Best of Newly Heard in 2019

Dec 22, 2019 · 1234 words · 6 minute read

This year feels like it’s a much more guitar band heavy selection, even though I’m not sure that’s not true. It’s probably just that the top two choices come from two of my favourite bands, whom I fell in love with back in a time when only listened to guitar bands.

As usual there’s a Spotify playlist to listen along to at home (or anywhere these days).

Diamond - Jimmy Eat World

Diamonds is a much needed reminder to give yourself a break, that you can’t do everything and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Taking a swipe at all self help mantras that promise quick wins - anything worth learning takes time, and only charlatans promise fast results.

That’s something Jimmy Eat World should know about, their now 26 year career has taken them from playing people’s front rooms and sleeping on the same floor, failed record deals, cult following, underground sensation, one hit wonder success, and beyond.

Perhaps that’s why I feel this is the strongest song on this record, while they’ve always written honest songs, this feels like it’s really trying to share, without being preachy, some of the experience they have gained.

(Depending on how you view Jimmy Eat World, the line “With only montage training time” is either proof of how cheesy and stupid they are, or that they know not to take themselves too seriously, and are confident enough to pull it off. It’s going to split the crowd.)

Fear Inoculum - Tool

While we’re talking about artists with their greatest success in the early 2000s, it seems the right time to mention Tool’s Fear Inoculum.

Even in the long gaps between albums, there’s no one who really creates anything like Tool. People who are looking for complex melodies are looking in the wrong place. It’s the evolving, shifting rhythms, that are the core of the songs, and the guitar is just another shifting rhythm.

There are plenty of other artists with complex time signatures, Dream Theatre, Between the Buried and Me etc. but they never feel as natural. They always seem like they are more there out of a conscious desire to have complicated time signatures, rather than just being part of the flow of the song.

With Fear Inoculum I was least sure which track was my favourite, Culling Voices and Pneuma also stick out. If anyone finds the short tracks annoying, think of them like a palette cleanser between courses. Without some contrast the long heavy tracks can be a bit too rich.

White Trash Heroes - Archers of Loaf

White Trash Heroes, the album, sits in a strange place in the Archers of Loaf history, a more experimental album, created and stitched together in a studio, than jammed out together, and created at the end of their time as a band.

Perhaps the variety of the tracks is a little more hit and miss, but their willingness to try something else, a different approach, and get different results, in what was undoubtedly a difficult time, was extremely brave. There must have been a lot of pressure to try and create an Icky Mettle v2.0 to try and recapture the initial hype. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is proof of their musical skill.

Instead we get the drifting, hypnotic programmed drums of White Trash Heroes, with the lamenting fuzzy guitar swelling up and down like a string section.

Hypersonic Missiles - Sam Fender

I feel the Bruce Springsteen comparisons are overblown, probably by Fender’s own publicist. In this case someone really too the idea to the extreme, with sax, glockenspiel(?) and guitar solo done with the leftovers of Born To Run.

What does connect them is the small town story telling, but with a more narcissistic tone that is less the dark side of the American Dream and more British working class reality. And that has merit of its own that doesn’t need a big name comparison. Even with the over the top production on this track it’s probably my favourite on the album of the same name.

The songs are both introspective and local, say with Dead Boys, but connects the dots to wider issues, as on White Privilege.

I hope with time he’ll get more space to make his own sound, and expand the great song writing skills he already has, to encompass a greater variety of material.

His Dark Materials Theme - Lorne Balfe

The one execution to this year’s guitar band based selection is the theme song to His Dark Materials, the recent BBC adaption of the Philipp Pullman books.

I read them a long time ago, in 2006, and don’t remember many of the details, other than the first book felt the most compelling as it contained the most mystery, before starting to get over the top in a battle for the known universe. The adaption of the first one felt very well done, and most of the edits/compressions they’ve made from the book seem like good ones.

In most cases a theme tune tends to wash over me as ‘general orchestral music’, but this one didn’t. The main theme is feels really powerful, and yet slightly off, like it’s resolving in a different dimension, which is suspect is the idea. I would find myself repeating the theme in my head days after having watched the last episode, trying to figure out if I remembered the last note correctly.

One More Hour - Slater-Kinney

Unusually this is the only ‘old’ entry into this year’s list. Normally there are more such entries as I continue my futile effort to try and listen to all existing music.

The two jaggy guitars play really nicely off each other and are as tightly linked as the protagonists in the song, which they effectively are. The killer detail to this song is that it’s about the relationship between the two guitarists, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, ending, but they’re playing and singing it together. I imagine that being awkward in many situations, and many bands have split over less, but that Slater-Kinney survived, and grew, is great.

Sound wise the whole album is interesting, as there’s no bass guitar, just two guitars and drums. Normally guitars have their lower frequencies removed during the mixing process to give the bass space in the mix. As that wasn’t needed here you get some surprisingly ‘rounded’ guitar sounds, even with the attack of the treble still being in place. That’s not a sound you get to hear often.

Other Listening of Note

Album wise both Surviving by Jimmy Eat World and Hello Exile by The Menzingers rate highly this year. Hello Exile only doesn’t have a track in the top six songs above because there wasn’t one song that really stood out, even if as a whole the album was very good, with Anna being my pick.

I also ended up listening to quite a lot of The Clash, mostly because of a podcast on their history , which added a lot of details I didn’t know about. But following my arcane rules, I can’t include them as I’m pretty sure I’ve heard most of the songs in some form before, even if I’m now listening to some of them in a slightly different light. As a bonus you get The Card Cheat from London Calling added into the playlist, as that’s my favourite Clash song.