It is that time of year again when I reflect on the last 12 months and select my favourite 50 albums of the year. 2019 has been a particularly strong year and whilst there is a list in number order to fit some sort of format they could probably all be equally ranked as the standard has been so high.
As with last year Australian artists and bands, particularly those from Melbourne, have dominated reflecting the impressive music scene in that city. Local bands to me, here in Greater Manchester, have also made the list, not just because they are my friends and associates but because of the quality of their output.
It’s an eclectic mix reflecting the nature of the Aural Delights Radio show and my listening tastes. I don’t expect people to agree with this, it is subjective, by I hope you find something in this and the next programme that you might have missed, or has slipped from your memory.
50. Tomistoma – Distances
Cai Brown’s distinctive approach has echoes of early 70s rock, which couples with kosmische, krautrock and space rock, as well as the core intent of bringing doom into the mix. This sixth release, in just under a year and a half , demonstrates a fertile imagination. It takes me back to the heady days of early Atomic Rooster whilst embracing modern sounds and a forward looking approach. The two EPs he released this year were just as good.
49. The New Fools – Brilliant
Tony Jenkins is one of those polymath musicians who appears all over the Cambridge music scene in a variety of guises. As well as running Everlasting Records, he can be found further up this chart as part of Lizard Brain, and, in another guise in the duo Kammahav. This debut album from his pop/rock band was packed with melodies and hooks and clever songwriting. As usual with Tony there is something dark and mysterious lying just below the surface of the songs with lyrics that venture into places which don’t quite fit with the pop sensibility of the accompanying music.
48. The Coathangers – The Devil You Know
A year of relentless touring for this energetic trio with a sixth album, a three year gap since the last one lead to some expectation. The contrast of Julia and Stephanie’s vocals creates a tension in the music that takes them above and beyond guitar lead music of this ilk. Their polemical approach, especially on the major issues of the day in a post-truth world, is as vital as it is entertaining.
47. Tombstones In Their Eyes – Maybe Someday
Los Angeles psych-rockets who manage to break the glass ceiling of so many other bands who get labelled in this way and who have developed their own sound. This was the first long-play from them since their debut release ‘Sleep Forever’ in 2015. This album comes on the heels of some deserved critical acclaim. Shoegaze, stoner and post-rock are all in there somewhere but a new sound manages to emerge from that melange of styles.
46. Prettiest Eyes – Volume 3
Another L.A. band. This trio were compared to Suicide in one review, also being described as post-industrial (I don’t know what that means and I can’t be bothered to look it up as I have another 30+ reviews to write). Suffice to say it was suitably different to my ear which has been deluged with an awful lot of very similar sounding music this year none of which was as good as this.
45. Plastic Crimewave Syndicate – Massacre of the Celestials
My chums at Cardinal Fuzz sent a lot of new music through this year, most of it of a very high quality. This stood out as being suitably wacky and irrelevant with it’s Zappa/Gong approach to melding disparate elements together to create a fun sound. Talarie Peterson of the wonderful Spires That In The Sunset Rise (which seeps over from my Jazz Show territory) adds a wonderful counterpoint to the psychedelic freak out madness. Check out the six other items on their Bandcamp page. You won’t be disappointed.
44. Peter Jefferies – Last Ticket Home
A living legend of New Zealand underground music, from his seminal bands Nocturnal Projections and This Kind of Punishment, to his collaborative efforts in bands such as Plagal Grind and Two Foot Flame, he is perhaps best known for his solo work on “The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World” (1990) and “Electricity” (1994), as well as numerous other albums. This compilation contains rare singles, both released and unreleased, radical live interpretations, and a wealth of never released material dating from 1991-2019. An utterly unique sound and a compelling listen.
43. Low Dose – Low Dose
Featuring the final lineup of cult noise-rock band Fight Amp with the addition of vocalist Itarya Rosenberg of the Legendary Divorce, this Philadelphia band play heavy, grunge-tinged punk, the melodic side of noise rock, with comparisons with Slint and PJ Harvey being made in reviews and promo.
42. Jump For Neon – Vicious Tricycle
Ex-pat Welshman, now residing in China, William Gray never disappoints with his impressive song-craft and attention to detail. The follow up to the excellent “Put Me Down Dinosaur” continued a run of quality releases.
41. Imperial Wax – Gastwerk Saboteurs
The last three long standing members of the last decade (or so) of The Fall continue with an impressive debut filled with trademark riffing and attack. I was prepared to be disappointed but was impressed by the forward steps that they had taken with this collection, demonstrating of course that MES always had the ability to surround himself with good players.
40. Hanterhir – Our Hour
Difficult to follow up last years memorable Saving of Cadan but they managed to do some with two great albums. This is one of them. A class act and with their own Cornish perspective on music. They don’t seem to do Bandcamp (unless I am missing something) so here’s a track from the album.
39. Enablers – Zones
I think this is their 11th release, and I sort of lost track with them after 2011’s Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions which the promo company sent me multiple copies of for some reason. Anyhow that’s by the by – poet, writer, and narrator Pete Simonelli makes the difference here with a world weary take on some of the darker aspects of life. Narrative delivery is a thing I am particular fond of (as will be evidenced later in this listing). Notwithstanding that the music is pretty damn fine as well. Another band with a huge catalogue of work which deserves wider exposure.
38. Alex Spencer – Shine
Her second album finds Alex working with a jazz trio to create a great folk/rock/jazz mix which doesn’t stray into the middlemass of the mundane, and has some fascinating song craft. An album about juxtapositions and metamorphosis, the recording of the vocals creates an unearthly xenochronous vibe across the piece.
37. Butch Bastard – I Am Not A Man
Butch Bastard was born when this singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, performer, producer, and director uprooted his life from Seattle to Los Angeles in 2014 and started recording tracks from the comfort of his bedroom. 10 self-produced compositions performed in character as Butch Bastard along with Josh Tillman, Father John Misty keyboardist Jonathan Wilson, and drummer Mitchell Rowland with additional engineering from Nico Aglietti. A remarkable voice with great songs. Another one who doesn’t do Bandcamp…..so here’s a vid.
36. Charlie Marshall, The Body Electric – Shiny & New
Two years on from the exceptional “Sublime” Charlie concentrates on pop, r’n’b, soul and funk with some great new tunes and a few covers. It was great to host Charlie in Manchester in 2018, he is a wonderful performer, and this collection continues his current run of fine music production. As usual there are a series of strong messages about politics, science and climate.
35. Cosmonauts – Star 69
The fifth album from the Los Angeles pysch fuzz garage heavyweights. Imagine Spacemen 3, The Stooges and The Jesus & Mary Chain with a West Coast drawl added to create a fuzzed up mixed up world.
34. David McClymont – Invisible Volatiles
Ex Orange Juicer and Moodist now based in the backwoods of Australia with a superb collection of tunes. He has featured on Mick Harvey’s albums and of late he has been working with others, notably Momus, but this collection is a solo offering. High quality stuff memorably covered on a rare radio show interview with Dave Graney, who of course made the introduction leading to the album being sent in my direction.
33. Dead Sea Apes – The Free Territory
Out of Stalyvegas with the wind in their sails the Apes again make the chart with their 15th release. More experimental and introspective elements of their work are in play with loops, evolving textures and improvisations used instead of the usual guitar bass and drums set-up . A transitional phase for the group, having been partly recorded with departing bassist Nick Harris. Nik Rayne of The Myrrors also steps in on a couple of tracks. Quality.
32. Dyson Stringer Cloher – Dyson Stringer Cloher
I’m a big Jen Cloher fan so I was bound to pay attention to this. A remarkable debut album some five years on from a country leaning EP. Wilco’s Glen Kotche fills the drum stool duties. Three strong women coming to the fore with vocals to die for and songwriter chops in full effect.
31. Two Lost Souls – Cords and Digits
Paul Rosenfeld and Ian Moss originally worked together on a track on Moss’s Words and Music project. Since that time Ian had been drip feeding me tracks for months with no clear plan, perhaps an EP might have emerged. Over time it grew into a remarkable collection which combines Paul’s guitar lead compositions with Ian’s mostly spoken word narratives. A bit of a change in direction for both artists but the sum of the parts is memorable. A selection of guest bass players make the songs fuller sounding. A few older Moss lyrics are brought back in a new context and sound fresher and more vibrant.
30. Hash Redactor – Drecksound
I think the promo sums this one up nicely…“The band is fronted by guitarist Alec McIntyre of Ex-Cult, with NOTS rhythm warriors Meredith Lones on bass and Charlotte Watson on drums, and rounded off by George Williford on second guitar……. their debut full-length dives into territory that feels distinctly untethered from their lineage and era. Drecksound is a clattering, shambolic oasis in the sleek digital desert of the late twenty-teens.” From my perspective it fills a huge Fall shaped hole in my life.
29. The Woodland Hunters – The Thoughts Of Chairman Jim
I came to this via Sand Pebbles, two members of which are in this band. Melbourne of course! A heady mix of influences from 60’s guitar wig-outs to swamp rock, 70’s jam bands to raw’n’dusty Americana. Anyone who starts an album with a track called “Strange Days For A Presbytarian” is OK in my book. As good as Dream Syndicate at their best with a bit an Elektra 60s vibe going on.
28. Third Eye of Mars – The Secret Language of Seeds
…. or Herbarium Parabolicae ou Língua Secreta das Sementes -the third release from this exceptional Brazilian outfit. Pure psychedelic rock, barking mad in places, but very high quality stuff which comes across as a mix of Amon Duul II and Gong. This requires several listenings to fully appreciate its’ complexity.
27. Jess Ribeiro – Love Hate
Extremely difficult for Jess to follow the exceptional “Kill It Yourself” but four years on she is back with another brilliant album. As with all things Jess one feels the tongue is very firmly in the cheek in parts. She has moved onto a more stripped back mid 70s New York vibe but the trade mark Ribeiro vocals are in play. Amazing that Courtney B has become huge and Jess has not, just as good, if not better in parts.
26. Ember Rev – From The Country To The City To The Sea
The prior release Premonition and Ruin was exceptional, and this mirrors and expands on that. Dan Ecclestone’s songwriting is at its peak at the moment and he has a collection of musicians around him that can realise his singular vision. A narrative spread across an album of songs covering hope, loss and redemption. Remarkable!
25. The Flesh Eaters – I Used To Be Pretty
LA’s unconventional “supergroup”, reunites the classic 1981 lineup of Chris D, Dave Alvin, John Doe, Bill Bateman, Steve Berlin, and DJ Bonebrake for their first new recording in more than 35 years. They haven’t lost a step in the intervening time. A glorious swampy bluesy sexy noise – the mutant offspring of Lux Interior, Iggy Pop, Stan Ridgeway and Fee Waybill with a soundtrack for a Troma Film that would have Lloyd Kaufman salivating pure toxic goo.
24. Shifting Sands – Crystal Cuts
The best thing to come out of Brisbane since The Go-Betweens. A remarkable follow up to the exceptional Beach Coma from four years ago. Emotional intense songwriting and performing, like Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson at their best. Check out some of the performances from their Euro tour of this year – amazing.
Numbers 23-1 to follow in a few days.