The countdown continues...
25. 'Hunter' - Anna Calvi
It’s now seven years since I first saw Anna Calvi play live. It still rates as one of the most evocative concerts that I’ve ever witnessed. Her powerful, operatic voice cut through me, then, after playing every song from her debut album, she closed with a rendition of Edith Piaf’s ‘Jezebel’. I don’t usually go in for clichés about music giving you goosebumps, but for Calvi I will make the exception. Oh, and she’s a staggeringly good guitarist too.
Her follow-up ‘One Breath’ in 2014, seemed somehow incomplete by comparison and then….silence. The only time I caught sight of her after that was at the David Bowie Prom in 2016, where her version of 'Blackstar' (a duet with Amanda Palmer), remains my favourite ever cover of a Bowie song.
Calvi is a huge, huge talent and my expectations of 'Hunter' were ridiculously high...
....and I'm initially underwhelmed. Despite it's wonderful title, lead single 'Don't beat the girl out of my boy' sounds too conventional, repetitive even (and just how many times does she repeat the title?) I'm definitely not getting those goosebumps that I initially felt.
Fortunately the fluidity of sexuality (a theme of this album), is more urgently addressed on the rugged 'Chain' where conventional attitudes to who plays the 'boy' or 'girl' in single sex relationships, is dismantled.
Calvi's soaring voice is given free reign on the haunting 'Swimming Pool' and 'Away'. And her astonishing guitar playing reaches an incendiary peak on the staggering good 'Wish'.
It may feel a little overdue, but 'Hunter' is a remarkable return.
24. 'Television Themes' - Matt Berry
By including this album in our end of year list, I promise you that I am not being 'ironic' or quaintly nostalgic for the 1970s' TV. This is not a novelty Christmas record.
Berry genuinely loves these pieces of music, he's respectful of the originals and knows exactly when and how to steer them into new directions.
Berry may be known primarily as a comedy actor but he's a singer and musician with half a dozen albums to his name. I urge you to track down the psychedelic folk of his adorable 2011 album 'Witchazel' after you've read this.
Berry's fondness for the leading light of light entertainment theme tunes - Ronnie Hazelhurst, has resulted in four adaptations of his pieces on the album. Best of these is his take on 'The Liver Birds' which develops a melancholy keyboard solo mid-way through. Magically, the theme to Ronnie Corbett's lamentable 'Sorry' is enhanced by Rico like trombones and its descent into dub.
The ghostly theme to ITV's school's programme 'Picture Box' provides a quiet interlude. Then, Berry's earnest vocals get to shine on 'Rainbow', which he treats with great reverence, especially that slow section about the 'colour of the sunset' which we'd all forgotten about.
Best of all though is 'World in Action' , classic rock enthuiasts may be keen to point out that the tune was already in existence before it was used on TV ('Nantucket Sleighride' by Mountain), but Berry's version is a proggier and exhilarating affair, and all the better for it.
'Television Themes' is an endearing and sincere collection. Seriously.
23. Music for Installations - Brian Eno.
'Music for Installations' gathers together the music that has soundtracked Brian Eno's remarkable art exhibits that he has displayed in major cities throughout the world over the last thirty years. Forget his somewhat questionable production duties over the last decade, this collection sheds light on why Brian Eno is so revered.
His early forays into the world of Ambient music in the 1970s (Discreet Music, Music for.Airports etc.), paved the way for so much experimental music (including three artists that will appear further on in this list).
Anyone who feels that 'Ambient' equals 'Background' or that most awful of terms 'Chill Out' music, will be startled by some of the music here. There's an eeriness to several of these pieces that is reminiscent of the landscapes he explored on his 'Apollo' soundtrack. This is most evident on the unsettling 'Five Light Paintings' and the disorienting '77 Millions Paintings'.
Its unlikely that many listeners to this collection will have made it to Helsinki, London, Paris, St Petersburg, Tokyo, Berlin etc. to see the exhibits that this music orginally accompanied, but that's an irrelevance. This is music that stands up on its own in a similar ways as film scores by Michael Nyman or Philip Glass do.
Clocking in at just over 6 hours, the listener needs plenty of time to detach from reality and bathe in 'Music for Installations' many wonderful textures. I fully intend to spend most of my Christmas holiday listening to it, I hope that you also get the luxury of breaking away from the festive chaos and surrendering to this music too.