Albums Of The Year 2018

I spent most of this truly awful year hiding away in quiet, melancholy music and not paying as much attention as I should to what was going on outside my door, so this isn’t the most varied or eclectic end of year list. But the albums that made the cut are still absolutely worth your attention. I’m surprised I even got it together to do this, and there’s definitely no write-up this year. But check all of these out if you haven’t:

stick in the wheel

 

  1. Stick In The Wheel – Follow Them True / This And The Memory Of This (From Here)
  2. Low – Double Negative (Sub Pop)
  3. The Ex – 27 Passports (Ex)
  4. Hen Ogledd – Mogic (Weird World)
  5. Anna & Elizabeth – The Invisible Comes To Us (Smithsonian)
  6. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – King Of Cowards (Rocket)
  7. Sons Of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse!)
  8. Woven Skull – Woven Skull (Oaken Palace)
  9. Ill – We Are Ill (Box)
  10. Workin’ Man Noise Unit – It’s Not Nothin’ (Riot Season)
  11. Shannon & The Clams – Onion / Shannon Shaw – Shannon In Nashville (Easy Eye Sounds)
  12. Gnod – Chapel Perilous (Rocket)
  13. Hot Snakes – Jericho Sirens (Sub Pop)
  14. Nathan Bowles – Plainly Mistaken (Paradise Of Bachelors)
  15. Henry Blacker – The Making Of Junior Bonner (Riot Season)
  16. Death & Vanilla – The Tenant (Fire)
  17. Eli Paperboy Reed – Meets High & Mighty Brass Band (Yep Roc)
  18. Jon Spencer – Plays The Hits (In The Red)
  19. Steven Adams & The French Drops – Virtue Signals (Hudson)
  20. Rattle – Sequence (Upset The Rhythm)
  21. Alexander Tucker – Don’t Look Away (Thrill Jockey)
  22. Haiku Salut – There Is No Elsewhere (PRAH)
  23. Alison Cotton – All Is Quiet At The Ancient Theatre (Bloxham Tapes)
  24. Group Listening – Clarinet & Piano: Selected Works, Vol. 1 (PRAH)
  25. Portland Vows – Your Corners (Concrete Tapes)
  26. Carla Bozulich – Quieter (Constellation)
  27. Lovely Eggs – This Is Eggland (Egg)
  28. Christine & The Queens – Chris (Because)
  29. Chlorine -The Velvet Teeth (TQ)
  30. Cath & Phil Tyler – The Ox And The Axe (Thread)

And honourable mention to these (some of which might have placed higher if I’d heard them sooner):

Angelique Kidjo – Remain In Light // Autechre – NTS Sessions // Big Lad – Pro Rock // Blawan – Wet Will Always Dry // Bodega – Endless Scroll // Carter Burwell – Ballad Of Buster Scruggs // Charlemagnes – 3 Chords And A Half Truth // Chris Carter – Chemistry Lessons // David Terry – Sorrow // Death Pedals – Death Pedals // Delphine Dora & Sophie Cooper – Divine Ekstasys // Dickon Hinchcliffe – Leave No Trace // Dylan Carlson – Conquistador // Ekio Ishibashi – The Dream My Bones Dream // Ekoplekz – Impressionz // Elysia Crampton – S/T // Gazelle Twin – Pastoral // Gem Andrews – North // Girl Sweat Pleasure Temple Ritual Band – Hyper Rituals // Grouper – Group Of Points // Guttersnipe – My Mother The Vent // Half Man Half Biscuit ‎– No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut // Hawthonn – Red Goddess // Helena Hauff – Qualm // Holly Golightly – Do The Get Along // James Hunter Six – Whatever It Takes // Josephine Foster – Faithful Fairy // JPEGMAFIA – Veteran // Kamasi Washington – Heaven & Earth // Kate Carr – I Ended Out Moving To Brixton // King Champion Sounds – For A Lark // Laibach – Sound Of Music // Laura Veirs – The Lookout // Left Outsides – All That Remains // Lonny Holly – Mith // Lykke Li – So Sad So Sexy // Melting Hand – Faces Of Earth // Mesange – Gypsy Moth // Miss Red – KO // Mogwai – Kin // North Sea Dialect  – Local Guide // Orchestra Of Constant Distress  –  Distress Test // Papa M – Broke Moon Rises // Parquet Courts – Wide Awaaaake // Richard Youngs – Belief // Richmond Fontaine – Don’t Skip Out On Me // Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis – Wild! Wild! Wild! // Sauna Youth – Deaths // Shit & Shine – Bad Vibes // Sleep – The Sciences // Surgeon – Luminosity Device // Caretaker – Everywhere At The End Of Time // Necks – Body // Tunng – Songs You Make At Night // Uniform – The Long Walk // Ursula Le Guin – Music Of The Kesh // Vince Staples – FM // William Basinski & Lawrence English – Selva Obscura // Wreaths – The Sea To Which The Body Is Drawn // Yo La Tengo – There’s A Riot Going On

 

 

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Father Christmas and Daniel Johnston

Well friends, December is in full swing and the attendant festivities loom. Here’s a slightly obscure, or obscurer, Daniel Johnston tape from thirty years ago when he was prolific and his mental health had not yet unravelled as far as it would. Despite the title it’s not all that Christmassy a collection, his own ‘Christmas in the Loony Bin’ being the one specifically seasonal number, it’s as sweet and heartbreaking as you might expect. Elsewhere regular Johnston concerns like Casper the friendly Ghost, unrequited love and Satan mix with a truncated Beatles cover and a lovely version of ‘And Then She Kissed Me’. Following an opening Christmas message the first track features him singing along with an old gospel record and if that doesn’t melt your heart then you need to take a good look at yourself – it’s wonderful.

Terminal Cheesecake

I got to do an email interview with Gordon out of Terminal Cheescake while he was on tour with The Cosmic Dead as Russell’s glamorous stunt double (“Well, that’s how I’ve climbed to the dizzy heights of the music industry: by replacing Russells”).

Some of it ran in NARC.Magazine but there was lots more, so here’s the Director’s Cut

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For people of a certain age, Terminal Cheesecake are legends, flying the flag for truly fucked up psychedelic noise in the late eighties / early nineties with mindwarping albums like Angels In Pigtails and King Of All Spaceheads. For some of us, they felt like this country’s answer to the Butthole Surfers and they were magnificent. They ground to a halt more than 20 years ago, so when the first rumblings emerged of a TC reunion, our collective synapses twitched.

The band have the kind of family tree that would have foxed Pete Frame, and members who’ve also been in such notable outfits as Skullflower, Ice, Head Of David and M/A/R/R/S, “Russ (Smith, guitar) is one of the originals (even though I’m on one track from the first album) and we were both in TC together (him guitar, me bass) around Angels In Pigtails times. Happy days! Then I switched to guitar for Pearlesque, Gateau and Spaceheads until I finally dropped out, some time in ’95…  John Jobbagy (drums) was there right from the start, being in both The Vibes and The Purple Things with Gary Boniface pre-TC. He played on Bladdersack, Johnny Town Mouse and VCL, but was off doing other stuff (like Ice with Dave Cochrane, Justin Broadrick and Kev Martin) by the time I ‎joined.”

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So the short version of the reunion was that guitarist Russ Smith was the prime mover and talked John and Gordon into giving it another shot. “The how and why are both Russ. He was very keen on getting a new TC version together and he’s been the prime mover behind all of it. He got in touch with everyone and talked most of the more reluctant of us into it. The Cheesecake line-up has always been so fluid that he had plenty of ex-members to choose from! A few notable mainstays that Russ invited just didn’t want to be a part of it or couldn’t commit the time were Mick Parkin (original bassist), Fez (long-tem bassist) and Gary Boniface (original singer). Their view was similar to Bacon and Bungay‘s brazen head: “Time was”. Gary was always a major force in Cheesecake and I didn’t want to take part in the new version without him at all at first but, once persuaded, I’m so happy that I said yes. I love playing in Cheesecake!”
How did Dave Cochrane get involved? “See above, really. The connection was cemented in Ice but he was a mate anyway and well-respected from his stints in Head Of David and Sweet Tooth. When Russ couldn’t persuade any original bassist to re-join, we asked Dave.” And Neil (Francis, vocals)? “OK, well… original singer Gary didn’t want to join in the re-started TC and around that time I saw Gnod for the first time in a tiny, dark, sweaty basement in East London (Power Lunches). I was blown away by them and particularly impressed with the total abandon of their singer. Afterwards, I started to realise that Neil’s style – with loads of echo/delay – was really similar to Gary’s so I just found his email address and asked him to give it a go… He agreed and it worked out beautifully!”

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It feels like the underground scene has rarely been healthier, and Terminal Cheesecake seem to have reappeared at just the right time in a scene that bears at least some of their DNA. “Yeah, the scene’s great, isn’t it? And it feels as though it includes more forms than the rock form. There are artists from many traditions, side-by-side, in a scene that’s not very genre-bound. People tour, meet up, get on, start to be friends, suggest collaborations, help each other out with shows. That’s how it works. What I’m seeing is a scene that’s not a clique. Every time we get on with folk and they’re a bangin’ band or artist then we include them and coalesce into a single unit.”

Watson is uncomfortable with the term ‘veterans’ however. “We wouldn’t be presumptuous enough‎ to say that we’ve been influential or that others have caught up. We’ve always created without compromise, though, and continue to do so but I think plenty of others have always done that too. We haven’t been bothered by being ignored except by a tiny number of well-informed people – that’s always been the case. We’ve never sought approval in the past and don’t now. We definitely feel part of a community. Years ago it felt more competitive. Now, that’s not the case – and there’s nothing to compete for, anyway! “

For a long-term fan like myself, seeing TC play amazing shows to large, receptive audiences is positively life-affirming, almost vindicating. “Thanks for saying that and of course we are blown away. I know Russ, Neil, John and Dave love to see people enjoying themselves. Personally, I have quite a bit of imposter syndrome, so I try to keep my head down and not look at the audience during a set. I find them quite intimidating. Any positive reinforcement really helps us to keep going. I’ll take that as a compliment :)”

But this is no cash-cow reunion trip, as their first ‘comeback’ album Dandelion Sauce Of The Ancients made very clear. “Absolutely! One of our guiding principles is that our new music shouldn’t be an exercise in nostalgia. I’m glad you liked Dandelion Sauce. We’ve finished another album that’s darker than the last one. We went to record in rural Wales with Wayne (Adams, Bear Bites Horse). Being away from London gave us the chance to experiment, improvise and go deep. I’m really, really happy with it. It’s a hare-themed album that’s coming out on Box Records, probably in March 2019, and we’ve got a split coming up as well.  We also have some archive material that people might find interesting but we’ll be making that available by download and not really promoting it. Several labels have suggested reissuing the older albums. We might do that if everything aligns properly with ex-members. You can still get them on discogs, folks!”

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With you and Russ in Melting Hand and TC (and Neil, sometimes), is it ever a problem to decide whether something you’ve written belongs to one or the other, or don’t you work like that?

“Mostly, writing is done in the context of one band or another. So, we know it’s going to be for that band. Each different line-up has its distinct characteristics and the spontaneous composition method that TC uses is at the opposite end the scale to the highly composed tunes of Luminous Bodies. However, you’re right that sometimes a tune will make the rounds! A good example of that is something I wrote a few years ago that’s been recorded (and rejected) by both TC and MH. Then, after combining it with a riff Tom Fug has been trying to use for many years, it’s become one of the best tracks on the new Luminous Bodies album. That’ll also be on Box and out around June 2019.”

 

 

 

Stick In The Wheel

Words: Lee Fisher / Prince Reelfoot

With their debut Newcastle show this month, Lee Fisher spoke to Nicola Kearey and Ian Carter of Stick In The Wheel about those typically folk topics of autotune, mixtapes and pirate radio.

(this is an extended version of an  interview that first appeared in NARC.Magazine)

Stick In The Wheel are important. What they’re bringing to folk music is important. Their second album proper, Follow Them True, is important. And, obviously, brilliant.

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Picture credit: Toby Amies

Their debut From Here had a sparse, stark beauty but the follow-up has added more textures, not least a subtle use of electronics. It seems this was always the intention, as Ian Carter explains.

“For me it was always part of the plan, strip it right back then gradually build it back up. Now that doesn’t mean that there’s no more room for stripped back stuff and all it’s gonna be from now on is long synth workouts. It means we’ve been able to expand our palette to the point where it hopefully actually reflects the breadth of creativity that exists in the musical communities that surround English folk music.”

 

 

One thing it does have in common with the debut is the deeply felt politics, seldomly explicit but ever-present. As Carter points out, “Our very existence is a protest, sometimes you don’t need to state it explicitly.” “We wrote and recorded the album in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote.” adds Nicola Kearey. “So it reflects that feeling of being fucked, helpless, feeling that nothing you do is making any difference. And making a record, a soundtrack to these times, it’s all we know how to do. Being English, as a country everyone hates us, as a country we hate ourselves.”

One of the notable things about the album is the use of autotune on the title track, which in an act of pure wish fulfilment on my part I decided was some kind of trolling of the folk establishment. But that was never their intent. “Nah, I have a rule to never make music that’s a negative reaction to something, it’s like damning yourself by making you as bad as those people.”, Carter explains. Kearey picks up the theme. “Some people’s only reference to autotune is that Cher record from years ago. So it’s a big deal for them. Other people are familiar with it as just another texture, so although we were aware it might be like a flaming beacon to some people, we’re still just doing our thing. ‘Does it sound good?’ is the only criterion by which we live.”

Another notable track is The Weaving Song, which they actually heard first in Bagpuss. As Kearey sees it, “Everything is valid, it’s all up for grabs if you do it right, for the right reasons.”. “Folk music for us is more than just searching for unheard tunes in some old library,” continues Carter, “Although – like crate digging for samples – it’s an important and vital part of the culture, it’s just part of that learned melody and style that you absorb as a child. People of a certain generation have folk music burnt into their heads (whether they like it or not) because of Sandra Kerr & John Faulkner’s work on Bagpuss.”  In fact, they got to perform an impromptu version down at Sidmouth Folk Festival.

 

 

“I was against it at first, just because of not wanting to fuck it up or it be cheesy. But I’m over the moon we got to do that.” says Kearey. “I love Sandra Kerr,” Carter adds. “She’s right on and maybe sorely overlooked in favour of some other people –  the work she and John did on Bagpuss is responsible for certainly my playing style. We never did it on stage, but it was a really important moment for me. She’s one of the people I respect the most.”

Stick In The Wheel’s next release will be that most un-folk of things, a mixtape (released this month, there’s even a limited cassette run alongside the CD and download which you can preorder here). As Kearey explains, “It’s just nice to get a bunch of ideas down, without too much fuss or procrastination. We’ve been taking the opportunity to hook up with other musicians to do the odd track, rather than commit to a whole project together, it’s quite a low key thing I guess and we take inspiration from the scenes that inspire us – for Ian, it’s the beats scene where people are generally very supportive of each other, making good work always comes first. And you know, why the hell not?” And is the first folk mixtape? “We did one for the BBC Freakzone radio show a while back which no-one heard,” laughs Kearey. “So not really, I mean maybe folk people don’t necessarily put stuff together as a continuous piece but it’s something we’ve always done. We might be known for folk stuff but that’s only one part of the story.” Titled This And The Memory Of This, after the David Bray painting that provides the artwork, the mixtape flows wonderfully despite its diversity. “We’ve done some collaborations, remixes and tunes with people like Anna Roberts-Gevalt (from Anna & Elizabeth), Lisa Knapp, Om Unit, Jack Sharp, Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp, and a couple of new tunes. It’s a mixture of trad and original stuff.”

In fact, the track with Roberts-Gevalt – in The Morning – is one of the most intriguing things on the album, an immersive blend of her speaking and singing (in that high lonesome mountain style) with drones, beats and violin. It’s something of a gem and draws attention perhaps to the similarities between Anna & Elizabeth and Stick In The Wheel. Their recent Smithsonian Folkways album The Invisible Comes To Us feels like such a companion piece to Follow Them True. “They’re from Virginia and Vermont, and do the most beautiful understated old-timey music, which is delicate but not fragile, and Anna is heavily involved in the New York experimental music scene.” says Kearey. “We didn’t know them but met up when they were first over here, I think we recognised each other as people keen to do good work, so we got together when she was last over here, we literally had a day hanging out at our studio and she brought this trad song in. What I love about her is she is ready to try anything and is unafraid to get stuck in and do stuff. Then Ian is also really good at being in the moment and trying stuff. Letting the music come together, and being free about it is what we aim for always.”

 

 

Perhaps given Kearey and Carter’s background in urban / electronic music, a mixtape isn’t that surprising after all, and that culture still informs Stick In The Wheel and their approach to the folk scene. “We’re all about the culture, I can’t stress that enough.” explains Kearey. “Some people in the folk scene find our work challenging, like they are really actively against it, and that’s fine, you don’t have to like it. Sure, there are some incredibly frustrating things about it, but there is much to be celebrated. People are often very generous with their time and hospitality because they can see we are really into what we are doing, and that it’s for the good of the scene – we are still anti-commercial BUT we are doing what we can to bring this music of the people to wider audiences. That can be difficult when the scene is generally risk-averse. It can mean that nothing feels very exciting. I hope we have been able to start putting a spark in places where it is needed and the places that can’t take change for whatever reason will wither and die.”

Carter expands: “Anything that limits the creativity of a scene is bad. People need to support each other. Remember I come from the London urban beats scene (jungle, D&B, garage, grime, dubstep) and people take this shit seriously. In the 90s, these people climbed up the side of tower blocks to erect aerials so people could listen to music on pirate stations. WE take our shit seriously. This is everyone’s culture, it’s important. It’s not something you can use for your own bullshit vanity projects. It’s our fucking culture. I won’t be happy until we can all take our traditional culture as seriously as those dudes climbing up the side of a tower block just so they could hear a bit of good music. Take it seriously.”

 

 

Stick In The Wheel are clearly at home with the contrasts. “We’re touring through the Autumn and already it’s been banging rock venues with sticky floors one minute and ‘This is Mary’s chair you can’t sit there’ folk clubs the next.” says Kearey with some relish. “There’s never a dull moment when your audience is so varied. Last night someone got up and sang ‘My brother Billy had a ten foot willy’ and the other night someone booed because we’d cut a 17th century ballad down from 64 verses into 12.”

Stick In The Wheel’s autumn tour brings them to Newcastle Star & Shadow on November 30th. This And The Memory Of This can be pre-ordered here.

http://www.stickinthewheel.com/