Picking just ten albums out of the pack is always a tricky thing. This site has reviewed around 500 pieces of music this year from throw-away pop singles to album length progressive flights of fancy, from the well trodden grounds of classic rock to cutting edge experiments which are creating a whole new musical future. Add to that the fact that I am lucky enough to largely write about music I find interesting, which means if it even makes the page there is something I like about it. Anyway, below is 10 of the standouts of the year, I could write another 10 articles like this, but I won’t, better you explore the site and make your own mind up. Enjoy, comment, discuss and leave the cash in a brown envelope in the usual place! (I wish)
Landing on the review pile hot on the heels of Nick Harper and The Wilderness Kids new album, these two artists may come from similar places but their deliveries are worlds apart. What it does suggest though is that whilst history may be written by the winners, in this case the rising right, it is the liberals who have all the best tunes.
Jay McCallister’s musical alter ego Beans On Toast travels his usual territory, less conventional songs more rambling conversational views on the world from the warm side of the steamy pub window and set to fairly minimal musical accompaniment. And where as the aforementioned Nick is the musical equivalent of the firebrand orator soapboxing in Speakers Corner, Beans represents the guy in the street trying to work out the truth from the bullshit just as bemused and confused, ill-informed and winging it as the rest of us. For that reason he is charmingly ordinary and totally accessible, he sounds just like the voice in your own head except that it seems to have donned a baseball cap, learned a few chords and made an album without you.
Across 14 songs he tries to get his head around Brexit, find his place in the Europe as an outsider, falls in love with England all over again, tackles racism, gender equality, austerity policy and all the other concerns of the, for want of a better term, little man. But this is no cynical rant or clinical rave, in his usual understated way it is heartfelt but gentle, poignant and silly in equal measure, it is relatable and rather than demand answers it just raises a few rhetorical questions and then sets about alleviating your fears by reminding us that sometimes hugging your loved ones and having a drink with good friends makes the rest go away. At least for a while.
In a world that seems to be brimming over with guys with guitars, pop troubadours and fey, indie-folksters it would be very wrong to place Nick Harper anywhere amongst their ranks. Yes, he is a guy. Okay, he has a guitar. But that is where the similarity ends to the new kids on the singer-songwriters block (and whilst we are at it, it’s not a genre!) Over a 12 album career to date he has constantly defied and re-defined what that term means and what it can be, wilfully trampling generic boundaries, switching styles and probably inventing a few of his own along the way. History notes that he met the “Wilderness Kids” at a record store day jam and the sonic potential of a more permanent musical relationship was obvious to everyone. It comes as no surprise as you listen to the album that the “kids”in question are members of Port Erin and Wasuremono, two bands with a similar wide ranging and hard to pigeonhole approach towards rock and pop.
“350 reasons why, written on the side of a bus” is the opening salvo of the album, and straight away you realise that Nick, as always, has something important to tell you. Colours are nailed to masts, sides are chosen and lines are drawn in the sand. Essentially Lies! Lies! Lies! is a comment on the state of the western world, from the manipulation of the masses for political gain to the ugly consumerism of Black Friday, the rise and increasing normalisation of right wing attitudes, to religion, globalisation and everything in between. Lyrically and poetically he just says what many of us think, though the likes of Big Tony who drinks in The George and Dragon may well find himself seething into his pint of John Smiths!
And if the words are as honest as they are challenging, then musically it is just as groundbreaking. Nick has always had the ability to capture a massive sound with just an acoustic guitar, one loaded with rock intensity, folk infectiousness, jazz creativity and classical dexterity, well now he has a band to push that into even wider sonic realms. Leaving The Club is a bluesy groover, Tiina is a lilting ballad with brooding undertones, We Keep Turning Right is built on funky-jazz rhythms and Dark Forces is a fluid and mercurial post-rock growler. It’s a triumph of an album, musically exploratory, lyrically direct and the perfect musical product for our times.
There is an obvious point that if a vote or decision doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop making the argument, if that is the case then this is the most pointed and poignant musical debate I have heard in a long time and 48% of the country should buy it immediately.