Best of 2013: Andrew Waterfield's picksAndrew Waterfield's picks (2013) staff picks
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: Brynekidecono (others by this writer | submit your own) [Andrew Waterfield is a contributing editor at Punknews.org.]
In some ways, this year has been fairly typical. I read a lot of comics, went to some shows, and watched a lot of cartoons from the comfort of my bed. Oh, and Leicester (the football/'soccer' club to which I am inexorably bound) ma.
[Andrew Waterfield is a contributing editor at Punknews.org.]
In some ways, this year has been fairly typical. I read a lot of comics, went to some shows, and watched a lot of cartoons from the comfort of my bed. Oh, and Leicester (the football/'soccer' club to which I am inexorably bound) managed to cock up another promotion battle. None of this was out of the ordinary, as years go.
Having said that, a lot about 2013 was just plain weird. Mostly this was the first year without my best friend Lee in it, what with him being dead since last November, and thereby unable to participate in my 2013, other than giving me the silent treatment during some decidedly one-sided graveyard chats.
People are quite keen on asking me what I think Lee would say about a given thing if he was here. Or at least they were, until they realised my response was always the same; that he would say nothing at all, and instead attempt to feast on the brains of the living. It's my understanding from the documentary work of George A. Romero that the mortally challenged community see living human brains as a delicacy, and far be it from me to challenge their cultural norms from my position of warm-blooded privilege.
I miss him all the time, and that's all there is to it. Grief is awkward like that.
On the up side, I spent October travelling 'round America (and a bit of Canada), and I learned many things about those nations, and myself. Primarily, I learned that when they're not pumping it full of carbonation, American beer is quite good, and rather moreish. Conversely, I discovered that Americans can't make a decent portion of chips to save their lives, bless them, and that Irn Bru and Marmite are as rare as rocking horse crap over there.
As for what I learned about myself, I learned that I can survive on peanuts and diet pop for an indefinite period (thanks, Amtrak!), and that if I have any specialist skills as a traveler, they lie in locating people who will sell me comics and/or stout, eating three meals at a time, and finding places to buy gloriously tacky Nicki Minaj style wigs. I have no regrets in any of these matters, and would like to thank the various 'Org editors and staffers who put me and my offensive smelling socks up as I made my way around the place.
And so to 2014, and I'm moving to London next week to start a new job, which is exciting and/or terrifying, depending on my mood. I've already found a chip shop round the corner from my new house, though. You've got to have priorities.
Songs about riding skateboards, being in your twenties, people, and that London. Great.
Goodie Mob: Age Against The Machine
The Right Records
This would be a lot higher if it wasn't for a weird line seemings to suggest that a significant proportion of rape allegations are fraudulent, ruining otherwise perfect track "Vallelujah". Still, great to have new Goodie Mob material, and all the better for their time apart.
A marked departure from 2010's Sweet Saint Me (or maybe I just listen to that record too much so note anything that isn't precisely the same as 'a marked departure'?), but still pretty great. You can find my full thoughts on this release here.
Akala: The Thieves Banquet
Illa State Records
Not only is Akala a tremendous rapper, and a solid singer, but his television appearances as a political commentator this year have been great too. Turning on BBC's flagship political discussion programme, Question Time, and seeing one of your favourite rappers in amongst the careerist politicians is always a great time, as the contrast between their apologist bollocks and Akala's actual convictions really show up the political classes.
The Thieves Banquet, recorded live with a full band, is (short of a few broadly apolitical tracks here and there) a biting work of political critique, laying into global capitalism, corrupt religious orders, imperialism, white supremacism, and more besides. Akala's intellect and wit are every bit as outstanding as his technique, even if the voices he puts on to play the various characters in the title track are a bit ropy.
I'm still not entirely sure what to make of My Shame Is True. In a lot of ways, it's a great Trio album, full of the faster, tightly honed songs that they found success with in the early days. On the other hand, I've yet to have any particular tracks really get under my skin in the way that (mostly Dan's) Trio songs have done in the past. In fairness, I've only had it a couple of months, so we'll see.
Crimson took a while, I'll tell you that for nothing.
In a UK scene which is, at a certain level, dominated by bands from the South of England (and there's nowt wrong with that lot, bless their little cotton socks), I'm so grateful for Onsind. They're from the North East, a region of the country notorious for hating Tories and hyper-masculinity, and Onsind have got the important half of that stereotype down. But where a lot of politically inclined bands fall back on dogma, Onsind tell stories. Their politics come from the characters they sketch out in songs. It's very much the politics of the humane, putting people first in every sense, and that's why I love them. With Anaesthesiology, they continue to grow steadily in scope and craft, and it's a joy to hear.
There are two types of miserable sods in the punk scene; those that soak their misery in country-punk stuff, and those who take grisly delight in slating all such bands. I'm definitely in the former camp, but if you're not you will bloody hate Wild American Runners. It's very much in that vein of stuff, but it's done so exceptionally well, with just enough instrumentation to make the point, but never so much as to overpower the core of the song. Lovely.
Hey! Hello!: Hey! Hello!
When I found out Ginger Wildheart (of The Wildhearts, obviously) had formed a new act, this time with Victoria Liedtke, I was so stoked. Ginger has long been one of the best songwriters in British rock music, and indeed rock music more broadly, and his talent is woefully underappreciated, in large part because he's spent his career playing what he wants to play, and studiously ignoring every idiot trend the rest of the scene leaps after.
Hey! Hello! has got more hooks in it than a suicidal pike at a fishing competition. It's combination of very young feeling pop sensibility (much of this coming from Liedtke's vocal parts), and lyrics carrying the weight of obvious experience make this a startling debut, which is a very weird thing to say about an album involving a fella who's been in this game for two decades.
I had the opportunity to interview Witt Wisebram, co-vocalist/guitarist for The Wild about Dreams Are Maps earlier in the year, so if you want to read more about this album, you can find that here. Witt lost a close friend, and a lot of the stuff on this record is about dealing with the aftermath of that loss.
Now, that's not to say it's a depressing record. It's actually very hopeful, about working through grief and turning it into something positive; living up to a memory instead of dwelling on the pain. In that sense, Dreams Are Maps is as close as a folk-punk record gets to being Batman, but with more choruses, and a bit less battering the mentally ill. Like, none. No battering at all. Which is great.
Crazy Arm's third full-length is a fully acoustic effort, and for a lot of other bands that would be a warning sign, but those who know this band's style, and Darren's musical influences in particular, will understand that this move makes perfect sense. Both their previous albums, 2009's Born To Ruin and 2011's Union City Breath are full of tonal and structural nods to folk traditions on both sides of the Atlantic, and it's those influences that are brought to the fore on The Southern Wild.
In purely musicological terms, it's not a 'punk' album, but who cares? Punk is, at its best, a folk music in all but sound, a music for and by the disenchanted, just like country, just like the blues, and just like hip-hop. As far as sound goes, this is a country/folk record, but in terms of themes, it's a deeply personal and affecting anarcho-punk record, twisting the personal and the political together to remind the listener that there's no difference between the two, and never has been.
I spent a month travelling round the US in October, and this was the record I came back to over and over again. There's a cadence to it that lends itself very well to motion, and I liked the idea of listening to a band from the south west of England while carting about in the mountains of Colorado. It's a record that feels like freedom to me, and that's something I value enormously.
Their debut full length, 2010's Don't Die, is one of my favourite albums of the last decade, so to say I was looking forward to this release would be a tremendous understatement. Sophomore releases have something of a reputation for disappointing fans, but Civilian War did no such thing, at least as far as I'm concerned. It's only the extraordinary strength of the field this year that's keeping it from my top spot.
Like so many albums from our little corner of the wider musical landscape, this is a record about meandering through your late twenties, and more specifically it's a record about taking stock of yourself and how far you've come. Either that or I'm reading way too much into it. Sod it, that's what art is about. You bring some of yourself to the table every time you listen to anything. Having said that, it's hard to read anything else from a lyric like:
"Rub my eyes, I'm just a boy, pretending to become a man. It's all that I am."
It's something of a melancholy record, but don't let that put you off. For every point at which it slaps you down, and there are a fair few, it'll drag you back up again. There's probably an awkward metaphor for life in there, if you're inclined toward such things.
I honestly feel like UK punk, at the 'DIY' end of things at least, is going through a golden period of late, and nowhere is that more evident than in Colour Me Wednesday. Harking from Uxbridge, they're incredible fun live, and they've got plenty of points to make too.
In the grand riot grrrl tradition, I Thought It Was Morning attacks the political from the position of the personal, turning third wave feminist ideals and frustration with austerity Britain into compelling and accessible storytelling that's also huge fun to dance to. There are songs hear about mansplaining, consumerism, debt, veganism (or rather certain omnivore's reactions to such), the quiet tyranny of the labour market, and a load of other stuff besides.
The UK riot grrrl scene of the '90s was prone to re-purposing pop aesthetics for their own purposes (most evident in the likes of Kenickie), and there's a fair bit of that here too (and even more from sister band The Tuts). Those records were a reaction to a specific sociopolitical context, and so is this one. More than anything I've heard in recent years, I Thought It Was Morning seems to encapsulate the experience of trying to make it through the week in a Britain that is becoming increasingly hostile to it's most vulnerable citizens. However, it's by no means a despairing record, and a lot of this is down to the sheer danceability of the thing. It's hard to feel downhearted when you're singing along, and there's a sense of righteous anger to the whole affair.
Basically, Colour Me Wednesday deserve your attention, if you're not on board already. They're that rarest of things; a politically 'important' punk band that are a huge amount of fun at the same time.
I already wrote an extensive review for this album earlier in the year (which you can find here), so I suppose I better come up with something different to say, so here goes.
As I wrote in my introduction to last year's list, my best mate Lee died in November 2012, and his death set me to thinking about the value of the time I've got.
I made a decision after Lee died to live my life that little bit harder, that little bit fuller than before, and when you strip away all the storytelling (and it is great storytelling), that's the message of Brainless God too. That it's a layered, hyperactive, super-catchy, concept album about armageddon is a bonus.
Every last song on this record is a finely tuned blast of tooth-melting punk rock goodness. This is an album that examines death in some detail, but doesn't venerate it. On the contrary, this entire album is life-affirming in the extreme. The final song is about storming heaven and battering God himself (and his angels) for doing us in before we were finished partying. Punk rock songs about defying death, and kicking the arse of the heavenly host; what could be more life-affirming than that?
Brainless God is a truly great record, and it came along right when I needed it. Can't ask for more than that, really.