It almost feels like I’ve been part of the scenery of Soundscape forever now, but actually I only started writing at the start of this year. But what a year it’s been! Here are my top three albums, gigs and videos of 2013.
My top three albums were incredibly difficult to choose – indeed, the top two switched places more times than I can remember. There’s been some downright awful stuff released this year (even, sadly, from one of my favourite bands) but there’s also been some immense highs as well, so here are three of the best. I’ve written a short piece about each one, but you can also click the title to be taken to my review of the album on the site as well.
01 Glittertind – Djevelsvart
In all honesty, there’s no other album that’s truly worth the title of “best album of 2013” than Djevelsvart. As Glittertind were one of the first folk metal bands I ever got into, I’ll probably always have a soft spot for them but this album took them to a whole new level for me. Perhaps it was because Djevelsvart was their first release as a full band but there’s just something about this album that really makes it stand out from the crowd in the best possible way. Sprekk For Sol and Tåketanker are possibly two of the most catchiest songs in existence and the album flows from one track to the next with such fluidity and ease, highlighting the sheer amount of talent this band has. It didn’t even take me one listen before I wanted to dance, move about and bang my head along to it. A truly memorable release that won’t be leaving my CD player any time soon.
02 TrollfesT – A Decade Of Drekkadance
It goes without saying that this magnificent offering from the pioneers of True Norwegian Balkan Metal, TrollfesT, would also be on my list. Documenting the band’s incredible ten-year career and presented beautifully in the way of a 12″ picture disc that includes artwork of many characters that have appeared on past album covers, it highlights everything that is great about this band and really plays on their strong points. The brand new song contained on it, På Beruselsens Vinger, is one of their best to date and if that’s not enough for you, it also features some wonderful acoustic tracks, their out-of-print debut EP and even three cover songs – including their now-infamous rendition of Britney Spears’ Toxic. Quite simply, it’s sixteen tracks of pure delight and since purchasing it, not a week has gone by where I haven’t listened to it. Not only does it serve as a must-have release for anyone who is a fan of the band, it’s also a great method to discover the band and find out just how incredible they are.
03 Rusty Shackle – The Bones
Purely melodic bands have to be really good to interest me but Rusty Shackle is a band that tick all the boxes and their 2013 offering The Bones is an absolute work of art. Ten tracks of feel-good honest folk with some utterly beautiful lyrics, it’s the perfect pick-me-up for when you’re feeling down and the musicianship is second to none. You can’t help but want to sing along to it, especially with the songs that have huge sing-along lines like The Bones and Thinking, and each song is memorable in its own way – I can honestly say every single song from this album has been stuck in my head at some point. The Bones is an extremely accessible release that more than proves Rusty Shackle are destined for great things, and if you thought their debut album Wash Away These Nights was good, then just wait until you hear this!
2013 has been an incredible year for gigs, with some of my favourite bands returning to the UK for the first time in years – and even some for the first time ever, so it was a definite struggle to choose just three out of the eighty-or-so gigs I attended this year but I think I managed it. Like with my top three albums, I’ve written a short piece about each one and you can also click the title to be taken to my live review on the site as well.
01 Rusty Shackle – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, 22/12/13
My end-of-year list was all finalised, ready to go live at a moment’s notice…but then this gig happened and threw a spanner into the works, causing a massive reshuffle in my top three gigs. Maybe it was because it had felt like forever since the last time I’d seen them, or that it was my first time seeing them with their new lineup, or even just because I was so happy to see my favourite band again, but it was just a fantastic gig. Everyone onstage was just so in tune with one another and it was a pleasure to witness. They even treated us to a great version of Shakin’ Stevens’ song Merry Christmas Everyone and their usual medley of covers was a bit special this time round, with them switching out the French piece at the start for a rather amusing rendition of Mud’s Lonely This Christmas which saw the band trying so hard not to laugh at Liam’s rather unique vocal delivery, before they played the usual Hokey Cokey and Cheeky Girls tracks. There’s something just so likeable about this band and there was something about the set and performance that gave it that extra sparkle – what a great final gig of 2013 this was!
(note: I didn’t review this gig)
02 Silent Voices – Bogiez, Cardiff, 22/05/13
Timing problems aside (the band arrived at the venue half an hour after the doors were scheduled to open!) this was a truly stunning gig. It was their first ever show with their brand new frontman Teemu, although at the time he was only their touring vocalist, and he showed the crowd how capable he was at fronting the band. The thing about Silent Voices is that the band consists of insanely talented musicians and the fact that each song sounded CD-quality is testament to their ability. It’s easy to sound good on an album in this day and age, but being able to replicate it in a live environment is what makes a band stand head and shoulders above the crowd – and that’s exactly the case with Silent Voices. An incredible and gripping live band. Make sure you catch them if you can because they do need to be seen to be believed.
03 The Smoking Hearts – Hobos, Bridgend, 18/05/13
The Smoking Hearts are a band that you absolutely have to see live in order to fully appreciate them because the performances that accompany their music are always top-notch and often need to be seen to be believed. It’s rare that a set goes by without them venturing into the crowd (usually during the final song and it winds up being utter carnage to say the least!) and this gig wasn’t an exception, with frontman Ben actually going all the way to the back of the room where the sound desk was and the rest of the guys leaving drummer Matt all alone on the stage as he played! Although it was a bit of an odd crowd, with people not getting as involved like they normally would, the band still laid waste to Bridgend as per usual. (Also I got to sing along to Destroy at one point, which kind of made the gig for me in all honesty!)
I don’t have a massive attention span when it comes to music videos because I’m generally way more interested in listening to the music than looking at a visual representation at the song, but these three videos are memorable for all the right reasons. Make sure you give them all a watch because they’re totally worth your while.
01 TrollfesT – Toxic
There was no way I couldn’t include this gem of a video. If you haven’t seen it yet, then what can I say other than the fact you’re totally missing out? The video features the band member’s heads on laughably small bodies with most of them using tiny instruments (Trollbank’s “My First Drumkit” is particularly brilliant!) and the chorus section features all seven members onscreen at once, dancing in sync with one another and is probably one of the most incredible things you’ll ever witness. And if that’s not enough for you, the ending consists of guitarists Mr Seidel and Dr Leif Kjønnsfleis “bouncing” up on down on their guitars, which is guaranteed to make you laugh every time you see it. Quite possibly one of the greatest music videos to ever exist.
02 Sterbhaus – Frogboiler
Not only is Frogboiler an utterly awesome song (I mean, just check out that headbangingly-awesome introduction for starters!) the accompanying video for it is nothing short of a masterpiece. Without wanting to give too much away if you haven’t seen this beautifully bizarre video (it was so unexpectedly brilliant on my first watch that I wouldn’t want to spoil all the little details of it all!) it sees the four members being served up a rather interesting collection of meals, before an awe-inducing furry guitar complete with eyes and teeth (which I’ve been assured is a fully working model!) is revealed to the band. A catchy song with an amusing and individual video – what more could you want?
03 Funeral For A Friend – The Distance
I was a little undecisive about what my third and final video should be, so I decided to get a bit sentimental and include the video that single-handedly got me back into Funeral For A Friend. I’d been drifting from them ever since being thoroughly disappointed by The Young And The Defenceless, with each release following it interesting me less and less, so my hopes weren’t exactly high for Conduit – especially since I’d hated the first song they’d released from it. But then at the very start of 2013 they released this and in short: it’s fantastic. It’s a great, fun video of them just being themselves in and around a van on the road (a particularly amusing moment is when Gav goes rolling on a cab behind a sullen-looking Matt!) and is a pretty good song to boot.