Thursday 3rd May: “Best of”… Perhaps the most subjective phrase that can ever be used on an album title. I remember, many years ago when I was first getting into music, pointing out to an established music fan just a couple of years older than me, that I had seen a “Best of…” album (the band escapes me) being advertised. His response was along the lines of, “You’d be better off putting a tape together of your own favourite songs from the band.” In most cases, “Best of…” translates to “most well known” or, perhaps, “most commercial”, usually with a couple of new tracks thrown in to entice the completist into making a purchase. (Although, in these days of individual track downloads, the latter is probably becoming less effective.)
To put together an album to represent, musically, the “Best of…” an entire city, even one just the size of York, is a brave thing to do. But it’s exactly what Connor Devine did as part of his BA music production course, setting out to raise a bit of money for charity as well. I first saw an advert, on Facebook, asking for interested acts to get in touch with Connor last year and I’m not sure how widely the call went out. The album itself has a nice variety of artists, covering a few genres, but is, perhaps, more representative of the smaller and, in most cases, more mainstream bands of the local music scene. By that, I mean that long-established, even if not known to the wider public, acts are conspicuous by their absence. There’s no Mostly Autumn, Shed Seven, One Night Only, or Elliot Minor and the extreme metal of the likes of RSJ probably wouldn’t sit too well alongside most of the tracks.
What you do get are is a sample of some of the younger, less established bands who, for the most part, play the support-slot, pub and festival circuits, along with a few who are beginning to move towards local headline slots and maybe one or two who have gone just a little bit further.
If I’m honest, some of the bands on the CD aren’t quite as well served by their tracks than others. Echo Dynamo’s Blame, a catchy indie-pop song, suffers a little from vocals swamped by the music but In Spades’ energetic Ghost In The Mirror sounds very poor (a shame since, while freely admitting that music is just a hobby and that he has no desire to try to “make it big”, frontman Stewart King works hard to get people to attend his gigs and, I suspect, saw this CD as a platform to get a bit more exposure, as a lot of the bands will have). Katie And The Questions are represented by Perfect Life, a song which evokes 60’s pop while including a grinding guitar riff and atmospheric keyboards but the vocals are nowhere near as good as when it was performed live at the launch gig. Despite that it’s still the most effective “earworm” on the album. Even Vicki Mack, usually superb vocally when performing live, seems to struggle in a few places during Dream Of Apollo’s Regrets Of The Devil which, with it’s steely guitar, moody bass and complex structure is one of that band’s most impressive songs. I have no insight into the recording process, so it might simply be that a lack of time meant that these tracks are a little less polished than the others but, despite their faults, they are excellent representations of the bands in question.
Of the other bands that I am already familiar with, the folk pop of Pelico’s is a pleasant surprise – when we saw them support Hope & Social a while back, hardly anybody was listening and the band seemed to fade into the background. At the time, I commented that they would probably be more suited to a smaller, more intimate venue and, if anything, Who You Are, with its jangly guitar, jaunty drum-line and clear vocals shows that they deserved more attention. There’s more folk, of a slightly more traditional flavour, in Until The Dawn, from Suzy Bradley And The Morning After. Along with Suzy’s lovely voice, the unique make-up of this band has provided a nice sound when I’ve seen them live. Unfortunately, I think the choice of song for the album is slightly suspect, if only for the fact that David Martin’s electric guitar is hard to pick out. Boss Caine (Dan Lucas/GT Turbo) opens the album with Ghosts And Drunks, another interesting choice as (I believe) it is the only song from his repertoire that was written by somebody else, in this case Scarborough’s Joe Solo. What that say’s about Dan’s confidence in his own output can only be speculation but it is a cracking song in it’s own right and is still very representative of the Boss Caine sound. I hadn’t heard of What The Cat Dragged in before this album was put together but I’ve said elsewhere how much they impressed me during the launch gig. They sound like a mix of The Cure and an archetypal 1920’s cabaret and their act is a mixture of darkness and burlesque (in the word’s true sense rather than the theatrical) and Emily Lies, a distinctly unstructured song with lots of style changes, is another good representation.
With the exception of In Spades, the second half of the album comprises the bands that I don’t know and, so, serves it’s purpose as a sampler. Club Smith appear to be the (arguably) biggest name on the album. I have a feeling that we saw them live a couple of times back in 2008, in a previous guise of The Hair. If anything their track, Causing Doubt – sounding exactly as you would expect from a band who have supported the likes of The Pigeon Detectives – has the best sound on the album (and is the only track not to have its recording details listed). Testtone3 are one of the more “different” sounds – Free Ride Home starts off slightly atmospheric before launching into a high-energy rock/electronica style. Stress Fracture, from Verona Fault Line, is as close to the album gets to having a “heavy” track and impresses with its distinctive drum-line and taut vocals, while Rocketsmith’s The Missing is another song recorded outside of the project itself and, again, seems to have a cleaner sound. The song tells of the effects of somebody going missing on those around him and, if anything, its energetic indie sound is almost (only almost, mind) too light for the subject. The album ends with Riff Clichards, more high-energy from Chaos In Verse, with a somewhat familiar sounding, yet elusive, opening riff.
Of the thirteen bands on the album, I have already seen seven play live (and two of them I already class as favourite acts, with a third potentially heading that way). Of the remaining six, there aren’t any that I would avoid, even if I wouldn’t necessarily buy albums from all of them. This album does have a few faults but, overall, I think it is a great (and cheap) way to sample some of York’s musical talent. Connor Devine should be applauded for his efforts
The Best Of York album is available from iTunes, www.bestofyorkalbum.com or from Rebound Records (Gillygate, York). All proceeds go to MacMillan’s Cancer Support.