Just sharing the albums I have most enjoyed this year. Thanks to all who have sent me records, CDs and MP3s.
1 The Clientele – Music For The Age Of Miracles
Nigh on a decade after their last masterpiece, Bonfires On The Heath, England’s premier purveyors of autumnal jangle pop returned with an exquisite collection of tracks. It is an album that also boasts a wonderful backstory too in how lead singer and songwriter Alasdair MacLean hooked up with Anthony Harmer, his writing partner from long ago, only to discover that his former collaborator had become expert on the Santoor, an Iranian version of the Dulcimer. It is the Santoor that provides some of the album’s biggest surprises. On Falling Asleep, for example, it frames the song giving it an almost Krautrock style structure that enables the rest of the band to take the melody in all manner of directions.
Then there’s Everyone You Meet perhaps their most archetypal song, which pairs a gently twisting melody jollied along by keyboards, strings and hint of brass. It might just be the band’s defining track. Hopefully they won’t leave it so long next time.
2 Robyn Hitchcock
In which the archetypal English psychedelic troubadour decamped to Nashville, elicited the aid of Raconteur and power pop deity Brendan Benson and some of his cohorts, and turned out perhaps his best album in a decade. Odd to think of the all-American studio reverberating to tales of Trolley buses, Virginia Woolf and Bergerac style comedy detectives. But Hitchcock’s Revolver-esque-mid 60s Byrdsie pop is timeless, and the ringing guitars, Beatley harmonies and twisted comedy flourishes make this a glorious trip.
Mad Shelley’s Letterbox is, in old currency, the hit single. A clanking Beatley tunes that recalls The Soft Boys in their prime complete with striking multi-part harmonies. But the jangle of Autumn Sunglasses and wistful soft pop of 1970 In Aspic run it close. Nashville obviously suits him.
3 The Len Price 3 – Kentish Longtails
The LP3’s singer songwriter Glenn Page had been talking about how the band’s fifth album, Kentish Longtails, would be their most eclectic yet channeling Britpop, Shoegazing, Krautrock and even a smidgen of Musique Concrete. Cue heart palpitations for the band’s ever growing following of mods, punks and power pop devotees fearing a makeover of Spinal Tap proportions.
Yet from side one, track one, chord one, it is clear that the LP3 are saving their progressive jazz rock tendencies for a future collection. Opener Childish Words is business as usual. A savage garage punker detailing a bit of previous that band had with the self proclaimed Godfather of the Medway sound Billy Childish. ‘Billy told the writer that we play for cash, malicious allegations through a droopy tache,” Glenn sings, before the killer put down “You say your motives higher but I don’t understand. Cos you’ve been selling your paintings for fifteen grand.” It is money Vs art over riffs that Dave Davies would be proud of.
So everyone can relax. Glenn Page is still putting the world to rights, and along with cohorts Steve Huggins on bass, and Neil Fromow on drums, taking it out on his musical instruments. Yep Kentish Longtails once again finds the band mining The Who, The Undertones and The La’s for inspiration conjuring up with a sound and lyrical approach that could be no one else but them. So yet another five star album for the LP3. At the moment Pictures still holds the crown as my favourite from the band, but give it time and maybe this one will knock it off its perch.
4 The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir
In lesser hands a 50 song autobiography – one for each year of his life – could have ended up as a melange of pretentious, self-indulgent nonsense. Stephin Merritt, however, clearly relishes a challenge, for 50 Songs has his best collection of melodies and lyrics since his last conceptual sprawling masterpiece – 69 Love Songs.
The first couple of the five discs are, musically speaking, all over the place as Merritt wrestles with everything from his hippy upbringing – the glorious counter counterculture anthem Judy Garland- through to his run in with his philosophy processor on How I Failed Ethics. There’s jaunty electro pop on Foxx And I and a literary gem in Ethan Frome.
In the second half though the songs gets slower, more mellow, a tad more introspective and all the better for it. Have You Seen It In The Snow is a sensitive hymn to post 9/11 New York, while Fathers In The Clouds gently addresses his relationships with his birth and step fathers over a time he might have pinched from an early Tindersticks album.
Sure there are plenty of mis steps, and listening to the whole thing from start to finish is a challenge, but 50 Song Memoir turns out to be a wonderful triumph.
5 Foxygen – Hang
After the lengthy, difficult and occasionally bonkers …And Star Power, Foxygen returned to their pop roots in 2017 with Hang. Boasting just eight tracks, the albums showcases Foxygen doing what they do best – mining classic pop nuggets and interpreting them in their own unique and bombastic way. So America is a gothic ballad that’s straight off Broadway, while On Lanksehshim could be Gram and Emmylou at their most doofy. The band has also been listening to a Scott Walker album or two as evidenced by Upon A Hill and Rise Up. Hang came out in January and has stayed with me all year.
6 The Church – man, woman, life, death, infinity
Proving that their comeback album Further Deeper was no renegade, man woman etc finds Australia’s pre-eminent psychedelicists once again plundering their past to come up with something new. Steve Kilbey, in particular sounds totally re-invigorated delivering some of the best vocals of his career on tracks like the Bowie-esque highlight Another Century and the finale Dark Waltz. Tracks like For King Knife and I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know recall the band in their early 80s pomp.
7 Judy Dyble, Andy Lewis – Summer Dancing
Judy Dyble has one hell of a musical pedigree as the vocalist on the first Fairport Convention album, as well as Morning Way by the much underrated Trader Horne. For Summer Dancing she teamed up with Andy Lewis of Paul Weller, Spearmint and much more fame to craft a gentle album of summery English pop songs. It’s a varied trip too with Judy’s folk roots nestling alongside psychedelic interludes and a whiff of the first Black Box Recorder album. It is beguiling, and at times eerie, but always melodic and Judy’s voice has perhaps never sounded better. Timeless stuff.
8 Pete Fij and Terry Bickers – We Are Millionaires
Another lovely collection of melancholic pop songs from indie music’s odd couple. The template is the same as the exceptional debut, with Pete’s Johnny Cash-esque tales of despair and melancholy embellished by Terry’s subtle, but sometimes joyful guitar lines. Lyrically there’s a lot of nursing of broken hearts, but hints of happier times too. In some parallel pop universe Love’s Going To Get You has just snapped up a grammy or two.
9 Saint Etienne – Home Counties
A concept album of sorts Home Counties tracks suburban lives via a minestrone of different musical styles and genres. There are so many gems, but the Fading Yellow late 60s influenced pop of Take It All In and the gently anthemic What Kind Of World are the place to start.
10 The Molochs – America’s Velvet Glory
Green On Red, mid 60s Dylan, late 80s British indie pop, The Molochs clearly have impeccable taste and this their second album wears its influences on its sleeve, but in a really good way. You And Me is the standout but almost every song on this album is classic freewheeling rock and roll.
11 The Lemon Twigs – Brothers Of Destruction
The perky Squeeze like pop of Why Didn’t You Say That and the Abbey Road-ish Beautiful more than underline that the glorious debut album was no fluke. Only six songs, and it will leave you wanting a whole lot more.
12 Peter Perrett – How The West Was Won
A great collection from The Only Ones singer that recalls the genius of his old band yet has a contemporary twist too. He still has an amazing voice.
13 El Goodo – By Order Of The Moose
A very welcome return from the Welsh 60s influenced popsters. It Makes Me Wonder has the year’s sweetest melody. Great album.
14 The Parson Red Heads – Blurred Harmony
The PRH’s Byrds meet Floyd space age pop just gets better and better. How they haven’t got a bigger audience is beyond me.
15 Colorama – Some Things Just take Time
Gorgeous stuff from Carwyn. The absolute highlight here is Give It A Miss which pops up half way through the album and channels Macca and Nilsson with a stunning melody and beautifully baroque middle eight. The whole album is a thing of beauty.
16 Ralegh Long – Upwards Of Summer
Intriguing power pop from Ralegh. The title track is uplifting in a way that recalls The Go-Betweens at their most upfront.
17 The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Don’t Get Lost
More experimental than their recent albums, Don’t Get Lost finds Anton Newcombe’s psych explorers adding elements of dub, electro and 80s indie to their 60s twang. It’s an album that rewards repeated listens.
18 The Galileo 7 – Tear Your Mind Wide Open
Fabulous garage psych from the Medway band now on to their fourth album. Quite the equal of some of the amazing records Allan Crockford has made in his past.
19 Ride – Weather Diaries
Another wonderful return. Brilliantly re-invigorates the band’s shoegazing, pedal heavy psych. Lots of great tunes like Pulsar and Cali.
20 Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
An uneven and slightly odd set from the Swedish popmesieter. However To Know Your Mission, in which the young Jens chats to a Mormon missionary on the day after Princess Diana’s death, is perhaps the most sublime pop moment of 2017.
21 Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular
Expansive quirky keyboard dominated pop with hints of 80s indie and early 70s prog. She has the most wonderful expressive voice. Dive and Space To Be are just two of many gems.
22 Michael Head and The Elastic Band – Adios Senor Pussycat
It doesn’t quite scale the heights of Shack, but ASP is chocka with sublime tunes.
23 The Proper Ornaments – Foxhole
Another great mashup of the third Velvets album and Abbey Road era Beatles from the band.
24 Joss Cope – Unrequited Lullabies
Wonderful, eccentric 60s psych pop that recalls very early Bowie and David Devant.
25 The Paperhead – Chew
Another strong album of psychedelic silliness for the Nashville band.
26 The Granite Shore- Suspended Second
Epic, but occasionally angry pop that grabs you from the off and doesn’t let you go. Where Does The Sadness Come From brilliantly recalls 80s cults Furniture.
27 Doug Tuttle – Peace Potato
Intriguing, short, sharp pop songs from the one time Mmoss fella. Over all too quickly.
28 The Greek Theatre – Broken Circle
Expansive proggy psych pop. The waltz Still Lost Out At Sea recalls Up The Junction in a surprising yet stunning way.
29 The Hangabouts – Kits and Cats and Saxon Wives
Enjoyable hummable Anglophile pop from the always excellent Detroit band.
Cracking English 67 psych influenced debut from acclaimed Spanish band.