a seasonal necessity
in Music , Wednesday, January 06, 2010
One thing that I really hate about this time of year is newspapers, blogs and all other publishing outlets filling up with lists of the year’s best cat photos or whatever else.
So I’m going to do it to. Probably for the first time ever: here is the music I’ve been most taken by this (last) year (well I started writing it in December. Honest).
Overall Winner: Thin Air by Peter Hammill
This is really a big surprise for me. I’ve been a Peter Hammill fan for somewhere near 20 years, but recently my interest has tailed off and I’ve found his newer releases unengaging. But this year’s Thin Air is really something else. Right up there with Bob Dylan’s “Time Out Of Mind”, this is a hard hitting collection of songs full of dread, fear, unease and awareness that life is running out. With a strong sub-theme of time running out for all of us, referring to 9/11 and the collapse of dreams, this is not exactly easy listening. The counterpoints of grace and beauty which Hammill has always brought to his best work make it is absolutely addictive. There isn’t a weak song on the CD. I doubt it will get much better than this.
Runner up #1: “Untitled #23” by The Church
I picked up Untitled #23 in San Francisco back in June. This is totally irrelevant. The Church have been going for ages, and honestly, like with Peter Hammill, I didn’t really expect them to surprise again. Well they did. Untitled #23 (it isn’t their 23rd album, but that’s The Church for you) is the culmination of a slow return to peak form which started a good few years back. It features some superb songs, like Pangaea and Deadman’s Hand, an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous finale, “Operetta”, and a good dose of typical weirdness (“On Angel Street”). I played Untitled #23 pretty much all some, and got hooked on Steve Kilbey’s freeform stream-of-whatever blog. It wore off a bit, but ... hey, time to listen again.
Runner up #2: “Here Come the Vikings” by Astrid Williamson
Runner up #3: “Me and Armini” by Emiliana Torrini
Actually “Me and Armini” was released in September 2008, but it didn’t really take off until later this year, helped along by “Jungle Drum” being a huge hit single in Germany. Emiliana Torrini is of mixed Icelandic and Italian descent, and you can’t do much better than that! (well ok, you could mix in a bit of Romanian). I was introduced to her music by an Icelandic friend a few years back, and it will always remind me of coffee overdoses and strange journeys. Torrini has not had the smoothest of rides through life, and this shows through in her music, which although often quirky and humorous, has a dark edge lying just beneath the surface.
Discovery of the year: My Brightest Diamond
Ok, so this isn’t music from anywhere 2009, but I discovered it this year, and listened to it obsessively, so as far as I’m concerned it belongs in this list.
My Brightest Diamond is essentially Shara Worden, a musician and singer with an eclectic range of influences and a unique warm, expressive voice and style. My Brightest Diamond is impossible to classify but inhabits a space where people like Jane Siberry and Kate Bush might hang out. Songs like “Golden Star” and “Gone Away” from “Bring me the workhorse” or “Ice and the storm” and “Bass Player” from “A Thousand Shark’s Teeth” can stay on auto-repeat all afternoon as far as I’m concerned.
And that’s quite enough lists for now.