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