I never did finish this, supposedly my customary end of year round-up, but I’ve dug it out of my drafts folder and polished it up a little. Better late than never?
A year of disappointments, perhaps. Hem reappeared after many years away and phoned it in, Richard Thompson continues in the vein that has seen my interest in his new material wane for a decade now, and my favourite band Counting Crows put out comfortably the worst live album of their career to date (but they’re back in the studio and hope springs eternal, right?).
Two shining exceptions to this wave of mediocrity; Ruth Moody‘s These Wilder Things and Jason Isbell‘s Southeastern (which I wrote about for Ryan’s Smashing Life, click it and read). These Wilder Things features the genius of Adam Dobres and Adrian Dolan, and you should take any available opportunity to see Ruth and band live. It’s a second helping of the easy-on-the-ear Canadian folk-pop that made her debut so appealing, with added guest gloss from Mark Knopfler, Jerry Douglas, Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker amongst others. The title track is a song of staggering emotional potency and showcases a singer and writer of great poise.
Midlake also returned, sans Tim Smith, songwriter in chief. I saw them at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds in August 2012, an improbable warmup to their semi-regular slot at End of the Road the following day. Still with Smith then, and with hindsight [perhaps raging against the restrictions of studio toil, they played an astonishing, vital, visceral set including some songs from the stillborn album we will now never hear. When Eric Pulido and Eric Nichelson appeared back at the Brudenell the following spring, I ought to have wondered if something wasn’t amiss. They made no mention of it, but the band had fractured, and were beginning the process of rebuilding that accompanied the writing of Antiphon.
It floats between the mellotron-and-flute floaty psychedelia of The Trials of Van Occupanther and the guitar-driven stylings of The Comfort of Others without being either, retaining the vocal signature even without Smith; sometimes unison or double-tracked, other times picking out the clever, unusual harmonies that betray their status as graduates of the University of North Texas jazz program.