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Welsh acts in end of year critics' lists

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James McLaren James McLaren | 11:16 UK time, Thursday, 15 December 2011

It's that time of year when music magazines publish their lists of the best releases of the year, and Welsh acts are popping up, albeit not in especially high positions.



In Uncut magazine, Jonny appear at number 36 in their top 50, with their self-titled album. Uncut say: "Euros Childs, once of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, and Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake pooled their considerable songwriting resources for their best work in an age. Some of Jonny's songs sounded like lost children's TV themes; others had the easygoing poignancy that both artists have long been masters of."

Gruff Rhys

In Q's top 50, Gruff Rhys appears with his Hotel Shampoo collection. They say: "Super Furry Animals man Gruff Rhys restricted himself to a three-week recording schedule to avoid his simple melodies being suffocated by studio experiments."

Kids In Glass Houses

It's been a slightly healthier year for rock music than indie, it seems. In Kerrang!'s exhaustive top 101 albums of the year, first up at 93 are Bastions with Hospital Corners. The magazine says: "They simply made an album every bit as dark, grim and oppressive as it is relentless, in your face and visceral."

At number 78 are Kids In Glass Houses with In Gold Blood. The Kerrang! verdict: "While its ingenuity risked leaving a few long-term fans scratching their heads, it was dazzling in its unpredictability. With the thrust and raw power of a great rock record, songs like The Florist saw the Welshmen abandon convention and finally spread their wings."

The Blackout

The Blackout

At number 66, The Blackout appear with Hope. "Hope... fizzes ambition born both of desperation and determination to fulfil all that potential. It does too: an inspired collaboration with Hyro Da Hero on Higher And Higher and a seemingly endless supply of slowburn rock anthems make this their best album yet," say the magazine.

Funeral For A Friend

Funeral For A Friend

Top spot for Kerrang! among the Welshies goes to Funeral For A Friend, at number 52 with Welcome Home Armageddon. The verdict: "Reinvigorated by personnel changes, they returned to a level of heaviness they hadn't displayed in years and, boy, did it suit them."

Although these are but three publications, it's not been a vintage year for Welsh music, it has to be said. That's no reflection on the quality of the works appearing in these lists, but simply that in previous years the sheer volume of releases meant that Wales batted above its average.

A combination of lack of major releases and bands that - not to put too fine a point on it - are on the downward slope of their careers, mean that it's difficult to see who's going to compete with the likes of Florence And The Machine, PJ Harvey, Coldplay or Mastodon.

Here's hoping that in 2012 the raft of inventive newer Welsh acts break through and magazines can view Wales once more with a little bit of the green eye.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I rather disagree that it hasn't been a vintage year.

    I don't think the above magazines are any real gauge of the quality of the music that has come out of Wales in 2011.

    In fact I think there's more evidence of a dearth of halfway decent music journalism than there is evidence of a lull in Welsh creativity. None of the lists mention The Joy Formidable's album - which, by most people's critical yardsticks - has been an international success. Perhaps the fact that they've been touring continuously, and haven't been kissing backsides in Hoxton, or Shoreditch, has counted against them. But it won't in the long run.

    I do know what you mean, James: from a strictly commercial point of view, there aren't many Welsh artists who have made the grade. Having just spent more than two days trying to whittle my Best of Year playlist down to something I can squeeze into 3 hours, I can tell you it's been a far harder task this year than in any previous years.

    The likes of Ifan Dafydd, Koreless, Skindred, White Noise Sound, Lleuwen, Colorama (and the *50* others on my list) mightn't have sold records in the 10's of thousands, or earnt themselves front covers in typically London-centric magazines, but they have made great music and they have - to my mind at least - made 2011 one of the greatest vintages since I started doing this, back in the Silurian era.

  • Comment number 2.

    The 50 acts on your list Adam, stand more of a chance of getting in next year's lists than this year's. It takes something unusual for an act to get on the radar of enough music journos in London (always does) and this year not many new Welsh acts have done that. Look at the bands who are covered by this blog. All established, all known, and in their own way, veterans of some hue or other.
    As you say, TJF is the only band who would also fit in easily, but maybe - at a push - Skindred too.
    The big mags' lists are going to be full of releases of majors and better-known indies. Who's getting signed from Wales at the moment? There are loads of good ones, but they're self-releasing. The lists reflect acts which sell magazines (always does) and also sells advertising, therefore (always does). Until a Welsh act once more gets into that position again, the mass media are going to be giving a big, fat 'meh'.

  • Comment number 3.

    Yes, I agree - however, the patronage of an increasingly redundant print media is of less importance to the majority of artists these days. We shouldn't regard their favour as a gauge of whether it's been a vintage year, or not.

    It'll be more interesting to see how Welsh artists fare in the best of year lists from the likes of Pitchfork / Drowned In Sound et al...

    Do Bastions not figure in either Rocksound or Kerrang? That's a real surprise.

    Lists. Schmlists.

  • Comment number 4.

    Not seen Rock Sound yet (wasn't in BBC Wales shop), so maybe they will be. Ditto for Exit Interntional, maybe.

    I take your point about print media, but I still think they're *a* gauge, even if their importance isn't what it used to be. They're still reflective of a certain view of success - ie as I said, they reflect what the 'industry' is doing in a fairly holistic way - labels, PR, advertising. Artistically that naturally means naff-all, but it being a 'vintage year' could as easily be measured on releases on majors for example, as it could be in 'how much did I like this year?'.

    Let's think of 2003/04 for example; either of those years could be described as 'vintage' because on major labels or affiliates we had big releases from Lostprophets, Manics, Feeder, Stereophonics, Funeral For A Friend and Super Furries at the least, there may have been more.

    To be blunt, if a Welsh band gets big, proper big, then the number of people visiting this site is a damned sight higher than if we run a blog on Exit International, great though they may be.

  • Comment number 5.

    I suppose we need a definition of 'vintage year'.

    I can appreciate the incredible successes of Lostprophets / Funeral For A Friend, and their ilk. But it's Beaujolais Nouveau music, isn't it? Not anything people are going to be writing about and enthusing over in 5, 10, 20 years time.

    Ifan Dafydd's debut 12", however, could well become an incredibly sought after item. A copy of Hotel Shampoo on LP? H. Hawkline's (self) limited album? Great releases with a real longevity.

    These are the kind of releases that make 2011 a supreme one for me.

    See, to me 'vintage' infers quality not quantity - which is quite a different argument.

  • Comment number 6.

    I take your point absolutely. Given that you and Bethan will be doing 'best of' type things for 2011, I think such features are all about quality, the subjective, the passionate interaction and all those things that you two are so good at articulating. My conclusion for this blog is that Welsh music is in a little bit of a trough purely in terms of recognition. As I say at the end, I hope "the raft of inventive newer Welsh acts break through and magazines can view Wales once more with a little bit of the green eye." - totally accept the artistic points you make.

  • Comment number 7.

    I was being deliberately provocative when I described valleys pop metal as 'Beaujolais Noveau' music. Paradoxically, nothing stands the test of time better than music that's been made resolutely for that time. We'll probably find musicologists pouring over Funeral For A Friend in 50 years time, ignoring the more esoteric artists I tend to prefer.

    Gobsmacked that Joy Formidable haven't found themselves on more of these lists. There seems to be a disconnect between the supposed tastemakers who draw them up (& their particularly self conscious, arms-race-of-cool tastes) and the tastes of an international audience. It's always been the case, I suppose. But the ever decreasing nature of pseudy second-guessing amongst high fallutin' critics appears to have reached collision point.




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