In a year where I spent more time than ever making and releasing my own music, I still found time to hear a whole bunch of new (and new to me) music. Here’s my favourite 11 albums from the last 12 months – give ’em a listen, and buy the ones you like.
Divinity Roxx – ImPossible
I heard this album in its unfinished state back in January in LA. I’d heard a couple of the songs as they were being written (and played improvised versions of them on a gig with Divi in 2015) but was still knocked out by just how great this album is. It’s an extraordinary statement, a labour of love, and the sound of someone throwing their everything into a project, and it working. I love everything about this.
Together, As One – Dinosaur
Laura Jurd’s latest band – I love her trumpet playing on everything I’ve heard her on. This takes something of the vibe of 70s Miles and takes it on a beautiful journey. This benefits from extended repeat listening. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of this album.
Feel – Hope And Social
New Hope & Social albums are interesting, because listening to old Hope & Social albums is so heavily associated with memories of seeing them live. They are, after all, my favourite live band in the world. This album stands on its own two feet and I can’t wait to hear all these songs live. Everything they do is wonderful.
Wyatt At The Coyote Palace – Kristin Hersh
Also a contender for favourite gig of the year, this is Kristin’s new album that was released as a book with accompanying CDs, rather than a regular music release, but I’ve just found that it’s also on Bandcamp. It is, as expected from Kristin, an amazing collection of songs – she plays everything and never shies away from allowing the music and lyrics to be unsettling where necessary. A rich, rewarding journey that I’m going to be revisiting a LOT throughout 2017.
New Jonatha records usually take me a few listens to get into, cos she doesn’t stand still, and I have such a huge love for her earlier albums. This took a few spins to properly love, but now I adore it. Amazing songwriting, a properly deep probing lyrical journey, and some amazing arrangements.
Living In The Past – Jazz Chronicles
Properly beautiful hip-hop/nu soul/funky organic electronica project from one of my favourite producers in the world.
Kin – KT Tunstall
Another one that took a while to get properly into – KT reintroducing the fun rocking element of her earlier records, following the more downbeat sound of much of the last record. Loving it.
The Violent Sleep Of Reason – Meshuggah
Meshuggah do what they do and do it better than anyone. This record has more swagger and sway to it than some of their earlier records, and is all the better for it.
Dissociation – Dillinger Escape Plan
The swansong from an amazing band – as dizzying and disturbing as you’d expect, and (if you can imagine it) perhaps even more diverse than previous albums. Amazing.
Eden – Ivy Sole
A surprise recommendation from a friend who works at Bandcamp – soulful hip hop that I’ve played a LOT this year.
Fellow Creatures – Jasper Høiby
Jasper took a little time out from Phronesis this year for other projects – this fabulous quintet record, with Laura Jurd on trumpet and Mark Lockheart on sax is full of interestingness and beauty.
December 22nd, 2015 · Comments Off on My Favourite Music Of 2015
2015 has been a properly great year for new music. Like, seriously amazing. I still hear people complaining about how ‘music’s just not as great as it used to be’ – or some variant of that, and I have to wonder about their method of discovery. Sure, Radio 1’s daytime playlist is probably pretty dreadful. Delve into Bandcamp, or keep an ear to the ground on Twitter and Facebook, and way more amazing music is out there than you can properly keep up with.
Anyway, without further ado, here are my favourites from this year – this isn’t everything I liked this year, but I had to stop somewhere, otherwise it’s just a list of everything I bought…
Janet Feder – T H I S C L O S E
In a year of truly great music, a handful of albums stood out as ‘things I’ll be listening to til I die’ – top of that list is Janet’s new album – I love absolutely everything about the way she makes music. It’s fragile, beautiful, strange and beguiling. Sonically perfect, deeply human, always searching and reaching. There’s nothing about this I don’t adore. Get it.
Our Oceans – Our Oceans
This one was a surprise – I checked it out because my friend Robin plays bass on it. He’s a genius, so it had to be worth a listen… Imagine a really amazing modern metal band suddenly getting obsessesed with early Tears For Fears and deciding to fuse the two. Epic, emotive, sweeping, glorious.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Motorcaid Amnesiacs
Another record that will be with me forever – You know how much I already adored SBP before this came out, right? I was SO nervous listening to it for the first time… what if it didn’t live up….? It’s amazing. Proper genius. And the elevation of Jana Carpenter’s role has made everything even more compelling and carved out room for Tim to sing with… wait, actual swagger?? Yup. Implausibly brilliant. [Read more →]
May 5th, 2015 · Comments Off on We Need To Talk About The Drummers…
Drummers! Drummers have always played a massively important role in my music. Almost entirely by their absence. The conversation around what I do – perhaps not surprisingly, but still with some level of irritation – almost always gravitates towards ‘I’d love to hear what you do with a drummer!’. It’s kind of the curse of being a bassist. We’re seen as half of the rhythm section. It’s an instrument that was INVENTED for loud rhythm sections. Its voice was deeply integral to the development of rock and roll, pop, hard rock, prog, funk, soul, R’n’B… It is the sound of pop music. Bass and drums, that’s what makes it not-folk or not-chamber-music. As a voice outside of that, it’s still woefully under-explored…
So my decision to mostly avoid drummers, certainly in the context of my solo work (the decision to see all ‘band’ work as collaborative and never ‘my band’ is a huge part of this) is one that puts what I do apart from what most bass players do. It works as a USP, but has also been a very very useful set of limitations for exploring a new vocabulary for the instrument. I’m not the first to do this, by a long shot, though the degree to which it has dominated my work is unusual.[Read more →]
January 6th, 2015 · Comments Off on 5 Inspirational Bass Recordings with No Drums
Spend more than 5 minutes online talking about bass, and you’ll encounter some variation on the theme of ‘groove is king‘ – the idea that the only things that matter for musicians who play bass are those that relate to the function within a normal band line up is pushed pretty hard in most contexts.
But so many of my favourite bits of creative bass playing (in my own career and from others) happen when the bass is freed up from that idea of a ‘role’ and the musician is free to contribute to the music in whatever way works best for the music. Sometimes that’s still very much within the understanding of what the bass ‘should‘ do (as with Pop Pop here) but other times it breaks away from that.
So here are 5 drummerless albums that feature some absolutely exquisite bass playing in the context of wonderful music! (as always these are in no particular order) ::
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard & Steve Swallow – Trios
Steve Swallow has one of the most singular, recognisable voices in the history of the electric bass. This trio is possibly my favourite setting for his playing ever. So much space, and his melody work is astonishing. To hear him with a drummer, have a listen to Bartalk by John Scofield. An incredible trio record with Adam Nussbaum on drums.
Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Bill Frisell, Dave Holland – Angel Song
One of my desert island discs, everything about this is perfect. It was Bill Frisell that lured me in, but Dave Hollands playing here is exemplary – his tone!!! This has to be one of my favourite recorded bass sounds ever, and his solo on this (the first solo on the opening tune of the album, no less) is just perfect. The feel is beautifully relaxed throughout, particularly in the interplay between Dave and Bill during Bill’s solo. Incredible.
Duke Ellington And Ray Brown – This One’s For Blanton
Jimmy Blanton changed the way all of us think about about the role of the bass, that much is true. That he died at 23 is mindblowing and deeply tragic. I can’t imagine what he’d have accomplished had he lived. The Ellington band of the 40s that Blanton was a part of is one of the most amazing groups of musicians ever assembled. This One’s For Blanton is a fitting and rich tribute, and who better to take the bass role than one of the true greats who followed on from Blanton’s lead in making the bass such an important instrument in Jazz, Ray Brown.
I can’t embed this video, as it’s blocked on YouTube, but it has to be this track for the unbelievable solo intro, and the incredible elaboration of a standard walking line that Ray goes into – Sophisticated Lady: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZFTDxYV7ss
Paradoxicon – Gianni Gebbia And Michael Manring
This is a REALLY unusual record. for much of it, the sax is playing a more rhythmic role than the bass, particularly on the opening tune, where Michael is all texture and what groove there is is from Gianni’s sax. Some beautiful writing, and a wonderful space for Michael to explore.
Rickie Lee Jones – Pop Pop
This kind of breaks the rules, in that 3 of the tunes on the album have percussion on, but the rest of them are so great, and Charlie Haden does drummerless bass playing SO well that I had to include it. I also really wanted a great vocal record in here to show what can happen when you free bass up from the ‘groove’ obsession in a song context. Charlie Haden may well be my favourite drummerless bassist of all, every note he plays is exactly where he wants it to be. The economy of notes is counterbalanced by the obvious care and attention given to every part of every note. Astonishing.
Over the last week or so I’ve read a whole load of different sources talking about the decline in music. Either the music economy has tanked or pop music is dead, or no-one’s buying albums, or only posh people make music…
Well, as an alternative to that, I think I’ve bought more new music this year than any year ever. And SO much of it is fabulous. Here’s my list of favourites from 2014, in absolutely no particular order:
Up – Stanley Clarke
I probably wouldn’t have bought this, for the simple reason that I’m buried under amazing new music. But I was sent it to go along with an interview that I did with Stanley for Bass Guitar Magazine (coming soon!) and I’m SO glad I heard it, cos it’s fabulous. Here’s an artist growing older, still learning, still evolving and having a whole lot of fun. It’s a wonderful album.
This one I discovered after meeting White Empress’ fabulous bassist Chela Rhea Harper at the Warwick Open Day in Germany in September. A fantastic extreme metal band, formed by Paul Allender who used to be in Cradle Of Filth. It avoids all the purile shock-tactics-that-appeal-to-12-year-olds bullshit that CoF traded in, and instead contains some incredibly progressive writing, more riffs than most metal bands’ entire careers, and of course some killer bass playing. Love it.
Goliath – Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil
I backed this on Kickstarter about 10 years before it came out (or that’s what it felt like) – SO long awaited. Anything Steve Taylor does is hotly anticipated round here, and Goliath delivers on every level. Amazing songwriting, production, lyrics, everything. Love it.
Another artist getting better and better with every album. I wasn’t sure how Rosanne could top The List, but I guess by applying the same level of care and attention to an album of all-original material (as opposed to the all-covers remit of The List) she gets even deeper inside her own work. It’s astonishing, deep, beautiful. A remarkable album.
I’ll buy anything Polar Bear ever do without even hearing it first, such is my trust in Seb Rochford’s taste and judgement. This one has a lot more Leafcutter John on that before, and it’s for the good, if you ask me. They get further from anything people would normally associate with jazz with every release, but perhaps deeper into the experimental progressive tradition of jazz at the same time. Wonderful.
Also a contender for gig of the year, Phronesis are outliers in my listening taste, as I usually like my jazz languid, ambient, mellow, ECM-ish… They play frenetic, complex, heavily written jazz, though tend to avoid walking bass and straight-up swing tunes. Jasper Hoiby is an astonishing bassist and band leader, and I love everything I’ve heard from them.
Comeback of the year? Quite possibly. A brave, stark, amazing record. Neneh’s voice and therefor words are so exposed here, and the two-piece band provide an amazing, beguiling context for her songs. Amazing.
‘Jonatha Brooke makes amazing album’ isn’t really much of a surprise, but writing an amazing musical about your mother’s journey into dementia is something that raises an eyebrow even from Jonatha. How does that work? Buy it and find out. Another collection of amazing songs. Every little thing she does is magic.
The 2nd extreme metal album in my list, and the 2nd one influenced by meeting the bass player at the Warwick Open Day. Nick Schendzielos is the latest in a distinct line of fretless players in extreme metal bands, and has carved out a sonic space for himself in the band that adds SO much to the sound of the band. Complex, heavy as shit, and with a great deal of light and shade. One of my favourite extreme metal albums ever.
Anything by Julie is going to be great, right? Right. In Marco, she’s found the perfect writing partner/foil. They compliment each other brilliantly, and Marco’s fretless alongside Julie’s signature riff ideas works perfectly. Fusion from the future.
I had SUCH high hopes for this, and it exceeded even those. Two musicians at the very top of their respective trees worldwide. Piano and elec guitar duets with just the right amount of additional manipulation from Alex. Love this so much.
Dan’s last project, Modular, is one of the greatest things I’ve ever bought on Bandcamp. So this was a must. And it’s great. A lil’ bit Frisell, a lil’ bit Torn, a big bit Phelps. Incredible instrumental guitar writing.
Another contender for metal album of the year – instrumental extreme metal, with a strong streak of classic rock harmony guitar running through it. The first of two great albums this year with Alex Webster on bass…
Ben channelling everything that was great about singer/songwriters in the 70s through the lens of the tracks that he sang lead on in Everything But The Girl. At least as good as you’d imagine that to be, possibly better.
About as mature and assured a debut album as you’ll ever hear. Acoustic singer/songwriter with just enough vaudeville/murder ballad/Nick Cave/Tom Waits-iness to give it an edge. Properly beautiful, and not even out yet
Lou’s vocals are SO refreshingly devoid of all the hystrionic fauxmotional melisma of every post Aguilera/Whitehouse female singer, it’s like a palette cleanser. Lamb do what Lamb do better than pretty much anyone.
The all-acoustic version of this record was already one of my favourite albums of the last 5 years, but was never released. Andrew’s since taken it and added all kinds of other instruments, layers, production, and has lost none of the magic. He keeps making astonishing records. And there are a number of songs here that make me cry. So that’s good.
more amazing jazz that originates from the UK. Bassist Ruth Goller is one of my favourite bass playing musicians on the planet, and is also one of very few musicians whose presence on a recording makes it worth listening to purely due to her being there. A dizzying mix of heavy writing and heavy improv with some stellar guitar playing. And Ruth’s killer bass.
Cannibal Corpse’s only competition ever is their own back catalogue. They’re in a league of one. And this is definitely their best *sounding* record ever, and one of my favourites compositionally too. They just keep getting better. Which after 25 years as a resolutely non-progressive death metal band, is a truly unique and remarkable feat.
December 19th, 2013 · Comments Off on My Favourite New Music Of 2013
2013 was another bumper year for amazing new music. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by so much of it. As soon as you let go of the NEED to hear it all, it just becomes this amazing immersive creative environment that, if you’re at all like me, invigorates your own creative journey.
So there are LOADS of things that could’ve been on this list, but here are the main things that inspired me this year:
Throwing Muses – Purgatory/Paradise – let’s start with The Muses. Kristin Hersh has such a remarkable work rate. She’s one of the only artists in the world who makes me feel like perhaps I’m not nuts after all for releasing so much music. She’s constantly updating the demos section of her site, and has three main projects in rotation – her solo records, 50 Foot Wave and Throwing Muses. This album got SO much amazing press, if that meant anything, it’d sell half a million copies. It’s cropping up in a ton of people’s lists of favourites for 2013, and there’s a damn good reason for that. Throwing Muses are making the best music of their almost-30 year career. Unlike ALL so many of their peers, the magic never went away. The writing, singing and Kristin’s ever-brilliant guitar playing (she’s up there with David Torn, Nels Cline and Bill Frisell in my biggest guitar-playing musical influences list) are all running at an all time creative high. What’s even more remarkable about this is that even they love this one. Packaged as an exquisite book, beautifully designed by drummer Dave and chock full of words to cherish and pour over by Kristin, it really does feel like a gift, a treasured message from three people who’ve arrived at this point because of all the joy and pain of being in a band for so long, and no longer give a shit about any of the stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s amazing, and you really should own it.
KT Tunstall – Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon – you’ll know from previous years if you’re a long enough reader that I’m a MASSIVE fan of KT Tunstall. She’s so far ahead of anyone else doing anything remotely similar, it’s not even funny. I loved her last album and its excursion into weird spikey electronic grown-up pop, but this one, made in the desert with piano-wizard Howe Gelb is truly exceptional. Recorded beautifully, written through all manner of life upheaval, stripped back. The two versions of Feel It All (single and album) tell such markedly different stories they even had two different videos. She’s amazing, and she’ll no doubt continue to be amazing for many, many years to come.
Jon Gomm – Secrets Nobody Keeps – one of my favourite solo gigs of the year (perhaps my favourite) was opening for Jon Gomm in Birmingham. Jon has been VERY good for a long time. The archetypical road-warrior, he built exactly the kind of career and fan base an artist needs to properly capitalise on the kind of attention that comes with a massive viral youtube hit. What he also did was make a truly mind-blowingly great album, and assembled a live show to match. Right at the top of his game, the world is definitely his for the taking. Also, supremely nice bloke, shockingly talented collaborator/wife (Natasha plays sax and sings beautifully on the album), deserves every bit of success that arrives…
Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen – this years metal triumph. I’ve loved all of Ihsahn’s last 4 albums (and finally bought Emperor’s last album this year too, and that’s fab) – this is his best yet. Calling it ‘progressive’ doesn’t really do justice to how natural the genre-hopping sounds in his hands. There’s no sense of any of the many disparate elements being shoe-horned in. It sounds like the record he’s been building up to. There’s still a whole load of properly scary black metal in there, but also entire suites of music that without the screaming to bookend it, sounds entirely unmetallic. Properly brilliant writing, singing, arranging, recording and guitar playing. All good, nothing bad.
Prefab Sprout – Crimson/Red – a NEW Prefab Sprout album?? Felt almost too good to be true. It’s beautiful, though if I was being picky – as a huge fan of Wendy Smith’s voice – I’d love to have heard the rest of the band on it, rather than just Paddy’s playing and singing. But that hardly dents the beauty of the record. All the great things about Prefab Sprout are there (except Wendy’s voice) – the songs, the combination of grand vision and resigned patheticness (I’ve never come up with a decent way of describing the combination of world-changing ambition and parochial intimacy of Paddy’s writing… One day I’ll actually put some proper time into it, the music deserves it!)
Richard Thompson – Electric – New Richard Thompson! Sounds like Richard Thompson being amazing! Because it is! Bought this in the first week of release. Which is a very very rare occurrence in my life. Happy that I did.
Yvonne Lyon – These Small Rebellions – this is Yvonne’s forth album in a row that I’ve loved. She has an uncanny pop sensibility about her melodic writing, but never sacrifices the depth of the song itself to that pop-ness. Nuance, beauty, and a huge investment of self seem to be the hallmarks of Yvonne’s writing and recording. Also an exceptional live performer. One of those artists whose albums I’ll buy without having heard a note, read a review or seen the artwork. And I can’t imagine ever being disappointed. Wonderful.
Tiger Darrow – Aqua Vitae – Tiger’s first record since leaving Texas moving to NYC and doing incredibly well at music college. When I first tweeted about this, Jonatha Brooke tweeted back that she’s a fan (having taught Tiger for a songwriting class at NYU) – lots of people have fallen in love with this album since I encouraged them to check it out. Falling loosely into that Imogen Heap/Bjork/clever electronic singer/songwriter world, Tiger has both a sound of her own, and a huge breadth to her talents, as a writer, singer and instrumentalist. Scarily gifted.
Sunna Gunnlaugs – Distilled – “new album from Sunna Gunnlaugs, and it’s fantastic” – I could just cut ‘n’ past that after everything she releases. Huge fan, always happy to get new music from Sunna, whatever the format she’s playing in, but I think I particularly enjoy the interplay in her trio. She’s a firm favourite of mine.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing – there was a huge amount of expectation hanging over this record, hype built up around it, and for good reason. Steven assembled an amazing cast of characters to make it, and clearly spent an awful lot of time and energy making it. And it paid off. Everything that’s great about progressive music with none of the absurdity. Adventurous, exciting, emotive, expansive. Exhilerating stuff.
There were other albums I really enjoyed this year – Billy Bragg, The Fierce And The Dead, Sam Philips, Scott Barkan, Søren Bebe Trio, Steve Uccello, Danny Barnes, Darkroom, Emmalee^Crane, Janek Gwizdala and a load of others all released excellent records this year. Like I said, a bumper crop. Best place to go crate-digging is my bandcamp collection, which has everything I’ve ever bought:
Unlike the dickheads who are paid to write about free CDs for newspapers, i think 2011 was a year when a lot of great music got made. I, like everyone else in the world, only got to hear a tiny fraction of it, so this is in no way a ‘best of’ list for the year, just a handful of things that I heard that constitutes my favourites from that tiny selection. Also in no particular order. I’ll start with the ones you can hear straight away, and then list a few that aren’t available to stream online…
Calamateur – The Quiet In The Land
Andrew Howie’s been making brilliant music for years. I love pretty much everything he does. Here he gets angry, he tackles doubt and confusion head-on and writes music to match. It’s at times unsettling but is nothing short of brilliant. (if you get it pay lots for it, so Andrew will send you the hour long ambient track that comes with it – it too is marvellous)
Rob Szabo – Rob Szabo
Rob’s an outstandingly great singer-songwriter. He’s one of those people who like Tracy Chapman, will suffer in his career from being consistently brilliant – there’s no big story in ‘great musician puts out another great record’. Fortunately, we no longer need big stories. We just want great music. and THIS is truly masterful music. I love it.
Lower Case Noises – Migratory Patterns
Andy Othling creates amazing soundscapes that on headphones will make any place you walk through while listening to it feel like a whole new landscape. I love all of his music that I’ve heard, and this is his best so far, IMHO.
Deborah Jordan – What You See
Soulful IDM/Electronica gorgeousness from an incredible singer. Love it.
Fer Isella – #Cosecha
A pure twitter discovery – Argentinean post-jazz experimenter making utterly gorgeous music. A bit fusion-y but without the unnecessary twiddles. Some 70s Miles, some ECM, and then a few songs to finish. Great stuff.
FreekBass – Concentrate
Supremely funky goodness at the intersection of old school funk, hip-hop and electronica. Magic.
Of those that were made by people who don’t put their music on bandcamp, I’d recommend checking out a few of my favourites:
The Waterboys – An Appointment With Mr Yeats
Bruce Cockburn – Small Source Of Comfort
Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What
Tiger Darrow – Hello and You Know Who You Are (two amazing albums, released by an 18 year old, on the SAME DAY.)
Animals As Leaders – Weightless
Yvonne Lyon – More Than Mine
Civil Wars – Barton Hollow
Kt Tunstall – the Scarlet Tulip EP
Bela Fleck and The Flecktones – Rocket Science.
That’s a fair chunk of the new music I’ve been enjoying this year. Google ‘em, find ‘em on a streaming thing if they’re there, or just buy the indie ones by people who are nice enough to let you hear the stuffs you’re about to buy 😉
I’ve been finding SO much great music of late, that I thought it was about time I blogged about some of it. I’ve been posting a lot of it to Facebook and Twitter, but it can get lost in the stream there. So here’s a few of my favourites of late (you can play all of them direct from this page, and if you click the download link on any of the players you can buy the albums): [Read more →]
July 14th, 2011 · Comments Off on French Review Of 11 Reasons… (with Translation)
A couple of weeks ago, this review showed up on a French Website called indierockmag.com – with my paltry French skillz, I could tell it was nice, but it wasn’t til I asked on Twitter and Facebook the other night for a translation that I got what it really said… I got 5 translations sent to me, by 5 very lovely people. I’ve only included one here, for obvious reasons, but am v. grateful to Guylaine, Dave (who posted a translation on Facebook), Lorna, Michael and Wayne. Here’s Wayne’s translation – the link to the original review is http://www.indierockmag.com/article14847.html
“Since Steve Lawson became a father, the Londoner appreciates the weight of the years, philosophy, and still more the number three. And that’s good, because we are just as into the poetic meditations that the musician draws from the single six-string bass which, in his hands, becomes a tool of dreams.
“The first electric bassist to have performed solo at the Royal Albert Hall, he is a protege of Michael Manring, who said of Lawson’s 2004 album Grace and Gratitude that it was a real step forward in the art of the bass solo, doubtless referring to a world closer to the ambient music of Brian Eno or the subdued post-rock of Come On Die Young era Mogwai rather than the technical wizardry of Jaco Pastorius. Lawson continues in the same soft lyrical vein with his first album in five years, possessing the good taste to allow it to be downloaded for free. Knowing that the collection in question is even more gargantuan than its predecessors – easily passing 80 minutes – should especially not stop you pulling out your bank card should you turn out to fall in love with it.”