This year’s Festive Fifteen, my annual round-up of the best new songs I have had the pleasure of hearing this year, is the product of a multitude of influences. I discovered three of the artists at the wonderful Green Man Festival in Wales. Five tracks reached my ears courtesy of the ever-wonderful BBC Radio 6 (6 Music if you must). Only three were record shop recommendations, probably the smallest total in my decade of Festive Fifteens, and a sure sign that I am not spending enough time in those educational establishments. But that is balanced by the fact that I have enjoyed live shows by more than half of the featured artists – a very healthy state of affairs.
Gruff Rhys is an artist who specialises in creating something new, unique and wonderful at least once a year. Markontour and other fans of the band which brought him to indie-fame were distraught when the Super Furry Animals went on hiatus in 2010, but left to his own devices Gruff Rhys ventured off in all kinds of interesting directions. Last night we had the pleasure of seeing him in his latest incarnation, a seer of dystopia, performing his new album, Babelsberg, in front of a rapt Oxford audience.
This year marks the centenary of the first performance of Holsts’ epic symphony, ‘The Planets’, and a few Saturday’s ago I was lucky enough to enjoy a celebratory performance at the London Barbican. It was magical experience, giving this amazing work new life and, courtesy of Professor Brian Cox’s enthusiastic presence, introducing the latest scientific thinking to a piece of music whose creation owed more to astrology than astronomy.
I haven’t written any ‘Album of the Week’ reviews for a while, primarily because every time I put on my headphones I just want to listen to Israel Nash. His latest offering, ‘Lifted’, is a hippy Americana chill-out album, that inspires relaxed smiles. I saw him perform at Rough Trade in Brooklyn a few weeks ago and it was an equally blissed experience, despite the inspiration for much of the album coming from Nash’s despair at the state of American politics.
What I love about record stores is that you can walk in just to pass the time, get transfixed by a new tune, and walk out clutching the best new music you’ve heard in ages. Guitar shops are different. You’d have to be both very wealthy and obsessed to buy a new instrument on every visit. But the chat is often just as illuminating.
Seven days after seeing The National I still have ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ on repeat in my head. London does a nice line in chilled-out summer festivals these days and last Saturday The National were the perfect headliners in Victoria Park, somehow invoking audience euphoria from a set-list that veritably wallowed in melancholy. The previous night I had enjoyed a different kind up uplift in Brixton, with Loyle Carner singing about his mum again and Erykah Badu suitably eccentric in a stetson.
If you ever find yourself near a barbershop in Dar es Salaam late at night and you hear music, follow the sound. You won’t be disappointed.