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An aural overview of some of my favourite records of 2009 is now available on the Mixtapes page. Go forth safe in the knowledge that it is an Animal Collective/Fever Ray/the xx-free zone…

And in thinking back on another year that fizzed by, yet was again punctuated by many wonderful live music experiences, I couldn’t resist coming up with a list of those that seemed extra special. When I’m standing in a crowd, washed over by waves of sound, I often think that this is as close to religion as I’m ever gonna get. The shared experience with one’s fellow concert-goers (who in that moment don’t seem to to be the greedy, selfish, stupid creatures that many of us are), seeing, hearing, feeling what is arguably humankind’s greatest artistic expression (I’m talking about Music, not David Yow’s bodily fluids), well it makes me feel good to be alive. These are ten instances where that feeling came on particularly strong – if you were there, you know what I mean…

The Jesus Lizard, Dälek, Grails, Magnolia Electric Co, Sonic Youth

l-r: (top) David W Sims of The Jesus Lizard, Dälek (middle) Grails
Magnolia Electric Co (bottom) Sonic Youth

Dälek @ Sonic City festival, De Kreun, Kortrijk, Belgium (04 April 2009)
Over an early-April weekend, Dälek curated their own ATP-like mini festival in the Belgian city of Kortrijk, bringing together friends & heroes like 2nd Gen, Earth, Zu and Charles Hayward – but it was the curators themselves (assisted by buddies Oddateee and Destructo Swarmbots) that stole the show with their industrial-strength beats & dense rhymes smothered in an avalanche of noise.

Grails @ ATP: The Fans Strike Back festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (10 May 2009)
Highlight (one of many) of an ATP that delivered so much. Extra percussionist Dave Abramson allowed Emil Amos to switch between guitar and drums, and Sunn O))) soundman Randall Dunn manned the analogue synths, creating the sample-filled dronescapes that linked the songs into a single thrilling journey through exotic otherlands.

The Jesus Lizard @ ATP: The Fans Strike Back festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (10 May 2009)
The night before, the Lizard’s first show in some ten years, was something special for its sense of occasion and because the band delivered on all expectations. But this show seemed that bit better, like they rocked a little harder, a little tighter, a little shinier. But maybe only because I was able to properly focus on rawk-ing along, instead of standing transfixed like a mouth-breathing happy bunny caught fluff-fluffing in the headlights thinking “oh my god! It’s the Jesus Lizard!!!” …

Magnolia Electric Co. @ Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain (29 May 2009)
Good times in the sweltering Spanish sunshine. The ever-affable Jason Molina and his Magnolia cohorts ‘classic country rock’-ed their way through much of “Josephine“, and although you’ll never hear Molina revisit Songs: Ohia material, at least they delved into the recent past for nuggets like “Leave The City”, “Hard To Love A Man” & “The Dark Don’t Hide It” – and were demanded back by the baying crowd for an encore of “Hammer Down”.

Sonic Youth @ Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain (30 May 2009)
Wow! With Pavement bassist Mark Ibold in the line-up, Kim Gordon (one hot [gran]mama in ripped stockings) could switch between adding extra guitar attack-ack-ack or double bass thump to the Yoof’s swirling noiserock. The whole show thundered by as though a blissed-out daydream, the crowd seemingly surfing on an euphoric wave of energy. Songs from “The Eternal”  made up the majority of the set, but it was oldies like “‘Cross The Breeze”, “Tom Violence” and closer “Expressway To Yr Skull” that had my grin at its widest.

Neurosis @ Patronaat, Haarlem, the Netherlands (08 July 2009)
Launching with “At The End Of The Road”, Neurosis quickly constructed a towering wall of sound, but the intricate interplay of the instruments was never lost in the din. The set is “Given To The Rising”-HEAVY (prompting a positive re-evaluation of an album that sorta passed me by), the atmosphere dark and oppressive – not least because the band have it written into their agreement with the venue that all airco is turned off during their set, making for a sweaty & claustrophobic experience.

Oneida @ Paradiso, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (14 August 2009)
The Little “O” seemed to be having a particularly good time (pleased too that the Big “O” was playing the main hall downstairs at the same time), the positive energy emanating from the stage proving infectious. Oneida sure know how to work a rifftastic groove, and man can that Kid Millions play the drums.

Micah P Hinson @ Toutpartout 15 Years Birthday Night, Botanique, Brussels, Belgium (28 November 2009)
Micah P‘s self-confessional and intimate songs were perfectly suited to the amazing Rotunda room in the Botanique (situated in the botanical gardens of Brussels), surely one of the best live music venues around. He played plenty off covers album “All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers“, paying tribute to his musical heroes & influences, including “coked-up airplane pilot” John Denver with a goosebump-inducing rendition of “This Old Guitar”.

Six Organs Of Admittance @ 10 Years of ATP festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (11 December 2009)
The joke round these parts goes: although I’m an appreciator of the axe-wielding babe-ness of Elisa Ambrogio, I’d much rather shack up with her beau Ben Chasny. Well there was no Elisa this time, but aided by Alex Nielsen’s expressive drumming and the baritone guitar of Andrew Mitchell, Chasny delivered the highlight of the festival – well, at least until Shellac came, saw & conquered two days later.

Shellac @ 10 Years of ATP festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (13 December 2009)
About as perfect as a rock show can be. They’ve got the tunes, they play together as though they’ve discovered the ability to mind-meld, shit there’s even choreography (Albini’s impression of a slowed-down-then-sped-up-tape is spot on). And inbetween the ‘minimalist hard rock’ songs that make you wanna bang your head, they are just fuckin’ funny – Shellac stage-banter is second only to that of Warren Ellis in laugh-out-loud comedy gold.

Todd Trainer: “Do I look like I can fuck??!!”
Albini: “He’s being modest – he’s a genetically-engineered machine designed to only fuck and play drums. He’s the result of a gene-splicing experiment conducted on Gene Krupa and one of those earth-moving machines…”

Neurosis, Micah P Hinson, Oneida, Shellac, Six Organs Of Admittance

l-r: (top) Neurosis (middle) Micah P Hinson, Oneida
(bottom) Shellac, Six Organs Of Admittance

Of course, this list omits many other memorable experiences. Sheeee-it, I saw The Jesus Lizard in three different countries, the always-awesome Shellac the same. There was Sunn O)))’s Atilla Csihar creating an incredible piece of performance art with his cloak of mirrors, lasered-claws and mesmerising mix of hellish growls, throat singing & Gregorian-style chanting. Sleep (temporarily) reunited! Nick Cave playing stripped-down versions of Bad Seeds songs (backed only by Warren Ellis & Martyn P Casey), interspersed with readings from his latest novel. Two fantastic ATPs with a Primavera in balmy Barcelona sandwiched inbetween. Anti-Pop Consortium transposed from Nieuw Haarlem to the Old. And many more great nights out in the various ‘poppodia’ in an around Amsterdam. Huge gratitude to all those that made these happen.



Having earlier enjoyed one of Antonio Gaudi’s many awe-inspiring modernist structures – the dragon-toppedhouse of bones‘ that is Casa Batlló – my final day of Primavera began in another architectural gem: the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Edifici Fòrum concert hall, which serves as the Auditori stage. Its limited capacity had meant hour-long queues on previous days (and would later also stymie access to the Throbbing Gristle and Young Marble Giants performances), but Scout Niblett‘s early start and relative anonymity ensured easy-enough access.


The Auditori stage is imposingly widescreen for the two-piece of Scout and drummer Kristian Goddard, but they proved that they are not daunted by such environs when supporting The Stooges at London’s Royal Festival Hall last year (as part of the Jarvis Cocker-curated Meltdown festival). And as soon as Scout unleashes her expressive voice on the traditional couplets that make up the intro to “Do You Want To Be Buried With My People?”, it becomes apparent that this is a perfect venue for her – the excellent concert-hall acoustics giving wings to her already soaring voice. She never fails to surprise with her choice of covers and follows “Good To Me” (with its bizarre woodstockhenge hair metal intro) by making TLC’s “No Scrubs” her own. Scout is all about the highs and lows of being under love’s spell, and in “Hide And Seek” she references the sweetheart fever that seems to afflict her, going from sparse and melancholic love song to attaining Nirvana.

Scout Niblett, Auditori stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

“Kiss” gets the biggest cheer of the set so far, unsurprising as it’s the closest thing Scout has had to a ‘hit single’ (helped by the appearance of the Bonnie Prince William of Oldham on the recorded version).
The past few times I’ve seen Scout Niblett play I’ve been left unfulfilled when she fails to take a turn behind the drumkit, but tonight she delivers by temporarily ejecting Goddard and enthusiastically beating out “Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death”… We’re all gonna die! We don’t know when… We don’t know how…
The rest of the songs are all Niblett highlights – some more favourites from “This Fool Can Die Now” sandwiched between two diamonds from her first album. “Wet Road” yearns with love unfulfilled, while “Miss My Lion” is the perfect closer, Scout stomping and wailing to superbly crunching riffs.

Setlist: Scout Niblett @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
Do You Want To Be Buried With My People?
Good To Me
No Scrubs
Kidnapped By Neptune
Hide And Seek
Hot To Death
Kiss
Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death
Wet Road
Nevada
Let Thine Heart Be Warmed
Miss My Lion


Leaving the Auditori I’m happy to see that the rain that had niggled throughout the day has pissed off (only to return with a vengeance at the very end of the festival). There’s only enough time to catch Devastations end their set with a menacing, noisy “Rosa”, played with that scuzzy louche cool that seems peculiar to Australians-in-Berlin (cf. Nick Cave “The Heroin Years”, Angus Andrew of Liars). Their most recent album “Yes, U” blows hot and cold for me but here I find the swamp monster that lurks within their bombastic baroque-goth.

Devastations, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008


It’s then over to the Estrella Damm stage to see Okkervil River, who’d drawn one of the biggest crowds I’d yet experienced at Primavera. The opening salvo of “The President’s Dead / Black” sets the tone for the upbeat crowd-pleasing show that is to follow. My first hearing of Okkervil River was “Black Sheep Boy“, the melancholy of the Tim Hardin-inspired tracks appealing to me most (and I’m a sucker for the William Schaff artwork too) – so l found last year’s “The Stage Names” initially too ‘big band’ with Sheff’s sometimes tortured words incongruous to the upbeat backing, but here under a grey Barcelona sky those songs proved much more infectious. Halfway through, Sheff introduces “It Ends With A Fall” as a tribute to The Wrens guitarist Charles Bissell (playing his last show with the band) – then jokingly fires him on stage. The rest of the performance rocks energetically, hitting a peak with “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” flowing straight into “For Real”, which really gets the audience jumping. They end with early song “Westfall” sung in Spanish, a fitting finale which the local fans really take to heart.

Okkervil River, Estrella Damm stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

Setlist: Okkervil River @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
The President’s Dead
Black
A Hand To Take A Hold Of The Scene
The Latest Toughs
A Girl In Port
It Ends With A Fall
John Allan Smith Sails
Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe
For Real
Unless It’s Kicks
Westfall (Spanish version)


Dirty Projectors have created a lot of buzz over the past year, Dave Longstreth built up as some sort of weird genius. It’s not for me – maybe it’s too wilfully obscure or just too pop – but they provide some minutes of distraction, if not just for bassist Angel Deradoorian crooning melodies wearing what looked to be denim jogging shorts


Back to the well-visited ATP stage for Kinski, who sometimes come across as Sonic Youth from an alternate dimension – Chris Martin the floppy-haired guitar virtuoso, Lucy Atkinson the hard rockin’ female bassist, guitarist/flautist Matthew Reid-Schwartz in the Lee Ranaldo role, and Barret Wilke providing the Shelley-esque pounding. And sure Kinski are heavily indebted to their East Coast brethren (song titles like “Daydream Intonation” all but give it away), but these Seattle Sub Pop-ers also mix in a healthy dose of psych-kraut-space rock that coalesces into a riff-heavy brew that somehow stands apart from most of the post/psych/kraut/space-rock that abounds in these times.

Kinski, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

Inbetween songs it’s announced that today is bassist Atkinson’s birthday which causes the audience to break into a Spanish-accented “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear… erm.. Kinski!!” The band clearly enjoys themselves, as do we all.


After catching a few songs by saxophone-fronted rock-‘n-sample band Menomena (who appeal on first hearing, despite giving such prominence to that feared symbol of all things j&!z), it’s a quickmarch back down to the ATP stage to secure a prime position for being showered in the minimalist-rock-greatness that is Shellac. I’m glad it’s not too hard to get a good vantage point upfront early on, because I later turn to see the crowd massed into all the available space, tailing up the path back to the main festival site. They come because Shellac is the best godamn live band I & many others here have ever had the pleasure of sharing a room with. Prior to their performance I’d been quite open to the idea that Shellac would not necessarily produce the highlight of my weekend – there’d certainly been other contenders – but who was I kidding? That perfect blend of mass, velocity and time knocks me over every time.
It’s the first time I’ve seen them rock under the stars (a rare opportunity as Shellac generally have a dislike of festivals, except when the fine folk at ATP are involved) and the experience is just as powerful (even if Steve Albini and Bob Weston are without their custom cabinets, making do instead with more prosaic Marshall and Ampeg stacks).

Shellac, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

For all their precision, each show is an improvised performance – no setlists, Albini’s vocal adlibbing & caustic wit (in “Prayer To God” he exhorts Baby Jesus to “do your fuckin’ job for once”), taking questions from the crowd (this time unsuccessfully handled by Scout Niblett). And we get to hear a new song, sung by Weston and sounding like classic early ’90s-vintage Shellac (another new song appears in Paris about a week later – could it be we’ll be seeing a new Shellac album before the end of the world?!). It’s an amazing set, surely making new acolytes in the crowd of thousands, and (like all Shellac performances I’ve witnessed) words won’t do it justice…

Shellac, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008


Setlist: Shellac @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
Ghosts
My Black Ass
Copper
Paco
In A Minute
Squirrel Song
(new song with Bob on vocals)
Prayer To God
Killers
Steady As She Goes
Wingwalker
End Of Radio
Watch Song
Spoke


Les Savy Fav are talked up as a crazy live experience (some would go so far as to crown them best live band around – heretics!) and sure enough vocalist Tim Harrington gives the crowd their money’s worth – first appearing disguised as a plant before stripping down to a multicoloured leotard and jumping into the audience, running up and down the concrete steps to the right of the ATP stage. The rest of the band rock efficiently behind Harrington’s antics, but it seems to me that Les Savy Fav’s appeal must be more in their moon-howlin’ mad frontman than in their tunes – and in contrast to the masterclass of masa, velocidad & tiempo that went before this only entertains superficially. So it is halfway through their set that I decide to call time on Primavera Sound 2008, heading into the balmy Barcelona night, off to dream my sweet Albini dreams…



Having once been a relatively enthusiastic proponent of the end-of-year ‘best of’ list, a few years ago I stopped putting these together in favour of just creating an aural review of releases I particularly liked in the form of a CD compilation. I suppose I rejected the idea of trying to rank the year’s releases, to come up with the ‘best album’ of that particular year, as this was forcing me to evaluate the music on a critical/intellectual level that doesn’t work for me – for me music is about feeling; from wanting to bang my head or creep myself out, from getting goosebumps of euphoria to twinges of melancholy… But I suppose it is sacrilege for a music-related blog to come to the end of a year and not attempt some sort of round-up, so rather than create a ranked list justified by socio-political contexts or clever meta-musical references, these are the records (in no particular order) and live performances that have rocked / droned / folked up / brokebeat / hiphopped my world in 2007, that have made me feel



Top 25 Albums of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 25 Albums of 2007

from top, l-r:

Magnolia Electric Co : “Sojourner” boxset (Secretly Canadian)

PJ Harvey : “White Chalk” (Island)

Angels Of Light : “We Are Him” (Young God)

Low : “Drums And Guns” (Sub Pop)

Liars : “Liars” (Mute)

Mammal : “Lonesome Drifter” (Animal Disguise)

Grinderman : “Grinderman” (Mute)

Boris with Michio Kurihara : “Rainbow” (Pedal/Drag City)

El-P : “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” (Definitive Jux)

Vic Chesnutt : “North Star Deserter” (Constellation)

Nina Nastasia & Jim White : “You Follow Me” (Fat Cat)

Om : “Pilgrimage” (Southern Lord)

Scout Niblett : “This Fool Can Die Now” (Too Pure)

Shellac : “Excellent Italian Greyhound” (Touch & Go)

Epic45 : “May Your Heart Be The Map” (Make Mine Music)

Magik Markers : “Boss” (Ecstatic Peace!)

MIA : “Kala” (XL)

Sigur Rós : “Hvarf-Heim” (EMI)

Stars Of The Lid : “And The Refinement Of Their Decline” (Kranky)

Jesu : “Conqueror” (HydraHead/Daymare)

Alela Diane : “The Pirate’s Gospel” (Holocene/Names/Fargo)

Six Organs Of Admittance : “Shelter From The Ash” (Drag City)

Bracken : “We Know About The Need” (Anticon)

Future Of The Left : “Curses” (Too Pure)

Earth : “Hibernaculum” (Southern Lord)




Top 5 EPs/Singles of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 5 EPs of 2007

l-r:

Efterklang : “Under Giant Trees” (Leaf)

Zonderhoof : “Zonderhoof” EP (Sound Devastation)

Joanna Newsom : “Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band” EP (Drag City)

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy : “Ask Forgiveness” EP (Drag City/Domino)

Jesu : “Sundown / Sunrise” EP (Aurora Borealis/Daymare)

 



Top 10 Gigs of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 10 Gigs of 2007

Future Of The Left + Infants @ The Luminaire, London (10 March 2007)

Josh T Pearson @ ATP festival, Minehead (27 April 2007)

Nick Cave / Grinderman @ ATP festival, Minehead (28 April 2007)

Dirty Three @ ATP festival, Minehead (29 April 2007)

Scout Niblett @ Bush Hall, London (21 May 2007)

Isis + Boris @ Koko, London (02 July 2007)

Liars @ Madame Jo Jo’s, London (03 July 2007)

Six Organs Of Admittance @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (12 August 2007)

Sonic Youth do “Daydream Nation” @ The Roundhouse, London (30 August 2007)

Jesu @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (05 December 2007)


Correctly guess which picture was taken at which gig and I will send you a copy of my “Best of 2007” 2CD compilation (once I’ve pulled my finger out of my ass and actually made the thing). Use the contact form on the Disclaimer page to submit your ‘entry’.



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