I know I’ve been saying this almost every year since 1988, but I reckon it’s been a poor twelve months for albums. And I’ll point to the diversity of the end-of-year lists as evidence for this. Gone, it seems, are the times when the music press could be unanimous in praise of an LP. The last time I remember that happening was five years ago, when Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion united opinions pretty much across the board.
So… my meagre contribution to this year’s seasonal gush of countdowns is 14 tracks, arranged in approximate order of preference. First up, the honourable mentions. I would have made these all “proper” inclusions, but I just don’t have the time.
Angel Olsen: Forgiven/Forgotten
Melody’s Echo Chamber: Shirim
Kane Strang: Winded
Mogwai: Teenage Exorcists
Moon Duo: Animal
Parquet Courts: What Color Is Blood?
Lorelle Meets the Obsolete: What’s Holding You?
Morgan Delt: Barbarian Kings
Now on to the festive 14…
14. Aphex Twin: Minipops 67. The squelchy, thuddy Minipops was a worthy opener to an album nobody realised they’d been waiting for; a Window Licker for the… whatever the feck this decade’s called.
13. Paradise Molam International Band: Roop Lor Pu Tai. I was surprised when I discovered this LP of traditional-style Thai music was a new release. The combination of “phat” percussion and enjoyably cacophonous (to my Western ears, at least) strings was right up my street.
12. Woods: With Light and with Love. To paraphrase my slightly younger self, “With Light and with Love is an immense nine-minute jam-out which rolls and twists and builds as well as anything they’ve done before. It’ll doubtless be in my top ten tracks come the end of the year.” Balls.
11. Laetitia Sadier: Release from the Centre of Your Heart. Laetitia’s on great form here, sounding like a (to quote myself again, sorry) “Bacharach bubblebath nostalgia trip”. Which is exactly what Stereolab would have called the track.
10. Viet Cong: Continental Shelf. As a big fan of the Calgary band Women and their assorted spawn, I’ve been looking forward this this lot’s LP for a while. And they’re finally getting some well-deserved airplay too.
9. Virginia Wing: Meshes. The most Broadcasty track on an LP of songs that sound like Broadcast. But hey, I’m not complaining. One thing’s for sure, Virginia Wing didn’t get the credit they deserved this year.
8. Total Control: Glass. Australia produces so much good music these days (just realised Liars aren’t on this list, damn), although this LP sounds like it was recorded on a rainy day in early-Thatcher-era Manchester (in a good way). This opener is more sequenced than the rest of the album, which features some fierce drumming along the lines of Colm O’Ciosoig meets Stephen Morris.
7. R.Seiliog: Mt Essa. Tickling my synapses in a Seefeely fashion, this hypnotic glug of Welsh electronica fast became one of my train-journey soundtracks of the year.
6. Spectres: Where Flies Sleep. The Spectres album isn’t out yet but its already causing much excitement in, erm, my brain. They apologised on Facebook for almost bankrupting their label, Sonic Cathedral, to get it sounding right. You suspect Sonic Cathedral might not be too bothered if it turns out to be their Loveless. Blazing the Creation trail right to the death.
5. Moodoid: La Lune. Glamourously, artily eccentric in a way only the French could pull off, Moodoid were by far the standout band for me at this year’s Great Escape. And their LP turned out to be the wonderful mélange of styles their live show promised. This Cocteau Twinsesque tune envelops you like an exotic perfume.
4. Dean Blunt: 100. I wasn’t crazy about the rest of the album, but this track was amazing: like a mash-up of Bill Callahan and The Go-Betweens.
3. Foxygen: You and Me. This little pearl of a song risks getting submerged in the sea of pastiches on Foxygen’s overly ambitious LP …And Star Power. It finds them in Big Star mode, and proves they can write songs with incredible emotional resonance, as well as pretend to be Mick Jagger.
2. Kate Tempest: Happy Ending. I came to this quite late in the year, but this track blew my mind the first time I heard it. It’s the last one on an evolving concept LP, so don’t waste your time trying to understand the plot unless you’ve heard the rest of the album. She’s a lyricist of genuine quality, far superior to the artists she’s often compared to. On this tune, her Slick Rickish delivery is complemented by some thumpingly heavy beats and bleeps.
1. The War on Drugs: Red Eyes. I’m not one of these War on Drugs evangelists; I loved their first LP, Wagonwheel Blues, but since then their rise in popularity has slightly baffled me. However… HOWEVER, Red Eyes is a stone-cold, stitched-on modern classic. If you doubt me, try dancing to it with a three-year-old on your shoulders. When that cheesy Big Country chorus kicks in you’ll both be squealing in ecstatic joy. The video is kind of annoying though.