BEST OF 2013: 1. Georgia Ruth – Week Of Pines

Growing up in South Wales with an interest in music meant that two particular attachments were formed that remain hugely important to me to this day. Firstly, there is the one utterly dependable source of exciting new acts who also manages to fill in the gaps from the past with utterly infectious enthusing: BBC Radio Wales’ new music show hosted by the inimitable Adam Walton. It became appointment listening for me when he was given a slot on weeknights in the late nineties, playing the noisy stuff before a new pop show that followed. I still have piles of CDs here that I won from the show and he is responsible for my love of the Super Furries, 60ft Dolls, Murry The Hump and Gorky’s, as well as some non-Welsh magic he also used to sneak in like The Beta Band and Doves. He was, and when time permits still is, my Peel. Adam, like Gideon Coe on 6 Music, is one of those presenters who could sell you most of the records he plays. Rare is the time I listen to one of his broadcasts without writing down at least one artist I need to investigate. He continues to fight the good fight on Saturday nights and, as music lovers yourselves, I would forcefully urge you to put aside three hours of each week to find out what has caught his attention recently.

The second totem in my grasp on music is Cardiff’s Spillers Records. I’ve written about them many times before, but they are the outlet for so much of the truly brilliant music being made in Wales. They listen to it all and match it to the people likely to love it. They make scarily accurate recommendations and send you off with a new favourite album you didn’t even go in there to buy. Several years ago, they brought Huw M into my world, for which I am eternally grateful, as well as keeping me fixed with records by The Gentle Good, Little Arrow, Meilir, H Hawkline, Sweet Baboo, Islet and many, many more. They are facilitators, curators and participants in a phenomenal music scene and they also play their part in Georgia Ruth’s stunning ‘Week Of Pines’ being my favourite album of 2013.

Adam has played her music for years, going right back to early recordings when she still used her surname Williams on releases. He would talk of this remarkable voice whose music was crafted on a harp and then play these beautifully sung, delicately balanced tracks. Her name remained on my radar and several digitally released EPs crept into my collection. However, the moment where I realised just why she was such a regular presence on his programmes was the first time I heard ‘Bones’, a beguilingly soulful paean to life working on the London Underground, replete with the sound of distant trains. It was to be housed on four track 10″ EP, ‘In Luna’, with which Spillers promptly furnished me. It remains one of my all time favourite songs and it’s not even on this remarkable album. Her Saturday afternoon set at Green Man in 2012, where ‘Bones’ was thankfully added to the setlist as an afterthought, was always going to be a must see, but it served to underline just what a tremendous talent was at play.

‘Week Of Pines’ entered the world in May and managed to traverse the full range of what various incarnations of Georgia Ruth’s music have covered to date. The title track’s motorik drums which rise from the silence, only to be partnered with a resonant harp, set the tone for a record which never sits still. Having spent time in Brighton as well as London, Williams felt the call of home and returned to Wales, pouring some of that aching nostalgia into this set of songs. This near six minute opener is unquestionably unique, marrying vague Krautrock with melodically rich playing of the harp in a manner that isn’t exactly en vogue right now. Not that it isn’t something very special. The intertwined notion of building relationships and the landscapes in which they occur is rather beautifully explored, not least in the gently stirring couplet: “You have got the best heart that I have ever seen; it lingers in the cracks and finds the dim-lit space between”.

‘Dovecote’ unravels across an organ drone, barely grounded with the vocal hovering free, entirely in keeping with the lyric “set the rigging high, my love, for I will no man’s anchor be.”  The howling harmonica which opens a cover of vintage folk number ‘Old Blue’ paves the way for a lament for a departed pet which skitters along at a fair old pace. ‘Mapping’, meanwhile, seems to have laid its strummed-harp cards upon the table before fading back up for an aching reprise. This is undeniably Welsh folk music, but so much more than that implies too. That it sounds so out of step with much of what I have listened to this year has perhaps served it well. ‘Seeing You Around’ remains a favourite, with its languid nostalgia proving to be all-encompassing and indulgently wistful. The delivery of the word ‘iconoclast’ in the line “I’ve tried to melt away like some old iconoclast, but I believed in breath and clay, I believed that we were built to last,” is wonderfully Welsh and serves to reinforce the importance of her homeland to her music.

As a plastic taff, whose formative years were spent perilously close to the border, I’m sadly not a Welsh speaker but the three tracks here which especially highlight Williams’ bilingual upbringing are no less beautiful for being reliant, for me at least, upon melody alone. ‘Hallt’, especially, is a full-shiver-down-the-spine piece, which, upon the arrival of percussion around the three and a half minute mark, lifts off to a quite magical place and the final take on its chorus is as serene a piece of music as I could wish to play right now. Although, ‘In Luna’, from the afore-mentioned EP, might run it close. Williams’ vocal rises and falls en route to a glistening chorus, bedecked with shuffling, subtle drums and delicate touches of guitar. The harp is, once again, foregrounded, becoming inextricable from her voice.

Where it is briefly sidelined, as on the richly melancholic ‘A Slow Parade’, a swooning electric guitar riff brings forth memories of a lost classic: the Richard Hawley-produced solo outing by A Girl Called Eddy. It is yet another subtle stylistic shift on this tremendously bold record. By the time ‘Winter’ retreats slowly from view, mirroring the slow entrance of the title track at the other end of the album, the Snowdonian landscape in which ‘Week Of Pines’ was constructed seems to have left its mark. Of a time, perhaps, but of a place, undoubtedly, this truly special collection of songs is unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. It picked up the Welsh Music Prize in October, which prompted a brief flurry of interest, but I put it at the top of the list not only because it quite sincerely is my favourite album of the last twelve months but also in the hope that some of you reading will seek out and enjoy an overlooked treasure. To Adam, to Spillers and, most of all, Georgia, thanks for reminding that music is a wonderfully powerful thing and, in the right hands, can make you smile, sob and stand up and face the world.

BEST OF 2013: 7. Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum

Recorded in Los Angeles but retaining plenty of Welsh spirit with Sweet Baboo and H Hawkline forming part of her band, ‘Mug Museum’ is the album that should install Cate Le Bon in the heads and hearts of the musically and emotionally literate. It is a diverting and stirring album which can hold you captive for days on end. ‘I wrote the majority of the record in the home country but a few songs were finished out here in the run up to recording’ said Le Bon in the press release that accompanied the album. ‘I’m sure Los Angeles has bled into the recordings somehow but exactly how I do not know.’ While there is something of an eternal haze perhaps referencing the LA link to some of these songs, it still sounds very much like a Cate Le Bon record in the very best possible sense. Beautiful, shimmering songs that are timeless yet vital, fresh but brilliantly familiar.

It has been wonderful to see the positive coverage that ‘Mug Museum’ has garnered, including an appearance on the cover of the newly revitalised and really rather good NME. It’s not just the initiated now, it’s anyone with functioning ears and a heart. ‘I Can’t Help You’ chimes and jangles like ‘Marquee Moon’ at 45rpm, confirming that however wonderful ‘Cyrk’ and ‘Cyrk II’ were – and they were – this another step up from a wonderfully inventive artist. ‘Are You With Me Now?’ lollops arrestingly, perfectly capturing Le Bon’s remarkable dexterity as a singer The backing vocals near the three minute mark are utterly beautiful and cap one of the record’s finest songs off in style. Quirkily vintage piano clarinet touches on the closing title track add decoration to a song which seems wearily but wilfully lost, drifting in and out of sense but offering up the thought “I forget the detail, but remember the warmth.” Much has been said about how distinctive Le Bon’s voice is, but it should be emphasised, quite simply, how utterly magnificent it is too.

The thunderous chug to the bass on ‘No God’ has a certain late seventies alt-rock majesty to it, but the folkier melodies remain at play across the top. ‘Mug Museum’ certainly has a vintage folk feel at times, but the fact that this music doesn’t quite fit any particular box all that neatly is part of its appeal. There is an overarching warmth to her delivery that transcends the meaning of the words on occasion, giving the songs an emotional heft that offers quite sincere solace during darker times. In the same way I might reach for ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ or ‘Sea Change’ because I want an all-consuming listen, I now seek out this singular album. The magically delicate interplay with Perfume Genius on ‘I Think I Knew’, for example, with heartache at its core is an inspired collaboration, pairing two warmly emotive voices to devastating effect.

‘Cuckoo Through The Walls’ disintegrates somewhat disturbingly and I have a fond memory of flicking through the vinyl racks of Cardiff’s premier destination – Spillers Records – as this played, the stereo separation across the speakers in the shop only adding to the curious atmosphere. It was they who first introduced me to Le Bon’s work, persuading me to pick up her self-released 2007 single ‘No One Can Drag Me Down’ which still gets keenly played to this day. If you’ve never heard it, some nefarious type has uploaded it here. The journey from there to here has been joyous, with each release a clearly discernible leap from the last. By the time 2012’s ‘Cyrk’ came into view, it was pretty obvious that the days of being a best kept secret sort of artist were over. Where that album faded in with ‘Falcon Eyed’, as if we were simply dipping in, the big difference with ‘Mug Museum’ is the sense of poise. This album stands tall, ready for the world to take it in.

BEST OF 2011: List Anxiety, Near-misses and why I love Huw M

The list is done, the end of year compilation is complete and the festivities can begin. Except, how did I miss out the Wild Beasts album from the Top 30? Why didn’t the Huw M album come out a little earlier, as it would have been guaranteed a good placing? What do I write about now that I’m not knee deep in a list? Ah, list maker’s anxiety has set in. Watching music journalists, music makers and music fans on Twitter over the last week or so, it’s been a familiar tale of people realising either that they’ve missed out something crucial from their list or that they simply can’t boil down what they like into a manageable ten, twenty or forty. For some reason, it matters. Not to everyone, admittedly, but to those of us who try to fill our days with as much music as humanly possible, the opportunity to present our likes in a clearly defined format is exciting and important. Partly, it’s another way of showing the world who we are, and it also allows us an opportunity to range scrupulously over our music, revisiting albums we’d forgotten or never quite clicked with. It’s an event.


This year it seemed particularly difficult to do: on the one hand, because of how many utterly wonderful albums have come out and, on the other, because I’ve been hoovering up new music for the last twelve months. The vinyl revival (hey, good name for a radio show) has continued apace to the point where pretty much any alternative music gets a release on the magic wax. Indeed, but for my still not especially forthcoming right ankle, I could lay out my entire Top 30 on the floor, on vinyl, for a real-life version of that montage picture I made for the Spotify list. I rather like that. Ok, not all of these records have recent prime-quality pressings, but the vast majority sound wonderful on the superior format. An album like ‘C’mon‘ is absolutely suited to the inherent warmth that format affords, likewise the magical ‘Tamer Animals‘ by Other Lives.

Anyone who looked at the list I produced in July, as a half-way point round up of the year in music, will notice that both Alessi’s Ark and Elbow slipped from the top ten to outside the thirty come December. Alessi’s Ark simply got worn out, and I still wonder if I’ve been unduly harsh. Elbow, however, I’m struggling with a little. It’s sonically outstanding, just like ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, but ‘Build A Rocket Boys!‘, from its missing comma onwards, just seems a little to poised. I find myself listening and thinking, ‘ah, there’s man of the people Guy Garvey extending some syllables in a matey fashion’. I’ve always loved Elbow. I adore their debut and ‘Leaders Of The Free World‘, and regular readers will remember that ‘The Seldom Seen Kid‘ just pipped Laura Marling to the top of the 2008 albums list. Whether it’s overexposure, less exciting songs or a little bit of music snobbery kicking in, I seem to have lost the bug. My first listens left me cold – which, having been tasked with reviewing it, was an immediate puncturing of the bubble – but then it grew and grew, a more subtle offering than its predecessor. Now though, I’ve no idea. Sometimes music doesn’t make sense, does it? I’m sure it’ll click at some point. Feel free to give me some pointers.

And then there are the ‘too late’ brigade. For most people, that means albums released in the last weeks of December, although for music monthlies it means mid-October onwards. This year, The Black Keys‘ cracking ‘El Camino‘ came out slightly too late to make the cut, its insane vinyl price not exactly inviting last-minute good will. It’s a great follow-up to ‘Brothers‘, to which I came rather late, with a punchy and brisk flow of soulful blues-rock. Let’s face it, if you know what The Black Keys sound like, it sounds like that. If you don’t, then I think soulful blues-rock is a fair summation.

The most unlucky release is the glistening majesty in musical form that is ‘Gathering Dust‘ by Welsh folk charmer Huw M. You may remember that his last offering, Os Mewn Sŵn’, appeared in my 2010 list after I chanced upon it during a visit to Spillers Records. This latest offering takes everything that made that album so special and develops it a little further. Whether its the gently swaying ‘Brechdannau Sgwar‘ or the wonderfully simple opener ‘The Perfect Silence‘, ‘Gathering Dust’ is blessed with both melody and absolutely stunning instrumentation. Featuring mandolin, cello, sitar, French horn, melodica and a good old Hammond organ, this is clearly not a balls-out rock record, but it is one of the most delightful folk albums of 2011, and would likely have been in my top ten had it come out in October. It bothers me that it’s not in there. It shouldn’t, but that’s list anxiety for you. Still, it’s a good way to use any Christmas money/gift vouchers/rent money you might have left after the big day. The aforementioned Welsh palace of glittering musical delights will be able to assist you with that and the debut. Honestly, if ‘For While I Wait For You To Sleep’ doesn’t get the hairs up on the back of your neck then your beauty regime is too intensive for us to ever be friends.

If you’ll forgive the phrasing, I think I’m almost done mopping up. The ‘Fame Studios Story’ boxset on Kent Records is a match for the sublime ‘Take Me To The River‘ set which they issued a few years back and the For Folk’s Sake Christmas album just nudged out Emmy The Great and Tim Wheeler‘s stonking ‘This Is Christmas’ effort for festive release of 2011. Say hi to the multiple remaindered copies of the She & Him record in Fopp in February for me.

The full list is still available for your perusal and I continue to invite your lists ahead of the December 31st deadline, when I will pick one lucky poster and send them a Low Anthem rarities 10”, a copy of the The National‘s double A-sided 7” and assorted other promo gubbins. It’ll be my pleasure. Thank you for reading this year, and for sticking around during the drought. This isn’t me entirely done for the year, but Merry Christmas to you and yours. Have fun!

The Just Played Verdict: Sarabeth Tucek ‘Get Well Soon’

I first happened upon the charms of this particular artist when skimming through one of Spillers Records’ weekly mailouts at the end of 2007. Ashli was wildly enthusing about Sarabeth Tucek and I clicked through to listen to a few samples before ordering the CD. Some months later, whilst visiting Britain’s finest city, for Wales’ largely mediocre rugby, I popped into Spillers, situated as it still was then on The Hayes, for a quick rummage in the vinyl racks. Happening upon a vinyl copy, I was overcome with a sense I’ve since learnt to not even fight: the need to have a record I love on my favourite format, despite already owning the tunes. As I took it the counter, Ashli began wildly enthusing about how good it was and I replied that I already knew as I’d bought the CD some months ago. After a slightly odd look, we then rhapsodised about that particular debut for several minutes before I went off to watch the boys in red take a hiding.

Sarabeth Tucek Get Well Soon

Get Well Soon’ is a very different record to that debut, documenting the death of Tucek’s father and borne out of a period of lows and self-destructive behaviour which ensures that this is not simply more of the same. It sounds like the kind of album you’d dig out of the crates at a record fair, pick up on the basis of its beautiful sleeve and buy on a whim, only to find you’ve unearthed a lost classic. ‘The Fireman’ is a warm, spacious recording and Tucek’s vocal, which sits atop, delivering lines like “The Fireman saved many a home but the fireman could save his own,” is utterly beautiful. When the plucked guitar line comes in, my day is quantifiably improved. It’s one of those little moments in songs which cause the hairs to go up on your neck and other assorted clichés which describe discernable psychical reactions. Soft and measured seems to be the musical order of the day here, but as anyone who likes a little Cat Power or ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’ knows, when this is executed to perfection, it can be genuinely very affecting.

Continue reading “The Just Played Verdict: Sarabeth Tucek ‘Get Well Soon’”

16. Huw M–Os Mewn Sŵn

Best of 2010The Welsh accent can be a gently lulling listen or a stadium shattering surge in the world of music and there are fine exponents of each. Anyone who has ever loved Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci (anyone who has heard them, surely) will know how charmingly melodic it can be, even lullaby-like at times. Such fans should find similar thrills in this shimmering collection.

huw m

I owe my love of this album to an enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgeable record shop owner. It’s a phrase I used to use quite a lot, but which I rarely get to utter these days. Whilst down in Cardiff for my regular burst of rugby-based humiliation at the hands of the All Blacks, I made time for a trip to Spillers, in its new home in the Morgan Arcade. Since my first visit in September, the shop has grown in character – and stock – and has continued the magic of 36 The Hayes. As I walked upstairs to the vinyl floor, I heard Ashli – Spillers boss – telling another customer that the album playing in the shop was on for him and that she thought he’d like it. He did, and so did I.

Twitter followers will recall how Ashli then proceeded to recommend me a ton of vinyl, all but one I already had! At the last minute, I asked her to chuck in the album that was playing too. I’m really rather glad I did that, on reflection. ‘Os Mewn Sŵn’ by Huw M is a joyous sounding set of orchestrated indie pop. I would comment on the lyrics except that they’re all in Welsh and I speak about six words of the language.

Put simply, if you like your delicate indie pop – be it Gorky’s, early Belle And Sebastian or Camera Obscura – then you will find plenty to enjoy here. The arching string figure of ‘Y Drôr Sy’n Dal Y Sanau’ is one of many highlights, opener ‘Hiraeth Mawr A Hiraeth Creulon’ is ridiculously catchy and surprisingly easy to sing along to considering I don’t have a clue what he’s saying!

I miss my days of buying whatever was playing in my local independent record shop. A fabulous record like this, which I would otherwise have almost certainly never found, is the reason why.

Journal For A Manics Lover – Cardiff Castle, September 1st 1998

Being called a “fucking squirrel” by James Dean Bradfield, aged 15, was a very special moment for me. Having chatted with me about my home town for a good five minutes, he was incredibly gracious as I kept flinging items in front of him to be signed. Sat in the confines of Cardiff Castle, having just been privy to, the still to be released, ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ on some truly massive speakers, I was in my element. The sudden appearance of James next to me marked the first time I ever felt what you might call star struck. Having won a competition to attend the launch of the Manics’ fifth album, I was more than a little giddy that evening. Furnished with an information pack which contained an A4 booklet with each of the tracks’ lyrics, page by page, along with a selection of press photos, already seemed ludicrously exciting to my teenage mind without the addition of an actual Manic to scribble all over them. It marked the culmination of three years ascending to fever pitch over anything and everything the Manics had released. I’d come late to the party, I’d only really known them as a three-piece, but I was totally hooked. They were my band, as they have been to so many people at various points over the last twenty years. They’d grown up thirty miles down the road from me, felt no pressure to fit in and were endearingly caustic yet frank in interviews.

For many months thereafter, ‘This Is My Truth…’ was my album of choice more often that not. It’s not their best, it didn’t top the majesty of ‘Everything Must Go’, but it defined a moment for me and listening to it today I found I could remember almost every word. A new Manics album was a proper event for me, whether I heard it sat in the same room as James or by doing battle with a dial-up connection and the nascent days of Napster, and I’ve realised today that that hasn’t really changed. As is transparently obvious to anyone who regularly reads this site and follows the associated Twitter feed, I’ve had ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ since the end of July. I had to write a review of it after only four days of, admittedly solid, listening. I’ve continued to play it furiously in the intervening weeks, still backing in its all-out power-pop glory and massive riffs. However, being able to pick up the various editions today, in person, from Spillers Records brought back all of those memories of pre-ordering ‘This Is My Truth…’ from Woolies to make sure I got an embossed cover and of diverting my dad from ferrying me to a university interview in London to Sister Ray to acquire ‘Know Your Enemy’.


This tremendous set of songs, one of their best I would argue, is beautifully packaged and, out of all of the versions available, the 2CD set housed in a hardback book probably represents the best value for money, containing pages from Nicky’s scrapbook, early versions of lyrics and demos of the whole album on the bonus disc. This week, I intended to write at great length about this record and why I find myself slightly surprised at how much it means to me. As you’ll have noticed, Just Played is going to wear a slightly different outfit for the week. Should you dislike the Manics intensely, all will be back to normal by Monday 27th.