Thursday, 16 January 2014

2013: Slow Focus

Well, that was a shit year.

Obviously, there was plenty going on outside my brain to be concerned about. Poverty (and, on these shores, a government that seemed hellbent on making it worse while scapegoating its victims), natural disasters, bloody conflicts, the rolling back of gay rights around the world, the list goes on...

On a more personal level, the year started with my job hanging by a thread. Later in the year, the bedroom in our flat was rendered uninhabitable by two walls and part of a ceiling coming down, a situation which has yet to be resolved. Meanwhile, ill health seemed to surround me, my family and friends like a horrid miasma. At its worst, this led to a good man dying far too young.

Of course, that puts everything else into some sort of perspective, and in truth there was plenty to be thankful for this year. After a few months of uncertainty, my job was saved. We managed to get away three times this year: a weekend in France, a week in South Devon and, best of all, a week in Belgium culminating with the excellent Muddy Roots Europe festival. The summer was also great, with many a long afternoon/evening spent knocking back pints and chatting shit with friends old and new in our local's beer garden. Emily, Burton, Tasha, Andrew: thanks for your company! My band didn't get to play out much (just three shows in 2013, one of which was in Redhill), but we did release a new album (, have already got a few new songs on the go, and there's at least one gig on the horizon (

It was also a pretty terrific year for music. I reckon I could have done a Top 50 albums at least, but 20 seems like a more reasonable amount to expect anyone to trawl through. So, here's what overtook my senses throughout 2013: albums, tunes, gigs and telly. I do read books and watch films too, but not often in the years they come out...

This is dedicated to Caroline and Ashley, who would almost certainly have complained that Alter Bridge are nowhere to be seen...

1. Future Of The Left - How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

3. Nails - Abandon All Life

4. Wooden Shjips - Back To Land

5. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Mind Control

6. Carlton Melton - Always Even

7. The Icarus Line - Slave Vows

8. Coliseum - Sister Faith

9. Teeth Of The Sea - Master

10.  Pissed Jeans - Honeys

11. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

12. Mogwai - Les Revenants

13. Boduf Songs - Burnt Up On Re-Entry

14. Retox - YPLL

15. Centuries - Taedium Vitae

16. Savages - Silence Yourself

17. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold

18. Hey Colossus - Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo

19. The Dillinger Escape Plan - One Of Us Is The Killer

20. Daniel Avery - Drone Logic

OK, it feels a little tokenistic to publish a separate list for Brighton bands, but like I said earlier, there were way more albums I dig this year than I could fit into a Top 20. Disclaimer: all of the below feature at least one person I know, but if you can't be biased on a blog where the hell can you be? Apologies to anyone I've either forgotten or haven't heard yet. Here, in alphabetical order, are the Brighton bands who've left an impression on me this year...

Anacondas - Sub Contra Blues

Death Ape Disco - Supervolcano

Ewigkeit - Back To Beyond

Jaldaboath - The Further Adventures

Kemper Norton - Carn

King Goat - EP

Sea Bastard - Sea Bastard/Scabrous

War Wolf - Riding With Demons EP/Crushing The Ways Of The Old

1.Future Of The Left - Johnny Borrell Afterlife

2. Kvelertak - Bruane Brenn

3. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Mt. Abraxas

4. Daft Punk - Get Lucky

5. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats -Mind Crawler

6. Coliseum - Black Magic Punks

7. Machinedrum - Gunshotta

8. Nails - Tyrant

9. Satan's Wrath - Ecstasies Of Sorcery

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - We No Who U R

GIGS OF 2013
Once again, it feels like I didn't go to as many gigs as I should have this year, and once again DIY punk shows and Colin's TST shindigs have been particularly neglected. But looking at this list (non-exhaustive, merely the ones I enjoyed the most) I clearly did go to quite a few shows in 2013 (even if there are multiple entries for sets at Muddy Roots Europe and the TST X weekender). Once again, in alphabetical order...

The Answer @ The Concorde
Art Of Burning Water/DKH @ The Prince Albert
Boredom @ The Prince Albert
Broker @ The Green Door Store & The Prince Albert
Joe Buck Yourself @ Muddy Roots Europe

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ The Dome
China Drum @ The Garage
Circle Takes The Square/Full Of Hell/We Came Out Like Tigers @ The Haunt
Coliseum/Narrows @ The Green Door Store
Crazy Arm @ The Prince Albert
Dethscalator @ TST X, The Green Door Store
The Dillinger Escape Plan/Three Trapped Tigers/Maybeshewill @ The Concorde
The Dirt Daubers @ Muddy Roots Europe
Future Of The Left/The Wytches @ The Haunt
Grey Hairs @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Hatebreed/Black Dogs @ The Concorde
Hellshock/Constant State Of Terror/Wyrdforge @ The Hope

Hey Colossus @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Hoax @ Sticky Mike's  
James Hunnicutt @ Muddy Roots Europe

The Icarus Line/Bad For Lazarus @ The Hope
I'm Being Good @ TST X, The Green Door Store

Jessica Bailiff/Boduf Songs @ The Green Door Store
Joeyfat @ TST X, The Green Door Store
June Paik @ The Prince Albert
Koffin Kats @ Muddy Roots Europe

Kogumaza @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Larry & His Flask @ The Prince Albert & The Hope
Loop @ The Concorde
LostAlone @ Audio
Austin Lucas @ The Palmeira
Metz @ Audio & The Concorde
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band @ Muddy Roots Europe
Mine @ The Green Door Store
Mission Of Burma @ The Haunt
Monster Magnet @ The Concorde
1981 @ Sticky Mike's
Part Chimp @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Possessed By Paul James @ Muddy Roots Europe
Pye Corner Audio/Kemper Norton @ The Hope

Raein/Crash Of Rhinos @ The Green Door Store
Saint Vitus @ The Haunt
Sea Bastard/Bad Guys @ The Prince Albert
Sleep Committee @ The Green Door Store(three times!), The Black Dove & The Prince Albert
Sloath @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Spiers & Boden @ The Ropetackle
Swans @ The Concorde
Teeth Of The Sea/Thought Forms @ Sticky Mike's

Title Fight @ The Concorde
Torche @ The Garage
Touche Amore @ Audio
Trash Talk @ The Green Door Store
Ugly Kid Joe(!) @ The Concorde
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats @ The Garage
Vile Imbeciles @ The Albert
Viva Le Vox @ Muddy Roots Europe
War Wolf @ Sticky Mike's (twice), The Prince Albert (twice), The Green Door Store
Witchsorrow @ The Black Heart
Your Demise/Heights @ The Haunt
You're Smiling Now...But We'll All Turn Into Demons @ TST X, The Green Door Store

1. Broadchurch
In a less outstanding year for TV, most of the shows at the top end of this list could have been a contender for top spot, but even amongst such competition, Broadchurch won out. Its pacing, atmosphere and multi-layered narratives might have displayed influence from Nordic Noir (absent from this list this year, though there'll be some undead Frenchies along in a bit) but nobody who found themselves consumed by this one could dispute that it succeeded on its own terms. David Tennant and Olivia Colman might have been the (very good) headline stars, but this was vey much an ensemble piece, with particular kudos for Jodie Whittaker's turn as grieving mother Beth, providing a portrait of devastation but still allowing the character's personality to shine through. What was rare throughout was that you got a sense of who these characters were before the events of the show, and who they might be again in time. While Broadchurch was, clearly, a murder mystery at heart - and one which gripped the nation to the tune of over 8 million viewers for its conclusion - its heart was with its characters, not the crime which set events in motion.

2. Utopia
There was something brilliantly gleeful about Utopia. A conspiracy thriller, a black comedy, a surrealist nightmare... whatever tag you wanted to put on it, this was television which refused to conform. Its violence broke unwritten but keenly-felt rules about what you can get away with on telly (without falling into the tedious trap of mysoginistic torture porn); its humour was effective while never removing the feeling of unease which preyed on your mind throught a series where nobody was safe. Alumni from various top notch Brit flicks and shows (The Thick Of It, Four Lions, Misfits) were led by an incredible performance from Kill List's Neil Maskell (probably allowing his talent to be sold short by an appearance in yet another gangster flick right now) as troublingly unfeeling killer Arby, while old-stagers Stephen Rea, James Fox and Geraldine James provided gravitas. You could tell whether or not you were going to like Utopia from its opening scene; if you missed it, give it a go.

3. The Returned
Les Revenants came to Britain with a stylishness familiar from its Nordic cousins, but it could hardly have been more French. Anybody in doubt about this is directed to the fact that it features a sexy psychic who conducts sessions with her clients by making love to them, or indeed to the face (and name!) of Frédéric Pierrot, whose character Jerome could have been constructed from British cliches about French blokes. Maybe its origin helped to make The Returned the most original reimagining of the undead for decades. Instead of coming back as zombies, the deceased simply reappear, years after their deaths, unchanged, potentially immortal and with no understanding of what's happened to them. As you can imagine, this rather puts the cat amongst the pigeons. The idea of creepy twins is given a fresh new spin, Mogwai provide effective musical backing, young Victor freaks everyone the fuck out, and (spoiler alert!) none of your questions are answered. Magnifique!

4. The Fall
While Broadchurch spent time with the families and townsfolk, The Fall took the opposite approach, focussing attention on the cat and mouse game being played by handsome psychopath Jamie Dornan and driven cop Gillian Anderson. OK, there were other characters - Hollyoaks refugee Bronagh Waugh did a great job as Dornan's wife, although her old chum Emmett J. Scanlan was given fuck all to do - as well as the context of events playing out in a still troubled Belfast, but really, it all came down to these two charismatic, intelligent individuals. As with The Returned, it frustrated viewers by choosing to leave events hanging for a second series, but this was still a classy take on the hoary old serial killer genre.

5. Ripper Street
Ripper Street enjoyed a curious, crash and burn trajectory. Its first series was evidently popular enough to be paid the rare compliment of having a second series air within the same calendar year, pretty much unheard of outside reality TV and "continuing dramas" like Casualty. However, pitched against idiots in a jungle on ITV, said second series underperformed in the ratings, and the future of the show is now up in the air. Which is a shame, as the second series took the first's potential and ramped it up with a more satisfying story arc and a bravura performance from Jopseph Mawle, revealing hitherto hidden depths of evil (not to mention a ripped physique) as the year's most villainous villain, Jedediah Shine. Not the tired old retread of the Jack The Ripper story its name suggests, Ripper Street is in fact set after Saucy Jack's reign, and while there are still echoes and shadows of the killings reverberating throughout the squalid Whitechapel streets, there's plenty more violence, venality and corruption to keep the lead trio of 19th Century feds busy. And while there initially seemed to be a danger that the female characters would be ill-used - the first episode was essentially about someone inventing snuff movies, complete with copious violence against women - it turned out that they could all hold their own. Ripper Street is also siginificant in its rehabiltation of Jerome Flynn, a man formerly known primarily for crooning alongside laughable fisherman Robson Green in the 1990s, who's turned into a fine character actor. Of course, if you still can't forgive him for Robson & Jerome, you do get to see him being remorselessly bludgeoned in a boxing ring, so everyone's a winner there.

6. Southcliffe
So, time to get away from shows about death...ah. The bleakest of the lot, Southcliffe might have sounded like it was just down the road from Broadchurch, but its fractured narrative and unremitting darkness was something else entirely. A series based on a child murder didn't stop tourists flocking to the Dorset Coast, but it's hard to imagine anyone watching the aftermath of a killing spree in Southcliffe and thinking they simply had to visit Kent's marshes and market towns. Another stellar cast helped tell this story of tragedy and grief to provide one of the year's most grown-up highlights.

7. Doctor Who
A better year for the Doctor, this one. New assistant Clara energised proceedings, and the second half of Series 7 proved far more satisfying than its flakier predecessor, even if it did start with the Doctor riding a motorbike up the side of The Shard. Things reached their peak with the brilliant 50th Anniversary episode, John Hurt's War Doctor lending a heft to proceedings without hindering the humour in Tennant and Smith's double act. OK, Matt Smith's swansong in the Christmas episode was a disappointing muddle, but hopes remain high that with Capaldi at the helm of the TARDIS, we could be in for the most interesting incarnation of the Doctor in some time.

8. Parks & Recreation
Not really from 2013 at all, but as this was the year it finally aired in the UK, this superior comedy deserves a mention here. Apparently it gets even better, but the two series I've seen so far reveal this to be the best faux-documentary comedy - fuck it, just one of the most whipsmart comedies of any stripe - in years. The entire cast of characters are more quotable and memorable than any in recent memory, and the fact that we're kinda rooting for all of them without any descent into soapy sentimentality also makes it one of the kindest-hearted. Just great.

9. Walking Wounded: Return To The Frontline
Pretty rare for me to recommend standalone documentaries here, and I have to admit a connection to its subject. Giles Duley went to the same school as me, although as he was three years ahead, it's not like we're chums or anything. But if seeing someone I knew, a bit, thirty years ago, on the telly, was a vague hook to watch something, the story told therein is worth anyone's time. A photographer who'd moved from shooting pop stars to serious documentary work, Duley was reporting on the war in Afghanistan in 2011 when he stood on an IED. Now a triple amputee, he hasn't just found the courage to carry on with his life; he hasn't just found the fortitude to carry on with his career. This documentary found him fighting back fear to return to Afghanistan for a project where he takes photos of locals who've also lost limbs. As a portrait of an incredible individual, it more than works, but this is also a serious study of what war physically does to people, more eloquent than many more dogmatic visions of conflict. And, seriously, I've got tears in my eyes just thinking about it.

10. Gogglebox
24 Hours In A&E and the Educating... strand continued to inspire, but for my last choice I'm going to plump for the thing which surprised me most this year. The idea of watching people watching telly and commenting on it sounds like the death of something in the nation's soul; in theory, it should be even worse than trawling through below-the-line comments on tabloid papers' websites. As it turned out, once discovered on return from the pub, it proved an  irresistible pleasure, its cast of commentators providing a hilarious scattershot of attitudes across class, race, gender, locality and sexuality. Our favourites are Liverpudlian pensioners Leon and June and the deadpan Siddiqui family from Derby, though many of the best lines come from Brighton boys Stephen and Chris, and even the people we might find slightly appalling are good value. A word of warning, though; don't think too much about the fact that you're sat there commenting on people who are in turn sat there commenting on something else.