Author Archives: Russell Clarke

Johnny Unicorn – Autumn Electric Kickstarter Campain

As well as working with Phideaux, and doing his own thing, Johnny Unicorn also plays bass in a Seattle-based prog outfit called Autumn Electric. In his own words from a recent email…

As you may know, I play bass in the Seattle-based progressive rock band Autumn Electric. We’re putting together a sci-fi rock opera and a tour this March and April, and in order to improve the fan experience, we are performing the entire album live, with lights and effects and costume changes, and wherever possible, sharing the bill with like-minded bands in venues that don’t expect us to be background music. Since this is a costlier endeavor than we’ve done in the past, we’re raising money ahead of time via Kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/autumnelectric/autumn-electric-star-being-earth-child-album-and-u

If you want to see this prog rock space opera made, please think about pledging. Even the smallest pledge will get you something physical in the mail. If you’re in the West, Southwest, South, Southeast, East, or Midwest, you may be on our tour route this Spring. I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

So if you’re keen, go and pledge!

Johnny’s latest album, Angels in the Oort Cloud, is bloody brilliant, by the way.

Tiger Moth Tales’ “Cocoon” – Synth-Driven Prog At Its Absolute Best

The Big Big Train Facebook group is a seething hotbed of excellent music tips, so when I saw a post about an album called “Cocoon” by Tiger Moth Tales (aka Nottinghamshire-based musician Peter Jones – read all about him here) I knew it was probably worth spending some time investigating.

The link to a song called “A Visit to Chigwick” immediately intrigued me (as I am sure it would for certain UK people who enjoyed children’s television back in the 60s and 70s…) so I clicked on it.

As the track played a broad grin developed, as well as, I must admit, a slightly moist eye. Something very special was happening here, so off I went to make a purchase, and it landed on my metaphorical New Zealand door mat yesterday afternoon.

Here’s what Peter himself has to say about the birth of this album (from the liner notes:)

It all happened by accident really. One day I sat down to try and write a song, and ended up with a prog song about Trumpton. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but as I tried to focus more on conventional music, I kept getting more and more ideas about songs on childhood subjects and in my head it was all prog. It seemed there was nothing for it but to see the thing through and see what happened…

For those of you who didn’t have the childhood pleasure of watching stop-motion films about a bygone age such as Trumpton (or its prequels, Chigley and Camberwick Green) – here’s some background, and here’s a clip.

As well as some of my favourite kiddies’ TV programmes, Tiger Moth Tales also cites influences such as Frost, Big Big Train, Haken, Steve Hackett and Roine Stolt. These are excellent reference points that certainly raised my expectations – and thankfully Mr. Jones delivers with aplomb. I’d give some additional nods to Martin Orford, Andy Tillison and a certain Mr. R. Wakeman.

This is a synth-driven concept album that’s ostensibly about kids’ stuff but there are darker themes being explored as it’s also about growing up (and we all know how depressing that is, folks.)

The album is, by turns, uplifting, depressing, thought-provoking, amusing – and very robust so play it loud! There is a ton of absolutely superb music on this album – there’s not a single weak track, and the musicianship and vocals are excellent throughout.

This album easily gets added to my list of favourite 2014 albums. Shame I hadn’t heard it sooner!

You can buy it on CD or via Bandcamp.

Here’s a quick track-by-track walk through. If you want to hear about the tracks in Peter’s own words I recommend that you go here, where you’ll get his insights first-hand, plus some very droll humour on display, which always gets a big thumbs-up from me.

Overture

Everyone loves an overture, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint. Plenty of suitably bombastic stuff going on, and all of it proggingly good!

Spring

We all love Spring, mainly because it isn’t Winter. The tweet of birds and the bleating of lambs (yum!) This is the first short interlude of (surprisingly) four, spread throughout the album. I won’t labour the meaning too much…

Isle of Witches

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

The ‘cautionary tale’ of three witches living on an island, and the wizards that covet their coven (so to speak.)

This is a big slab of proggy goodness describing the epic (and very, very loud) battle between the incumbents and the interlopers. Heavy in places and somewhat delicate in others, this track is interesting to say the least, and heavily drawn from a version written when Peter was a mere 13-year-old stripling.

Stylistically it’s a significant departure from the rest of the album, but as Peter comments, what better track to have on an album about childhood?

I love it!

Summer

Just one Cornetto…

Finally Summer is here! Swallows, ice cream vans, seagulls and pebbly beaches.

Tigers In The Butter

A slow, somewhat eerie start, gradually building towards a driving epic about the power and vulnerability of the childhood imagination. This is my joint-favourite track on the album, for reasons that may become apparent when you listen to it. A stonkingly-good track!

It was our time, it was our world, our imagination, yes we had it all. We never thought we’d see the end, we’d last forever.

The First Lament

Childhood innocence is eventually brought down to Earth with a bump.

Bump.

See?

With a haunting intro, this instrumental track slows the pace down somewhat but delivers plenty of power with some epic, soaring guitar work. Superb!

Autumn

When the only decent thing to be said about a season is that you like the colour of the dead and withering leaves, you know it should be abolished. Fireworks, brass bands and geese are some consolation, but they can’t override the cloying sense of existential…dampness.

The Merry Vicar

With a title like that, the presence of the opening church organ is almost compulsory.

This is a fun and rollicking piece about an unconventional vicar. Based loosely on a real person from Peter’s childhood, he’s clearly got the gossip-mongers talking in this track!

With a quirky, music hall-eqsue vocal approach, this puts a big smile on my face every time I hear it.

Doing a lot of good for God – He’s giving the church a bit of a prod… Three cheers for the Merry Vicar!

And just when you think it’s a routine romp, the song surprises you by presenting one of the coolest keyboard-fests I’ve heard for a very long time!

A Visit To Chigwick

This has become my other joint-favourite track. Having a sense of nostalgia for places that never existed may seem a bit odd, but I’m sure we’ve all done it.

This is a wonderful song about that feeling.

Why does it make me sad? How can you miss what you never had? Is there a way we can go back in time to the quiet little town in my mind?

Opening with a very familiar-sounding music box, the vocals and guitar build until…the train pulls into the station…at which point we are treated to another superb instrumental break, returning to the original theme for a warm, optimistic conclusion.

Winter

The true end of our childhood. Bummer.

Sleigh bells, Silent Night and the crunch of snow remind us of how benighted this season is.

Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright

Another music box opens this final track, but it’s playing a more plaintive tune. This is another slow burner, which builds to the epic proportions that the other tracks achieve.

What happens when finally we have to grow up? How do we reconcile who we were with who we have become?

And so we come to the crossroads of truth – do we hide in our own cocoon, or do we join this cruel world? Our childhood logic lies with us still shaping who we become…

And so the track closes on a positive note. Don’t deny your childhood – it made you who you are.

Looking at the pieces of my life, it feels alright, feels alright.

This album is a lot more than alright, of course. Kudos to Tiger Moth Tales for creating one of the finest albums of 2014.

Sitting at the prog bus stop – 2014 in review

Here we are again.

Actually it seems like just a year ago when I was thinking ‘here we are again.’ And you’re probably thinking the same thing at this point.

‘Best of’ posts seem to be a tradition at this point in time, when we also celebrate our planet returning to the same point (galactic orbit notwithstanding, naturally…) as it was 365-and-a-bit days ago. Hurrah! We’re back! Now, where did we leave our keys?

Johannes Kepler – the only man this year to publish a positive review of ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Of course if Johannes Kepler (pictured to the left, apparently pre-empting a delicious Chinese main course by snaffling a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer) was to try to build a predictive model of the prog releases even a year into the future he would probably end up a bit stumped, and would look stupid for even trying. So that’s why we don’t try to model prog – most of us look stupid enough without the ignominy of a failed ‘Theory Of Everything™’ on our CVs too.

Anyway, I digress, as is my wont.

Musically 2014 has been an interesting year. Mostly because it has been quite different from 2013.

“Well, colour me surprised, Mr. Clarke, that’s generally how the space-time continuum works!” I hear you shriek. But please set your Interweb keyboard warrior fury aside for a moment or two, and let me finish my epistle before you judge me too harshly.

My 2014 has felt pretty lacking when it comes to stand-out, arse-kicking, blindingly-brilliant music. Maybe we peaked in 2013. I mean, 2013 was pretty amazing for a number of reasons, not least:

  • Big Big Train released their insta-classic ‘English Electric:Full Power’ double album, making me homesick once again.
  • Haken’s ‘The Mountain’ rocked my world.
  • Thieves’ Kitchen’s ‘Of Sparks and Spires’ didn’t help with the homesickness thing, thanks very much indeed.
  • Spock’s Beard finally returned to form with the absolutely stonking ‘Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep.’
  • Scott and I  made a trip back to the mother country (that’s England – keep up, everyone) for The Big Big Weekend (Saturday and Sunday are here in glorious TechniPanaColourVision,) where we forged new friendships, ate curry and drank beer.

Now the above may be a small list, numerically-speaking, but each of those items was a Very Very Big Deal to me. In comparison 2014 really hasn’t lived up to the standards of 2013. How could it possibly?

There have been a few albums by artists whose back catalogues I have a lot of time for, but that this year have failed to set me on fire:

  • Gazacho’s “Demon” didn’t have the longevity I thought it would, which is a shame – it’s a nice enough album, but not something to draw me back time and again. If I am honest, I think my trajectory and theirs have diverging somewhat since Night.
  • Cosmograf’s “Capacitor” worked well for the first few spins in rapid succession, but then I think I over-listened to it. It takes (me at least) a lot of work to get the most out of it so I have to ration my exposure now. I go back once a month for a fix, but because of that, it hasn’t been entwined with my life this year. Perhaps that’s for the best – caviar gets boring when you eat it for every meal.
  • North Atlantic Oscillation’s “The Third Day” left me pretty cold. I loved 2012’s “Fog Electric”, and Sam Healy’s 2013 “Sand” was a damn fine album too. But TTD now sound like they have been re-treading the same ground over, and over, and over again. And again. And over again.
  • Anathema’s Distant Satellites started well but then fell apart. For my ears, the music certainly lived up to the band’s name.
  • I chose to completely bypass Yes’ “Heaven and Earth” for a number of reasons, not least of which is my refusal to continue to be serially disappointed by a band’s output for three entire decades. So I have finally given up watching that particular slow motion car crash.

Combine all of the above with a very busy and sometimes fraught year at work and home, and it adds up to make me feel that things just aren’t what they used to be.

But like Climate Change there are peaks and troughs. Are we in a trough in 2014? Was I just looking the other way while all the cool stuff happened? Maybe I was at the shops.

Looking forward my personal highlights for 2015 will be Big Big Train releasing the Real World DVD and playing live at King’s Place in August (and yep, we will be there!)

We have new material from Phideaux, Spock’s Beard and Haken among others, which I am also very excited about. The list is not endless, but it’s promising. Fingers crossed…

Anyway, back to the year in question. 2014. What has floated my boat?

IQ – The Road Of Bones

This album is absolutely the best thing to come out of 2014.

It’s still as fresh as it was when I first heard it, and it’s still a firm favourite on my car media player. In fact, it’s rarely not being played. I have played it to death, and yet it still lives! It is absolutely the pinnacle of IQ’s output. You may recall I quite liked it and said as much a while back. If you haven’t heard it, you should really, really hear it. And of course, buy the bonus CD.

Uphill Work – Missing Opportunities

This album was a real surprise find for me. A very late arrival to my ears, once again the Progstreaming site came up trumps while I was browsing during a quiet moment earlier this month.

Uphill Work are a Moscow-based group formed in 2002. I’d never heard of them – it’s discoveries like this that make me very happy The Interwebs, and sites like Progstreaming, exist.

This album’s an absolute bloody gem – quirky, interesting, humourous, very droll lyrically, and a great vocal approach.

Listen to it (and buy it!) on Uphill Work’s Bandcamp page.

Dave Kerzner – New World

Another December find, this is a musical feast. I don’t identify as a Pink Floyd fan at all, and a lot of parallels have been drawn between this release and the Pink Floyd sound, and yes, they’re definitely there. The big difference for me is that I like this album and I haven’t liked any PF albums. So I guess I win!

This album keeps pumping from start to finish – every track delivers something different, and it’s all good, every last bit of it. Recommended!

Listen to it, and get it, here!

In Summary – It’s Me, Not You…

Three keepers in a year, the first of which was released in May, and the other two which I was introduced to in December. That’s a big gap! I would have despaired if IQ had been the only transcendent release in the year. So for that number to treble in the space of a week or two, well I consider that excellent luck! Thanks goodness for happy accidents.

All that aside I actually don’t really believe in the good musical year/bad musical year thing.

You make your own good year/bad year.

What floats your boat sinks others’, and vice versa.

You get out what you put into it.

OK, I will stop sounding like your grandmother now.

I’m sure I missed a bunch of other good musical stuff while I was doing other non-musical stuff. Such is life, and I’m also sure that if it’s that good I’ll discover it next year.

Anyways, it’s Boxing Day here in New Zealand.

12:02 pm.

That’s Beer O’Clock.

Cheers and Happy 2015!

 

My nano-review of Tin Spirits: Scorch

Completely brilliant.

Buy it.

Now.

That is all.

 

EDIT: No doubt my erudite co-progarchists will wax lyrical on this release in the near future. I rate it ‘splendid’.

 

 

Big Big Train: Banging the Drum for Real World

Oh my!

It was just the other day that Greg Spawton posted the latest fly-on-the-wall snippets of Big Big Train’s vocal rehearsals for their upcoming and eagerly-anticipated (slight understatement there) DVD recording in Peter Gabriel’s Real Worls Studios on the band’s Facebook page.

I’d just got over the excitement when – lo and behold, there’s another update, this time from the massively-talented multi-instrumentalist and BBT drummer – Nick D’Virgilio.

Enjoy the booms and crashes. I certainly did!

 

 

Big Big Train: Voices for Real World

Greg Spawton has posted another video snippet on the Big Big Train Facebook page of the band’s preparations for their upcoming live recording at Real World Studios. If you’re a Passenger, it’ll be compulsive viewing!

Big Big Train: Preparation for Real World

Some of you may have detected that a few of us Progarchists have, shall I say, a smidgen of rabid adoration for a British beat combo calling themselves Big Big Train.

BBT (for that acronym is how they are known to us!) are preparing for a live recording at Real World Studios in August of this year, and the chaps have just started posting videos of their preparations.

If you have heard BBT’s music you’ll certainly know how complex and multi-layered it can be, which is a potential challenge to bring to the stage, so it’s going to be fascinating to see how they’re going about it.

The first video sees Danny Manners and Andy Poole talk about how their keyboard rehearsals are going.

It’s very, very cool :)

Flaming Row’s “Elinoire”

I was browsing the extremely cool progstreaming.com site the other week and stumbled across a band called Flaming Row. I’d never heard of them, so like all curious progheads, I thought I’d give their album “Elinoire” a spin*.

What I found was a great story wrapped in a wonderfully-realised piece of symphonic prog rock opera pomposity, but with some interesting twists that made it a lot more enjoyable than your run-of-the-mill release.

Flaming Row

“Elinoire” was released in 2012. How it passed me by, I’ll never know. I’m eternally grateful to the progstreaming chaps and chapesses for making it possible for me to hear it.

Anyway all you really need to know is that THIS ALBUM KICKS ASS!

If you like Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon material, then you will love this. It’s symphonic, heavily electric, melodic, beautifully-written, with superb vocals and wildly varied in its instrumentation. You won’t always get big ballsy guitars and power chords, and  that makes listening to this album very refreshing. In many ways this release is less ponderous that some of Arjen’s material, making it much more fun to listen to.

And that’s what hooks me into this album. It’s not your standard, run-of-the-mill prog metal rock opera (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) There’s lots of fun to be had here due to the wide variety of genres on display – metal, country (!), funk, good old fashioned pop, but it’s all beautifully woven into the greater story, which still sticks to the big-theme melodrama that makes our favourite genre so uplifting. With song titles as varied as “Overture”, “Do You Like Country Grandpa?” and “Rage of Despair” you know you’re in for an eclectic experience!

A warning to you delicate snowflakes – there are Cookie Monster vocals in the second half of this album – in my opinion, too many – but I must admit that they’re appropriately used given the story being told.

Anyways, this one’s definitely worth a purchase. You can have a listen, and buy it here.

*This may sound like a metaphor in this day and age of digital music, but somewhere that music is on a hard disc, and that disc is spinning at some outrageous rate of revolutions per minute. And failing that, if it’s on SSD, then there’s some electrons spinning even faster, so don’t give me your pedantic nonsense, mister!

IQ’s “The Road Of Bones” Is Astounding

If you haven’t already bought IQ’s recently-released “The Road Of Bones” here’s a public service announcement:

MAKE SURE YOU GET THE BONUS DISC TOO!

CD1 is absolutely stonking (that’s British for ‘good’,) and while most ‘bonus’ discs are rarely a bonus (instead usually filled with oddities and detritus) IQ has actually released something that’s absolutely the opposite.

I consider the The Road Of Bones bonus disc (bones disc? – hur hur!) to be absolutely essential listening. It’s difficult for me to understand why this wasn’t released as a double album – there’s so much top-notch material on these 2 CDs!

For GBP4 on top of the single CD (which is selling at GBP10) you get the bonus disc too. You won’t regret it!

Get it here.

“Executive Summary”

Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!

Indeed, what music they make!

The highest accolade I can grant music I adore is to lovingly transfer it to my car’s MP3 player and then purposely drive to work during the height of rush hour, thereby being left alone with it for extended periods of time at a blistering number of decibels.

And that’s precisely how my Thursday morning went.

IQ has gone back in time, finely minced up all of its previous material, strained out all the dull bits, distilled the concoction, added many tricks and traps, clicked the heavy button, and produced a breathtaking piece of work.

So does the above suggest there’s nothing new to listen to here? Well, a lot of it will be familiar territory for IQ fans…but that’s why we’re fans…right? And there’s still plenty of new stuff going on, and new approaches to old stuff, and old approaches to new stuff and…oh I’m sure you get the point!

To (mis)use a food analogy, this is IQ steak tartare. All flavour, no filler, and no buggering about with stoves.

For you vegetarians there’s no analogy that could possibly apply so I’ll just move on.

Themes

In line with most of IQ’s material, things are pretty downbeat thematically. The title is the first clue that this isn’t children’s party music (unless you really don’t like children, in which case it could be kind of fun to play it at volume 11 outside a kindergarten.) The Road of Bones is the Russian Kolyma Highway, built by political prisoners exiled by the Stalin regime between the 1930s and 1950s. Nice chap. Thousands died during its construction – not exactly bright and breezy subject matter. Slavery, mental illness, relationship breakdowns and violence all make an appearance in various guises, producing some dark moments that make this release all the more effective, moving and somewhat disturbing. The album artwork sets the scene for what’s to come.

Sounds

First, the rhythm section is absolutely on fire! Tim Esau’s bass work is superb – punchy, intricate and up front in the mix – just the way I like it! There’s also a ton of bass pedals, which gives proceedings an immense kick in the low frequencies…so to speak.

Paul Cook’s drum work provides a solid backbone on every track, with fewer intricate and noodly distracting flourishes than on previous albums. This is a good thing.

This album has been variously described by some of the Big Big Train Facebook group stalwarts as ‘synth-heavy’ and I’d have to agree. Neil Durant has done a great job on keyboards. There’s some powerful stuff here, with bass, synths and guitar producing walls of sound that are simply irresistible.

Michael Holmes is in great form as usual, although there aren’t as many standout solos from him as I’d like. But he’s ever present alongside Tim’s bass doing the heavy stuff, and he gets a chance to let loose on plenty of occasions with some soaring work. I always enjoy his playing, and he has certainly added plenty to the atmosphere of this album.

Peter Nicholls’ voice is like my loudspeakers – great when driven hard. On previous albums I’ve not been so keen on his quieter vocals but at higher energy levels there’s a howling edge in his voice that always brings chills. Thankfully the vocal energy across the album is high and he hits the mark (and my spine) many, many times, and even in the quieter moments he still sounds damned good.

The album was recorded and engineered at Rob Aubrey’s Aubitt studios in Southampton, and Rob’s engineering wizardry is once again very evident, bringing a nicely-expansive sound that, to my poor tinnitus-damaged ears, makes the most of the band’s extensive talents. I’m a sucker for bass, and it’s positioned right up front – what’s not to love!

Much of the album is very percussive – there’s always punch in various forms (all good) and even the quieter material has a real presence to it. Expect to uncontrollably tap your foot in the ‘Restless Leg Syndrome’ manner that only a true prog fan can muster.

Time signatures are (as is mandatory for IQ) extremely variable throughout. This makes the punchiness even more fun and appealing, and I defy you to resist headbanging at the heavier moments – but only when nobody’s watching, of course.

So here goes – a brief review, including the bonus disc, that you can still buy here in case you forgot.

Tracks – CD1

From The Outside In

Opening with suitably-spooky atmospheric synths and a special guest appearance by Bela Lugosi (isn’t he sounding well?) things soon get going with some solid pumping basslines backed by synth flourishes and Peter’s voice cutting through it all. There’s more atmospherics to come, before a return to the pumping rhythms. A great opening track. But wait, there’s more…

The Road Of Bones

A slow-burner this one, opening again with synths and piano. This is a particularly haunting track, and Peter’s lyrics and vocals are astounding. “For now the need is met, I almost hate myself. Almost. But not quite.” And cue the slow, understated bass-driven buildup to an eventual and very welcome musical kick in the face.

You’ll find this track on IQ’s website.

Without Walls

I was fooled by this track the first time I heard it. The first couple of minutes I found pretty uninspiring, but during its nineteen minutes it morphs several times through much more interesting territory, and ends up going all over the place quite brilliantly. This is actually quite common right across the album, which is what makes it so appealing. There’s always something unexpected around the corner.

Ocean

One of the less-energetic tracks on the album, there’s power, warmth and intricacy that carries it along quite nicely to a satisfying conclusion.

Until The End

Another stunner, starting slow with plenty of atmospherics, eventually getting going with synths taking centre stage, giving way to Peter’s vocals with some great bass work around the 7 minute mark and a storming performance by all personnel, coming to a very poignant piano and acoustic guitar-led conclusion.

Tracks – Bonus Disc

And on to the bonus disc. You need to own this! Did I mention you can get the 2 CD release here? I’m sure I did…

Knucklehead

This is the first of many excellent reasons why you should get the package including the bonus disc. A brooding combination of drums, bass and synth open, cutting to acoustic guitar and Peter’s voice. And then all hell breaks loose. Play it loud, people!

Hateful, vengeful numbskull.

1312 Overture

This one starts off with some very triumphant and very nicely sampled orchestra and choir, and then immediately dives into the sort of complex IQ rhythms that we know and love – it always puts a big smile on my face. I defy you not to play air drums! This track’s an instrumental, and while I usually prefer my songs to come with a big dollop of lyrical goodness, this one just keeps me wanting more.

Constellations

Electronic rhythms open this one, making it sound rather intriguing right from the first bar. There’s a feeling of frantic energy, which eventually moves into something less so, but once again eventually more epic territory via a brief-yet-urgent (and great fun!) mid section.

Fall And Rise

Fall and Rise is the only song that doesn’t sound immediately to me like IQ, and while I love their signature sound, there’s no harm in moving in a different direction. So after all that punchy heaviness of previous tracks, this one features fretless bass, acoustic guitar, gentle synths (and is that a banjo?) and a much smoother, yet no-less fun ride. Think Japan and you’re not a million miles away.

Ten Million Demons

When I first heard this opening I was reminded of….well every song Muse has ever recorded. I considered that a black mark, but thankfully things very quickly turn a corner and transcend the aforementioned unmentionables, becoming another really solid tune with a great, chugging bassline, once again full of atmosphere and surely ending with a delightful nod to T Rex? (Actually it’s Chicory Tip! Thanks to Stephen Pieper for the correction!)

Hardcore

More punch for the final track, starting slightly weird and ethereal, but then grabbing you by the ears, with stabs of synth over a bouncing bassline, into a quiet passage and we’re into long instrumental territory. A nice, if somewhat subdued way to end the second disc.

Summary

I am a big fan of IQ’s past material, but the consistently high quality of every single track across 2 CDs makes this their strongest release to date.

Kudos, chaps!

A Challenge

Finally, a small challenge to you, Dear Reader. Given the second CD is a bonus disc, how would you re-sequence both CDs to create a classic double album?

Best answer gets my undying admiration.

Two Thousand Thirteen Top Ten Tracks

Look at all those ‘T’s in the title. Beautiful! Alliteratively awesome! You don’t know how long it took me to come up with that!

I must admit to being slightly uncomfortable about dropping the ‘and’ though. It’s so…ahem…un-British.

The things I do for my art. Ho hum.

Anyway as we are fast approaching the last day of the ISO8601-designated year Two Thousand AND Thirteen (phew, payback!) it’s time to reflect on the high points of the past solar cycle. Life’s too short to dwell on stuff I hate, therefore this post won’t contain anything about politicians, rap or raw celery. Yes – only raw. Cooked is nom.

If my ears could talk* (or access a Twitter account) they would no doubt mention the fact that 2013 has been a fantastic year for them. My tinnitus definitely not included, some truly virtuous vibrations have occupied my ossicles, careened around my cochleas, camped in my cortexes (insular, cingulate and prefrontal, naturally,) harassed my hypothalamus and hippocampus and attacked my amygdala. They have emancipated my endorphins and endocannabinoids, drenched me in dopamine and nurtured my nitric oxide. Laughter, tears and all that lies in between have resulted.

Now, I’ve always been an albums kind of chap. My particular brand of OCD means I must listen to an entire album from end to end. I distrust the very concept of track shuffling, mixtapes and best-ofs – it just seems wrong, somehow disrespectful to the skipped tracks and to the artists. Perhaps it’s just my egalitarian nature – share the love!

This year, however, I am going to go against my nature. Here I present my list of favourite individual tracks from the past just-under-365-and-a-quarter-days.

Yes! Mr Clarke lives on the edge like this every day of his life…

Anyways, without further ado, I present my list of fave choons from this year!

…OK…just a little more ado.

My ranking system is simple. It’s a list of n tracks (where n is a number probably,) presented in no particular order. To get into this list, a song must:

  1. Be released in 2013.
  2. Still be played regularly by me.
  3. Make me grin / laugh / cry / dance (!) / drive erratically.
  4. Ermmm…that’s it.

Simple!

Right, no more ado. I promise. All the ados have been used up. They’re all gone. Yes, no more ados whatsever. No siree Bob! This is now an ado-free zone! What’s an ado, by the way?

Big Big Train – East Coast Racer

She flies!

Yes she bloody does!

’nuff said.

http://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/track/east-coast-racer-2

 Camelias Garden – Some Stories

While the entire album ‘You Have a Chance’ is a great listening experience, there’s something about the opening track that’s so warm, so inviting, and so delightful, that it has wormed its way into my brain, settled there, laid eggs and had a very large family. It has since built an extension onto its bungalow. And then the grandchildren came along…

I don’t really begrudge that it’s not paying rent.

http://cameliasgarden.bandcamp.com/track/some-stories

Big Big Train – The Lovers

This was first released on the Make Some Noise EP, and then soon after on the utterly sublime English Electric: Full Power album which, if I was doing a Two Thousand Thirteen Top Ten Albums post, (which I’m obviously not…) would have easily taken at least the first 7 positions.

The track starts off relatively sedately and simple with acoustic guitar and flute, but soon builds into the most incredible listening experience. The instrumental break (surely meant to portray a love scene – which it does so well!) is just legendary – Danny’s electric piano, Greg’s bass and Nick’s drums doing something absolutely amazing to my brain – and then Dave’s guitar – oh the guitar! On it goes before reaching a very satisfying climax (so to speak) via sweeping melloton and David’s soaring vocals. So! Damn! Good!

http://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/track/the-lovers-2

Cosmograf – When The Air Runs Out

If you haven’t heard how good the Cosmograf album ‘The Man Left In Space’ is, you must have been left in space.

‘When The Air Runs Out’ is a track I can’t get enough of. Its a brooding epic – its musical acrobatics send a shiver down my spine every time I hear it. Actually I get a shiver every time I think about it. It’s definitely my favourite sad moment of 2013 – oh come on, we’ve all got  to have one!

The rollcall of the ‘giants of their time’ is quite sobering – we’re all brilliant until we’re not – so what should we do when the air runs out?

A true tragic gem.

http://cosmograf.bandcamp.com/track/when-the-air-runs-out

Thieves’ Kitchen – Of Sparks And Spires

There’s something about this song that got stuck in my head the first time I heard it, and it’s still there. It’s such a delightfully-put-together track with a real earworm of an organ riff. Lyrically this song tugs at my (admittedly somewhat idealised) view of an England far away in time and place. And what a great, uplifting finish! It’s crescendo almost takes the crown from the closing track of their 2008 masterwork The Water Road. Brilliant!

http://thieveskitchen.bandcamp.com/track/of-sparks-and-spires

Spock’s Beard – A Treasure Abandoned

Uplifting and bombastic. And just when you thought you were fully lifted up and bombasted, it lifts you up and bombasts you even more.

This track seems to use every move in the prog playbook so in some ways I feel I’ve heard it all before but it’s just done so beautifully all is forgiven!

The Beard’s latest album ‘Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep’ has been a welcome return to a form that’s been missing for me since their last great album – V.

http://spocksbeard.bandcamp.com/track/a-treasure-abandoned-2

Big Big Train – The Permanent Way

I still remember the moment I first heard this track, and exploded in laughter and tears, pretty much all at the same time. I adore ‘Hedgerow’ from EE:Part 1 –  I can’t sing along to ‘That is where you will find me…’ without choking up. Hedgerow perfectly captures so many of the feelings I have about my erstwhile homeland. Every time I hear it I’m taken back to happier, simpler times. So imagine my surprise and delight when the same refrain made an appearance in TPW!

Boom! It was an amazing moment to find so much new meaning in a phrase that had already become an old friend. Kudos, BBT!

http://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/track/the-permanent-way-2

Haken – Pareidolia

‘The Mountain’ surprised me this year. We were on holiday in Europe when I first heard a snippet of it and couldn’t wait to get home to order it. The album’s opening tracks ‘The Path’ and ‘Atlas Stone’ are immensely, arse-kickingly satisfying, but the standout track for me is Pareidolia. The roiling opening moments of bass, sitar, guitar, tabla build to what must be the most yellable chorus of the year:

Be the moon and sun
Be the wind and cross the storm
See the stars begin to swarm
Read the writings in the stone

Go on, try it!

Big Big Train – Seen Better Days

What can I say about this song?

Quite a lot actually.

Big Big Train’s four most recent albums have dealt pretty-much exclusively with the country in which I was born and raised – a country that I grew to dislike and then hate, and eventually in 2001 leave in a bit of a huff.

9 years pass…

…and so to the reconciliation…

I was very fortunate to stumble across BBT’s The Underfall Yard. Through listening to that album I faced and (mostly) resolved the disdain I had for my homeland, projected from the shores of New Zealand, where I now reside. Music is a very healing thing, you know! English Electric Parts One, Two, and now Full Power brought more stories of the amazing and the ordinary, of epic and personal themes, all of which I felt I have a strong connection to. So what does all that have to do with Seen Better Days? Well, to me it takes everything from the past 4 BBT albums and distils their essence to what, for me, is a most compelling story of greatness, decline, love and loss.

I don’t need to mention the incredible level of musicianship on display here as you all know BBT are second-to-none in that department, but I must give special props to Greg’s bass playing on this track. ‘MAJESTIC’ is the only word that’s appropriate.

http://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/track/seen-better-days

And finally…

Anyway that’s my list. Thanks for reading. Have a splendid December however you choose to celebrate whatever it is you celebrate. Personally I will be celebrating not having to go to work.

…ok not finally!

2013 has been a very special year, mostly because of Scott and I schlepping across the Equator to Europe and the UK (yes, the Brits don’t like to think they’re part of Europe. At least they and Europe agree on something.)

I may have mentioned this a few times, but The Big Big Weekend was a simply fantastic couple of days spent in the south west of England. Thanks to everyone for making it such a special occasion – the memories stay with us and I hope we can all get together again one day.

If, dear reader, you are one of the few who have managed to miss my incessant spamming of Facebook with these videos, it’s your lucky day. Never has Youtube contained video of such a delightful bunch of chaps and chapesses. And if you have seen it all before, watch it once more just for shits and giggles!

Mary Christmas! Whoever she is.

*Rest assured, if my ears did start talking I would have them removed immediately, kind of van Gogh-like. The voices I already have in my head – the ones telling me to eat celery (raw), listen to rap and politicians – are more than enough to keep me company thank you very much indeed.
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