So, 2012 has been a pretty good year for music. Sure we are little lacking in stand out absolute classic albums, but there has been lots of good ones and a psych revival to boot so loads of great debuts. Here then is my top 20 and you can hear tracks from most of them on the Spotify playlist embedded below.
1 Darren Hayman and The Long Parliament – The Violence
At face value a concept-esque album about The English Civil War and the Suffolk/Essex Witch Trials doesn’t exactly sound like a huge barrel of fun. But Darren Hayman, who you may remember as the frontman of 90s post Brit pop indie band Hefner, is no ordinary songwriter. This is the third of trilogy of albums about Essex, the first two are equally as amazing, and he has clearly worked on this for years. This is obviously a massive labour of love. Everything about this album is, for want of a better word, crafted. Sure it is a little long and there are probably a couple of instrumentals too far, but after you have played it a couple of times you will be utterly hooked by it. The melodies are delicate, the instrumentation (mainly acoustic guitars, ukuleles and quiet pianos) beautifully subtle and as for the lyrics they really transport you back a century or four. Give it a couple of spins and you’ll soon be finding out all you can about Henrietta Maria, Arthur Wilson and Rebecca West. Perhaps Hayman’s brilliance is to record an album about a contentious period of English history and yet not take any sides. So you get songs from both a Catholic Queen and Puritan witch hunters and yet you can always see their point of view. An absolutely stunning album.
2 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Aufheben
After a couple of more experimental albums the BJM return to what they do best with one amazing album. The opener Panic In Babylon is a wonderful clarion call with its eastern sounding instruments propelled along by a dazzling, almost danceable groove. Viholliseni Maala finds the band heading for Stereolab territory while I Want To Hold Your Other Hand is vintage BJM with a gorgeous floaty guitar solo. It all climaxes in the epic Blue Order New Monday, a hypnotic seven minutes of repetitive beats, droney guitars and gentle vocals. This is a magnificent album from the band, certainly their best in a decade, and underlines once again that when it comes to creating contemporary psychedelic music the BJM are still setting the agenda.
3 Beaulieu Porch
Beaulieu Porch’s (basically Simon Berry) debut album is proper full on Fabs style 67 psych delivered in an astonishingly ambitious and hugely enjoyable way. It sounds a like it was recorded in Berry’s attic, but its lo-fi nature doesn’t detract from the exhilarating psych burn outs of ‘Keep On Screaming’ and (track of the year so far) the opener ‘Laminations Are Loaded’. ‘Navy Blue’ shows that Berry is also a master of dreamy ballads while ‘Love 80’, with its ‘Hey Jude’ style coda, is likely to stick in your head for days. Pretty much every track is a minor classic and if you love UK 60s psych will adore this. If anyone deserves access to Abbey Road’s Studio Two with a thirty piece orchestra and as many mellotrons as he can handle it’s Simon Berry.
4 Melody’s Echo Chamber
And it all starts so innocently. ‘I Follow You’, the opening cut from the debut album by French band Melody’s Echo Chamber, is a lovely slice of dream pop – not far removed from Best Coast at their most immediate or The Fountains of Wayne side project Ivy. Track two, ‘Crystalized’, sticks to that template with its jangly guitars and winsome vocals.Yet just I was when I was settling in for an hour or so of blissed out pop fun along comes track three, ‘You Won’t Be Missing That Part of Me’, and the band’s true colours start to show. Over a swirling keyboard heavy arrangement and an unsettling drum beat, the band heads towards territory last occupied by the wonderful Stereolab and the sadly missed Broadcast. Then things go very weird. ‘Snowcapped Andes Crash’, a song about err, post plane cannibalism, is a bonkers psych driven instrumental with weird jazz trappings. The album is as odd as it sounds, but really rather wonderful too.
5 Mmoss – Only Children
Mmoss second album is an absolute belter and one that will remind you off all the best bits of your record collection. It is split between extended psych burn outs and 60s type pop tunes with twists, and on this album the band show that they excel at both. The stand out is War Sux, a ten minute freak out in which guitars and keyboards duel over the top of a hypnotic Kraut rock groove. Then again the Floyd-esque Wander with its squeaky keyboards and fuzzed up guitar runs it close. I bet they are amazing live. As for the pop tunes Okay takes the Gene Clark template and it propels it into today with an edge that is lacking in the work of many fellow Byrds fanatics.
6 The See See – Fountayne Mountain
After some blistering live shows and an insanely good single in keep Your Head, I had very high hopes for The See See’s debut album Late Morning Light. Sadly it seemed as if they were too focused on capturing the fragile beauty of The Byrds and the album sounded a little too sweet and country for me. No matter though for Fountayne Mountain is the album the band should have released first time. Huge melodies, driving rythmns and adrenaline powered jangly guitars that almost always seem on the edge of combusting into a wave of howling feedback. The single Gold and Honey is prime Teenage Fanclub, with a nod to Jacques Dutronc, and Open Up Your Door is country rock played by The Ramones. It is not available on Spotify so you’ll need to buy the CD on vinyl to hear it.
7 Tame Impala – Lonerism
A staple on pretty much everyone’s album of the year’s lists, Lonerism is a huge beast of an album that mixes dreamy pop melodies with intoxicating psychedelic interludes. What makes it so special is that it stays true to its 60s roots, but at the same time sounds so resolutely contemporary – a trick that few bands can pull off. So many good tracks, although my highlight is Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.
8 Colorama – Good Music
Given that Colorama’s British psych pop opus ‘Box’ and their Welsh language Acid Folk mini masterpiece ‘Llyfr Lliwio’ have been among my most played records of the past two years I had very high hopes for the band’s latest album ‘Good Music.’ And by track four I was scratching my head a little after hearing a series of tunes that remind me of the less celebrated wing of Brit Pop. Fortunately those how have been charmed by Colorama’s previous work will find ‘Good Music’s’ second half a lot more to their liking.‘The War Con’ is wonderful – a Dick Dale meets John Barry style instrumental – while ‘Why Is She?’, ‘My Predicament’ and ‘Anytime’ are the type of delicate ballads that made ‘Box’ such an essential listen. Best of all is ‘Woe Is Me’, a Kinksy strumalong that Noel Gallagher would have traded body parts to have written.
9 The Primitives – Echoes and Rhymes
The genius of Echoes and Rhymes is that it is a covers album, but one in which, unless you have a masters in 60s beat and psych, almost all the songs will be new. Even then the band take the more familiar choices, in this instance Nico’s pre Velvets 66 single I’m Not Saying, and revinvent them. The smart bit is that I’m Not saying is transformed from being a perky piece of folk punk to a droney dirge more akin to the band she ended up singing for. And it works superbly.
In fact Echoes and Rhymes is a work of genius on two levels. On face value it is just a wonderful listen, a collection of uptempo pop songs that really do sound like The Primitives of yore. But the album will also have you scurrying off to Spotify and YouTube to track down the originals ironically most of which aren’t anywhere near as good as The Primtives’ take on them.
My favourite song, Sunshine On My Rainy Day Mind, a slow burning psych tune by a US singer called Polly Niles. The original is superb, but The Primitives version is just a bit zippier and fresher. Almost as good is Move It On Over, a soulful beat tune originally recorded by the brilliantly named Legrand Mellon in 1965. It is utterly addictive.
If you like 60s pop, beat, psych, Northern Soul then this is an absolute must.
10 Death By Chocolate – Kosmonaut
As someone who had a bit of an obsession with El Records’ campy English pop from the late 80s I knew from the off that I was going to love this! On this, their third album the formula hasn’t changed a great deal, twee girly vocals, funky keyboard-driven instrumentals and bizarre voice interludes, but on Bric-a-Brac they sound better, and smarter than ever. If anything it sounds better because very few people in the world are making music like this. It kicks off with a spoken word menu from an Italian restaurant in to the 60s before launching into a very funky version of the the theme tune to ‘Are You Being Served’ which is as bizarre as it sounds. A few moments later and you have have learnt the names of Russian astronauts on the very groovy Stereolab-esque instrumental ‘Kosmonaut’ and sped round the south coast on the album’s pure pop highlight Bantam Motorbike. Other highlights are Day Out, which sounds like a orphan from a late 60s musical and Dining With Death which features spoken vocals over a driving beat that quite unexpectedly blossoms into a another glorious 60sish pop tune. Alas it is all over way too soon. Here’s hoping they don’t leave it so long next time.
11 Alfa 9 – Gone To Ground
Fabulous Byrdsie pop. Somem gorgeous tunes
Like The Horrors, but without the angst. Very accomplished debut
13 First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Blue is one of may favourite songs of 2012. Emmylou isn;t far behind either. Fantastic harmonies.
Hawley meets The Smiths. Some gorgeous melancholic pop moments
15 Allo Darlin – Europe
More glorious upbeat indie from the Aussies. Tallulah is Hickory Wind for this decade.
16 John Derosa – A Wolf In Preacher’s Clothing
Excellent orchestrated dramatic pop not too far from Echo and The Bunnymen in their quieter moments
17 Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
Another fine collection of bitter sweet songs from the Swedish pop genius
18 Scott Walker – Bish Bosch
A lot more accessible than some of his previous albums, and all the better for it.
19 The Sunchymes – Let Your Flag Fly Free
60s Calif pop meets quirky 80s Brit psych
20 The Explorer’s Club – Grand Hotel
Tastefully curated mix of Beach Boys harmonies and swinging A&M style easy pop.