8. UP THE HILL AND DOWN THE SLOPE 2010 – 2015
Sometimes I like to imagine my life as a steep hill. Starting at the bottom, as I walked up I became more and more confident. Occasionally life was troublesome with many obstacles in the way which I’d traverse the best I could. At some point I reached the top and began to go down the slope on the other side. Shit still happened, but nothing I’d experienced prepared me for Tuesday March 2nd 2010, when an act of war 4,500 miles away changed the course of my life in an instant.
Apart from the usual ebb and flow we all have living in these mean and desperate times, there have only been a handful of events I would truly call life changing. By its very nature, the death of my 23 year old son at the hands of a Taliban sniper on the southern edge of Sangin, Afghanistan was the most devastating. In fact, so traumatic was it that even now I find it almost impossible to write about, not because I can’t or don’t want to, but because words alone can never express the overwhelming sorrow of his absence.
As a professional combat soldier and veteran of three tours, my son was well aware of the risks involved and the odds on losing his life. Having witnessed the horrific deaths and injuries of comrades firsthand, he knew it was just a question of luck, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The day before his return to the frontline after a mid-tour break, just two weeks before he was killed, he sat me down to explain the brutal facts of war as sensitively as he could in a conversation no parent wants to have. But I’m glad we did. In the immediate aftermath of his death, through the long, exhausting hours, days and weeks of bewilderment, his acceptance of the dangers and possible fate gave me the strength not to drown in his death, but to move forward through disorientating times and escape the gravitational pull of my life’s new and devastating year zero.
We had spent a lot of time together over the years, as close as any father and son could be with nothing left unsaid, nothing left undone. I had no regrets on that score, no axe to grind, no anger to vent at the Taliban, Afghanistan, Muslims, the Military or the government as so many other mothers, fathers, wives and husbands chose to do in the misguided belief that apportioning blame would relieve their own suffering.
Maybe it was my near hallucinatory state of shock, but I found the reaction of those both inside and outside our small family circle to what was a highly emotive, very public death both baffling and bizarre. From my devout, Methodist mother temporarily losing faith in her beloved God, to my supposed best friend who failed to contact me again for over two years, to the hordes of unsolicited visitors who besieged our home intent on livening up their own miserable existence by basking in what they perceived as the reflected glory of a dead ‘hero’, it was a salutary reminder of how self-serving some folk can be. Then again, I guess we all have an emptiness we need to fill at the best of times, whether it be with work, children, God, gardening, sport, sex, drugs, social media bullshit, sensationalist news, gossip, the misery of others or whatever.
From a youthful age I chose to fill mine with music so, in a futile attempt to navigate my way through the pain, I immersed myself in a manic cycle of downloading and listening. I had been crate digging, compiling mix CD-R’s and writing about all types of music since the turn of the new century purely for my own pleasure. When my eldest son hatched the website Green Inc, initially as a form of self-therapy and platform for my more erudite ramblings, not only did it reignite my literary ambitions, it pushed me into seeking out music I would never have heard otherwise. Yet no matter how much I tried, I found it impossible to form any kind of committed relationship with any new artists.
Curiously, I even lost my brand loyalty to the major figures from my youth. In the spring of 2013, when my old beau Bowie reappeared to be showered in praise for his first new album in a decade, I couldn’t have been less interested. Notwithstanding the odd spark of purposeful brilliance from LCD Soundsystem, PJ Harvey, Frank Ocean, John Grant, Kendrick Lamar and their like, it was simply about great tunes. And if I could hum along to them then so much the better. Without even realising it, I turned into a willing polygamist, spreading my love thin and wide to become a shallower, more restless listener, easily amused yet very easily bored. With the ability to access every song ever recorded since time immemorial, part of the magic and mystery of music disappeared forever. My once missionary zeal dissipated too, although that didn’t mean music lost all of its evangelical power. Ironically, the songs I managed to find that really meant something became even more significant and precious.
In the age of shuffle, the quantum leaps within the endless, interchangeable puzzle of modern music culture and its role in our daily lives and habits continued to be driven more by the ongoing, ever evolving process of technological advancement than the actual music; YouTube’s popularisation of songs old and new giving way to Vine memes and Smartphones equipped with 24/7 streaming. Choice didn’t come into it unless I wanted to be a vinyl Luddite paying through the nose for a scratched up piece of black plastic, albeit with fabulous artwork. However, the greatest shock to my system came when Apple quietly killed off the iPod, the sole source of my musical pleasure for over a decade. Now, when the dinky hard drive of my little black box suffers its inevitable final seizure, my lovingly curated playlists and the hours and hours of work that went into them will simply vanish.
Safe in my warm, comfortably numb bubble of downloading, listening, writing, archiving, compiling and recompiling, I did little else except watch TV and submit to the anaesthetising powers of Time Team and Man Utd. Like a permanent outsider in a kaleidoscope of shit, my few remaining friends disappeared and I withdrew into self-imposed exile, mentally adrift from the tedious celebration of the mundane that seemed to dominate the thoughts and conversation of those around me, that is when they could be bothered to look up from their phone and string more than a couple of syllables together.
My son’s death certainly caused me to set off on the dark, uncomfortable journey up my own arse; to ponder on the evolution of my inner morals, the ugly truths of my childhood and the nagging memories that still seemed so important. But it also pushed me into seeking a future free from the commonplace and baseness of human existence. Acutely aware of my own mortality and of time running out, I began to think seriously about what it would mean to live outside society and how that might be sustainable.
It’s funny but I’d always told myself that at some indeterminable point in the future, my real life, or rather the one I secretly imagined, was finally going to start. Of course, when it gets right down to it, giving up your dreams for a reliable job that pays the way and corrodes your soul is no-ones preferred option. And yet, only too aware that my high falutin’ punk principles alone had never put food on the table, clothed the kids or paid the mortgage, I consoled myself with the thought that jerking off the machine for fun and profit was the next best thing to saying ‘Fuck you, I’m off’.
In truth, manual labourer or manager, throughout my working life, apart from the golden age of the early nineties when the militant, union led proletariat teetered on the brink of anarchy, there was never too much enjoyment to be found in the soul sucking monotony of the waste collection game. Certainly, my reputation as an opinionated, argumentative, rebel rouser heading up a disparate band of unruly bin men, feared and loathed in equal measure by a new breed of kiss arse, corporate cunts with the mindset of Nietzsche’s Last Men didn’t help and I suffered accordingly, permanently under investigation for a multitude of annoying ‘anonymous’ allegations.
After more years than I cared to remember, by 2015 it was obvious there was no longer a place for me or my kind. The time had come to get out on my own terms, yet before I could do anything I fell victim to one last cowardly act of betrayal. Of course, being local government, the whole sorry affair soon descended into laughable farce. Just a week before facing the unsettling prospect of a kangaroo court, my fate a mere formality, the case collapsed as it was always going to. Seizing what after all was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I immediately negotiated a massive payoff that meant I’d never have to work again and walked out the door.
It was a fitting end to the darkest, yet at the same time, most extraordinary five years of my life, my mind liberated by a brutal act on one of my own that ultimately gave me the courage to smash the walls imprisoning me and break out. It felt very much like my son’s parting gift, and what a remarkable gift it was. From hereon in, beholden to no-one, my only constraints will be the ones I set myself. And yet, while many brilliant adventures and misadventures lie ahead, no matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing, the dizzying, madly spinning globe of music culture past, present and near future will still be the first thing I reach for in the morning; thousands of songs that speak of where I’ve been, where I’m at and where I’m going.
Still I keep on travelling down the slope, but now there’s a new path to help me find whatever it is I’m looking for. The old life is over, the new life has begun. It might just be the best yet!
SLEIGH BELLS / Rill Rill / Treats LP / February 2010
In the first few months of 2010, as my son’s friends and brothers in arms began to fall with alarming regularity and the chance of him coming home with anything less than a life changing injury stacked up, music understandably took a backseat. Yet even in my permanent state of anxiety, it was impossible to deny the greatness of ‘Rill Rill’. Based on an instantly recognisable sample from Funkadelic's ‘Can You Get to That’, it sounded so bold, optimistic and young it couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face, which at the time was an achievement in itself.
GONJASUFI / Sheep / A Sufi And A Killer LP / March 2010
Once upon a time there were two bin lorry drivers, one a sheep, the other a lion. Within the space of a couple of months they were involved in two separate, fairly gruesome, fatal collisions with pedestrians. Both were completely blameless but it still came as a shock when the sheep returned to work within a week, completely unconcerned about anything except the overtime payments he’d lost out on. As for the lion, he was so wracked with guilt and remorse that within a year he suffered a complete breakdown, the disintegration of his marriage, a non-existent relationship with his young kids and a life of semi vagrancy. Lions you see, we think too much. Sheep? Do they think at all?
M.I.A. / Born Free / Download / April 2010
The tired old argument that even the most sophisticated new music is merely a postmodern pastiche of sounds mined from the obscurities of Rock’s Rich Tapestry could easily be applied to a song like ‘Born Free’, a propulsive fuzzbomb of punky pop built on a sample of Suicide's ‘Ghost Rider’. Even if that were true, there was still something extremely appealing about the sheer willfulness and daring of an artist like M.I.A. renewing her one woman, global pop insurgency post ‘Paper Planes’ with such a blistering statement of intent.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM / I Can Change / This Is Happening LP / May 2010
‘This is really happening’ was a phrase that kept cropping up as we trudged through the glut of ceremonial engagements that inevitably follow the death of a young soldier, shaking hands with the great, the good and the not so good in barracks, palaces and cathedrals across the land. James Murphy‘s choice of the same phrase felt prophetic, especially as LCD Soundsystem were the last group to really sustain my interest. That and the fact that songs like ‘I Can Change’ were a warm celebration of the last 30 plus years of new wave, post-punk, disco, house and glam made it feel even more relevant to a man tiptoeing around the memory ghosts of his recent past.
ARCADE FIRE / Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) / The Suburbs LP / August 2010
In 2009, Arcade Fire sent my son off to war with the grandeur of Neon Bible ringing in his ears. In 2010, the quiet desperation of The Suburbs helped me come to terms with the crushing sadness of his death and, as clichéd as it sounds, start living again. Tempering the grimness of lyrics like ‘These days my life I feel it has no purpose / But late at night the feelings swim to the surface’, Regine Chassagne turned ‘Sprawl II’ into a life affirming message of defiance in the midst of crushing circumstance.
ROBYN / Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do / Body Talk LP / November 2010
A fuck off song to end a fucker of a year for anyone who’s ever been arrogant or stupid enough to tell me how to live my life.
PJ HARVEY / The Words That Maketh Murder / Let England Shake LP / February 2011
Polly Harvey’s new album arrived when the fog of loss and grief had cleared just enough for me to try and and find meaning and significance in my son’s death where ultimately there was only unfortunate coincidence. There was plenty of death evident on Let England Shake, ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ opening with the lines ‘I’ve seen and done things I want to forget / I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat / Blown and shot out beyond belief / Arms and legs were in the trees’, a depiction of war my son certainly would have recognised.
JAMES BLAKE / The Wilhelm Scream / James Blake LP / February 2011
James Blake’s ultra-sensitive, downbeat electronica placed shadowy sub-bass alongside plaintive gospel vocals, glitchy R’n’B samples next to stately piano chords. An eerily spacious, new sonic variation, ‘The Wilhelm Scream’s yearning melody and sighs of loneliness tapped into my deepening sense of alienation.
JAI PAUL / BTSTU / Download / April 2011
The furore surrounding Jai Paul from bloggers, critics and contemporaries alike was so deafening it damn near put me off, but singing ‘Don't fuck with me, don't fuck with me’ in an angelic falsetto not 20 seconds into your debut was guaranteed to grab my attention, the tracks perpetual state of collapse and disorientating waves of distortion and digital interference even more so. As to whether he was a man of genius or just another cynical record company con? Who cares?
FRANK OCEAN / Novacane / Download / May 2011
‘Fuck me good, fuck me long, fuck me numb’, it’s not often that songs about fucking are quite so explicit or honest. Taken at face value, ‘Novacane’ was ground breaking enough, a mid-tempo sex’n’drug ballad that together with Frank Ocean’s cachet of underground cool, restored some much needed credibility to R&B’s faded reputation and artistry. And yet, it was also a song about the dumb, human bullshit that can get in the way of relationships, how sex can magnify that disconnect and the irreparable, crushing loneliness that remains once the act is over, an unspoken truth I know only too well.
CASHIER NO. 9 / Make You Feel Better / Download / June 2011
During a time when I was not only looking for but finding significance in the day to day - a sunbeam bursting through the dark clouds, a robin bob, bob, bobbin’ along in the garden - and was glad to lighten my heavy glow anyway I could, for four minutes and 45 seconds, Cashier No. 9’s twangy, sun soaked, guitar pop really did make me feel better.
ZOMBY / Things Fall Apart / Dedication LP / July 2011
Packed with a mystifying vocabulary and never ending supply of artists and genre labels, EDM can be an impenetrable and incredibly daunting prospect. The epitome of the stereotypical lone bedroom auteur using primitive software as fuel for his alchemical, futuristic electronica, Zomby’s willful genre blurring made Dedication equally impenetrable and impossible to pin down. Downbeat and wonderfully spooky, it didn’t quite go anywhere, but then neither did it have to.
NICOLA ROBERTS / I / Cinderella’s Eyes LP / September 2011
At its best British Pop has always been about irreverence and irony, individuality and wit. We like our pop stars to be a bit wonky and Nicola Roberts, who came off the subs bench at 16 to win a place in Girl’s Aloud, is a classic case. Permanently wearing an expression that suggests she’d be much happier working on the checkout at Sainsbury’s, Cinderella’s Eyes was a revelation, full of startling, bravely personal lyrics detailing the many insecurities blighting not only her life but the lives of most young women.
AZEALIA BANKS / 212 / Download / December 2011
Songs for teenage girls Part One. ‘212’s three and a half minutes of NYC attitude and filthy, x rated, cunnilanguage blew the pre-teeny minds of my 12 year old daughter and her giggly mates. Their first introduction to real pop, Azealia Banks immediately became the coolest girl on their planet by promising she was ‘the answer’. It didn’t quite work out like that, but for a couple of weeks at least, to a generation of young girls she really was.
THE 2 BEARS / Be Strong / Be Strong LP / January 2012
SCUBA / The Hope / Personality LP / February 2012
Who would have thought that two big, cheesy club tunes wholeheartedly embracing the communal spirit of house would come to mean so much during the most tempestuous period in my life? Certainly not cynical old me, but then I’m constantly having to remind myself how music can capture our own significant moments better than just about anything.
Maybe it was their clichéd titles, their ridiculous, swaggering shout out’s or their insane catchiness. Maybe it was because despite their uplifting optimism, they still felt wistful and cautious, shot through with a nagging undertow of sadness. Or maybe it was because they were both songs about escapism that reminded me exactly what I was escaping from. One things for sure, the magical healing power of ‘Be Strong’ and ‘The Hope’ worked a treat. And just when I was least expecting it!
GRIMES / Oblivion / Visions LP / March 2012
Songs for teenage girls Part Two. Pop was everywhere in the noughties, doing what it does best, invading the very fabric of our lives in films, adverts, video games, shopping malls, lifts, pubs and TV no talent shows. Like a million others I began to take an interest, largely through my young daughters own obsession. Then, as pop entered the digital valley of no return and began to choke on a diet of homogenised, hyper real, Auto-tuned goo, I began to hear a different kind of noise coming out of her bedroom.
Indie square peg Grimes was one of the first, ‘Oblivion’ a masterpiece in off kilter, electro pop that felt perfectly dreamy until you listened to the words. Sounding like a hit, it wasn’t even released as a proper single, digitally or otherwise, but what it did do was prove that teenage girls, or anyone else for that matter, have plenty of other pop options if they’re prepared to work just that little bit harder to find them.
BEACH HOUSE / Myth / Download / March 2012
A marriage of confidence and vulnerability is rare especially in dream pop, where the slightest brush of a cotton dress against bare skin qualifies as foreplay. Yet somehow ‘Myth’ remains perfectly balanced between misery and bliss, it’s breathy, naïve beauty a testament to the last knockings of indie rock.
THE MAGNETIC NORTH / Bay Of Skaill / Orkney: Symphony Of The Magnetic North LP / May 2012
In what turned out to be a rubbish couple of years, my most loyal friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. An eighties hardcore skinhead self-analysing his way through the fucked up childhood that moulded him into a violent, raging racist, paradoxically and somewhat ironically, in middle age his sole source of comfort came from his father’s Cat Stevens records, their questioning and heart searching nature the inspiration he so desperately needed to find the answers within his own life.
As a total technophobe, I had been loading up his iPod for years, ‘Bay Of Skaill’ included on what was to be the final update. As he wasted to nothing before our eyes, The Magnetic North’s paean to a small bay on the west coast of Orkney allowed him to forget his own fragile mortality for a few minutes, its sparse simplicity a reminder of the future Yusuf Islam and happier times long ago and so very far away.
SKY FERREIRA / Everything Is Embarrassing / Download / August 2012
Songs for teenage girls Part Three. We created it, they need to take it over because it’s a dog eat dog shit world kid and LA girl Sky Ferreira, sexually assaulted as an adolescent and a major label pop cast off at 19, knew all about it. I will probably only ever like one Sky Ferreira tune, but that’s OK, that’s enough.
JOHN GRANT / GMF / Pale Green Ghosts LP / March 2013
John Grant knows a thing or two about ageing and what a bastard, beastly thing it can be yet still seems determined to dance his way to death. Well into middle age, Pale Green Ghosts was his album of personal confession and emotional catharsis, a public display of his darkest moments for the greater good of himself, and the benefit of others like me. And what genius moments they were, especially ‘GMF’, to all intents and purposes a sweet and tender ballad before the acronym of its title revealed it as a manifesto for the disaffected to be sung from the highest rafters.
BILL RYDER-JONES / There’s A World Between Us / A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart LP / March 2013
It was Lawrence Durrell who first coined the term 'islomania' to describe ‘a rare but by no means unknown malady of the spirit ’where people find islands somehow irresistible’. If there really is such an affliction, three years after my son’s death I was suffering badly. I had a compulsive desire to run to an island, to be alone with the only women I’ve ever loved. And so it was, with a bad wind blowing in my heart, that I was introduced to Bill Ryder-Jones defiantly old fashioned yet quietly beautiful ‘There’s A World Between Us’ which said it all better than I ever could.
YOUNG FATHERS / I Heard / Tape Two EP / June 2013
Isn’t it strange how certain songs connect while other more likely candidates fall by the wayside? There’s nothing obvious to connect me to Young Fathers, a multi-racial, multi-cultural, experimental trio with roots in Edinburgh, but the plaintive yearning of ‘I Heard’ happened to catch me feeling lost and a little unsure of the future, its choral chants, percussive beat and whirlwind of distortion perfectly capturing the essence of my confusion.
SOPHIE / Bipp / Download / June 2013
LORDE / Team / Pure Heroine LP / September 2013
Loved and hated in equal measure, as much for their abstract aesthetic as their sonic invention, A.G. Cook’s PC Music and affiliate SOPHIE were my idea of what pop should be in the 21st century. With its ultra-glossy synthetic imagery, DIY spirit and playful use of new technology, the online and mostly free label was like a scaled down, contemporary version of Paul Morley and Trevor Horn’s ZTT, albeit one that singularly failed to find a commercial audience.
Lorde, on the other hand was the real pop deal, a genuine 16 year old multi-million selling megastar who was exactly what switched on teenage girl’s wanted. Well-read and as a teenager herself, she was able to transform their fears and ordinary lives into something transcendent and glorious. What’s more, she did it without the usual throng of middle aged, award winning writers and producers employed by cultural Brides of Frankenstein like Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift to define the borders of youth culture on behalf of youth. Amongst the ruins of Twitter, twerking, open letters and open legs, Lorde let us know that all was not lost. Not yet anyway.
COURTNEY BARNETT / Avant Gardener / Download / September 2013
Almost a decade older than Lorde, Australian Courtney Barnett sounded like she came from a different age entirely, long before her fellow Antipodean was even born; a time of street smart, radio-friendly indie rock, when guitars ruled absolutely. It mattered not. By using her darkly comic tale of a gardening induced asthma attack to shine a light on life’s trivia, the mundane suddenly became the remarkable, which of course it is.
MUM / When Girls Collide / Smilewound LP / September 2013
As Iceland’s third place musical export, múm get a little lost in the shadow of Bjork and Sigur Ros, their childlike yet jarringly intense music as understated as their name. Their sixth album Smilewound saw them creep ever closer to the structure of pop but still a long way from the mainstream, the sparkling exterior of ‘When Girls Collide’ gradually building to the resounding refrain of ‘It's time to break this bloody spell / It's time to blow shit up to hell.’
BROKEN BELLS / Holding On For Life / Download / November 2013
Superficially, no song here epitomises the 21st century’s love of a good tune more than ‘Holding On For Life’ wherein Shins frontman James Mercer and Gnarls Barkley musician/producer Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton channeled their inner Bee Gees. It may have sounded exactly like a post-disco pastiche with a severely restricted sonic palette, but like seventies disco itself, ‘Holding On For Life’s deceptively bright and breezy hooks hid a much darker truth of hard lives and tough choices.
SISYPHUS / Calm It Down / Sisyphus LP / March 2014
An audio art project from rapper Serengeti, producer Son Lux and our favourite indie wordsmith Sufjan Stevens, a man who’s never been afraid to wear his spirituality on his sleeve, highlight ‘Calm It Down’ was more about stripping hip hop back to the bare bones. Kicking off as a goofy anthem with the simplest of Serengeti’s rhymes, the second half transformed it into a sad, beautifully understated confessional, Steven’s sweet backing vocals underlining a message to tug at the heart strings.
SLEAFORD MODS / Liveable Shit / Divide And Exit LP / April 2014
Chronicling the finer details of life in an England lurching towards Armageddon as the incumbent slave masters, loan sharks, Dickensian landlords and corporate vultures pick over the best bones, Sleaford Mods short, sharp songs were about as punk as punk could be in 2014. And the beauty of it was, by following the same straight talking tradition as their forebears, you didn’t have to be signing on or living in a grim council flat to understand exactly what they were on about or why they were so angry. Midlands white crap talking back!
DAMON ALBARN / Lonely Press Play / Everyday Robots LP / April 2014
REAL LIES / North Circular / Download / June 2014
Sometimes the here and now can be just a little too much. In these straitened times it’s easy to understand our fathomless longing and incapacitating nostalgia despite being only too aware that time moves on regardless. Separated by a generation, our Damo and early twenty something North Londoners Real Lies evoked that same quiet melancholia, their dazzlingly lovely, ethereal textures overflowing with a peculiarly English sense of bathos that can be traced back through The Streets, Pulp, The Specials and beyond.
FKA TWIGS / Two Weeks / LP1 LP / August 2014
Hailed as the future of pop and a long awaited new direction for R&B, FKA Twigs was neither, LP1 far more like a radically updated version of vintage Bjork or Angels With Dirty Faces era Tricky. As for ‘Two Weeks’, in amongst the reams of trippy textures and sugar coated breaths of melody, lines like ‘I can fuck you better than her’ made it clear that lust, sex and ecstasy were very much on her mind.
JOAKIM / This Is My Life / This Is My Life EP / October 2014
In 1976 I was reborn at a Sex Pistols show. In 1977 I went to The Roxy 18 times. In 1979 all my favourite post punk records were recorded. In 1980 I drank mushroom tea and ate mushroom on toast with a family of hippies. In 1983 I started my third independent record label. In 1987 I bought my first Acid House and Detroit Techno records. In 1988 I had to get a ‘proper’ job. In 1990 I gave up my druggy shenanigans for full on fatherhood. In 1991 I started racing motorbikes. In 1993 I suffered agonising bowel pain. In 1994 I spent the summer walking the woods and fields of West Berkshire with my young son’s. In 1996 I fell in love with a girl in a check miniskirt. In 1997 we spent the spring in bed. In 1998 I was set adrift on domestic bliss. In 1999 I thought it was time to become an adult. In 2001 I downloaded my first MP3. In 2004 my son went to war for the first time.
This is my life. What shall I do with it?
FATHER JOHN MISTY / Holy Shit / I Love You Honeybear LP / February 2015
A million miles from the near future European electronica of Joakim, and feeling very much like I’d jumped into the hot tub time machine only to emerge in the hedonistic maelstrom of mid-seventies LA, there’s no way I should have been loving Josh Tillman’s adopted persona as the amoral, drunken, drug fueled lothario Father John Misty. Yet all was not quite what it seemed, the heartbreakingly, lush magnificence of the melodies and sonic sparks of wonder and weirdness, juxtaposed with cutting, often cruel, sociopathic lyrics where sex, violence, and interrogations of the male psyche ran amok, nudged the songwriting into genius. Hugely interesting and listenable, it may have been a fake construct of gargantuan proportions, but I Love You Honeybear was a most unexpected gem.
KENDRICK LAMAR / King Kunta / To Pimp A Butterfly LP / March 2015
I gave up on hip hop in the mid noughties. Sick to death of the same redundant ideas, it was depressing to look on as it succumbed to the dollar and became more about the brand and transmedia empire building than the beats. Yet, I knew instantly that To Pimp A Butterfly was sufficiently different to at least reach for the higher ground. Covering every aspect of Blackness in a little under 80 minutes, as a white, middle aged, suburban Brit, on occasion it did make me feel like an uncomfortable interloper, but by removing most of hip hop’s time honoured clichés to produce such a deadly serious, jazzed up, funked out masterpiece, Kendrick Lamar demanded attention.
TAME IMPALA / ‘Cause I’m A Man / Download / April 2015
A languid slice of highbrow psych pop shrouded in bong-session wigginess, heavenly vocals, eighties synths and a gently urgent rhythm about how weak and useless men are, and how we make every excuse under the sun, but really we’re just odorous, pathetic, ugly, male members of the animal kingdom with no self-control whatsoever. Nuff said!
DONNIE TRUMPET & THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT / Windows / Surf LP / May 2015
The second album to revitalise my lost love for hip hop, Surf was the polar opposite to Kendrick Lamar’s grim reality tales. The fruits of a sublime collaboration between a bunch of young Chicago musicians who just happened to include Chance The Rapper, it was without question the most disarmingly happy album I’d heard in a long time, possibly ever. Chance himself only appeared on about half the tracks but it was his vulnerability on ‘Windows’ and The Social Experiments nod to The Lion King Soundtrack that ensured the consummate sunniness never felt naïve or phony. A bit of a morality play for the Snapchat generation, with its heavy sense of community and quest for righteousness, Surf was a tribute to the alchemical power of friendship.
YOUTH LAGOON / The Knower / Savage Hills Ballroom LP / September 2015
EVANGELIST / Whirlwind Of Rubbish / Evangelist LP / December 2015
I began this journey in the summer of 1976 with the back to basics gesture of The Ramones and end with their complete rock opposite; a weirdo, mid-twenties wunderkid recording in his Boise, Idaho bedroom and a recently deceased, father of five, middle aged Londoner who sold a mere handful of records in his own lifetime. The Ramones inspired a generation of misfits to pick up guitars, while Trevor Power and Gavin Clark’s ability to say the bleakest of things in the most beautiful way made me reflect on how songs like theirs can make us forget about the grey impotence of life’s tedium for a few glorious moments by moving us in ways we both can and cannot explain. But that’s the wonder of music isn’t it? The leap across the great divide and a means of healing not only the centuries old struggles of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and age, but the minutiae of the everyday too!