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)
Band names rarely fit so perfectly the music they make, most monikers these days seem to have come straight from an online band name generator or seem to be trying too hard to sound cool, artistic or just plain tough…it’s why I went off The Radioactive Zombie Mutant Bikers From Hell. But given that Rewire The Time Machine seems to have one sonic foot in the primordial power of the heavy metal instigators such as Black Sabbath or Vanilla Fudge and the other in the alt-rock rejuvenation of the modern era, their ability to reference the past whilst pushing things forward is perfectly echoed in the name.
But academic musings aside, the first thing you noticed is the weight of the music, by god this is heavy music, never in a gratuitous effort to simply make a lot of unfocused noise, this album is a cornucopia of gloriously taut riffs, powerhouse rhythms, focused beats and driven, often unexpectedly funky bass lines. The charm comes from the fact that although it is the sound of four musicians playing at the top of the alt-rock game, they rarely give away all the goods at once, preferring instead to serve the song and wait for their rare, individual moment in the spotlight, teasing and taunting the listener. Any showboating is reduced to intricate motifs and clever sonic designs which spice the music rather than lime-lit ego massaging that rock is infamous for.
Many will file this alongside the likes of the Palm Desert scene which spawned the cult of Josh Homme and his myriad bands. And if he has moved on to more commercial ventures, there is certainly much going on with Rewire The Time Machine that reflects the diversity and exploratory nature of that original movement. The robotic boogie of Copernicus, the doomy psychedelic feel of Money, the hypnotic groove of All Hail The Wild Sea, the chiming, shimmer of Apex, it is the ability to push the alt-rock envelope further than most of the bands they will be compared to that makes them a far more interesting prospect. And, again unlike many of their alt-rock genre mates, lyrical they are also ahead of the curve, dealing with everything from space travel to hidden histories, nocturnal denizens to the “butterfly in a bell jar” nature of the modern work place and doing so with rare eloquence and informed references.
It has been an album I have been waiting for a while now and even though I expected great things, anyone who has witnessed the band live knew that they were writing cheques that we prayed that they would be able to honour, this is an album which exceeds even those high hopes. A great album? A fantastic album. Album of the Year? Very probably. A future classic? It’s very likely to quickly gain that status.
The second instalment of the yearly live pick
Piano Wire, Dead Royalties and Sea Mammal – 29th September @ The Victoria
If the summer was a bit lean, our autumn dance card was deliberately aiming for some bigger names. Piano Wire is half of what used to be Eighties Matchbox B-line Disaster and revel in the same mix of incendiary, post-punkery, razor wire riffs and dark melodies.
Dead Royalties, a band who go back to our days of running a music label never disappoint, a mix of grunge, math and melody and Sea Mammal were their usual cavernous art-noise selves.
The Groundhogs, The Harlers and Kikamora – 7th October @ Level III
This version of The Groundhogs may only contain one original member in the guise of drummer Ken Pustelnik, but it is no mere pastiche or rose tinted tribute. This is a band that proves that rock and roll isn’t just a young man’s game as they deliver psyched out blues that if you got too close might very well melt your face.
Local blues duo The Harlers sound had got even bigger than last time we worked with them and Bristol’s Kikamora did a neat line in classic rock meets grungy melodies with a surprise, sax driven, sleazy R’n’B finish.
Non Canon and Sad Song Co – 23rd October @ Baila Coffee and Vinyl
Baila Coffee and Vinyl proved to be a great little venue in the short time they indulged our musical machinations. We’d booked Non Canon, the new musical vehicle for Oxygen Thief’s Barry Dolan and were amazed and overwhelmed when he said he would bring along the act he was currently supporting on tour with him.
Away from the more driven and raw vibes of his previous formats, Barry as Non Canon is a wonderfully sublime mix of chilled poignancy, and thoughtful reflection that both subverted expectations you may have from previous musical encounters with him and yet sounded like he’s been doing this all of his life.
Sad Song Co. is the musical sideline of Nigel Powell, normally found drumming for Frank Turner and Dive Dive. Here switching between plaintive piano and deft, minimal guitar with just a bass alongside him, Sad Song Co play with strange structures, pin-drop atmospherics and slightly proggy modus operandi.
Nick Harper and Burbank – 27th October @ Baila Coffee and Vinyl
There is nothing like experiencing Nick Harper up close and personal, so to watch him play to 35 people in a coffee shop was nothing short of awesome. Wonderful interludes and rambling anecdotes connected songs that warped normal musical templates, that subtly and sometimes not so subtly jumped generic boundaries and that was best described as having the ability to do things with his guitar that would have Segovia weeping into his Rioja.
Burbank opened the night with a selection of sublime and delicate songs that belied their young age.
Avon, Rewire The Time Machine and Phoxjaw – 3rd November @ The Victoria
They say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but when they are as charming and friendly to work with as Alfredo Hernandez then I’d say, do it. The one time Kyuss and Queens of The Stone Age drummer was in the country with Avon and we were pretty excited to bag a date. Desert blues, grunge, alt-rock all go into the mix and what an amazing performance they put on.
And in the perfect “if you like that you’ll like this” line up both Rewire The Time Machine and Phoxjaw were the perfect warm up material on this fantastic night.
Johnny Foreigner, Misfires and Cupcake Diaz and The Felt Tip Pens – 24th November @ The Victoria
Describing Johnny Foreigner takes some doing. Punk, indie, pop, noise, warped deliveries, melody and mayhem are all in there somewhere in ever changing quantities but the overall affect is always tantalising and unique.
Local indie kids Misfires played a blinder of accessible Arctic Monkeys melody meets warped psychedelia and the brilliantly named Cupcake Diaz and The Felt-Tip Pens where their usual fantastic punky-grungy-rocky-pop musical art attack.
I could go on, I could mention the likes of Grant Sharkey’s bass-rants, Franc Cinelli’s panoramic travelogues, the madness that is Diagonal People, The Vim Dicta, Vienna Ditto, Port Erin, Los and The Deadlines, The Bohos, Empire and much more besides. I guess it is a testament to the support of Swindon’s gig going community that this 12 of the best could have easily have been 20 or even 30 of the best. Here is to 2017 being another great year for original music.
Well, that’s 2015 all wrapped up then, and musically speaking it wasn’t half bad at all. But, what will 2016 bring us? And who will be the artists and bands to watch out for? In an attempt to answer these burning questions I dusted off my crystal ball, muttered some incantations to the musical gods, realised this was all a load of crap and resorted back to good old fashioned gut feeling, common sense and a keen pair of ears to come up with my top ten artists to watch in 2016.
These are those artists who I feel are in the best position to break out of their own local and regional scenes and start making some waves on a more national basis. Generally they are the best of everything I personally have seen and heard in the last 12 months, and also the ones best equipped to break out. So this has been drawn from my own limited pool of experience and has not been influenced by any other sources, taste makers or media, and as I have already said, I have no particular foresight or insider knowledge other than my own instinct, experience and opinion. I have also omitted the bands I work with through Secret Chord Records as we all know they are the best of the best already! I present these in no particular order either; I am not daft enough to hang what reputation I have on one artist above all other. They are just listed in the order they came to me on New Year’s Eve as I sat quietly supping beer and reflecting on the past year.