The Affs Awards 2019 – Album Of The Year

It’s been a funny old time for music in 2019. Similarly to the country’s political landscape, music in this final year of the decade has often been baffling, sometimes vilified, or worse, met with a bit of a “meh” from many quarters (I’m looking at you, Tool).

A stop-gap year in many ways, it’s been tricky to find the true stand-outs, but fear not, your erstwhile purveyor of opinion is here to sort through the chaff and deliver the top five records of the year for your delectation.

 

Puppy - The Goat5 – Puppy: The Goat

London trio Puppy had been gaining momentum with a couple of highly-rated EPs since their formation back in 2014 and with their debut album the band got 2019 off to a cracking start.

Ripping up the rule-book by taking their influences from a massive variety of bands (there are nods to Deftones and Helmet in here as much as there are Ghost and Judas Priest), The Goat defies categorisation and is all the better for it. Tracks like Vengeance combine the urgent pummel of Metallica with a Wildhearts breakdown, whilst Black Hole segues from a riffy verse into a chorus that Weezer might’ve come up with whilst sat out on the Californian coast.

The sound of a band who have always threatened to make a record this good, The Goat was everything you get from a Puppy live show ramped up to 11.

 

Frank Turner - No Man's Land4 – Frank Turner: No Man’s Land

Well, this one got a bit awkward. Before No Man’s Land was even released, Frank Turner received an unwarranted backlash for daring to write an album about historical female figures. Enough of that though, what we should focus on here is Turner‘s undoubted strength as a a storyteller, a trait that shows true passion and intelligence to boot.

Taking the time to research and study each of the women in question, the stories that make up the 13 songs on No Man’s Land as well as the record’s accompanying podcast series, are hugely informative and with The Lioness especially, Turner has another live favourite on his hands already.

Far from a gimmick, this is a fascinating trip into a slightly different subject that enlightens as much as it entertains.

 

Dinosaur Pile-Up - Celebrity Mansions3 – Dinosaur Pile-Up: Celebrity Mansions

It’s good to have a guilty pleasure and Dinosaur Pile-Up delivered one right to our front doors this year with their third full-lengther, Celebrity Mansions. Full of clever, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and catchy riffs, the band’s latest outing saw them really hone their sound into a short, sharp, pop-rock classic. A self-deprecating tale about the trials and tribulations of their own career, it’s an eminently likeable outing that celebrates your inner geek whilst proving that hard work truly can pay off.

Combining some mid-90s US punk influences with a couple of grunge-y bangers along the way, the record takes you on a whirlwind tour of Americana, from the furious Thrash Metal Cassette all the way to the godzilla-stomp of Back Foot via a few Dwayne Johnson references for good measure.

A quirky, foot-tapping, grin-inducing record, Celebrity Mansions could take DP-U to the next level.

 

Servers - Ad Nauseam2 – Servers: Ad Nauseam

It’s tough to survive as an independent band, fiercely passionate about your music, yet constantly up against venue closures, the sheer volume of groups jockeying for position and the ‘power’ of streaming where you’re earning nothing from your music as a result.

Fortunately, bands such as Servers can channel this energy into a sound totally unique in today’s heavy scene and with their third record, Ad Nauseam, the band truly came of age. A well-rounded, sweepingly dark effort full of hypnotic riffs and razor-sharp vocals from frontman Lee Storrar, the record grabs the listener right into its dark heart and spits you out on its own terms.

Themes of lust, longing and control once again prevail throughout, yet this time, there’s an even greater urgency, with the goth-y Blind Faith hitting hard and the brooding doom of The Cellar drawing you in then smashing a soaring chorus right into your face.

A powerful and emotive record, Ad Nauseam is a modern metal masterpiece.

 

Ginger Wildheart - Headzapoppin1 – Ginger Wildheart: Headzapoppin

For an album that wasn’t even on the radar 12 months ago, Ginger Wildheart’s Headzapoppin certainly took many people by surprise; mainly because it’s downright brilliant.

In recent years, the erstwhile Wildhearts frontman has been focusing on battling demons and outing them in country-folk records such as Ghost In The Tanglewood and The Pessimist’s Companion. Both records were often heart-breaking with chinks of light shining through now and again, outlining the changes the singer/songwriter was going through in his life as well as his reflections on a cruel and dark society. As with The Wildhearts’ triumphant 2019 return Renaissance Men, Headzapoppin still features some thoughts on mental illness and isolation, but here Ginger has reverted to 555%-era pop-rock and the record is 40 minutes of catchy-as-hell hits as a result.

From the retro 80s waves of Saturday Matinee through to the classic rock riffs of Meet My Killer and Catch That Stranger, via the pounding As Theodos Spoke and the emotionally uplifting The Answer Is Yes, Ginger’s 10th solo studio outing is an utter triumph. Honest, accessible and quirky, Headzapoppin is a big-hearted and infectiously optimistic record that demands to be heard.

Even better, with a physical release to follow in 2020, this might just be album of the year next year too!

Frank Turner’s ‘No Man’s Land’ – Misogyny Or Hero Worship?

This has vexed me somewhat and you know what happens when I’m vexed, the blog cogs start turning!

The NME (yes, they are apparently still a thing) have published a bit of a hatchet job on a record, Frank Turner’s ‘No Man’s Land’, that has yet to be released (bar one song), jumping on the story created by Milk Teeth’s Becky Blomfield over on Twitter who stated in a multi-tweet post that Frank Turner shouldn’t release an album about female historical figures as it’s just him profiteering over women and people of various races when he’s never been a woman or anything other than a white man himself. For context, Turner’s press release for the new record and accompanying podcast series states: “13 episodes and tracks about real historical women… including one about my mum! Exploring and celebrating their fascinating stories.” Is that really such a wrong thing to do?

Seemingly no stranger to controversy, Turner has also recently been held to account by fellow artist Koji who queried the name of Frank’s hardcore side-project Möngöl Hörde deeming it to have racist connotations. Frank replied that the name was taken from a Van Pelt song from two decades ago and that it wasn’t decided upon with any offence considered; and let’s face it, aren’t there other band names through the ages that could be deemed offensive due to their connotations (Joy Division and indeed New Order to name but two). Does that mean we should ignore or even worse re-write history, or is it a good thing that such terminology exists to act as a reminder of what has happened throughout human history whether good or bad?

I’ve never met Frank Turner, but whenever I’ve gone to see him at a gig or a spoken word-style occasion, he’s always been articulate, respectful and intelligent. He’s been a big supporter of the Safe Gigs For Women initiative and performs at a lot of charitable occasions. He has sometimes been a target for the far left-leaning crew who don’t think he’s ‘punk enough’ to pitch himself as a folk/punk artist, but I’ve never considered him to be one to try and latch on to a scene, he’d rather just produce good music and tour endlessly so that as many people as possible can experience his live shows. Again, is this such a bad thing?

I’m not saying that Turner’s music is to everyone’s tastes by any means, but the current criticism around how he shouldn’t write about things he hasn’t personally experienced is at best naïve and at worst massively hypocritical. With some critics citing Turner’s race, gender and class as reasons why he shouldn’t be partaking in this particular endeavour, the nay-sayers appear to be pigeonholing as much as those they so vehemently protest against. It’s 2019 guys, an age where gender is supposedly fluid and no-one should be picked out negatively due to their skin colour. Mental health is also massively stigmatised yet some of the comments directed at Turner are vile and hate-filled and in other circles would be considered bullying. Hmm…

So, what are the dos and don’ts for artists when considering album subject matter, and are we really the ones who should judge? If songs should only be written about experiences that have been personally lived, does this mean that no song should ever be about dragons or the war, or a different country, race or religion to that of the author? How do people think history has generally been passed down over the centuries? Spoiler alert, it’s through song, and the written word.

Having listened to Frank’s first podcast (about Sister Rosetta Tharpe), it’s fascinating to hear him go and explore her origins, her performances and her music in her homeland. He does it by bringing in local (and female) historian Nwaka Onwusa to discuss Sister Rosetta’s tale and his studio discussion is with singer-songwriter Emily Barker who has also written a song about the same subject. Funnily enough, Turner has also brought in a completely female group of musicians (and producer) for this record but people still assumed he had made it with usual backing band the (all male) Sleeping Souls and criticised him for it before looking up the facts. And again, does this really matter anyway? Surely we should always just employ the best people for any given job?

I certainly learned a thing or two from Turner’s initial podcast but the doubters continue. “He’s just cashing in” – what, by writing songs about women that people quite possibly haven’t heard of? Surely that’s not a profitable scheme? “He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman” – that’s fair enough, but should that really stop him from writing and performing songs about women’s lives? He’s not writing from the point of view of the women from what I’ve heard, so is it really that big a deal? To me, it smacks of people going out of their way to be offended, without figuring out what they’re actually offended about. I’ve attempted to engage in debate with some of the critics who are so keen to tag Turner in on their comments, yet none have responded.

The only saving grace about this NME piece is that the comments are nearly 100% in support of Frank. And of course I did point out to them that it’s rather hypocritical linking up with paid ad providers who post clickbait stories at the foot of your articles that state if you’re a woman over 50 you should cut your hair short. Ah well, only another 12 tracks of supposed controversy to go…

The Affs Awards 2014 – Gig of the Year

Black Moth @ The Roadhouse
Black Moth – unflappable.

 

Lists. Everyone likes a list. Whether it’s the top ten chores you’re not very likely to complete this year or a batch of unachievable New Year resolutions, you’ve probably scribbled down a few words on the back of a fag packet as Big Ben struck midnight. And as critics around the world compile their lists to summarise the year that’s just passed, it’s time for the definitive catch up on 2014’s finest in live music from none other than yours truly with the Affs Award 2014 for Gig of the Year.

Sepultura @ The Ritz
Sepultura – Chaos 2014

First off, it’s the honourable mentions section, this year going to 2013’s winners, Manic Street Preachers who belted out a storming rendition of classic LP The Holy Bible in December. Stalwarts Sepultura also proved there’s plenty of life left in them yet with a furiously heavy outing back in February, whilst Volbeat sold out Manchester Academy once again and proved they’re one of the best bands on the planet for creating a party at any size gig. Towards the end of 2014 Mastodon, Machine Head and Behemoth all showed what it takes to be a big modern metal band with sets full of dizzying invention and showmanship, all three of whom should count themselves unlucky to just miss out on the very top of my list.

A few individuals and bands also deserve shout-outs simply for working their arses off in 2014. Turbowolf played two outstanding headline shows in Manchester alongside a triumphant set at Camden Rocks that saw the whole Electric Ballroom jumping. I can guarantee right now that 2015 will be their year. Chris Catalyst also toured his gig trousers off with Eureka Machines shows at Camden as well as their own headline run, with the frontman somehow also finding time to help out Ginger Wildheart and Tony Wright on numerous dates throughout the year and belting out a brilliant acoustic set of his own in a cramped and sweaty Brewdog Camden basement.

Tony Wright @ Gulliver's
Tony Wright – rock and sausage roll

Speaking of the erstwhile Terrorvision frontman, Tony Wright provided us with a few shows of absolute comedy and songwriting gold as he embarked on début solo outings in 2014, whilst dynamic duo The Dowling Poole served up glittering acoustic pop rock ahead of full-on electric shows in 2015. Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns followed up last year’s solo shows with an excellent new set, giving us 20 years worth of classics in a stupidly intimate environment, also taking his band out earlier in the year to celebrate two decades since the release of the seminal Troublegum LP.

God Damn also saw their stock rise with a couple of headline jaunts and a destructive support slot with Turbowolf, whilst Beastmilk brought some beautifully melancholic noise to these shores on a couple of occasions. UK music continued to rule the roost with Black Moth covering us in a shroud of wondrous doom off the back of their brilliant second opus and Tropical Contact fortunately deciding not to call it a day, whilst our US cousins threatened to upset the balance by sending Butcher Babies over to blow us away with crunchy riffs and some insanely catchy yet heavy tunes.

It wasn’t a year solely of metal either, with two gigs in particular standing out for their sheer camp spectacle. I usually avoid arena gigs like the plague but there was no denying Lady Gaga put on a mammoth performance and was note perfect alongside the dancing and costume changes, whilst Erasure rolled back the years with a succession of perfect pop classics.

But now, onto the top five…

Rival Sons @ Gorilla
Rival Sons – unrivalled.

4= Black Stone Cherry @ The Ritz and Rival Sons @ Gorilla

I’m putting these two shows together for a couple of reasons. Firstly, both bands have played far bigger shows in Manchester since, and I feel truly privileged to have snagged tickets to such intimate occasions. Secondly, the first time I saw both of these bands was when Rival Sons supported BSC at the Academy, so for me they’ll always be intertwined. BSC’s gig at The Ritz in 2014 felt like a fan club show where we got to sit in the band’s front room as 20-odd tracks were interspersed with banter and Q&As that you wouldn’t normally get from such a huge group, all inside a cosy 1,500-capacity venue. Not only did we get a one-off experience, BSC were also on fire, blitzing out old and new tracks alike with power and emotion that you couldn’t help but be taken in by.

Fellow Southern rockers Rival Sons played across the road on a different night at the even cosier Gorilla. Essentially a back-room-of-a-pub gig, seeing these guys so up close was an absolute honour and proved why they’ve rocketed in popularity so successfully over the past couple of years. As far as 70s-influenced bluesy riffing goes, Rival Sons are going to be tough to beat for the foreseeable future.

Kerbdog @ The Ritz
Cormac Battle – crushing dummies.

3 Kerbdog @ The Ritz

No write-up of 2014 would be complete without mentioning certain comebacks. Baby Chaos nearly made this list just from the pure euphoria of seeing them get back on stage and bang out half an hour of perfect pop rock, but the most welcome return has to have been Kerbdog. Not content with just playing a couple of club gigs to test the waters, they brought a load of old muckers along for the ride which saw Hawk Eyes, Nine Black Alps and Amplifier get us giddy with anticipation. But it was the Kilkenny four-piece who provided the biggest roar, making it hard to believe we’ve only ever had two albums from them, the latter of which emerged 17 years ago. Treated like returning heroes, Kerbdog had not lost a beat in the intervening years, nailing a high-octane masterclass and leaving a gleeful crowd relishing more new material in 2015.

Frank Turner - reach for the stars.
Frank Turner – reach for the stars.

2 Möngöl Hörde @ Academy 3

In between larger shows, Mr Frank Turner likes to get back to basics with the odd small and sweaty gig, and by taking his hardcore outfit Möngöl Hörde out on the road it was easy to fulfil such ambitions.  A dirty, punky and most importantly, fun show, this was a brilliant showcase of not just Turner‘s songwriting prowess but also an opportunity to pay homage to his influences. Covers of Rage Against The Machine‘s ‘Bulls On Parade’, Faith No More‘s ‘Epic’ and Sepultura‘s ‘Refuse/Resist’ all sat comfortably side-by-side with tracks off the Hörde‘s début album, and Turner himself surfed and threw himself all over the place in an energetic display of rock and roll splendour. It’s tough to beat a show that sees everyone in the room let themselves go with sheer enjoyment, but there can be only one winner…

Ginger @ The Roadhouse
Ginger Wildheart – father and son.

1 Ginger Wildheart @ The Roadhouse

I saw Ginger five times in 2014, once with The Wildhearts, once for his Halloween Hootenanny, once for his annual Birthday knees up, and once standing outside the packed Baby Godzilla show at Camden Rocks, but it was his gig at the smallest venue I’d seen him at since an acoustic show at Ashton-under-Lyne’s Witchwood in 2011 that really resonated with me.

After the hangovers had subsided from the aforementioned Halloween shindig, the relentless mainman took his merry band of cohorts as well as The Scaramanga Six and Eureka Machines on a jaunt North, and their first stop was Manchester’s Roadhouse. I was lucky enough to attend a pre-show meet and greet where Ginger seemed on excellent, relaxed form alongside his family and this atmosphere definitely seeped into the gig itself. Ginger smiled away throughout, Random Jon Poole and Kelli Compulsive bounced around like lunatics, and Chris Catalyst enhanced his pitch for Man of the Year with another show of double-duty perfection. The setlist was pitched brilliantly between classics and new songs that were only a few months old and for once the Manchester crowd did themselves proud, belting out each and every line. A family affair in the truest of senses, Ginger’s Roadhouse show was everything you’d want from an intimate gig with music, crowd and artist all simply falling into place, leaving the lucky punters who’d managed to grab a ticket grinning from ear to ear. Live music at its most joyous.