One of the (few) perks of updating (occasionally) a music blog is that you get to foist on (both of) the readers a round up of the albums you liked best in 2014.
And IMO this has been a cracking year. I really could have made a list of around 40 albums that I reckon are worth a play or two from Damon Albarn through to The Sudden Death Of Stars. Apologies too in the direction of Beaulieu Porch and Of Arrowe Hill which arrived just a bit too late for this list.
I should add that guitars, the 60s and mind expanding pop are my thing – but that should be pretty obvious from the bands featured here.
Here then are my favourite 20 – starting with an album that has soundtracked much of my year.
1 Pete Fij and Terry Bickers – Broken Heart Surgery - Nigh on a decade after ‘the one’ smashed his heart into a million pieces (don’t they always!) ex Adorable singer Fij finally got round to recording his misery-soaked masterpiece. But what saves Broken Heart Surgery from being just a catalogue of calamity with its dark and bitter tales of rejection, stalking and technophobia is the gloriously uplifting guitar of the ex-House of Love chap Terry Bickers. Even at its most downbeat take Parallel (‘there’s a parallel world where everything turns out right and the parallel girl sleeps by my side,) ouch, Bickers’ John Barry-esque twangy guitar sounds make something so bleak sound almost joyful. Fantastic and utterly addictive album with or without a broken heart.
2 The Church – Further Deeper – It really is almost beyond comprehension that a band that has been around so long and created so much great music along the way can still be this ambitious, experimental and downright brilliant. Further Deeper is total redemption for Steve Kilbey and his unique psychedelic visions. Shorn of one of the band’s key members (the elusive Marty Willson-Piper) Kilbey has nevertheless conjured up a suite of songs that take the band’s sometimes jangly, sometimes edgy sounds to new levels. Further Deeper’s finale, Miami, is a total triumph that almost reaches ten minutes but feels like three, while Old Coast Road could grace any of the band’s seminal 80s albums. Wonderful stuff.
3 Temples – Sun Structures - If Benny and Bjorn had given the girls the afternoon off, dropped a couple of tabs and pressed record they’d probably come up with something like the Temples debut. A glorious mixture of dreamy pop songs decorated by soaring harmonies and gentle strings. Northamptonshire should be very, very proud of them.
4 David Woodcock – The year’s other epic break up album, for while Fij and Bickers focussed on dark and bitter tales of rejection, Southend based piano man David Woodcock took a slightly different approach on his fantastic debut album, where over upbeat piano riffs the estuary man tells of ‘37 year single mothers who could teach me a thing or two.’ This is classic English pop with nods to everyone from Blur to Mott the Hoople. And best of all it boast some of the best tunes, and quirkiest lyrics this side of Parklife.
5 The Junipers – Paint The Ground - Strictly speaking this shouldn’t be on this list as it was originally issued as a download in 2012. However a vinyl issue of this stunningly slice of English pop melancholy has been one of my most treasured musical possessions this year. The band have packed their picnic headed off into the English countryside and crafted a gorgeous piece of pop that’s part English folk and part the autumnal early 70s stuff that pops up on some of the Fading Yellow compilations. Simply gorgeous.
6 The Soundcarriers – Entropicalia – In a year where journalists and bloggers tried to capture the essence of what psychedelia is came Entropicalia from Leicester’s Soundcarriers which more than anything else in 2014 totally nails the genre. Entropicalia is smart, expansive, dreamy music which pulls in from the left field of pop, easy listening, folk and jazz from over five decades. You can’t stop missing Broadcast now, you have Entropicalia.
7 Mikey Georgeson – Blood and Brambles – The man behind David Devant, Mr Solo and the utterly bizarre Carfax tossed away the mask in 2014 and issued this masterpiece in his own name. A wonderful minestrone of quintessentially vaudevillian pop it ranges from the Bacharach meets Anthony Newley waltz of Sometimes through to the Springsteen-ish (had he come from the Essex shore rather than the Jersey one) anthemic pop of I see what you did there. Fabulous.
8 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation - Just like his fellow psychedelic troubadour, The Church’s Steve Kilbey, Anton Newcombe’s pop visions seem to get even more ambitious and technicolour the older he gets. Revelation is one hell of a great trip.
9 Foxygen – And Star Power – Sure it is over long, over ambitious and hideously pretentious, but I wouldn’t have Foxygen any other way. A wonderful distillation of all the wonkiest bits of the early 70s from Lennon to Todd Rungren.
10 The Len Price 3 – Nobody Knows - The LP3’s Glen Page is a class A storyteller. My Grandad Jim recounts wartime heroics over a vicious garage pop tune while the Weller-influenced Billy Mason relates another wartime tale this time of a family friend who built an aircraft in his house. Put simply no one else on the planet is penning lyrics like these at the moment. Nobody Knows is yet another triumph from the Medway boys.
11 Robyn Hitchcock – The Man Upstairs - A wonderful mix of inspired covers (Ghost In You and Ferries) with gentle folky originals San Franciscos Patrol). Just like a Judy Collins album from 1967.
12 The Primitives Spin-o-rama – After a twenty or so year hiatus the band returns with an album of new tunes, and guess what? They are just as much fun as the stuff they put out in their heyday.
13 Ultimate Painting – In the year where we said goodbye to Lou Reed this is a wonderful re-imagining of the third Velvets album. Many glorious tunes.
14 Morgan Delt - A wonderfully bonkers collection of way out pop songs that anyone who loves the trippier side of psych will go bananas for. Barbarian Kings is an absolute classic.
15 The Young Sinclairs – This is the Young Sinclairs – The US janglers finally get their moment in the sun courtesy of some very nice people from N16. This is a sweetly addictive collection of Byrdsie jangles, which to these ears trumps the output of several other higher profile garage folk acts.
16 Colorama – Temari – Another wildly schizophrenic collection from Carwyn and his crew. If you ignore the slightly bizarre yacht rock interludes this holds up really well. The opener Paraglide may just be their best ever song.
17 Balduin – All In A Dream - The Swiss psych pop alchemist, think Jacco Gardner but with the mellotrons turned up to 11, delivers yet another burst of tunes that had they been issued on 45s in the late 60s would have collectors trading limbs for.
18 White Fence – For the Recently Found Innocent - Who style power pop with a twist. Their best album yet.
19 First Aid Kit – Stay Gold. Maybe not quite as epic as The Lion’s Roar, Stay Gold does however boast Cedar Lane, which lyrically totally nails post-relationship melancholy and has the most gorgeous plaintive tune to match.
20 The Paperhead – Africa Avenue - Not quite as bonkers as their surreal Pink Floyd drenched debut but this has better tunes to accompany their wildly original ideas.
Church fan? Well if you are I am pretty sure that when you heard that Steve Kilbey was writing a biography that you revised your Christmas list.
Me too, yet to be honest lurking at the back of my mind was whether after Robert Lurie’s excellent tome about the band, No Certainty Attached, that there would be great deal left to say. Well it turns out there’s plenty.
While Lurie’s book focuses mainly on the music, with a little bit of the singer’s life for perspective, in this book it is not surprisingly the other way round.
So we learn of Steve Kilbey’s life as the son of a ten pound Pom, join him on plenty of adolescent high jinks, and discover much about his early relationships Michelle Parker and Jennifer Keyte, and how they influenced his music. It is all fascinating stuff, especially the part that reveals the band’s obsession with Paisley Shirts!
Several key themes emerge most notably (and this surprised me) how important Kilbey’s English heritage is to him. It is clear that in spite of spending about 80% of his life in Australia there’s still a large chunk of the Kilbey psyche that is made in the south east of England.
In particular, and intriguingly for The Church’s English fans, he clearly has a love/hate relationship with the land of birth. On one hand he is rather cynical about the London music press, which to be honest has never really done his band justice (though to be fair both the reviewers he namechecks negatively have penned rave reviews of the band.)
It is also clear that The Church’s sound owes a great deal to the trip Steve and his wife Michelle Parker made to London where they lapped up all the capital (which was in the midst of its hugely creative post punk renaissance) had to offer. Not surprisingly Kilbey was blown away by plenty of bands including The Only Ones, a key influence on the bands’ debut.
Also rather interesting are the young Kilbey’s early influences – lots of glam, and the Bolan thing has been chronicled many times before – but Chicago!? He also talks about his love for The Easybeats and Russell Morris (of The Real Thing fame) two artists that have over time become cult favourites around the globe. And in spite of praising lots of sixties acts he barely mentions what many fans would see as the band’s key early influence – the Byrds.
Kilbey also goes into more detail about some of the inter band relationships, (sometimes great, sometimes dysfunctional) that Lurie alludes to in his book. He talks candidly about how his experimentation with heroin lead to him to full on addiction to the drug and the bizarre life that screwed up most of the 90s for him, but for us Church addicts yielded at least a couple of classic albums in Priest and Hologram.
Overall it emerges is that Steve Kilbey is very aware that many things conspired against The Church to prevent them from becoming, well a rival to REM as the 80’s key guitar band. Being foisted producers not sympathetic to the Church’s sound, through to not playing the pop star game both early on in England and later on in the US, scuppered any potential sustained break through. One can only dream of what might have hapenned had John Paul Jones produced Gold Afternoon Fix. Sometimes he sounds a little bitter, at other times a little resigned to how things have panned out, but I guess that’s how many of us see our lives.
Sadly the book ends rather abruptly with much of the last fifteen years nailed in a few paras – which is a bit a disappointment as I’d love to know more about the background to the last two albums. Maybe it is still a bit raw and fresh and maybe, knowing how much the publishing industry loves a sequel, he is working on volume two…
Ultimately then as a read Something Quite Peculiar hovers between the waspish humour of Luke Haines books and the gossipy nature of the first few chapters of the Morrissey biography. Kilbey is a talented writer and knows how to spin a yarn tor two. And if you have ever been smitten by the music of The Church or are fascinated by a musician’s creative process purchasing this book is a total no brainer.
It will apparently be available in a digital Kindle format soon.
In one of life’s strangest musical mysteries one of the best guitar bands ever, and quite possibly the template for a lot of what we now know as new psych, The Church never really connected with a UK audience. In Australia they are hailed as national heroes, while in the US they could at least boast a hit single and a film soundtrack or two. Yet in the country of singer and main songsmith Steve Kilbey’s birth they are little more than a footnote – 80s alt rockers whose brief brush with fame in the early 90s was quickly extinguished by the awful racket coming out of Seattle.
So the chance of hearing any of Further Deeper, the band’s 24th, count ‘em, album on the BBC, or reading a review in one of our august music journals – you know the ones on their very last legs – is minimal. Which is, as it has been 23 times before, a tragedy of epic musical proportions. For once again, and in spite of losing key member guitarist Marty Willson Piper, the band have delivered an astonishing album.
The band’s last release, Untitled #23 garnered a five star review from Rolling Stone’s David Fricke for its Pink Floyd meets Abbey Road era vibe. And if anything Further Deeper is a greater achievement that should have the legendary reviewer spluttering superlatives and conjuring up an imaginary sixth star. It really is almost beyond comprehension that a band that has been around so long and created so much great music along the way can still be this ambitious, experimental and downright brilliant. Maybe Willson Piper’s departure gave Kilbey a point to prove, and boy has he made a statement with this.
Sure Further Deeper is missing a bit of the jingle jangle that was MWP’s trademark, but the truth is that after a couple of spins you really don’t miss him too much. This is clearly still The Church, but they just sound a little different. If anything the introduction of new guitarist Ian Haug from Powderfinger (!?) gives the band’s soundscapes a denser, edgier vibe.
And yet Further Deeper isn’t an especially easy listen. Many of the tracks run in at six minutes plus and the grand finale almost reaches nine. Then there are the constant time signature changes, unexpected musical flourishes, and strange vocal interludes. Yet somehow amazingly, it all hangs brilliantly together. By play number three I was totally hooked.
Highlights? The lead track Pride Before A fall is the most immediate moment here with its sweet verse, droney chorus and Beatley fade. Laurel Canyon, the nearest thing to the band’s mid 80s trademark jangle runs its close and is one for fans of the band’s fourth album Remote Luxury. And then there’s Old Coast Road which could have hailed from the band’s much under rated Uninvited Like The Clouds album – and maybe it is just the title but also reminds Australia’s other great 80s classicists The Triffids.
Ultimately though it is the ambitious stuff that impresses the most. Love Philtre, is stunning, a nod to the grandeur of the band’s mid 80s masterpiece Heyday with its slow building piano-driven melody, which then bizarrely seems to stop and morph into another piece of music only for the band to return to the main tune for the dramatic finale. Then there’s Globe Spinning, which had the band racked the BPM up a little more would be the best bit of dance psych that The Chemical Brothers never recorded. And then the multi layered psych of Lightning White, with its sublime guitar solo, the opener Vanishing Man with its totally unexpected chorus and the bonkers, baggy-esque fade out of Toy Head.
And to top it all is the album’s finale Miami, which after a trademark Starfish style layered guitar intro, blossoms into an epic tune that is part Hotel Womb and part You Took from The Blurred Crusade. It is breath taking in its depth, complexity and ambition.
I bet Miami sounds amazing live, though the chances of us Brits ever getting to hear it this way seem pretty remote (go on, go on). Still massive kudos to Kilbey and the band. This is a total triumph, a real treat for the faithful and possibly the ticket for a new generation of psych heads into one of the most inspired and under rated back catalogues in the history of pop.
Nevertheless here are my favourite things of the moment, from Swiss Toytown Psych through to bizarre psych/prog/jazz double albums. In no particular order then
The Chemistry Set – Elapsed Memories
New single from the Barcelona based Brit psych band which keeps their trademark late 80s and early 90s vibe but like a lot of their stuff has all the ambition of the best moments on Forever Changes. Gets better each time you hear it. The flip side includes a wicked version of Hendrix’s Love Or Confusion. Vinyl only from here. Now how about a new album fellas?
The Church – Pride Before A Fall
The Godfathers of new psych are back with a new album in a week or so, and in the meantime they have gifted us this little gem. Steve Kilbey’s voice is gorgeously mellow, and as ever the atmospheric guitars slowly you suck you in. It bodes very well for an album that has already received a five star review or two.
Balduin – All In A Dream
The Swiss psych alchemist released an new album on vinyl a few week ago and if you like a bit of late 60s-esque wonky pop it is a must. Kind of like Jacco Gardner, but with a bit more edge and more immediate melodies, Balduin deserves to be much better known. The album is teeming with great tunes, especially this one and the tabla driven Your Can Never Pipe My Fancy From My Dear. The vinyl is available from Sunstone.
The Bliss – Lifetime
Apparently they hailed from St Albans and only made one single, but Lifetime, the B side of that said 45 from 1969 is an absolute stunner. Awash with Nick Drake-ish instrumentation this is baroque pop that rivals the best of the Fading Yellow stuff. Reminds me of Nick Garrie – a massive recommendation! The songs is the star of the recent Shapes and Shadows trawl through the archives of Chapter One Records.
Foxygen – And Star Power
Mmm, not entirely what I was expecting after the psych pop tour de force from a couple of years back, nevertheless the Foxygen mob know how to craft a good tune or two and even though quite a bit of this double album is bizarre and bordering on unlistenable, there are still some great melodies lurking in there. Lennon fans will love Coulda Been My Love, while Cosmic Vibrations is a Big Star third album influenced slice of genius. The pop moment on the album is not the single How Can You Really – bad Belle & Sebastian B side!? – but the bizarrely monikered Mattress Warehouse which rattles along propelled by a Joe Meek style keyboard, military-esque drums and a haunting chorus.
Beaulieu Porch – Golden Face
The BP are back with their third, or is it fourth?, album in November, and the rumour is that they might have jettisoned the 60s psych pop for a more proggy vibe. Well the first single from the album, Golden Face boasts all the usual BP trappings, from the cardboard lo-fi drums to the Magical Mystery Tour ear Beatles keyboards. The melody is as hummable as ever and in many ways this sounds as much like Nick Nicely’s classic long 80s psych single as anything the band have done. Hope the album serves up more of this type of thing.
The Wicked Whispers – Maps Of The Mystic
The debut album from the Liverpool band has been a long time coming, and along the way we have been treated to some wonderful laid back psych singles. Maps Of The Mystic gets off to a flier with Chronological Astronaut, a belting brass-powered tune that has hints of The Teardrop Explodes and 60s legends The Fallen Angels. After that blast the album settles into a jangly Byrsdie folk pop not too many million miles way from the recent outing of fellow scousers The Coral. Except it takes an odd and welcome turn at the end where the epic I’d Follow You Anywhere climaxes with a very Dark Side era Gilmour guitar solo, and the finale Odyssey Mile goes all Shack-esue with its odd musical twists, Doorsy keyboards and jazzy interludes. The best bits of Maps of The Mystic really are something special.
Had your heart smashed to pieces by some cruel, manipulative good-for nothing that you mistakenly assumed to be the love of your life? Well, at least you can console yourself that this summer there are a couple of cracking new break up albums that can help you get over that insignificant other. Pete Fij (him from Adorable) and Terry Bickers’ (once of The House of Love) magnificent Open Heart Surgery is full of sweet, guitar drenched, slow burning Galaxie 500-esque tunes which contain dark and bitter tales of rejection, stalking and technophobia – which are bang on for a rainy Bank Holiday Monday.
And if you are a little more glass half full then you should cock an ear to Southend based piano man David Woodcock who takes a slightly different approach on his fantastic debut album, where over upbeat piano riffs the estuary man tells of ‘37 year single mothers who could teach me a thing or two.’
In fact the whole album, which lyrically documents a wonderfully English rubbish relationship, is a hoot from start to finish. It may be rooted very strongly in the Essex/South East pop tradition with its nods to Ian Dury, The Kinks, Madness and naturally enough Blur. Yet at the same time Woodcock is perhaps our very own answer to Ben Folds, a kind of garage punk Elton John, albeit one with a mischievous glint in his eye and some very quirky subject matter for his tunes.
It kicks off with Same Things, a humdinger of piano driven tune that was for me the single of last summer and the best bit of Britpop since, oooh fellow Southenders Menswear. And then to prove that gem was no fluke Woodcock launches into Open Secret with cascading piano and Mott The Hoople style horn riffs powering another power pop total gem which even descends into a messy psych coda.
In fact there’s not a duff moment here from the hysterical relationship travelogue,The Adventures Of You And Me – surely the first pop song not by the Darkness to mention Lowestoft – to End Of An Era with its Something Else period Kinks style chorus.
And it ends magically too with the drunken sing-along that is I Forgot To Miss You, appropriately enough recorded live in a Southend pub.
So no matter if your are nursing a bruised heart or skipping along Shoeburyness beach with your loved one, David Woodcock‘s debut is an essential soundtrack. English pop album of the year so far? You betcha.
I feel a little guilty as I have been living with this album for two months now and only just got round to posting a review. So why the self-induced angst? Well I loved the French band’s debut from last year and pretty much anyone with a passing interest in 60s psych who stepped through my door got to hear at least a snatch of it.
But when I first listened to the follow up, All Unrevealed Parts of the Unknown, I was little a underwhelmed. For me the band’s debut worked because of their magpie-esque approach to pinching from their influences and sticking then into their musical blender. So opener Supernovae was sitar-driven Brian Jonestown Massacre influenced drone pop with ace tribal drumming, while the moody organ pop of I’ll Be There recalled Rupert’s People. Sure, much of the album sat within the realms of 60s influenced psych, but you never could guess exactly what was coming next.
For this album TSDOS have honed their sound and in comparison with its predecessor it all sounds a lot more uniform. It is still very much rooted in the late 60s psych tradition, but if anything the band have metaphysically crossed The Atlantic and started channelling more garage psych bands of the type that pop up up on Nuggets and Pebbles comps as opposed to the more Perfumed Garden Brit psych of before. So there’s a lot more Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Strawberry Alarm Clock and hundreds of other band with ludicrous names on this album than the first.
Then after about the fourth or fifth listen this album began to click. The opening track The Void, which I had written off as a slightly dull BJM influenced drone, flowered into gorgeously sweet floaty organ driven tune that I wanted to play again and again. Over The Top, with its manic twangy guitar suddenly blossomed into a minor garage punk classic courtesy of its inventive and rather surprising instrumental break.
What makes this album fun is that pretty much every track has some instrumental flourish that, after a few spins become really rather addictive. So there’s a hint of Eight Miles High in the guitar break of Over The Top while Magic Mirror has a driving guitar riff which then has to battle for your attention with a wonderfully squeaky organ solo.
Best of all is the finale The Love Substitute, which sees the band slow things down, add a touch of something that sounds like brass, and then speed things up in the chorus. It is as smart and as catchy as the records than inspired it and in 2014 there aren’t many higher accolades than that.
If you liked that first album make sure you give this one your fullest attention – it really does massively reward repeat listens.
Incidentally the band’s earliest recordings, Uniform, are also available now too. Track four This Vision Of You, is the one to play first.
I think I owe the Junipers something of an apology. A couple of years back a friend of mine raved about the debut album, so I bought the CD and played it – probably only twice. Then a little while later I saw the band supporting Spearmint at the ICA. Except I didn’t pay them a great deal of attention as I was busy propping up the bar.
So I was more than little surprised when I got sent the band’s latest EP, the marvelously titled Euphonious Trolley, to review for a magazine and feel head over heels in love with it. While it is heading for pastiche territory – which is why perhaps the band chose to issue it kind of under pseudonym – the quality of the songs is incredible. And In My Dreams, which kicks off with a lovely Revolver style guitar burst sounds so good it could be an outtake from the first Orgone Box album, while Oh Gilbert, I Need Help, (I want to write a song like Jet) is as perkily tuneful as many of the songs it musically (and lyrically) references.
‘Maybe they should shelve their serious stuff for a while and focus on this – it is what they were clearly born to do,’ I wrote.
Except that after writing the review I went out and checked out their second album Paint The Ground and immediately felt like a bit of a chump.
Originally issued as a download, though it has just come out on vinyl courtesy of the fine folks at Sugar Bush, Paint The Ground isn’t just The Junipers’ masterpiece, it is one of the best psych albums issued in this country in the last decade. If you ever loved the more gentle side of The Teenage Fanclub, or maybe even Shack and especially their Here’s Tom With The Weather classic you will find so much to swoon over here.
It starts innocently enough with a slightly throwaway tune called Look Into My River, but then comes the first nugget the stunning Dandelion Man. By the time you get to track three though Willow and the Water Mill, the band have packed their picnic headed off into the English countryside and crafted a gorgeous piece of pop that’s part English folk and part the autumnal early 70s stuff that pops up on some of the Fading Yellow compilations. Accordion intro, gentle acoustic guitars, whispered vocals it really is stunning. If anything, In My Reverie which follows is even more fragile. That is until a striking guitar break and some heavenly harmonies in the fade.
By the time you hit side two (that sounds so good doesn’t it!) there’s a semi-instrumental track called Antler Season whose wistful guitars recall both The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and the contemporary band most indebted to them The Clientele.
Gem after gem follows until the needle hits the run out groove after a Notorious Byrd Brothers inspired finale Pearly Home. If you like The Byrds, Shack, or the gentler side of psychedelia you really have to hear this.
Here’s hoping it won’t be too long before they deliver a follow up.
Get the vinyl here.