Music Reviews Some Great Stuff I've Heard Recently

I’ve loved all sorts of music in 2019. I’ve not been able to write about as much of it as I would’ve liked – life is quite different in my world to how it was  a few years ago and writing about music has never paid a single bill of mine – but music has given me joy at times this year, comfort at others and often accompanied me in times of stress and pressure. I’ve made quite a long playlist with songs from albums of mine that were particular favourites, but a list longer than 10 albums takes too long to read, so in that vein, here’s my top 10 of the year

Her Name is Calla ‘Animal Choir’

Sadly, this is the final album from the majestic Her Name is Calla. I have no doubt that they’re the best band that most people who claim to like music that falls into lazy categories like Post-Rock, Indie, Alternative and so on have never heard of. They’re truly a great band and this is their best album, a marvellous coda on a fine and, so far, grossly underappreciated career.

Shalosh ‘Onwards and Upwards’

I love me a good piano trio. Shalosh are an exceptional piano trio, particularly if you like your jazz trio’s to have rock leanings too. Which I very much do. So there you go.

Rymden ‘Reflections and Odysseys’

Another jazz trio, this time on the excellent Jazzland Recordings from Scandinavia, this one came as a pleasant surprise to me as I knew nothing about it when I pressed play. Enegetic, playful and muscular. This is high-quality stuff.

Son of Cloud ‘Son of Cloud’

Some albums are quick listens, the kind that you know are good, even excellent, but that don’t stay with you for weeks, months, perhaps even years afterwards. The self-titled album from Son of Cloud isn’t like that. It’s the best singer-songwriter album I heard this year by a million miles. A thing of true beauty and power, with some great songs and a thread of narrative to the album that will stay with you long after you’ve finished listening. More people should know about this album. Many, many more.

Flight Brigade ‘Chased By Wolves’

Indie rock bands who forefront guitars seem to be an endangered species in 2019. I love Flight Brigade because everything about them, their sound and their songs are impeccable and timeless. Their songs stay with you and their show is one of the best you’ll see from a band of any stature in the contemporary scene. Don’t miss them in 2020.

Pedro the Lion ‘Phoenix’

Listen to this, listen to “Quietest Friend” and then come back and tell me that the genius of David Bazan hasn’t grown with the resurrection of his awesome band Pedro the Lion. One of the greatest songwriters of this or any other era, full stop. And when he rocks, it’s extremely satisfying. Oh for a visit to the UK in 2020.

Portico Quartet ‘Memory Streams’

Probably the best live band in the UK right now, this newest record from Portico Quartet is among the most cohesive and potent of their career, even rivalling ‘Isla’ for power and emotion. Some of my favourite moments of this year have been watching them play, too.

Telefon Tel Aviv ‘Dreams Are Not Enough’

I have such a strong connection with the music of TTA. It has been with me through some of the best moments of my life, as well as some of the hardest. To find Josh coming back with the first new album under this name for a very long time this year was a joy tinged with sorrow as to what was lost and a hope that the great music of that past could be matched. I didn’t dream he could surpass the beauty of previuou records, but he pulled it off. A great album.

Hammock ‘Silencia’ and ‘Undercurrents’

Hammock are absolutely at the top of the game as regards ambient music and they only cemented that position and reputation in 2019. Not only did they complete a recent trilogy of albums with the beauty of “Silencia” but they released a monthly series of longer-form pieces named “Undercurrents” throughout the year too. Do seek that one out.

Sugarfoot ‘In the Clearing’

A glorious slice of country rock from Norway to close out the top 10. It will make you smile, no doubts at all.

And to finish things off, here’s the longer playlist:

Have a fantastic Christmas and a great start to 2020.

Music Reviews Some Great Stuff I've Heard Recently

Shalosh “Onwards and Upwards”

I’m listening to a cover of ‘Take On Me’ (don’t tell me you don’t know which song I’m talking about) and I feel myself being transported. Music used to make me feel like all the time. Not so much these days. I’m getting old. And now I find that what is doing it for me in my mid-thirties is a ridiculously thunderous drum solo in a jazz trio version of an 80s classic. We do all become our parents eventually after all.

I’ve written often about not having enough time to write about all the music I get sent to review. It piles up in my inbox and around my office, accusingly. And then there’s the music that I find out about the way everyone else does. On this occasion, I discovered Shalosh through a magazine advert. So pre-internet. They looked enigmatic in their photo and the sparse, carefully chosen description drew me in, promising songs which built in intensity (check!) and passion (check!) to a tumultuous conclusion (check! or I might have invented that last one myself).

So off I toddle to my streaming provider of choice (so millennial) and I press play, before picking my jaw off the floor a few minutes later. What a sound. Shalosh are newly-signed to ACT Music and their new record ‘Onwards and Upwards’ is quite simply the best jazz trio album I have heard in many a long year. I’m not going to go on and on and on about it, just implore you to listen to it. And then listen to it again.

Music Reviews Uncategorized

My albums of the year for 2016

2016 was a great year for music. The world and his/her wife seems to be posting lists of favourite albums of the year, so I thought I’d dash out a list. I’m doing this quickly, in no particular order (apart from a couple which I’ll make very obvious). If you want to keep up with what albums I’m liking a lot, I review a lot of them for Drowned in Sound. You can find my list of articles for that fine website by clicking on this sentence. What interests me as I look at my very handy Last FM profile, which tells me how much I’ve listened to each album over the course of the year (or most of them anyway, it doesn’t log vinyl plays, naturally) is that some of my favourite albums are definitely not my most-listened-to. Some albums take only a listen or two to lodge themselves firmly in your memory bank. Others, as I’ve looked back over the past year, have seemed vital at one point or other but not stayed with me. Perhaps a symptom of short attention span on my part, or perhaps a sign that there’s just too much music to be listened to for it to be properly taken in and appreciated. According to the August Last FM, I ‘scrobbled’ all or part of 1109 albums in the last 365 days. Think about that. That’s listening to all or part of just under 3 distinct albums a day, every day for a whole year. Surely that’s not healthy. Music, art, it’s not meant to be so disposable. Apologies to the artists whose creations I have failed to properly spend time with this year.

All that said, there have been some absolute belters this year. I’m not limiting myself to albums released in 2016, just to things I’ve heard and enjoyed this year. Here goes.

Neil Cowley Trio – Spacebound Apes. The undoubted number one album in my household this year. A fantastic piece of work showing everything that is so spectacular and criminally underrated about this wonderful band. Of all the items on this list, this is the one that you should drop everything and check out immediately. It will make your life better. There is not a better live act in the world today. The show at Union Chapel in the autumn was as spellbinding as ever.

Yorkston/Thorne/Khan – Everything Sacred  – a hugely ambitious, emotional, beautifully realised record. Cross-cultural, a multi-textured palette, everything you could possibly hope for. An alt-folk masterpiece.

Losers – How To Ruin Other People’s Futures – One of the most exciting bands in the world finally realises its full potential. A heavy, synth-tastic exploration of desolation.

Brian McSweeney – As the Bluebird – Brian McSweeney, former frontman of Seven Day Jesus and Matthew (the best rock band you’ve never heard (of)) returns with a lovely, folk-leaning record which exhibits his exceptional songwriting and vocal prowess to the full.

Willam Ryan Fritch – New Words For Old Wounds and Ill Tides – It takes a lot to get me in the right place for modern or contemporary classical music, but William Ryan Fritch carries me far away into a place where only this music matters and, really, isn’t that the point of it all?

Motorpsycho – Here Be Monsters – vying with Neil Cowley Trio for the crown of best live act on the planet, Norway’s Motorpsycho returned with what, for them at least, was a somewhat restrained affair. If you don’t know this band, you really should. Each iteration, each release, is so wildly different, creative. Sometimes heavy, sometimes soulful, sometimes introspective, at others entirely unhinged. There isn’t a more interesting band active at the moment. Here’s hoping they continue forever!

House of Heroes – Colors – a concept album that actually remembers to focus on high-quality songcraft. House of Heroes are the band that proves that existing outside of the Christian music ghetto is good for artistic development once and for all. The production and mix here is spot on, too.

Lettuce – Crush – Everyone needs a glorious slice of funk every now and again.

Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere – s blistering return. I won’t say return to form. Their form never dipped.

Andy Gullahorn – Fault Lines – The most potent accoustic/singer-songwriter album you could ever hope to hear. These are songs you can believe in, that you can live. I have no idea why Andy Gullahorn isn’t one of the most famous musicians on the planet. This album has been good to and for me this year.

Heron Oblivion – Heron Oblivion – a really satisfying, intensely heavy and challenging listen, harking back to the time when rock music was intelligent first and commercial second.

Lisa Hannigan – At Swim – Lisa Hannigan’s solo output continues to dwarf that of her erstwhile bandmate Damien Rice. She just gets better and better. This album feels like the one where she has worked out who she is and what she wants to sound like. Gorgeous production, a really nice mix, but that would be nothing without stellar songs, which this album has from start to finish.

The Lees of Memory – Unnecessary Evil – This band are vital. This is a fantastic album that passed by virtually unnoticed. John Davis is a gem of a songwriter.

Switchfoot – Where The Light Shines Through – Switchfoot feel comfortable in their own skins these days. This is a glossy, widescreen pop record, but Jon Foreman continues to pen some of the strongest, most biting lyrics in the scene. The band’s talent for allying those poetic challenges with cinematic pop melodies continues unabated.

Sandra McCracken – God’s Highway – Sandra McCracken grows with each release. So much soul, so much depth. Each lyric seems hard-won, to come from the deepest place imaginable. In turn, each collection of her songs become a resource for the hurting, the broken and the seeking.

Matthew Zigenis – Overflow – a creative, original-sounding worship album. I finally found one. These songs could be sung in any Church in the world and  they sound great on this album. Wonders will never cease. (obviously, one has to be creative enough to replace the splendid synth work with, you know, Gladys on the piano or Bob on the guitar if that will truly work, but it could work. Why not try some of these songs in your Church? Go on, I dare you).

Monomyth – Exo – I love this band. They stunned me in front of approximately 5 people in a small village near Milton Keynes in 2015, but I still contend that they should be loved by thousands. Instrumental post-rock, with hammond organs and fabulous moments of utter chaos. It takes some time to get going, but you always know the destination, and when it gets there…Well, there can be barely anything more musically satisfying. What’s not to love?

Albert Af Ekenstam – Ashes – another contender for best singer-songwriter album of the year. There’s a closeness to the vocal placing on this record that just makes the whole thing feel intimate and all the more special. Lovely songs.

David Bazan – Blanco – Some time ago, David Bazan was ranked somewhere in the late 30s (I think) by a noted magazine in a list of the greatest living songwriters. The ones who were above him in that list must be pretty flipping great. Blanco is another example of a master craftsman presenting not just his talent, but the whole of himself, his inner life, his dialogues on matters temporal and spiritual. One can only wish more communicators did their jobs with the consistency and openness that Bazan does. This side-step into synth territory could have been a mis-step, but instead it merely goes to show that whatever the sonic palette, Bazan is a songwriter to be treasured and learned from.

The Seraphim Project  – Journeys and Destinations – To disclose fully, I have friends in this band. If anything, though, that makes me pre-disposed to be harsher in my estimation of this album. So when I say that it is a stunning, emotive piece of post-rock, take it from me that this is one record you don’t want to miss. The bits when it gets loud are great.

New Dog – Teeth Marks – I was sent this album by New Dog (Anar Badalov) completely out of the blue. No idea what to expect. It could have been awful. Fabulously it was not. A hushed, deep, searching acoustic singer-songwriter record of the finest kind. I wish Anar was known and loved by myriad, myriad people. Why don’t you become one such lover of his fine work?

Tigercub – Abstract Figures In the Dark – I saw this band opening for Royal Blood when both acts had released only one single. We all know what happened next for Royal Blood. With this album, Tigercub show that they are destined for the same stratospheric levels of success, if not surpassing that of their Brightonian brethren.

Asylums – Killer Brain Waves –  a really fun, heavy, punky rock record from Southend. Those don’t come along too often

Silver Snakes – Saboteur – This is a heavy, blistering even, intricate and demanding rock record, the kind that is rarely made anymore, it seems. Might be too challenging for some. See what you make of it.

Audrey Assad – Inheritance – Unusually for me, a hymns record slips into my list. This one gets in if for no other reason than for the mind-bendingly good version of Holy, Holy, Holy contained herein. Seriously, even if your faith is long latent, forgotten in childhood, I defy you to listen to that song and remain unmoved.

Espen Eriksen Trio – Never Ending January – aside from Spacebound Apes, this was the jazz trio record I returned to the most this year. It’s understated, but intensely melodic and memorable. A jazz record with hooks you can hum along to. Whatever next

Chris James – Space In the Clouds (EP) – That voice, the one that made Stateless an absolutely crucial Ninja Tune act what seems like many moons ago, it’s back, making its’ first showing on this glorious 5 track opening gambit. The songs give James’s vocal room to breathe, but they also contain enough guts to lead this EP straight to the realms of glory. I’m looking forward very much to a full-length album, hopefully before too long.

So, there we are. What a lot of albums. It’s a diverse list. And I didn’t even mention Radiohead. Hopefully you’ll find something diverting, even something to love, here. 2017 is already looking like a good year. If I might point you in the direction of releases from Army of Bones and Jim Rogers, both forthcoming and undoubtedly worthy of your attention for starters…Have a great 2017, both musical and otherwise.

Did I miss something glaring in my list? Why don’t you let me know? If I had any time I’d make a playlist, but I don’t, so you’ll have to spend some time researching any albums you’ve not heard. Happy hunting!

Music Music Reviews

Never for Nothing: Mirrors Album Review

Many thanks to Geoff Howlett of Never for Nothing for this review of my new album, Mirrors.



Long time NFN contributor, Haydon Spenceley returns with his third solo album. He says; “For a long time I wasn’t going to make another album, and then all these songs started pouring out. Then we convened a great bunch of people across the Atlantic Ocean over the best part of a year and made this, Mirrors, a collection of songs that says a lot about who and where I am as I enter a new season in life.” As well as his solo work, Haydon has also experimented as a band member, with groups like Freeslave and Ghost Tree. This 7 track mini album sees further musical progression, and certain influences making a play. “Come Undone” is a cross between U2 and Duran Duran, as one friend commented, and has a definite 80’s feel about it. ‘Friends for Life’ is more Manic Street Preachers, and well produced. “(We Are Born to) Rise”, is a medium paced plodder of a song, while ‘Beyond the End’ enters into the realms of 70’s progressive rock. My favourite song has to be the guitar driven sound of the title track. A little bit of punk, and a little Billy Idol snarl as Haydon sings “Listen as the Earth cries out”. ‘Interlude’ is an instrumental piece, which I sounds a little out of place with the other tracks, but on its own would be fine for personal meditation. Finally, ‘Gloria’ sees Pink Floyd meet the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. Lots of FX on the vocals and some visionary sounds, as the song lyrics “search for God”. Ably assisted by some great musicians, Haydon manages to musically keep you guessing where he’s going next. Some very interesting songs on this album that should satisfy many tastes.   8/10.