So, this is what I have been listening to (while not updating my blog) in the last twelve months.
1 Whyte Horses – Pop or Not – Ok, so here’s the plan. We’ll create a stunning album of 60s influenced psych pop, but we will only release it on vinyl and then we’ll make sure the record takes ages to come out.
All of which would not be such a sorry tale were it not for the fact that The Whyte Horses’ Pop Or Not is utterly fantastic. It is rooted in Manchester’s past with nods to both The Stone Roses and some of the city’s B listers in The Mock Turtles and World Of Twist, but sounds like a record that could only have been released in 2015. Gglorious hummable tunes (Promise I Do and Peach Tree Street are pop dynamite), slightly bonkers instrumental interludes (Relance II) and fantastically creative arrangements (Feels Like Something’s Changing). And even a song or two that pays tribute to the more unhinged of the Ye Ye girls (La Coleur Originale). So only about 200 people have heard this classic pop album. And I would bet that quite a chunk of that 200 have it as their album the year. I know it is sloppy seconds but the sublime single Snowfall is on Spotify and you might find a track or two on YouTube. Otherwise you might find your bank balance a good £50 lighter.
2 Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance – Neil Diamond is not a name you’d expect to feature too prominently on lists of albums of the year in 2015, but there at the end of this album’s wonderful confessional opener, Nobody’s Empire, is a soaring finale that’s pure Forever In Blue Jeans (or maybe it is Cracklin’ Rose ;-). As Girls In Peacetime demonstrates yet again Stuart Murdoch has a way with pop that’s utterly unique. If you are going to be a musical magpie – and who isn’t these days – far better to steal from the best and the most unexpected. Pretty much every track is a total gem from the disco-lite interludes of Play For Today and Enter Sylvia Plath through to the floating psych finale of Today (This Army’s For Peace) this is a Belle & Sebastian album that is rich in melody, ideas and humour. A wonderful reinvention of a truly great band.
3 Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit – Who knew that this generation’s Jonathan Richman would turn out to be a 28 year old Melbournian with a wry take on coffee shops, real estate and rooftop encounters. It isn’t just about the endearing lyrics though. Apparently all the songs on Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit resided in Courtney Barnett’s head and weren’t shared with her band until they stepped into the recording studio. Maybe that’s why it all sounds so fresh. Like Richman (and Morrissey), she has perfected the heart of making the mundane and miserable sound intriguing and uplifting. Lyrically Depreston is as down as it sounds, but musically it zips along and it is near impossible not to sing along with the ‘if you;ve got a spare half a million,’ refrain. No One Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party and Debbie Downer are fabulous 60s influenced garage punk, while An Illustration of Loneliness has roots in the Dylan/Patti Smith songbooks. But when the songs are this good who cares about influences. Courtney Barnett really is the best Australian songwriter since the golden days of the 1980s.
4 Diane Coffee – Everybody’s A Good Dog – Who knew that that the real talent in Foxygen, whose We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors is one of the decade’s best albums, would turn out not be neither of the main songwriters, but the drummer? On Everybody’s A Good Dog, Shaun Fleming, aka Diane Coffee takes the psych motown sound patented on his debut up a notch or two (most notably on Mayflower and Everyday), and sneaks in a Beach Boys influence to stunning effect on the album’s opener Spring Breathes (a track of the year contender in this parish). Soon To Be Won’t To Be is dubby psych with a huge chorus, while Duet has a genius hook. Everybody’s A Good Dog is a hoot from start to finish. Tuneful, smart and huge amounts of fun without ever coming across as being too pleased with itself.
5 John Howard And The Night Mail – In which the ‘should have been massive in the 70s’ troubadour enlists the contemporary incarnation of the wrecking crew in the guise of the Gare du Nord mob, and delivers maybe the finest album of his career. There are nods to Howard’s heroes Bowie (In The Light Of Fires Burning) and The Kinks (London’s After Work Drinking Culture) , as well as his own 70 recordings too. Yet just when it veers too much towards the melancholy comes a bit of slapstick, as on Deborah Fletcher. Stand outs include the opener, Before, a classy ballad with a genius and totally unexpected finale, and the uptempo psych pop of Intact & Smiling. Pretty much everything on this gem of an album is stunning. Here’s hoping that they all get together to create another album next year.
6 Simon Love – It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time – A potty mouth version of Emitt Rhodes, Simon Love’s debut album is playful, witty, and a tad fruity too. The dual fingered salute of Motherfuckers and the sublime Macca cover Dear Boy are two of many real stand outs. He might sound like he doesn’t give a f**k, but tracks as perfectly realised as Elton John and Sweetheart, You Should Probably Go To Sleep, are clearly labours of love. Apparently it went to number one in Austria.
7 The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World – IMO the REM by numbers of The King Is Dead didn’t really do justice to the band’s incredible back catalogue, so I was blown away by just how good its follow up, which landed in January, is. Sure there’s the odd misstep (I could live without ever hearing Philomena again) but Make You Better is the band’s best single in ages, while Lake Song revels in Nick Drake melancholy and boasts some of Colin Melloy’s most enigmatic lyrics in a while. Then there’s the closer – A Beginning Song – a lighter in the air anthem of the very best kind. As anyone who saw them this year will testify, live they are better than everyone else.
8 Gothic Chicken – Lift The Cobweb Veil – Wonderful uplifting, and at times ever so silly, 60s british psych pop from a band who up until now have been all about obscure covers. Lift The Cobweb Veil boasts so many singalong tunes, including the genius pop of Westward Ho – a paen to the seaside town they forgot to close down, with a chorus that’s so good it rivals early 70s Stackridge. Overthrow is prime Blossom Toes 67 style lysergic pop, while it is a while since anyone has recorded anything as silly, and fun, as Pitta Bread Man.
9 Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun – The Mancunian’s second album takes his Lee Hazlewood meets Dark Side era Pink Floyd vibe further out into the stratosphere. When I Was Young would be the perfect soundtrack to a psychedelic western, while Follow The Sun really ought to be a duet with a girl called Nancy. Best of all is If I Could Tell You, seven minutes of cosmic folk that floats off into the ether courtesy of Gilmour-esque guitar and Wright-like keyboards.
10 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Pish – Back in 1996 Anton Newcombe and his psychedelic cohorts produced three excellent albums under the BJM moniker. In 2015 the ever prolific adopted Berliner went for the trio again, and of the three – the others are an excellent album with Tess Parks, and a soundtrack inspired album, Pish is the one to play first. This is a restatement of the BJM’s classic Stonesy shuffling 60s sound. Six great new tunes and a superb Thirteenth Floor Elevators cover. The title track floats into your head on the back of fuzzy guitars and takes up residence there for days, while Here Comes The Waiting For The Sun is classic hypnotic psych.
11 Dr Cosmo’s Tape Lab – Beyond The Silver Sea – A companion set to the Gothic Chicken album, Beyond The Silver Sea is a slightly bonkers concept album which pairs a rather strange Orwell-esque meets the swinging 60s tale with a host of great Beatley pop tunes. City And The Stars zips along like The Raspberries and The Shoes, and the floating psych of The Stars My Destination is a Bohemian Rhapsody in miniature (but in a good way). This is a wonderfully creative, beautifully crafted album. Apparently the follow up is already recorded and ready to go.
12 Martin Courtney – Many Moons – Delightful jangle pop, that to these ears has the edge on the tunes from his day job band Real Estate. Love the Sarah Records Brighter/Blueboy era influence of the album’s finale Airport Bar. The album’s key pop gem though is Little Blue, so good it really could be mistaken for some long lost 70s cult hit. And if you can’t get enough of Many Moons, there is also a Spotify playlist of tunes that inspired the record too.
13 – The Magnetic Mind – Is Thinking About It – London’s premier psychedelic groovesters – their words not mine – deliver cosmic pop in spades in a fantastic albums that howevers between the wiggy freaks out of Jefferson Airplane and the fun harmony hoedowns of The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and The Love Exchange. A Lot Of Getting Used To is not too far removed from The United States of America in their poppier moments, while How Can You Be So Sure deserves prime place on a Russ Meyer soundtrack. They were great live too.
14 Jacco Gardner- Hypnophobia – Ok, so it gets a bit yacht rock in places – there’s a whiff of largely forgotten late 70s band New Musik at times – but the second Jacco album is another baroque psychedelic gem. It lacks the killer tune (Clear The Air) that had thousands of eagerly anticipating the debut, but the instrumental interludes on Grey Lanes and Hypnophobia, where strange keyboards jostle with medieval sounding string instruments are totally intoxicating. Fair play to the guy for delivering an album that largely sounds unlikely anyone else – a rarity in 2015.
15 Ultimate Painting – Green Lanes – Album #2 from the Trouble In Mind Records’ token Brits is a tad more accessible and Beatley than their debut and all the better for it. So many great pop tunes especially Break the Chain with its Hey Jude-esque. Also on TiM Records the Dick Diver album has many fine songs, while if Peter Stringer-Hye can keep up the standard of his debut EP on an album he should have a contender for record of the year in 2016.
16 Emma Swift – Don’t share, but the Aussie chanteuse’s debut mini album is actually more than a year old. However its recent arrival on Spotify, and her 2015 gigs and single with Robyn Hitchcock, meant I only discovered this lovely sadcore country-esque album this year. King Of America sounds like Emmylou Harris fronting Galaxie 500, while Bittersweet has 70s classic country hit written all over it.
17 Blur – The Magic Whip – Great to have the back, obviously. But TMW didn’t really connect with me in a way that even the much underrated Think Tank does. That said There Are Too Many Of Us is such enigmatic tune and one of my favourite songs of 2015, Mirrorball is classic Blur ballad territory while Lonesome Street pays homage to The Great Escape with its weird intro, quirky time changes and genius chorus.
18 King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard- Paper Mache Dream – With Tame Impala going all Daft Punk and cocking an ear to a few Michael Jackson albums, there’s clearly a vacancy for a new king of Aussie psych. Step forward The Gizzards. In a slightly surprising move the Melbournians have mellowed out and channelled mid 60s Donovan on this dreamy psych lite trip. Odd instruments, weird time changes and tunes like Bone and the bouncy title track which could have come from the pens of messrs Ayers and Barrett. This really is loads of fun.
19 Darren Hayman – Florence – Another low key gem from the prolific urban folkster. Florence boasts its fair share of slow, gentle folky strums with twists like the bizarrely named opener Nuns Run The Apothecary. IMO it is on the more poppy stuff – Break Up With Him – which blends in a bit of vintage electronica that it shines brightest. Then again Didn’t I Say Don’t Fall In Love With Him, has a title, a brooding sound and lyrics that would fit perfectly on Hefner’s seminal The Fidelity Wars album.
20 Cat’s Eyes – The Duke Of Burgundy – In which the perpetrators of possibly my favourite album of the decade return with a soundtrack to one of the year’s funniest and most bizarre films. The Requiem is breathtakingly beautiful, while the title track conjures up Francoise Hardy in her late 60s folky period. Another album next year please?
21 The School – Wasting Away And Wondering – Another flawless set of indie 60s girl group-esque crossovers from the welsh genius popsters. Don’t Worry Baby and All I Want From You Is Everything sound like the band have been given the keys to The Brill Building and summoned up the ghosts of long gone genius tunesmiths. Every Day nails the Shangri-las meets 80s indie sound of Camera Obscura, while Do I love You, is a genius Dexy’s style toe-tapper. Like a sunny day in winter, this warming, uplifting and a little surprising too.
22 The Lilac Time – No Sad Songs – It turns out that domestic bliss in a rural Cornwall hideaway hasn’t affected Stephen Duffy’s way with a winning folky pop tune. He’s definitely a bit more chipper these days too. The title track is both a gloriously uplifting waltz and, with its Christmas time as a child, refrain, a paean to a fulfilling relationship. All the usual Duffy trademarks are here too including the slide guitar, gentle mandolin, subtle drumming and best of all the Emmylou to Stephen’s Gram harmony vocals of Claire Duffy. Love the way too he still insists on dressing like Noel Coward.
23 – Louise Le May – A Tale Untold – Pastoral folky pop from a very special songstress. This album, which has been a long time coming, has shades of Kate Bush on the beautiful Cassandra and Judee Sill and Judy Collins on the opener Broken Child, yet is delivered in a lovely, low key very English manner. Other stand outs include Be My Guru – reminiscent of the long lost Brighton band The Mummers – and Sink and Swim which novelist Jonathan Coe loves so much it inspired a chapter in his new-ish book Number 11.
24 Ralegh Long – Hoverance – Inspired by 60s and 70s songwriters -John Howard, Nilsson and Alex Chilton on his more melodic moments, Ralegh Long has crafted an album of songs that pull off a unique trick of sounding both epic and low-key at the same time. The guitar and piano instrumental interludes on No Use and The Light of The Sun are exquisite, while Islands recalls Ed Harcourt at his best. A really warm and wonderful debut.
25 -Beaulieu Porch – The Carmelite Divine – A low key entry for an album that landed on Bandcamp at the start of the year. The psych pop which made the BP debut such a gem has given way to a more dreamy shoegazey sound that works wonderfully, especially on opener In Warm Water Over Iceland and the eerie Now Is Infinity.
26 – Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth – Another fine album from the Lake District based country-esque janglers. The opening track, Bring Our Empire Down, is possibly the best thing they have released so far, while the uptempo All I Can Say rustles up the ghosts of Buffalo Springfield and The Long Ryders. I wonder if they have been listening to Guadalcanal Diary (Here For You Now) and Hearts And Flowers (Pages Of My Mind) too. Highly recommended if you like a bit of country rock.
27 Nicolas Godin – Contrepoint – Neo-classical, Morricone influenced shenanigans from the bloke from Air. At its best, as on the six minute Widerstehe Doch Der Sünde and the Brubeck-influenced Club Nine it is utterly addictive.
28 – Younghusband – Dissolver – Angular jerky psych pop trip with plenty of hummable tunes too – see also Ultimate Painting. Blonde Blending is classic 60s by way of the 80s guitar pop.
29 – Co-Pilgrim – Slows To Go – More top class British jangle that channels Reckoning-era REM but reminds me too of obscure 70s Byrds devotes Starry Eyed and Laughing and The Records. The slow burning title track is wonderful and is over way too quickly.
30 – The Sunchymes – Present – Impressive third album from the Beach Boys/Byrds influenced Brit band. The album’s finale Centuria, with its Smile-esque interludes, twangy guitars and 60s Floyd-style chord changes, is an absolutely stunning slice of psych pop.
31 Bill Ryder Jones – Two To Birkenhead – fine album from the ex-Coral fella
32 The Mystic Braves – Days Of Yesteryear – quality garage psych with a twist of two
33 Dick Diver- Melbourne, Florida – great Aussie power pop
34 Odessey and Oracle – Odessey & Oracle and The Casiotone Orchestra – bizarre French psychsters
35 Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness – the Scott Walker influenced tracks are stunning
36 Tess Parks – I Declare Nothing – fab album with the BJM’s Anton Newcombe
37 The Cleaners From Venus – Rose Of The Lanes – another fine collections of Kinksy songs
38 Charles Howl – Sir Vices – fun garagey new wave racket
39 Smoking Trees – TST – swirly psych tunes
40 Vic Mars – The Land And The Garden – English pastoral instrumentals
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.