Gig Scene: Our top 10 local releases of 2012

Dan Webster of The Birdman Rallies. (Picture by Stuart Rhodes)
Dan Webster of The Birdman Rallies. (Picture by Stuart Rhodes)

By Graham Chalmers

1 The Birdman Rallies: Moons (album)

Once again with The Birdman Rallies, the quality is so high that any criticisms I’m about to make are made because I rate the band so highly.

This time around lead singer Dan Webster adds an even richer instrumental backing than usual with strong hints of electronica and the spacey, echoing sheen of shivery early 60s beat pop.

Melodically, it’s another hook-packed cracking collection of great songs. Best for me are the upbeat power-pop of opening track Telescope Katie and the haunting choruses of What Is This House.

As a band The Birdman Rallies are as pop as Prince or Brian Wilson and nearly as brilliant.

2. Tre: Back 2 Music (album)

On his debut mixtape album, Tre is as nimble and surefooted as Muhammed Ali in his heyday in the ring.

His deep, authoritative voice skips over streams of lyrics, dancing on his toes vocally in that rolling fashion patented by the great American rappers who seem to inspire him: Ice Cube, Jay Z, Kanye West.

Though not quite as skeletal as, say, Genius/GZA on Liquid Swords, Tre’s sounds are never cluttered - the tunes and the words are free to roam.

It’s true that Back 2 Music contains nothing startlingly original but it’s a serious album and seriously good, too.

3. Arc of Manapples: Green, Gold (album)

As a band, Arc of Manapples have always created a special alt-rock blend of their own, one part The Who, one part grunge and one part rippling, dark psychedelia.

But they also boast the slovenly, easy charm of The Replacements, the sharpness of Neil Young and the pop skills of Elvis Costello, not to mention occasional nice trickles of Americana keyboards from drummer Sant.

If Pete Townsend of The Who was The Seeker, lead singer Jeremy Grove is on a voyage of discovery in life and music. And he’s getting better at it every year.

4. Samantha Smith: Out of the Blue (album)

Samantha Smith approaches her debut album at a gallop like a woman possessed backed by a band of hired hands who understand the urgency of the situation.

Hurt but defiant, bitter but unbowed, this Harrogate acoustic songstress, who has experienced the vicissitudes of the music business first hand, is a master of modern soul-blues pop across the genres.

5. Silvertone: Alive (EP)

ANTHEMIC, bursting with energy and hooks, Silvertone don’t waste a single second on their debut release.

Not that hard rock and metal is really my forte. I once headbanged to Slayer in Leeds. I’ve seen Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden and The Foos (obviously) and, er, Funeral for a Friend and. . . Does that really cheapen what I mean when I say this is the best rock CD I’ve reviewed by a local band for a long time.

6. Strangers in Paradise: The Story (EP)

This demo EP by Harrogate three-piece Strangers in Paradise is one of the most ambitious pieces of work I’ve ever heard by a local band.

Beginning with a lovely, shimmering instrumental called Dr Stress Part 1 (part 2 comes later in rockier form), it’s testament to the sheer musical talent of Steve Mosby, his brother Andy (bass) and Dave Williams (drums), not to forget top-notch guest rapper Tre, that this doesn’t end up some sort of sub-Mars Volta mess.

Whichever way you look at it, Strangers in Paradise are one impressive band.

7. Lindsey Mackie: Plaques & Tangles (album).

Big-sounding, warmly-melodic, and keyboard driven, Mackie lives at the intelligent, ethereal end of 80’s influenced pop.

Written, played and produced by Lindsey and Dave Mackie, Plaques & Tangles is simply a very good album, no more, no less.

9 Rod Birchall: Lovers Dance (EP)

The thing I liked most about Rod’s previous band Joez Café was their apparent lack of conscious effort, the results of years, if not decades, of effort and experience. This is an impressive collection of classy songwriting, all acoustic, a scruffy, scuffed version of the blues, spartan and spare.

10 Simon Widdowson & Bellecour (EP)

For a musician from Harrogate, the experienced and multi-talented singer-songwriter Simon Widdowson sure has seen a lot of the world. The product of sessions in a French studio, the dominant feel is American, specifically, a rootsy, bluesy Americana.

Special mentions

Ceta Mixtape: Tracks by 22 local acts of all shades compiled by Ben Sowden to raise funds for a very worthy local cause.

Book of Job: Hamartia: It’s already been described as a “masterpiece” by their label Wormhole Death Records, but I haven’t reviewed it yet, otherwise I’m sure it would feature highly.