Friday, 29 January 2016

Top 5 Albums of 2015

Wrapping up my review of 2015 with a repeat of my Top 5 Albums of the year. I got a bit carried away with the Songs & Albums run down before Christmas and ran out of time to write my own words so here are my favourite albums from a remarkable year in music. The top three here were all contenders for number one and the other two entries snuck ahead of at least ten contenders for a top 5 spot.

5. Sleater-Kinney "No Cities To Love" - The first album in 10 years for one of my favourite bands was bound to strike a chord with me and this was no disappointment. It's a little difficult to be objective so soon after release but I think No Cities To Love compares really well with Sleater-Kinney's best albums. A clear successor to their last LP, and the album that really got me into the band, 2005's The Woods. There are 10 songs on here and they all sound fantastic. I really love Sleater-Kinney and if you've not heard them this is a good a place as any to start.

4. Thee Oh Sees "Mutilator Defeated At Last" - Thee Oh Sees have been on the periphery of my music radar for quite a few years. They sounded like the sort of band I ought to like but for whatever reason I'd not managed to go and investigate further. When 6music started playing The Web, the first single from this album (at least I think it was a single, are they still a thing or do we just have playlist tracks now?), I wasn't blown away. But, Marc Riley in particular kept playing it and it began to seep into my consciousness. By the time I bought the album I was very much on-side but that still didn't prepare me for how preposterously great the album would be. I've started working backwards through their catalogue now and it's not a one off. Another amazing band to add to my collection.

3. Ezra Furman "Perpetual Motion People" - Ezra came to my attention in 2013 with the Day of the Dog album. That blew me away and led to me catching him live early the following year. The songs on Perpetual Motion People took a while to win me over. Perhaps they're not quite as raucous as the previous LP (and I'm a big fan of raucous) but they grew on me pretty quick and show a real maturity in Ezra's songwriting. Though the musical vibe is very upbeat some of the lyrical themes are both personal and soul baring. In particular Body Was Made which hints at the Ezra's non-binary status and, my favourite tune on the record, Ordinary Life which gives clear indications about coping with depression. Ezra deserves to be a huge star and if you ever get the chance to see him live I guarantee you'll leave with a massive smile on your face.

2. BC Camplight "How To Die In The North" - This was my record of the year for so long, in many ways it's still first equal. Brian Christinzio has been around for some time but relocated to Manchester in 2011 after a period of health issues. Having nearly quit music he rediscovered his passion in the UK and the songs that make up this album began to take shape. I'd heard some of these tunes as far back as 2013. You only need one listen to work out why the album took so long to arrive. It's immaculate, hints of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys in both vocal style and instrumentation but still very much a work that speaks volumes of its creator.

1. LoneLady "Hinterland" - Although I'm sure the influences might be there, to my ears this sounded like something new and fresh. LoneLady is another solo project, Julie Campbell originally performing genuinely solo with just a drum machine for company. For this album she has added a full band and the songs sound all the better for it. Julie's spiky, angular guitar lines are the seam that run through the whole album but there's a real groove to the sound. It's not dance music but it's music you can dance to. I'm not sure I've found the words to explain why this is number one but throughout the year this has been the one album to remain a constant on my playlist.


Friday, 22 January 2016

Chop's Book of 2015

Err, you'll notice this isn't a Top 5. That's because I only read five books all year and, although I enjoyed most of them, I didn't think it was fair to list them as a legitimate Top 5. There was one book though that I could not leave unheralded.

Chop's Book of the Year 2015

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

The Slits weren't like other punk bands. Not just because they were all girls (well, most of them) but because they had a different approach to making music. Whilst the boy punk bands could be thrilling and appeared to be ripping up the rule book, musically they were still following a fairly standard path. The Slits on the other hand really forged their own path.

Similarly, Viv's style of writing in her autobiography is a breath of fresh air. In the first sentence of her introduction she states that "Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I'm a bit of both" and she stays close to that ability to speak truth to the very end. Chapter one is a short treatise on masturbation, it ensures you're under no allusions about the author or how she plans to tell her story.

The chapters are short and snappy and read a little like a scrapbook of memories. An approach I thought worked really well, making it very easy to read but also getting under the skin of Viv's personality in a way few other biographies I've read have managed. The pages on the early years of punk are fascinating providing an insider's view of a dramatic period in music. I was a little too young to witness this first hand but the influence of punk remains in most of the bands I love today.

When the Splits disbanded in 1982 Viv didn't follow the expected route to solo music but booked herself onto a film studies course which eventually led to her working as a freelance director. The second half of the book covers the long period when she wasn't a rock'n'roll star. She got married, had a daughter and lived a fairly normal life as wife & mother down on the south coast. She didn't pick up a guitar for a very long time and when she finally did, another moment of emancipation, it took her some time to regain her confidence in her own abilities.

In 2009 she released her first solo album, The Vermillion Border. Hearing Viv play some of those tunes in session for 6music was the spur for me to investigate her music more thoroughly. Until that point I think I only really knew the Slit's single Typical Girls. Viv's solo album is a joy and in many ways the book is a companion piece to that album.

A fabulous read that feels like a conversation with the author, one that drew me in so deep I needed a few days off before I read anything else. I think I read that Viv is writing a second book, I really hope she is as I'll be first in line to pick up a copy.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. via Amazon


Friday, 15 January 2016

Top 5 TV Shows I watched in 2015

A strong year for television I thought, though perhaps because of a few excellent shows that stood out from the bulk of average stuff. There were some strong contenders that didn't make the list though; Parks & Rec (Series 4), Catastrophe (Series 1 & 2) and This Is England '90 being the closest.

5. The Bridge (Series 3) - The third series of my favourite show from 2012 & 2014 was just as good as the previous ones but trails in 5th place because I'd not finished watching it at time of writing (and was up against some stiff competition). I was worried the loss of Kim Bodnia would have an impact but if anything Saga's new partner, played by Thure Lindhardt, has made this series even better.

4. Count Arthur Strong (Series 2) - I suspect this is an acquired taste but I think, at it's best, it was the funniest show on telly all year. Two episodes in particular elevated this above top comedy contenders such as the final series of Peep Show and Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney's Catastrophe. I watched the episode where Arthur is mistaken for a flying instructor 3 or 4 times and it got funnier every time. Similarly the episode when Arthur is almost conned by a dodgy plumber, which turns into a pastiche of the Stephen King film Misery was just as good.

3. Spiral (Series 5) - The 5th series of this French detective drama was my top show for most of the year but got pipped at the post by two excellent shows. I think this is the first series I've caught on initial airing but it felt like I really know the characters well now and worked all the better for that familiarity. Laure is still the star though and coping with being pregnant didn't slow her down a great deal.

2. Detectorists (Series 2) - I'd enjoyed the first series of Mackenzie Crook's subtle sitcom but it took a while to work its charm. This second series seemed to be great from the off. Maybe the benefit of knowing the characters and understanding the pace and style but this was a huge improvement to my mind with a wonderfully feel good conclusion. The Christmas Special was excellent too.

1. Fargo (Series 2) - Similarly to Detectorists, the second series of Fargo outstripped the first by some distance. The influence of the Coen Brother's is clear though this series has developed a life of it's own. The casting is great too. Big stars like Ted Danson and Kirsten Dunce in less typical roles and rising stars like Nick Offerman and Cristin Milioti putting in fantastic turns. The coup de grace is the way they link the story to series 1. I may have just been a little slow but it caught me completely by the surprise. Magnificent telly, I hope they'll find a way to make a third series.


Monday, 11 January 2016

Collaborative Top 5 Film Sequels - VOTE

I've kicked this off on Facebook & Twitter already.

Give me your favourite five Film Sequels from 1 to 5, or unordered if that's too difficult.

Vote closes Friday 29th January - Results out early February

Here's some contenders based on the voting so far (3rd, 4th and later sequels all count by the way);

28 Weeks Later - After The Thin Man - Aliens - Alien 3 - Aparajito - Austin Powers 2 - Back To The Future 2 - Bad Boys 2 - Batman Returns - Batman: The Dark Knight - Before Sunset - Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey - Bourne Supremacy - Bride of Frankenstein - Captain America: Winter Soldier - Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs 2 - Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - Dawn of the Dead - Despicable Me 2 - Die Hard 2: Die Harder - Empire Strikes Back - Escape from Planet of the Apes - Evangelion 2.22 - Evil Dead II - Evil Dead: Army of Darkness - Exorcist II: The Heretic - For A Few Dollars More - French Connection II - Futureworld - The Godfather II - Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season - Hannibal - Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets - Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade - Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom - Jaws 2 - Kill Bill volume 2 - Lethal Weapon 2 - Lord of the Rings: Two Towers - Mad Max II - Mad Max: Fury Road - Manon des Sources - Matrix Reloaded - Meet The Fockers - More American Graffiti - Night at the Museum 2 - Omen 2 - Police Academy 2 - Predator 2 - Psycho II - Rambo 2 - Rec 2 - Resident Evil 2 - Rocky 2 - Spider-Man 2 - Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan - Star Trek: First Contact - Star Trek: Into Darkness - Superman II - Terminator 2 - The Best Marigold Hotel 2 - The Colour of Money - The Hangover 2 - The Raid 2 - The Two Jakes - Three Colours Red - Three Colours White - Toy Story 2 - Toy Story 3 - Tron: Legacy - Twilight: New Moon

Friday, 8 January 2016

Top 5 Gigs of 2015

If 2015 was a wonderful year for new recorded music (and I think it was) it also mirrored this in the standard of gigs I went to. Another year where I intended to cut back, another year where I averaged two a month. I'm not going to bother even suggesting cutting back next year. Almost without exception every gig I went to was fantastic which made it all the harder to pick my top five. In the end these five were the ones I think I'll remember the most (though a special mention for Brakes at The Lexington for missing out by a smidge)

5. Barrence Whitfield & The Savages at The Boileroom, Guildford (Thursday 8th October) - The Boileroom managing a pretty good hit rate, two gigs both in my top five (and not just because I could get home at a reasonable time). The crowd was a little sparse for these Garage Punk R&B titans but they didn't let that stop them putting on a belter of a show that literally set the hairs on my neck on end.

Read full report at Chopper's Gigs

4. Hookworms at The Oval Space (Saturday 21st March)- The most energetic gig of the year, and the one time I let myself get really carried away leading to aggravating a calf muscle injury and spending most of the next week limping. It was totally worth it though.

Read full report at Chopper's Gigs

3. C.Joynes & Dead Rat Orchestra at The Laughing Bell (Wednesday 22nd July) - A contender for the smallest venue I've ever been to, and almost certainly the hardest to find. Effectively a studio flat in Bermondesy. I've seen the DRO plenty of times now but this was my first experience of their collaboration with guitar maestro C.Joynes. The cosiness of the venue made the evening feel very special and the music was spellbinding. A magical night.

Read full report at Chopper's Gigs

2. Ezra Furman at The Boileroom, Guildford (Wednesday 8th July) - My first trip to the Boileroom proved to be very successful. Ezra is a joy to see live and this show left me with a huge smile on my face. A few months later he was playing a sold out Shepherd's Bush Empire but a short UK tour of much smaller venues provided me with one of my best nights out this year.

Read full report at Chopper's Gigs

1. Sleater-Kinney at The Roundhouse (Monday 23rd March) - My first chance to see a band that had become one of my all time favourites during their period of hiatus since 2006. Although the venue and audience provided some challenges the band completely overcame them with a fantastic set of new and old songs.

Read full report at Chopper's Gigs


Friday, 1 January 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2015

Happy New Year! I'm not going to make the mistake of publishing my New Year Resolutions this year but having run down my favourite songs of the year in as a Musical Advent I thought I'd compile them into one list to start things off instead.

This also lets me rearrange a few that, after listening to them quite a bit over the last month, I've decided needed to be higher up the list. Specifically the jaw droppingly beautiful The Bird by Kathryn Joseph and the lyrically smart Several Shades of Green by Wreckless Eric.

25. Moon Duo - Slow Down Low -
24. Nadine Shah - Fool -
23. This Is The Kit - Bashed Out -
22. Trembling Bells - Killing Time in London Fields -
21. Charli XCX & Rita Ora - Doing It -
20. Girl Band - Pears For Lunch -
19. Primitive Parts - Miracle Skin -
18. Speedy Ortiz - Raising The Skate -
17. Thee Oh Sees - Web -
16. Low - What Part of Me -
15. Samantha Crain - Kathleen -
14. Sleaford Mods - No One's Bothered -
13. Monotony - Monotony -
12. Courtney Barnett - Depreston -
11. Ultimate Painting - Break The Chain -
10. Kathryn Joseph - The Bird -
9. Ezra Furman - Ordinary Life -
8. Joanna Newsom - Sapokanikan -
7. Wreckless Eric - Several Shades of Green -
6. Sleater Kinney - No Cities To Love -

5. Wave Pictures - Pea Green Coat - The Wave Pictures have been on fine form of late and this was one of the first tracks I heard from their collaboration with Wild Billy Childish. A song I can't help singing along to at the top of my voice whenever it comes on.

4. Leisure Society - Tall Black Cabins - The tall black cabins mentioned are the net drying huts used by local fisherman on The Stade in Hastings, an area I know quite well. It's a beautiful song but the link with a place I know made it resonate all the more.

3. LoneLady - Hinterland - The title track from my Album of the year and the tune that really won me over to LoneLady's sound. It's sparse and spiky and magnificent.

2. Sauna Youth - Transmitters - The DNA of Sauna Youth runs through a few of these entries but I think they found they're best moments in their original form.

1. Meilyr Jones - Refugees - My song of the year. It was the first of three tunes release by Meilyr Jones and really blew my socks off. Meilyr was formerly singer in a band called Race Horses (previously known as Radio Luxembourg) who were pretty great but he's taken things to a whole new level if this song is anything to go by. One of my tips for the top in 2016.