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!

The Best Albums In The World – EVER

The Facebook Top 10 albums of all time challenge that’s been doing the rounds recently got me thinking and made me realise how hard it is to pick out your favourite music from all genres, over four decades of listening to the stuff. In fact, it surprised me how many records that are over 20 years old still resonate with me today and that’s even when I’m avoiding a rose-tinted view of childhood. I’ve fallen in and out of love with bands over the years, discovered some records years after they were first unleashed and picked out new meaning from songs that I’d heard 100 times before. First and foremost though I’ve always been a supporter of British music, especially bands who deserve to be far bigger than they are, and I’m pleased that this list has ended up being reflective of that.

To give an idea of how hard a task this was, these are the album names that missed out, and I’ll think you’ll agree there are some bona-fide classics amongst them: Sixteen Stone, Demanufacture, Appetite For Destruction, Antichrist Superstar, Korn, In Utero, Metallica, Dookie, How To Make Friends And Influence People, Cruelty And The Beast, And Out Come The Wolves, Angel Dust, Chaos AD. Sorry all, but the competition was tough; you’re all still in my heart.

Anyway, onwards!

10) Tropical Contact: XS (2016)

There are a few modern classics that could easily have made this list, and it shouldn’t feel wrong to praise a record that has yet to pass the test of time. Ghost, Servers, Turbowolf and Creeper all very nearly hit this Top 10, but if I have to pick out one record from the most recent decade that can go toe-to-toe with the rest it has to be Tropical Contact‘s debut full-lengther. Talk about fulfilling potential, every single song on this one is a cracker, auto-biographical, funny and always catchy. XS was even better than we all expected and I challenge anyone who hears it not to be taken in by Hero Brigade‘s charm or to not shimmy a shoulder to the earworm that is 8/10.

 

9) Ginger Wildheart: 555% (2012)

So much of my life today is based around The Wildhearts and the extended family of associated bands but the group themselves never trumped Terrorvision, Therapy? and the Manics when I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Earth Vs and Phuq but I lost a bit of interest with the impenetrable Endless Nameless. Years later, this triple slab hit and reminded me what a great songwriter our Ginger was and it was only after this that I really got into Chutzpah! too. Forget About It is one of the best album openers ever, providing an insta-grin every single time, whilst songs like Lover, It’ll All Work Out and Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus add real emotional depth.

 

8) Iron Maiden: Brave New World (2000)

Perhaps a surprise that this is my favourite Maiden album rather than something from their 80s pomp, but (whisper it) I wasn’t that down with them when their classics were first released. I did however stick with them through the Blaze era, but Brave New World was what we all really wanted and it delivered in spades. The Wicker Man is a perfect statement of intent and the lighters-aloft call to arms of Blood Brothers sends a shiver down the spine to this day. This record also helped build a musical bond between my step-brother and me that made last year’s Maiden gig with him even better than it already was.

 

7) Offspring: Smash (1994)

This was the hardest pick of the list. Punk’s resurgence in the mid-90s saw a plethora of classic records, but there were also iconic grunge albums, quirky alt-rock efforts and some late 90s black and death metal to consider. I also feel really guilty about leaving Terrorvision out of my Top 10 but it’s the consistency of Smash that won through. With the band leading the charge when it came to mainstream modern punk Smash is packed full of classic tunes, from the furious Nitro to the shouty ire of Bad Habit and the iconic Self Esteem. Interestingly, I’m not really a fan of anything the band did before or since, but this record is brilliantly constructed and a singalong classic.

 

6) Ash: 1977 (1996)

I feel like I grew up with Ash, listening to Trailer on repeat, seeing them live for a fiver when they were essentially kids like I was and their first full record, 1977, is probably still their finest hour. There are actually some far from perfect songs on here, but that just adds to the charm; 1977 is full of Undertones punk ethos and teen angst. Kung Fu and Girl From Mars remain rock club staples whilst Lose Control is a hurricane blast of an opener. Even better was the ridiculous concept of having two bonus songs BEFORE the start of the album; an iTunes nightmare!

 

5) Pantera: Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

A lot of stuff on this list is British and pretty light compared to some of the other music I was listening to at the time, and none more so than the absolutely brutal Vulgar Display Of Power. From Walk‘s swagger,  A New Level‘s crushing hammer blows through to This Love‘s balladeering, each song fits brilliantly alongside the next and the combination of Anselmo’s snarl and Dime’s fretwork has arguably never been bettered in heavy metal. Far Beyond Driven was possibly more fully-formed but this for me is Pantera at their raucous peak.

 

4) Type O Negative: October Rust (1996)

When you’re an emo-teen, what better record to get you through life than Type O‘s paean to gothic romance? Already MTV darlings by this point, Pete Steele and co banged out an epic collection of blacker than black, tongue-in-cheek hits like My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend, Love You To Death and a great cover of Neil Young‘s Cinnamon Girl. Ingenious wordplay, big riffs and atmospheric keyboard work make October Rust a pleasure on each return visit two decades on.

 

3) Baby Chaos: Safe Sex Designer Drugs & The Death Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1994)

When a support band is as good as Baby Chaos are you know you just have to get involved which is exactly what I did after I saw the band playing back-up to Terrorvision in 1994. The era was full of melodic and poppy bands all upping their game against each other but Baby Chaos managed to throw down an effortlessly brilliant record on their first attempt. Go To Hell‘s light and dark moments can still catch you out today and the lyrics to the beautiful Breathe are hanging on my bedroom wall for a reason. True story; Safe Sex… only just claimed its place in this list over most recent effort Skulls Skulls Skulls, the band are THAT consistently good at writing emotive pop rock.

 

2) Manic Street Preachers: The Holy Bible (1994)

They were my first gig, my first obsession as far as music goes and the self-destructive The Holy Bible was everything a Manics fan could ask for in 1994. Heavy in its use of dialogue samples, THB is a bruising, caustic effort, made all the more raw by Richey James’ cataclysmic state of mind. Die In The Summertime and 4st 7lb are given added gravitas by James Dean Bradfield’s never-to-be-bettered vocal performance yet the Manics still proved they could write chart-bothering classics with instant numbers like Faster and Revol.

 

1) Therapy?: Infernal Love (1995)

Troublegum is probably a perfect 10 album but the 9/10 Infernal Love has to be my top Therapy? record due to its middle finger waving place in the band’s career and in parts its drug-addled ridiculousness. There’s the Nick Cave-esque Bowels Of Love, the epic A Moment Of Clarity and Me Vs You, the catchy as hell Stories and Loose and the can’t-begin-to-count-the-times-I’ve-played-it heartbreakingly bleak cover of Hüsker Dü‘s Diane. Maybe not a starting point for a would-be T? fan, this is still a glorious summary of mid-90s excess and pop rock majesty.

2015 – A Year In Review Part One: Album Of The Year

There’s definitely been something in the musical water in 2015. Not only have we seen astounding comebacks and long awaited débuts, there have been more surprises and leftfield brilliance this year than in any in recent memory.

As the media churns out list after list of 2015 retrospectives and 2016 Mystic Meg predictions, it’s time, dear reader, for your definitive guide to the best the past year has given us, with this, the build up to the Affs Award For Album Of The Year 2015.

God Damn - VulturesFirst up, as tradition dictates, are the honourable mentions and as far as débuts are concerned, 2015 was a hell of a year. God Damn have been touring constantly for the past few years and released a couple of EPs along the way, but their long-awaited first record proper, Vultures, finally materialised in 2015. A monstrously riffy animal, the album summed up everything that God Damn give so well to the live arena, namely incredible, distortion-fuelled filth with drums so loud you’d be forgiven for thinking the cast of Stomp were camped out in your brains.

A surprising success for such a new and young (they made me feel old anyway) band was False Advertising. I’d heard a bit about them on the Manchester scene (which itself is full of top quality up-and-comers who could well make 2016 a bit special) but I wasn’t quite prepared for their record which I was honoured to review for Daily Dischord. Grunge had been having a bit of a renaissance with bands like Kagoule also churning out 90s influenced slabs in 2015, but False Advertising took the basic dynamics of the genre and flipped them around as much as they do their instruments over 11 tracks of ear-wormingly good quality.

Biters were also making waves in 2015, signing with Earache and touring their backsides off to get their fun-time rock and roll out there to the masses. Filled with singalong insta-classics, Electric Blood treated the 21st Century with the contempt it deserves, taking us back to a 70s and 80s vibe full of party tunes and songwriting swagger.

Faith No More - Sol InvictusOf course the older hands in the business wouldn’t let these young upstarts take all the glory and second only to a new Tool record in the “Stuff we thought we’d never see” section of HMV came a new album by alt-rock godfathers Faith No More. Sol Invictus was typically eccentric and full of the staccato Mike Patton bile of yore, but somehow still came packaged with enough in the way of brilliant tunes to warrant its inclusion in many a “Best Of” list. Initially teasing the world with the oddball sounds of ‘Motherfucker’, FNM eventually let us have a listen to ‘Superhero’ and suddenly everything was right with the world once more. No mere nostalgia trip, Sol Invictus is Faith No More bang up to date and on utterly top form.

Eagles Of Death Metal also re-appeared to remind us just how to rock with a hip-wigglingly good batch of songs in the shape of latest opus Zipper Down. Jesse and Josh can write decent tunes with ease but their latest really showed the band at the peak of their powers, tightly structured yet loosely textured and chock full of bluesy dynamism.

More old stagers, Cradle Of Filth, saw a renaissance of sorts with Hammer Of The Witches. Filling out their sound once more after a couple of records of punky speed metal, Hammer… saw dark and light orchestration combining as well as it had on earlier outings such as Cruelty And The Beast, painting in the process a majestic canvas of devilish debauchery and addictive Maiden-esque guitar duels. Glorious modern metal from a band showing no signs of slowing down despite being on album number 11.

Ash - Kablammo!Old hands yet always young at heart, Ash also returned to former glory with their 2015 outing Kablammo! Initially launched as a Pledge Music campaign, it wasn’t long before the album was backed up by some impressive live shows where each pop punk anthem sounded full of sparky attitude. Opening gambit ‘Cocoon’ is a short blast of Tim Wheeler at his best whilst the lilting ‘Free’ is beautifully structured and fragile in a way Richey James used to make his forte. Admittedly Kablammo! is just pure unadulterated Ash but in what way is that ever a bad thing? Easily their best record since 1977 and a welcome addition to a great year for music.

The Scaramanga Six - The Terrifying DreamUnlucky not to make my Top 5 this year were The Scaramanga Six. This gang are consistently brilliant both live and on record and with 2015’s The Terrifying Dream they reached their absolute peak, writing Bond songs that will never be and sinister odes to just about everything under the sun whilst having their tongues firmly implanted in their cheeks. More people need to find out about this wonderful bunch of Machiavellian scamps and as soon as they do, things will take off in a big, big way. Until that time, check out their back catalogue and punch yourself repeatedly in the face for missing out for so long.

Ginger Wildhear - The Year Of The FanclubNo end of year round up is ever complete without him and it’s been a busy year once more for the workaholic Ginger Wildheart. Not only did he conclude his G-A-S-S fan club set, he also launched his Songs & Words book/DVD/tour, trotting round the country telling us all some classic rock and roll tales. Somehow he also found time to give us a Wildhearts PHUQ celebration tour, pull together a new Hey! Hello! record for release in 2016 AND produce tracks for other bands. Oh and then there was the small matter of picking out his preferred G-A-S-S tracks for the Year Of The Fanclub record. This was never going to be an easy task when there were 36 amazing songs to choose from, and the only reason this one didn’t quite make my Top 5 of the year is because a couple of my own favourites are missing. You’ve got to be ruthless doing this lark I’m afraid.

Nevertheless, what’s present  aboard this disc is a great summation of what Ginger is all about. There’s the folky ‘Pendine Incident’, the Courtney Love collaboration ‘Honour’ and the brassy ‘El Mundo (Slow Fatigue)’ not to mention a couple of personal ditties from his attempt to get in touch with Henry Rollins to some emotional thoughts about his relationship with his son. This is heart on sleeve stuff, as is always the case with Ginger, all wrapped up in a basket of absolute songwriting gold.

But there can be only, er, five…and for that, you’ve got to wait a little while longer…

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.