Albums Of The Year (Curated By Me, Big G)

It’s been a good year for the roses, as was said by Elvis Costello recently.  Of course, by “the roses” he meant music that I, Big G, quite like.  Therefore, to bring us to the end of the year in a flurry of doe-eyed nostalgia for a time not so long ago, I shall now present to you… a list of some albums that some guy heard within the past twelve months.  Five shall be the number of the albums, and the number of the albums shall be five.  I did find it somewhat difficult to cut it down to a mere five.  But to stick to my guns there will be no more, no less, no subtle name drops of the albums which didn’t make the final list, and no honorable mentions.  So, without further waffle, herein lies my 2022 in music presented in release order.

Album: Impera

Artist: Ghost

Genre: Sat-an Halen

Let me be clear.  I’m not dealing with the unoriginal sCoObY dOo MuSiC pish.  Ghost are a rock solid Heavy Metal band and if you can’t see that after listening to Impera… then may you go to heaven when you die and leave Ghost and me on our own in the depths of Hell where we shall have a totally bitchin’ time without you.  

I’m going to make a bold claim about this album.  And that bold claim is that “Kaiserion” is the best opening track on a Heavy Metal album since “The Wickerman” on 2000’s “Brave New World”.  Prove me wrong.  It’s so uplifting in that way that only Heavy Metal can be.  The first half of the album is much the same.  I would say that all my favourite tracks are on Side A.  There’s nothing you don’t want to sing along to.  Not just the vocals…but the guitar solos, the riffs, and the choir parts too.  It’s like a whole half album of Bohemian Raspberries.

Side B does come with a slightly different vibe.  It has two short musical interlude tracks whereas Side A only has the one, so it has fewer full-length tracks to offer.  Two of the four full length tracks are a bit mellower overall, especially “Darkness at the Heart of my Love”.  But if you prefer the upbeat stuff this is where you’ll find “Griftwood” a very Van Halen-esque take on modern satanic arena Metal.  Which is specific, but goodly specific.  And there’s a song called “Twenties” which is…also there!

Album: The Death of Old Sea Legs

Artist: Old Sea Legs

Genre: Nautical Lamentations

What a debut solo album from Old Sea Legs.  It’s bleak.  It’s Lonely.  It’s a reminder of my inevitable death.   But it’s melodious.  It’s spiritual.  It reminds me that death is a gift and 2022 wasn’t that good anyway.  

The lyrics are a standout feature of the album.  In fact, with the release of the album I’d say that Mr. Legs has cemented himself a place on my favourite song writers list.  Right up there with Neil Young, Mathias Nygård, Roger Waters, and Eugene Hutz*.  (* this children, is foreshadowing).  Allow me to share with you a lyric that has been sailing around in my head since I first heard it in October 2021 at an Old Sea Legs gig. 

“If I gathered up all of the little pieces

Of my former self with you or anyone’s help

I’d still have pieces.

They’d just be in the one place”

Which I think speaks for itself.  No analysis necessary. 

He doesn’t just write them well, but he delivers them well too, a grand powerful vocalist is our Old Sea Legs.  As I mentioned this is his first solo album but was previously part of a band that frequently performed with multi-part harmonies and wee vocal counter melodies.  In a strange way I think that carries over to The Death of Old Sea Legs, trying to sing along in the car I found myself trying to do two lines at once and jumping all around between low and high registers trying to keep up with the lead lines.   It’s deceptively frantic, as if he’s trying to dock a schooner all by himself.  In a storm.  And the lighthouse is on the fritz.  And there are sharks. 

The cherry on top of the album-cake is the eighth track, “Is There Anybody Out There?”.  Where the chorus features a completely reharmonized lift from “Comfortably numb”.  It’s glorious, that’s the only word it is glorious.  

An emotionally complex album for sure, one that merits a place on your shelves and playlists. 

Album: The Great Heathen Army

Artist: Amon Amarth

Genre: Sweden

Some people say that Death Metal is emotionless.  I say that wanting to punch an English king in the face is an emotion.  Amon Amarth really ascended to the ranks of legends when they developed the Melodic Death Metal Concept Album About Vikings.  Classic MDMCAAV’s you get from them.  This one tells the story of the fabled Great Heathen Army.  Who sailed from Vikingedonia to box the tribes of Englandshire in the mouth. 

I love the way the songs are put together on this album.  Each tune has its catchy riffy riffs and its super evil metal face inducing chordy bits.  There’s something I really appreciate about the way Amon Amarth write and record their songs.   Because the style of vocals in death metal is sort of cacophonous and a-tonal by nature (and Johan Hegg has a voice which could blow down a shit-brick-house for sure) there’s often a guitar melody under the vocal line to draw your ear to a certain pitch so you always pick up the notes they want you to follow.  It’s a simple trick but it really gives a huge boost to the choruses.  Especially in “Heidrun”, a song about a friendly goat.  This track has the best solo on the album by far.  It’s a great wee double guitar harmony that ties the phrases over the bar lines and really invokes the mood of a goat-based Viking drinking club. 

The drums on this album.  Good lord.  You’d think the drummer was getting paid per beat.  I’d even go as far to say that the intro to “Saxons and Vikings” is my favourite intro to any Death Metal song.  The fact that Biff Byfford from Saxon features on the track just makes it all the sweeter.  What a collaboration.

So, guitars? Check.  Vocals? Check.  Mighty moshing metal double bass drums?  Double check.  Bit of a shame Death Metal isn’t a genre where the bass shines though.

Album: Solidaritine

Artist: Gogol Bordello

Genre: Party Party After Party

If this sounds familiar, it’s a) because I foreshadowed it earlier on, and 2- already reviewed this album in full! I’ll give it a wee re-cap and go over here though.  I still agree with my sentiment from the full review that this album will be remembered fondly by GB fans.  It has a characteristic buffet of genres and sub-cultures to nibble at and enjoy throughout, it has anthems, and it has a point to make.  Even if it skips some of the extra instrumentation I enjoyed in past efforts.

One song I don’t think I mentioned in depth is “Blueprint”.  Which has snuck its way into my ears every so often and has become a stealth favourite of mine.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered it’s a Fugazi cover only a few weeks ago.  

On the other hand, I think the middle tracks, “Great Hunt of Idiot Savant” and “Knack for Life”, have become the low points of the album with repeated listening.  Tracks 6 and 7 are probably the right place for them then.  I do think the album ends quite abruptly with the final track, but I do think it’s a better climax than if it would have been one of these songs.

I still haven’t solved the bass player mystery however, maybe I’ll try and arrange some interviews with Gill Alexandre and Tommy T in the new year to find it out for myself.  But don’t tell them if you see them.

Album: The Mary Wallopers

Artist: The Mary Wallopers

Genre: Songs In The Format Of: Name, Age, Tragic Demise

Another debut album from an Irish folk act on the list.  What can I say I love tunes about stout and death.  This is an album very rich in the folk tradition.  Which is to say The Mary Wallopers are treating us to a lot of their own versions of older songs.  Which in the folk tradition is a different thing than a cover version.  Plenty of Irish material in there of course.  “Eileen Og”, the classic song of the one who got away (Read: the narrator wouldn’t ask her out and she married a brute).  “The Hackler”, a tune from the point of view of a world-weary travelling worker wrongly jailed as a scape goat.  However, there are at least two Scots tunes on the album that I love.  “Lots of Little Soldiers” originally by Matt McGinn (I think anyway, I tracked his one to 1966, all others seemed to come after) and “Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice” written by Hamish Imlach.  Tell ye boys, it’s like ye picked them just for me.  “Lots of Little Soldiers” is broadly similar to the original but with the trio of vocals, banjo, and open tuned guitar elevating it beyond the original recording.  Their “Cod Liver Oil” is something special too.  The way the banjo picks out the lead lines and a low brass bounces the bassline over a single snare, I love it.  There isn’t one thing I’d say the original lacks, but the lot together on this track is superb.

To say it’s a folk album doesn’t tell the whole story as there of course are as many flavours of folk music as there are of any other style.  You’ll find the dark, moody, and drone-y songs such as “The Hackler”, the single vocal and bodhrán piece in “John O’ Halloran”, and a very modern style in “Building Up and Tearing England Down” which mixes music with found recordings of an interview with an elderly Irish labourer.

There are certainly themes running through the album.  The working classes is one, the number of tunes coming from the point of view of those exploited by predatory landlords and warmongers is significant.  There are a good couple of anti-war songs, written for wars long gone but still relevant.  And of course, there are the good auld songs about shagging and drinking.  If you follow the Hayseed Dixie philosophy, there are only four songs worth singing.  Songs about killing, cheating, drinking and hell.  The Mary Wallopers by The Mary Wallopers has this lyrical quartet just about covered.

So, there but for the grace of god goes 2022.  A year in which two Irish acts came head-to-head with two Swedish acts and let Gogol Bordello join in as well since they refuse to be confined to fewer than seven nationalities.  Good work everyone…same time next year?

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