Albums of the month June/ July 2022

The summer months see fewer albums released on average, hence my decision to put the best of June and July into one post. I have to find ten that I really want to write about to make this worthwhile for me. and in the whittling down process I have ended up with a fairly rootsy, Americana-heavy list, which surprised me a little. Albums listed alphabetically by title, as usual. Enjoy!

Big Time – Angel Olsen

The first time I ever heard of Angel Olsen was when I saw her on stage as the female foil to Bonnie Prince Billy a decade ago. She had something special then and it has come as no surprise that she has released such impressive music of her own since. She has excelled herself on Big Time, an album written in the aftermath of her coming out and the loss of both her parents. Musically, it’s steeped in Laurel Canyon and Emmylou influences, and for me, it’s the epic tunes like ‘This Is How It Works’ which stand out. Big Time is a raw and honest piece of work and consolidates her position as one of the best around.

Colder Streams – The Sadies

An album released after the passing of guitarist Dallas Good, Colder Streams serves as a eulogy to him, and is also amongst their very best work. Songs like ‘More Alone’ are uncanny in their tone and closing instrumental ‘End Credits’ hangs in the air, managing to distil the essence of their psychedelic country-rock into something very special.

Found Light – Laura Veirs

This is the first Laura Veirs album since her divorce from Tucker Martine, who had produced all her albums since 2001, and although her delicate indie-folk tunes still form its backbone, it does sound like a new start. The songwriting is as top notch as we have come to expect (“I pawned my wedding ring at the Silver Lining/I felt sad, I also felt a weight go flying” is one choice line), and there is a freshness to the sound, with contributions from Sam Amidon and This is the Kit’s Kate Stables, as well as Charlotte Greve’s subtle alto sax. The album concludes with the indie-rock of ‘Winter Windows’ and it’s like she has come full circle.

“Hello, Hi” – Ty Segall

The prolific Ty Segall is best known for his catchy riffs and his noise-rock take on glam and punk, but with “Hello, Hi” he has a quality folk-rock record to add to his discography. He is often compared to Marc Bolan and even in acoustic mode that still rings true, although this album is more Tyrannosaurus Rex than T. Rex. Whilst acoustic guitar dominates the sound the defining element of this record is in the vocal harmonies – presumably all arranged by Ty himself – which are quite striking. “Hello, Hi” is an acoustic companion to the synth and guitar heavy predecessor Harmonizer, and a very good one too.

Riderless Horse – Nina Nastasia

Given what she has been through (TW abuse and suicide, for context go here) it’s a wonder that Nina Nastasia has made another album, never mind that it is as brilliant and devastating as Riderless Horse. Her first release for twelve years is a stark acoustic record, centred on Nina’s delicately powerful voice and subtle guitar, and beautifully recorded (like all her others) by Steve Albini. It is no surprise that Nina’s songwriting dives deep into her back story and presents her personal life in a manner which will resonate with many people.

Sound of the Morning – Katy J Pearson

If you had pigeonholed Katy J Pearson as a country act on the basis of her fine debut Return, then Sound Of The Morning might surprise you. There was always a strong hint of pop in Pearson’s music, and this time it is further amplified with bright brass and synth stabs and infectious choruses throughout. ‘Talk of the Town’ and ‘Howl’ in particular are very catchy, and the whole set is rounded off with a wonderful cover of ‘Willow’s Song’ from The Wicker Man soundtrack.

Tresor – Gwenno

The third album from Welsh/ Cornish artist Gwenno Saunders, and her second written in Cornish – the language which she was brought up speaking. I haven’t had time to fully explore the (translated) lyrics but there is an overall mood of exploration, whether it is regarding the natural world or her own identity. Musically it feels like two parts, the first half featuring shorter, slightly uptempo tunes similar to previous album Le Kov, while the second has longer drifting pieces which create a dreamy psychedelic mood, culminating with the beautiful ‘Porth Ia’. An album worth returning to again and again as it reveals more on each listen.

Ugly Season – Perfume Genius

No embed, but bandcamp is here

This is Perfume Genius’s most experimental work to date, and as such is not an easy listen though it is a rewarding one. Ugly Season is a move sideways from the successful Set My Heart on Fire Immediately and was initially a collaboration with choreographer Kate Wallich for a 2019 dance performance titled The Sun Still Burns Here. Perfume Genius wrote ten songs for that show and they now make up Ugly Season, which with it’s impressive symphonic feel manages to divorce itself from straightforward pop music. ‘Teeth’ evokes Piano Magic with its music box melody whilst the epic ‘Eyes on the Wall’ wriggles between dance rhythms and dreamy synths. Happily, Ugly Season works as a stand alone album, and is a pleasing experimental turn for Perfume Genius.

Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions – The Dream Syndicate

Ultraviolet is the fourth album the Dream Syndicate have made since reforming in 2017, which means they have now made as many records in this incarnation as they had in their 80s heyday. This album sees a refined focus of their sound, reigned in from the expansive and psychedelic The Universe Within, and it manages to combine that urge to experiment with the more clearly focused songwriting which perhaps is more familiar to fans.

Versions of Modern Performance – Horsegirl

Chicago trio Horsegirl manage to evoke lots of great bands that existed before they were born without really sounding like them or coming across as a tribute. It is quite thrilling to hear a fresh take on 90s indie-rock yet it’s also quite hard to write a review without listing the acts that they sound a bit like, so I’ll resist, safe in the knowledge that if I said they are at times a deadringer for 18th Dye not many people would know what I’m on about! What you need to know is that they gel well as a three-piece, the guitar and vocal interplay between Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein drifts beautifully between harmony and discord, with drummer Gigi Reece anchoring it all from the back. This ticks all my boxes.

Albums of the month, May 2022

A Bit Of Previous – Belle and Sebastian

The Scottish collective’s first album of new material for seven years is also their first for nearly 20 years to be recorded in their home city of Glasgow. The band sound relaxed here, at ease with their familiar influences, weaving their catchy melodies between widescreen disco-pop (‘Talk to Me, Talk to Me’), wistful ballads (‘Working Boy in NYC’) and rowdy floor fillers ( the blazing harmonicas of ‘Unnecessary Drama’).

A Light For Attracting Attention – The Smile

With Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood and Nigel Godrich involved, there is a massive Radiohead presence on this debut album from The Smile, and yes, it slots seamlessly into that band’s discography. They are a different proposition though, and thanks to the creative drumming of Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner this debut album has a tight-but-loose feel often reminiscent of the likes of Can. Radiohead completists will lap this up too.

And Those Who Were Seen Dancing – Tess Parks

I imagine people are more familiar with Tess Parks’s collaborations with Anton Newcombe from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but this collection is definitely presented as a solo album. It has a downbeat, pleasantly lazy psychedelic vibe, at times reminiscent of the songs of Roky Erikson or even Spacemen 3. The story of this album is that it was pieced together from fragments over the last couple of years, and considering that it gels remarkably well you would swear it was all done in the same session.

Cruel Country – Wilco

This double album is Wilco’s most obviously country-influenced album for a long time. This feels like a natural, organic and often quite wholesome record, maybe it’s because they have been restricted from being “a band that plays together” this past couple of years, so when they’ve got into the same room again they have really clicked. There are no post-rock style wig-outs though, the songs are played straight with country and folk at their heart, although it is a genuine thrill to hear them hint at those psychedelic tendencies on tracks like ‘Bird Without A Tail/ Base of my Skull’.

Endless Rooms – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Another one we can file as “recorded under lockdown conditions” but this third album from the Australian band is not made from remote file-swapping and mixing down, instead they were able to decamp to a remote house to work together on the songs. At this stage they could have chosen to soften their sound and widen their appeal but Endless Rooms has the same edge we heard when we first encountered these guys. Their guitars still jangle but I’m hearing an extra bite to them that I wasn’t expecting.

Heart Under – Just Mustard

Just Mustard are so much more than a noise-rock or shoegaze band and this second album proves it. There is a wider expanse of sound than on their debut – think Disintegration-era Cure but louder – and the powerful clattering percussion together with Katie Ball’s mesmerising vocals further to the fore remind me of the very best work of Cranes. A few publications have mentioned that the band want “to make the listener feel like they are driving through a tunnel with the windows down,” and that sums it up perfectly.

Radiate Like This – Warpaint

Warpaint’s return after six years away – a gap filled with solo projects, families and the inevitable pandemic delay – has resulted in one of the best records they have released. This fourth album of theirs is a slow burner, and I’m glad that it was released early in the month so it could sneak up on me and stake its claim to be one of my albums of the month. The sound of the band here is a balancing act between delicate and gentle melodies and a hazy, soft-focus wall of sound. Lovely.

The Last Thing Left – Say Sue Me 세이수미

The third from South Korea’s finest is a sweet yet sometimes melancholic album about love. Given that English isn’t their first language it’s fascinating how well their lyrics explore the world of love and relationships. Opening instrumental ‘The Memory of the Time’ throws an early curveball by coming across like a downbeat Yo La Tengo interlude, but mostly this is a heartful collection of indie-pop, rounded off by the joyous ‘George & Janice’, a song written for the marriage of the bosses of their label, Damnably.

Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky – Porridge Radio

Sometimes a band you have never previously indulged just creep up on you and demand your attention. Musically this record broods with an anxiety that is matched by visceral lyrics, with most songs dealing head on with pain and rejection. This is Porridge Radio’s third album and it had me hooked from the slow-burning single chord intro which takes up the entire first track, through to the cathartic intensity which lead singer Dana Margolin maintains for the duration of the album. Not an easy listen by any means, but a vivid and exciting one.

When The Purple Emperor Spreads His Wings – The Wave Pictures

My favourite Wave Pictures release to date is 2013’s epic double album City Forgiveness, a record which at the time seemed out of step for a band used to releasing lots of music but in much smaller doses. Happily, this new double album – a consolidation of all the music they’ve created in this past two weird years – is just as good. This time there is a concept (with a small c) as the songs on each of the four sides representing a season. This is more subtle and clever than you might imagine and I love the way that the songs change tone and wax and wane as time passes. David Tattershall’s guitar playing is a joy to behold as always as he moves between folk, jazz, Afro-psych jams and classic rock, and the band’s secret weapon Johnny Helm emerges from behind his drums for a lead vocal on ‘Jennifer’. The album begins in Summer and ends in Spring to represent the cycle of life.

Albums of the month, April 2022

An abundance of strong new releases in April means that I can’t do them all justice with individual reviews, so I hope the bandcamp embeds all load properly so that you can check those out. Two UK number one albums are featured – Wet Leg and Fontaines DC – and I’m sure most people have encountered those by now – yet I couldn’t justify leaving them out, especially since they will be up there come end-of-year list time. As far as the lesser-known choices are concerned, check out Northern Irish alt-punks Axis Of, whose new album is a lyrically rich and joyfully anthemic return. Plosivs are similarly energetic – blending riffs and harmonies – and feature the mighty John Reis (Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, RFTC) as well as Rob from Pinback. Whatever the Weather is the name that Loraine James is using these days, and this self-titled release is an ambient minimal follow-up to last year’s excellent Reflection. Alabaster Deplume is a force of nature and his epic new album GOLD is the result of 17 days recording songs he had written with a different group of musicians each day. They improvised and, crucially, never played anything back. The other albums below I haven’t had time to write about, but do give them a listen…

Bella Pacifica – Axis Of

Black Pearl – 50 Foot Wave

El Mirador – Calexico

Emotional Eternal – Melody’s Echo Chamber

No embed, but use this link to explore

Everything Was Beautiful – Spiritualized 

for you who are the wronged – Kathryn Joseph

GOLD: Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love – Alabaster Deplume

i don’t know who needs to hear this – Tomberlin

LP.8 – Kelly Lee Owens

Plosivs – Plosivs

No bandcamp release as far as I can see, but it’s all on youtube

Skinty Fia – Fontaines DC

Wet Leg – Wet Leg (no bandcamp embed for this either, but honestly, you’ve all heard it by now)

Whatever the weatherWhatever the weather

You Belong There – Daniel Rossen

Albums of the month, March 2022

This month I was distracted by the new releases of two defunct bands, Broadcast and Sonic Youth, but as always there were plenty of current acts to explore as well. Here are my choices, listed alphabetically by title as usual with Bandcamp embeds included if possible.

Audiotherapy- Roy Montgomery

Billed as one of his 40th anniversary releases, Audiotherapy is a good introduction to what makes the legendary New Zealander so special. The artwork is a smeared oil painting of a landscape and the music on here mirrors that perfectly as it drifts between simple chord progressions and overwhelming walls of sound. ‘Occusione’ builds from a gentle strum to extreme feedback via the AMSR-style reading from Maria Elenora Mollard whilst ‘Audiotransport’ is early Cocteaus/ Slowdive if Roy had been producing.


Broken Equipment – Bodega

One of the best live acts around, Brooklyn band Bodega deliver a second full-length album which picks up where their debut ‘Endless Scroll’ left off, although some might say the rough edges have been smoothed into a new wave sheen. Ben Hozie’s spoke-singing still dominates proceedings, at times driving the band towards sounding like an NYC version of The Fall, and counterpart Nikki Belfiglio takes centre stage on powerfully melodic tracks like ‘Statuette on the Console’.


Classic Objects – Jenny Hval

No Bandcamp for this as far as I can see, so check it out on Bleep.

Most of Jenny Hval’s releases have had something extraordinary about them, and on this 8th album that moment comes on ‘American Coffee’ where she vividly recollects having a UTI after watching a French film at the cinema. Over the years her records have featured startling lyrical imagery whilst the music has moved between noise-rock and orchestral pop, and Classic Objects may well be her most accessible ‘pop’ album to date.


Crystal Nuns Cathedral – Guided By Voices

A decade after their comeback, along comes yet another cracking GBV album. You expect some dip in quality with such a prolific release schedule but that is yet to happen. For example, last year’s Earth Man Blues would be in my top 5 of their albums, and with Crystal Nuns Cathedral there’s a strong argument to make for their comeback period equalling their heyday.


Georgia Gothic – Mattiel

This is the third album from this indie-rock duo, and although it was recorded in a woodland cabin, it certainly doesn’t sound like it. Previous releases had a garage-rock vibe about them and while that is still present there is a more expansive feel to their music this time. Vocalist Mattiel Brown is often compared to Siouxsie Sioux and certainly has a similar sound, but parts of this reminded me of 60s era Jefferson Airplane with Grace Slick in full flow. Dylan’s influence looms large too, with ‘Subterranean Shut-in Blues’ taking an obvious cue from his famous song.

Sonancy – Loop

Loop’s show at Robert Smith’s Meltdown festival a few years ago was the best gig I’d seen them play, so I’m pleased to see that there is finally a full album to consolidate this era of the band, which comprises founder member Robert Hampson and the rhythm section of Wayne and Hugo from The Heads. The 32-year gap between full length releases is hard to believe. Sonancy sounds like their previous work – overloaded fuzz guitars and hypnotic repetition- but also manages to sound like the here and now. Maybe we just had to catch up with them.

The Jacket – Widowspeak

On their sixth album Widowspeak are refining their signature sound, making their dreamy, minimalist take on indie-country sound even sweeter. There are big hints of Mazzy Star and Cowboy Junkies. The Jacket works very well as a set as it creates a warm fuzzy vibe which lingers in the air. Mellotron and flute add some occasional extra colour, but mostly this is all about how subtle guitar textures and laid back vocals can weave a spell.


Warm Chris – Aldous Harding

It’s great to hear that the subtle tweaks to Aldous Harding’s sound – this time largely based around the variations in her vocal stylings – have allowed Warm Chris to stake a claim as her third classic album in a row, after the mighty Party and Designer. Her different voices range from a barely-there Vashti Bunyan style title track to the equally minimal but more more forceful ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’ (no, not that one). Earworms a-plenty too, in particular ‘Fever, ‘Lawn’ and the closing pitchshifting Nico-esque ‘Leathery Whip’ make this the highlight of this month for me.

Compilations
Maida Vale Sessions – Broadcast


Alongside a reissue of two tour-only albums, Microtronics (2003) and Mother Is the Milky Way (2009), the newly compiled Maida Vale Sessions, recorded between 1996-2003, is a remarkable testament to how great a band Broadcast were. Trish Keenan’s untimely death in 2011 left a massive void but she will never be forgotten and this double album will strengthen her legacy. Actually, it’s a perfect intro to the band so if you’ve never heard them check this out then dig in to their back catalogue. Riches await.

In/Out/In – Sonic Youth


Lots of us Sonic Youth fans have spent many Bandcamp Fridays digging through the archive releases they have unearthed, so it’s incredible that they have enough material held back to release an album of unheard music as strong as this. In/Out/In is a mostly instrumental collection (apart from Kim’s distant vocals on ‘In and Out’) taken from various sessions between 2000-2010 which musically sit somewhere between their “mainstream” releases during that period (‘Basement Contender’ is the most accessible, ‘Social Static’ the most challenging). This won’t win many new fans but for old fans like myself it is pretty essential.

Lost interview #1: Colleen, 2015

Yesterday (19th March 2022) I had the privilege of witnessing Colleen play in the lovely surroundings of King’s Place, London. The show had been rescheduled from last summer. I heard a few weeks ago that she would be playing two sets but I didn’t look into it any further than that, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear her play the whole of her 2015 album, Captain of None, as the first set, with the recent album The Tunnel and the Clearing as the second set. She explained that she planned to do this as it may have been her last ever concert, but in the run up to the event she changed her mind.
Captain of None, with it’s unique instrumentation, became one of my favourite albums of 2015 and I remembered that I interviewed her around the time of its release. That chat was published on a now defunct website called The 405 and appears to have vanished off the internet along with everything else from that site. I fancied reading it again so after searching through some of my old drives I found the final submitted article and decided to republish it myself.

*** this interview was recorded via Skype on 2nd April, 2015 and was originally published on The 405 ***

“If I keep on releasing music it has to have something new about it …of course it’s not easy to renew yourself whilst staying true to something that’s yours, and which you have managed to develop. It’s inspirational that Jamaican producers can turn one song into many different things. It makes you think – ok, am I really doing everything that I can? When I think that I am free, am I really that free? Am I not setting myself some barriers? So I thought that I would see how it feels if I became more experimental – if I just start pressing the record button, turn some dials on my pedals and just become freer.”

In between the rumbles and buzzes which pepper our skype-based conversation, Cécile Schott, aka Colleen, sounds energised and enthused about her new album, Captain of None – her fifth full length album to date, and her first for Thrill Jockey. Since she first came to acclaim with her 2003 debut Everyone Alive Wants Answers she has pursued a musical path which has encompassed music created out of looped samples, as well as baroque inspired ambient acoustic music, and dreamy minimalist songs. Captain of None is yet another progression, though perhaps not dramatic enough to call it a change of direction. It’s a looser record, and it flirts with dub and distortion to great effect, although all the sounds on it are manipulations of one single instrument, Cécile’s viola de gamba.

“Yes, it’s a treble viola,” she explains. “It’s the family of the viola de gamba, not the viola that you find in a string quartet. You only ever hear it in the context of baroque music. I put a pick-up on it and I tuned it like a guitar which gave me a sound which gets pretty low but is not as low obviously as a bass viola. I had started to experiment playing that way already on (previous album) The Weighing of the Heart. I really love that sound and it just seemed like a natural thing to use that as the main instrument. Then I found out that by using an Octavia pedal I could do some bass lines so that’s why on the record even the bass is also made on that small instrument.”

The bass is certainly more evident than on your previous records.

“For the past two years I’ve listened almost exclusively to Jamaican music and it led me to incorporate bass lines although I don’t think my bass lines particularly sound like Jamaican bass lines, and anyway they are made on a viola! The thing that I took the most from Jamaican music was the general approach of being very open to what the song can become, because Jamaican music is really based on the idea of an embryo of melody and occasional lyrics, but then it can become a completely different song according to how it is interpreted by the musicians and how its going to be produced, and that was very inspirational to me. I couldn’t help but notice the sense of freedom the sense of experimentation from all those producers from the Seventies and I thought ok, this is actually something that I should try to incorporate myself in the music that I am making and basically that set a chain off, of decisions. So I decided that I would only use my treble viola and I would only pick it and get really into delay and echo and just try to have a more live way of recording on Captain of None.”

Is that something that will translate to your live set-up?

“The funny thing is that for the first time I’m actually going to play an album almost in its entirety – I’m able to play seven out of the eight songs on the new album – which for me is incredible. Some of the songs on Captain of None were born as songs during my rehearsals when I was rehearsing for the Weighing of the Heart. Sometimes you grab your instrument and you start playing and it sounds good and then that becomes a new song. So I also improved my live set up – I’ve got a couple more pedals and a couple more ways of sampling myself live, so people really are going to hear the album which is unusual. For people who have come to see me live before that’s going to be quite a big change.”

It seems like a “noisier” record, there’s more distortion for instance, which isn’t something that I would associate with your music.

“I like to try and have some elements that really bounce off each other or even contradict each other. Just before I was recording the new album I dug up my first seven inch (‘Babies’) from 2002 and on the b-side I had forgotten that there was a really distorted part during the song. It was kind of an angry part and I thought that was strange because I didn’t really explore that afterwards and a little lightbulb went off in my head as I thought that was something to consider. The other thing is that the subject matter on this album – even though it may look very abstract – it does mean something to me. Regarding the human experience in general, my experiences in life. I think the album is very much about tensions that you can have within yourself, so when you say there is distortion – not an angry vibe but certainly a different vibe to what’s been on my previous record – to me that’s also true of the subject matter.”

Why did you call it Captain of None?

“I can’t remember how I actually found the words but basically, I was going through a moment of feeling lost, and I started finding those obsessive repetitive chords and I started finding this melody and I tried to write lyrics corresponding to how I was feeling – but also I just wanted to say something about the human heart and mind when you get lost and you don’t really understand yourself anymore, maybe you start feeling like you’re another person, and maybe you don’t know yourself that much so basically the lyrics started from that. I truly do not remember how it happened but I had those lines come into my head, “captain of nothing, captain of none” and mostly it means that you are not captain of yourself, it doesn’t necessarily mean “I’m not the captain of other people” it’s more like I’m realising that I’m not in control anymore.”

You use the computer for everything when creating the album, so is it made in a similar way to your earlier records – building loops on the computer?

“Yeah I still use the same programme as when I started (ACID Pro) but the big difference is that on the first album everything was taken from samples from other records, afterwards I always recorded everything – so every single instrument that you hear is always always me – it’s me from start to finish, you know, composing, interpreting, recording, mixing, choosing which effects. The first album (Everyone Alive Wants Answers) was all samples, usually from CDs which I borrowed from the Paris music libraries – which are incredibly well stocked and have anything you would look for – and everything since that has been me making the sounds.”

That’s good because between the first and second album, it’s not that jarring a transition, given that one has found sounds and one is performed by you.

“Well in the way I use samples I was really trying to find stuff which people couldn’t recognise and most of it was acoustic, because those were the sounds that I was really into. I liked the idea of making acoustic based music which wouldn’t really sound acoustic so when I changed to the second album I think that’s probably why it seemed like not a huge a difference in terms of sound.”

A thing I like about your songs is that they shift and change within the song, sometimes it can be dramatic change and it sounds like there are three songs in one, and I think that’s something which you have carried through your work.

“When I finished the Weighing of the Heart I realised that a lot of the songs were built in three parts and I thought, oh my god it’s like a kind of,” she pauses and laughs, “not a gimmick, because I would never consciously use a gimmick but it looks like that everything that I do it has some kind of intro or first part and then it’s got a second part but I guess that’s just the way it’s evolved for me naturally. ‘Lighthouse’ on the album – that’s one of those songs which has like a little intro then an instrumental then the end part I guess it’s like a song within a song and little twists and surprises which hopefully turn each song into a little world of its own.”

There was a six year interval between the first three albums and The Weighing of the Heart… how come?

“When I reached the end of the third album (Les Ondes Silencieuses) it was like a cycle coming to an end, especially because at the time my dream had been to play the viola de gamba and try and make a modern music album with an old instrument. I think that once I finished the album I not only had reached that dream, let’s say, but also, I think I was becoming very tired of the activities surrounding making music. I was still excited about playing shows but traveling was beginning to be less exciting and just there was lots of administrative stuff to deal with. I was starting to see more negative sides of music making and I had kind of lost the thrill of it and I wasn’t sure where to go, so that’s why I stopped. I think my body and my mind really requested that rest and little by little I just recovered the desire to make music again, but when that came back I knew that I had moved on. I think that my albums always showcase some kind of change but it’s not always conscious.”

You were an English teacher in Paris and you gave it up after the release of the third album, did that have a factor on why there was such a break in your music?

“I resigned at the end of 2007 but then that’s when the creative crisis hit me. It was a bit of a weird situation to have just left my job and then not even feel like making music anymore, but I have no regrets whatsoever, and I’m also grateful for the teaching and grateful to know what a regular job is like, and English studies has served me so well, and I have a lot of respect also for the job of teaching which I think is pretty tough because you are not really free to do what you want.”

How did you survive during that five or six year gap? What did you do?

“First of all I did play shows until early 2009 and secondly, I am very lucky with sync licensing so basically I get quite a few regular offers – mostly for documentaries, short films but also sometimes feature length films – that’s one of the things that kept me going financially. The other thing is that I moved from Paris to Spain so that’s a cheaper place, but also I think it helps if you have – let’s call it a minimal lifestyle! I don’t need to go out or buy clothes or go to far away locations on holiday. I’m happy mostly just making music, listening to music, reading, being out in nature, walking and bird-watching ,and these are all things that cost you zero money, so I think it’s one of the ways in which you can survive in like, a period of creative drought.”

And when you returned to music you decide to introduce lyrics to your work.

“It’s more a case of me wanting to learn and wanting to go further than what I do, so the singing and the writing lyrics thing came around because during the break I realised that for my whole life I had listened to a lot of music with lyrics, so I just had the desire to try and sing, and to try and say things with lyrics. It took me some time to manage to do anything decent in these two areas, but it set something in motion for me.”

What are your lyrical influences – who made you want to write words down?

“I think that Townes Van Zant is just an incredible writer. I also really like Stina Nordernstam, and I like them both because I think they have an ability to tell stories in their songs. However, from my own songwriting abilities I could see from the start that wasn’t really the way that I am inclined to write, so my way of writing would be more inspired by I guess a more poetic approach. Before writing the lyrics to The Weighing of the Heart I read a lot of poetry – I was reading haiku anthologies, I read the entire collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems, that sort of thing – to try to study how people write. Arthur Russell and Moondog would be two people whose lyrics I really appreciate – they are minimal, sometimes you don’t need many lyrics, sometimes it’s just like three lines, so that’s how it started for me.”

Why did you choose the name Colleen?

“With hindsight I’m not sure it was such a good choice. Basically I chose it because of the word Colleen in Irish meaning young woman, young girl. At the time I was studying English and sometimes you open a dictionary and your words fall on the word at the top of the page and that was one of the words that I had in my bilingual dictionary. I just loved how it sounded, how it was written, and also that it was easy to pronounce in pretty much any language. I liked the fact that it was full of curves and loops which reminded me of the music I was starting to make, so that’s why I chose it. I didn’t realise that most people would think of Colleen the name, and not Colleen the word!”

I get the feeling that a follow-up to Captain of None may not be that far away. Are you continuing to work on material?

(laughs) “What makes you say that?”

I don’t know, I just think that you’ve got a bit of momentum.

“You have a crystal ball, maybe you can tell me… no, well it’s true actually, like last month I was really feeling like doing some new recording, but the reality of promotion means that I don’t have the time to start anything now, but I’m also thinking that I probably should use that momentum. I think I’m in a very good place right now. Actually I finished recording this album in early July 2014 so for me I have been waiting forever for its release, so hopefully there will be another one, in not too long a time, but the important thing is, that again it should be an album that has something new to say so I guess however long it takes then its fine. If it’s in one year that’s amazing, but if it’s in two or three years, that’s also good.”

Interview by Jonathan Greer

Albums of the month, February 2022

Some heavy-hitters this month, I expect to see a few of these towards the top of the end-of-year charts. Here are my choices for the past month, listed alphabetically by title as usual, with Bandcamp embeds where possible. Enjoy!

Ants From Up There – Black Country, New Road

I did feel a bit sorry for Black Country, New Road as singer Isaac Wood departed on the eve of this album release, but what an absolute tour-de-force to go out on. Reportedly he left the band as he felt he could no longer sing in public, but listening to this remarkable second record it sounds like he has found his voice. BCNR always were an instrumental powerhouse and I am sure they will go on to make more great music, but for now we have this as a fitting monument to the Isaac Wood era.

caroline – caroline

Suddenly, and slightly bizarrely, over-hyped after years of struggling to pull together their finished material, this London-based improv-folk-rock bunch have made a genuinely great debut record. It owes to a lot to the quietly melancholic music which soundtracked the late 90s for me – think Low, Red House Painters, Rachels – but there is a thrilling, slightly dangerous edge to it all as the music manages to appear beautiful yet slightly unhinged. Ideal, really.

Dragon New Warm Mountain- Big Thief

Big Thief’s previous two full-length albums were released close together but on this one they have bundled all their fresh material into one 80 minute collection. I was expecting this to be more of a sprawl across their influences, but actually it’s a remarkably coherent and creative piece of work which digs deeper into their folk influences and manages to sound like four people having fun at their craft as well.

Everything Was Forever – Sea Power

If you were wondering if anything has changed apart from the name of the band on this seventh album from the artists formerly known as British Sea Power, the answer is by and large, no. The line-up is intact and they have put together a fine album which holds its own with any of their back catalogue. There is a deeper sense of melancholy (‘Lakeland Echo’, a hark back to the childhood of the brothers is the best example of this) and indie-anthems have taken a back seat (‘Two Fingers’ is the exception) but ultimately Sea Power fans will lap this up.

Holodrum – Holodrum

Holodrum are a Leeds-based “supergroup” basically, with three of the now defunct Hookworms providing the rhythm section and guitars, with one Yard Act and one Virginia Wing joining in, and the vocals of Emily Garner providing the icing on a very rich cake. This debut is a lot of fun, blending dancefloor funk and post-punk synths. It’s filed under “Disco” by one popular streaming service, and that’s the truth.

Limbs – Keeley Forsyth

Apparently there are another eight songs from these sessions, but the eight which make up Limbs, the remarkable second album from actress-turned-musician Keeley Forsyth sit together so well that it was decided not to add to them. Limbs carries on where 2020’s debut Debris left off, though her voice appears stronger and more assured this time around. The closest musical relative is still Scott Walker’s work from Tilt onwards, though opera and modern classical music loom large too.

Pompeii – Cate Le Bon

Cate Le Bon’s previous album Reward marked a slight change of direction and this one consolidates it. There has been a gradual softening of the sharp sonic edges of her earlier work, although there is still something oblique and fascinating about Le Bon’s music. Without really sounding like them, Pompeii reminds me of acts like Japan or Roxy Music, with a complex depth beneath its songs.

The Sea Drift – The Delines

The country-got-soul stylings of the Delines have been given an upgrade to a widescreen production on this third album. Amy Boone’s vocal breathing life into Willy Vlautin’s stories is still a wonderful thing to behold and this time there’s a definite move toward the timeless influences of Jimmy Webb and his ilk.

Time Skiffs – Animal Collective

I can’t embed the audio for this one, but it is on bandcamp, apple music, etc. There appears to be slight discomfort amongst some AmCo fans that they have made a conventional sounding record (by their standards, at least!) but I really like this. It is mellow and warm and none of it jars the listener in the way some of their best work has done. There is still plenty of weirdness, but it’s a comforting kind.

Wild Loneliness – Superchunk

It’s like Superchunk, only quieter. I guess this won’t come as a surprise to fans who enjoyed their recent acoustic-based recording of their 1994 album Foolish. Actually, Wild Loneliness isn’t as angry as predecessor What A Time To Be Alive, and although ‘Endless Summer’ addresses climate change, this time the subject matter tends to focus on the positive things in life. Bonus points for their guest list, which sees such stellar names as Norman and Raymond from Teenage Fanclub, Mike Mills from REM, and Sharon Van Etten pop up along the way.

Albums of the month, January 2022

When I started doing these monthly album round-ups in the middle of the last decade, Spotify was king and I wouldn’t publish the page until I had the Spotify embeds looking good. Even then their brand was a little tainted due to the well-known issue of paying musicians next to nothing for each play, but it seemed that the benefits of the service to the music consumer outweighed these concerns. Over the years the royalty issue remained and has been exacerbated by the decision to pay American comedian Joe Rogan many millions of dollars for an exclusive podcast.

Lack of revenue from touring meant that musicians were earning even less per annum, yet streaming services did little to address this, with the exception of Bandcamp who waived their fees for one Friday per month so that musicians could get some uplift in their earnings. This is the reason why, where possible, I like to add the Bandcamp embeds of those new releases I recommend.

This current exodus from Spotify is not just a knee-jerk reaction to the presence of Rogan. Many consider their audio quality is not as good as some rival streaming platforms. Also, there was a short-lived problem with their lyrics bot. By playing catch-up with Apple Music’s inclusion of song lyrics, Spotify added unofficial lyrics without the approval of the artist or publisher; cue some infuriating and unintentionally hilarious results (my bloody valentine and the Cocteau Twins in particular).

The music info provided by Bandcamp is a joy for people who like to read all the sleeve notes on physical releases – and Apple Music is good for this too, particularly with new releases. I’ve never noticed this wealth of information on Spotify. It just underlines a central point in the Young v Rogan debate – Spotify doesn’t care about music.

Anyway, if you have got this far down the page I know that I am preaching to the converted, so let’s crack on with my album picks from January (listed alphabetically by title, as is my tradition)

Archive Material – Silverbacks

The second album from this self-styled “friendly Dublin band”, and it’s a beaut. Recorded by Girl Band bassist Daniel Fox, the pandemic looms large in the subject matter of the songs (Different Kind of Holiday, A Job Worth Having) and the music hints at the angular post-punk of Television or even ‘Mug Museum’-era Cate Le Bon.

Baby U Know – Bas Jan

Previous to this I was guilty of thinking of Bas Jan as Serafina Steer’s project, but on this second album they are very much a four piece group. Recorded in Cafe Oto between lockdowns, Emma Smith, Charlie Stock and Trash Kit’s Rachel Horwood blend together on this experimental and engaging set of songs. It reminds me of the Raincoats without really sounding like them. ‘Sex Cult’, ‘Vision of Change’ and ‘You Have Bewitched Me’ are infectiously odd pop songs, and I’m delighted that they included a fresh recording of early single ‘Profile Picture’, which rounds off the album in fine style.

Covers – Cat Power

No bandcamp for this one (as far as I can see). This is Cat Power’s third album of covers and Chan has made some brave choices, given the legendary status of some of these songs. As a Cat Power album it works well, and most of the songs are so altered that you may not recognise even them at first. If you are going to obsess over how similar or different to the original they are, you probably won’t enjoy it as much. All-time-classic-masterpieces like ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ and ‘Here Comes A Regular’ are never going to be bettered, but she does try hard to make them into something different.

Dodging Dues – Garcia Peoples

Garcia Peoples 2020 live collaboration with Chris Forsyth (as Peoples Motel Band) was pretty much my most played release of that year, and may well be one of my favourite ever live albums. I hadn’t really explored the studio work of Garcia Peoples until this release though, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint; weaving intricate new patterns from a classic rock/ psych formula. It’s exciting to imagine how these songs will work live too.

Island of Noise – Modern Nature

Another fine release from the ensemble led by Jack Cooper (once of Ultimate Painting), this time around boasting such esteemed players as Evan Parker alongside regular collaborators like Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers). Obviously inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the music carries on in the same vein as their previous full length How To Live, with hints of pastoral folk and free jazz nudging it out of its comfort zone. I’ve had a digital copy of this since November and every time I return to it I hear something new.

Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival – Anna Von Hausswolff

Whilst her recent organ-dominated material has been something wonderful to behold, this live album reminds us how good a vocalist Anna is and what a powerful presence she can be when fronting her band. The performance is from 2018 and features versions of songs from her albums ‘Dead Magic’ and ‘The Miraculous’, all pretty faithful to the existing versions but well worth hearing as this fine recording gives them an extra edge.

Magma – Black Flower

A rich and varied album of pyschedelic jazz fusion from this Belgian based band, leaning heavily on Ethio-jazz and afrobeat influences. Fronted by multi-instrumentalist Nathan Daems, this album introduces the synth and Farfisa work of new recruit Karel Cuelenaere, which gives the band an immersive, symphonic sound. “It sounds like Arabic krautrock,” said one my pals, and whilst that’s not strictly accurate, it does sum up their sound to an extent.

W – Boris

I guess when a band has existed for 30 years with almost the same line-up they have free reign to do what they like. Whilst Boris are known for post-rock and noise, this latest album manages to blend their core sound with ambient music and dream-pop. It may be exaggerating to say that Boris have made a Cocteau Twins record, but they’ve certainly been listening to some.

The Overload – Yard Act

For some reason I can’t embed this, but I reckon you’ve all heard it by now anyway – it was only kept off Number 1 in the album chart by Olly Alexander, after all. Most of all I imagine Yard Act as a spikier version of Pulp, and I was pleased to find that three of them used to be in Menace Beach (whom I’ve written about in the past). Believe the hype.

2021 and all that

As we’re all about to shut the lid on 2021 and pop it under the bed, I thought I’d post some end-of-year things. The last quarter of the year was a wash-out for me as I had COVID in September and I fractured my shoulder in October, so the recovery from that has overtaken everything. Anyway….

I went to only seven gigs, and whilst I know that’s more than some people were able to get to, I had tickets for many more 😦 The best one was Yo La Tengo playing two sets under the banner of the London Jazz Festival in the Royal Festival Hall in November

My first gig after everything went to pieces was Shirley Collins in the Barbican and I wrote about it on my substack http://slowthrills.substack.com. I hope I can do more on that site as 2022 begins, because I definitely didn’t get the chance this year. As for other gigs, I saw NI punk legends the Outcasts play open-air in the summer in Bangor, a cracking double bill with Pip Blom and the Bug Club in the Portland Arms in Cambridge – the same venue I saw a great support slot from BDRMM a week earlier. The first full-on, crowded gig was Fontaines DC and the Altered Hours in Cambridge Corn Exchange, which had a lively and chaotic crowd even though vaccine passports were required at the door. Final gig of the year for me turned out to be a mesmerising show from Brigid Mae Power in late November.

Most of my blog stats tell me people visited here (and my older blogs) for my albums of the month round-ups, so I must conclude with this collage of my favourite albums of 2021. From top left to bottom right:
HEY WHAT – Low
For the first time – Black Country, New Road
G_d’s Pee AT STATE END – Godspeed You! Black Emperor
As Days Get Dark – Arab Strap
A Beginner’s Mind – Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine
Henki – Richard Dawson & Circle
Vertigo Days – The Notwist
Collapsed in Sunbeams – Arlo Parks
An Overview on Phenomenal Nature – Cassandra Jenkins

honourable mentions: The Body & BIG BRAVE, Floating Points & Pharaoh Saunders, James Yorkston & The Second Hand Orchestra, Dinosaur Jr, Dry Cleaning, the Mountain Goats, Matt Sweeney & Bonnie Prince Billy, Guided by Voices (Earth Man Blues in particular), Lost Horizons, Mogwai, Didvide & Dissolve, Jane Weaver, Lucy Dacus, Tyler the Creator, Tropical Fuck Storm, Deafheaven, Grouper

My top 9 albums, 2021

As this is the most I have typed in a few months I won’t be prattling on about them – if you need that, most of them were released in the first part of the year so I wrote about them in the mid-year round-up below. Cheers, and all the very best for 2022.

Albums of 2021, mid year list

Regular readers will have noticed that this site’s monthly album round-ups haven’t happened during 2021 so, as some consolation, I have put together a list of my favourite album releases of this year. Unlike the monthly lists I have ranked them in order, mainly so I can shake my head at my choices when I decide differently at the end of the year. I’ve included short “reviews” for the top ten, and as usual Bandcamp is my preferred place to direct you should you wish to purchase these releases.

1. For The First Time – Black Country, New Road (Ninja Tune, 5th Feb) Bandcamp

Records which I am most familiar with will invariably end up towards the top of this list. Some of the songs on BCNR’s debut have been around well in advance of the album, but to be honest this record would have been my number one if it had come out at any point in the year. They will progress and get even better, but for now this debut is the sound of “the world’s second best Slint tribute act” growing wings and soaring. 

2. G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! – Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Constellation, 2nd April) Bandcamp

I rate all of GY!BE’s records highly and this is yet another mighty one. They had me from the moment those shortwave frequencies were launched, teasing the release of this album. So what’s different this time? Well, the “found voices” are abstract and intriguing instead of polemical, the music remains powerful whilst somehow still sounding lost and confused, and the two bridging drone passages – if you have the vinyl I mean the material on the 10” – are as strong and important as the lengthier pieces. 

3. Dark In Here – the Mountain Goats (Merge, 19th June) Bandcamp

If you count the Jordan Lake live sessions and the emergency lo-fi cassette album Songs for Pierre Chauvin, the pandemic has meant the already profilic Mountain Goats have become even more bountiful. Dark In Here is a lush studio album which was recorded in Alabama as the pandemic took hold. It is subtitled “12 Songs for singing in caves, bunkers, foxholes, and secret spaces beneath the floorboards” and I know that these songs will also be sung when things are brighter and we emerge blinking into the light. 

4. Superwolves – Matt Sweeney & Bonnie Prince Billy (Domino, 30th April) Bandcamp

I know it’s early days for this one but, 15 years on from their classic debut Superwolf, it really feels like they’ve done it again. A long time in the making, for this collaboration Will Oldham wrote the lyrics first then sent them to Matt, who fleshed them out with his arrangements and crafty guitar playing.

5. Earth Man Blues – Guided By Voices (30th April) Bandcamp

If you think that Guided by Voices peaked in the mid-90s and that was that, then this is the album to change your mind. In truth they have been on a staggeringly consistent run since they “reformed” in 2012. Earth Man Blues is something else though, it’s straight into my top 5 GbV albums. It never wastes a note in its 37 minute, 15-song duration – it is by turns catchy, weird, and anthemic. People have asked me what is the best GbV record to introduce someone to the band and I could never give a satisfactory answer (it was usually the Best of or Alien Lanes depending on how deep I thought the person would dig) but honestly, the answer is now Earth Man Blues. 

6. New Long Leg – Dry Cleaning (4AD, 2nd April) Bandcamp

The last band I saw live before the world changed, and they were in blistering form. Essentially a cracking indie-rock band fronted by Florence Shaw, who manages to contrast with the energetic delivery of the band by speaking in a monotone for 90% of this album. When she finally changes the note and sings an absent-minded “Doo-doo” refrain on the title track it comes as quite a shock. Sometimes I feel like that her style can’t possibly sustain a whole album, but then I remember that their most memorable line – “Do everything and feel nothing,” is a Tampax slogan and I realise that I am in love with them a bit. 

7. Collapsed in Sunbeams – Arlo Parks (Transgressive, 29th Jan) Bandcamp

“I had a dream we kissed and it was all amethyst…” is currently my favourite opening line of any song ever. You don’t need me to tell you about Arlo Parks, she had three brit awards nominations ffs. This debut album is a beaut. 

8. Vertigo Days – The Notwist (Morr Music, 29th Jan) Bandcamp

Given the consistently high standard of their albums and live shows I don’t understand why the Notwist often get overlooked. Vertigo Days is yet another great album which manages to pull a wide range of influences together into something quite stunning.  

9. Open Door Policy – The Hold Steady (Positive Jams, 19th Feb) Bandcamp

Although I was a massive fan around the time of Separation Sunday in the mid-00s I haven’t been following this lot too closely in recent years, so Open Door Policy has come to me as a very pleasant surprise. Their songwriting has peaked again – ‘Lanyards’ is particular is a masterpiece of storytelling – and although the album was completed before the pandemic hit, there is a lot here which resonates with our current predicament. 

10. Echo – Indigo Sparke (Sacred Bones, 26th Feb) Bandcamp

I hadn’t heard of Australia’s Indigo Sparke before this album appeared, but I think it is one of my most played records of the year. An intimate sounding acoustic-based album, co-produced by Indigo with Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, it does have stylistic similarities with Lenker’s work. Indigo describes this album as “an ode to death and decay,” but there is an immense beauty to it all. 

11. An Overview on Phenomenal Nature – Cassandra Jenkins (19 Feb) Bandcamp

12. As Days Get Dark – Arab Strap (Rock Action, 5th March) Bandcamp

13. Bright Green Field – Squid (Warp, 7th May) Bandcamp

14. Flock – Jane Weaver (Fire, 5th March) Bandcamp

15. Sound Ancestors (arranged by Kieran Hebden) – Madlib (Madlib Invasion, 29th Jan) Bandcamp

16. The Wide, Wide River – James Yorkston and the Second Hand Orchestra (Domino, 22th Jan) Bandcamp

17. As the Love Continues – Mogwai (Rock Action, 19th Feb) Bandcamp

18. Sweep It Into Space – Dinosaur Jr (Jagjaguwar, 23th April) Bandcamp

19. Carnage – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (25th Feb) Official site

20. In Quiet Moments – Lost Horizons (Bella Union, 26 Feb) Bandcamp

21. Promises – Floating Points, Pharaoh Saunders, London Symphony Orchestra (26 March) Bandcamp

Albums of 2020

It should be easy for me to do this, to just wade back through my Albums of the Month posts for 2020 and pick my favourites, but there are many records which I only discover in the act of putting together an end of year list. This year in particular, with the lack of touring and the demise of many music publications, it has been much easier to miss things. I found the rise of Bandcamp to be particularly heartening, although it created the unusual side effect of making me buy more live albums than I ever did before, and I’m sure that was also a result of me missing live gigs so much. 

So here is a list of my ten favourites – and the reasons why – including a couple of releases which I have not featured on here before. As always these are ordered alphabetically by title.

By The Fire – Thurston Moore (Daydream Library Series) September 25th

The Thurston Moore Group have made some of the most interesting rock music of the last half-decade and By The Fire is their zenith, perfectly combining the classic indie-rock of prime period Sonic Youth with the more experimental leanings which have informed TM’s solo work since. In terms of overall look and feel, By The Fire has much in common with last year’s instrumental epic Spirit Counsel. This is a remarkably varied and fascinating rock record as it moves between intricate guitar music (the 12 minute ‘Siren’), powerful indie rock (‘Breath’, ‘Hashish’), and delicate introspection (‘Calligraphy’) before joining it all together whilst still pushing the boundaries (‘Locomotives’, ‘They Believe in Love’).

England is a Garden – Cornershop (Ample Play) March 6th

Released just as the pandemic was starting to hit, this double album became the soundtrack to those sunny Spring months when the first UK lockdown took hold. If you’re going to make a comeback, do it like this. Cornershop’s first album for quite a few years managed to build on the very best elements of their back catalogue and refine them into an utterly glorious whole. This is the record they’ve always threatened to make, and whilst it didn’t deviate too much from the sound of their mid to late 90s records, it came across as a much needed burst of joy and celebration.

Inner Song – Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supersound) August 28th

A record which I have turned to many times since its late summer release. It is strange that an album which begins with a cover version (Radiohead’s ‘Arpeggi’) should succeed as such a powerful original document but Inner Songs builds into something special – skirting around the edges of techno and indie-electronica, with the astonishingly strong ‘Jeanette’ and the dreamy, other-worldly collaboration with John Cale, ‘Colour of My Sky’. 

Microphones in 2020 – The Microphones (Bandcamp download) 7th August

This is a remarkable thing. Following two intense but often beautiful records (as Mt Eerie) dealing with his grief after the passing of his wife, Phil Elverum has returned to his original band name for this new release which is one long 40+ minute song. Once again it’s a very personal record, reminiscing mostly around his formative years in the music world, telling a story of how his life evolved.

Peoples Motel Band – Chris Forsyth & Garcia Peoples (Bandcamp download) 20th March

This emerged on the first “Bandcamp Friday” around the time we realised that the live music industry would be in a precarious state for  a long time to come. It started a ball rolling which meant I bought so many live albums I could do a separate list for those alone! This is one of the best live recordings I have heard in recent years. Recorded September 14, 2019 before a packed and enthusiastic hometown crowd at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, it concentrates on the songs from Chris Forsyth’s excellent 2019 album All Time Present plus the tour-de-force Dreaming in The Non-Dream and gives them a fresh lease of life, it fizzes with a remarkable energy and virtuoso playing, like prime Television but more wigged-out. 

Punisher – Phoebe Bridgers (Dead Oceans) 19th June

It is clear from her releases so far that Phoebe Bridgers possesses an immense talent and Punisher only serves to consolidate this. This time around she has expanded her sound from the delicate indie-folk of her debut into something more expansive. She has a lyrical skill in using a banal fact or incident to capture an emotion which some find hard to describe – “The doctor put her hands over my liver/ she told me my resentment’s getting smaller,” is one of my favourite lyrics of the year. I’m not sure how she managed, but this record is both sad AND apocalyptic yet it does not leave you feeling bleak, and I guess that’s a skill in itself.

Rough And Rowdy Ways – Bob Dylan (Columbia) 19th June

Surely one of the biggest surprises in this whole ridiculous year was not just the release of a Bob Dylan album, but the release of a Bob Dylan album which held its own with his major works. That’s what Rough and Rowdy Ways was. As well as the hard hitting yet restrained musical arrangements, there was a lot going on here lyrically (and a myriad of cultural references and current social comment) and no doubt Dylanologists have much to pore over. The teaser track ‘Murder Most Foul’ was remarkable enough, but the rest of this record can hold its own with that.

Saint Cloud – Waxahatchee (Merge) 27th March

Katie Crutchfield aka Waxahatchee has been making brilliant albums for a while now and Saint Cloud is no exception. It is a more organic record than its predecessor, the fine indie rock album Out in the Storm. This record is deeply rooted in the country and folk of the American South but it still sounds like Waxahatchee. She crafts a song as well as anyone, it’s hard to think of which of her contemporaries can match her.

Songs for Pierre Chuvin/ Getting Into Knives – the Mountain Goats (Merge) 17th April/ 23rd October

Band of the year, really, and not just because their 2005 tune ‘This Year’ has become an anthem for our times. In March they finished what would be their most elaborate record for years, Getting Into Knives, and were planning a tour when the pandemic struck. As a means to make some money back for his band and crew John Darnielle unearthed his ancient Panasonic tape recorder to record a brand new set of songs which were released on cassette for fastest turnaround. It ended up charting! Six months later the main album emerged, an elaborately produced collection of songs up there with the best of their recent work, and the two night live stream to promote it – now released on Bandcamp as the Jordan Lake Sessions – was the best gig I streamed all year.

We Will Always Love You – Avalanches (Modular) 11th December

The last great record of 2020 may well be my favourite, and it suits this year perfectly. This pandemic has led to the loss of many people and many things and this album, recorded mostly before 2020, has sadness and loss as its central theme. It begins with a voicemail, a goodbye note, from a woman who has presumably passed away and the entire ‘Pink Champagne’ section (actually the album’s working title) quotes heavily from the lyrics of the late David Berman, specifically from his Purple Mountains swansong. Having said that, this still sounds like The Avalanches – though this time there are more guest appearances than ever – over 20 I think – there is an incredibly skilled balance between dark and light elements in their sound. Sad elements can still come with a catchy tune.

Others worth a mention and your attention…..

Antarctica – Flat Worms, Blue Hearts – Bob Mould, Concret – Bailter Space, Coriky – Coriky, Gold Record – Bill Callahan, Healing is a Miracle – Julianna Barwick, Heart’s Ease – Shirley Collins, Magic Oneohtrix Point Never – Oneohtrix Point Never, Names of North End Women – Lee Ranaldo & Raul Refree, Off Off On – This is the Kit, Out Of My Province – Nadia Reid, Suite for Max Brown – Jeff Parker, Untitled (Black is) – SAULT, The Universe Inside – The Dream Syndicate