It’s end of year round up time which has tempted me out of writing-about-music-semi-retirement. In no particular order my three favourite records of 2014 (without checking whether they actually came out in 2014) are: The Delines “Colfax”, The War On Drugs “Lost In The Dream”, and Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo with “Dear River”. I am obviously getting older as they all have more of a late night sit at home with a glass of wine vibe about them than throwing frantic shapes on the dance floor feel. The spirit remains willing but the flesh is a little weak and all that.
The Delines record is a Willy Vlautin (of Richmond Fontaine fame) project with Amy Boone singing and it’s a brilliant set of bruised, weary sketches. Vlautin’s usual sharp words and eye for character detail richly conveyed through Boone’s aching, resigned vocals. It’s a pretty determinedly melancholy album but beautiful at the same time. I’ve been scratching around for the right word that sums up its mood and the closest I can get is a Portuguese term with no direct equivalent in English: saudade. A deep, nostalgic melancholic longing. It’s not quite that but that’s pretty close (and a fine word). Wonderful record anyway.
The War On Drugs record has featured a lot in end of year lists and is another heartbreaker – let’s be honest, this is me, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” was never likely to feature. I was obsessed with this in the early part of the year; a strange mashing together of 80s rock (bit of Springsteen, bit of Rod Stewart, bit of Dire Straits even) and 90s indie. “Burning”, in particular, owes more than a passing debt to “Dancing In The Dark” and “Young Turks” but manages to more than stand on its own merits: if anyone makes their way backwards from it to those records then that feels like a good thing to me.
Last, and by no means least, there’s the Emily Barker album. “Dear River” is a fantastic set of lovingly crafted folk/americana songs spinning out stories of place, identity and travel. Sadly it (for now) appears to be the last album that they will make together and so I feel a little like I arrived at this particular party just as everyone was leaving. I’m really not sure how they slipped under my radar for so long as I’ve been back through the earlier albums from “Dear River” and it’s all brilliant. Barker must be the best kept secret in the UK (and, country of origin, Australia). Possibly it was just me that not having my finger anywhere near the pulse again.
The video at the top of this post is a song that’s not actually on “Dear River”. I was fortunate enough to see the band play in London a few weeks ago, in St James’s church in Piccadilly, and this was my fondest musical memory of the year. On the night itself I was feeling a bit under the weather, was pretty tired, and it was one of those evenings when crawling into bed with a lemsip was looking like an attractive option. We met some friends for dinner before the gig and that pepped me up but, consequently, we were a bit late to the venue and ended up, initially, with a fairly limited view of the stage from behind a pillar. Glorious building, don’t get me wrong. Luckily we were allowed to move up on to a balcony for the main set and sight lines improved hugely but given how glorious the music was I’m not sure it would have entirely mattered.
I’ve tried to write before about the real magic of music to create moments: to bring you precisely into the present, for everything else to fall away. There were lots of those moments in the performance that night but, specifically, when the group played “Day After Tomorrow” (a Tom Waits cover) I was utterly transfixed. It is one of my absolute favourite things to hear something for the first time live that I’ve never heard before and instantly fall in love with it. I sat through this in a church in London, barely breathed for four or five minutes, let tears fall down my face, and marvelled afresh at the bewildering spell craft of music to strip back life to its essentials. Its capacity to really make you feel, to surface and experience emotion. In Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo’s take on the song there’s an a cappella section in the middle where all the instruments drop out save four voices in harmony. It was the most exquisite, breath taking thing I heard all year. Any sense of being tired, or off colour, or griping about pillars just disappeared.
I don’t think I’ll ever really understand it and perhaps that’s the point. It’s magic I tell you.