawson, Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds
And so, here are my Top 12 albums of the year:

12. True North - Michael Chapman
Michael Chapman is a musical genius. A wonderful guitarist, he came up through the folk club scene in his native Leeds, and gradually adopting more of a country blues style, he has been a major influence on many musicians. Whilst not getting the acclaim he should have done, at 78 years, he is still making some great music, and True Faith is testament to that. A relaxed, chilled out country blues sound with support from the likes of fellow veterans BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar and Bridget St John on vocals, it is an album that warms the soul. I saw him twice this year, at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, and then at The Grayston Unity, where I had the pleasure of introducing him and having a good natter after the gig. Favourite Track: It's Too Late

11. The Book of Traps and Lessons - Kate Tempest
There is something timeless, matter-of-fact, yet reassuring about Kate Tempest's poems, delivered on this occasion over often sparse but sympathetic musical accompaniment provided by musician and producer, Dan Carey, who seemed to pop up everywhere this year. Beguiling tales of love and loss, they spin a web which draws you in to their world. Favourite track: Firesmoke

10.Incidental Music - W.H. Lung
Announcing your arrival with a ten minute-plus debut single is not what most bands do, but then Manchester-based W.H. Lung are not just any old band. A mesmerising home town gig at the Band on the Wall in June, and then this album both followed over the next few months, their keyboards-based music referencing the likes of LCD Soundsystem. Whilst the rest of the album never quite reaches the heights of that single, there was enough to suggest that there will some really exciting music to come from them in the future. Favourite track: Simpatico People

9. Ghosteen - Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Another remarkable release from Nick Cave, featuring songs of an almost ethereal beauty and spiritual quality, inhabiting the same territory and building on the themes of love and loss of  his most recent album, The Skeleton Tree following the tragic death of his son Arthur. Not an album to just have on in the background, Ghosteen demands you sit down and listen, gradually revealing layer after layer of the quality of the songs contained within its shimmering beauty. Favourite track: Galleon Ship

8. Remind Me Tomorrow - Sharon Von Etten
Now this was an album brimful of classic rock-pop songs, with a great hooks and choruses and a retro-nostalgic feel about. There have been plenty of albums which over the years have tried to do the same, but on this, her first album in five years, Van Etten added in the synths to her previous guitar-led sound and created a classic in the process. Favourite track: Seventeen

7. All Mirrors - Angel Olsen
An exquisite album of power ballads with synths and wonderful string arrangements. This strong set of songs exuded a mix of aching melancholy and Gothic melodrama, and drew you into its own orbit. This is very different to its predecessor, My Woman, which was much more in-your-face and poppy, but 3 years on, Angel Olsen has proved she can take a very different approach, and come up with a winner. Favourite track: All Mirrors

6. UFOF - Big Thief
This was a beautiful album, the first album of two that the band released in 2019. The delightful songs, all written by lead singer Adrianne Lenker, were best described as indie-folk, and whilst they were based around the other-worldly theme of contact with voyagers from outer space - our 'UFO friends' - they were firmly grounded by some excellent tunes and exquisite musicianship. Favourite Track: UFOF

5. Lux Prima - Karen O and Danger Mouse
Now this was a surprise. Karen O, lead singer with the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, teamed up with ace producer Brian 'Danger Mouse' Burton, and between them produced an album of astonishing variety, ranging from the cinematic, symphonic title track to more familiar Karen O territory on Woman on to the closing Nox Prima. It is a remarkable, spellbinding album, full of power ballads and elegant melodies, with sumptuous arrangements and plenty of special moments all pulled together by one of the best producers in the world today. Favourite track: Lux Prima.

4. Crushing - Julia Jacklin
An album with bags of raw emotion from the Australian singer-songwriter as, like Angel Olsen, she goes through the pain of a break-up. The sinister undertones of the opener, Body, with its deadpan beat, immediately draws you in with its reportage-esque lyrics and imagery. With the next track, Head Alone, and the frantic Pressure to Party following on, this was an album that demanded your attention. And it did just that, and its indie-folk ambience was a constant musical companion throughout 2019. Favourite track: Pressure to Party

3. Dogrel - Fontaines DC
I first heard this Dublin band at the back end of 2018, when their singles Chequeless Reckless and Too Real were played by Steve Lamacq on 6 Music. But good as they were - and like W.H. Lung - I tipped them for greatness in my review of 2018, nobody could have expected a debut album as good as Dogrel to follow along. With brilliant stories and characters inhabiting songs like Roy's Tune, the album had literary nods to the likes of James Joyce and Flann O'Brien swathed in a cloak of indie sensibility, with producer Dan Carey (again) adding some final touches. I realised on a night in Manchester to attend their excellent gig at The Ritz, as Irish accents swirled around the pre-gig pub, that this was a band that reaches out to a nation and not just to lovers of  great music. Favourite track: The Boys From The Better Land

2. When I Have Fears - The Murder Capital
Naming their debut album after the poem by John Keats, The Murder Capital are another literary-influenced Irish band who emerged during the spring of 2019. Whilst in that sense they had something in common with Fontaines DC, their music was generally sparser, bleaker,and darker, with echoes of the likes of Joy Division both musically and in atmosphere. This was one of the albums that for me best captured the sense of foreboding and concern that permeated through the events of the year, taking issues and personal crises head on, as in the atmospheric and poignant Don't Cling to Life, whilst the pounding drums, anguished vocals, and sinister video to my favourite track on the album managed to capture the zeitgeist of 2019. Favourite track: The Green and Blue

1. 2020 - Richard Dawson
From hearing the first track to be released from the album, Jogging, it was clear that this album was likely to be a work of some significance. The frustrations, mundaneness, and concerns of daily life run throughout the album; the daily ritual of getting up to go to work at a job you despise, the "purple faced" father telling his son  "you're not Lionel Messi" to "stop fannying around and kick the bloody ball" as he plays kids football, but then calms down at the end of the match, saying "it's only a game". There are stories about the aftermath of flooding and the "fat-headed butcher on his soapbox again", taking up jogging to help with anxiety, the pressure of work in a fulfilment centre, the worries of dropping your child off at university for the first time. Characters come and go, these modern-day folk stories brought to life with vivid imagery, helped by Dawson's amazing vocal range, falsetto one minute, basso profundo the next. The music similarly fluctuates from almost child-like simplicity, through warped folk melodies, to power chords. It is a richly-layered album, and each listen reveals a new twist or hidden line. With 2020, Richard Dawson has moved on to a completely new level, one that is entirely his own, and in doing so has, amongst the stories of everyday lives of ordinary people, created a state-of-the-nation summation of current day Britain. Favourite track: Jogging

And here are my favourite tracks of the year:

1. Simpatico People - W.H. Lung
2. Starry-Eyed - Peggy Goo
3. Jogging - Richard Dawson
4. Bad Blood - Working Men's Club
5. Sunglasses - Black Country, New Road
6. Green and Blue - The Murder Capital
7. The Boys from The Better Land - Fontaines DC
8. UFOF - Big Thief
9. Summon The Fire - The Comet is Coming
10. All Mirrors - Angel Olsen
11. Pressure To Party - Julia Jacklin
12. Galleon Ship - Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
13. Ducter - Black Midi
14. Re-chargeable - Snapped Ankles
15. Seventeen - Sharon Van Etten
16. Roy's Tune - Fontaines DC
17. Teeth - Working Men's Club
18. Give/Take - Porridge Radio
19. Daddy Issues - Pip Blom
20. You're Joking Me - Stealing Sheep
21. Body - Julia Jacklin
22. The Barrel - Aldous Harding
23. Embarrassed By You - The Specials
24. Two Halves - Richard Dawson
25. Got You - Amyl and The Sniffers
26. Hurry On Home - Sleater Kinney
27. White Heat, White Noise - Elbow
28. Shiny New Model - Bodega
29. Like a Ripple - Steve Mason
30. Snow is Falling in Manhattan - Purple Mountains

It's been some year....

Fontaines DC, Ritz, Manchester
Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic

Comments

  1. 3 of my top 10 in your list (Murder Capital, Fontaines DC and Richard Dawson as my number 1 too) while Stealing Sheep and Amyl & The Sniffers both making my tracks of the year. Havent really heard W. H Lung so will need to give a listen as you seem to have similar taste as me.

    Sounds like you've been spoilt for choice for gigs (I'm in Aberdeen where we have had less choice though have got a ticket for Nick Cave in Glasgow in May, can't wait!)

    Looking forward to reading your music and beer posts in 2020.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your kind words. Hope you enjoy Nick Cave!

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