December 31, 2019

HCTF's best of 2019 (5-1)

HCTF's annual list of the 20 albums that will be in regular rotation for many years to come. As per usual many genres are represented. This blog covers a lot of ground and it shows in this eclectic, final tally.

Today: final countdown from number 5 to 1.

Please shop at your local record store, buy directly from the artist, attend live shows. Don't block anyone's view with with your phone (better still, switch it off altogether). Shut the fuck up while the band is playing. Educate your friends. Word-of-mouth can't be beat as the prime source to discover new music.

5 ORBI: The Oscillating Revenge of the Background Instruments

Classic rock reinvented by an unlikely quartet.

While they are not the first to try to dress up rock and metal in classical attire - check the second hand crates for orchestras doing the sane and of course the Finnish cello quartet Apocalyptica - ORBI are tackling it with a whole new palette of sound. Can a bassoon sound like a guitar? Try shouting down the mouthpiece and you can fool the listeners ears quite convincingly. A double bass can give Jimmy Page something to think about too. Case in point: Since I've been Loving You is turned into a note perfect blues exercise that honours the tight but losse approach of Led Zeppelin. Dream Theater have a tendency to be a bit bombastic and self-indulgent when they play Octavarium, but they narrowed it down to a piece of music that could have been written by Igor Stravinsky in a mellow mood.

» Full review

4 Churn Milk Joan: I'm Nearly 60 Miles High

Final chapter for US/UK avant-garde duo who laugh at rules.

(...) wild and weird, with Knutson unleashing his inner Neil Innes meets Captain Beefheart lyricism, and Robinson using almost every piece of musical equipment he collected over the years. Mark Joell and Mark Cottrell pitched in as well, so at times four gentlemen could have been spotted in Robinson's studio in Hebden Bridge creating a mash-up of free-jazz, spoken word and unusual progressive rock. No act will ever sound like Churn Milk Joan and it's a bloody shame that this will be their final hurrah. A wonderfully eclectic piece of Dadaesque storytelling wrapped in layers of quirky, free flowing music that celebrates art for art's sake

» Full review

3 Oliver Oat: Juniper Resinc

The music for this project by Rotterdam based Joost de Jong could be interpreted as a song cycle about his life. He sings about Love - winning back his girlfriend with the synth chanson Louis et le Chat - and death - Murderer is his way to come to terms with his father's suicide. With Milk and Cigarettes he is torn by conflicting emotions: healthy versus unhealthy, fleeing or staying, with a haunting keyboard part a la Daniel Ruiz. The Dutch multi-instrumentalist is a sculptor with sound, leaning towards psychedelic pop and obviously a fan of synth driven textures. It all comes together in the sprawling title track, an amalgam of Steven Wilson inspired electric guitar prog, pastoral acoustic bits, name checking the cult soundtrack of The Wicker Man, and orchestral pop and dreamy folk.

De Jong describes his music as schizophrenic and he has a point in doing so. But unlike people suffering from that condition he is always in control, building intricate harmonies in his Audio Flamingo studio. He is not a kid in a candy store, he owns the store.

» Full review

2 Johnny Dowd: Family Picnic

A prime example of mastering chaos and turning it into art.

Family Picnic rambles and rocks, like a machine on the verge of breaking down, with Dowd's ragged delivery seemingly barely keeping it together. But first impressions can be deceptive. Dowd knows exactly what he is doing and what will work and what will fuck things up in a good way. Take the singalong quality of Conway Twitty, a live favourite for years is presented in what appears to be a one-take wonder format - it's that spontaneous. The title track is a depiction of family get together told in a husky spoken word way, during which he points at all the six-packs that people brought in were consumed as thing started falling apart. Back End of Spring is abrasive and foreboding, almost like a piece of musique concrète. Stuck-up Christians will frown at Thomas Dorsey, a twisted but heartfelt tribute to the father of black gospel music.

At seventy Dowd shows no signs of aging gracefully. He is without peers in his field, but his friends and fans are willing to put up with whatever he comes up with. Luckily enough, putting out a shit album is beyond his grasp. Family Picnic caters to the converted and there is nothing wrong with that. He is an incurable maverick, who is just too weird for the MOR Americana crowd to appreciate.

» Full review

1 Astralingua: Safe Passage

Superb space folk, flawlessly arranged and performed

This album is a complete package, a string of loosely connected songs (bot not a concept album per se) that is filled with so many hidden gems and jaw-dropping musicianship that it might require sometime to fully digest and appreciate. Space Blues captures the loneliness and homesickness of the unnamed traveler as he stairs out of his window of his vessel. Has the dream to move beyond the boundaries of Earth turned into a nightmare? Sweet Dreams and A Poison Tree (a classic poem by William Blake set to music) are like the two sides of the coin. The former celebrates a communal place where friendship never dies, the latter marks the end, ending it end violence and death. It's this inner tension that Safe Passage such an intriguing piece of art, raising questions, providing some answers but leaving plenty of opportunity to come up with an interpretation of one's own.

They have a created a maze combined with a hall of mirrors - food for thought and reminiscing. Combined with the dreamy visual that were used for their videos it should performed as a Gesamtkunstwerk in theaters with superb acoustics.

» Full review

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