Best albums of 2015!

I was kind of dreading writing this year’s list, under the impression it had been kind of a lacklustre year for music. At least the kind I’m into.

So over the last few weeks, I went out of my way to listen to as much stuff popping up in other people’s best-of lists that piqued my interest. And I was wrong – it’s been a pretty great year!

That in mind, there’s every chance as time goes on, I’ll realise I have these albums in totally the wrong order. Such is life.

10. Ryan Adams – 1989

Before you ask, no, I didn’t like the Taylor Swift original. No, I hadn’t heard her version beforehand. No, this doesn’t invalidate my opinion.

A lot of the time people say they like a piece of music, it’s got nothing to do with the song – it’s the recording, the production, where they were and how much they’d drunk the time they first heard it. I can’t stand the sound/production of the original 1989;; I suspected this would be the case, so didn’t bother listening to it until Ryan Adams showed there were some good tunes in there. Gave it a go, didn’t like it.

Like the sad-sack white-boy-with-guitar version though. *shrugs*

9. Silversun Pickup – Better Nature

I’ve always found the Silversun Pickups to be one of those bands in the background who seem to have all the pieces of a great album in them, but it never really comes together. The sound is there, the style, but not the songs.

Without dramatically changing their sound, I think Better Nature will probably as be as close as they come. Songs like ‘Connection’, ‘Nightlight’ and the title track nail the smoother end of grunge-pop, while ‘Circadian Rhythm’ points at a new direction for the band with bassist Nikki Monninger taking the lead. ‘Tapedeck’ also suggests an Adore-style complete makeover.

If they want to stick with being 2015’s Smashing Placebo though, ‘Latchkey Kids and ‘Ragamuffin’ work.

 8. Blur – The Magic Whip

There are perhaps three songs on the reunion Blur record that sound like the band people like me grew up with – opener ‘Lonesome Street’ is half self-titled album, half-Parklife; ‘Go Out’ is a ‘Music is My Radar’ revamp by way of 13; and ‘I Broadcast’ the ‘Chinese Bombs’/’E.M.I.’/’Bank Holiday’ stand-in pretty much all of their records (bar The Great Escape) seem to have.

The rest though aren’t unrecognisably Blur; in a lot of ways, The Magic Whip is what 2003’s Think Tank should have been. There’s a lot of that album’s loose experimental flavour, but the pseudo-world music indulgences have been swapped out for a good dose of The Good, the Bad and the Queen, megaphone effects and reverb-drenched keyboards.

It’s good – not the place to start if you’re wondering why Blur are so revered, but more interesting than Damon Albarn’s solo record, and it makes you wonder what Parklife would sound like were it recorded by this middle-aged version of the band.

 7. Muse – Drones

Promoted as the band’s return to rock, it seemed strange the first single was the Depeche Mode-esque ‘Dead Inside’. It all started to make sense when Drones dropped – it was the best song.

Follow-up singles ‘Psycho’ – a decent, but derivative and too-long rocker – and ‘Mercy’ – a ‘Starlight’ rewrite with a fraction the charm of the original – didn’t bode well, but a mediocre Muse album still has its moments, and there are enough on Drones to justify its place on this list.

And it’s a list ending in ‘list’: the robotic backing vocals on ‘Reapers’, the blatant Queen-isms of ‘Defector’, from 2.20 of the otherwise plodding dirge ‘The Handler’, the disjointed entirety of ‘The Globalist’.

It sounds strangely dismissive of a #7 album to call it ‘mediocre’, but with a back catalogue including Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations, it would be odd not to use the term of Drones, as enjoyable as it is. Fanboy, I guess?

6. Drenge – Undertow

This is one of those records I discovered quite recently, and it took a few listens to sink in. What really converted me to the cause though was this live gig I found on YouTube last night. In contrast, the album has a muted, swampy and dark sound – if Steve Albini or Butch Vig were at the controls, it would have been so much better.

But even as it is, it’s infectious, heavy and unrelenting, and well worth checking out if you miss the raucous, sinister end of the early ’90s grunge boom.

I’m not sure what the band’s name means, but it suits their sound most excellently.

5.  Cage the Elephant – Tell Me I’m Pretty

I’d literally never heard of these guys until a few weeks ago. Caught ‘Cigarette Daydreams’ in the car, sought out the band and found they had a new album out. Listened to the album, wondered where the song was, only to realise it was a couple of years old already!

Love it when that happens – I get two ‘new’ albums to check out for the price of one song.  Didn’t like the old one, but the new one – without ‘Cigarette Daydreams’ has loads of other good songs. Typically the ones that sound like the Beatles, of course.

So that’s ‘Sweetie Little Jean’, ‘How Are You True’ and ‘Trouble’, while ‘Mess Around’ is for all intents and purposes the best Black Keys song of the last few years, and there’s a track near the end which might as well be the Troggs.

These are all good things, by the way.

4. New Order – Music Complete

Peter Hook left, the remaining band members’ other gig – Bad Lieutenant – sucked, the clock ticked over to 2015… none of these things suggested New Order were about to put out the best album they’ve done in nearly three decades. But that’s what they did with Music Complete, with a little help from uber-fans Brandon Flowers, La Roux and the Chemical Brothers; and randomly, Iggy Pop.

Much has been written about the hard-hitting opening trio of songs, but for me the highlights are ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Academic’. The former’s a pop gem in the vein of ‘True Faith’ (still their best song), the latter a jangly thing that appears to be going nowhere until the chorus lifts it to classic status.

I hope the album title’s not prophetic and they can keep going,. Hook might be gone, but the hooks aren’t.

3. YACHT – I Thought the Future Would be Cooler

I have no idea what this album cover is meant to mean. The album’s a lot better than it would suggest.

Shangri-La from a few years back was the first album I heard by YACHT, and loved it – if LCD Soundsystem aren’t going to put out new albums, what does it matter when there are other bands doing the same thing just as good?

I Thought the Future Would be Cooler is arguably even better despite a sharper turn towards pop, strangely enough.

A song like ‘Ringtone’ should be aggravating, but it works. The opening track is longer than ‘Hey Jude’, but never gets boring.

‘Don’t Be Rude’ is the standout though – it’s the closest thing to classic indie-pop on the album, playing it straight on an album full of sonic and lyrical quirks.

2. Noel Gallagher – Chasing Yesterday

Speaking of playing it straight, Mr Dad-Rock himself vastly improved on his solo debut with Chasing Yesterday – and much like Drenge totally suit their name, a better phrase has probably never been coined to describe Noel Gallagher’s entire shtick.

It opens with a Beatles lyric (‘There’s something in the way she moves me…’), pinches a song title from Led Zeppelin (‘While the Song Remains the Same’) and largely rests on the Oasis formula of mixing a bit of Kinks, a bit of T Rex and a whole lot of the Fab Four – I wouldn’t expect anything less from Noel – but there’s saxophones and David Gilmour-style solos (‘Riverman’), a bit of Bacharach pop-jazz (‘The Right Stuff’) and some murky dance-rock (‘Ballad of the Mighty I’).

‘You Know We Can’t go Back’ is ironically the closest thing to an early Oasis-style rocker, and ‘The Girl With X-Ray Eyes’ is essentially ‘The Masterplan’ with a new coat of paint. Both are great. So is b-side ‘Leave My Guitar Alone’. I’m yet to decide if he was robbed or had a nasty break-up.

Taken alongside the second, highly underrated Beady Eye album, I guess the Gallaghers have it over Blur for the time being.

1. Wolf Alice – My Love is Cool

This record floored me. I’d never heard of Wolf Alice a month ago, and saw their record My Love is Cool pop up in one of those premature best-of lists published at the start of December.

Within one listen I knew it’d feature on my own (literal) end-of-year round-up, and a few later, there’s no place for it but at the top. It’s that good.

It won’t win any production awards, but nor would Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which is probably the closest analogue I can think of for My Love is Cool. It’s an epic first album, lurching from ethereal folk to speaker-shredding Pixies-style freakouts – often in the same song. There’s My Bloody Valentine levels of distortion, with Nirvana riffs and Blonde Redhead melodies and mood.

It’s all good, and if Wolf Alice can hook up with a producer like Rich Costey, even greater things could be in store.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Anyway, that’s my list. Let me know anything else I should check out – @radioovermoscow on Twitter. And no, I didn’t forget to put Coldplay’s latest record on this list – last year’s Ghost Stories was great, but A Head Full Of Dreams is pretty much a marginally improved Mylo Xyloto. Marginally.

Interview with the Hamilton Underground Press

Did an interview with the Hamilton Underground Press about Radio Over Moscow, writing lyrics, old-school bands from the ‘Tron, and other stuff in that vein…

Check it out here.

If you’re wondering where the new album is… it’s in a bit of a state of limbo. I wasn’t happy with the vocal takes, so deleted them all… and haven’t had a chance to do them again. Busy times, you know.

Silent Invasion

I know I said this year I’d just be doing one-off singles, but you know me… always working on an album or five in the background.

So here’s the first single, ‘Silent Invasion’ off the  new album, provisionally titled By Choice or Design. Warning: It’s not pretty. It’s not a pop song. But I chose it because… well, it’s the first one done that I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want.’

Enjoy, I guess?

‘Get Off My Case’ b/w ‘Flashes Before Your Eyes’

Two new songs! ‘Get Off My Case’ with obligatory b-side, ‘Flashes Before Your Eyes’.

They’re a bit dirtier, grittier than the last few ’45s’ I’ve done this year – check them out below.

And I wonder if this would be the time and place to mention while doing these singles, I’ve knocked together most of a new album too? As in, new. None of these singles are on it. Just like in the old days.

Flag it

This might seem a little off-topic, but I want to make that kind of opening statement a more regular feature of this part of the site. The blog. In addition to boring announcements of new songs I’ve done, how about some opinions and reckons that don’t rhyme?

They won’t even come with fuzzed guitars, drum machines or bad vocals either, so maybe someone will even pay attention. *shrug*

Anyway. This whole flag debate we’re having at the moment. It’s absurd, isn’t it? Not just the ‘why’, but the ‘how’, the ‘what’ and the ‘who’. The ‘where’… well, it would be difficult – and even stranger – to have it somewhere else, so everyone’s pretty much agreed we’re doing that in New Zealand. That’s not so controversial – I’m not following anyone on Twitter that insane, anyway. They’re bound to be out there. Maybe on Tumblr?

Let’s start with the ‘who’. You better you bet there’s not a single person on the panel that’s choosing an alternative design who’s an expert in flag design. And yes, they exist – they’re called vexillologists. The idea that someone could make a living being an expert in flags makes me llol too. It’s not as if countries are changing their flags every day – maybe if it didn’t cost $26 million…

On the panel of 12, we have a guy famous for tackling people and kicking balls, a woman good at throwing disc-shaped lumps of rubber and another who got rich by making (IMHO) rubbish TV. And people thought the idea of letting kids vote on the flag was dumb… not taking anything away from their achievements, I just wonder how it makes them qualified to make this decision. How about a graphic designer? Or a crappy indie musician? (Are there any countries out there with GUITARS on their flags? You want it to be unique, right?)

The ‘what’ – welll, there will be four alternative suggestions, three of which I guarantee you will be a koru, a silver fern, and the Southern Cross. The fourth is the wildcard – though I doubt my suggestion will make the quarter-finals.

The ones are always cold

Can’t we just cut to the chase and vote on those three already? We all know people will gravitate to whichever looks the closest to the All Blacks’ fern, the Air NZ koru and the Southern Cross design on our current flag. Familiarity.

The ‘how’ I think is where I differ from most of my friends/internet people. Much criticism has been levelled at the two-step process, in which we’re first asked which alternate design we like, before choosing between that and the current flag. Why not vote on whether we want to change first? Because it would be stupid beyond belief to vote to change the flag without knowing what you might be changing it to. Pretty simple, really.

The motivations of those who want that vote to come first aren’t really about saving the money – they just don’t want to change the flag. That’s a valid opinion to have, but it’s a bit cynical to couch it in budgetary concerns. Under that scenario, a lot of people in favour of changing the flag will vote not to, just in case the alternative flag chosen is I dunno, a rugby ball wrapped in a ponytail. Maybe an oil painting of a three-way handshake, or Thingee’s eyeball. At least the chosen two-step system is largely definitive.

Now, the ‘why’. I don’t particularly like the current flag, but you know what? I don’t really care to bother with changing it. It really is a gigantic waste of money. Sure, if we get a better flag that’ll be nice. But you know what will be nicer? Feeding hungry kids. Funding mental health. Getting parliament’s cleaners off zero-hour contracts. Fixing the housing crisis. Funding education properly. Paying back the debt the Govt’s run up in the last few years. I dunno. Buying everyone in the country one of them Burger King combos with the ice creams.

I know this isn’t the most intellectual or eloquent takedowns of the stupid flag referendum, and it’s about 2000 words longer than I planned it to be, but them’s my reckons. It’s late by my standards now though, and I have some Stargate: Atlantis to watch, so that’ll be all…

Now go buy my album, or something? (Is that what other songwriters do after they’ve had a big off-topic rant? I need more practise at this.)

Another new single from Radio Over Moscow – ‘Override’

Told you I’d be releasing a bunch of one-off new songs this year! This one is ‘Override’, with b-side ‘You Can Do Anything’. More fast guitars and squiggly synths, with a tad less politics than ‘Try And Make a Change’.

Check it out below. It should be on the usual streaming sites and stores soon enough. Free download.

‘Try And Make A Change’

I’ve decided this year rather than slave over an album’s worth of stuff which I’m bored with by the end, I’m just going to release songs at random. In pairs, I guess – one good, one not-so-good – or as they used to call them, A and B sides.

I’ll be slowly working an ‘album’ in the background of other material of course, but in the meantime I’ve got a whole lot of kick-ass indie-grunge rockers I wanna get out there.

There’s quite a bit of variation in both the style, sound and quality (being realistic here!) and they won’t really coalesce as an album, so why not just release them as singles?
That way if you’re on my mailing list (just download a song for free from Bandcamp, and you’re on it) you’ll get 14 notifications from me, rather than one, haha…

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the first of these A/B sides – it’s ‘Try And Make A Change’, backed with ‘An Eye On What You Do’.


I’ll have some other links soon if you don’t like Bandcamp, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t! So keep an eye on the Radio Over Moscow page.

Dharma Police – The Glass Eye

Here’s something I didn’t know I’d be putting out today, when I woke up this morning. A surprise EP!

I was going through some unfinished stuff, and found a remix of ‘System Failure’ I forgot I had been working on about a year ago, so polished that off; also came across ‘Fauna’, which was something I spent far too long mucking around on and figured, you know what? It’s finished, because I say it is. Thirdly, ‘Buried’, which was on the last Dharma Police album ‘Question Mark’ actually sounds kind of better without my vocal on it, so there’s that.

And then there’s the title track, ‘The Glass Eye’.  It’s an instrumental in this version – was never meant to be, but you know what? It’s a nice tune. Why ruin it?

So there you go. Six hours ago I wasn’t planning on releasing any Dharma Police material for a long while yet… and here’s a new EP! Enjoy. Free download/donations accepted. Will be on the streaming sites in time, for now check it out on Bandcamp.

Best albums of 2014!

Time for the best albums of the year list! Aside from Paradox on Earth, of course… here’s my favourite records of 2014. That I’ve heard. With some thoughts.

St_Vincent_artwork10. St Vincent, St Vincent

St Vincent’s one of those artists I’d heard about, but no one had ever said to me, ‘Hey, you should listen to this.’ All I’d heard was her album with David Byrne, and as strange as this sounds, I didn’t dig it. Nor did I like his albums with Brian Eno. Basically, what I’m saying is, reform the Talking Heads already…

But one morning I gave this St Vincent record and her previous one a listen, and wow. Sometimes a bit too clever for each song’s good, but when it clicks, there’s nothing else quite like it. Though I think I prefer the previous one on the whole, I just wish I’d heard it three years ago!

PFFull

9. Pink Floyd, The Endless River

All they had to do was toughen up the production a bit and chuck in some Roger Waters screams, and The Endless River could have been a contender for #1. But as it is – essentially an instrumental Gilmour/Wright record, with Nick Mason’s signature plod – it’s pretty damn fine. I tempered my expectations, not being the biggest fan of post-Waters Floyd – or as I like to call them, Mullet Floyd – and didn’t really get it on the first or second listen. One night though I put it on as some background sound, and it clicked – I know Roger Waters would have hated that, but sometimes you’ve just got stuff to do and The Wall would just get in the way (oh yes, pun intended).

Ryanadamsselftitled8. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams

2014 was one of those years when Ryan Adams went a bit nuts and released a whole bunch of stuff, but unlike last time he did that – a decade or so ago – this time I just stuck with the big album. I don’t think at 34 I have enough room in my musical interests for thrashy 80s-inspired American-style punk. Anyway, this self-titled record fell in a bit of a no-man’s land stylistically in Adams’ oeuvre. It’s largely a subdued affair like his acoustic albums, but he spends most of it wielding an electric guitar – but not in any attempt to ‘rock’;  it eschews obvious singles, without being impenetrable; and it’s mostly just a nice, warm-sounding soft-rock album without being cheesy. The way I’m describing it sounds boring as shit, but trust me, it’s not! I mean, it’s no masterpiece like Love Is Hell, though that’s probably the Adams record it’s closest in sound to. But it’s good.

Lana-Del-Rey-Ultraviolence-2014-1500x15007. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence

By playing down the obviously poppier elements of her first album – the weaker songs, mostly, and the one or two horrific dance remixes I had the misfortune of hearing – Lana Del Rey made an album even more languid and hazy, and Ultraviolence was the better for it. My opinion was almost completely changed one afternoon when I listened to it while out for a walk that was supposed to be invigorating, but I quickly realised that was my own stupidity for trying to exercise to an album that makes Pink Floyd sound like Dragonforce.

homepage_large.351037356. Interpol, El Pintor

I’ve always been out of step with Interpol. When I first heard them, I dug the Joy Division-style sound before liking Joy Division became a hipster thing and Antics blew up huge. I didn’t really dig much of Antics, instead preferring the third album – you know, the one everyone else thought was shit. The fourth, well I think everyone was a bit meh on that one, and that seems to have been the general reaction to El Pintor too – but after the first listen, on which I actually laughed out loud at how precisely ‘Interpol’ it sounded, it burrowed in… and now I think it’s probably the best thing they’ve done since their debut. Maybe. At the very least, losing their bassist seems to have done them a world of good.

5weez. Weezer, Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Debates might range on Interpol’s trajectory, but there’s not a person on Earth who’ll deny this was Weezer’s return to form. Though lyrically there’s still much to cringe at, if you’re that way inclined (I’m not! ‘Back to the Shack’ is hilarious), musically it’s all fuzzed guitars, big drums and power chords. Classic Weezer. No ill-advised forays into techno-pop, faux-hippy crap, polished pop designed for radio stations that still play that kind of stuff (I’m not even sure they exist anymore, to be honest). And the songs are good, tight and catchy. Soundwise it’s probably closest to Maladroit,  with a hint of modern sheen. Ignore the reviews comparing it to Pinkerton – it’s not, and I’m not sure such a detour would work for Weezer at this stage anyway. If you’ve avoided it because of Hurley, Raditude and Make Believe, give it a go (I actually like a lot of the Red Album… I’m sorry!)

Manic_Street_Preachers_Futurology4. Manic Street Preachers, Futurology

It’s pretty much a given when the Manics put an album out, it’ll be somewhere in my top 10. Last year’s Rewind the Film had its moments, but was a sub-par Manics album; this one’s not. It’s not the guitar-flinging Manics of Journal or Bible, the version us diehard fans always hope for – but nor is this the chart-loving pop Manics we secretly adore but have to put at arm’s length ’cause you know, it’s not what Richey would have wanted. Or something. Instead, on Futurology we got the weird side of the Manics which has until now largely been consigned to b-sides and deep cut album tracks. About time too – the Manics take a lot of flack for being ‘meat-and-potatoes rock’, and unfairly so, considering their range. As underrated as it is, Lifeblood was a restrained, neutered version of this particular Manics; Futurology is the Manics throwing caution to the wind and belting out krautrock with an actual German, rewriting the Clash’s dub side and layering on the ’80s synths, for better or worse. It’s a real mixed bag stylistically and about as far from the polished pop-rock of Postcards as you can expect from a band their vintage. Amazing stuff from a band 25 years in.

Hesitant_Alien3. Gerard Way, Hesitant Alien

I’m old enough to remember mocking the kids listening to My Chemical Romance. But I’m also open-minded enough to admit I joined them when they put out The Black Parade. I bought it for my little sister, but intrigued by some of the reviews gave it a listen before handing it over, and was converted. The follow-up was so terrible however I would never have picked Gerard Way as forging a solo career that would kick off as strongly as it does with Hesitant Alien. Much has been made of the overt Bowie influence, but it really doesn’t extend past the title, cover and opening track, which is Way’s best go at aping ‘Five Years’. The rest is beefed-up power pop mostly, so not too dissimilar to what MCR was doing at the end, but much, much better.

Coldplay_-_Ghost_Stories2. Coldplay, Ghost Stories

Another unexpected comeback, this time from a band who’ve been on a downhill trajectory for more than a decade. Parachutes is great, Rush of Blood a masterpiece, X&Y a mixed bag, ditto Viva, but the fifth record was so atrocious I can’t even bring myself to remember WTF it was called. So when Ghost Stories appeared with the media narrative it was Chris Martin’s ode to breaking up with Gwyneth Paltrow, I understandably expected the worst. Instead what we got was a lightly electronic-tinged throwback to their debut, with some of the simplest and most touching melodies of their career. Would be a contender for #1 if it weren’t for the god-awful execrable ‘Sky Full of Stars’, which sticks out like a sore thumb. Imagine listening to Parachutes, then halfway through someone cranks up Crazy Frog. Absolutely horrible. Talented band, but little sense of taste – which explains so much of that unnamed previous album, whatever the fuck it was called. Ghost Stories though, excellent.

Shihad_-_FVEY1. Shihad, FVEY

I might be the first person ever to compare Coldplay to Shihad, but hear me out (there’s also a bit of a Manics analogy here too). Like Coldplay, Shihad have a ‘sound’ that’s theirs, which they’ve abandoned at times to chase where the audience is. I can only assume this is the case, ’cause there’s no other explanation for how you go from making records like Killjoy and The General Electric to ‘One Will Hear the Other’.  Okay, I like that song, but can’t listen to a whole album of it. Not when I want classic Shihad riffage – which is what we got with FVEY. It’s not coincidence FVEY saw the return of Jaz Coleman as producer, which I guess places it in the same category as Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End, which was handled by Ric Ocasek – mastermind behind the Blue Album. Anyway. This record kicks arse. Not really sure how they’ll follow it up – more of the same with diminishing returns, or a swing back to the commercial radio rock? It wouldn’t surprise me if Shihad decide to call it quits here. What a way to go out if they do, though.

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So that’s my top 10 this year. Of course, I’m bound to discover others I haven’t heard yet, which kinda sucks when someone in 2034 says, “Damn, I can’t believe you put St Vincent in your 2014 list.” Well no… if I had known about Radio Over Moscow then, they would have been #1!

Albums that just missed out… Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots, Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways, Smashing Pumpkins’ Monuments to an Elegy, Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business, The Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help From My Fwends and La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise.

And whatever I didn’t hear yet, or will learn to love later.