The Affs Awards 2018 – Album Of The Year

2018 has certainly been an odd year for music. We’ve seen the usual bunch of album anniversary tours, a raft of comebacks and a lot of big bands going even more stratospheric playing bigger and more bombastic shows, but there have also been a few let-downs with groups struggling to produce original work that really captures the imagination. Fortunately, your erstwhile blogger is here to lead you away from the chaff into the glorious wheat, as I countdown to my coveted Album Of The Year Award for 2018.

5 – TurbowolfThe Free Life

One of the finest moments of 2018 was discovering that Turbowolf are still as hard to pin down as ever with third record The Free Life being their most psychedelic and heaviest outing yet. Hitting festival season hard, the Bristol rockers had plenty of new material to batter audiences with, such as the riffy Domino (featuring Mike Kerr from Royal Blood), or the low-slung groove of Capital X (guest starring Joe Talbot from fellow West Country outfit IDLES).

Throughout the record, Chris Georgiadis nails his most impressive Turbowolf performance to date, veering between his recognisable rapid-fire delivery up to an insane squeal on the epic title track, while drummer Blake Davies thumps away at his kit with what sounds like a pair of granite slegehammers.

Live, songs from The Free Life have already come across like old friends, and even the sudden temporary departure of bassist Lianna Lee Davies to give birth in late 2018 hasn’t slowed the ‘Wolf down, running riot with support slots to Killing Joke across the UK. The Free Life is certainly an evolution of the band’s sound and you can see how it will garner more crossover appeal, but at the same time this is very much a record that only this four-piece could make. You can see the passion of Turbowolf fans at every show as they hurtle themselves into the pit and the band have delivered another set of oddly-danceable rock and roll tunes in return.

 

Eureka Machines - Victories4 – Eureka MachinesVictories

I keep banging on about being a recent convert to Eureka Machines but I should probably stop, having now been schlepping around the country to watch them for the best part of six years. The four piece produce some of the most joyous live shows out there but it’s with 2018’s Victories that they’ve knocked out their most rounded recorded work to date. Helped by frontman Chris Catalyst opening himself up a lot more with his 2017 solo album Life Is Often Brilliant, Victories has some of the most tender lyrics on any of the band’s albums yet. But fear not, the ingenious wordplay is still present and correct, in fact this record arguably features Catalyst’s finest wordsmithery, and coupled with some absolutely belting musicianship from the four piece, Victories is a record that’s impossible to tire of.

From the traditional EM bounce-a-thon of Misery to the Manics-inspired My Rock And Roll Is Dead to the epic, delicately 60s-tinged House Of Butterflies, there’s something for all era of fan here. It sounds wrong to call it a more mature performance all round; EM may always have had an impish nature but it would be ignorant to claim the band only made simple, juvenile music. The band have long made intelligent, intricate songs but with Victories there’s definitely a little extra crunch and intensity, making each track sound that little bit more fresh, and eager to jump out of the speakers at the listener. A truly genre-defying British rock record.

 

Pete Spiby - Failed Magician3 – Pete Spiby Failed Magician

The first time I saw Black Spiders, in a sweaty club in Bristol, I was instantly blown away. Part good time rock ‘n’ roll machine, part absolute riff lords, the Spiders were always infectiously inventive in pedaling hard rock anthems across their two albums and various EPs. When they called it a day a couple of years ago I was genuinely sad and felt like the live music scene was a poorer place because of it. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the guys started popping up in other outfits and lead singer/guitarist Pete Spiby revealed his next escapade; Failed Magician.

Re-invigorating the Pledge Music platform by offering not only an original album but also a reworked acoustic version and a covers record to boot, Spiby’s debut solo outing was pretty high up my wanted list and it hasn’t disappointed one bit. Offering a more bluesy take on modern rock than Black Spiders, Failed Magician is introspective, emotive, yet still all kinds of memorable. Take Friday Night Just Died (In Saturday Morning’s Arms) for example, a love song of sorts, it offers a taste of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern drawl but with the hooks of a Guns N’ Roses ballad, just with fewer hissy fits. And for a seven minute song, it doesn’t overstay its welcome one bit.

Elsewhere on the record, Bible Studies is a beautifully layered outing, whilst Guiding Light and Why Not Let Them Come are perhaps more akin to Spiby’s past, offering more up-tempo, classically riffy tracks which nestle nicely alongside the album’s starker songs. The acoustic version of the record is no less fascinating, frequently dropping Spiby’s vocals down to a husky bluegrass drawl over the top of some wailing guitar work especially on the stomping Lightning Bolt Blues that owes a debt or two to Black SpidersSt Peter.

As for the covers album, there are many very apparent influences here, with Soundgarden’s Hunted Down and a haunting take on L7’s Pretend We’re Dead, but it’s the surprise inclusions that really win, namely Alexander O’Neal’s Criticize and The CardigansMy Favourite Game both turned into creepy, downbeat little monsters. It’s a superb package by Spiby and one that really shows his passion for the business and refusal to walk away from it all following the Spiders’ split. We should all be grateful that the guy’s got more music in him.

 

Therapy? - Cleave2 – Therapy?Cleave

It’s not always easy to stick with a band through all they’ve ever released, as musicians have that tendency to wander into an impenetrable ego-driven diversity that doesn’t always translate well to even the most diehard of fan. With Therapy? though, they’ve always struggled to put a foot wrong; admittedly they’re not a band to everyone’s taste, and they’ve certainly changed their style on numerous occasions, but their brief dabble with the mainstream in the mid-90s has ensured they’ll always drag a few old school fans back into the fold with each record, and on album number 15 they’ve done just that.

Cleave may be a relatively short record but the 10 songs on offer are some of the most biting the band have ever released. From mental health to the environment and homelessness, no issue is too big for Andy Cairns to lyricise about, spitting venom at the UK government as much as he does at the rest of the world’s supposed ‘leaders’ who are dragging us further and further into oblivion.

The album’s first single, Callow, harks back to the band’s most successful period but does so with older, wiser eyes. It’s here where the returning Chris Sheldon’s production really shines through, encouraging the band to strip things back so they sound like a proper three-piece; no rhythm guitars taking the listener off on a tangent, just a supremely focused lead, bass and drum-driven assault on our senses that helps to get the message across perfectly.

Cairns’ familiar snarl lends itself more effectively than ever to tracks like Expelled and Success? Success Is Survival as his guitar screeches around Neil Cooper’s furious drumming and Michael McKeegan’s rumbling bass with the whole record becoming a strangely uplifting experience despite its content. No Sunshine brings things to an anti-euphoric close in a way that has to be heard to be fully understood and the first thing you’ll want to do is start all over again from track one. An oddly addictive experience, Cleave ekes its way into your psyche like no Therapy? record has done before and gives pretenders to their throne a severe kick up the backside too.

 

Ghost - Prequelle1- GhostPrequelle

It’s getting tricky to find superlatives for the phenomenon that Ghost have become. Not content with reinventing a dead 1970s genre, they’ve consistently upped their game with each release and capped off 2018 with a stunning show at the Royal Albert Hall. Next year’s support slots with Metallica aside, it’s tricky to figure out quite where Cardinal Copia and his Ghouls can go next but it was this year’s fourth full-lengther, Prequelle, that truly helped them cross into the mainstream.

Becoming more and more polished since their retro and stripped-bare debut, Prequelle is the culmination of Tobias Forge’s vision for the band. Equal parts grandiose, intricate, melodic, comedic, and dripping with Hammer Horror kitsch, Prequlle is divisively overblown and all the better for it. Lead single Rats split existing fans right down the middle, some erring on the side of “genius” versus the predictable cries of those who felt Forge had sold out with something so melodramatic (especially with the high-camp video). In reality, Rats set the stall out well; it’s supremely tongue-in-cheek, owes as much to Meatloaf as it does Blue Oyster Cult, and offers a hugely accessible route into a band whose image alone could still put people off taking a listen.

Elsewhere on Prequelle, the crunchy Faith gives Ghost another live headbanger, See The Light offers an Infestissumam-style storytelling vibe and if you’re yet to witness the majesty of Miasma’s closing sax solo, then you’re missing out on one of the most surprisingly offbeat, yet brilliantly executed musical moments of the year.

Disco-stomper Dance Macabre wins 2018’s award for ‘Song Most Likely To Get Stuck In Your Head For Months” whilst Pro Memoria ups the creepiness levels before the medieval boogie of Witch Image and the epic emotion of Life Eternal. There really isn’t any filler on Prequelle and it veers successfully from rock opera to 80s cop movie soundtrack to Satanic ode to desolation brilliantly. A regular on the death deck in 2018, and containing some of the greatest ear worms of this or indeed any year, Prequelle will see Ghost hit stratospheric heights over the next couple of years, and quite rightly so.

 

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Danzig + Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy – 19th June 2013

Danzig @ Manchester Academy
Glenn Danzig – Evil Elvis Lives

This may be controversial to some, but personally, I can’t really blame artists for exploiting their more popular back catalogue in the live arena; after all, if it’s not something the fans want to see, they wouldn’t pay for it. So as yet another anniversary tour rolls into Manchester, I’m intrigued and hopeful of witnessing something fun and just a little bit special.

This time around it’s the turn of Glenn Danzig, bringing his namesake band out on the road to celebrate 25 years of darkness, and combining it with a mini-set of Misfits songs with guitarist Doyle.

I must admit that after recent gig-going exploits I was wary of another 90s nostalgia fest, but upon reaching the Academy it’s pretty clear that organisationally at least things are already looking better than the Megadeth debacle.

Even more promisingly, Danzig has chosen to get Sheffield’s finest rock and rollers, Black Spiders to open for him. Prepping for the release of second record ‘This Savage Land’ via a Pledge Music campaign, the ‘Spiders grasp the opportunity to play to such a big crowd firmly and shake it around until its ears are pricked up like a horny hyena.

Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy
Black Spiders – Proving a rock is a fat lot of use without a roll.

‘Kiss Tried To Kill Me’ sounds as monumental as ever and ‘Stay Down’ with its magnificent ‘Fuck You Black Spiders’ interlude is both brilliantly funny and raucous. New track ‘Creatures’ is already shaping up to be a live pleasure, whilst ‘Just Like A Woman’ sticks around in your head just as much as it did on that very first listen. Maybe this isn’t quite your typical Black Spiders crowd but they’re intelligent enough to know a good thing when they hear it, showing a decent amount of appreciation for the gurning sluggers.

As the length of time between support and headliner approaches the 45 minute mark, thoughts of Dave Mustaine’s diva-like behaviour creep into the mind, but the wait is soon forgotten when the room blackens and the Academy goes crazy to ‘SkinCarver’.

Chugging through classic Danzig fare such as ‘Hammer of the Gods’ and ‘Devil’s Plaything’, the now 57-year-old frontman is showing no sign of slowing down, prowling the stage with horns aloft and basking in the adulation he receives.

The fans are always going to lap this stuff up, but the fact that the band are such talented individuals really helps matters. Prong‘s Tommy Victor effortlessly shreds through the set, whilst Type O Negative‘s Johnny Kelly is always a percussive beast. As ‘Dirty Black Summer’ and ‘How The Gods Kill’ round off part one of the set, Danzig prove that they can still hang with anyone on the live circuit, even those half their age.

I was never really a huge Misfits fan, simply because their heyday was a little before my time, but I grew up listening to bands influenced by them and it’s only now I really appreciate why. As Glenn introduces his ‘man monster’, Doyle stomps onto the stage, ripped and ready for action. Hammering out power chords with his taped up fingers, a furious ‘Death Comes Ripping’ kicks things off, followed by ‘Vampira’ and the glorious slice of punk that is ‘I Turned Into A Martian’.

Without relenting, ‘Astro Zombies’ keeps things going at warp speed, followed by the classic pairing of ‘Skulls’ and ‘ Last Caress’ leaving few in the Academy without a smile on their sweaty faces.

The first encore pairs ‘Soul On Fire’ with defining Danzig breakthrough hit ‘Mother’ which invokes an absolutely glorious sing-along, and despite a slight strop from Glenn at one of the many concert filmers, he finishes things off brilliantly with ‘She Rides’ and an inimitable ‘Die, Die My Darling’ which belies its 29-year age.

On this joyously triumphant night, Evil Elvis reminds everyone just how many great songs he’s written over the years and simultaneously shows some of his old school contemporaries just how to put on a show. Absolutely stunning.

The Affs Awards 2011 – Gig of the Year

The Lemonheads @ Manchester Ritz 2011
Evan Dando and Meredith Sheldon

Following on from my Album of the Year Award, and keeping to the musical theme, next up is the Affs Gig of the Year Award for the best acts to tread the boards throughout the past 12 months. As a 2011 resolution, getting out and about to see more live bands was always going to be an enjoyable one, so it came as a pleasant surprise that so many amazing groups chose to tour in recent months. It truly was an eclectic mix of old favourites that I hadn’t seen in years, bucketlist bands who I was watching for the first time, groups suggested to me by friends, and a few local and random acts thrown in for good measure.

I’ve always been a huge fan of live music so trying to see as wide a variety as possible in 2011 was always the plan. My first ever gig was way back in January 1994. The band? Manic Street Preachers at Bristol Anson Rooms, at a time when the group were nothing short of dangerous but imperious and Richey James was fortunately still with us. I think this event also saw me consume my first ever pint (Fosters, natch) and this double virginity loss really did have a massive impact on my life.

In the years that followed, my friends and I would be ferried about by our parents to venues across the South West, and sometimes we’d brave crossing the Welsh border to Newport Centre, or go on a field trip to Donington to scoff death burgers and get in on some metal festival action. Gigs were cheap (Ash for £5 just as they were on the cusp of greatness) and so was transport (the parents seemed to enjoy it. Maybe).

Eventually though, we went our separate ways to University and I didn’t really hook up with that similar a crowd taste-wise whilst there, so I missed out on a good few years of gigging.

When I then moved to the North West, I didn’t really know too many folk who wanted to attend gigs that veered towards the heavier side of the musical spectrum so I became content in CDs, cinema-going and video games.

Then something just changed. A couple of friends started playing in bands and as soon as I went to various venues to cheer them on, the bug bit back. I loved the mustiness of old man boozers, the creaking, sticky floorboards of venues that should probably be condemned. The whole friendly atmosphere of the scene hadn’t changed that much since I’d been away, only this time, I was hearing this stuff with musically mature ears.

And so here we are taking a look back on 2011, a golden year for live music, and one so crammed full of top quality concerts, it seems churlish not to give a few shout outs. First off I thought I’d throw in a couple of surprise packages. I’m so grateful and lucky to have friends willing to invite me along to new gig experiences, and through them I caught both My Morning Jacket and Twin Atlantic in 2011.

I didn’t really have any idea how big the ‘Jacket were around the globe, but I was truly impressed with their show. Despite some lengthy tunes, they kept an obviously very knowledgeable crowd entertained throughout, and have some serious songwriting skills on display.

Twin Atlantic were pitched to me as “an indie gig” so I was a little surprised at how heavy these guys can get. Both the ‘Jacket and Twin Atlantic seem to have massively strong and supportive fanbases and it reminds me of how things were 20-odd years ago, with perennial live favourites just failing to make it into the mainstream British consciousness. Nevertheless, TA pulled out a stormingly energetic set and I’m going to be looking out for them next time they swing by.

I also got to see some bands in 2011 that I’ve loved for years but never got round to seeing when I was still able to jump around properly, namely Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, The Lemonheads, My Dying Bride and The Smashing Pumpkins. The Lemonheads in particular, through being down the front on the barrier and watching them plough through the whole of It’s A Shame About Ray was a true 2011 privilege. Kyuss, QOTSA and the Pumpkins all also proved, despite the line-up changes, that they can still throw down with the best of them and produced three great nights out which left me exhilarated and smiling all the way home.

As far as guilty pleasures go I also managed to nail down two childhood faves this year; Kylie (look, I got some free tickets!) and Roxette. I’d recommend anyone goes to see Kylie simply for the camp spectacle. The little minx put on a great show and I may even have sung along a couple of times. No sequins were harmed in the writing of this blog.

I loved Roxette when I was approaching my teenage years and I will unashamedly say that I also loved every minute of their show at Wembley Arena in 2011. It was great to have them back after a few difficult years, proving beyond doubt that they’ve written some of the greatest pop songs of the past couple of decades.

Special mention should also go to three bands I saw this year (on more than one occasion) who feature among their ranks some good friends of mine. First of all, Latitudes are a great post, well, everything band, with some spiralling sonicscapes that take on more and more meaning as they burrow deeper into your brain. Even in small venues with slightly ropey sound, Latitudes can really crush with their masterful riffing and technique. Definitely one to watch, and a new album in 2012 should see them get the recognition they deserve.

Also getting a commendation for services to live music are Hopes. They’ve only been around for about a year, but they worked their backsides off in 2011, playing all sorts of venues to get their ‘core songs out to the masses, and they were rewarded with a support slot for Feed The Rhino and a glowing mention in Kerrang! because of it. These lads will really shine more and more when given opportunities and they always throw every last ounce of energy and passion into each of their performances. A festival or two in 2012? Here’s Hopes-ing.

Also in this category are Turbowolf. I’ve written before about how brilliant these Bristol good-timers are and through a selection of 2011 gigs they grew in stature before my eyes, culminating in a superb headlining set at Alter Ego. Their album is one of my top picks of last year and surely they must also be en route to a storming 2012.

Three gigs that came very close to breaking into my chart toppers of the year came courtesy of Ash, Trivium and Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell. It seemed to be a bit of a 2011 trend that bands were getting back together to perform classic albums in their entirety, and Ash decided to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Free All Angels. It’s not actually an album of theirs that I own but the prospect of seeing the guys again after what must be 16-odd years spurred me on to pop down to the Ritz. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, especially when they banged out an awesome Kung Fu encore. As close to an Affs Happy Place that you can get.

Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell would definitely have been in my top three were it not for the venue spoiling things a little. Playing in Manchester Cathedral suited their soulful duets beautifully, but unfortunately, towards the end of the gig a fire alarm was set off by some tramps with a toaster in the Cathedral’s homeless project area. The show was abruptly halted mid-song much to the bemusement of Lanegan, but never restarted and it made for a disappointing trip home. Tickets for Mark and his band are already on the 2012 noticeboard so we’ll see if he can make next year’s podium instead.

Finishing off the chasing pack, and this one was definitely a strong fifth place for the year, came a surprisingly excellent Defenders of the Faith tour. Set up by Metal Hammer as a showcase for the brightest and best in metal both new and old, the gig saw Rise To Remain prove a few points to the masses whilst both Trivium and In Flames showed me what I’d been missing out on by only casting a brief ear to their output in recent years. But it was Ghost who really stole the show for me. Having already heard their incantations on disc, they were even more brilliant, spooky, funny, and, overall, massively entertaining live. Playing the majority of their album helped as each song was so familiar, but even so, as a new band in a big venue, to a big crowd, they performed with absolute skill. I can’t wait for a headline tour from these ghouls in the next 12 months.

Okay, it’s top four time and this has probably been harder to pick than my album of 2011.

Volbeat are a surprise inclusion in this list but a deserved one. The Danish crew have been around for a while, and in all honesty I only bought a ticket for their show because Black Spiders were supporting. Whilst the Spiders were typically brilliant despite a condensed set after some major sound issues, it was Volbeat who really converted me that night. Their latest album, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven is a complex concept CD but still hugely accessible and the amount of clued up fans that night really surprised me but also added massively to the vibe and enjoyment of the show. Volbeat play with a smile on their faces and passion in their sweat-drenched brows which meant they tore out everything that any fan could’ve wished for and more.

Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy 2011
A triumphant Black Spiders

There’s a tie for third place, with Affs Album of the Year Award winners Black Spiders drawing with, er, themselves. I really can’t choose between their sets at Bristol and Manchester on their tour with Viking Skull (legends themselves) and Turbowolf. Imagining that this time last year I had never heard anything by Black Spiders seems absolutely alien to me when I think of where these boys are in my life now. The Croft gig in Bristol was sweaty and jam-packed, and the Spiders threw everything into it. When we got home that night, we probably played the album back to back at least three times, reliving the experience over a few beers. Knowing what to expect when they hit Manchester only meant that I enjoyed it even more. I was screaming along with the best of them to Kiss Tried To Kill Me and the Spiders are not going to be playing small-ish venues like the Roadhouse again, believe me.

Not so surprisingly being given the runner-up award is Ginger. I’ve seen the guy on numerous occasions over the years and he never fails to show his love for live music and his fans each and every time. I’m cheating a little as I saw Ginger do both acoustic and electric sets this year but I really can’t choose between them, so I’m going to class them both together as one super set of true awesomeness, and give him the runner-up in Gig of the Year. It’s my Awards, I can do what the hell I like.

Ginger, for those who aren’t aware, is/was the lead singer and guitarist for The Wildhearts, a mid to late 90s band who could often be seen rocking Top Of The Pops when they snuck into the Top 40 by some sort of pop-rock-punk back door. Ginger has put together numerous side-projects over the years and never stops churning out amazingly catchy, quality music supported by a tremendous gaggle of associates. 2012 will also see him release an ambitious Pledge Music project, a triple CD set funded by fans, in aid of both the joy of music but also for Save The Children who will benefit from 10% of funds made. The project is currently over 450% of its target, showing the love people have for this man.

Anyway, let’s talk about Ginger’s live activities. First off, his acoustic show is probably one of the more raucous “stripped down” gigs you’re ever likely to attend. A true singalong with loads of audience banter and an atmosphere more akin to a gathering of friends than a gig. Ginger has the choruses to keep up with the best of them, from the anthemic Geordie In Wonderland through to the classic Loveshit, all of which sounded amazing in an acoustic setting.

As for his Moho Live electric gig, Ginger seemed on even better form, with a huge band and a set list for the ages. The place went absolutely crazy for I Wanna Go Where The People Go, just as they did for Cheers. Who’d have thought that an 80s TV theme tune would’ve featured at my second favourite gig of the year? That’s the power that Ginger possesses, and he thankfully shows few signs of slowing down any time soon.

Terrorvision @ Manchester Academy 2011
Terrorvision proving they’ve still got it

But this year’s winners are Terrorvision. I probably saw these Bradford oiks more times than I’d care to remember between 1994 and 1997, but they always had a special place in my heart. I spotted they were playing Manchester Academy in 2011 and so grabbed the opportunity to go, hoping they weren’t going to play much beyond their first three records, and that it’d be a pleasant enough trip down memory lane. As the gig got closer, I heard about a new CD they’d just put out, but I didn’t buy it in case it was more akin to their later output, of which I was never the biggest of fans.

When I got to the venue, I was glad to see a good selection of old(er) fans, all of whom probably never dreamed they’d be watching the ‘Vision whilst holding down a steady job, but here we all were, ready to neck a few pints and sing along to the classics.

I was also pleased to see that Gentlemans Pistols were supporting. They weren’t a band that I’d heard before, but I knew ex-Carcass legend Bill Steer was spanking his plank for them, so I got down the front early on. And what a great noise those boys made. Tossing out retro-tinged riffs like Sabbath had never gone away, the Pistols made a lot of new fans that night and were the perfect set up for what was to follow.

When Terrorvision hit the stage, grown men were hugging and practically crying with joy at the prospect of these boys strutting their stuff again after all these years. In fact, I dare anyone not to smile when Tony Wright pops on stage and grins like a Cheshire cat eating a particularly enormous piece of cheese, his boyish charm still prevailing in the face of (admittedly not that much more than my) age. Even with Shutty off enjoying his drummer retirement home and new sticksman Cam Greenwood being young enough for the rest of the band to have birthed him themselves, this was a group 157% at the top of their game.

What Terrorvision did that magical night was to throw in new songs alongside old hits like Pretend Best Friend as if all of them came from one SuperCD of pop-rock genius. People were hollering along to the choruses of the new songs like Pushover, embracing them like they were old friends. Sales of the new CD at that gig must have been massive, and I’m proud to say that the album I bought that night has barely left my stereo/generic digital music player since.

The fact that Discotheque Wreck on this night is my favourite single live performance of 2011 says a lot, especially when it had so many rivals for this accolade with Middleman, Enteralterego and Alice, What’s The Matter? all making an appearance during the show. It also says a lot for Terrorvision’s skill as entertainers that these songs sound as fresh and exciting as they did so many years ago.

So, a band that were a live favourite of mine nigh-on 20 years ago are my top tip of this millennia too. Not too surprising you might think? Well, Terrorvision had to work their socks off that night to get everyone, collectively, back into that unique mood, and that is exactly what they did. Well done Terrorvision, one of the great saviours of live music and my Gig of the Year 2011.

The Affs Awards 2011 – Album of the Year

Well, the year has now been and gone and it seems fitting, nay customary, to perform some sort of wrap up on the past 12 months. As one of my resolutions is to write even more this year, what better way to kick off 2012 with the first ever Affs Awards for services to popular culture?

First up is the Album of the Year Award. CD sales may be down year on year, but that hasn’t stopped some absolutely storming epics being committed to shiny disc during 2011. After all, what use is the music without the artwork, liner notes, lyrics, extra cardboard and free goblins? I’m a sucker for all that makes a first edition CD truly limited so here’s to the on-going survival of the format.

Anyway, I digress. Onto the important matter of which long players have been on repeat on the Affs death deck in 2011.

It’s been quite a surprisingly good year for tunes. I’ve heard some great new bands whilst some old favourites have churned out new crackers. Here are a few of the contenders who just missed out on the top places, starting with an intriguing album that came from none other than Mr Hugh Laurie.

I’m not usually a fan of blues, but anything that m’colleague does sparks an interest in me, so I was fascinated to hear his CD, Let Them Talk, and I wasn’t disappointed. Laurie has always been a super-talented, self-taught musician and there is obvious passion that prevails throughout his album. From soulful crooning to more up-tempo stomp-alongs, Laurie manages to get people listening to a genre when they wouldn’t normally give it the time of day and for that he should be commended.

A late entry into the Affs hit parade was the new Nightwish album. They’re a funny old band, not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve been into them for over a decade so I tend to buy all their output. After Tarja left the group, taking with her the more operatic vocals, I must admit that my interest in their symphonic bombast waned a little, but this year’s Imaginaerum pricked my ears up and got me all kinds of excited all over again. It’s a very textured album, featuring loads of different sounds, from the typical Euro metal of Storytime through to the husky jazz drawl of Slow, Love, Slow. It’s great to see Nightwish realising they can’t keep living on former glories and need to adapt to survive, and they’ve definitely done just that.

Another band that I tend to buy music from but fail to spend the quality time with that I should is Trivium. These young upstarts (still young despite having been around for a good while. Yes I’m jealous), were originally hailed as the new Metallica, and then the emo crowd hooked onto them, but now they’re producing an altogether more mature product. In Waves is full of crowd pleasers (and trust me, the title track and Dusk Dismantled are absolutely epic live), and throughout the pretty lengthy album I was pleasantly surprised with the catchiness and heaviness working so well together.

An honourable mention must also go to another band that I only encountered for the first time in 2011, Gentlemans Pistols. I saw the band supporting Terrorvision and was hugely happy to see Bill Steer, ex-Carcass, up on stage again, knocking out some semi-tongue-in-cheek rawk. Gentlemans Pistols combine a good time feeling with some catchy riffs and decent song writing chops and At Her Majesty’s Pleasure contains tunes that make you feel like you’ve been to bed with them previously on a debauched night involving a bottle of scotch, some dice and a unicorn. Managing to steer away from the obviousness of cheese like Steel Panther, Gentlemans Pistols transport you back to 70s/80s happy, carefree womanising metal and what’s not to like about that, eh girls?

So, we’ve got four treats left at the top of the tree to choose between, and in all honesty it’s tough to pick between the three runners up.

Terrorvision are a band I once adored. They probably even overtook Therapy? at one point in being my favourite band EVER. Their first three albums were pop rock classics but I was turned away from them with their banal crowd pleaser Tequilla. Even so, when they announced a comeback tour, I gave it a go and picked up a copy of their new album Super Delux while I was there. Holy mother of all things that are holy, what a record! The 11 tracks contained within still feature that cheeky Yorkshire wit, but you can tell the band have also grown as songwriters. New drummer Cam Greenwood has somehow replaced the irreplaceable Shutty and with catchy numbers such as Rock Radio and All The Girls Wanna Dance, the band have put Bradford on the map once more.

Rhyming some obscure words, as is standard with any Terrorvision release, the boys came back with one almighty album/tour bang and also worth checking out is the video to Pushover which is delightfully touching and brilliantly funny. I’m already hoping they tour again next year and put out some more musical gems.

Ghost, as their name suggests, were a surprise. In many, many more ways than one. I’d read a bit about them and thought they were going to be gimmicky no-hopers, but thankfully they proved me very wrong indeed with their opus, er, Opus Eponymous. Their shtick, all about being sparkly Satanic bishops and hooded monky-types shouldn’t work, but it does, and it gels brilliantly with their retro, stripped-down early Sabbath-y sound. Elizabeth is mournful but tuneful, whilst Ritual threatens to transport the the Dark Lord right into your ears with its haunting melody. The whole CD simply works in an age when it really shouldn’t and I’m just hoping that the gimmick doesn’t fade before album number two.

Turbowolf are a relatively new band, and still largely unknown, but I’ve been following their progress since last year, after I caught them supporting Dinosaur Pile Up. Their un-categorisable music (PsychedelicSpaceFunkProgMetal?) and energetic live performances saw them garner some well-deserved mainstream music press attention and when their self-titled CD landed at the end of 2011, it really didn’t disappoint one bit.

Older songs such as Seven Severed Heads and Ancient Snake burrow into your brain with their punk attitude and rock and roll swagger, whilst the singles A Rose For The Crows and Read & Write are live classics already with their jagged soundscapes and insane raw intensity.

The Turbowolf CD is very nearly my album of the year simply due to how fresh and new the whole thing feels, but the award goes to someone who I only got to see as they were headlining over the ‘Wolf in Bristol…

And it’s Black Spiders who have won the day. Their album, Sons of the North absolutely blew me away when I first gave it a spin, and it still does the same now, months on. I saw the band live a good few times this year too, and each time they rocked and rolled their way to converting more and more new fans. I was pleased to discover that I wasn’t the only one in on the Spiders phenomenon, one of my friends was already a fan and came to a show with me along with a few others, and in the majority they looked pretty damn pleased to be there too.

The sign of a classic album is that you’re not scared to recommend, and even buy the thing for people to convince them to listen. I did just that with Black Spiders. I just had to get people to listen to this CD. Sons of the North features all manner of groove-ridden gems such as St Peter and the opening Stay Down will be a show opener for years to come. Kiss Tried To Kill Me never fails to raise a smile and Blood of The Kings is simply sublime in being a track for all seasons and moods.

The band combine all of their great musical talent with a gloriously happy attitude, meeting and greeting fans, working solidly to make sure that the whole Spiders experience is a great one and this band are only going to get bigger and better in 2012.

So there you have it, Affs Album of the Year award done and deservedly won by Black Spiders. They would probably even pop over to pick up the non-existent trophy, they’re that decent a bunch of chaps. Stay tuned for more scribblings, including my Gig of the Year, Videogame of the Year, and maybe even pig by-product of the decade. Yes, it’s been one of those years!