Picking just ten albums out of the pack is always a tricky thing. This site has reviewed around 500 pieces of music this year from throw-away pop singles to album length progressive flights of fancy, from the well trodden grounds of classic rock to cutting edge experiments which are creating a whole new musical future. Add to that the fact that I am lucky enough to largely write about music I find interesting, which means if it even makes the page there is something I like about it. Anyway, below is 10 of the standouts of the year, I could write another 10 articles like this, but I won’t, better you explore the site and make your own mind up. Enjoy, comment, discuss and leave the cash in a brown envelope in the usual place! (I wish)
“350 reasons why, written on the side of a bus” is the opening salvo of the album, and straight away you realise that Nick, as always, has something important to tell you. Colours are nailed to masts, sides are chosen and lines are drawn in the sand. Essentially Lies! Lies! Lies! is a comment on the state of the western world, from the manipulation of the masses for political gain to the ugly consumerism of Black Friday, the rise and increasing normalisation of right wing attitudes, to religion, globalisation and everything in between. Lyrically and poetically he just says what many of us think, though the likes of Big Tony who drinks in The George and Dragon may well find himself seething into his pint of John Smiths!
There is an obvious point that if a vote or decision doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop making the argument, if that is the case then this is the most pointed and poignant musical debate I have heard in a long time and 48% of the country should buy it immediately.
Fassine has been leaving a trail of acoustic breadcrumbs like a musical Handsel and Gretel…but with an extra Handsel, all year. That enticing journey has finally paid off with this masterful collection of chilled and forward thinking tracks and whilst those following the teasing trail are going to be fairly familiar with what is at the end of the journey, it is great to have the music collected in one neat package.
And if the songs were lapped up as individual releases, as a complete package Gourami underlines the chilled and sweeping majesty which flows through their music. In turns it wanders dream-pop landscapes, ambient minimalism and futuristic dance spaces, sonorous chilled alt-pop, ultra cool indie vibes and even neo-classical grandeur.
I love the connectivity of the modern world. I love the fact that I was sent this album by the powers that be in Minneapolis when the guy in question hails from a town an hour away from me in the UK.
Pop seems too small a word for what is going on here, but that is the trouble with labels and the baggage they come with. But pop it is, in the same way that those classic acts listed above are pop, pop forged from depth and precision, pop with integrity and imagination, pop with a PhD!
I continue to be amazed The Veldt’s ability to simultaneously shimmer yet saunter, chime but groove. How do you even do that? On the one hand they play with sounds which seem built of almost intangible, ethereal qualities, the stuff of stardust and dreams but the clever part is that they then bolt those fey and ephemeral vibes on to soulful and sultry rhythms, pulsating beats, raw post-rock guitar work and infectious boogies to fashion the perfect blend of texture and solidity.
Whilst there are undeniable parallels with a whole raft of challenging post-punkers, timeless progressive trailblazers and modern day sonic explorers, what keeps the band tied to the real world, rooted in something more structured, is the soulful, R&B undertones and the ability to mix unreconstructed and unabashed grooves with these more gossamer and floating sounds. I can’t think of any other band who walks a more perfect line between such seemingly unconnected worlds.
Any album which bills itself as “music for movies you haven’t dreamt of yet” is going to blip on this dream-poppers radar that’s for sure and not just blip but blip and resonate, shimmer and fade…luckily I have my radar plugged into a Big Muff and reverse reverb pedal for just such an occasion. John Fryer, the man behind the excellently named Black Needle Noise even uses the same hybrid language as “grindtronica overtones…ambient black magic…sonic sculptures” I think we are going to get along just fine.
Lost in Reflections is built on shimmering and ethereal pop, familiar yet otherworldly, as if some alien culture has heard our radio waves emanating into the cosmic ether, decided that pop music is our common language and has built this musical package as a way of trying to communicate with us.
The album oozes with nostalgic sounds but brilliantly side steps any pastiche or plagiarism, instead offering slightly off-kilter takes on music which you are pretty sure you have heard before but cant quite place. Signs of Weakness is a rockabilly romp interspersed with Balkan violins, You Should Have Left Your Money at Home is a musical theatre sing-a-long rendered into baroque pop and It’s Dark Outside is country duet… I’m just not sure which country!
After all in many ways the sound of XTC was often defined by the guitar playoffs between Andy’s angular pop approach and Dave’s more florid musical statements so with that no longer part of the equation we get to fully appreciate Colin’s own English pop vision.
What Colin and Terry have created here is something tasteful, deftly wrought, restrained and wonderfully English, West Country… Swindonian even, if you are close enough to get the references. It is in turns lyrically funny, emotive and poignant and falls into a sort of alternative pop territory that seems to be done so well in this country evoking the likes of Martin Newell and Billy Childish, perhaps not sonically but coming from a similar musical mindset. In short, triumph and hopefully merely the first chapter of a new musical novel.
On an album woven through with poeticism and eloquence, poise and elegance, the title track stands proud even above such a benchmark, inspired in part by the love letters Violet Trefusis wrote to Vita Sackville-West. But it is this thread of love and defiance, of sheer heart on sleeve honesty and the vulnerability that only comes with the complete baring of the soul that defines this wonderful album.
Musically Jane continues in her blending of traditions from both shores of The Atlantic, the English and Celtic folk sound with the inherent melancholy of country music and the drifting, misty mountain vibe which often occupies the common ground between and she does so brilliantly. In fact there can’t be many artists who already sound like they have more than paid their songwriting dues by the end of their second album but Methylene Blue certainly feels that way.
Many will file this alongside the likes of the Palm Desert scene which spawned the cult of Josh Homme and his myriad bands. And if he has moved on to more commercial ventures, there is certainly much going on with Rewire The Time Machine that reflects the diversity and exploratory nature of that original movement. The robotic boogie of Copernicus, the doomy psychedelic feel of Money, the hypnotic groove of All Hail The Wild Sea, the chiming, shimmer of Apex, it is the ability to push the alt-rock envelope further than most of the bands they will be compared to that makes them a far more interesting prospect.
And, again unlike many of their alt-rock genre mates, lyrical they are also ahead of the curve, dealing with everything from space travel to hidden histories, nocturnal denizens to the “butterfly in a bell jar” nature of the modern work place and doing so with rare eloquence and informed references.
It’s a neat trick to sound underground and cultish one moment, and accessible and commercially viable the next, to do it across an album which is cohesive and focused is this nothing short of remarkable. But that is what The Dayoffs manage to do, and do so effortlessly. At one moment I Can’t Believe I’m Dead is a howling banshee of a song wandering into Iggy Pop realms of intense, punked out insanity, Love Love Love plays to an 80’s post-punk gallery and Two Actors In a Cage is perfect for the modern underground pop set. And yet despite the fact that these songs seem custom built for a variety of audiences, they make perfect sonic bedfellows.
The album is a wonderful tapestry of dream pop soundscaping, introverted shoegazing, the occasional grunge work out, darkly detached and emotive vocals, and razor wire riffs bound together by meshes of wild and warped guitar. The word here is texture, like an exotic hand made Persian rug, musical lines are warped and wefted to wonderful effect and despite the riot of colour, nothing is wasted, no one thread obscures another, the complex beauty is apparent for all to see.