Top 50 Albums of 2019 – Part 1 – 50 to 24

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.

SS

 

Gloom Ballet

This afternoon I was discussing the recursive nature of music with a good friend and I concluded after much thought , that there possibly four levels of music viz:

  1. True Innovators with a unique sound
  2. Quality bands who have borrowed their sound from a combination of other bands
  3. Bands that completely copy artistes from 1. or 2. above and to which there is no discernible difference from the innovators they are aping.
  4. Tribute/Covers Bands

The relative merits of each of those categories I’ll leave up to people’s personal tastes. From my perspective I tend to listen mostly to 1. and occasionally 2. Of course it’s probably a lot more complicated than that but I won’t go down that rabbit hole.

The Wraith fall into category 2.

Less than three years since forming this  L.A. post-punk band has completed its debut full-length, Gloom Ballet, with Puscifer guitarist/producer Mat Mitchell. The foursome just signed to Southern Lord Recordings, who’ll release the album worldwide on November 29th.

Southern Lord owner Greg Anderson has been amazing to work with, and we really appreciate his willingness to incorporate a different sound into his roster,” said Wraith guitarist Kaz Alvis.

This album presents a modern take on pre-goth ‘80s UK post-punk (Death Cult, Killing Joke, Chameleons, New Model Army) mixed with SoCal deathrock (T.S.O.L., Samhain) in an interesting combination, with the balance being with the former rather than the latter.

The Wraith was founded by frontman Davey Bales, formerly of Virginia peace-punks Lost Tribe, and Alvis shortly after they separately arrived in L.A. Their irresistibly distinctive sound – skeletal basslines and tribal beats propelling Alvis’ textured swathes beneath Bales’ poetic, anguished bark – immediately gained a following, with homemade demo “Comatic Romance” racking-up thousands of YouTube views.

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The Crass like imagery of the cover will not be lost on people old enough to remember Dave King’s iconic designs, somewhat apposite given his recent passing.

West Coast shows honed the songs that became The Wraith’s lauded 2017 EP, “Shadow Flag”. A couple of videos and line-up changes later – the band is now completed by returned drummer Scott Raynor and Brit bassist Paul Rogers –sound earned the ear of Mitchell (who’s also worked with Love and Rockets, The Flaming Lips, Meat Puppets, King Crimson and more).

“The Wraith is a flashback to many of the bands that inspired me to start making music,” said Mitchell. “Given the opportunity to work on an album with them, how could I turn it down?”

With bands like Klammer bringing this sound back to the fore last year, this is probably a timely release. Original lovers of the 80’s- sound will recognise and possibly enjoy this slightly harder edged treatment, newer/younger listeners will enjoy it’s energetic anthemic brashness. I would imagine this is music which works best in a live setting.

Well worth a listen…….. 8/10

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Photo credit: Michelle Shiers

Music for Grown Ups

Dave Graney and Clare Moore return with a second album for 2019 with the intriguingly titled “One Million Years DC”. The collection of 11 songs is uniquely different to the years earlier offering  Zippa-DeeDoo-What Is/Was That/This? , which was more rock based. Here we return to the cool jazzy pop sounds that were encountered on The Coral Snakes “Soft ‘n’ Sexy Sound” or The Dave Graney Shows “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” or  Dave and Clare’s “Hashish and Liquor” and “Keepin’ It Unreal” releases.

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The opening track “He Was A Sore Winner” sets the scene by kicking off with a slide guitar drenched attack on a specific politician (although to be fair it can apply to any of that breed) of which Dave says it’s like the Kinks, but it could apply to any number of anglo wonky pop types like Kevin Ayers or Robyn Hitchcock. This is typically Dave and Clare in delivery with layers of musical loveliness, and a tongue in cheek delivery. A modern protest song perchance?

However the pop opener is a bit misleading as we then head deep into Graney/Moore territory with the explorations of song forms and delivery that are specific to these artists.  “Hell Is You Babe” has the same vibe as tracks from the excellent “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” album, cool, smooth,  this is music for adults, none of your adolescent pop nonsense here, this is proper stuff for grown ups.

“Pop Ruins” is a sort of list tune, I love list tunes, referencing key influences from the mythos of underground music, the edge of populism, those hip albums that your mate owned that you always desired, those places you always longed to see a concert at ……Grateful Dead, Television, Husker Du, The Roxy, The Whiskey a Go Go…… Dave serenades them, channeling Melvin Howard Tormé , with Clare adding that marimba touch over shimmering guitar. Those old rock venues/temples are listed, prescient and apposite given the death of pub venues for music and their transformation into gastro/family friendly places. The world is changing and i’m not sure we like it anymore.

Dave’s exploration of his own role in the rock and roll firmament has been covered before with the likes of memorable songs like Heroic Blues, and I Aint Hi-Vis, “I’m Not Just Any Nobody” follows that autobiographical route with a peroration on the nature of identity and fame. Rock and Roll is where I hide indeed.

The music business theme continues with “Comrade of Pop” a delicate tune which name checks Mr Osterberg and Mr Morrison, picks lyrics from The Ramones, and makes a statement, I guess, about when it’s time for anyone to “hip” , to be a “comrade”, to be accepted by the purists. The interplay of pedal steel from Shane Reilly and Dave’s filigree guitar lines is excellent, nay gorgeous.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro as  Hunter S. Thompson observed. Dave builds on this with “Where Did All The Freaks Go?” a wistful consideration of past days where you had some sort of idea where things ended and began. Great backing vocals from Harry Howard and Ed Preston make for a sixties sound , the original Star Trek theme came to mind, The Andy Williams show perhaps.

“You’ve Been In My Mind” was the title of a 2012 album from the MistLy but appears herein as a song which is all about Clare’s vibes and spacey sounds, if Dave and Clare were exploring the rock side of the 60s/70s on “Zippa-Deedoo” they are circling the light entertainment world here – John Barry, Bert Bacharach, John Mathis albeit through a semi-psychedelic fog, perhaps even a velvet one.

“Answering Machine” is all glitch and fret slides and features Coral Snake Robin Casinader on Mellotron and has a passing resemblance to Manchester’s Mark Corrin’s recent “Pub Bin” album with it’s wry/dry observational humour.

“You Can’t Have Your Boogie” again examines music, this time in the context of commerce, and is a perfect soundtrack for the bearded hipsters of the Manchester Northern Quarter and the tribute/nostalgia bands that infest the pubs and clubs. The parallels between Manchester and Melbourne are there to be mined and commented upon.  If London = Sydney then Manchester = Melbourne – there’s a whole psycho-geographical treatise to be written on that in respect of music, structure and place.

“I Come Clean” – autobiographical or observational? Hard to tell, as Dave is at his most abstract here, one of those songs, like “Dandies Are Never Unbuttoned” which will take some time to decipher. Regardless of that, the sound is exemplary

“Old Friends” closes the album with a journey through relationships, a heartfelt commentary on distance and the passage of time. More great backing vocals again this time from Emily Jarrett and Will Hindmarsh of Go Go Sapien. Dave says “don’t take this bad” he’s just got the horrors and appears to be exorcising them, albeit reflectively, and the album ends as all good albums should leaving you wanting more.

Graney and Moore have created two great albums in 2019, nothing more needs to be said. You need to listen, this is music for grown-ups but the young ‘uns can listen as well, they might well learn something.

And not a fur bikini in sight either……

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Invisible Volatiles

Quality popular music is still out there. You may have to go to the other side of the world and another hemisphere to find it, but it’s there. Don’t believe all the hype you get fed by the pluggers and promo people, there are better things than the Oasis wannabees that are relentlessly paraded before you. There are young folk producing good music but you should not forget those of more mature years who still have the chops and attitude to produce quality content.

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A case in point is David McClymont with a new release called “Invisible Volatiles” which you can access as Pay What You Want via Bandcamp. McClymont of course came to notice as part of Orange Juice but his CV demonstrates a much wider and impressive career with The Moodists, Blancmange, Paul Haig, Mick Harvey, and a couple of fascinating  releases with Nick Currie (Momus). Of late he has had a run of solo/duo releases, from 2014 onwards, which have been consistently excellent with this latest offering being the best of the collection so far, although you should also check out his album with Rick Morris from last year.

There must be something in the water in Melbourne that ensures that the bulk of the musical material emerging from the city demonstrates quality and a commitment to push the boundaries. This collection of songs journeys between quality popular music, with a subtle hints of David Bowie, through near but not quite country rock, to more acerbic (but only slightly) tunes all written with attention to detail, specifically melody.

I commend it to you without reservation.

 

Welcome To Our Village

A psycho geographical journey across the hills of North Manchester (they are from Bury Man!) sees Adventures of Salvador reach new heights with their sophomore waxing “Welcome To Our Village”. Equal parts surf, punk, and rock with an Urban patina this is the sound of men growing old disgracefully.

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Honing their already unique blend of influences and instrumentation the quartet have delivered eight excellent tunes. There is no padding or filler on this album, it is top to tail high quality material.

Subject matters varies between the grotesque, picaresque, and humorous with cultural references aplenty,  this is rock music couched in a grand guignol cabaret. Finally some one has written a rock song to honour the cultural icon King Kong that matches Frank Zappa’s efforts from the late 60s. Finally someone has managed to capture the mystery of Walt Disney’s life and give him a good verbal drubbing. Finally someone has transferred the absurd world view of Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Harold Pinter into a rock song with “Welcome to My Village” a harrowing tale of village life. With catchy riffs derived from the back of Lux and Ivy’s motor home and the Partch like interventions of Loop-Aznavour’s theremin, and the “what shouldn’t fit but does” use of a mellotron you have what is one of the best albums of 2019.

Adventures of Salvador are

Nigel Beck – booming bass/vox
Mark Berry – Genie of the Gretsch
Dave aka Loop-aznavour – vox/keyboard/theremin
Mike “Complicated” Smith – DRUMS!

Produced by Tony Long
Mastered by Mike Tucci
Artwork by Jack Jerz

Recorded at Big City Jacks Recording Studio in Bury, Greater Manchester

Available now from German Shepherd Records in digital, CD and Vinyl formats.

Office Politics

By my reckoning we now have  the fifth Monkeys In Love full length after “Death Jeans”, “Will Pet and Cuddle You”, “Take The Biscuit”, and “Live in Stoke Newington”. It’s called “Monkeys In Love Are Ready For The Mountain”.  First thing to say is that, as usual, it’s excellent, and, as usual, it’s markedly different from what went before, a hallmark of the “Monkeys” approach.

The difference this time around is that the melodic hooks are not so overt. They are constructed to work seamlessly within the whole of a song rather than being a defined part that implies a change within the construct of a piece. There are trademark Monkey earworms in play but they take their time to sink in and lodge in your mind on the second or third listen. Musically there is some continuity across the ten songs giving an overall conceptual mood to the album as Steve narrates the story. The groups love of library and advertisement music is perhaps more palpable in these songs. In considering this release in the body of work as a whole, and specifically the preceding album, a comparison would be the difference between “Selling England by the Pound” and “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, or, “The Who Sell Out” and “Tommy”, in that there is a more theatrical feel to this album than its predecessors.

The band introduce the album as follows:

The album features ten new songs that trace the nervous breakdown and eventual quasi-spiritual rebirth of a beleaguered office worker. Musically speaking, there’s a kind of mid-80s college rock thing going on in our sound this time round and although we’d love to say it was a deliberate artistic choice owing to the alarmingly mid-80s political climate of late, we can’t honestly remember if it was a conscious choice or not.

The band admit that production/recording is  “ever so slightly slicker on this album. It’s still pretty lo-fi, but a lot less lo-fi than previous releases“. The lyrics also follow up on a couple of songs from the previous album ‘Monkeys In Love Live In New Stoke Newington’, but the listener is left to work out which those songs are and how they relate to this album.

The line up for this release is

Danielle McCullough: guitar, flute, recorder and melodica
Eamonn Murphy: guitar, bass and FX
Laura Simms-Luddington: singing
Steve Simms-Luddington: singing, keys, programming and FX

The plan is to re-release the whole back catalogue so comparisons can be made with previous material for those jumping on at this stage. Steve promised me an out-takes/rarities album for German Shepherd a couple of years back – still looking forward to that!

Any how – quality stuff, wrap your ears around it.

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LIVE at L’Ubu

In 2015, The Apartments released the album No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal in Europe and influential French Music magazine Magic made it the Number 1 Album of The Year, a feat never before been achieved by an Australian artist. This was not surprising given the huge popularity of the band in France, and also the excellent quality of said release.

To support the release of No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal, The Apartments toured France in September 2015 with a full band. Their show at Rennes’ legendary L’Ubu Club was recorded, resulting in this double album, LIVE at L’Ubu.

The live recording captures the dynamic line-up of a combination of Australian, French and English players in a seven-piece band. This format allows Peter Milton Walsh to, for the first time, drop the guitar and masterfully sing and perform a set of songs from the extant album along with others from The Apartments impressive back catalogue.

In the parallel universe that exists somewhere at the back of my subconscious Walsh is huge and Ed Sheeran doesn’t exist. His bitter sweet songs are the stuff of magic and he is someone that gets the “Grant McLennan” moment every time he constructs a tune. This collection of songs transcends criticism, it’s everything that popular music should be. Legitimate, honest and full of emotion. He has the tone and content of David McComb at his best. He is a master craftsman.

If you have not come across The Apartments before then start with this album and you’ll soon be reaching for the back catalogue. If you don’t like this music then I fear for your eternal soul. Personally I’d play this music to children at nursery school so they can get an early education on what good music is.

Available digitally and as a very limited double vinyl. Hopefully a CD version will emerge at some point for those of us who still like these things.