Wednesday 24 December 2008

2008 - my top ten albums

Sat (or rather, standing) in the pub last Saturday with Ross, the inevitable "what's your top ten of the year..." conversation occurred. Last year, this was a real struggle where music was concerned. So many of my favourite artists released jaw-dropping discs in 2007 that ranking them almost became moot. 2008 wasn't nearly as good a year for new music releases as 2007 was, however. So, counting down...

10 - R.E.M.: Accelerate

Rather than being a favourite album of 2008, this is on the list simply because the other four or five 2008 releases I can think of did absolutely nothing for me, whereas this has a couple of really corking songs on it. Lead single "Living Well's The Best Revenge" and the ambivalent "Hollow Man" are the picks for me amongst what is (without a doubt) R.E.M.'s strongest effort since 1997's New Adventures In Hi-Fi. Sadly, that's not saying much.

9 - Nine Inch Nails: The Slip

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Nine Inch Nails. And this was free!!! Nevertheless, a very good record. I didn't really enjoy With Teeth, and Year Zero seemed too bogged down in it's own concept. This album just punches above the last. "1,000,000", "Discipline" and the expansive "Corona Radiata" are my favourites here.

8 - The Mars Volta: The Bedlam In Goliath

How could you not get into an album about being haunted by something you called forth from a ouija board?! This album is simply the noisiest thing on Earth that isn't a Michael Bay film. There isn't an awful lot of let-up on this,  with "Metatron" and "Wax Simulacra" being my choice listens. They still haven't topped Frances The Mute in my affections, but they're close.

7 - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Any Nick Cave album is probably going to make my top ten in any given year, because I'm that much of a fan boy. That said, I didn't really enjoy this one nearly as much as I hoped I would. The lingering garage-rock of side-project Grinderman doesn't seem to have worked it's way out of Cave's system, and as such this album is a bit lo-fi. Not entirely a bad thing, as there are some top tunes here. "Albert Goes West" and "Jesus Of The Moon" are grand pieces of work, but nothing else really elevates it above my personal favourites of his (No More Shall We Part and Let Love In, in case you cared!).

6 - Metallica: Death Magnetic

Well, they did it. With an even sillier title than the last one! Let's not talk about St. Anger (or "Stangah" as it's known down the pub). That's been done. This year's record really did surprise me quite spectacularly. There's a couple of dodgy rock-band-in-therapy moments, but it's good to see Hetfield back behind the pen and writing riffs that could peel the face off you if you're not careful. Lars has thankfully gone back to a proper drumkit, and also back to what he does best - follow Hetfield's riffs, and do very little else. I fully expect the next album to be even better.

5 - Death Cab For Cutie: Narrow Stairs

I only really discovered the work of this band in the past year, and having been engrossed in Plans and Transatlanticism for a few months I picked this up fairly recently. A slow grower, this album is a little more harsh-sounding and to-the-point than the other two I currently own. It won't "possess my heart", as Gibbard rather creepily sings in the second track, but there are golden moments here. Closing track "The Ice Is Getting Thinner" certainly struck a chord. If you haven't heard of this band, and you like songs, they're about to become your favourite thing ever.

4 - Steven Wilson: Insurgentes

Although it could be argued that the first few Porcupine Tree albums were Steven Wilson solo albums, this is the first record bearing the chap's name to appear as such. This would win my "packaging of the year", if I could be bothered to think of other things with nice presentation, but that aside it's a great piece of work. This is an album that lulls you into a false sense of security, thinking; 'this reminds me of Porcupine Tree', or 'ah, Blackfield sound like this', Wilson chucks a Nine Inch Nails riff your way and it hits you like a boomerang in the face. This was a limited edition release, but I seem to recall it being for more public consumption early next year in (probably) less lavish packaging. "Venemo Para Las Hadas", "Get All You Deserve" and the title track win this album.

3 - Sigur Ros: Meo Suo I Eyrum Vio Spilum Endalaust

Yet another long-player of luscious beauty. I love this band (even missed a gig of my own to see them live). Every track on this album is slightly over-the-top in it's own way, with the opening "Gobbledigook" being particularly full of beans. The first half of this is fairly pop-tinged, at least as far as this band goes, but they're soon back to their old tricks with sonic landscapes to gape at. Just wonderful.

2 - Opeth: Watershed

The only band utilising the "cookie monster" vocals that I've ever been able to stand listening to have outdone themselves yet again. As far as I'm concerned, they haven't put a foot wrong since 1999's Still Life, although if I'm honest their last effort (Ghost Reveries) was a little too drawn out for my tastes (repeating riffs that many times downgrades them from Brilliant to Just Good). That thought never crossed my mind while listening to this year's output, though it did take me a little while to adapt my ears to the slight direction shift. Whereas the last record seemed a logical progression from the two that preceded it (the heavy Deliverance and the light Damnation), they seem to have taken a B-road here into something that sounds fresher and less doom-laden. "The Lotus Eater" is the stand-out track here - it's absolutely mental. The only track I could have done without (at least initially) was "Burden", which quite frankly is a little more Scorpions than I ever imagined Opeth being. And even that's growing on me. Fuck.

1 - Marillion: Happiness Is The Road

Surprised? Probably not, if you know me at all. This band are responsible for at least two of my favourite albums ever (the heart-wrenching Brave and 2004's simply flawless Marbles), so they're on the automatic purchase list. It can be said that each album a band does is a reaction to the preceding one, for better or worse. Their last album, Somewhere Else, didn't really do it for me - the more stripped-down sound didn't work for the material to my ears. The lush, warm production I loved so much on Marbles is back with a vengeance on this album. "This Train Is My Life", the title track, "The Man From The Planet Marzipan" and "Real Tears For Sale" are the best picks, but the rest of it is just as fantastic.  Love it.

Sunday 21 December 2008

HI-ON SOUTHAMPTON - 28 November 2008

The most recent gig diary to get things rolling (as there won't be another one until February or so!)

After half a day at work, knowing that a particularly vitriolic customer would be attacking me via email in my absence, I was Southampton-bound. I arrived at Waterloo dragging my luggage (which somehow gets heavier every week, despite nearly all my gear being in the van!) and plonked down at Bonapartes for an oversized coffee. I was soon joined by Nicko "would it hurt to get bum-raped by a ghost?" McBrain Jnr, loaded with replacement drum parts after the Nijmegen incident (a snare skin too far, perhaps). After grabbing some grub, we headed off for an earlier than anticipated departure. Our young drummer befriended an old codger en route, while I caught up on Steven Wilson's new record 'Insurgentes' which had arrived that morning in all it's luxurious packaging. I hadn't had the chance to listen to it properly, so unfortunately the first listen was via iPod (not the intended medium, I understand, given all the smashed up iPods in the artwork!). Thoroughly enjoyable none-the-less. In no time at all, we were in Basingstoke. A little while later, we were in Winchester. Finally, Southampton Central was called and we bundled off the train. Adrian "I really couldn't hold it any longer" Swift normally books accomodation for us weary travellers, but this weekend Bruce "who else has got this winter snot thing going on?" Dugginson had to get back for his Saturday morning belly-fighting class so no digs had been sorted. I'd booked a room at the 'Star Hotel' for myself and the tubthumper, but had completely forgotten to include Speed "EXTRA STRONG MINTS" Harris in my plans. Whoops! Mr Harris often just shoots home after gigs, you see. That's my excuse anyway.

A short walk to the high street and the hotel was located. Nicko's first words were of the most likely haunted nature of the building, and worries about spectral penetration soon abounded. I allayed his fears as best I could, and soon we were in a luxurious minicab on our way to the venue. The driver didn't seem quite sure where the gig was, but we only drove past The Brook once, so no major catastrophe there. Speed arrived a little later, with mini-Speed in tow. The Van of Terror was en route, but had struck a little traffic.

Speed regaled us with tales of letters sent to various confectionery manufacturers (my personal favourite was a dispute with Mars bars about their 'work, rest and play' promise - apparently a Mars a day doesn't help you out of unemployment). The van eventually coughed and spluttered it's way to the back of the venue and the load-in commenced. Mr Swift had apparently been caught short, and accidentally added a little of his essence to the miasma of stains already covering the floor of said vehicle. Let's just hope one of his growing number of stalkers doesn't try and nick the thing! Duggers had come straight from work, and looked very dapper indeed as soundcheck rolled around. The sound onstage was very clear, which always aids performance. I always look forward to gigs at The Brook, as the sound is good, the crowd are mad, and there's a proper dressing room with tea / coffee and even little wall bits to hang your guitars on! Top.

The ever-ebullient Eddie "they were the metal Kings!!!" The 'Ead was also in attendance, to the delight of us all - it always feels more of a show when Ed's about. Gig-time rolled around, and it was time to wig up. I was less than up for it, to be honest. The week at work and the excesses of the weekend before had begun to take their toll. However I quickly got into the swing of things and the rest of the performance was storming. The gig was well-played, despite a couple of very dodgy solos early on from yours truly (my mind was elsewhere!). However I quickly got into the swing of things and the rest of the performance was storming. I don't recall any dropped bollocks, though there were some spectacular backing vox from Speed "Woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohh...fucking hell" Harris (yes, two nicknames this week!).

I packed down quickly after the gig, knowing that Mr Dugginson wanted to be off at a reasonable time for work in the morning. The rest of the band followed suit, and after a quick beverage we parted ways. Mr Harris kindly dropped myself and the noisy one back at the hotel, where we conked out rather quickly. The next morning, Nicko shot off back home while I enjoyed the breakfast (which I must say was to be savoured) before journeying up to Dudley to show Blaze Bayley a bit of support at his JB's "Big Bash" (or the "Big Bash One Out", depending on who you speak with!).

That's it for 2008 folks! 2009 is shaping up to be another globe-trotting year for us lot, so keep your eye (or eyes, if you want to use both) on the gig list, those of you in foreign lands. We could be coming to your town!

Until then, UP THE IRONS!

Dave "I fuckin' hate this wig" Hurry

A word in your ear...

This is to serve as a place to post gig diaries whilst on the road with Hi-On Maiden, the only Official Iron Maiden tribute band (

There'll be some other stuff here too.

There, how's that for a mission statement!!!