End of Year Review: Rob Barbour

Rob Barbour is up next for his 2015 year review which includes trips to Hit the Deck and Hevy Festival and starting the new Punktastic Podcast.

End of Year Review: Rob Barbour

By Rob Barbour

Dec 30, 2015 15:43

So 2015 is burning down to the filter and we’re trawling its ashes, remembering the highs and lows. Doing so, it seems strange that even as recently as September, some fellow members of the music media mafia were decrying 2015 as a disappointing year. Truly great albums had been thin on the ground, and with the larger festivals happy to recycle the same lineups year after year there was little outside of the new music arena to get excited about.

Life is what you make of it, though, and for me 2015 has been a belter: strong returns from much-beloved bands, some of the best live performances I’ve seen and a surge of progress from some exciting homegrown talent from whom I expect big things in 2016.

Let’s start with March, which saw the first Album of the Year for me in Death Cab for Cutie’s ‘Kintsugi’. Their last with guitarist and creative force Chris Walla, their eighth album won’t be remembered as one of their best but Death Cab don’t make ‘bad’ albums. They make good albums, and better ones. This was merely ‘good’, and the gold-and-white gatefold double vinyl edition was, as always with this band, a delight for those of us who still buy physical music. Their return to the UK in June to play some (relatively) tiny shows at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire was another highlight. I love this band.

Mere words cannot adequately convey what The Early November’s début album, ‘The Room’s Too Cold’, means to me. Suffice to say that as a student I spent many days alternating that album and Brand New’s ‘Deja Entendu’ on my micro-system (remember those? Mine had a mini-disc deck and everything), while wearing an Atticus t-shirt. I was fortunate enough to see the lineup from that record play once in 2004, and the chemistry between the members of TEN was always a huge part of their appeal. So news of their first ever UK headline tour (YAY) was tempered by the very late announcement that the lineup would actually be Ace Enders, Bill Lugg and a hired-hand rhythm section.

Enders is a wonderfully awkward-yet-compelling stage presence though, and seeing them twice in the space of a week after an 11-year absence was one of the highlights of my year. Not even the strangely muted crowd at the Southampton Joiners could ruin seeing songs like ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Something That Produces Results’ again. Sometimes you don’t realise how much you’ve missed loved ones until you see them again.

Prior to the Joiners show, I’d seen the band receive a considerably more rapturous response in Bristol at Hit The Deck festival. A brilliantly paced multi-venue festival that seems to be going from strength to strength, and curated by a team with a keen eye for promising acts – I have a feeling you’re unlikely to see As It Is in a 400-cap room in the middle of the afternoon anytime soon. Hit the Deck also marked my first and last time seeing The Swellers, a band whose output I criminally neglected until it was too late.

Speaking of neglect, May was a great month for US bands from the East Coast who rarely visit these shores and seeing the near-flawless Bayside play to a savagely undersold Joiners was a bittersweet privilege – will they bother coming back on the next album cycle? A question one might also ask of Four Year Strong, whose self-titled return to form (or back-down on their principles, depending on your perspective) was preceded by a DIY Pure Noise tour on which the band absolutely shredded; however, playing the same venues they played on a 2011 tour but without any major label tour support seems to be taking its toll.

Summer brought with it a variety of live musical ecstasy – the triumphant return of The Movielife, playing out of their skins at London’s Electric Ballroom; Fleetwood Mac (SHUT UP) still shaming bands a third their age, Less Than Jake reminding everyone why they’re still packing out venues after 20+ years, and the pinnacle of this writer’s Summer: Hevy Festival. A fabulous shambles – stages running late, barriers held up by sand being hurriedly shovelled into place security guards bringing in wheelbarrows – it had the best atmosphere I’ve experienced at a small festival, and closed off its two days with incredible performances by Coheed & Cambria and the evasive Thrice. It was also a rare opportunity for me to get some face (and booze) time with many of the Punktastic staff, as well as seeing awesome British bands like Milk Teeth, Creeper and Black Peaks for the first time.

Hevy’s influence continued into the end of the year, with Creeper’s ‘The Callous Heart’ EP and Coheed & Cambria’s ‘The Color Before The Sun’ in near-constant rotation for me, along with Tellison’s wonderful, poetic, heartbreaking ‘Hope Fading Nightly’. Their album launch at St Pancras Old Church is the only gig I went to this year where they were serving cake on the door. It felt more like a community get-together – which, in a way, it was.

But the thing of which I’m proudest this year is the launch of the Punktastic POV podcast. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while and it’s a steep learning curve, but I honestly think it’s getting better with each month. And, buoyed by the infectious enthusiasm of my co-host, Maryam, I’m optimistic that it will continue to evolve throughout the coming year. By sheer coincidence we happened to launch around the same time as Terry Bezer and Stephen Hill’s ‘That’s Not Metal’ podcast, which anyone with an interest in heavy music should be subscribed. Bands and trends will come and go, but none of this means anything without passion and authenticity – two things which both TNM and Punktastic have in spades. Thanks for reading, and here’s to the next 12 months.