“All the songs sound the same,” THE WEDDING PRESENT self-knowingly t-shirted (and then, twenty-five years later: “All the songs still sound the same”). Except they didn’t, really… Standalone single TWO BRIDGES was familiar – but different. A song of two halves. The first with throwaway pop sensibility akin to the HIT PARADE singles filtered through WATUSI (check out those handclaps), the second a cyclical wall-of-noise. The sound of Status Quo and The Velvet Underground downing jackets and going at it down some grim Northern alleyway, with Mark E Smith as Card Girl… A 7″ only release to bridge (ha) the gap between The (2012) Wedding Present and (2015) Cinerama incarnations of album VALENTINA, the single was a nifty throwback to DIY days. Mr Gedge, you’re really spoiling us…
The bass intro of TOMORROW IS YESTERDAY by FIELD MOUSE paid an uptight nod to what was loose on CANNONBALL by The Breeders, propelling the song into two-and-a-half minutes of late 1980s / early ’90s-influenced controlled fuzz soundscaping (calling it ‘dreampop shoegaze’ wouldn’t be far wide of the mark). The single pushed all the right buttons – or hit all the right pedals. In that fact it was typical of the twelve multi-layered Rachel Browne and Andrew Futral tracks which made up HOLD STILL LIFE; a front-to-back brilliant New York album often dizzy with the rush, the thrill, the speed, the spill of the city; out of breath with the overwhelming everything of it all.
WALK ME TO THE BRIDGE, from twelfth MANIC STREET PREACHERS album FUTUROLOGY, seemed to say goodbye to Richey Edwards – “So long my fatal friend / … still blinded by your intellect” – though Nicky Wire explained Øresund Bridge (which joins Sweden and Denmark) and the notion that “bridges allow you an out of body experience as you leave and arrive in different places” to be the inspirations. Tick-tock guitar and pulsing intro exploded into an anthemic ’80s Euro-synth chorus. FUTUROLOGY had a pungent whiff of that decade – the years in which band members grew up – and so was a poignant and effective reiteration of their lingering sense of youthful anger. Their best in years.
2014 was a vintage year for JAMES. LA PETITE MORT was an instant classic, the perfect concentration of all that was great about the Manchester legends. It shone a little light over the spiritual connectedness of human experience – specifically the circular relationship between sex, birth and death – and spoke in equal measure to head, heart and hips. MOVING ON seemed to be the key moment on an album of key moments (see below), though it was the bizarre trance / wig-out hybrid CURSE CURSE which did most to demonstrate the band’s uncanny instinct for bottling lightning, launching the bottle at the walls we build between ourselves throughout human life, and then inviting everyone to dance on the shattered glass.
LA PETITE MORT’s colourfully spiritual embrace of death had high moisture content, but BEN WATT‘s HENDRA dealt with its grief in a dryer, often sepia and stoic way. It was no less moving. Shortly before he completed writing his parental memoir ROMANY AND TOM Watt’s sister (“the heartbeat of the family”) was diagnosed with lung cancer. Three weeks later she was gone, and THE LEVELS was written for his brother-in-law. It was a song of resilience, philosophical moments snatched between the practicalities of moving on: “The estate agent’s been over / I’ve resurfaced the driveway”… The brutality of life’s centre was blurred by a sympathetic and comforting supporting turn from David Gilmour.
It could have been the levelling first lines (“One day I’ll be an old man / You’ll be an old girl”) spanning an entire lifetime in a heartbeat. It could have been the enduring ache, ancient but newborn, in the exquisite voice and demure melody. It was likely to have been all of these things; but it was also something more – something indefinable. EVERYTHING CHANGES, the stunning title track of RACHEL SERMANNI’s 2014 EP, may have been penned ‘in character’ for a film project which did not see the light of day, but it suited her well and seemed to have always existed; hidden away in a secret place, timeless melancholy reaching out to be heard. She played EVERYTHING CHANGES in session for us in early 2014 (watch here).
During a year in which MORRISSEY revealed he’d undergone cancer treatment, album WORLD PEACE IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS contained his purest – most fun – pop moment in years; the over-frothed milk-shake of STAIRCASE AT THE UNIVERSITY. Curling strings and plaintive woodwind recalled Julian Cope’s HEAD HANG LOW and Blur’s STARSHAPED, and contrived to soften the bone-breaking crash as a bullied daughter launched herself head-first down campus steps following the warning “If you don’t get three ‘A’s (her sweet Daddy said) / You’re no child of mine – and, as far as I’m concerned, you’re dead”. Before all this, a sports coach’s frantic whistle. Despite the personal horror, there was pop hilarity.
Quartet HIGH HAZELS released a self-titled album which echoed fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley’s steel city brace COLES CORNER and LADY’S BRIDGE. But where his romantically defeated croon was vested with a weary dirt-in-the-groove midlife melancholy, High Hazels swaggered with the thrill-of-the-moment buoyancy of youth; on Saturday night the streets are ours, and all hearts may be decided before last orders. The album found no space for the four tracks from early 2014’s essential EP IN THE HALF LIGHT – FRENCH RUE, in particular, seemed something of a loss – suggesting that the band was already moving on, sure-footed and sharp-suited.
Songwriter Simon Aldred’s ‘other’ project OUT COLD had released one of 2013’s best singles in electro-sexy ALL I WANT, a slice of wee small hours post-club taxi-ride steam. In 2014 his more traditional platform CHERRY GHOST put out album HERD RUNNERS, with the spectral title track swathed in the sort of haunted grandeur, stretching melancholy and fathomless ache that Morrissey would have given an arm for – possibly even one of his own – on his 21st-century releases to date. The song looked back at a difficult childhood (“You were such a shy child / Too uncertain…”) with wisdom and affection and was prone to be, as Richard Hawley would put it, “as soft as a bag of tits”.
A band made up of men who’d reached the age where life has begun to take things away rather than give them, JAMES album LA PETITE MORT was perhaps the most unusually uplifting record about ‘the circle of life’ it was possible to make. Talismanic frontman Tim Booth’s lyrics were inspired by the deaths of his mother and of a close friend. For MOVING ON they were a nod to the fragile nature of existence and the notion that there is something about it which will remain outside of our understanding; “Being present at birth, for an infant’s first breath, and at death, for a parent’s last one,” he explained, “seemed to me to be the same thing”. Ainslee Henderson’s incredible animated video (here) reinforced the point.
DAVID GRAY – LAST SUMMER
SLEAFORD MODS – JOLLY FUCKER
ADAM COHEN – THE SONG OF ME AND YOU
MARTIN CARR – ST PETER IN CHAINS
HELEN McCOOKERYBOOK – ANARCHY SKIFFLE
INSPIRAL CARPETS (w JOHN COOPER CLARKE) – LET YOU DOWN
SUZANNE VEGA – DON’T UNCORK WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTAIN
ANNA CALVI & DAVID BYRNE – STRANGE WEATHER
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING – ELFSTEDENTOCHT PT.1
JACK ADAPTOR – NUMBER ONE RECORD
PRINCE – BREAKFAST CAN WAIT
FKA TWIGS – TWO WEEKS
TRANS – ROCK STEADY
FINGERSNAP – BLACKBIRDS
GLENN TILBROOK – KEV AND DAVE
SIMONE FELICE – RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD
DAMIEN RICE – MY FAVOURITE FADED FANTASY
JOHN BRAMWELL – MOUTH ON ME (LIVE AT THE TRADES)
DAVID BOWIE – LOVE IS LOST (FULL LENGTH HELLO STEVE REICH MIX)
JULIAN COPE (as DAYGLO MARADONA) – ROCK SECTION