Yep it is that time when I round up my most played albums of 2016, more for my benefit than yours TBH, though if someone does read this and invest in some new shiny vinyl it won’t be just the artist who is delighted. The politics might have been hideous, but I reckon the last twelve months have been very kind to lovers of punk-folk-adelic pop. Here is part one of my list. I will add the top 20 very soon.
Suffice to say I love every one of these albums.
21 Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door
Might this be Rotifer’s best album to date? It’s certainly his most personal relating stories from both his recent-ish past (If We Hadn’t Had You recalls the anti-Iraq war demonstration) and his formative years in Vienna. The Piano Factory tells the story of childhood scrapes while Not Your Door is a moving, passionate Robert Wyatt-esque song about the former home of his recently deceased 90 year old grandmother. It is uniformly lovely too.
22 Look Park
While the world (ok,me) holds its breath to see if The Fountains Of Wayne record another album, lead vocalist and one of its pair of songwriters Chris Collingwood has gifted us his debut solo offering. Truth be told it isn’t that different from the last Fountains’ album Sky Full Of Holes, though maybe lacking the bubblegum-isms that Collingwood’s compadres Adam Schlesinger brings to the mix. Look Park is magnificent in places. The opener Shout Part 1 would have made a fabulous FOW tune with its subtle, but intricate melody and Graceland style yelps. Even better is Aeroplane which boasts a classic FOW anthem-esque chorus and a very lovely piano-driven Squeeze style outro. Alas Look Park doesn’t maintain those ridiculously high standards, but its peaks are as good as anyone else’s this year and the rest of it is always entertaining.
23 Night Beats – Who Sold My Generation?
If there’s a better rock and roll tune released this year than No Cops I have yet to hear it. Classic guitar driven mayhem pitched somewhere between the Velvet Underground and the Black Rebel`Motorcycle Club. I love much of this album from the shuffling Sunday Mourning, through to its slightly bonkers opener Celebration #1 which kicks off with a paean to the tape recorder.
24 Vinny Peculiar – Silver Meadows
A concept album about a mental health institution in the 70s and 80s doesn’t sound like your average rock and roll record. Yet Vinny Peculiar is anything but your average indie troubadour and in Silver Meadow he has made an album he has probably been itching to make for decades. Lyrically this is is a fascinating collection as Vinny introduces us to a cavalcade of characters who inhabit the hospital where he was a nurse in his younger days. Musically Vinny is on fire. The title track is a wonderful yearning country-esque song while The Saviour Of Challenging Behaviour and Waiting Games sounds like prime Lilac Time. Wednesday Club, a sad tale of two inmates who fall in love but are separated by the state, even boasts a vaguely funky chorus. Silver Meadows is sometimes sad, sometimes funny but never anything less than inspired.
25 Erik Voeks – So The Wind Won’t Blow It Away
A decade or so ago on from his excellent Sandbox album Erik Voeks returns with a glorious collection of tracks that he has been quietly recording over the intervening years.
So The Wind Won’t Blow It Away begins in epic style as every power pop album should with GML2C’s meaty guitar riffs and crashing drums. It gives way to the already mentioned She Loved Her Jangle Pop, which to these ears sounds like Matthew Sweet in his prime. Other highlights include Being In Love With You, which starts quietly enough before turning into a very Beatley melodic tune and Grey Rain Town (a title possibly nicked from The Byrds classic Eight Miles High) which, appropriately enough takes things in a Kinkys/Madness style direction. Then there’s Remember You which is a rather odd slice of psychedelia, kind of like Tomorrow Never Knows with the beats three times as fast and Blue Water – the album’s instant pop classic.
26 The Cleaners From Venus – The Last Boy In The Locarno
Well, the really good news is that Martin Newell seems to be bringing out a Cleaners’ album each year and making some of his best music for a long time in the process. The Last Boy In The Locarno has the usual smattering of wistful minor key Kinksian melodies like Pauline and English Pier. But it shines most when it goes a little off piste. Victorian Doll is wonderful old school English power pop, while best of all is the opener The Crystals And The Ronettes where one of Newell’s best melodies in years is tastefully embellished with a Be My Baby shuffle and sha la la la vocal interludes.
27 Doug Tuttle – It Calls On Me
The man behind the much missed (by me anyhow) and very underrated Mmoss continues to deliver excellent solo albums. It Calls On Me takes the template of Tuttle’s debut and nudges it on a little. It is clear that he has been a listening to The Byrds a lot (Falling To Believe) and the jangle pop tunes perfectly complement the more psych moments like the opener A Place for you and the album’s big ballad finale Saturday-Sunday.
28 Sumner – That Lady Bird Summer
If you love Pugwash or The Dukes of Stratosphear you need to hear That Ladybird Summer, this year’s album from the mysterious English songsmith Sumner. Let’s Go And Play is atypical of the album with its glorious 60s toy town pop. However for me the highlight is the album’s eleven minute plus finale The Battle for Barney’s Farm – proggy pop not too far removed from Meddle era Floyd or Gabriel-helmed Genesis. The whole album, which evokes living in an English village is wonderful.
29 Quilt – Plaza
You learn an awful lot of about Quilt from the opening track on their new album Plaza. Passerby has a swirling droney verse which gives away to some fascinating and very west coast psych guitar and flute interplay. Pretty much everything on this record is in the same class. I especially love Roller which recalls the soon-to be returning Essex Green.
30 Trolley – Caught In The Darkness
Five long years ago Trolley issued the Things That Shine and Glow album and created a minor power pop classic in the process. It boasted some great tunes that evoked the spirit of the 60s, especially The Kinks, The Beatles and The Zombies, yet also referenced contemporaries like The Pillbugs. The band’s new album Caught in the Darkness gets its vinyl release – rather fetching light orange and a glorious sleeve – courtesy of Sugarbush records in the UK. Highlights – well the opener and title track track evokes late 70s power pop with its staccato drumming, Wurlitzer style keyboards and Beatley harmonies. Step Into The Clear is another power pop gem which starts with some tinkling keyboards before heading into prime Zombies minor key territory with its complex but rather lovely middle eight. Side two continues the jangle-fest but with some interesting diversions like Losing That Madly In Love With Her Feeling the closest they get to a ballad which boasts some rather exquisite harmonies. And then there’s the album’s finale, Take My Love, a psychedelic influenced gem that to these ears recalls the New Monkees- album – before it descends into a bonkers instrumental fade.
31 Bill Baird – Earth Into Aether
It has been productive year for Texan pop maverick Bill Baird who followed the intriguing Earth Into Aether with an album of instrumentals in Summer’s Gone. Not all of Earth Into Aether works, but The Kinksy waltz of Goodbye Vibrations is a gem, while Dear Friend has the fractured beauty of the more brittle tracks on the third Big Star album. However in Late Night Dawning Baird has not only the album’s standout, but also one of the very best songs of 2016. Its soaring Beach Boys-esque chorus swirls around your head for days.
32 The Orange Drop – Stoned In Love
Album number three from Philadelphian Psychedelicists (try saying that after a pal al or two) Stoned In love very matches its billing with droney druggy guitar work outs reminiscent of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Church and Asteroid #4. Opener Juniper Pearl even has a whiff of Creation Records 80s psych while J’Admets, possibly the record’s (it comes in striking orange vinyl) standout has a wonderfully uplifting guitar motif.
33 Unloved – Guilty Of Love
Cinematic 60s girl group inflected pop from musical maestro David Holmes. At times, as on When A Woman Is Around, it is utterly sublime. This Is The Time is groovy garage pop while Guilty Of Love throws in a smidgen of mariachi.