END OF YEAR CHARTS: Paul Brown | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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5) Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

Manic_Street_Preachers_FuturologyAs someone who grew up completely devoted to Manic Street Preachers, it’s possible I may come across as one of those blind devotees for whom they can never ever do any wrong. I mean, I can find something to like in every album they’ve released, even the ones that EVERYONE thinks are rubbish. So, take it with a pinch of salt if you like, but I would contend that Futurology is a brilliant record. It’s not quite the MSP-Do-Krautrock pastiche that was billed, although its lean and uncompromising production means you can see where that idea came from. I’d say that it’s more like the album they tried to make to follow up 1998’s sleepy, but surprisingly big-selling This is My Truth Tell Me Yours. This time, though, the benefit of nigh on thirty years as a band has meant they’ve been able to combine the experimental spirit with a strong sense of focus that Know Your Enemy sorely lacked. Nobody’s twelfth album has the right to so flagrantly break new and exciting ground without abandoning the band’s identity, but Futurology does. Walk Me to the Bridge is the major highlight, a gutpunch of taut emotion with a lyric that (apparently unintentionally) invokes images of lost Manic Richey Edwards. And, lest we forget, Futurology came just a year after a record at the opposite end of the musical spectrum, the lush, pastoral Rewind The Film. For me, it’s truly gratifying to see the musical love of my life remain so vital and relevant even after all these years.

4) St Vincent – St Vincent

91rQENRf9oL._SL1500_Seeing St. Vincent’s jaw-dropping performance at The Sage earlier this year confirmed a viewpoint I had been gradually forming ever ever since the emergence of her fourth album in February. She’s steadily positioned herself in that sweet spot few artists ever attain, enjoying near unshakeable creative credibility alongside a decent level of commercial success. It feels like Annie Clark has been regarded as more of an important artist with each album release, to the point that the arrival of this one was a genuinely big deal. Crucially, the music is completely worth the hype. Just like her live show, the album is daring and expansive to the point of ostentatiousness and Clark’s ambition is vindicated a hundred percent. Everything about the record is bigger and bolder that what has gone before, from the grubby electro of opening track Rattlesnake to the darkly compelling brass that adorns Digital Witness. However, none of it feels at all contrived. In fact it’s almost like Clark knew the world wasn’t ready for an experience this rich and she had to ease us into it over a number of years, not because of any artistic timorousness on her part but because the human race couldn’t cope with the full glare of her alien songcraft in one go. Where she goes next is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt in my mind that St. Vincent is an artist who is more than capable of following up such a bonkers and brilliant album with aplomb.

 

3) Tyrannosaurus Dead – Flying Ant Day

0003335326_10A slew of excellent single and EP releases with assorted DIY labels in the last few years meant that I was eagerly anticipating the debut album by Brighton fuzz-pop band Tyrannosaurus Dead. However, even my lofty expectations were surpassed by what they were able to deliver with Flying Ant Day. Resisting the temptation to chuck in a couple of older songs from their fairly extensive back catalogue, the band went to ground after their last EP release to write an entirely new batch of songs, which against the odds proved to be even more vital than their earlier work. The likes of Post-Holiday Dead Song and Local Bullies, two bursts of white-hot pop energy are the obvious highlights but there’s not a dull moment anywhere on the album. A thread of bitterness with the world runs throughout the whole thing, a sense of disenchantment conveyed beautifully by Billy Lowe. It’s this energy which fuels the whole album and is responsible for a lot of the its most thrilling moments. Take Radio Lies’s furiously indignant delivery for example, or opener Canada, which begins all sweet and loving and gradually builds into a paean to disappointment with humanity. Musically, Flying Ant Day is a heady blend of cloying fuzz and searing melody for which producer Rory Attwell deserves a lot of credit. His largely invisible hands guide the band in capturing the noise and chaos of their live shows without losing the pop edge they so skillfully display.

2) Fear of Men – Loom

fear-of-men-loomFear of Men seem like one of those bands who arrive fully formed, like they’ve got their awkward years and dodgy songs out of their systems behind closed doors, only emerging into the light when completely ready. As such, the fact that their album is one of the sharpest of 2014 is no particular surprise. That doesn’t make it any less brilliant, though. Loom is a near-perfectly executed specimen of indie-pop which marks them out as a very special band indeed. It’s clear from the outset that the band have made this album on their own terms and with a very clear idea of how they wanted it to sound, and this confidence is a big part of their appeal. The record is dominated by Jessica Weiss’s captivating vocal, but the way they’ve captured the crisp melodies that provide such a satisfying counterpoint to her voice is the thing which truly affirms the essence of Fear of Men. It’s truly impressive that they’ve managed to so completely capture and express the identity of their band with their debut, something which takes some bands whole careers to master, while many others never truly do themselves justice in this manner. Their live show is just as impressive, with their Pains of Being Pure at Heart Cluny support being one of my gig highlights of the year. If this isn’t a band you’ve familiarised yourself with yet, then I heartily recommend you rectify that. Were it not for the life-affirming brilliance of the Martha album, there’s no question this would be my favourite album of 2014.

1) Martha – Courting Strong

Martha_-_Courting_Strong_1024x1024County Durham quartet Martha will have been familiar faces to a decent chunk of the North-East’s gig-going public for a little while, thanks to their growing reputation as a live force around these parts, and also for their stints in a number of other ace bands. However, 2014 has proved to be the year when they have started to garner something of an adoring fanbase up and down the country and beyond. It’s all because of the impact of their truly stunning debut album Courting Strong, released in the UK by Fortuna Pop and in the USA by Salinas Records. It’s far and away my favourite of the year, quite simply because it has impacted me like no other record in 2014 or, for that matter, most other years. It’s a stupendously literate and emotive set of songs tackling subject matter both universal and deeply personal, like the terror of teenage love, gender identity and anxiety, with the whole thing coming wrapped up in a spiky bundle of punk-pop fury. I suspect part of the reason it resonates so heavily with me may be that they’re singing about growing up in the North East, but at the same time these are songs that are likely to appeal to anybody who ever grew up feeling a bit weird, wherever they’re from. It’s a little scary that a band can pack so much energy and power into their debut album, yet still sound like they’ve got plenty left in the tank and I absolutely can’t wait to hear what comes next.

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