The Affs Awards 2012 – Album Of The Year

Following the difficult job of picking my live highlights of the past 12 months, choosing my top long players of 2012 was even more tricky. Nevertheless, I’ve struggled on like the brave soldier that I am, and here, for your delectation, are the top four (who said three or five were the best way to do these things?) including the winner of The Affs Award 2012 for Album Of The Year.

Therapy? 'A Brief Crack Of Light'4) Therapy? ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’

Therapy? Have been my favourite band for a hell of a long time, going all the way back to ’91/’92’s one-two punch of the seminal Babyteeth and Pleasure Death mini albums. But being someone’s favourite band arguably makes a band’s job harder with each new release. Therapy? have never really been a band to churn out the same old shtick time and time again, refusing to bow to current trends or producing obvious sequels to previous output, so buying a new T? record is always an exciting time.

Returning after a three-year touring spree off the back of the brilliant ‘Crooked Timber’, Therapy? posted a video for the track ‘Living In The Shadow of The Terrible Thing’ online in early 2012. Their trademark sound cut through the song with the underlying groove of bassist Michael McKeegan setting up an urgent, almost mechanical chorus. Definitely a good sign of what was to come, and when ‘A Brief Crack of Light’ was released in full the next month it completely lived up to expectations.

I still remember way back in 1995 when picking up my copy of ‘Infernal Love’ what a shock it was as the band moved into more epic, morose territory after the instant pop-punk hooks of their breakthrough ‘Troublegum’ CD. With ‘A Brief Crack of Light’, Therapy?’s sound is even more rounded and mature, but this isn’t a boring album by any stretch of the imagination. There are some really jarring, challenging tracks among the 10 on offer, with ‘Plague Bell’ and ‘The Buzzing’ offering staccato nails to the back of the neck whilst ‘Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder’ mixes a bleak soundscape with forward-thinking lyrics about the need to break free from the norm. Something which Therapy? have consistently delivered upon over an impressive two decades.

‘A Brief Crack of Light’ is a hugely diverse album, mixing themes of bleak desolation and mental illness with the positivity of revolution to incredible effect. This isn’t a concept album by any stretch of the imagination, but the angular songs feel like brothers, birthed by a twin-headed mother of creation and death. Brilliant stuff from a band that show no signs of letting up from their trademark fiery spirit.

Fighting With Wire 'Colonel Blood'3) Fighting With Wire ‘Colonel Blood’

The mid-90s saw numerous brilliant bands emerge from nowhere, get decent record deals and then promptly become lost in the shuffle due to the insta-hit nature of the MTV generation’s musical swing-o-meter.

Bands such as Kerbdog and Baby Chaos struggled on for a couple of albums despite the flavour of the month attitudes of the record industry at the time, and luckily they left us with some classic songs and incendiary gigs to remember them by.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and we’re seeing another boom. Fan power has taken over and any band can get such a push through social media that they could see themselves playing to thousands within a few short months as word spreads across the country. Twin Atlantic have done just this, jumping from 500 capacity venues to nigh on 3000 person sell-outs in just over a year. But we’re not here to talk about Twin Atlantic, as good as they are. No, we’re here to talk about the next band who threaten to hit it big, Fighting With Wire.

If you’d asked me who the band were at the start of 2012, I probably would have responded with “who? Writing With Fire?” and laughed in your insistent face. But on one night, as I waited for the headliners at Sound Control in Manchester, I realised what the fuss was about.

Fighting With Wire have been around for ten years now, but despite getting decent slots at Download and Sonisphere and the backing of Zane Lowe, the band had been fighting for two years to get their second album, ‘Colonel Blood’ released. Finally, in 2012 they were ready, and to promote it, they toured the UK with hardcore godfathers Helmet. A decent enough crowd had assembled that night in Manchester by the time FWW took to the stage and as they kicked off with ‘Into The Ground’ I was taken straight back to the days of surprise package support acts.

The three piece are raw, energetic, passionate and catchy as hell, so I had no hesitation in getting my hands on said sophomore album after that one gig.

Tracks such as ‘Waiting On a Way To Believe’ show an instant pop rock hook, comparable to the much-missed Joyrider, whilst the title track pilfers the Kerbdog crown by doing what the Kilkenny three-piece did so well; writing crunchy, melodic hits, full of sing-along live potential.

Fighting With Wire aren’t content with just paying homage to such great acts though, and as ‘Erase You’, ‘Dead Memory’ and ‘Didn’t Wanna Come Back Home’ get your foot tapping with their soaring melodies you soon discover the band’s own sound.

The album contains brilliantly crafted, modern rock anthems throughout, and you can bet that with a few more high-profile live support slots, these guys are going to be huge.

Black Moth 'The Killing Jar'2) Black Moth ‘The Killing Jar’

The beauty of the modern-day musical landscape is that you can stumble upon bands like Fighting With Wire by pure accident and suddenly they become your band of the year. But 2012 didn’t just throw up one surprise package, oh no. Another bunch of young upstarts threw me a bunch of dirty riffs and I was only too happy to respond with a trip to the merch stand to get that music into my ears permanently, and that band were Black Moth.

Before my trip to Nottingham to see Turbowolf, a friend had mentioned the ‘Moth were worth checking out after hearing them on 6 Music, so I made sure I got down there early to see what the fuss was about.

Black Moth are a multi-limbed beast of a groove machine and this is brilliantly personified in live opener ‘Blackbirds Fall’. The opening riff strikes you square in the mouth, embedding itself there like a fuzzy facehugger before Harriet Bevan’s vocals arrive to kiss you better with their seductive tone.

This is a band once again not taking themselves too seriously but playing for the fun of it. Yes, they’re a serious band but they get up on stages of all shapes and sizes to throw down some riffs and make sure everyone has a damn good time, an ethic that is reflected throughout the whole of ‘The Killing Jar’.

The doomy, stoner tone of the album references so many varied influences from QOTSA to Kyuss, mixing in the rock and roll swagger of Black Spiders, the hypnotic sludge of Sabbath, an almost occult 60s/70s tone akin to Blood Ceremony and plenty more all the way through to the modern metal of recent tourmates Turbowolf.

The Leeds five-piece show some serious songwriting chops too, particularly with ‘Land of the Sky”s buzzy, head-thumping groove, ‘Chicken Shit’ throwing its bile all over the carpet and ‘Spit Out Your Teeth”s runaway locomotive crescendo.

What you have here is a band who sound just as good in your bedroom as they do live, and by throwing in five decades worth of inspiration, Black Moth have emerged from their chrysalis with wings full of doomy glory.

Ginger Wildheart '555%'1) Ginger Wildheart ‘555%’

There can be only one.

Over the past couple of years one man has gently been reminding us that he never really went away and that for over 20 years he’s been working his backside off for the love of music with true empathy for the people who make it all happen, the fans. That man is Ginger.

Yes I’ve been a fan of the guy’s various musical output since the early 90s, but these are not the views of a sycophantic fanboy, what Ginger is doing these days is entirely on another level.

Back in August 2011, Ginger announced that he was to make a fan-funded 30 track album based on years of unfinished, unrecorded work. Going via the route of Pledge Music, a fledgling concept in independent music production, the project hit 100% of its target within six hours and it was from there that the album took on a whole new meaning.

With a range of vinyl and CD versions available to pledgers, Ginger eventually announced that once the campaign hit ‘555%’ the physical copies of the album would be withdrawn from sale. Achieving this feat within the next three days, an expectant 5,000 or so pledgers sat with bated breath and when the downloadable versions of the tracks were released, those who had already paid up were awarded the privilege of being able to choose which 12 tracks should make up ‘100%’, the commercially available version of the record.

But what about the music itself? One worry could have been that these off-cuts were unreleased for a reason. Others may have been concerned that without the focus of nailing a lower number of tracks, Ginger’s usually spot-on quality control might waver and that standards may suffer.

All I can say is, don’t be so bloody silly. My beautifully packaged physical copy of ‘555%’ landed on my doormat one Saturday morning in May 2012, and I have not stopped listening to it since.

‘555%’ truly has something for everyone ensconced within its poppy/rocky/punky/trashy/groovy/ballady (note: some of these may not be real words) interior. Kicking off with the trademark, swaggering ‘Forget About It’ which wouldn’t be out-of-place on the greatest of Wildhearts records, the record throws instant classics at you like a particularly angry Donkey Kong. ‘I-N-T-E-R-N-A-L Radio’ is a catchy little oik, fusing together some soaring pop-rock melodies, whilst ‘Incidental Noises’ takes a little more of a psychedelic route into your inner ear.

‘Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus’ has been knocking around in unrecorded form for years, with Ginger previously mentioning he wrote it when he was only 19, and on ‘555%’ the track becomes an absolutely epic slab of modern rock balladry. The similarly monumental ‘Time’ rounds off the first CD with a perfect seven and a half minutes of clock chimes, Beatles-tinged melody and furious riffy idiosyncrasy.

The second disc begins with possibly the finest moment of the whole package, ‘Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’. This megaphone screeching, bleep-a-thon of a funker throws in some truly bonkers noise before veering towards country and western territory. Not to be outdone, following track ‘Westward Ho! (A New Reputation)’ does little to quell the nerves of traditionalists with its calypso metal mash-up.

The challengingly-titled ‘Do The Lonely Suffer More, Or Less, Or Just The Same At The Point Of Death?’ brings an 80s New Order/Depeche Mode feel to begin with, before dropping some Beach Boys crooning and trad-Ginger riffs along a rollercoaster four minutes. ‘The Other Side’ is a beautiful little number showing just why Ginger decided to do a whole album featuring just himself and vocalist Victoria Liedtke (on the upcoming Hey! Hello! Pledge Music album), whilst ‘Lover, It’ll All Work Out’ is a brilliantly catchy love song, possibly even one of Ginger’s all-time best.

‘Taste Aversion’, already a live favourite, is pure, twisted musical genius. No doubt thanks to some Random Jon Poole-influenced eccentricity, the song’s seemingly drug-referencing lyrics spiral into a mellow false sense of security before a furious dive into a death metal blast followed by a calming lift muzak escape.

The third CD is no way the lesser of the whole package as the electronic stomper ‘Confusion’ and the riffy ‘Beautifully, Blissfully Unsettled’ attest. Oddball track ‘Very, Very Slow’ proves that all the punk ferocity is still alive and well in Ginger’s merry band of hugely talented musical allies, whilst ‘Just Another Song About Someone’ is a swaying piece of beautiful melody, composed perfectly for some brilliant future acoustic performances.

Campfire singalong “We’ve Been Expecting You My Dear’ coupled with the no-brainer album closer ‘The End’ keep the sky-high levels of quality going right up until the lead-out groove, and despite the whole package being so massive an undertaking, your first urge is to go right back to the start immediately for round two. There’s no question whatsoever that this is an absolutely enthralling, phenomenal, must-buy musical journey that blows pretty much every other release of the past year, possibly the decade, so clean out of the water there’s not even a skidmark remaining.

It isn’t too bold a statement to suggest that what Ginger has done with ‘555%’ is game-changing. It’s a whole new musical model fit just as much for old school values as it is for modern buying habits. He may not have invented the concept, but by packing the album with so much value and incredible music, Ginger has put a marker down for others to either follow or find themselves coming up very short indeed.

Ginger @ Club Academy, Manchester – 2nd June 2012

Ginger, Random and Victoria

Ginger and friends creating their own purple haze.

As jubilee bunting fluttered in the gales and litter became mashed up underfoot on the rainy streets of Manchester, it could only mean one thing; we were into summer festival warm-up season and what better way to get started than by popping down to the Student Union to check out erstwhile Wildheart and certified Geordie legend, Ginger.

Seemingly forever in a cycle of touring and recording, I was as excited as ever to see the flame-haired one tear up the stage, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years from Ginger and Wildhearts gigs, it’s that you should get down early to catch some hidden gem support acts, and this night was no different.

Baby Godzilla @ Club Academy, Manchester.

Baby Godzilla: chomping up the competition.

Kicking off proceedings were Baby Godzilla, taking the show quite literally to the crowd in a ferocious display of thrashy punky hardcore. These guys are obviously unhinged in a very, very good way and they’re surely going to be tearing up bigger venues in the not too distant future. Get them out with someone like Feed The Rhino and crazy times cannot fail to be far behind. Following the ‘zilla were South Wales mob The Guns who did a great job of encouraging the masses to get involved with some decent riffs and growing hooks. Again, a tasty little prospect, and it’s always great to see some hard-working bands being given an opportunity by some of the genre’s older hands.

Both support slots were suitably successful at warming us all up, but time still seemed to fly by, probably due to the excitement of the arrival of the main man. The guy who had spent the earlier part of the night checking out both supports from the side of stage sound booth, showing his love and appreciation for all things ‘music’; Sir Ginger of Wildheart.

Accompanied by Chris Catalyst, ‘Random’ Jon Poole, Victoria Liedtke, Denzel and Rich Jones, Ginger stormed the stage and blasted straight into the yet-to-be-released-on-a-physical-shiny-disc-of-joy ‘Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’ from the forthcoming Pledge Music triple album, 555%. Amazingly, the song was treated like an old friend and got the show off to an energetic start.

A bouncy Girls Are Better Than Boys and Mazel Tov Cocktail made sure the momentum stayed high and when Anyway But Maybe arrived, the crowd were as deafening as the riffs. Sonic Shake reminded everyone how much they wanted another Silver Ginger 5 record, whilst Taste Aversion and Confusion showed a huge amount of promise as future live favourites despite, again, being taken from Ginger’s future 555% release.

I’m always a sucker for You Took The Sunshine From New York which saw the band as harmonious as ever, and by slotting Do The Channel Bop into the encore, the smiles across the room were growing by the second.

Rounding things off with Inglorious (despite requests for yet another newie, Westward Ho!) the crowd took one last opportunity to go suitably apeshit, at THAT classic, timeless riff.

Ginger

Ginger: Going solo.

I saw Ginger at Ashton’s Witchwood last year on his acoustic tour, as well as at the back-end of 2011 at Moho Live and in all honesty, the shows just get better and better. The band seemed even tighter than ever, and Ginger has always been a pro at connecting with the crowd, as proven by the banter on his Grievous Acoustic Behaviour CD and as witnessed by anyone who’s been to see him live.

This time out, Ginger seemed even more engaging, laughing and joking throughout the show and happily responding to questions and other heckles. He seems to be a refreshingly down to earth guy, even broaching the question as to why he hadn’t played in his hometown on this tour, firmly blaming clueless promoters who don’t know a good thing when they see one. After this show, I can honestly say that their loss was our gain.

The rest of the band also kept the crowd going with excitable performances, beer provision (thanks for the Stella, Chris!) and suitably madcap antics (Random Jon) to make the show a brilliant all-round night.

Surprisingly though, the set list didn’t feature anything from P.H.U.Q. (still a favourite album of mine), and only one track from Earth Vs, but maybe that’s the point of these ‘solo’ shows; they really do prove what a weighty set of songwriting bollocks Ginger has outside of the band in which he first found fame.

He quite rightly throws a few (mainly later era) Wildhearts tunes into the set, but the majority of tracks that are hammered out are taken from Ginger’s equally impressive, and actually quite musically diverse solo/collaboration discography.

Overall, the night was a great success. A largely knobhead-free crowd (always a bonus), some energising support and a typically strident effort from Ginger’s entire band ensured that a bunch of people who were probably old enough to know better traipsed home in the rain sweaty and with a big grin on their suckerpunched faces.