2015: Looking Back (But Not for Long)

Reading back over what I wrote this time last year, my goals and hopes for 2015, it would be so easy to focus on the failures, the low points, the regrets and mistakes. In some ways, the past twelve months have represented some of the absolute worst times of my life, and certainly some of the biggest regrets.

But in so many ways, 2015 has been one of the best years I have had to date. I’ve met and got to know some truly amazing people, visited new places; I’ve learned so much – about myself, about the world, about art and music – and I’ve been to some spectacular events. And it’s these times I intend to focus on, the good times I intend to store in my memory. Holding on to too much of the past can only prevent you from appreciating the present, and the potential for the future. I’ve held on far too long to the past, it’s time it slept.

Significantly to me, this has also been the year I got back into music, in a huge way, after several years of near apathy. I was listening to the same bands, not really making much effort to hear anything new, and generally didn’t have it in me to care too much. I’ve since realised what a huge mistake that was, because music feeds my moods, it inspires my art and my writing, and it has the power to flip me from a bad day to a wonderful day. Music has truly underlined my life over the past months, in a way I don’t think it did even during my teenage years.

I’ve seen so many amazing bands live over the past year, with many more planned for the coming months, that I can’t quite understand how only twelve months ago this barely mattered to me. Not only have they inspired a large body of art work (work which has, in turn, led to several exhibitions), but I’ve also started dabbling (precariously, badly, slightly incoherently) in writing music of my own.

2015 has seen some utterly outstanding sounds being released by a huge variety of artists, and whilst jotting down notes for this article, it occurred to me that whilst last year I probably couldn’t have named one band who released an album in 2014, this year I can not only name plenty, but I’ve actually had trouble whittling down my choices to a mere ten. I’ve more than likely forgotten some, too, but in closing, here’s the ten tracks (in no particular order) which have really stood out for me this year.

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(Track videos embedded where possible, otherwise there’s track links in the headings – directly to band sites, or to Spotify as a last resort.)

1. Solar FakeI Don’t Want You in Here (from Another Manic Episode)
Okay, maybe this does indeed take prime position, but only because Solar Fake could quite possibly release an entire album of tuneless humming over a cowbell, and I’d still be all over it like a giggly schoolgirl. That said, this whole album really is glorious. This song in particular resonated with me, because to me, it centres on toxic connections to other people; unhealthy, co-dependent relationships, and breaking free from them. Of taking control over your own life and moving on, independent and free. Those things have underlined my experiences through this year, and so this track has a lot of emotional value to me.

Hell, maybe I’m way off mark about it, but that’s my personal interpretation.

Happily, Solar Fake are on the list of bands I will be seeing live over the next few months, and I’m stupidly excited about the prospect.

As a side comment, the box set (link to the album above, you can find it from there) comes with a bonus 3rd CD entitled ‘Sedated’, which contains piano versions of some of the tracks from the album, including this one. I’m an absolute sucker for good piano, and the version of this just melts me.)

2. Ashbury HeightsPhantasmagoria (from The Looking Glass Society)
Oh, my neighbours probably hated me when I first got my hands on this album. I looped this track about a thousand times, with manic bedroom dancing, and very loud singing. Absolute belter of a track, which never fails to elevate my mood.

3. AdvanceDead Technology (from Deus Ex Machina (Redux))
It was a difficult choice between this and Divine Machines, but it was Dead Technology that I first heard, on an Analogue Trash sampler CD, so for that reason alone, it’s the one I’m listing here. I managed to see Advance twice this year, on the Beat:Cancer   tour in November, and both times, the sets were outstanding, well worth getting up front and dancing your heart out to. Hugely looking forward to seeing them again in the future.

 

4. Berlyn TrilogyTokyo Rooftops
Both this and Wreckage of Love, the other track released over the summer from this Wakefield trio, are fantastic, but the hooky chorus which bursts out of this put it just slightly ahead for me. Again, another band I only got into a few months ago, but who I’ve happily managed to see live, and plan to see again in February.

 

5. Aesthetic Perfection – Devotion (from Blood Spills Not Far from the Wound)
Technically, this album is an updated and re-released version of earlier work, but since there are considerable differences between the two, the earlier album was released under a different moniker, and I fucking adore this song, it gets through.

A beautiful piano led track with a more melancholy tone, this is another one which got to me both musically and lyrically, in many ways for similar reasons that the Solar Fake track resonated with me. Until this year, I’m not sure I ever really considered that it was possible to love someone, to be with someone, without losing some part of your own self in the process. This track speaks to me of losing part of yourself trying to be what someone else wants, of changing for other peoples reasons, and of the damage that this will ultimately do.

 

6. Zeitgeist ZeroA Last Farewell (from Ghosts of Victory)
Another piano led track choice (by now, to the surprise of absolutely nobody). I pledged towards the album’s crowdfunding, and as such now have a pleasing amount of ZZ merchandise in my possession. The entire album is packed with strong tracks, but I’m a sucker for this particular sort of song. Whilst retaining the bands distinctive sound, this has a more melancholy tone which still sits amidst the rest of the tracks beautifully.

Another West Yorkshire band, this time hailing from Leeds, and who I’ve managed to add to the live shows I’ve caught throughout the year.

 

7. Syd:31Hate (from Drowning in Air)
Ok, this one’s a bit of a cheat, since the EP hasn’t officially been released at the time of writing. However, this song is going to stick firmly in my head for 2015 because the band were another on the bill for both Beat:Cancer shows.The band had performed this song at the Manchester show, before the news came through about the Paris attacks. At the London show the following night, during the same song, the band had the entire audience shouting ‘We Won’t Hate’ right along. Being part of that crowd instigated a feeling in some tiny way that maybe the human race isn’t entirely fucked, and that memory means that hearing this song now simultaneously brings a lump to my throat (in a good way), and makes me want to jump up and hug the shit out of a bunch of people.

Posted by the band after the event:

This time last week, I had just finished my set in Manchester, including a new song called ‘Hate’, dedicated to people that encourage us to hate. I verbally dedicated it to the Daily Mail, Westboro Baptist church and ISIS. As soon as I finished my set I heard what had happened in Paris. I was heartbroken.

The next night in London, I was wondering if I should tone it down – I normally wear fake blood, bullets and use images of violence and war – Would it be seen as distasteful?
But I thought ‘fuck no!’ we carry on with our mission. we played louder, faster and more intensely then ever before – we will not be cowed by violence.

And thanks to everyone that chanted ” WE WONT HATE” to our set. We wont let hate divide us.

 

8. ded.pixelCognitive.Dissonance (from Form.Follows.Function)
I first heard Y’Ddraig Goch on an Analogue Trash label sampler earlier in the year, and it stuck in my mind after listening to the CD whilst painting in my studio (shed). It was during one of those epic summer storms we got, when the heavens just opened, and the skies were pure electricity and sound. That track came on just as the rain hit, and I carried on with my painting, the whole experience just working perfectly.

I’ve since worked in the studio to the whole album, and found it equally as perfect to create to. There’s an darkly theatrical quality to the music, perhaps the intro or outro to an epic scene, which I find hugely appealing, and works well with the kind of painting I tend towards. Again, this was another album I found difficult to choose a track from, and upon listening next time, I’ll probably change my mind again. But I think for now, this one’s my favourite.

 

9. Oomph! – Jetzt oder nie (from XXV)
Another band on the list for 2016’s viewing, and who have provided a good chunk of my listening material throughout the year. After an excited buildup, I listened to XXV within hours of its release, and it did not disappoint. ‘Now or Never’. Indeed.

 

10. VNV Nation – Standing (Moderato Declamando) – from Resonance
VNV have always had a special place in my heart, being amongst the first bands I saw live who influenced my interest in electronic music, and Standing being one of the first songs I recall playing over and over again afterwards. I first saw them at Whitby Gothic Weekend, in the Spa Pavillion. This year, through reconnecting with an old friend, I had the pleasure of helping out at the Bram Stoker International Film Festival. VNV headlined the first night, which meant that exactly 15 years after I first saw them, I was not only watching them again in the very same room, but also working with them. I was standing close to the side of the stage on security detail whilst they played, so I had a pretty good view throughout the set. A really beautiful, ‘full circle’ sort of feeling.

This version, from the orchestral album Resonance, I just think works so utterly perfectly.

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