Wednesday, June 06, 2018

What you may have missed: May

Only six days late rather than three and a half months like before, 25 of the best tracks that came out last month and may have skipped most's attention:

Adam Stafford - Zero Disruption
Stafford's fascinating approach to neo-classical construction has earned him a keen following - back when we did the UK blogger album of the year poll (when bloggers were still a thing) he surprisingly made the list for 2013's Imaginary Walls Collapse. New album Fire Behind The Curtain, like fellow Scottish instrumentalist RM Hubbert, uses instrumental music to deal with mental health issues, using haunting looped figures to build intricate cinematic constructions.

AidenKeryn - Window Shopping
We still don't know a lot more about the Swansea teenager (as in just done her GCSEs, by the look of her Twitter) from when we first featured her at the start of last year. What we can say is her available tracks since then have warmed up the frosted tips of those early recordings, her richly emotive voice brought into colour as her promise continues to develop apace.

Baba Stiltz - Maze
The Swedish producer makes deliberately tinny, microscopically detailed warped lowkey house with sad robot vocals, proper crying-on-the-dancefloor material. Despite having remixed Avicii and Rita Ora this isn't conflicting downbeat vocals with hands in the air production either, but neither is it the longing longeurs of a James Blake, more a filled out Detroit electronica sound for melancholia nights.

The Beths - Future Me Hates Me
Another salvo, and not this selection's last, from the Antipodean invasion. This time we're in Auckland for some classic melodic, bright but self-doubting and quietly accusatorial pop-punk without that genre's riffola excesses making them seem more like Kiwi mirrors of, say, Happy Accidents. This is the title track from an album due in August.

Cape Weather - Never Say
More sepia-toned surf-pop, this of a gentler hue from an LA duo, imbued with regret and private social anxiety expressed through that familiar sun-kissed twang. Fits that weather we've been having, at least.

Colour Me Wednesday - Entrepreneur
Uxbridge's own have made good DIY scene business from their subtly sociopolitical storytelling power-pop and Counting Pennies In The Afterlife is their best realised album yet, marrying the smartest of summer pop hooks to their avowedly queer/feminist/anti-capitalist standpoint.

Drahla - Twelve Divisions Of The Day
Our highlight from spending this last Saturday at Long Division festival, where their visceral sculpted noise was accompanied by saxophone freakouts. Now signed to Captured Tracks this is their first new track since November's standout Third Article EP, intent on careering down a dark wiry post-punk wormhole that feels from bassline upwards like it's slowly compressing all in its way all while unspooling itself from the outside. Man alive, this is an exciting band.

East Brunswick All Girls Choir - Essendon 1986
Australasia part two, a product of the Barnett/Cloher hit factory Milk! Records (spot the video cameo) with a ferocious coiled spring unleashing into noise and anger like the National being bitten by a radioactive Pere Ubu. There's a peculiar majesty to it despite that.

Eureka California - MKUltra
A longstanding feature of the international indiepop overthrow, the Athens, GA duo's new album Roadrunners, which this opens, not only fulfils this month's Recorded By MJ quotient but follows the loose path of his work with Martha, where jangle approaches The Way Things Are Now and comes out the other side bearing the weight of its own world while still attempting to keep up the energy levels.

Ex-Vöid - Boyfriend
Evidently Joanna Gruesome quietly breathed their last somewhere in the last eighteen months or so because Alanna McArdle and Owen Williams have formed a new band (Owen was/is in several hundred bands anyway but Lan took time away after leaving JoGru three years ago), and their grand tradition of a tall formation story continues - astrology columns and contemporary dance classes this time. There's more audible elements of Posies-esque power pop and evident tunesmithery this time, but there's still melodic harmonic bits and loud distorted bits in bitesize chunks like they used to do so excitingly.

Jens Lekman - Not Because It's Easy, Because It's Hard
This has kind of slipped people's attention, but every month this year Lekman and Annika Norlin, who you most likely know as Hello Saferide, has been posting a track a month as conversation in a project known as Correspondence, where every song is somehow inspired by the last. Lekman took the reigns in May with his reaction to Avicii's death which somehow turns into a tale of how he bought a DIY cloning kit to share out his work and accidentally made his clones work too hard until they turned on him.

Jessica Risker - A Cooling Sun
The Chicago psych-folkie's I See You Among The Stars was a slept-on standout album from the month, gorgeously tender folk where despite the warm often minimalist spaciousness more commonly associated with acoustic singer-songwriters you can tell the Broadcast influence, colouring in the stories with aural care.

La Luz - Loose Teeth
Talking of the surf-pop revival, here's some cracking pointed jangle that sounds like Chorusgirl with a suntan, disorientating with clashing distortion and "wrong" notes amid the harmonies and with a side order of nightmare fuel. 'Challenging twang' would be a decent description of Floating Features as a whole, actually.

Liars - Liquorice
Actually recorded just after the last album but one, in 2014-15 when Aaron Hemphill was still in the band, this is actually from the soundtrack to upcoming film 1/1, which going by this intense distorted synth workout might be heavy but intrinsically vital going.

Mikey Collins - Sound in Here
The Allo Darlin' diaspora continues - Elizabeth is in Elva, Paul is with another band who will turn up in a moment (and is also on this), Bill is back in Australia, and now Mikey has gone solo on Fika Recordings with an album due in August. You can probably broadly imagine what it sounds like and takes after but, as Collins himself says, it also takes after the Cure and, more generally, a devil-may-care charge augmenting the timeless jangle of it all.

Modern Studies - Get Back Down
Another glorious outlier of a psych-folk leaning album, pastoral transient chamber pop that shifts on its axis and incorporates elements well beyond their previously bucolic output, from this track's skittishness via electronics, light jazziness, Nick Cave dark balladry and woodland lullabies to that peculiarly Scottish type of indie-rock oppressive build (you don't really want to invoke Frightened Rabbit in current circumstances, but...), all underpinned by sympathetic strings, Emily Scott and Rob St John's harmonies and a sense of psychotropic time and place.

Phantastic Ferniture - Fuckin 'N' Rollin
What Julia Jacklin does with her time off, by her own admission an attempt to work out what makes people moved when they're not in her country-folk circles. Turns out that means a breezy groove with hints of Belly.

Soft Science - Sooner
Lush aren't doing it any more so the Sacramento band are going to have to pick up the slack. Not Britpop Lush either, the shoegaze-era version with Katie Haley doing a decent impression of the spaced-out harmonies amid floating cyclical guitar washes and a tambourine prominent in the mix.

Spray - Anthologised By Cherry Red
The band that link Glen Campbell, Devo, Daz Sampson, Helen Love and Hacker T Dog, Spray used to be half of the Cuban Boys and have actually been around and taking further adventures in post-modern synthpop since 2002. Gary Crowley namecheck, Record Store Day reference, implacably catchy chorus, the works.

Stanley Brinks - Sweet Fanny Adams
TAFKAAndre Herman Dune claims to have recorded more than a hundred albums, which is the kind of boast that makes you wonder if another can possibly matter. Actually the latest "official" solo effort on Fika is the kind of sweetly oddball antifolk effort he specialises in, this being the kind of track you could easily point out as a quick "in" for his world.

Tigercats - Stay Out Of Limehouse
While they've always had half a foot in hi-life guitars third album Pig City takes on more direct kalimba-driven Afropop influences. That said, it also returns to the scrappy danceability of their debut, these brass blasts and joyously summery atmosphere (here with an anti-Nazi community-breeding message) calling back to their earliest releases.

Tirzah - Gladly
An R&B ballad but not one like the standard mean, as the Mica Levi collaborator delivers a gorgeous straightforward love song amid drunken synths and changeable arrythmic beats bobbing in a sea of serenity.

Trust Fund - Carson McCullers
The last time Ellis Jones put out a record - the same year as his tour promised a mid-set Three Lions karaoke - Frank Ocean played a track on his Beats 1 show. Let's hope he kept the Bandcamp alert as the first taste of Bringing The Backline, due in July, returns from the bedroom offcuts into full band colour, albeit this being Trust Fund the kind of shaggy jangle that might fall over soon enough, not quite as forceful as before but snappier or as much as the heartache will allow.

Value Void - Back In The Day
Built on a circular spidery riff, the new signings to the usually reliable Tough Love debut with a taut economic kiss-off and an air of off-hand mystery, in the "I forbid you to learn more" sense.

Vive la Void - Death Money
As half of Moon Duo Sanae Yamada has often helped plumb the multicoloured depths of Kraut-splattered heavy psych; here on her solo debut she's creating a soundtrack for a chase sequence set on monorails as envisaged in the early 1960s, layers of glowing synths and treated vocals on a driving motorik charge with burbles, sequencer drop-ins and layers arriving and quietly departing as trackside accroutrements.

Monday, May 21, 2018

What you may have missed: April

Amber Arcades - Simple Song
Annelotte De Graaf's second album European Heartbreak is out on 28th September; the second single is misleadingly titled on some levels, as while the melody may be classic and the song 2:32 there's a lot going on around its sophisticated melancholy

Bad Moves - One Thing
We came across the Washington outfit through recent US tour mates Martha and their crunchy, harmonic classic power-pop isn't far from a sun-dappled version of same

Beach Skulls - That's Not Me
Another PNKSLM dispatch, the hazily lilting chiming guitars sound like they're acquainted with the surf that's nowhere near their north-west base

Body Type - Arrow
Stumbling over each other, rolling flat Australian garage-pop with a flick-knife in its back pocket. Most importantly, one of them is called Cecil

Breakfast Muff - Crocodile
Glasgow-based project from members of a million other bands, from an EP of the same name this is likely their best, a thrusting spiky riff leading into a shoutalong chorus, a surprising waltz-time middle eight, and all done in 131 seconds

Coco Reilly - Define You
The Nashville resident has a country grounding, as per the steel guitar and the rich romanticism, but the vulnerability and the psych touches that come in suggest there's going to be a lot more to her

Daniel Rossen - Deerslayer
Rossen has quietly been responsible for most of our favourite Grizzly Bear moments (and Department of Eagles too), and his one-off Record Store Day release develops his kaleidoscopic chops further as it transfers from stately piano ballad to sludgy classic rock shapes

DRINKS - Real Outside
Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley pick up where they left off, a wonky idiosyncratic walking skeleton of a song the arrangement of which brings whole new meaning to the term 'angular'

A Festival, A Parade - Cold Shower
The Newcastle band have put out a few good singles over the last couple of years but it feels like they're sharpening up for the big move, all razorwire riffs and coiled spring tension gradually nudging the volume and ire up

Forth Wanderers - Ages Ago
Chiming and intimate, they make the kind of miniature self-doubt guitar-pop entropies Kristen Hersh used to specialise in

Gabi Garbutt - Lady Matador
Taking soul-punk back from the hands of Goldblade, sometime Libertines and Frank Turner support channels that ramshackle sound with brass section power and uplifting ragged glory

Grawl!x - Appendix B
The third of James Machin's trilogy of albums on the grief cycle sees him emerge slowly into the light, guided by stately piano and strident strings with electronics coming in and out of focus behind and Haiku Salut somewhere in the background

Jessica Risker - I See You Among The Stars
Title track from the Chicago singer-songwriter's tremendous album of starkly captivating, psych-touching gossamer acid-folk of a Vashti Bunyan stripe

Juliana Daugherty - Player
More exquisite songwriting (like Risker a product of the Western Vinyl label) that takes its psych-folk lead somewhere else, metronomically backed yearning in hope

Kermes - Casting The Creatures
Leicester queer-punks' We Choose Pretty Names is an album-long howl at identities cast out from the world and attempting to reclaim the self, with ragged hooks and aggressive melodies as choice of weapon

The Lucid Dream - SX1000
In which the longserving progenitors of face-melting kosmiche psych, went and made a thunderous wash of an acid house record, Roland 303 and everything

Melody's Echo Chamber - Breathe In, Breathe Out
Melody Prochet's second album was supposed to have been released last year and was previewed by one of the year's best tracks but hospitalisation put that on hold; back to fitness she picks up where she left off with Technicolour psych-pop that shifts and melds all over the place melodically. Yes, it does end like that

Moon Racer - New Crush
Very much home-made lo-fi in sound, this, a dreamy blurry lament a la Au Revoir Simone for things out of reach

Murderhouse - HMV Tweets
British emo isn't dead, it just remembered its conscience. Murderhouse are from Brighton, the title isn't really explained, and in its invocation of panic attacks and paranoia it leaves a welter of a mark

Nest Egg - DMTIV
Time for this month's long ones, the first nearly eight minutes of exploratory relentless Spacemen 3 kosmiche from the North Carolinans' kinetic album Nothingness Is Not A Curse

Oliver Coates - Charlev
And slightly longer still... while you don't necessarily reach for the 'Arthur Russell' button just because of Coates' classical cellist credentials, the shuffling, accentuated space electro-disco fits neatly alongside his experimental synthpop leanings

Scottibrains - Sustained Threat
Speedy Wunderground had been off our radar for a while, but Dan Carey's most recent release saw him return to the Kraut wig-out outlet formed with Boxed In's Oli Bayston for a track that builds and releases monoliths of psych assault

Sea Pinks - Run & Run
The Belfast duo with another song made for this weather, bouncy, classy indie about the coming of summer making everything feel freer

Sudan Archives - Nont For Sale
LA's Brittney Parks has had some attention for her earpricking combination of R&B, electronic loops and inventive violin parts, delivered fully formed here. Not dissimilar to what Marques Toliver was doing a good few years ago now, but with her own cool noise

TVAM - Psychic Data
Wiganer Joe Oxley has been developing his VHS electro paranoia over recent years and his insistent latest transmission shifts from electronic eddys to washed out dreaminess through to something almost magisterial but still highly unsettling/unsettled

What you may have missed: March

Amaya Laucirica - Let It Happen
It's been a big year so far for Australian acts catching on overseas and Laucirica is at the upper end with Rituals, sumptuous, quietly multi-layered and open hearted dreampop rich with yearning and learning, like a Melbourne Rose Elinor Dougall

BRNDA - Five Dollar Shake
Post-punk's... not dead? This has the insistent bassline, choppy guitars and minimal take on James Murphy-style declamatory vocal style of the form, but the conciseness is swapped out for six minutes of insistency

Cavern Of Anti-Matter - Automatic Morning
Also six minutes of insistency, but as you'd expect on a much more exploratory kosmiche bent dipping into dystopian sci-fi electronica

Czarface & MF Doom feat. Open Mike Eagle & Kendra Morris - Phantoms
Czarface is Inspectah Deck and two others, Doom has yet another collaborative album under his belt, and Open Mike takes the crown on the 8-bit backing that heads into creepy drama

Dama Scout - Milky Milk
Almost as if bands are too young to remember the Mary Whitehouse Experience these days. Bot as strong as their EP from last year in truth but still a strong addition to the catalogue in its uneasy shift from studied cool to sludgy riffs

Dinosaur Jr. - Hold Unknown
An Adult Swim Singles Club production, Mascis' guitar takes off in its compact form and it sounds not like a knockoff but something that stands alongside their post-reformation best

Ed Schrader's Music Beat - Seagull
Far too late to catch up on the Baltimore duo who released their debut in 2012, but an intriguing concoction that starts off as bass-led casual minimalism and then, aided by producer Dan Deacon, races into a sonic wormhole

Frankie Cosmos - Jesse
Standout from Vessel, Greta Kline's third album of self-questioning diary thoughts as elliptical lyrics

Gender Roles - Gills
88 seconds, one immutable riff, a whole host of forward motion punk-pop excitement she wrote

Hilary Woods - Inhaler
Slo-mo, almost modern classical based, atmospheric eeriness is Woods' stock in trade and with every release seems to develop its aura more, floating ethereally like Grouper crossing over with Julee Cruise. The album Colt is out 8th June and we can't wait

Hop Along - Prior Things
Unusual to hear strings on a Hop Along track, and indeed at not far off six minutes of straining restraint it's really not their usual approach even though Frances Quinlan still sounds anguished in her self-examination

Illuminati Hotties - Paying Off The Happiness
Kiss Yr Frenemies is a tremendous debut album of off-kilter guitar-pop that nods well at Los Campesinos! in its all-in-it-together atmosphere, unsurety about gradually becoming a responsible adult and elaborate, sometimes misleadingly peppy musical settings

itoldyouiwouldeatyou - Get Terrified
Overstaffed (now including Alexei JoFo) and full of musical ideas, shifting like math-rock and screaming into the picture like post-hardcore, with a socio-political heavy underwiring

John McCabe - April
Classy three minute Cali guitar pop that sounds even better in this weather we're having

John Parish - Sorry For Your Loss
Hey look, another low-key PJ Harvey feature! A duet with her oldest collaborator apparently about someone else who worked with both, Mark Linkous, it's mandolin-led and oddly light until an acid guitar pokes its head in

La Luz - California Finally
Harmonies, twangy surf guitars, audible steady cruising... there's a suspicion that more is going on underneath, but they sound like there's a big blue sky above them at all times

Lakookala - My Way Home
Another product of LA, this one all the work of Nicole Ranalli, but really quite different as a quicksand bassline gives way to electro beats, plinking piano and dramatic Harveyish vocals

The Lay Llamas - Silver Sun
Not related to that Silver Sun, but Italian droney-Krauty-psych from the mind of one Nicola Giunta, aided on the upcoming album by Mark Stewart and members of Goat and Clinic, all of which makes sense in context

Lithics - Excuse Generator
Twitchy unspooling riffs, springy tight-wound bass and clipped aphorism lyrics. Portland has crossbred Shopping and the Au Pairs, and the result is very satisfactory

Pip Blom - I Think I'm In Love
This had actually been around for a year already, but international rollouts and all that. That the Amsterdam band supported the Breeders in Europe makes perfect sense in this tense lo-fi choppy cut

Roxy Rawson - Rounded Sound
It's now seven years since we first wrote about Rawson, since when she's suffered ill health, moved from Hitchin to San Francisco and finally finished an upcoming album. Her command of spellbindingly offbeat string arrangements and quixotic Regina Spektor-recalling approach remains intact

The Saxophones - Picture
Californian husband and wife duo are bruised, reverbed and jazzily slo-mo like something from David Lynch's dreams. For extra points, Alexi Erenkov sounds oddly like a more legible Stuart Staples

Snail Mail - Pristine
Lindsey Jordan is nineteen, yet the Baltimore native sounds like she has the self-confidence and bittersweet tendencies of a much older songwriter, and the itchy guitar chops of one too

Steven Adams & The French Drops - Free Will
Great headline set at our Alldayer in February, Adams' way with a barbed lyric and skewed indie-rock coast unaffected. (He's also a big Charmpit fan, as should everyone be)

Tracyanne & Danny - Alabama
Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura, Danny Coughlan of Crybaby, and a more overt steel guitar-fed version of the former band's countrified swooning in a tribute to their late Carey Lander

Friday, May 18, 2018

What you may have missed: February

Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert - Cockcrow
The combination of the arch-miserabilist and the emotive guitarist on album Here Lies The Body plays out almost like you'd expect, the years of bad experience adding a veneer of knowingly misleading pep. Siobhan Wilson duets on this track as the opposing voice to add another fascinating layer

Bambara - José Tries To Leave
Capital-G Gothic theatricality bringing the dramatically oppressive percussive desert-dwelling opus, Nick Cave a clear touchstone but also notable that some members are part of the current Liars live line-up

Bodies Be Rivers - Rattled
Bittersweet to a fault Brooklynites named, tellingly, after a Angel Olsen mondegreen and working against the cliches of alt-country in a Neko Case fashion

Busta Rhymes feat. Missy Elliott & Kelly Rowland - Get It
Tells you something that that line-up appeared on a standalone single (although Rowland only via looped sample) and nobody seems to have noticed, not that something this weirdly minimal would challenge Calvin Harris much. At least both are still very capable of land speed record level killer rhyming

Cavey - Day & Night
There's a lot of Grizzly Bear about the textures and general warmth, if not the harmonic excellence, about this fascinating debut single, breakdowns and surges, jazzy and sprawling in its own time

Chemtrails - Wishbone
Calf Of The Sacred Cow is for us one of the year's great overlooked albums, psychedelically inclined home-made garagey indiepop where the hooks shimmer, the ineffable melodies get pulled apart and the dark clouds often shield the sunshine element

Cloud - Two Hands Bound
A cheery song about working yourself to complete emotional burnout, Tyler Taormina develops a sepia filter around richly fulfilled rhythmic sunshine pop

Firestations - Receiver
Finally bringing out their album The Year Dot last month via Lost Map, its preview exists in an insistent melodic haze of hopeful love and lost bearings

Flamingo Shadow - It's The Sound
The Atlantans started as tropical punk and developed a big golden pop heart without losing their tracks, so the insistent rhythms and synth washes are underpinned by unease and hi-life riffs

Girlpool - Picturesong
Blood Orange-produced standalone single from a duo whose evolvement is an intrigue to watch from afar, the minimalism comfortably in the background, pulsing synths and distortion added while still luxuriating in Cleo and Harmony's vocal and carefully crafted guitar/bass interplay

Happy Accidents - Act Naturally
Everything But The Here And Now is a new personal best for the trio - ahoy there, "recorded by MJ" credit - and this might be a new best track, crackling hook-laden harmonic punk-pop of the type we always fall for

Ladytron - The Animals
First new material in seven years and they've not only picked up where they left off but made it bigger and more purposeful in its dark chant and synths set to "envelop"

The Low Anthem - Bone Of Sailor, Bone Of Bird
And there's another album much overlooked, The Salt Doll Went To Measure the Depth Of The Sea. No longer rickety folk-bluesologists, it's based on electronic undertow, very spacious, quite low-key and mysterious, and absolutely draws the listener in

Lusts - Heavy Thoughts
For a duo who usually deal in retro electropop this sounds weirdly like the Phantom Band at their most approachable in its heroic resistance structure and buried hooks

Mastersystem - Notes On A Life Not Quite Lived
Inevitably all writing about Mastersystem and this beastly swagger of a track after 8th May 2018 is irrevocably coloured by the loss of its immensely talented and open frontman and driving force. God, that title for a start.

Modern Studies - Mud And Flame
That kind of windswept, vaguely hopeful sound only a Scottish folk supergroup can really attain

Olden Yolk - Cut To The Quick
Terrible band name, fascinating sound melding indie-folk with abstract modern psych and motorik rhythms, wrapped in a glorious pop melody in a way that subtly works

Pale Kids - St. Theresa
Durham queer power-pop... no, not them. A joyous thrashing punk-pop cut, all done in just over two minutes, with purpose, lyrical bite and finding time for a solo

PJ Harvey & Harry Escott - An Acre Of Land
Again, as with her double A side last year, Polly put out a standalone single and it got lost in the hubbub. It's actually a traditional folk standard recorded with the TV and film composer for the film Dark River, with delicacy and a harmonium

Sara Renberg - Roger Miller Baby
David 'Silver Jews' Berman reincarnated as a Pittsburgh native, dealing in vivid odd little snapshots of deadpan intimacy and the better life everyone else is having

Seazoo - Skulls
*sigh* Yeah, Trunks, that's another album that slipped under the radar it should have vaulted with its leftfield power-pop ambition with a little jangle, a little new wave-y weirdness and a lot of charge

Stella Donnelly - Mechanical Bull
If we're being accurate this is about eleven months late, but the Thrush Metal EP got reissued to wider approval in February so whatever. Anyway, honest to a fault eviscerations of seedy men cutting to the quick from a talent worth keeping the closest eye on

Three Man Cannon - Building Broken Steps
Obviously there's four of them. There's something of the Pavement-y countrified jangle about them, clearly, but with heaps of bluesy scorn and just straight-up melodic college rock earwormness

The Wind-Up Birds - Where We Built Our Settlements
Always good to have them around and seething, especially as things give Paul Ackroyd more to rail against

Yndi Halda - A Sun Coloured Shaker
And to finish the month, nearly twelve minutes of studied post-rock. Yay! Doesn't feel that long, though, not with the graceful flow, pitch and yaw, led by floating violin and guitars that don't surge when they'd rather arc gracefully around

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What you may have missed: January

You're absolutely right, the very best time to launch a month-by-month series is mid-May. Regardless, we can catch up and deal with this month when we get to the end of it. What this entails is since the start of last year we've been putting together Spotify playlists for the best new music released each month, but we've never given due cause to actually explain why you should be invested in some of the records and artists we write about, so from now on at the end of each month we'll be picking out 25 new tracks we especially liked but haven't had that widespread the attention compared to many. So best start catching up with the first month eligible...

Annexe The Moon - Full Stop
It's likely unfair to ascribe a specific lineage to anything out of Merseyside touched by psychedelia, but such spaced-out channelling of Syd-era Pink Floyd in a melodic pop context sounds like the kind of thing that would have been of interest round at chez Cope/Drummond/Wylie around 1982

Caroline Says - Sweet Home Alabama
Not that one. Austin's Caroline Sallee uses loops and small town ennui for introspective folk-pop that sounds a little like Yo La Tengo at their Georgia-led drowsiest

Creep Show - Modern Parenting
Mr Dynamite, John Grant's collaboration with the weird electro trio Wrangler (Cabaret Voltaire's Stephen Mallinder, Benge and one of Tunng), had surprisingly little traction but here is of a piece, in a warped varispeeded way, with Grant's dalliances with dark disco

Dorvin Borman - Wrath
Chillwave's revenge! Well, not quite, but the LA producer's woozy summer dreampop, heavy on floating and reverb, sounds like the sound in Washed Out's head right at the start of this decade

El Morgan and the Divers - Decorations
Pretty much Personal Best in a different order, Morgan took inspiration from the aftermath of her father's wake to produce yearning, skyscraping To Bring You My love PJ Harvey-recalling intimacy

The Fiction Aisle - Gone Today
It's felt weird over the last few years not having every fourth song we write about feature Thomas White in some form. In fact he's three albums down under this moniker and finding the same kind of time-worn self-examining melancholia as Martin Carr's solo work

HOLY - Night On Earth
Stockholm's PNKSLM label have quietly put out some great left of centre psych-flavoured records this year, case in point being HOLY's All These Worlds Are Yours. Hannes Ferm clearly knows his Ziggy, Rundgren and Nilsson but also Elephant 6's multiverse and the Flaming Lips' cosmic filter

Hot Dreams - Another Night
Just ducking in even though it technically emerged right near the end of 2017, Hot Dreams have the commercial edge but a harmonic and textural mix-and-match to make them more interesting than most

Jessica's Brother - Overnight Horror
The other shambling but muscular, vaguely countrified Americana offshoot featuring a member of the Wave Pictures

John Bramwell - From The Shore
The I Am Kloot frontman's solo debut Leave Alone The Empty Spaces extended what he's always been strong on, indelible melodies and downtrodden character studies (what was it he always said, "drinking and disaster"?)

Loma - Joy
Texan folk duo Cross Record plus Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg make rustic, richly panoramic alt-country with stripes of Low

The Longcut - Deathmask
Yes, the same Longcut who were feted for a little while back around 2004-05, back after an eight year break and still pushing at elemental, accelerating electro-motorik

Mamuthones - Show Me
Italian post-punk ahoy! Awkwardly shifting, insistently recurring, jarring and yet also smooth amid its jitteriness in a Talking Heads style

Math & Physics Club - Broadcasting Waves
Long-serving Seattle indiepop servants find the mid-point between classic Death Cab For Cutie and an almost Australian sense of wistful jangle

Experimental pop as she is spoke, discordant rhythms evolve via Nadia Hulett's charmed vocals into something lush if still uneasy

No Age - Cruise Control
With The Smell a distant memory and five years passed since their disappointing last record Snares Like A Haircut has ended up an album that's been too slept on, the duo channelling Zen Arcade/New Day Rising Husker Du in uncertain power for what might actually be their best yet

Ralegh Long - Am I Home
Long's folkified balladeering side is at its most emotive when sounding pastoral and sparse even when enveloped in strings, as here

Red Telephone - Kookly Rose
A crackling debut from the Cardiff trio, taking a Syd Barrett lead in its warped woozy psych

Shopping - Wild Child
Just because you know what to expect - heavily danceable ESG-type punk-funk wiriness with an incessant bassline - doesn't mean there's nothing going on with The Official Body, both in social conscience, subtle undercurrents and muscle

Sivu - Four Leaf Clover Love
In something of a theme, a low-key release from someone who had a lot of attention two or three years ago. In this case, an open-hearted tender love song to the fates

Skelhorn - A Wondrous Place Of Our Own
Liverpudlian singer-songwriter sounds archaic and modern simultaneously in a similar way to how Richard Hawley does without really treading the same path, here more of the kind of postmodern crooning that David Lynch would admire

Soccer Mommy - Your Dog
Sophie Allison's broken but defiant bedroom guitar-pop is an idea as old as indie itself, but the open frustration at a controlling relationship finds its equal in the distortion that threatens to override her likeably twisting central riff. It feels like she's going to grow into a major talent

The Spook School - Keep In Touch
The way things are now the Spook School are never going to get the wide audience breakthrough we thought would be within reach, but Could It Be Different? yet again sharpened to a point their emotional growth and self-questioning while retaining everything that makes them one of our greatest bands, Niall banter/hugs inclusive

Wild Child - Sinking Ship
Another Austin-based band, and yep, another Wild Child, and yet very different on both fronts in its spaciously haunted acoustic self-learning reminiscent of Laura Marling's most introspective moments. Interestingly, even they don't sound like this most of the time

Yawwn - Partisan
One of those big hooky choruses like your favourite bands do these days, but full of life and surrounded by something akin to a settled down Everything Everything.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Sweeping The Nation's 200 "Other" Tracks Of 2017: K-Z

As explained in the A-J post last time out, by "other" we mean anything not from one of our top 50 albums of the year. The second hundred of our far too large selection runs thus...

Kagoule - Monsieur Automaton
Kamikaze Girls - Deathcap
Katiya Falcone - Lust Is A Ride Through Hell
Kelly Lee Owens - Throwing Lines
Keto - Superstar
Kiran Leonard - Living With Your Ailments
Krafty Kuts feat. Chali 2na - Hands High
Lana Del Rey - Love
Land Of Talk - Yes You Were
LCD Soundsystem - other voices
Liars - Cred Woes
Loney Dear - Sum
Lorde - The Louvre
Lush Purr - (I Admit It) I'm a Gardener
Magana - Pages
Martha - The Winter Fuel Allowance Ineligiblity Blues
Mary Epworth - Me Swimming
Mega Emotion - OK Maybe OK
Meilyr Jones - Watchers
Mew - The Wake Of Your Life
Milo's Planes - Fidget In Paralysis
Mogwai - Coolverine
Molly Burch - Wrong for You
Moon Duo - New Dawn
Mount Kimbie - Audition
Mr Jukes feat. BJ The Chicago Kid - Angels/Your Love
Mutes - Vanishing
N.E.R.D feat. Rihanna - Lemon
The New Pornographers - This Is The World Of The Theater
Nilüfer Yanya - Baby Luv
Oh Wonder - High On Humans
The Orielles - Sugar Tastes Like Salt
Overcoats - Nighttime Hunger
Peaness - Same Place
Peggy Sue - Slow Fade
The Physics House Band - Calypso
Pip Blom - Babies Are A Lie
PJ Harvey - A Dog Called Money
Pronto Mama - Double-Speak
Ralegh Long - Take Your Mind Back
Ride - Lannoy Point
Robyn Hitchcock - I Want To Tell You About What I Want
Roddy Woomble - Jupiter
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - French Press
Rose Droll - Girl
Rostam - Gwan
Sacred Paws - Empty Body
Saint Etienne - Take It All In
Sam Airey - In the Morning
Sam Pink/Be Softly - False-Bottomed Coffins
Sean Rowe - Gas Station Rose
Seazoo - Shoreline
Sekel - Next To Nothing
Shannon Lay - The Moons Detriment
Shopping - The Hype
Single Mothers - Long Distance
Siobhan Wilson - Dark Matter
Sivu - Lonesome
Skepta - Hypocrisy
Sløtface - Pitted
Slow Skies - Shut Your Eyes
Slowdive - Sugar for the Pill
Sneaks - Hair Slick Back
Sodastream - Three Sins
SOHN - Hard Liquor
Sondre Lerche - I Know Something That's Gonna Break Your Heart
Soulwax - Missing Wires
Sparks - Hippopotamus
Spiral Stairs - Dance (Cry Wolf)
The Spook School - Still Alive
State Broadcasters - Feelin' Alive
Stormzy - Big For Your Boots
Sufjan Stevens - Wallowa Lake Monster
Superorganism - Something For Your M.I.N.D.
The Surfing Magazines - New Day
Sweet Baboo - Wild Imagination
Tempesst - Waiheke
The The - We Can't Stop What's Coming
Thurston Moore - Cease Fire
Tica Douglas - Down + Out
Tune-Yards - ABC 123
U.S. Girls - M.A.H.
Ulrika Spacek - Full of Men
The Vryll Society - Sacred Flight
W. H. Lung - Inspiration!
Waking Aida - Shoal
Washed Out - Get Lost
Wavves - Daisy
Waxahatchee - Silver
WHY? - Proactive Evolution
Wild Beasts - Punk Drunk & Trembling
Wiley - Speakerbox
Wire - Diamonds in Cups
Wolf Alice - Yuk Foo
Wolf Girl - Moody
Wovoka Gentle - They Mostly Come at Night Mostly
Xenoula - Luna Man
The xx - Dangerous
Yr Poetry - These Are Not the Days of Our Lives
Zola Blood - The Only Thing

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sweeping The Nation's 200 "Other" Tracks Of 2017: A-J

If you're a regular reader you'll know that by "other" tracks we mean those from albums that didn't make our top 50 of the year plus anything else that tickled the proverbial fancy. And yes, 200. Because we've been keeping a tally all year and more importantly don't know how much is too much. By fortune they split into two neat century-long halves around alphabetical lines too, so...

AidenKeryn - Sunburn
Aldous Harding - Imagining My Man
Amanda Mair - Hopes
Amaroun - Bed Bugs
Amber Arcades - It Changes
And So I Watch You from Afar - A Slow Unfolding of Wings
Andrew Hung - Say What You Want
The Android Angel - Goodnight Starlight
Anna Of The North - Oslo
Annie Hart - I Don't Want Your Love
Anoa - When In Kings Norton
ANOHNI - Paradise
Arcade Fire feat. Mavis Staples - I Give You Power
At The Drive In - Incurably Innocent
Azusena - Red Sky
BABY! - Home Sweet Home
Barry Adamson - I Got Clothes (ACR:MCR Rework)
Beach House - Chariot
Bearcubs - Underwaterfall
Big Walnuts Yonder - All Against All
Blonde Redhead - 3 O'Clock
Boy Azooga - Face Behind Her Cigarette
British Sea Power - Bad Bohemian
Cable Ties - Wasted Time
Calexico - Voices in the Field
Campfire Social - Ishq
Caroline Says - Winter Is Cold
Cate le Bon - Aside From Growing Old
Celebration - Sacred Clown
Charlotte Gainsbourg - I'm A Lie
Charmpit - Buckfast My Heart
Chemtrails - Headless Pin Up Girl
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Continental Breakfast
Craig Finn - Jester & June
The Curls - I Can't Tell U
Dama Scout - Sugar
Danger Mouse feat. Run The Jewels & Big Boi - Chase Me
Daniele Luppi feat. Karen O - Talisa
Daphni - Tin
Darren Hayman (with Judy Dyble) - Upper Slaughter
Daughter - Glass
Dave - Question Time
David Bowie - Killing A Little Time
DBFC - Sinner
The Dears - 1998
Deep Throat Choir - Ada
Deerful - Subjects Of Our Love
Dirty Projectors - Up In Hudson
Dizzee Rascal - Wot U Gonna Do?
Drahla - Silk Spirit
ELLA - While You Are Away
Elle Mary & The Bad Men - Behave
Elva - Tailwind
Emma Kupa - Fast Charlie
Emmy The Great - Mahal Kita
Eric Matthews - Exactly Like Them
Escape-ism - Walking In The Dark
Everything Everything - Can't Do
Fascinations Grand Chorus - Wait
Feist - Any Party
A Festival, A Parade - People Person
Fever Dream - Youth (Is Wasted On The Old)
FEWS - LaGuardia
Field Music - Count It Up
Fightmilk - Pity Party
Firestations - Build A Building
The Flaming Lips - There Should Be Unicorns
Flamingods - Mixed Blessings
Froth - Passing Thing
Fujiya & Miyagi - Solitaire
Gengahr - Carrion
Ghostpoet - Immigrant Boogie
Gintis - Dennis
Girlpool - It Gets More Blue
GLOK - Projected Sounds
The Go! Team - Mayday
Gold Class - Twist In The Dark
Gorillaz feat. DRAM - Andromeda
Grace Vonderkuhn - Worry
Grandbrothers - Bloodflow
The Great Electric - Recognizer
Gulp - Morning Velvet Sky
Happy Abandon - Severed Seams
Hazel English - Fix
Her's - I'll Try
Hikes - Habit
HOLY - All These Worlds Are Yours
Holy Fuck - Bird Brains
Hooded Fang - Paramaribo Prince
Hookworms - Negative Space
The Horrors - Something To Remember Me By
The Howl & The Hum - Godmanchester Chinese Bridge
Human Pyramids - Louise
Idle Empress - Habits
Japandroids - Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
Jesca Hoop - The Lost Sky
JOHN - Local Blood Sport
Johnny Flynn - Raising the Dead
Johnny Marr & Maxine Peake - The Priest
The Just Joans - No Longer Young Enough

Friday, December 22, 2017

Sweeping The Nation's Top 50 Albums Of 2017: 10-1

10 Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
Weaver's ninth album is the one on which she hits full stride, a kind of retro-futurist analogue motorik that's as happy to drift as charge, hypnotic and uncomfortable in equal measure to sound like it's neither tethered to her folktronic past nor a willing part of the psych hordes.

9 Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley
Using more stories of yesterday, here South Wales mining communities, as a case study for human spirit and community undermined from above. It's a necessary shift forward in their post-rock motorik approach too, where folk is folded in and hierath-flavoured vocals uplift.

8 Los Campesinos! - Sick Scenes
Obligatory. But then they *will* keep mining the territory that sees them grow up and settle into the endless Kubler-Ross cycle of ageing, depression and dark humour, not so much energetic any more as neuroses fighting back with muscle memory at an uncaring world.

7 Protomartyr - Relatives In Descent
Joe Casey is the poet laureate of slow-burning anger, whether against the enemy or in the face of ennui and age, trying to contain the stream of thoughts. The coiled, rumbling post-punk suits it down to the ground, an uneasy proclamation from the growing darkness.

6 St Vincent - Masseduction
Annie Clark's pop album, in that the alien guitarscapes of her last album are in the background of art-Technicolor sheen and beats. Up front, though, we find a knowing intimacy, Clark indulging in identity games and self-destruction within inverted commas, very much under her slippery control.

5 Perfume Genius - No Shape
Mike Hadreas hasn't entirely moved on as much as he wants to move outwards, whether from personal pain or gender roles. There's accordingly a kind of weightlessness in an unashamedly Technicolor shapeshifting approach, a high wire act where the narrator feels nerveless despite everything.

4 Baxter Dury - Prince Of Tears
Ironic that in taking up the Gainsbourg mantle of uneasy character narrator of orchestral litheness Dury has ended up sounding more like his old man than ever before. Dury's adoption of various sides of toxic masculinity that slide away to uncover unvarnished emotiveness.

3 Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins
The strokes on the first album in five years may be broader but the interplay is tighter than ever, the familiar harmonies and fractured overlapping baroque melodies smouldering and more forceful but still coming on like mid-air acrobatics, heavy on detail and growth.

2 Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination
Shah, a second generation immigrant in northern England, finds herself overtaken by the need to justify and fight, dialling down the dramatics of previous albums for a knowingly uncomfortable gothic clank. Never losing sight of hope, nevertheless it's an album built with something to push against.

1 Algiers - The Underside Of Power
In a year not exactly short on kicking back against the world nobody is doing what Algiers do - retro soul and Pop Group post-punk darkness, distorted gospel and harsh industrial beats, Franklin James Fisher a righteous, urgent preacher against the rush in a glorious, powerful statement of ultimate intent.

"Other" tracks of the year next week, but for now... here's a standout from each of the top fifty in order (apart from Christian Fitness, which is Bandcamp-only):

Sweeping The Nation's Top 50 Albums Of 2017: 20-11

20 Laura Marling - Semper Femina
Touted as Marling's exploration of femininity, it necessarily lets some light in on her previous self-questioning and folky fingerpicking world, all still present but Atlantic-skipping in tone, garlanded with jazzy production and ever more personal and barbed in its approach.

19 Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
In its own way Crack-Up is a companion piece to Bon Iver's album of last year, wooded folkies taking great strides to find a way out. Proggish melody and structural about-turns and dissolves, multi-part songs, complex lyrical allusions, yet ultimately still their trademark harmonic gorgeousness.

18 Hurray For The Riff Raff - The Navigator
In which Alynda Segarra shifts her country-folk basis into its own sphere, a narrative piece that takes influence from her native Puerto Rico and 1930s dustbowl recordings alike, delivering a stridently powerful story of opposition, identity and personal pride.

17 Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 3
Ah, indie boy's picked his obligatory single black culture album for the year, has he. Actually, yeah, because Killer Mike's no holds barred theorising lyrics and El-P's hammer blow beats feel as urgent and defiantfor the time in their own way as PE and NWA did two decades ago.

16 Out Lines - Conflats
The work of the Twilight Sad's James Graham, Kathryn Joseph and producer Marcus Mackay, seven tracks lasting less than half an hour total make an immense impact, an intensely oppressive and forthright statement that like the best of recent Scottish music finds a defiance in foreboding.

15 Friendship - Shock Out Of Season
The popular drift away from weird Americana means Friendship have drifted below the radar where once Dan Wriggins' conversational narratives and the way Bill Callahan-esque arrangements are underpinned by electronic patterns would have been celebrated. There's time yet to adjust that.

14 Torres - Three Futures
Mackenzie Scott's great leap forward is one where she endlessly self-examines, as a woman as much as the self, and plays with perspectives in senses both predatory and honest, sounding raw even as the music heads towards dark, almost industrial electro tones.

13 The National - Sleep Well Beast
Album seven has the feel of a band who know the world and time alike has caught up on them, often much lower-key than previous roars, Matt Berninger occasionally down to a defeated croak. Not so much learning to let go as hoping against hope for it.

12 Big Thief - Capacity
Folk rock with real bite, both in the way the guitars barge their way in and in the use of Adrianne Lenker's honeyed vocal and excavatory lyrics unflinchingly uncovering personal vulnerabilities, the whole package pieced together with uncommon care and constant revelation.

11 Christian Fitness - Slap Bass Hunks
So here's this year's shouting-into-the-void Andrew Falkous high entry place, the fourth of his self-released albums similar to the others - distorted bass, trademark extraordinary lyrical touch, post-hardcore distillation into something entirely singular.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sweeping The Nation's Top 50 Albums Of 2017: 30-21

30 Lost Horizons - Ojalá
The return of Simon Raymonde, alongside Dif Juz's Richie Thomas, echoes not the Cocteaus as much as 4AD colleagues This Mortal Coil, a floating airiness of haunted, delicate beauty in texture, with effective cameos from Tim Smith, Marissa Nadler and Ghostpoet.

29 Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now
In which the genre-hopping perennially self-questing storyteller gets over the heartbreak of I Know What Love Isn't, rediscovers his disco sample library and recovers both his lyrical hook-writing mojo and ultimate sense of optimism.

28 Piano Magic - Closure
Glen Johnson brought his ever shifting project to an end after twelve albums and twenty years with a valedictory lap of honour, nodding at post-rock, dreampop, baroque and ambient of things past to form a whole of ethereal, introspective heaviness. Godspeed.

27 Priests - Nothing Feels Natural
The grand return of DC punk in a heavily mutated form where instead of settling for screaming about equality the influence of jazz via no wave, surf and modern pop are brought to bear without leavening the poised targeting or lifting the heavy overhanging elements.

26 Meursault - I Will Kill Again
Neil Pennycook gave up the Meursault banner in 2014, but it turned out all it needed was a reclamation of his early full-hearted approach to anguish and lush brokenness while being simultaneously, weirdly life-affirming, all knitted together by that cracked voice.

25 Jen Cloher - Jen Cloher
Courtney Barnett's rise may have propelled Cloher into the spotlight four albums in, and the keen eye for detail is similar, but the propensity for self-examination and use of her domesticity as somewhere to view the plight of those home and abroad from are entirely her own strengths.

24 Gallops - Bronze Mystic
Wrexham's answer to Battles reformed after three years away and blast back with a record that liberally pelts mathrock with warped electronics, arrhythmic rhythms and harsh synths and guitar stabs that either stand triumphant or sound like they want to pull the whole place down bare-handed.

23 Sufjan Stevens/Nico Muhly/Bryce Dessner/James McAlister - Planetarium
A 76-minute classical suite on the cosmos, everybody! A shapeshifting rich swirl that cleaves close to Sufjan's own eclectic work (particularly The Age Of Adz), it ranges wildly from new age to folk to techno, leaving nothing to spare and still all anchored to earthly concerns.

22 Rose Elinor Dougall - Stellular
Six and a half years after her solo debut Dougall remains what she was - swooning, sophisticated, shimmering, spacey - but with a more evident electropop sheen that her intrinsic ice-coolness carries through whether referencing Broadcast or Blondie.

21 Warm Digits - Wireless World
Motorik dystopia never seemed so approachable as when approached by the Newcastle duo, a polyrhythmic, propulsive collection whose collapsible charges and electronic pulses only hold back for vocalists including Sarah Cracknell and Field Music's Peter Brewis.

Sweeping The Nation's Top 50 Albums Of 2017: 40-31

40 Idles - Brutalism
The decade-long overnight success coalesced into the kind of distilled punk anger at specific targets and attitudes a lot of hyped bands try these days but very few get even near right, mostly because they don't have that charisma, focus or actual melodic capability.

39 Broken Social Scene - Hug Of Thunder
Back after seven years and reinvigorated in their community-minded maximalism, continually reaching for the heights of paranoid party jams and attempting to bring a sense of urgency to the can't-get-any-worse level of optimism they've always held dear.

38 Napoleon IIIrd - The Great Lake
Five tracks, 46 minutes. Six and a half years after James Mabbett's last release this slow motion, latter Talk Talk-like uneasy listening suite, ambient spacious and heavy in emotional heft, is the very opposite of immediate but for all that can't easily be torn away from.

37 Grandaddy - Last Place
Jason Lytle and co pick up where they left off a decade ago, technological dysfunction, quirky chugging, heartbroken balladeering - the tale of Jed the Humanoid continues - and swelling psych exploration going hand in hand. If Kevin Garcia's death means their end, it's a fine close.

36 Weaves - Wide Open
Sharpened and toughened up, the Toronto band deal in rushing classic Canuck indie-rock tropes which they then delight in pulling apart and putting back together slightly wrongly just because, ambition reflected both in Springsteenian charges and weirder arragements.

35 H Hawkline - I Romanticize
Almost too rote to praise idiosyncratic folky pop by a Welsh artist, but while rooted in those offbeat shapes Huw Evans doesn't mind throwing in wobbly psychedelics, bubbling synths and sudden about-turns and interjections without losing the thread of the songs.

34 Widowspeak - Expect The Best
Taking a leftward shift from autumnal alt-country, their fourth album travelled a more gossamer path, the reverberations of dreampop enveloping and complementing both Molly Hamilton's wistfully hypnotic vocal and the open desert twang.

33 Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound
After four albums Dylan Baldi and co peel away the lo-fi and reveals the melodic strength underneath, not averse to distorted guitar noise but strengthening the hooks and energy, colouring in the cracks and building to an intriguing personal validation.

32 Martin Carr - New Shapes Of Life
In which Carr returns to what he specialised in when writing for the Boo Radleys, namely turning pop shapes upside down into sophisticated, detailed arrangements that push at melodic boundaries, recalling classic art-pop, often with grandiose but unresolved builds.

31 AK/DK - Patterns/Harmonics
The synth/drum duo delivered more than just the base rate of electro-Kraut thrills, pushing into the red as everything - rhythms, electronics, loops, the odd distorted voice - pushed against everything else to thrilling swirlingly percussive effect.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sweeping The Nation's Top 50 Albums Of 2017: 50-41

50 Fazerdaze - Morningside
Although from the country's other island, the hazy DIY guitar-pop of Amelia Murray fits into the history of her label Flying Nun's 'Dunedin sound', loungingly etheral guitar washes giving way to forceful fuzzbombs all with an undercurrent of anxiety.

49 H. Grimace - Self-Architect
Post-punk holding societal pressure and power to account isn't that fresh ground, even right now, but something in the band's menace, distorted driving assurance and the pointed spoken word interludes makes it feel relatively fresh for once.

48 Iron & Wine - Beast Epic
Sam Beam's best work in at least a decade is him returning to a stripped down base, the recovered warmth all the better to enable Beam to slow down and tease out the detail from his Southern gothic tales in a way that finally suits his advanced age and experience.

47 Novella - Change Of State
Building on both their spiky psych-pop debut and The Way The World Is Now, it comes across as compact post-punk wiriness with sparingly effective retro effects, personally introspective while still trying to work out how things have changed around them.

46 Storm The Palace - Snow, Stars And Public Transport
Baroque to a fault, the debut album has clearly been a long time in development, richly melodic in a way, aided by Sophie Dodds' compelling voice, that keeps it of a piece as orchestral storytelling folk leans into Kirsty Maccoll-esque genre playfulness.

45 Onsind - We Wilt, We Bloom
The political acoustic-punk wing of Daniel and Nathan from Martha bring in a full band (including Naomi of same) on some tracks without diluting the message, cutting to the core of the bleakness around changes in attitudes and inequality.

44 The Academy Of Sun - Codex Novena
The chance discoveries are sometimes the most rewarding - this second album by an ambitious Brighton collective bases itself in dark post-punk widescreen wistfulness and then delves into post-rock dynamics, psychedelic longeurs and string-laden uncomfortable questing.

43 Post War Glamour Girls - Swan Songs
Coming on with even more compressed intensity to their theatrical post-Cave menace, the serrated guitar sound is leavened with the odd latter-day Radiohead-like moment of controlled ire, all driven by James Smith's literate entreaties to taking the power back.

42 Spoon - Hot Thoughts
Always different, always the same, this album's twist on their leftfield strutting, arrythmic indie-rock is a pale version of funk and high-stepping funk-pop where beats sound like samples, electronics are dramatic and Dave Fridmann's production effect is evident.

41 The Mountain Goats - Goths
Not just the titular throughline, mostly treatises what happens once fashion moves away from your tribe, but also John Darnielle abandoning guitars for pianos, indulging in jazziness and even velvety crooning. Throughout his lyrical pen remains sharp.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The ten: odd/forgotten music TV shows of Christmas past

You'll undoubtedly be using our mammoth Christmas TV guide by now, so why not add to that some historical perspective? For that we hand over to author Ben Baker:

Christmas. What does it mean to you?

Don’t answer that, obviously. This is a book, not Google.

If you’re British, the festive season invariably means excess – be it through food, drink or, most importantly for this article, television. It never fails to confuse me when most American TV programmes run their big festive specials around December 9th whereas we in good old Blighty Britain are nowhere near ready to see so much as a televised paper hat until the very week of Jesus’s birth saving up the big specials for the proper occasion. And at the heart of those telly feasts is music. Whether it's Morecambe and Wise recreating Singin' In The Rain or confusedly pointing at the screen and bellowing “WHICH ONE'S IMPY?” throughout the latest “Top Of The Pops” on Christmas Day.

As featured in my new book Ben Baker's Festive Double Issue, here are ten less memorable musical moments that baffled, bewildered and buggered about generally on the schedules of Christmas past...

10. There’s Something Wrong in Paradise (December 22nd 1984, 10pm, ITV)

“A magical musical set on the mythical Caribbean island of Zyllha. Kid Creole and his Coconuts are shipwrecked on the island and anxious to get back home to New York, but Zyllha is ruled by President Nignat, who believes in racial purity. He is incensed by the Kid's mixed-race group winning his island's music festival. When Kid discovers his old girlfriend, Gina Gina, is running a pirate radio station and finds his true love Mimi, the scene is set for adventure.”

How amazing does this sound? A two-hour musical set around the music of Kid Creole And The Coconuts, one of the biggest chart acts of recent years tackling racial hatred with songs from their back catalogue including under-performing new album Doppelgänger. Unfortunately, even with the terrific Pauline Black from The Selecter as Mimi, The Three Degrees and founding EastEnders cast member Paul J Medford as the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin-named ‘Teenager’, the whole thing is a mess, while the 10pm timeslot will have excluded any younger fans. Kid and the band would appear on the channel again two days later in Joy to the World, described in that year's TV Times as a “magical tour of Christmas past and present” by “David Pickering, 12-year-old Chorister of the Year”. They really had it all that Christmas on ITV, eh?

9. Première for Elizabeth (December 29th 1979, 4.15pm, ITV)

“In September the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra opened its season at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon with the first public performance of 14-year-old Elizabeth Lane’s Sinfonietta for Strings.”

Another extraordinary thing that you just couldn’t imagine being broadcast now. Lane had appeared in a 1976 Magpie special called And I Write Music, after winning the Dr Barnado’s/Nationwide “Champion Children” Competition. Now a PHD, Lane still composes and lectures today but now known as just ‘Liz’.

8. Billy’s Christmas Angels (December 23rd 1988, 5pm, BBC One)

“Billy wants to play in a rock band with his brother Dave. ‘Dreams’ says Dad. So Billy’s Angels come down to earth to help find Dave – and reality – through Faith, Hope & ‘Charlie’...”

A single half-hour Liverpudlian pop fantasy with stunning music from the British six-piece acapella group The Mint Juleps who play the titular angels. Staged like a kitchen sink drama initially before veering off into more fantastical realms, Billy clashes with his harsh but sensible parents who don’t want him to run off like his older brother. Inevitably he does and bumps into the always welcome Daniel Peacock (as the Disney villain-esque Mr Big) and his henchman (played by Steve Johnson, soon to become part of ITV’s Motormouth memorably as host of the 'Mouse Trap' segment in which kids got to take part in a giant sized version of the popular board game.) Later Nabil Shaban appears as a philosophising junk shop owner and the story meanders to some sort of conclusion with the brothers reuniting and a lesson probably being learnt by somebody. It all lacks the charm of similar BBC shows of the era and exists now purely to torment people who can only half-remember what it was. Also the kid playing Billy is bloody awful. Nice music, though.

7. When Santa Rode the Prairie (December 23rd 1976, 5:40pm, BBC Two)

“A Festive Western by William Rushton. New Mexico, Christmas Eve 1876 and not a snowflake in sight. Tilly and Charlie Flagstaff have to spend Christmas at the Last Chance Hotel with their aunts, Santa Claus and an assortment of goodies and baddies while the Apaches are on the warpath.”

The joy of doing a book like mine is finding out about truly unusual sounding little one-off programmes like this, nestling cheerily in the pre-Christmas teatime telly schedules featuring people I really like. Rushton himself plays Santa in this 50-minute fantasy tale featuring songs by him and Roy Civil, with a supporting cast that includes future 'Tomorrow Person' Nigel Rhodes, Sue Nicholls and Victor Spinetti. Roy Civil is now a music teacher in the Northampton region.

6. Cucumber Castle (December 26th 1970, 1:30pm, BBC Two)

“A medieval musical starring The Bee Gees with Eleanor Bron, Pat Coombs and Julian Orchard and special guest stars Blind Faith, Frankie Howerd, Lulu, Spike Milligan, Vincent Price.”

The Bee Gees, now down to just Barry and Maurice, try their own Magical Mystery Tour with much less convincing results. It featured their recent number two hit “Don’t Forget to Remember” – which ironically most people have now forgotten – along with four other songs from their already flopped album which had been released in April 1970, but had stalled at number 57 in the UK charts. In fact Cucumber Castle marked their last charting LP in the UK until John Travolta’s swaying crotch propelled them back into the limelight in 1978. The film feels like wading through treacle at times when compared to The Beatles’ earlier extravaganza and whilst it’s nice to see the likes of Frankie Howerd, Spike Milligan, Vincent Price and Pat Coombs doing their usual schtick as The Gibbs attempt to keep up, it does feel like something Peter Cook and Dudley Moore might have put together in a particularly lazy afternoon.

5. The Solid Gold Top 20 (December 28th 1979, 5:15pm, ITV)

“A complete run down of the 20 best selling records in Britain in the past two decades presented by pop’s Jimmy Pursey.”

POP’S JIMMY PURSEY?! A fine example to show The Kids who had been listening intently to the Truth from the middling punk band he fronted – Sham 69 – whose original line-up had their fifth and final top twenty hit earlier in 1979 with Hersham Boys which, as we all know, went: “Hersham boys/Hersham boys/Laced up boots and corduroys”. Solid gold toss.

4. A Cup O’ Tea an’ a Slice O’ Cake (December 27th 1980, 5:20pm, ITV)

“All-singing, all-dancing Worzel Gummidge special which examines the important role that scarecrows play in helping Santa Claus find his way back to the North Pole on Christmas morning...”

Nothing terrified me on TV as a child like Worzel Gummidge. My two-year-old self didn’t care that co-writers Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall were local lads from Leeds, or were behind projects like Whistle Down The Wind, Budgie or Billy Liar. Likewise Jon Pertwee wasn’t yet the singing, dancing Third Doctor to me. He was a scary, grubby bugger who spends the first two minutes of this particular special vindicating my terror by standing at a family’s window and gawping in. Can you imagine turning round and finding the scarecrow from up in the field stood looking at you with a dopey grin on its face? You’d feel certain he wanted to swallow your soul. Elsewhere, special guest stars Bill Maynard, Billy Connolly, and Barbara Windsor (as “Saucy Nancy”) turn up to sing a few numbers. Which means they’re all dead to me now.

3. Orion (December 26th 1977, 1:45pm, BBC Two)

“The world is coming to an end, and the last survivors board a space-ship ready to leave the doomed planet Earth in search of a new world. A rock musical by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley.”

A sci-fi “Noah’s Ark in Space” with a book by none other than the Sinex-snorting supremo himself Melvyn Bragg? Merry all our Christmases! A soundtrack was never released but it’s a fair bet that it’s an adaptation of 1969’s Ark 2, the only studio album by Flaming Youth, featuring songs written by the musical’s co-authors Howard and Blaikley better known for writing pop hits at the time. On drums on Ark 2 was a pre-Genesis teenager called Phil Collins who writes about the experience in his autobiography Not Dead Yet: “Ark 2 is unveiled with a publicity stunt launch at London’s Planetarium. The sixties scenesters come in two-by-two. By now I’m squirming at all this ultra-fab cod-psychedelia; it’s both pretentious and cartoonish.” Howard and Blaikley would go on to write several other musicals including an adaptation of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole for the West End.

2. Lulu’s Big Show (December 31st 1993, 6:30pm, BBC One)

“Since she burst on to the pop scene in the 60s, Lulu has had hits all around the world, most recently topping the charts in a single with Take That. For this show recorded at Glasgow’s Tramway, she can be heard singing some of her favourite songs and is joined by some surprise guests.”

Thanks for nothing, Barlow. Tosser.

1. Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas (December 24th 1977, 9:40pm, ITV)

“Bing’s last show, recorded just before his death, features his family, music, laughter, a touch of Dickens and of course White Christmas.”

Well, I’m glad they didn’t record it after his death as that would’ve been really tough to shoot. We finish with a famous show that is now only really known for giving the world that awkward but hugely enjoyable Bing and Bowie duet, which had been apparently concocted at the last minute when the latter didn’t fancy a performing a straight take of Little Drummer Boy. There’s also Scottish comedian Stanley Baxter playing the entire staff of Bing’s long-lost English relative Sir Percival Crosby, most of them bearing a passing resemblance to the characters of ITV’s drama Upstairs Downstairs (a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic) There’s also Ron Moody and Twiggy as various characters including Charles Dickens and Tiny Tim. (I’ll let you work out who played which) Despite the inherent naffness, the special is actually quite sweet and you’d never assume Crosby was five weeks away from the grave with that spectacular voice in great form throughout.

For over 200 more of these sort of capsules, get your copy of Ben Baker's Festive Double Issue today.