Merry Christmas, one and all

Right, that’s my lot for the year. I’m staying home this Christmas and my new job gives me a whole week off (unlike the one day most Americans get) so hopefully I’ll be doing lots of nothing in between eating, drinking, watching football, and trying to keep the kids entertained.

So wherever you are and whatever you’re doing I hope you have a wonderful Yule. See you in – bugger me – 2014.

Here’s a lovely present you can unwrap now.

Download: Feeling Like Christmas – Margie Joseph (mp3)


That Was The Year That Was

These were the albums that most floated my boat in 2013, in rough order of how much. I don’t have any devastating insights to offer about the year in music (when do I ever?) except to note that I don’t seem to like male singers anymore. Not a geezer in this bunch.

Those of you with a Maths O-Level will notice that there are six albums here, not the usual sort of number you get with these things but I couldn’t choose between two of them so, fuck it, it’s my list and can be as long as I want.

Charli XCX – True Romance
Earlier this year I described Charli XCX’s debut album as “Britney Spears going through a Goth phase” and with her catchy dance-pop songs cloaked in moody, darkly-lit electronics it hit a magical sweet spot of being both radio-friendly while still having a cultish, underground edge. Her biggest success this year was co-writing Icona Pop’s massive smasheroo “I Love It” and giving away a song as good as that is a sign that this sassy young lass is bursting with a confidence and talent that shone through in great big purple neon letters on this endlessly poptacular album.

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
Laura Marling and Charli XCX battled it out in my ears for the coveted top spot on this list but in the end I chose the latter because it was sonically more forward-thinking which always gets you extra Brownie points in my book. But on every other level this was a classic album, sometimes of Joni Mitchell-esque proportions. Four albums into her career Laura is still only 23 but sounds like a much older soul, and you wonder with awe how good she is still going to get. There is no truth to the rumour that this was originally going to be called Once I Was A Doobie Brother.

Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals
I’m baffled at the frosty reception this album got from critics because it was about the most aggressively entertaining album I heard all year — guess I didn’t get the memo that Sleigh Bells weren’t cool anymore. Far as I was concerned this was their best collection of tunes yet, adding new wrinkles and sophistication to their sound while still keeping their hyper, guitars-going-to-11 sonic attack that sounded like being attacked with chainsaws by cheerleaders on a sugar high.

Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Janelle is nothing if not an ambitious girl and The Electric Lady was a grandly omnivorous, futuristic concept album about renegade androids (complete with Philip K. Dick references and a subtext about “queer” sexuality) told against a backdrop of soul, funk, jazz, pop, and anything else that took her fancy. It was also a whole lot of sexy, bouncy, booty-shaking fun which you can’t say about most concept albums. If Prince made Ziggy Stardust it would have sounded like this.

Purson – The Circle & The Blue Door
I don’t believe in the concept of a “guilty” pleasure anymore but a little voice in my head kept telling me that enjoying this kind of Proggy Occult-Metal was like being caught voting Conservative or something. But, Satan help me, I loved it (Up yours, little voice in my head.) A large part of Purson’s appeal lies with their vocally (and visually) striking lead singer Rosie Cunningham who brought a full-blooded, sexual edge to their psychedelic heavy riffage. Like some Glam witch she wove a spell that owed as much to Bowie, Pentangle, and The Beatles as it did Deep Purple and Hammer films. But let’s just keep this between you and me, OK?

Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
If this was a list of my favourite sounds of the year then Cate Le Bon’s sleepy Welsh voice would easily come top. The obvious comparison is to Nico but Cate has a warmth to her that suggests she’d rather have cup of tea than a syringe full of smack. Her third album was slightly more spare and focused than before but relocating to California hasn’t changed her Velvets-ish psych-folk sound all that much and Cate remains as idiosyncratic as ever. Best album title of the year too.

Honorable mentions
David Bowie – The Next Day
Various Artists – After Dark 2
Disclosure – Settle

The Apocalypse Will Be Televised

I came across this when I was researching my post on 1980s nuclear tension, the rather grim cover of the BBC listings magazine Radio Times the week they screened Threads.

I doubt if the BBC would have the balls to make a film as difficult and politically-controversial as Threads these days, and I doubt if the current, more populist version of the (once-great) Radio Times would have an image like this on its cover either — unless it was something to do with Doctor Who.

Download: War (Hide Yourself) – Frankie Goes To Hollywood (mp3)

The Lion in Winter

“We both are old now, more sedate, more responsible, we sleep in beds and sometimes we are sober; our bones are brittle, our sinews want elastic, the optician is kept busy and the dentist’s in despair, the barber gives us shorter shrift while the tailor makes thick overcoats, but should a shining occasion present itself, why, we will run jump fight fuck wheel a barrow drive a truck and generally present ourselves, singly or in tandem, to whatever merry mayhem takes our fancy”

Peter O’Toole, Loitering With Intent

RIP the very, very great Peter O’Toole. I highly recommend the two volumes of his autobiography, and of course, the movies.

Download: Overture From Lawrence of Arabia – Maurice Jarre (mp3)

Feeling a bit peaky?

In Brief Encounter the emotionally-crushed Laura is told by her gossipy friend that she looks “a bit peaked” which struck me as being the posh version of “a bit peaky” which is how I’ve always said it coz I’m common.

For my American friends it means to look pale, wan, or sick. The internets seem a little unsure of the origin of the phrase but I assume it has something to do with having hit some sort of peak and crashed.

Anyway, get this down you. It’ll do you good.

Download: I Feel Much Better – Small Faces (mp3)

My Mother’s Records

The furthest abroad my mother ever got was to the Channel Islands on a family holiday in the 1960s, and later in life it was impossible to get her to step outside of West London, let alone England. But she had so many groovy sun n’ samba records like this I like to think that when she listened to them she dreamed of exotic locations, sandy beaches, the warm sun, and tanned hunks handing her chilled cocktails. But then it was back to the two kids and the council flat.

I’m not so contrarian that I’m going to claim this is better than The Beatles’ original, but this is the first version I knew so it always sounds to me like it’s the Fab Four who are doing the cover.

Download: The Fool On The Hill – Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 (mp3)

The Pictures On My Wall

I’m not actually sure if I ever had my own copy of this poster but if not I would have been about the only Lefty student in the 1980s who didn’t. It must have been hanging on the wall of every bedroom I slept in or living room I partied in during my art school days, and is as iconic a symbol of its era as the Tennis Girl poster — just the thing to have on the wall of your student digs when you brought a girl home to listen to your Smiths’ records because it showed that you were into politics but had a sense of humour too.

Amusing though it was, it did reflect a real anxiety that Ronnie Reagan was crazy/stupid enough to start a nuclear war – limited to Europe of course — and that Maggie, his ideological girlfriend, was too turned on by the size of his missiles. This feeling wasn’t just reflected on student bedroom walls either as the possibility of nuclear holocaust was all over popular culture at the time. There was When The Wind Blows in book shops, Two Tribes in the pop charts, and Whoops Apocalypse on the telly along with the nightmarish Threads which still gives me the willies today (the whole film is on YouTube if you want to relive the horror). We were hardly reassured by the government’s Protect and Survive booklet either.

Apparently, before it became a poster this image originally appeared in the Socialist Worker newspaper which surprises me because I had a mate in the SWP at the time and they didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humour.

Download: (Don’t Let Your Love) Start A War – The Pale Fountains (12″ version) (mp3)