I’m sorry I haven’t posted any fiction in a while. NaNoWriMo was a very, very rough draft this year, so you were all spared those words. This is the first story I’ve finished since November. I was driven to write this after the atrocity that was the Bonnie and Clyde “television event” that consisted of lies that only made their story more boring. Stephen King has a fascinating novella called “1922” that has a brief but memorable depiction of a couple on the run, and I wanted to know more about them. Also, as I said in my recommendation of Tired Pony’s latest album, most of the songs, particularly “The Ghost of the Mountain,” stirred some plot in my mind. The influences meshed together in my mind to get me writing again, so there’s that little exercise for you. Enjoy!
1. Tired Pony – The Ghost of the Mountain
This is a surprise to absolutely nobody who knows me, I’m sure. I have a lot of friends who are fellow Snow Patrol fans, and their feelings on Tired Pony’s album vary. For me though, it hits all the right notes to be my album of the year.
As far as the music itself goes, I like that it’s a bit more experimental than The Place We Ran From. A track like “I’m Begging You Not To Go” can be delicate and acoustic, while “The Creak in the Floorboards” can have that ’80s-infused synth sound. Everything is rooted in melody, and all of the players on the album are talented enough that they can build an album full of ideas that are complementary enough to hold together.
On top of sounding good, the lyrics bring me back again and again. I suppose I am a writer, in the sense that I write things (like this blog), and I’m also an avid reader. I love the central conceit of these songs being about a couple whose past is steeped in blood and controversy. The title track reminds me of part of the Stephen King novella “1922,” in which a man becomes cursed after murdering his wife. His young son, who was his accomplice in the crime, impregnates his girlfriend and runs away with her, leading the pair to an ill-fated life of crime.
Of course, the plot isn’t laid out clearly, but I think that is to the music’s benefit. The story is as much in what is said as what’s between the lines, as questions are raised about love, madness, and longing. Being unapologetic fiction, the tale could go anywhere, and I look forward to any future chapters.
2. Editors – The Weight of Your Love
I’ve been into Editors for roughly eight years, which surprises me as I just now did the math. Back in those experimental days of college, I’d snatched my heart back from Interpol and given it over to Bloc Party, and I was expanding my post-punk revival horizons. “Munich” and “Blood” were my jams. The Back Room was perfect, and then An End Has a Start stood on the shoulders of that record to become even better. And then In This Light and on This Evening came along, and I didn’t care for it as much. I wavered.
And now here they are with The Weight of Your Love, shrugging off the synths and sounding like themselves again. This isn’t about going back to their roots or rejecting their previous album so much as expanding to make some really fucking good rock tunes. “A Ton of Love” has such strong R.E.M. vibes that I was surprised from the first note. Tom Smith has an incredible, deep voice, but to hear him go falsetto on songs like “What Is This Thing Called Love” is a delight, especially when he shifts his pitch back down, going from vulnerable to strong as ever. Goosebumps. I find everything about this album compelling, from the music to the lyrics to the gorgeous artwork that pairs with the record and each single.
Sometimes you just need a band to sound like a group of guys playing instruments to remember the magic of how simple the essence of music is. To me, Editors are transcendent.
4. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film
As a lady with a particularly liberal mindset, I went through a phase of really loving the hell out of Manic Street Preachers. These Welsh rockers were just the right amount of shouty, loud, glamorous rock with abrasive lyrics. Then I got a little mellower, Nicky Wire was a bit too much, and I just stopped paying attention.
Enter Rewind the Film. My God, what a beautiful album! The guest appearances of Lucy Rose, Cate Le Bon, and Richard Hawley accomplish that rare feat of enhancing a record rather than stealing the spotlight. Here these fearless rockers have allowed themselves moments of quiet, nostalgia, and even fear as they assess themselves in their middle age. There’s little aggression to hide behind, and that proves that the Manics have managed to build a legacy that will go beyond their politics. I signed up to review this album, and I am so glad I did. Each listen gives me a new insight and appreciation for my position in life.
This is an album for age. Allow yourself to feel older and wiser. Or less wise. To miss, to love, to lose. To know that there is much more ahead.
5. Lissie – Back to Forever
I don’t have anything against most pop music, but when it comes to my favorites, I like a bit more honesty. Building on folk and rock roots, Lissie isn’t afraid to take a bit of that pop in through her beats or keyboard embellishments while still staying true to her tequila-drinking, plaid-wearing, guitar-rocking self. Thank all of the gods you can name that there’s someone like her out there just being herself, as the song “Shameless” above so gracefully demonstrates.
Catching a Tiger, her debut album, came out when I was working for Nielsen writing trivia questions about British television ads. (Yes, I got paid for that.) At the time, Lissie was pretty big over there but not so popular here in her native land. Still, those thirty second clips were enough to inspire me to get into her music, and I’m glad I did. Back to Forever feels more cohesive and more about adult life than the nostalgia of her previous album. There are some real rock anthems (“I Don’t Wanna Go to Work” and “Cold Fish,” particularly), but there are also moments of extreme vulnerability. She’s a complex woman, and I think this album is a great demonstration of what that means in the modern age.
Also, on a purely personal level, I am so grateful for the song “Mountaintop Removal.” As a West Virginian by birth, I often feel that people ignore the problems in the state, particularly at the hands of the almighty mining industry. To hear an artist actually express concern in a song is incredible and moving. Rock on, Lissie.
6. David Ford – Charge
When I had my ill-fated romp through Virgin Megastore, as I described in my last post, I also bought a record by David Ford. I discovered his music in 2008 after graduating college and becoming a bit depressed because I’d moved back in with my parents and didn’t feel like things were going as they should. Through one song, I felt better.
Since then he’s been putting out great, horrifically underrated music. I recommend him to my friends. I push people to see him live. Have you seen him live? If not, go! He often utilizes a loop pedal that can increase the drama of his songs. On the album, everything is its absolute best version, but to see a song build before your eyes, possibly going wrong, is a transcendent process.
I guess I should describe the music. It’s whatever the hell it wants to be: acoustic, piano, rock, folk, whatever. Earnest, informative, barbed, and clever. This album is a bit less political than his previous output, but where can you go when you’ve already done a sour love ballad to Margaret Thatcher? One of my few gig regrets about 2013 is that I missed out on seeing David play with a full band when he did two shows in New York City. I saw the first and delighted in every minute (as, oddly, I sat next to his lovely parents), but between that night and the next, I managed to acquire a fever over 100 degrees and spent a couple of days in bed, mourning my bad luck. So give this a listen and have many regrets for not seeing him on tour. Unless you did, in which case, I salute you.
7. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
I fell in love with Frightened Rabbit sometime in 2008, around the release of The Midnight Organ Fight. During my first or second visit to New York City, I was an excitable tourist who went to the Virgin Megastore in Union Square with rabid hunger for new music. I’d just escaped the wilds of Cleveland, so a record store that was more than one floor was kind of a big deal. Anyway, I picked up Sing the Greys, adored it, and felt proud that I had found a band worthy of my praise.
While The Winter of Mixed Drinks was a good record, I didn’t love it as much as the first two. Scottish bands just do miserable songs better than anyone else. If anyone disagrees, it’s because they just don’t know enough Scottish music. Still, without hesitation I preordered the deluxe version of Pedestrian Verse, and man, am I glad I did. The balance of the band members writing together really gives this album a fuller sound. It’s still sleek like The Winter of Mixed Drinks but not afraid to show the cracks, making for a therapeutic listen.
Plus I won a meet and greet with them back in October, and they were the sweetest guys. Well done, FRabbits.
8. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
Do you have this ridiculously catchy song stuck in your head yet? Good.
I like embracing music that’s a little weird. I realize that much of my list this year is pretty straight forward rock/acoustic stuff, but electro influences are absolutely delicious to me. In fact, just missing the cut this year was Foals’ Holy Fire (spoiler alert), so if you like them but haven’t yet checked out CHVRCHES, please do. This is one of the later releases on my list, but I’ve found it addicting. These songs pop into my head in the middle of the day, and I feel no reason to exorcise them. They’ve gained proper buzz, and rightfully so. This is a band I want to see everywhere in 2014.
Lauren Mayberry of this band has endured a lot of misogyny online, and she penned a really great article fighting back against the abuse she receives just for daring to be a woman who makes music. I’d only heard “Recover” when I cam across her writing on The Guardian’s website, and that was when I knew that I had to give this band much more of my attention. I’m grateful for her words and, of course, the tunes.
9. Gabrielle Aplin – English Rain
My friend Suz introduced me to Gabrielle’s music in the middle of last year, back when she was known as more of a YouTube artist whose talent, dedication, and lovely EPs had secured her a record deal with Parlophone. Sometimes her music can be a bit soft and safe for my tastes, but here are a few reasons why she is totally badass:
a) She has a giant tattoo on her arm with a quote from “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot.
b) She has a label to put out other artists’ music now that she’s signed to a major.
c) She loves animals, particularly her pet ferret.
d) She’s supported Ed Sheeran (something of a taste maker) and John Mayer (kind of a big deal) as well as headlined her own tours.
e) Her lyrics can be a hell of a lot darker than her beautiful voice lets on.
So give her a listen. English Rain will be released properly in America next year, and hopefully that will mean that we get to check her out live as well. I’d love to see the grit that follows after singing and playing for over an hour live. Somehow I think she’ll only triumph and become even more endearing.