The format is the same as it ever was; the six most interesting songs I've heard for the first time this year. It doesn't matter how old the songs are, or how late to the party I am - perhaps they're not even the ones I 'liked' the most, but the ones that sparked the most interest, and are worth sharing.
The Spotify playlist is exactly where you expect it to be. Spotify's own attempt at my Top Songs of 2022 was sadly polluted by the children's listening habits; a fine mix of Ska, Soul and Blues - but one that didn't generate any great insights for me personally.
Ordinary Life - Emily Breeze
Finding a song like this is what I hope for when I'm idly listing to whatever recommendations, human or machine I can find. Without warning a lyric snares you and pulls you into the song's world, when you emerge from the trance, you realise you've listed to it twenty times and can't remember what day of the week it is any more. In this case the lines:
Someone was gonna spot me walking down Stokes Croft and say
Hey kid, I'm gonna make you a star
And whisk me away into my glittering future
Twenty years later, I'm still waiting
Snagged my ear, and as I become aware again after an old familiar name has pulled memories of Bristol into the forefront of my mind, I'm hit with:
We had widescreen, high definition, surround-sound love affairs
And low budget B-movie one night stands
Somehow it was always the end of the summer
And we dragged ourselves through the streets at dawn
To our days jobs and dole office appointments
Fuelled by weapons grade hope and uncut dreams
And that hits hard. It brings with it both real memories from the past, and possible memories, of an alternate universe where I still live in Bristol, and don't have children, getting older in a completely different way. Luckily for me it looks like Emily Breeze is excising this alternative universe with song, other tracks like The Bell or Confessions Of an Ageing Party Girl make it clear that is her current neurosis and will probably feature heavily in the coming album Rapture.
This is a theme that's also found on Frank Turner's Little Life, which segues us nicely into…
A Wave Across A Bay - Frank Tuner
A Wave Across A Bay is Frank's cathartic tribute to his lost friend, and Frightened Rabbit frontman, Scott Hutchison, who sadly looks to have taken his own life in 2018, inspired by a dream Frank had in which he appeared. It's a strangely optimistic song, considering the content, but manages without being tasteless or trite. It's a hard balance to strike, but with uplifting chords and the hopeful outlook that it made Scott happier, he succeeds.
It's certainly be best song on the album FTHC; Farewell To My City and Little Life are also great songs, the rest of the album didn't really stick with me as much, not as much as previous albums have.
No One's Gonna Need You More - The Dangerous Summer
I can't remember when or how I stumbled upon this 2011 article reviewing The Dangerous Summer's War Paint, or how long it's been on my 'read it later' list, whenever and however it got there, this year is when I finally got around to reading it, and listening to the accompanying album.
Something like furtherfromthesky.blogspot.com is one of the hidden delights that are still tucked away on the internet. It's the personal site of a former absolutepunk.net contributor Craig Manning, where all his old reviews are archived, probably since the original site was shuttered in 2016. It doesn't matter that the review1 is more than a decade old, it did what positive reviews do, and get you to try something you haven't heard before, and in this case mixed together with the reviewer's experience of the music, and how it integrated into his life - this isn't just a review pumped out for a content farm after a few (if you're lucky) listens.
The result is that The Dangerous Summer are, according to my Spotify statistics, my most listened to artist this year, and for two reasons. First the music is good, second it's a sort of nostalgia it's created in me for a time when this music would have a much bigger impact on me. For Craig Manning, he heard their music in those teenage years where music seems to become embedded in you, and become part of your identity; but for me, even if I'd heard them in 2009-'11, The Dangerous Summer would have just missed that window. Now I'm long past that time, but listening to The Dangerous Summer has created a kind of 'alternative nostalgia', and imagining a world where it had been The Dangerous Summer that I was listening to at the end for high school and the start of university, and trying to listen to their music with that mindset, and remember what it felt like.
Since that 2011 review The Dangerous Summer have released another five full length albums, including this year's Coming Home, so picking one song from that huge catalogue is hard, but to play by, my own arbitrary, rules I've chosen No One's Gonna Need You More from the album and review that got me here. It's a as good a representation of what their songs and style is like, and if you like that, then I'm sure you'll like more.
House of Noise - Massive Wagons
House of Noise is pretty representative of Massive Wagons' style - nothing revolutionary, but great punk/heavy rock with lyrics for our times. I think I might have seen the name previously, but never consciously heard their music. This is actually the title track from their 2020 album of the same name, and their 2022 release is called TRIGGERED! - but this song gets my nomination mostly for the use of the subtle lyrics "I'm just smashing my face into another tomorrow".
Coalescence - Elder
There's a group of overlapping genres, I want to use the concept of a 'region' of music, somewhere near Progressive, Progressive-Metal, Post-Rock, Stoner Rock and Psychedelic, where I find it hard to understand my own taste. In this region I haven't been able to figure out why I like something, and not something else - even if they appear very close.
Somewhere in this region, in the good area, sits Elder. Coalescence is my favourite track from this year's Innate Passage album, and if you're looking for something more meditative, I highly recommend it.
Previous Elder albums I liked as well, and I think 2015's Lore was the one where I first become aware of them, which also has a great album cover.
Two Fingers - Sea Power
Probably more in the news recently for losing the prefix "British", Sea Power have emerged from the shadowy depths my of indie-rock past to again see the light, catching me by surprise with the appearance of Everything Was Forever.
In the intervening years it's been me who has been asleep, not them, as it looks like they've been consistently working since the Decline of [British] Sea Power and Open Season in the mid 2000s, when I was last paying attention. In that regard Two Fingers seems to be an archetype of what I remember, a unique combination of etherial, introspective and irreverent, but again at turns hard rocking. Back then it appeared to be a niche position that they were precariously balancing in, unable to decide into which direction they would fall, but now it feels that instead of it being an unstable peak, it's a position they've fortified and are solidly settled in.
From the same album Transmitter and Fire Escape In The Sea are also excellent.
I've had a chance to listen to a few more things this year, so picking six tracks was hard, and the 'long-list' in the playlist is considerably longer than usual.
In the rock/metal group I caught up with Mastodon's Hushed and Grim from last year, on which Teardrinker is my favourite track. Going back further in time Idle Hands from The Gutter Twins (2008) and Death's Symbolic (1995) are songs that made a strong impression as I was listening through older material, where I also bumped into Leatherface's Springtime as a rough punk gem. More modern again is Alluvial's 40 Stories from 2021's Sarcoma - a metal album that mixes lots of different sub-genres together into an excellent, hard hitting, package.
Delilah (pull me out of this) is the best track from Fred Again's Actual Life 3 album, something I tried, not because of an algorithm or smart suggestion, but because I saw an old fashioned poster, and wanted to try something at random. That drifts us into the section on more beat and electronic music where I enjoyed Craven Faults Erratics & Unconformities and tajima hal's Thin Lines albums, with example tracks from each included. I guess the beat driven I Saw by Young Fathers also falls into this section, as it doesn't fall into the next one…
…which perhaps is 'novelty'? These are tracks I've enjoyed in their own right, but most come with a certain sideways smile, certainly true for anything by Mojo Nixon, and The Colorblind James Experience's Considering a Move to Memphis. The last item is more a note, that if you need band that provides brass filled covers of Tool and Rage Against the Machine, then the universe has answered this request with Brass Against.
'Review' might not be the correct word here, but I'm not sure what is. It's certainly not a critical review, or one that puts the music, or the artist in any contemporary context that the listener's own. It's more a personal enthusing about a piece of music, but that's still a legitimate reason to write about the music, even if the category 'review' seems less correct.. ↩