The Zaw Towers Review of 2019

2019 was a year of change: I left my previous job at the end of February, which was one of my shortest stays at any place, but thankfully had a new job lined up which I am really enjoying a lot - plenty of hard work reaping its own rewards. I've also had a wonderful time with The Love In My Heart, exploring new places in France, Belgium and Italy, and even heading off for my first Manchester City European away trip too - which definitely was also good. Here's what got me all happy and enjoying the year that was.

Best Single/Track of 2019 - "Bad Guy" - Billie Eilish
It may be heard everywhere all year, and it may have given rise to all of that so-called ASMR being all stimulative, supposedly. But what wasn't under debate was the craft and songwriting of Billie Eilish - to create a bass heavy lead and a track that doesn't let go of your conscience once it enters, complete with big beats and a slightly more darkened ending - absolutely excellent. I have to say that it's a more darker pop single, with a fair bit of edge, and all the better for it. Believe the hype - she has what it takes.

Also recommended:
"You're A Tory Now " - MJ Hibbett and the Validators - I can recall Mark performing this track early in the year and thinking that it was going to be one I'd hear a lot during the year, and proved to be the case - a tale of two friends going different ways politically and one becoming Conservative for their sins. The single release for the Election campaign had to tone down the words a bit, but the sentiment was still very much there.
"White Noise White Heat" - Elbow - The band got more angrier in 2019, and all the better for it I say. This for me was their standout single, a case of growing and growing during the chorus and a blistering attack on those who were accountable for Grenfell along the way and how little was done in the aftermath too. A statement damning but delivered with passion and fire along the way.
"Paradise" - KMFDM - Absolute pure anger unleashed in the single edit here, with Lucia Cifarelli in top vocal form and the ultra heavy beat of driving guitars and drums underpinning a massive sense of how the world is just a paradise for less favourable people at the moment. There's almost a Pixies-esque quiet bit loud bit with the intro to each verse giving way to passionate anger and a driving sense of injustice. Epic.
"On Graveyard Hill" - Pixies - The album Beneath the Eyrie might have seen to more Gothic style of Pixies records, but there's still a number of highlights including this single, which really did have all the best bits of the band neatly compressed into a three minute driving anthem of a witching hour, and Dave Lovering's drums especially during the choruses belting it all along. If only they could keep this sort of standard up all the time, as they used to do...

Best Album of 2019 - "Um Dada" - Stephen Mallinder
We had to wait thirty odd years for another solo album from the Cabaret Voltaire frontman, despite the work recently with the likes of Wrangler and Hey Rube! - but all that was just a precursor for this wonderful album - taking the whole dada concept and taking it into a piece of electronica that spoke just as much from the rhythm as it did from the vocals too - and with the likes of "Hollow" having an infectious squelchy bass beat, to the brooding development of "Satellite" and above all else, the throwback to late 80s Cabs in "Prefix Repeat Rewind", a masterwork in how an electronic album should be written and performed, with passion, with heart and above all else with knowledge and craft from Stephen at his unstopptable peak.

Also recommended:
"Dogrel" - Fontaines DC - A perfect example of how to mix all the best bits of punk, add a bit of Wedding Present style guitar and a distinctly no holds barred vocal retaining true to the band's roots, and that's what you have here - in abundance. Of course, "Boys In The Better Land" was the standout, showing a real mix of passion and intensity, but all of the tracks here, notably "Too Real" the single from last year, and also the slower pace of "Roy's Tune" show the double pronged guitar style in all of its glory. Well worth a listen.
"Proto" - Holly Herndon - A very different sort of electronic album - mixing folk components with brooding instruments, and having a piece of AI called "Spawn" which would be trained during the recording to be able to take on vocal parts. It was an intriguing listen and over time the likes of "Eternal" complete with all of its "doish!" effects showed what could be done, followed with "Crawler" with a wide open space of sound and effects was the way to sample just the variety of scope on offer.
"Paradise" - KMFDM - As good as the single was, the album continued that vein, with the opener "K-M-F" not giving way one inch with powerful guitars and rap combined, having the darkened feeling of "Oh My Goth" before the extended dub-heavy version of the title track. Having Raymond Watts back on the likes of "Binge Boil and Blow" just added that cutting edge even further, the speed metal effect of "No Regret" - and plenty more. Certainly for me the best KMFDM album in a long time, and they've all been consistently good.
"On The Line " - Jenny Lewis - Quality songwriting and a perfect sense of changing tack due to who was producing the album - finishing it yourself and giving it all some extra polish was somehow an inspired move. "Wasted Youth" with its punctuated piano was somehow an example of the polish added, with the opener "Heads Gonna Roll" setting the tone with the fact that a little bit of hooking up is good for the soul, and towering vocals throughout, with "Dogwood" having more lovely piano underpin her vocal and a sense of being somewhere in deepest Americana.

Best Concert of 2019 - Johnny Marr, Southbank Centre, London
This was not a difficult decision. Although part of Meltdown, it was also a chance for those from Manchester to head South and see the guitarist and Man City fan do what he does best - craft some great guitar work into his own solo album stuff, but then to give new twists to the likes of Electronic songs (Getting Away With It was ace) and of course nods to the former Smiths work which shows just how much better he handles that band's output than even Morrissey does - and I've seen Morrissey a fair bit. It was a magical night of a man at his finest - showing that stage craft and proper playing means a lot more to true fans appreciating just how excellent he was. If you get chance to see him - it's an absolute must.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed
Kristin Hersh, Bush Hall, London
- Always nice to head back to the lovely Bush Hall for a gig of course, more so when it was Kristin and ably supported by former Throwing Muse Fred Abong along the way. Kristin's three piece were rocking the place out, with blistering versions of some classics and plenty of the more recent album "Possible Dust Clouds" along the way too. She hasn't lost any of that passion, that anger, and most of all, knows how to absolutely put on a show. And a crowd that were silent during the band being on - epic win!
Juliand Hatfield Three, O2 Academy Islington, London - Two for the price of one here, as She Makes War was on first providing superb support, before Juliana and her three not only played some new songs with gusto, but also went back to the Become What You Are era giving me plenty of happy memories of when I saw her and band back in 1993 along the way with the likes of "My Sister" and "President Garfield" being particularly prominent Oh, and a storming version of Olivia Newton John's "Physical" thrown in too.
Robberie, The King and Queen, London - So nice to see the band back performing live after what seemed an age of them not playing anywhere. It was so nice to have them as part of the Totally Acoustic night bringing forth the wonderful "Journeyman" with all its non-league glory, and the rather cosy "This Dancefloor Needs Me" too. And with a xylophone providing all the backing for the wonderful tale of being back in Sheffield in "Seven Hills" was just so lovely.

Best Film of 2019 - Toy Story 4
I must admit that I loved the ending of Toy Story 3 and thought it was a perfect sign off, but there somehow seemed room for a further plot, and leaving no stone romantically unturned for Woody as the return of Bo Peep was enough to make this believable, and some good new characters along the way too. It was a sad end maybe but also a sense of perhaps final closure, and for the last time, going into infinity and beyond. Animation and voice overs of course up to Pixar's wonderful standards, and it certainly felt pretty emotional watching those last few scenes too.

Best TV Programme of 2019 - Line of Duty Series 5
Wow, just wow. Just when you think that the series couldn't get any better, it does, plunging Stephen Graham into the mix as a supposed bad cop gone rogue and investigating into what was happening with the balaclava men, to the finding out that the so-called H could have been anyone, with suspicion above all else leading to Hastings himself before a crucial discovery by Arnott and Fleming proves the being framed theory, with a dramatic climax leading to the next move and a sense of getting closer of understanding all of the corrupt network. Twists, turns and drama all the way, superbly acted, and a must see series.

Best Sporting Moment of 2019 - Manchester City's Domestic Quadruple
Normally I'm happy if City win a trophy at all, and of course had to wait thirty five years until the FA Cup win in 2011. So to be able to win the Community Shield, and then follow that up by retaining the league with a superb Liverpool side pushing us all the way (City won the last 14 league games on the trot, remember) and retaining the Premier League title, was something special. To go yet again in the League Cup and win 9-0 in the first leg against Burton Albion and go on to win that and retain it was also special too. But Vincent Kompany's goal against Leicester was a turning point for us to win that title, and then of course the wonderful day out at Wembley, winning 6-0 against Watford and equalling the all time FA Cup final record, was the icing on a massive cake. I'll never see anything like that again and so will treasure all of those moments, big time.

Best male of 2019 - Lewis Hamilton
Winning a sixth Formula 1 title should have been more than enough to run Dina Asher-Smith close to Sports Personality of the Year instead of Ben Stokes winning it, but perhaps the fact F1 isn't on proper telly live anymore shows that the admirers that Lewis has aren't perhaps as aware of his achievements as they should do. He's not only won with aplomb, but with also a prudent message that racism has no place, and is showing the sort of example that many should indeed be following. His drive and determination to keep going and battle against all the young guns proves it's a matter of not if, but when he beats Michael Schumacher's seven titles.

Best female of 2019 - Jacinda Ardern
When your country is hit by a terrorist attack, the way you act as a leader defines you. The way the Prime Minister of New Zealand handled it all was perfection - no mention of the attacker's name and deprive the notoriety, adopt a message by those whom the attacker hated and claim that peace be upon you, and get the law changed to ensure it never happens again and tighten up gun control. All of that, but add to that a prominent speaker on climate change, getting zero carbon laws passed in her country, standing up with fairness to those who seek not to be as fair? Absolute role model for a generation and puts the pathetic politics in this country to shame with her superb leadership. As The Love In My Heart put it, "no messing about, she kicks ass."

Personal Moment of 2019 - New Job and Seeing City in Europe
Changing jobs was difficult but had to be done, and in hindsight more than the right move to make. Going from a job where I felt unhappy to one where I feel valued and very happy is something I treasure, and long may that happiness continue to be honest. Also, being able to take a trip over to Milan to see Manchester City play away and see them against Atalanta in the San Siro was many dreams come true for me as a football fan - even having to see Kyle Walker in net along the way too. A moment I'll treasure going away and seeing my team play, and one I wanted to do before my 50th, so smashed that deservedly.