So, it’s that time o’ year when I sit down with a cup o’ coffee and mull over my favourite releases this year. Interestingly, there are two releases here that I initially found underwhelming. Like last year, there’s a bunch o’ ‘country’ albums and Lanegan, Craig Hughes and Danny & The Champions of the World put in appearances. I dare say there’ll be no surprises to those who know me.
1. The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast
Sure, the Dulli & Co. had played a load of live shows since 2012 and released recordings of Frank Ocean’s LoveCrimes and Marie Queenie Lyons’ See And Don’t See, but when Bob Odenkirk announced back in January that there was a new Whigs album on the way I was over the moon delighted. I literally jumped out my seat and it was pretty much all my good friend David and I spoke about for the next couple o’ months. Their first album in 16 years is a triumph – the familiar themes, but with some new twists and turns. Easily my favourite of the year.
2. Beck – Morning Phase
I love Beck. I really do … have done since I first heard Odelay (that was the album that hooked me in – all infectious melodies and beeps and bops, whistles and such like). This year saw the release of Morning Phase – his first album in 6 years and the companion piece to the utterly magnificent Sea Change. This happens to be utterly magnificent, too. Full of wonderful songs complete with lush arrangements and melodies. The difference is this one is illuminated with positivity. Woop!
3. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
2014 has been a great year for country music; however, the pick of the bunch is Sturgill Simpson’s second album. This one was a recommendation from Paul over at Blabber ‘n’ Smoke and it became an instant favourite when I finally got round to getting it a few months ago. It’s conversational and adventurous, with reptile aliens made of light who cut you open and pull out all your pain. That’s what I want from my country music. Outstanding stuff.
4. Danny & The Champions of the World – Live Champs!
When Loose and The Champs announced the release of Live Champs! I pretty much thought “about time!”. Danny & The Champs are easily the best live band in the UK just now; I’ve caught them twice over the last 12 months or so and they’ve been absolutely sensational. This 2-disc set captures every single little thing that’s great about them – the energy, the jams and the passion for what they’re doing. A highlight for sure and should be considered one of the great live albums.
5. Earth – Primitive and Deadly
If there were grumblings that Earth were retreading the same ground since 2006’s Hex, Dylan Carlson & Co. shook things up a bit. Here they successfully fuse the dusty sound that has defined their work over the last 8 years or so with the scuzzy noise of their earlier work. As a result it sounds bigger and more powerful. There’s even some sterling vocal turns from guests Rabia Shaheen Qazi and ‘Dark Mark’ on 3 of the 5 tracks here (I need to get the vinyl for a bonus 6th).
6. Malcolm Holcombe – Pitiful Blues
Malcolm Holcombe is one of those truly unique artists. Much like Johnny Cash, his songs are filled with hope, contemplation and a refusal to give in regardless of how bad it gets. That’s pretty much what we get from Pitiful Blues, too. He kicks against the pricks while reflecting on his regrets. His distinctive playing and that voice making him sound like a grizzled and angrier brother of the Man In Black. Injustice will not be tolerated! Seriously powerful stuff.
7. Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio
An interesting one, this. After initially feeling somewhat underwhelmed I’ve grown really rather fond of this one. Partly because it’s anchored in the early roots stuff of the likes of The Winding Sheet, but also because Lanegan has rarely sounded so vulnerable – listen to that quiver on I Am The Wolf, for example. Some of the strongest tracks here are those stripped of the ‘new sounds’ that Lanegan has toyed with (Judgement Time and The Wild People) and as a result they pack a punch. Plus, I Am The Wolf is a Garwood co-write and that’s awesome.
8. Dog Moon Howl – Dog Moon Howl
Right, so my favourite Glasgow band released their debut album this year and it really is a cracker. It has pretty much everything you could possibly want from your rock music – a whole load o’ guitar (both loud and scuzzy), some growling, and a healthy dose of psychedelic blues which means it comes across like Black Sabbath channeling ZZ Top via Disraeli Gears-era Cream (that’s me labouring the point that this is scuzzy, heavy and bluesy eh?). On top o’ all that it has Blues Like A Hammer and Tenement Porch Dog.
9. The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down
It’s been 4 years since The Secret Sisters’ self-titled debut. Since then it seems like it’s been a case of ‘coming soon’. Worth the wait, though. Lydia and Laura Rogers have written some really exceptional songs and T-Bone Burnett does a (predictably) wonderful production job. The ‘traditional country’ vibes remain and so too do the harmonies, but there are some new textures that really light this one up. Additionally, the girls also complete an unfinished Bob Dylan song and the result is brilliant (Dirty Lie).
10. Luke Tuchscherer – You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense
This is a debut album, y’know. From a drummer. But there’s no Ringo Starr shenanigans going on here. Now, I’m not saying Ringo is rubbish, but Tuchscherer shows off some really fine playing, assured songwriting chops and vocal performances over the course of 12 songs. If someone can show me Ringo doing that I’ll say “fair enough”. Anyhoo, this is a really engaging collection o’ sad songs and watzes that I catch myself humming every now and then. That’s the sign o’ a fine album, eh? Really good stuff.