19. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

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Sky Blue Sky’ seems to have been written off by the music loving and music critiquing community for not being progressive enough, coming after ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ and ‘A Ghost Is Born’. Bollocks to that, I wish to ever so eloquently counter. It’s the slightly safe, homely, quality tunes aspects of this record that makes me love it so much not dislike it. For a period in the summer of 2007 and I listened to little else. Often starting and ending the day with it, to the extent that it became a mechanical reaction to simply slip the CD in and sit back.

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When the guitar solo kicks in during ‘Either Way’ I feel genuinely happy. How many records can you say have such a definitive effect on you? And once that mood has been set, it stays. ‘Impossible Germany’ is a wonderfully oblique love song, cyclically ebbing its way to almost six minutes of splendour, while the riff-hungry ‘You Are My Face’ transcends its shoddy title to provide an air-guitar opportunity of some note.

The quality never abates and ‘Shake It Off’, ‘Walken’ and ‘What Light’ are all of a similarly high standard, with each little twiddly guitar part having a similar effect to the aforementioned equivalent in the very first song. I associate it with summer and tend to play it a lot more during the months when there should be some sunshine. Having said that, it still sounds pretty decent on a sub-zero Friday evening in December.

And, speaking of sound, I feel obliged to tell you to get this – and every other Wilco album – on vinyl. They take the format very seriously and each of their albums is now available on a superior vinyl pressing, with accompanying free CD for all of your digital needs. Not that you’ll really use it as Wilco’s music sounds exceptional on vinyl. That oft talked about warmth from the big slabs of wax is never more noticeable than on albums such as this one.

20. Doves – Kingdom Of Rust

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Why this band aren’t bloody huge, I’ll never know. In the last ten years they have released four astonishingly good albums and several spellbinding singles and yet nobody ever seems to make much of a fuss about them. The story of how I fell in love with the band will keep for another time, but this is the story of how I rekindled that love after allowing them to fade from focus and simply sit on the shelf for some time.

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Regular readers of this blog will have seen my review of Doves’ third album, ‘Some Cities’, posted recently as part of my self-indulgent revisiting of former glories, and will know that I rated that record pretty highly. Four years having passed since that album appeared, by the time I found out that the band were finally returning, they’d slipped down the pecking order rather and I needed convincing again. It didn’t take long. One listen to the album’s title track and I was sold. A strangely understated five minutes of music, it was a combination of everything I love about Doves: a shuffly drum beat, peculiar guitar noises winding in and out, a slight tease about when the chorus will actually kick in and then an actual chorus that doesn’t soar on its first couple of outings, but which gradually takes flight until the latter renditions are something you can belt out shamelessly in the privacy of your own home, car or local concert venue.

Their Nottingham Rock City gig earlier this year was the best show of theirs I’ve seen. They seemed to have gone from being a slow-paced indie band who did a few fast ones to an energy-packed, fast-paced indie band who do a couple of slow numbers. We even got ‘Spaceface’ out of them, which meant we all left grinning like absolute twats. Listening to ‘Jetstream’ and ‘Compulsion’ thumping out of enormous speakers as the band seemed more lost in the music than ever before, I was bordering on ecstatic. It was one of those concerts where you forget everything for the duration and leave wondering how you’ll ever top it, even though you know that it happens from time to time.

The New Order comparisons stand up to a certain extent, but I’m not sure Barney and Hooky ever quite managed such a heavy sound, and the almost anti-song approach of aforementioned album opener, ‘Jetstream’, which seems to build then lull, build then lull all over the place and, in an ideal world, would go on for pretty much all of eternity. It says a lot that the normally promo-only instrumental version of this record was released for purchase as a download recently, such is the strength of the actual music on this album. It is certainly their most accomplished record, but perhaps not quite their best.