Ian Watson wrote about the madness of compiling 'Best of Year' lists in November (or even earlier) for the Guardian. My own advent series was a shifting landscape right up until the point that I started writing it, and the threat of some thrilling new album emerging in December was of course ever present. As it was, there was one album that should certainly have snuck in to the list and Ian makes reference to it in his article. In light of that then, here is a special Boxing Day supplement for The Drink. Take it away:
No, I didn’t know about the rarer than rare things that were the self-released EPs One through Three that were collected on the ‘Company’ set until, well, I decided to take a punt and grab the aforementioned LP at the start of December. A few moments of ‘Microsleep’ were all I needed to be convinced, and really in all honesty it could be the only song you need to play. Put it on repeat. Lift the needle back to the beginning and start, start again again. Dance in your pyjamas. Dance in your daydreams. But dance.
The Drink will in all likelihood make many fine records in the years ahead, but they will need to go some to better this blueprint for magnificence. For ‘Microsleep’ is Je Suis Animal humming about Marie Roget whilst Life Without Buildings dart and scratch in the background. ‘Microsleep’ is Steeleye Span having a seizure; is demonic, medieval mythology cloaked in the finest cocoa rich chocolate. ‘Microsleep’ is The Popinjays of their eponymous first EP colliding with Throwing Muses and collapsing in an exhausted, twitching heap on the floor.
We should never dwell on unpleasant thoughts or memories, but I have to admit that I shall not be sad to see the back of 2014. Everyone deals with their own difficulties and demons in their own way and alongside the importance of special people I have to admit that music is often the transformative medium through which I am able to escape and find solace. The specific music that manages to perform this miracle shifts with the moods and the times of course, but there is something magical in the manner in which circumstance and chance can appear to momentarily place things in just the perfect place and time. There was something of this alchemical quality in Withered Hand’s ‘New Gods’ album, and whilst the reasons for choosing it as my favourite record of 2014 are entirely, deeply personal, I will suggest that although it crossed my path at exactly the right moment, it would never have burrowed so deeply into my heart had it not also been so spectacularly, timelessly brilliant.
I have stated before that I don’t really believe in coincidence and there is surely none in the fact that two of my very favourite records of the year were released via the Furtuna Pop and Slumberland axis. I may however be tempted to accept a degree of coincidence in that fact that both Allo Darlin’ and Withered Hand originally left me cold. In hindsight this is unfathomable, but I am sure there were good reasons. Perhaps in Withered Hands’ case it was an aversion to a rootsy Scottishness, and whilst I would still admit to a mistrust of such earthy faux-authenticity, in reality there was little if any of that in the grooves of ‘New Gods’. Instead there was, I think, a glorious outsider appreciation of a mythic Americana at work that was at once wholly personal and instantly universal (in hindsight this appears to be a recurring theme in many of my favourite records of the year).
It seemed to me that in ’New Gods’ we glimpsed the ghosts of Gene Clark and Gram Parsons sharing a bourbon in an LA Airport lounge whilst daydreaming of peat fires and Sauchiehall Street. Or perhaps it was an echo of James Hackett sidling up to Van Dyke Parks and suggesting they make a record about airplane rides, fading photographs and missing heartbeats. Perhaps it was none of that.
Perhaps instead it was just the sound of ‘Between True Love And Ruin’ on the car stereo in summer afternoons and feeling simultaneously like the world could both crack wide open at any moment and that nothing could possibly dent it. Perhaps it was the euphoric pleasure of listening to the skirling swish of ‘King of Hollywood’ and wanting to swing passing strangers over your shoulder in some kind of wild dervish dance. Perhaps it was the joyful delight of hearing a song called ‘Black Tambourine’ that had the insanely good taste to have Pam Berry on backing vocals (and of course of that record being released on Slumberland!). Perhaps it was the autumnal shiver of the album’s title track whispering in the mist of an October morning. Perhaps it was the utter perfection of every moment of ‘Fall Apart’: from the lines about dancing by the light of every dead star to the layered harmonies in the chorus and those entreaties to ‘come on, come on’ it was perfect a Pop jewel as one could imagine.
In the end though, ‘New Gods’ has ended up as my most treasured record of 2014 simply because it, more than any other, spoke to me about my life and my feelings in a way that no other quite managed, both lyrically and musically. And although I understand that years are simply constructs that allow us to delineate the passing of time, I’m looking forward to 2015 simply because it will not be 2014. I’m rather hoping too that there will be more Withered Hand records to help us all through.