The Best Albums of 2015

Best-Albums-20152015 was another great year for new music, but not all those tracks made it onto the best albums. The album is not an easy thing to get right. Some hit it with their debut and then fail to reach those heights again, others get it right second time around, still more take several attempts or never get there. Rare is the artist who reaches a high level of consistency. Rarer still those that keep getting better. This year proves that there are few certainties in music with a list that includes first timers, second chancers, late bloomers and old faithfuls, and omits just as many1.

Some of these records appear on many other end of year lists, but they are not here to make the list seem relevant. Others are much less celebrated, but they are not included in an attempt to appear iconoclastic. Rather, these 20 albums are those that have moved and excited me the most, the ones I still can’t stop playing, the ones that I love the most. Any other measure is meaningless.

Baio - The Names20. Baio The Names
This could have been just a space filler from the nerdiest looking member of a nerdy looking band, but Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio has made good on his promise of an album of “Bowie and Ferry-influenced pop songs and dumbsmart arena techno”. Keeping it to a compact nine-songs-in-39-minutes, he has delivered a record with songs as charming, hooky and interesting as his day job band. Baio’s speak-singing voice suits the songs well thanks to his well judged and mannered phrasing. The tunes are instant, but continue to reveal further charms with every listen. It’s bizarre that this album has been so overlooked. What coverage it received has been good, but the likes of Pitchfork, The Guardian and NME failed to even review it. Clowns!

Recommended tracks: ‘Sister of Pearl’, ‘Brainwash Yyrr Face’, ‘I Was Born In A Marathon’, ‘Needs’.

Cristobal and the Sea - Sugar Now19. Cristobal and the Sea Sugar Now
London-based Anglo / Portugese / Spanish / Corsican fourpiece with debut album of upbeat, trippy psych pop and tropicalia funk. This record got left a few people perplexed or wnderwhelmed on its release back in October, but the sense of joie de vivre and the lightness of touch with which it blends its influences have kept me coming back to it over the last few months. Packed full of charm and its best songs are unlike anything else released this year. 

Recommended tracks: ‘Sunset of Our Troubles’, ‘Counting Smiles’, ‘Happy Living Things’, ‘Fish Eye’

Gun Outfit - Dream All Over18. Gun Outfit Dream All Over
The fourth album from the Olympia band led by guitarist / vocalist
Dylan Sharp and Carrie Keith feels like riding through a sunblasted plain. You can feel the heat and taste the dust as the country noir and desert dreampop unfolds over 41 minutes with twelve songs that bear the imprint of folk, Sonic Youth, psych and krautrock. The near-motorik beats and meadnering guitars of ‘Gotta Wanna’, the sitar-like sounds of ‘Matters to a Head’, the slow stoned sprawl of ‘Scorpios Vegas’ and the closing ‘Only Ever Over’ are just some of the highlights.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gotta Wanna’, ‘Matters to a Head’, ‘Scorpios Vegas’, ‘Only Ever Over’.

Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect17. Protomartyr The Agent Intellect
Detroit post-punk infuenced band’s third album bridges the gap between Girls Against Boys and Cop Shoot Cop. Unlike those band’s there’s no twin bass attack, but there are unhinged rhythms, and a cold, jagged, metallic edge to the guitars while Joe Casey’s vocal style is part declamatory, part detached observer.

Recommended tracks: ‘Cowards Starve’, ‘I Forgive You’, ‘The Devil in His Youth’

Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool16. Wolf Alice My Love Is Cool
The north London band retain some of the grunge-influences of their earlier EPs on their debut album – particularly on ‘Your Loves Whore’, ‘Fluffy’, ‘You’re A Germ’ and the alt-rock muscularity of ‘Giant Peach’. But they also deliver the claustrophobic noir of ‘Silk’ and bring an assured pop sensibility to the likes of ‘Freazy’, ‘Bros’ and the breezily upbeat ode to stalkerish obsession ‘Lisbon’. It’s an excellent debut that defies attempts at pigeonholing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bros’, ‘Lisbon’, ‘Silk’, ‘Your Loves Whore’

La Luz - Weirdo Shrine15. La Luz Weirdo Shrine
Surf rock meets pop noir on the Seattle band’s second album. Produced by sometime tour companion Ty Segall, who encouraged the band to take a more relaxed, less perfectionist attitude into the studio and talked singer / guitarist Shana Cleveland into embracing judicious use of a fuzz pedal. Coupled with lyrics in part inspired by Black Hole (Charles Burns’ allegorical graphic novel about a mutation-causing STI) this is one of 2015’s most beguiling albums.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sleep Till They Die’, ‘I Wanna Be Alone (With You)’, ‘Don’t Wanna Be Anywhere’, ‘I’ll Be True’

Low - Ones and Sixes14. Low Ones and Sixes
Over 20 years on from their slowcore origins, Low continue to develop their sound. Ones and Sixes assimilates all the elements of their past while continuing to move forward. There’s barely restrained anger and beauty in the music, frustration and love running through the lyrics. Drums are sometimes processed or replaced by machines, guitars and piano are distorted and an air of menace or at least foreboding underpins many of the songs (‘Gentle’, ‘No Comprende’, ‘Innocents’), even the prettiest of pop songs ‘What Part of Me’ has something dark stirring beneath the surface. But as with all Low records, beauty is never far away in the voices of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, whose shared vocals hit a high on the wonderful ‘Lies’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Lies’, ‘Innocents’, ‘No Comprende’, ‘Congregation’, ‘What Part of Me’

Sufjan Stevens-Carrie and Lowell13. Sufjan Stevens Carrie and Lowell
Inspired by the brief time spent with his schizophrenic, alcoholic mother and her husband when Stevens was still a child, this album can’t help but at first appear like a complete downer. Drum-free and relying (mainly) on acoustic instrumentation, lyrics touching on religion, loss, mental illness and death, this isn’t always an easy listen and it’s not something that you can just put on in the background. But what saves it from ultimate wrist-slitter status are the vocals (even the “we’re all going to die” refrain of ‘Fourth of July’ sounds more beautiful than bleak) and some sparse yet nuanced arrangements (especially on the relatively uplifting ‘The Only Thing’ and ‘Eugene’). If you make it through the first time, each successive listen is more rewarding as the album reveals its complex moods. You might want to follow it up with some Carly Rae Jepson, though.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fourth of July’, ‘The Only Thing’, ‘Should Have Known Better’

Hop Along - Painted Shut12. Hop Along Painted Shut
Like Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, The Drink’s Derbhla Minogue and Royal Headache’s Shogun, Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan’s is a voice apart in 2015. A band with a distinctive sound that owes something to the 90s alt rock and even emo, on this their second album much of the power comes from the balance of restraint and release employed by Quinlan and her band as these ten compelling vignettes, touching on blues and jazz musicians, waffle house doppelgangers, humiliation and uncannily radiant teenagers, depression and abuse.

Recommended tracks: ‘Horseshoe Crabs’, ‘Waitress’, ‘Powerful Man’, ‘The Knock’

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit...11. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
A singular talent whose keen eye finds relatable detail in the mundane details of both extraordinary and everyday situations and combines it with a storytelling ability that is at once quintessentially Australian and oddly universal in its appeal. Add the sometimes laidback / sometimes enervated singing style and her stellar guitar playing to create one of the most compelling artists of the decade (at least). Since the bundling of her first two EPs as A Sea of Split Peas, the world has been awaiting this debut album proper and, while the production doesn’t always do the live versions of the songs justice (and ‘Depreston’ is near-murdered by the shuffle beat and country-twang), this is still a great album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Elevator Operator’, ‘Pedestrian at Best’, ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party’, ‘Aqua Profunda!’, ‘Dead Fox’

Beach House - Depression Cherry10. Beach House Depression Cherry
The first of two albums released this year by the Baltimore duo. For me, this one just edges out Thank Your Lucky Stars. Warm keyboard washes and drones and Victoria Legrand’s enveloping vocals contrast with drum machine beats and Alex Scally’s distorted guitar tones to create woozy, otherworldly dreampop. An initially comforting and familiar listen that reveals its idiosyncrasies on repeated listens (the girl-group like spoken intro to ‘PPP’, the indecipherable vocal loop that intros and runs through ‘Spark’). Like its predecessor, Bloom (2012), this feels like a gentle pushing of the boundaries of the sound that they first fully realised on third album Teen Dream (2010).

Recommended tracks: ‘Levitation’, ‘Spark’, ‘Space Song’, ‘PPP’.

Kurt Vile-B'lieve I'm Goin' Down9. Kurt Vile b’lieve i’m goin’ down
Even more so than Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze (2013), B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down feels like the release that should bring Kurt Vile to a wider audience. Despite being recorded at six different studios with a variety of producers, engineers, mixers and musicians (including Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa) this album sounds seamless. Though Vile is (quite rightly) noted for his electric guitar playing, he’s no slouch on the acoustic (‘That’s Life, tho’, ‘Kidding Around’), banjo (‘I’m an Outlaw’) and piano (‘Lost My Head There’, ‘Bad Omens’). The lyrics are often self-referential and full of humour, with first single and opener ‘Pretty Pimpin’’ he’s written a classic slacker anthem and one of 2015’s best tunes. But just as importantly, he’s maintained that high level of songwriting across the record, an achievement that even extends to the triple-album version’s bonus tracks. Essential.

Recommended tracks: ‘Pretty Pimpin”, ‘Lost My Head There’, ‘Dust Bunnies’, ‘That’s Life tho”

Royal Headache - High8. Royal Headache High
Four years on from their brilliant debut, Sydney’s premier garage-punk-soul band return with the second album that almost didn’t happen. Clocking in at just under half an hour, there’s an urgency to these ten songs that is lacking from much of what else is out there. ‘Need You’ and ‘Love Her If I Tried’ are northern soul as played by a bunch of garage punks; ‘Garbage’ swaps out the soul for filthy, distorted, metallic guitar; ‘Carolina’ is breezy, elegiac pop while ‘Another World’ alternates between disgust and longing with its “You ate my face to take my place so you can shine in another world / Cause you can’t discern I need a friend who makes me wanna fly to another world” refrain. All of it is elevated by a melodic sensibility and Shogun’s full-throated vocals.

Recommended tracks: ‘Love Her If I Tried’, ‘Another World’, ‘Garbage’, ‘Carolina’

Torres - Sprinter7. Torres Sprinter
Two years on from her excellent debut, Mackenzie Scott returns with a follow up that finds an artist really coming into her own. All the elements – songwriting, lyrics, vocals, performance, arrangements – have moved on from the debut. If not entirely confessional (Scott is as likely to sing in character as she is in the first person) these are deeply personal songs, with lyrics that deal directly or tangentially with identity and finding one’s place in the world; relationships; fear of loss, betrayal. For the album, Scott enlisted original PJ Harvey drummer and bass player Robert Ellis and Ian Oliver (the former also in the producer’s chair) plus Portishead’s Adrian Utley. Their support is felt the most on the triumvirate of most rocking numbers (‘Strange Hellos’, ‘New Skin’ and the title track) as well as the assured and understated ‘Ferris Wheel’ and the re-recorded ‘The Harshest Light’ (previously available in demo form as an RSD 7”). But Sprinter’s most affecting number, the closing ‘The Exchange’, finds Scott solo with acoustic guitar (and some accompanying, ambient birdsong) touching on all the album’s themes through the prism of her adoptive mother’s own adoption.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sprinter’,’New Skin’, ‘Harshest Light’, ‘The Exchange’, ‘Ferris Wheel’, ‘Strange Hellos’

Dick Diver - Melbourne Florida6. Dick Diver Melbourne Florida
Melbourne, Asutralia purveyors of superior, literate guitar pop manages to leap forward while looking backwards. Previously, the band had been compared with the lo-fi jangle of early Go-Betweens and the more melodic of the vintage Flying Nun bands (esp. The Clean, though it’s an influence the band refute). On this their third album they have expanded the scope of their sound and while there’s still plenty of jangle, there’s also some harmonic psych pop chiming on the likes of ‘Waste The Alphabet’ and ‘Tearing The Posters Down’ which recalls first-album era-The Church while ‘Year in Pictures’ has people citing Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’. Mainly-drummer Steph Hughes lead vocals may only appear on a couple of tracks but, as with ‘Gap Life’ on Calendar Days, ‘Leftovers’ leaves an indelible impression.

Recommended tracks: all of them, but try any of ‘Waste The Alphabet’, ‘Year In Pictures’, ‘Competition’, ‘Tearing The Posters Down’, ‘Leftovers’, ‘Private Number’

Tame Impala - Currents5. Tame Impala Currents
After two essential albums of guitar-heavy psychedelic rock, Kevin Parker shifts styles on the third Tame Impala album to embrace elements of 70s soul and 80s electronic pop. Despite the electronic production techniques that gave the earlier records much of their distinct flavour (and despite the fact that they have never really translated those solo studio creations into a compelling live experience) the lack of obvious rock guitar has polarized fans. Both of the band’s previous albums made my personal top five’s in their respective year of release and I’d consider them to both be near perfect. The same goes for Currents. I’ll admit, I don’t think I even registered exactly how different and relegated the guitars are from this album until I’d listened to it a few times. It’s such a dense, encapsulating listening experience, and even though they are expressed differently, the influence of psychedelia and late-period Beatles are as strong as ever. As is the quality of the song writing and construction. It comes across as an obvious (but no less brilliant) evolution.

Recommended tracks: ‘Let It Happen’, ‘Eventually’, ‘Disciples’, ‘Reality In Motion’:

Desperate Journalist - Desperate Journalist4. Desperate Journalist Desperate Journalist
The jangle and chime of Rob Hardy’s 12 string Rickenbaker and Jo Bevan’s impassioned vocals often recall the pairing of Morrissey and Marr at their peak, but there’s also the influence of early-R.E.M., 90s alternative bands and the gothier end of post-punk (the name’s a Cure reference and you can hear the imprint of Joy Division, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Cult’s Billy Duffy in there too). This debut album’s eleven songs bring a power, beauty, brightness and focus to a quintessentially English-take on post-punk and early-80s indie. If this isn’t on your end of year list, you just haven’t heard it yet, baby.

Recommended tracks: ‘Control’, ‘Cristina’, ‘Eulogy’

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honey Bear3. Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear
A marriage of concept, songwriting, performance and arrangement that few artists manage to achieve, yet alone sustain for an entire album. This is a leap forward from 2012’s excellent Fear Fun (and even further forward from the stripped down solo works as J. Tillman). From the lush orchestrated title track, to the mariachi horns and strings that adorn ‘Chateau Lobby #4’ to the 80s-influenced synth pop of ‘True Affection’, to the soulful backing vocals and mournful guitar that permeate ‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me’, to the rising hysteria and stabbing keyboards of ‘The Ideal Husband’ to the near acapella ‘Bored in the USA’ and the acoustic-backed stream of consciousness platitudes / treatise on life and love that is ‘Holy Shit’. This is a diverse album that works as a whole. Some will label this Americana, but that would be inappropriate for an album whose strongest sonic influence appears to be late period Beatles.

Recommended tracks: all of them, but you could start with ‘Chateau Lobby #4’, ‘Bored in the USA’, ‘Ideal Husband’, ‘Holy Shit’

Joanna Newsom - Divers2. Joanna Newsom Divers

Five years on from her magnum opus triple album Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom returned, with what initially looked like a modest record for such a long time away, but soon revealed itself as a major triumph. The songs herein (many about love, place and time) are all of the highest quality, and Newsom’s playing is exceptional, not only on the harp but also a variety of instruments from Moog to Mellotron to Marxophone (and that’s just the Ms). While spending a lot of time mixing a record is usually a sign that the whole project is fucked, on Divers the extension of that period from two weeks to four months has paid off (read a great, non-nerdy article on the process here). As ever, her lyrics are esoteric, full of obscure historical references that often require one key phrase to be deciphered to reveal what the whole is about, but the songs also work on their own, knowing what they are about is not a pre-requisite for falling in love with them. And while her voice will probably always have its detractors, Newsom now has more range and subtly exhibits control without losing any of the character that is so important to the delivery of the songs.

Recommended tracks: all of them, but you could start with ‘A Pin-Light Bent’, ‘Leaving The City’, ‘Goose Eggs’, ‘Divers’.

The Drink - Capital1. The Drink Capital
After last year’s exceptional compilation Company, London-based three-piece The Drink released their debut album proper in November. Where Company was more angular, with much of the energy derived by how the guitar lines sat at odds with the rest of the instruments, Capital’s performances are more sinuous and fluid, the songs emboldened by the confidence and experience of the players, with elements of post-punk, afropop, goth, and prog rock feeding into their “odd, dark folk pop”.This is an album (not unlike Life Without Buildings’ Any Other City) that combines previously unrelated sweet spots from music’s past into something that sounds like it could only have been made in 2015. If there’s a song at the heart of the album it’s ‘You Won’t Come Back at All’, which builds to the extended instrumental outro on the last minute-and-a-half as Derbhla Minogue runs free with her guitar, weaving in and out of the rhythm laid down by Daniel Fordham (drums) and David Stewart (bass). It’s a lesson in the power of economy, like Neil Young playing a free range one-note guitar solo while Crazy Horse keep it locked in, or more recently, like Hospitality’s ‘I Miss Your Bones’. ‘The Coming Rain’ manages to skirt prog and disco funk and at the same time remain a sing-along indie pop song, while the closing ‘No Memory’ is propelled by a near constant minor tone of deep psych fuzz organ.

Recommended tracks: All of them – this album is ten near-perfect tracks, but if you aren’t hooked by the opening trio of ‘Like A River’, ‘You Won’t Come Back at All’ and ‘Potter’s Grave’, I don’t know what to tell ya.

[Back to the top]

1I listened to nearly 500 new albums in 2015. Most of them were rubbish, but there were many great albums that didn’t quite reach the heights of the twenty above.  Here’s an incomplete list of some of the best of the rest: Speedy Ortiz Foil Deer, !!! As If, Ryley Walker Primrose Green, Beach House Thank Your Lucky Stars, The Dodos Individ, Sleater-Kinney No Cities to Love, Novella LandJulia Holter Have You In My Wilderness, Shunkan The Pink NoiseCold Beat Into The AirBattles La Di Da DiTwerps Range AnxietyRadical Dads Universal Coolers, Colleen Captain of NoneMondo Drag Mondo DragAll Dogs Kicking EverydaySoccer Team Real Lessons in CynicismSports All of SomethingFidlar Too, TRAAMS Modern Dancing, U.S. Girls Half FreeEmpress Of Me, Robert Forster Songs to PlayShannon and the Clams Gone By the DawnMartin Courtney Many MoonsPWR BTTM Ugly CherriesLana Del Rey HoneymoonDestroyer Poison SeasonAu.Ra Jane’s LamentSarah Neufeld / Colin Stetson Never Were The Way She Was, Best Coast California NightsWhite Reaper White Reaper Do It AgainWilco Star WarsWhite Fang Chunks,Lower Dens Escape From EvilHoundstooth No News from HomeThe Mountain Goats Beat The Champ, My Morning Jacket The Waterfall, The Decemberists What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, Built to Spill Untethered Moon, Ducktails St Catherine.

In The Pharmacy #91 – November 2015

Twenty new tracks from the US, UK, Australia and Canada. New music from Estrons, Grimes, Soccer Team, The Drink, Eleanor Friedberger, DIIV, White Fang, Summer Twins (pictured), Besnard Lakes, Joanna Newsom, Beverly, Trust Fund, World Champion, Martin Courtney, Thee Mightees, Florist, Frankie Cosmos, Close Lobsters, Daughter, and Ensemble Economique.

In The Pharmacy #90 – Late October 2015

Fourteen new tracks from the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada. New music from Joanna Newsom (pictured), The Besnard Lakes, The Drink, Summer Twins, Animal House, Merchandise (featuring Dum Dum Girls), Pure Bathing Culture, Protomartyr, Boss, The Chills, Chorusgirl, Dilly Dally, Martin Courtney, and Greg Dulli.

Summer Twins ‘Florence’
Summer Twins are Californian sisters Chelsea and Justine Browne, playing dreampop with rock and roll, psychedelic pop, garage rock and French girl. Chelsea writes most of the songs sings and plays guitar, but this track was written by and features guitar from bass and drum playing sister Justine. And it’s the guitar that kicks in at the 15 second mark that’ll stick inyour head. From the album Limbo (out now, Burger Records)
[Summer Twins]

Merchandise [feat. Dum Dum Girls] ‘Red Sun’
I like the idea of 4AD signed Merchandise more than I enjoyed their album of doomy / goth stadium-sized post punk. But here, roping in Dee Dee Penny, slowing it down and giving it lots of space, it really pays off. This is for a one off Sub Pop single (out 27 November), but I could definitely go a whole album of this.

Joanna Newsom ‘Goose Eggs’
My current favourite track from her wonderful new album Divers (out now, Drag City). There’s an extended instrumental outro with electric piano and the song is underpinned by some lovely haprsichord or celeste, but it’s the the vocal performance that is the hero here. Stunning, it would be amazing to here the isolated track.
[Joanna Newsom]

The Drink ‘You Won’t Come Back At All’
Another highlight from the London-based trio’s fantastic new album Capital (Out November 13, Melodic). The star here is the the extended instrumental outro, Derbhla Minogue runs free with her guitar, weaving in and out of the rhythm laid down by Daniel Fordham and David Stewart.
[The Drink]

Animal House ‘English Girls’

I thought it odd that such a post-Libertines Brit-sounding band would have a song called ‘English Girls’, turns out these Brighton-based boys are originally from Brisbane.
[Animal House]

Pure Bathing Culture ‘Pray For Rain’
Woozy electronic dreampop title track from the Portland band’s second album (out now Parisan / Memphis Industries) the follow up to 2013’s Moon Tides.
[Pure Bathing Culture]

Protomartyr ‘Cowards Strave’
I used to have a cassette with Girls Against Boys ‘Venus Luxure No.1 Baby’ on one side and Cop Shot Cop ‘Release’ on the other. I reckon if you played both sides at the same time it would sound not entirely dissimilar to Protomartyr’s second album The Agent Intellect, from where this track is taken. Probably why I like it. (out now, Hardly Art).

Boss ‘I’m Down With That’
New side project for Warpaint’s Theresa Wayman is tropical electronic psych pop with a rubbery bass line recalling the loose grooves of Tom Tom Club. Out soon on Speedy Wunderground.

The Besnard Lakes ‘Golden Lion’
Sunshine psych rock title track from the B’Lakes new EP (Jagjaguwar, Nov 13).
[The Besnard Lakes]

The Chills ’I Can’t Help You’
One of many jangling highlights from The Chills’ Silver Bullets album, their first in nineteen years (out now, Fire!).
[The Chills]

Chorusgirl ‘Dream On, Baby Blue’
First released as a limited 7” back in July, this now features on the band’s debut album for Fortuna Pop (out next month).

Dilly Dally ‘Next Gold’
Another great track from the Toronto ‘soft-grunge’ band’s excellent debut album Sore (out now 9, Partisan Records).
[Dilly Dally]

Martin Courtney ‘Airport Bar’
Taken from the Real Estate frontman’s melodic dreampop solo album Many Moons (out now Domino).
[Martin Courtney]

Greg Dulli ‘A Crime’
Afghan Whigs / Twilight Singers / Gutter Twins Greg Dulli has only released one album under his own name, 2005’s Amber Headlights. After last year’s triumphant Afghan Whigs comeback Do To The Beast, the band are currently back in the studio but Dulli is taking time to head out on a solo tour and is marking it with a free download of a cover of this 2011 Sharon Van Etten song (Dulli’s version features Ani DiFranco on backing vocals). The original is just SVE and acoustic guitar, but here GD makes it his own and it becomes a lush, dark, bad love number. Dulli recently posted that Van Etten joined the ‘Whigs in the studio – what a treat that will be if it sees the light of day!
[Greg Dulli]

In The Pharmacy #89 – Mid October 2015

Twenty-eight new tracks from the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Denmark.
Indie rock, indiepop, garage punk, dreampop, psych folk, psych pop, and psych rock, dance punk, post punk and electronic pop. New tracks from The Drink, Soccer Team, Desperate Journalist, 
Eleanor Friedberger, 
Ex Hex, Torres, Protomartyr, The Wharves, Shunkan, Terry, Hiccup, Fuzz, Dilly Dally, The Spook School, Lowly, !!! (chk chk chk), Deerhunter, Porches, Pure Bathing Culture, YACHT, Beach House, Majical Cloudz, Daughter,Gun Outfit, Lawrence Rothman featuring Angel Olsen, Weyes Blood (pictured), Paul Bergman featuring Emily Kokal.

In The Pharmacy #87 – Late September 2015

Twenty-three new tracks from the US, UK and Canada. New music from Silversun Pickups, The Drink, Fidlar, Lana Del Rey, Julia Holter, Kurt Vile, Shannon and the Clams, Family of the Year, Darkstar, The Woolen, Battles, Stars, TRAAMS, 
U.S. Girls, 
Chromatics, Metric, U.S. Girls, The Whales, Dilly Dally, 
Pure Bathing Culture (pictured), Gun Outift, 
Desperate Journalist, Soccer Team, and Lou Barlow.

Fidlar ‘Drone’
LA garage punks with a track from their second album Too (out now, Mom & Pop).

Family of the Year ‘Make You Mine’
Sunshine indie pop from the LA band’s self-titled album, their third (out now, Nettwerk).
[Family of the Year]

Silversun Pickups ‘Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)’
Second track to appear from the band’s forthcoming fourth album Better Nature, (September 25, New Machine Records) and a rare one that features Nikki Moninger on lead vocals.
[Silversun Pickups]

The Drink ‘No Memory’
The closing track from the London-based trio’s debut album proper, Capital (last year’s stunning Company compiled their first three EPs). Although it’s not physically released until November 13 (Melodic), pre-orders come with an instant download of the whole, brilliant album.
[The Drink]

Darkstar ‘Stoke The Fire’
Warp signed artist with hints of afropop and the Beta Band in their groove based pop. Taken from their third album Foam Island (Warp, September 25).

Shannon and the Clams ‘Telling Myself’
Following on from It’s Too Late (ITP #85) and Corvette (ITP #81) more sci-fi surf pop from the SATC new album Gone By The Dawn (out now, Hardly Art).
[Shannon and the Clams]

The Woolen Men ‘University’
An eighties melodic hardcore vibe from these Pacific north western DIY punks with a track from their new album Temporary Monument (out now, Woodsist).
[The Woolen Men]

Battles ‘Dot Com’
More krauty instrumental math rock goodness from the band’s new album La Di Da Di (out now, Warp).

Stars ‘A Simple Song’
Following on from last year’s excellent and bizarrely underrated indie disco-tastic No One Is Lost, comes a new slice of melancholy electronic pop from their new digital only Lost and Found EP (out now).

TRAAMS ‘Silver Lining’
Following on from Succulent Thunder Anthem (ITP #84), the Chichestter post-punk trio return with another track from their forthcoming second album Grin (FatCat, November 13)

U.S. Girls ‘Sed Knife’
Surprisngly seventies influenced dirty indie rock number from experimental popster Meghan Remy’s 4AD debut Half Free (25 September).
[U.S. Girls]

Metric ‘Lie Lie Lie’
Maybe you too will be thinking of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’ too when you hear this catchy track from the band’s Pagans in Vegas album (out now, MMI/Crystal Math).

Chromatics ‘Shadow’
New Adult Swim single from Johnny Jewel’s electronic dreampop outfit. Available for download now.

The Whales ‘Marguerite’
Lo-fi jangling indie rock from Cambridge, originally released back in March.
[The Whales]

Dilly Dally ‘Purple Rage’
More raw vocals and grungey guitars from the Toronto band’s debut album, Sore (October 9, Partisan Records).
[Dilly Dally]

Pure Bathing Culture ‘Palest Pearl’
Electronic indiepop taken from the band’s John Congleton-produced second album, Pray For Rain (October 23, Partisan).
[Pure Bathing Culture]

Gun Outift ‘Only Ever Over’

Country dreampop from the LA band’s forthcoming album Dream All Over (Oct 16, Paradise of Bachelors).
[Gun Outfit]

Desperate Journalist ‘Perfect Health’
Following on from their brilliant debut album (a contender for album of the year) comes this track from their soon to be released Good Luck EP. Nicely understated, Smithsy jangling.
[Desperate Journalist]

Soccer Team ‘Friends Who Know’
DC indie rockers with nineties slack track from their Real Lessons in Cynicism album (out 27 October, Dischord Records).
[Soccer Team]

Lou Barlow ‘Wave’
Another highlight from the Dinosaur Jr / Sebadoh / Folk Implosion man’s new solo album Brace the Wave (out now, Joyful Noise).
[Lou Barlow]

Lana Del Rey ‘The Blackest Day’
It’s a quick turn around for Honeymoon (out now), album number three from Lana Del Rey which she started working on as soon as she finished last year’s rather excellent Ultraviolence. It’s another lush pop noire classic and this is just one of many stand out tracks.
[Lana Del Rey]

Julia Holter ‘Vasquez’
Another great track from Have You In My Wilderness, the experimental popster’s fourth, most accessible and most pleasing album yet. This brings to mind the lush, jazz tinged post-pop of David Sylvian and late period Talk Talk.
[Julia Holter]

Kurt Vile ‘Lost My Head There’
Slacker indie rock with a lush seventies vibe. Taken from KV’s excellent forthcoming album, b’lieve I’m going down (September 25, Matador).
[Kurt Vile]

The Top 37 Albums of 2014: Because the best music doesn’t come in round numbers

best-album-2014-5722014 was a great year for new music, but what really defined it for me is how many really, really good albums there were. I don’t mean stone cold classics or truly great albums (of which there were a few), but those that were of a level that would normally make up numbers 11-20 in your end of year list. Records that you’ll continue to play for years to come and can often mean more to you than your top ten as they haven’t supersaturated your ears by being played everywhere.

It’s the abundance of these ‘8 out of 10’ records that have made compiling this list so difficult and led to its idiosyncratic length. I listened to 450+ new albums in 2014, and got it down to a long list of 60 records jostling for a third as many places. Records that were near the bottom one day moved way up the next and vice versa. An arbitrary cut off point didn’t make sense this year, because ultimately it should always be about the music and not the list. If this offends your sensibilities, you can skip the first 17 tracks and just take the top 20.

Having said all that, looking at the list, I see that it’s a lot less diverse than my listening habits in 2014, but the best singles artists aren’t always the best album artists. Finally, I’ll just mention that I had to disqualify one of my favourite records for being a compilation of previously released EPs (The Drink’s fantastic Company) a fate shared in previous years by Courtney Barnett (A Sea of Split Peas, 2013) and The Beta Band (The Three EPs, 1998). Because you have to stick to some rules.

Warpaint -Warpaint37. Warpaint Warpaint
All female post-punk and art rock influenced LA band. A great successor to 2010’s The Fool and their first with drummer Stella Mozgawa, who works brilliantly with bass player Jenny Lee Lindberg to weave the sinuous rhythms that are key to the appeal of songs that are often built around atmosphere and texture rather than melody. You can hear echoes of Radiohead, The Cure and early Siouxsie and The Banshees amongst others.

Recommended tracks: ‘Keep It Healthy’, ‘CC’, ‘Love Is To Die’.

Real Estate - Atlas36. Real Estate Atlas
Third album of superior dreamy, jangling indie pop from the New Jersey band. It’s almost the nature of this kind of music that it will struggle to compete with something more in your face and while it might not quite hit the heights of last album Days (2011) but it would be hard to find a record more suited to those lazy summer days.

Recommended tracks: ‘Talking Backwards’, ‘Primitive’, ‘Crime’.

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence35. Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence
After the excellent early singles, that disastrous SNL performance, the authenticity ‘debate’ and the patchy debut album, Ultraviolence is a great comeback. The sly commentary of ‘Brooklyn Baby’ and ‘Fucked My Way To The Top’ show a level of self awareness many of her critics don’t seem think she possesses. There shouldn’t be anything incongruous about loving this album and Burn Your Fire For No Witness equally. The songwriting and production (the latter courtesy of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach) is excellent, as is the version of ‘The Other Woman’ originally recorded by Sarah Vaughan in 1956.

Jenny Lewis - The Voyager34. Jenny Lewis Voyager 

This one has proved a bit divisive for Jenny Lewis fans. Six years on from her last solo album Acid Tongue, it’s her most polished and pop record and probably closest in relation to the slightly over-egged and underwritten final Rilo Kiley album Under the Blacklight (but with much better songs). I’m personally of the opinion that the thing would improve everything she does it a little more pop and a little less country, so tracks like ‘Head Underwater’, ‘She’s Not Me’ and ‘Slippery Slopes’ are perfect, while the closing title track – strings, acoustic guitar, understated synths – is one of the year’s most beautiful.

Beck - Morning Light33. Beck Morning Light
Beck’s first proper record in six years finds him reuniting with many of the same musicians who worked on 2002’s Sea Change and returning to the lush, contemplative style that fans of that album (and his cover of ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometimes’) will be familiar with.
But this is more than just a rehash. An update on the seventies singer/songwriter / melodic classic rock vibe, without it sounding like pastiche or the desperate nostalgia of the creatively bankrupt. Instantly grabs you and gets better with each listen.

Recommended Tracks: ‘Morning’, ‘Country Down’, ‘Waking Light’.

Tweens - Tweens32. Tweens Tweens
Trash pop trio from Cincinnati. There’s a bunch of hook laden, tightly wound garage punk songs (‘Be Mean’, ‘Bored In The City’ ‘Hardcore Boy’, ‘Girlfriend’, ‘Rattle and Rollin’ etc), all delivered in singer/songwriter/guitarist Bridget Battle’s mannered, clipped, shout-sing vocal style. But there’s real gold when they deviate from this template as on the likes of the slowed down, soulful ‘Don’t Wait Up’ and ‘Forever’. The latter is a dirty throb of a bassline and distorted metallic guitar following Battle’s vocal melody line. Probably the song I played most in 2014.

Marissa Nadler - July31. Marissa Nadler July
Massachusetts indie folk singer with acoustic guitar and beautiful voice, sometimes she employs falsetto, sometimes vibrato. In a similar vein to Angel Olsen but more rooted in folk and the gothic end of dream pop – dreams, desires, death and decay all feature. This is her sixth album and best so far I reckon.

Recommended tracks: ‘Drive’, ‘Was It A Dream’, ‘Dead City, Emily’.

helio-+-Melvin-30030. Heliocentrics and Melvin Van Peebles Last Transmission

Sci-fi space rock thick with marijuana smoke billed as “an interplanetary space / love odyssey”. This finds the London psych-funk collective collaborating with the 82 year old American director/musician. From the trippy dub of ‘Big Bang Reincarnation’ to space jazz of ‘The Cavern’ to the trippy metallic funk of ‘The Dance’ it’s pretty…er, trippy.

Walter Martin - We're All Young Together29. Walter Martin ‘We’re All Young Together’
Hard to imagine another “family album” making the list, but this one has bags of charm and a cast to appeal to “children of all ages”. The former Walkmen multi-instrumentalist enlists members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The National, French Kicks, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Coke Weed and his old pal Hamilton Leithauser and singer songwriter Kat Edmondson. The results are a bunch of great tracks with lyrics that will appeal to kids but also often stand alone as great songs, check out ‘Sing 2 Me’, ‘Rattlesnakes’, ‘It’s A Dream’ and the title track.

Tiny Ruins - Brightly Painted One28. Tiny Ruins Brightly Painted One

Double bass, restrained drumming, guitar picking and Hollie Fullbrook’s crisp folk vocals all make this album a pleasure to listen to. What elevates it above similar records is the strength of the songwriting – ‘Reasonable Man’, ‘Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergarden’, ‘The Ballad of the Hanging Parcel’, ‘Night Owl’ all hook you in to the Tiny Ruins world.

Damien Jurado Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son27. Damien Jurado Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Although I was a fan of his early albums, I haven’t kept up with Damien Jurado since On My Way to Absence (2005), so I was not prepared to be blown away by this, his third collaboration with the producer-with-the-golden-touch Richard Swift. A lush atmospheric singer songwriter album that takes on board elements of Harvest-era Neil Young, Ennio Morricone, Iron & Wine and trip hop. Gutted that his first Australian tour was cancelled this year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Magic Number’, ‘Silver Timothy’, ‘Return to Maraqopa’, ‘Silver Joy’.

Afghan Whigs - Do To The Beast26. The Afghan Whigs Do To The Beast
Those that were lucky enough to catch the ’Whigs comeback dates may have been dubious about a new album that didn’t feature guitarist Rick McCollum. Although they’ve had to employ at least three other guitarists to move it forward, Do To The Beast delivers. From the menacing opener ‘Parked Outside’ to the horn and string embellished closer ‘These Sticks’ and through the Spaghetti Western of ‘Algiers’ with its fuzzy guitar solo and auto-tuned penultimate verse. The highlight is where the punishing ‘Royal Cream’ changes seamlessly into the subdued ‘I Am Fire’, the latter acting like an extended coda to the former.

Stars - No One is Lost25. Stars No One Is Lost
It’s a crime how under appreciated Stars are. At their best they pull on your heartstrings, invoke a yearning for youth that almost knocks you over with it’s force, and really, really make you want to dance. No One Is Lost does all these things and the result is one of the most life affirming albums of 2014. It’s the Pet Shop Boys meets The Smiths meets New Order meets the soundtrack to Some Kind Of Wonderful. The thoughtful older pop sibling to M83’s stadium bombast little brother. There’s a distinct club and disco vibe on several tracks that has not endeared them to everyone, but I can’t imagine compiling any best of 2014 playlist that didn’t include at least three of ‘From The Night’, ‘This is The Last Time’, ‘Turn It Up’, ‘Trapdoor’ and ‘No One is Lost’.

Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire For No Witness24. Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire For No Witness
The follow up to 2012’s excellent Halfway Home. Singer songwriter who mixes songs with intimate vocals accompanied by electric guitar with those arranged for a full band. Possessor of an emotionally expressive voice which, along with the guitars, she often adds distortion and effects to. Vocally, occasionally reminiscent of Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, especially when she employs her impressive vibrato.
Recommended tracks: ‘White Fire’ and ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ are good examples of the two sides of her style.

The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers23. The New Pornographers Brill Bruisers

The sixth album from the Canadian power pop ‘super group’ has proved to be another grower, each of its thirteen tracks seemingly assembled from different pieces layered and stitched together which result in songs like ‘Born with A Sound’ and even the sub-90 second ‘Another Drug Deal of The Heart’ taking a little longer to become the earworms they are. One of those albums where you have a different favourite track every time you listen to it – currently, it’s the bubbling synths, trembling strings and acoustic guitar of ‘Hi-Rise’ with it’s wordless pre-chorus, last time it was the Vocoder n’ electronics of ‘Backstairs’, before that the understated ‘Champions of Red Wine’.

Tokyo Police Club = Forcefield22. Tokyo Police Club Forcefield
Big bright pop rock songs from Ontario band’s fourth album. I doubt there’ll be a better opening track this year than ‘Argentina (Part I,II,III)’  a prog-power-pop three parter that references Evita and gets away with it. If Ex Hex’s Rips is that first James Murphy produced Free Energy album’s big sister, then this is its poppier, less retro little brother.

Recommended tracks: ‘Argentina (Part I,II,III)’, ‘Beaches’, ‘Feel The Effect’.

Tacocat - NVM21. Tacocat NVM
Palindromic Seattle garage rock / sci fi / surfpop band with their second album. Thirteen tracks and only 29 minutes long. Only (the brilliant) ‘Bridge to Hawaii’ is longer than two and half minutes, yet they still manage to fit a middle eight and a key change into the two minutes twelve seconds of ‘Party Trap’ . There’s a couple of great feminist anthems on here – the light hearted ode to menstruation ‘Crimson Wave’ with its “There are communists in the summer house refrain and the more cutting ‘Hey Girl’. But this mainly female band are equal opportunities garage punks – they even let token XY chromosome guitarist Eric Randall sing on ‘Alien Girl’.

Mac DeMarco - Salad Days20. Mac DeMarco Salad Days
Like a 21st-Century-Canadian-slacker-savant-Marc Bolan, the still only 24 year old MDM’s latest album (his third, though his second under his own name) is his best yet. From the title track to the stoned psych pop of ‘Brother’ and the tropical inflections of ‘Let Her Go’, the drunken guitars of Blue Boy and Beatlesy ‘Passing Out Pieces’ and ‘Go Easy’ this is an album with bags of charm and hardly any let up in the quality of the songs.


19. Alvvays AlvvaysAlvvays - Alvvays Torronto-based indiepop five piece. Singer songwriter Molly Rankin deals in affairs of the heart with a wistful melancholy and the band have a taste for fuzz and trebly distortion that put these songs a million miles away from any idea of tweeness.

Recommended Tracks: ‘Archie Marry, Me’, ‘Adult Diversion’, ‘Next of Kin’.



Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else18. Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else
This is the fourth album from the Cleveland, Ohio indie rockers and the follow up to their excellent Steve Albini produced Attack on Memory (2012). Building on the leanings of that album, this set of songs are once again strongly reminiscent of the melodic / post-hardcore bands of the late 80s. I can’t hear Dylan Baldi’s voice without thinking of those early Lemonheads songs that Ben Deily used to sing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Now Hear In’, ‘Psychic Trauma’, ‘I’m Not Part of Me’.

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There17. Sharon Van Etten Are We There
After 2012’s solid Tramp, SVE’s fourth album feels like a step forward in songwriting and sonics. Filled with special moments from the dark, brooding ‘Taking My Chances’, the martial rhythms and epic feel of ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’, the heartsick piano-led ‘I Love You But I’m Lost’ and its more strident relative ‘I Know’, to the closing deceptively simple ‘Nothing Will Change’.


Interpol - El Pintor16. Interpol El Pintor
I wasn’t expecting to like this, let alone love it. Interpol were one of my favourite bands circa-Turn on the Bright Lights, but it’s been a slow decent into mediocrity and dubious side projects since then. Antics was a good album with some great high points but couldn’t help but feel like a let down after the debut, while Our Love To Admire and the eponymously titled fourth album both had impressive lead singles then failed to deliver. But sonically, dynamically and on the strength of the songs (‘Everything Is Wrong’. ‘All The Rage Back Home’, ‘Twice as Hard’, ‘My Desire’, ‘Ancient Ways’ among their best) this is a great album. No fat or filler and (while some may prefer the work of Peter Katis) this more polished self-produced record has none of the awkward choices that marred the last couple of albums. Gets better on every listen.

Sun Kil Moon Benji15. Sun Kil Moon Benji
Mark Kozelek is on a roll at the moment. Last year saw his Desertshore and Jimmy Lavelle collaborations. Brilliant songwriting, full of pathos and humour. Lots of songs where people die, plus lyrical name checks for Nels Cline and Ben Gibbard.

Recommended tracks: ‘I Love My Dad’, ‘Carissa’, ‘Ben’s My Friend’.


The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi14. The Raveonettes Pe’ahi
Inspired by the death of Sune Rose Wagner’s father, the seventh full length album from the Danish duo is one of 2014’s most underrated records. Perhaps the fact there was no hint that they had an album ready to drop put people on the back foot, but from the opening Suicide-meets-Spector of ‘Endless Sleeper’ to the full on fuzz assault lullaby of ‘Sisters’ to the baggy rhythm and sleigh bells of ‘Killer In The Streets’ to the baroque trip hop pop of ‘Wake Me Up’ and ‘The Rains of May’’s extended motorik coda, this is The Raveonettes at their absolute best. Ten songs, 36 minutes, one great album.

St Vincent - St Vincent13. St Vincent St Vincent
Previously, I’ve always found St Vincent easy to admire but difficult to love. On her fourth album I either finally get it or she has got a hell of a lot better. What makes her special can often also make her music off putting. ‘Prince Johnny’ wins you over instantly but the likes of the opening ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘Digital Witness’ can be jarring with how much is going on within their confines. After a few listens, the songs reveal themselves as the wonders that they are, and even seeming economical in lack of superfluous instrumentation – everything here always serves the songs. Feels like a revelation.

Future Islands - Singles12. Future Islands Singles
Minimal synth n’ bass n’ soul combo make a killer pop record on album number four. As on its predecessor On The Water (2011) frontman Samuel T. Herring keeps the early albums’ caged animal vocal excesses to a minimum, making them all the more effective when he does employ them. Atmospheric and emotive stuff.

Recommended tracks: ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’, ‘Doves’, ‘Back In The Tall Grass’, ‘A Dream of You and Me’.

parquet courts - sunabthing animal11. + 10. Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animal / Parkay Quarts Content Nausea
Two albums from the Brooklyn-based ex-pat Texan garage band (Parkay Quarts have a slightly different line up). Though the band are tight, there’s a slackness to their sound, mainly thanks to Andrew Savage and Austin Brown’s vocal delivery. On the former there’s a scratchy, nervous energy to the likes of ‘Black & White’ and ‘Always Back in Town’, a more straight ahead old school punk vibe to the title track, while ‘Dear Ramona’ and ‘Instant Disassembly’ are near somnambulant and the short short‘Up All Night’ is like walking past a door to a nightclub where they’re playing some lost Krautrock-influenced post-punk instrumental. On the latter album there’s a post-Cale-Velvets shuffle to ‘Slide Machine’ and ‘Pretty Machines’ (the latter with a dose of saxophone that wouldn’t be out of place on the first couple of Psychedelic Furs albums), a touch of Krautrock on ‘Kevlar Walls’ and ‘The Map’, a fairly straight cover of ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ and a touch of Pavement at their most wistful on ‘Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth’.

Dean Wareham9. Dean Wareham Dean Wareham
Wareham’s songwriting is on a high at the moment, coupled with the presence of producer (and fellow George Harrison fan) Jim James of My Morning Jacket (who also provides keyboard, guitar and backing vocals), this was always going to be an album worth hearing. James’ production adds a welcome Americana influence to the likes of ‘Heartless People’ and a a lush but never cloying feel to ‘Love Is Not a Roof Against The Rain’. Wareham’s voice has never been weightier or warmer, while the whole is littered with incredible arrangements and musical choices, peaking on ‘My Eyes Are Blue’’s use of slide, nylon and electric guitars, mallet percussion and minimal, haunting wordless backing vocals. A warm wonderful album that keeps on getting better with each listen.

The War on Drugs - Lost In The Dream8. The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream
A laidback take on 80s arena rock – the influence of Dire Straits / 80s Dylan and Springsteen / Traveling Wilburys runs through it but you don’t even have to feel mildly well disposed to that type of music to really enjoy this. Some great songwriting, guitar playing and beautiful arrangements from Adam Granduciel and co. who also cited Spiritualized as an influence on the album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Red Eyes’, ‘Eyes to the Wind’, ‘Under The Pressure’.

Spoon - They Want My Soul7. Spoon They Want My Soul
Four years on from their underrated Transference and a couple of years on from Britt Daniels sojourn with Divine Fits, Spoon return with another album that wears its new wave, post punk and power pop influences lightly. Guitars crunch, tremble, distort, scratch and squeal, piano is judiciously dropped, keyboards occasionally stab and drums and bass deliver insistent grooves and rumbles. On ‘Rainy Taxi’, ‘Outlier’ and ‘New York Kiss’ it’s the rhythms that take centre stage – a liquid yet angular post punk funk that moves the band onto the dancefloor without losing any of what has always made them special. Another classic.

honeyblood-honeyblood-300x3006. Honeyblood Honeyblood
Noisepop, occasionally with a country tinge (‘Bud’, ‘No Spare Key’, ‘Braidburn Valley’), lyrics that deal with love and heartache, anger, sleazeballs, resilience, or are inspired by the work of Angela Carter. There’s some occasional bass, keyboards and extra percussion but the backbone of these songs come from the female duo. Stina Tweedale has a way with words, a voice to match and some nice line in fuzz n’ crunch guitar playing, while (since departed) drummer Shona McVicar keeps it simple and adds backing vocals. This is an album that fits nicely into the history of Scottish (esp. Glasgow-based) indie pop while clearly having it’s own personality.

Woods - With Light and With Love5. Woods With Light & With Love

From the pastoral Americana of the opening ‘Shepherd’, through the jangling psych pop of ‘Shining’ (which recalls both The Byrds and The Beatles), the extended guitar workout on the nine minute plus title track (worthy of Crazy Horse) and the shuffling pop of ‘Moving to the Left’ this is an album that keeps on giving. Influences firmly rooted in the period from 1965-1971, for me this is the album that has all the warmth, charm and personality that was lacking from the similarly retro Temples album. There’s some particularly lovely George Harrison-like guitar on ‘Full Moon’ too.

Hamilton_Leithauser_-_Black_Hours4.Hamilton Leithauser Black Hours
The only good thing about The Walkmen going on an “extreme hiatus” is that this year we got three solo albums from its members, all of which of worth checking out. After being wrong-footed by the up tempo, repetitive first single ‘Alexandra’, Black Hours reveals itself as a beautiful and nuanced album, the biggest grower of the year too. From the smoky, strings, piano and bowed bass of ‘5AM’, to the marimba adorned ‘The Silent Orchestra’, the afropop inflections of ‘11 O’Clock Friday Night’ (with its “You and me and everybody else” refrain), the late night melancholy of ‘Self Pity’ to the Bob Dylan-and- George Harrison join-Lennon on the lost weekend of ‘I Retired’, nearly every track is special. Even ‘Alexandra’ makes more sense in this context. Like the best of the latter work of The Walkmen, this is an album that takes cues from the past, often feels timeless, but never dated. I fully expect to feel as strongly about this album in 25 years time as I do right now. A treasure, for sure.

ex hex rips 3005. Ex Hex Rips
After the dissolution of Wild Flag, DC veteran Mary Timony bounces back with something that sounds “like classic rock radio from the future” (thanks, The Washington Post). Crunchy, glam-meets-power pop guitars (‘Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love’, ‘New Kid’), garage punk meets new wave (‘You Fell Apart’, ‘Beast’) a hint of Krautrock (‘War Paint’) and a healthy dose of The Cars (‘How You Got That Girl’, ‘Waste Your Time’). All with killer riffs and choruses. It manages to acknowledge the past without being a slave to it. It’s closest modern equivalent is probably the debut Free Energy album (another personal favourite).


2. Hospitality Trouble
From the monochrome minimalism of the cover, (photo obscured by diagonal lines, no artist name or title on the front, italicized all caps on a field of steel blue on the back ) it’s clear that this is a different beast to the sunny indie pop of their debut (one of my favourite albums of 2011). Only the lovely but modest ‘It’s Not Serious’ and ‘Sunship’ seem of a piece with that album. Trouble still features Amber Papini’s great songwriting and a strong melodic sensibility, but benefits from atmospheres, arrangements and solos wearing the influence of Television, Pink Floyd and Magazine (check out the solos and instrumental passages on ‘I Miss Your Bones’, ‘Last Words’ and ‘Going Out’). And although Papini’s guitar playing gives the songs as much of their character as her songwriting does, the basslines of Brian Bettancourts and drummer / co-producer Nathan Michel’s contributions on synth are key in elevating the songs to another level.

The Wharves At Bay1. The Wharves ‘At Bay’
An album that sounds like nothing else out there at the moment. While Medieval and Renaissance harmonic styles bring a spectral folk vibe (‘The Grip’, ‘Scarlet For Ya’) and post punk guitars repeat little motifs or curlicue away (‘Renew’, ‘Mother Damnable’), there’s also the odd Gallic fairground waltz here (‘Ode à Jimmy’), and bit of Sabbath heaviosity there (the bassline of ‘Faultline’). As singular and special a record as Life Without Buildings’ Any Other City.

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