Best of 2021: 30-16

Having taken thirteen months to complete the 2020 list, I thought it was best to opt for the shorter format which I’ve used on a few occasions here. Some of the very kind folk who keep a casual eye on my turntable shots and occasional grumbling about pressing plants on Twitter insist that these countdowns are helpful, so here we go. Obviously, it’s my perception of what is best, but I think that’s fairly glaringly obvious, right? In most cases, I’ve cannibalised previous comments I’ve made on these records during my monthly column for Clash Magazine, also entitled ‘Just Played’. If any of these take your fancy, it would be especially splendid if you were then able to purchase them via one of the nation’s many, fabulous independent record shops. They’ve not had an easy year of it and who knows how many of these I might not have ended up loving without them? Ok, enough preamble – let’s get on with it.

30. Flock Of Dimes ‘Head Of Roses’

Early in the year came the latest solo offering from Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner under the Flock of Dimes moniker, which is some leap from that project’s debut, 2016’s ‘If You See Me, Say Yes’. Indeed, ‘Head Of Roses’ is many things all at once, ranging from autumnal folk to glitchy electronica. Compare the psych-rock of ‘Price Of Blue’ with the indie-funk of ‘One More Hour’ to get a sense of what awaits. The striking gatefold contains a nuanced and involving Optimal pressing that opens up nicely with some volume. It has stayed there with me throughout the year and its textures suit this time of year rather well.

29. Sons Of Kemet ‘Black To The Future’

Those who purchase plenty of vinyl become accustomed to certain signs that they’re in for a treat. A poly-lined inner, a tip-on sleeve or Kevin Gray’s initials next to the matrix info can all bode well. The size of the deadwax is also of interest – too little and the worries about inner groove distortion are significant and normally well-founded, too much and you’re wondering why they’ve not used the full space available. Some were a little concerned at reasonably substantial runout grooves on the four sides of the new Sons Of Kemet album, ‘Black To The Future’, but they simply tell the tale of a dynamic, meticulous and utterly captivating cut. Sterling Sound in the US produced the lacquer and Pallas in Germany delivered this impeccable pressing.

The band’s fourth album has already been justifiably lauded, making greater use of guest voices to amplify messages about the state of the world while still delivering sax riffs to which resistance is futile. Oh, and aesthetes will be delighted to learn that it has the classic Impulse spine design too. When so many are making do, ‘Black To The Future’ demonstrates what this beloved format can still achieve.

28. Floating Points / Pharaoh Saunders / The London Symphony Orchestra ‘Promises’

From the moment this collaboration was announced, managing expectations was always going to prove tricky. However, the label Luaka Bop knew that no such dampening was needed as ‘Promises’ is unlikely to disappoint anyone who spends some time in its company. A spiritual, hypnotic and entirely immersive piece spread over nine movements, the vinyl mastering by Chris Bellman is absolutely on the money. Sadly, the pressing were all over the place and a little time spent browsing this album’s page on Discogs will reveal some of the anguish the label have been through. Perhaps buy the CD of this one.

27. The Coral ‘Coral Island’

Three years on from 2018’s unconvincing ‘Move Through The Dawn’, The Coral have returned with possibly their finest release to date. ‘Coral Island’ is loosely themed around different seasons in a seaside location, songs woven together by spoken language excerpts from a work of fiction entitled ‘Over Coral Island’, written by the band’s keyboard player, Nick Power. Such stitching is atmospheric but don’t go thinking this is some impenetrable concept album.

The 2LP set, pressed at Takt in Poland and silent other than a couple of slightly noisy run-in grooves, sounds fulsome and maintains decent separation during the jubilant jangle of ebullient highlights ‘Change Your Mind’ and ‘Take Me Back To The Summertime’. There are nods to the frenetic psych of their early output alongside more melancholic mid-paced treats like ‘Strange Illusions’. James Skelly’s voice only seems to be improving with age and such is the quality of the songwriting that a double album at this stage in their career is most welcome.

26. Field Music ‘Flat White Moon’

It’s fair to assert that Field Music don’t make bad albums, but it’s still worth highlighting the considerable quality of their latest, ‘Flat White Moon’. Shimmering opening track ‘Orion From The Street’ features cascading piano lines which array themselves in the soundstage before you, wider percussive aspects framing a sensory carnival. The detail is taken very seriously indeed and it’s noticeable just how alive the bass and acoustic guitar sound across the whole record.

‘Not When You’re In Love’ comes on like ‘I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun’ before frenetic percussion makes full use of the stereo spectrum. The Brewis brothers’ consistently inventive capacity for building an angular musical landscape is remarkable and the clear, near silent vinyl Optimal cut that I’ve played often this year is a joy to experience.

25. Jarvis Cocker ‘Chansons D’Ennui’

After the recent work as Jarv Is, it is something of a surprise to listen to Jarvis Cocker’scollection of sweeping French language covers inspired by his audio role in Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’. Together the musician and the filmmaker assembled a selection of vintage pieces for Cocker’s ‘Tip Top’ persona to lovingly record. The production of ‘Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top’ is excellent, evoking a little of the vintage psychedelic sheen favoured by Matt Berry. Whether it’s the fuzzy knees up of ‘Les Gens Sont Fous, Les Temps Sont Flous’ or the stately duet with Laetitia Sadier ‘Paroles, Paroles’ that hook you in, the whole set works incredibly well and goes far beyond mere pastiche.

Cocker’s breathy vocals are as varied as they have been in many years and the instrumentation is vivacious and emphatic. Mastered and cut by John Davis at Metropolis, the vinyl sounds excellent, if slightly sibilant on the aforementioned duet. The copy I received for a Clash review looks to be a US pressing, likely to be through RTI, although it would seem Takt have also manufactured some copies for the EU so be careful!

24. Tindersticks ‘Distractions’

The continuing creative urge at the core of Tindersticks is a regular delight, resulting in some additional late period delights since the 2008 re-boot with ‘The Hungry Saw’. Anyone who purchased their previous album, ‘No Treasure But Hope’, on vinyl will likely be a little trepidatious this time after widespread issues with noise plagued rather delicate music. Fear not, however, as ‘Distractions’ is a very well cut and splendidly pressed affair via Optimal. Take care removing it from the potentially problematic paper inner and give it a clean if circumstances permit so as to ensure the quietest possible background for these seven glorious songs.

Opener ‘Man Alone (Can’t Stop The Fadin’)’ may be eleven minutes long but it doesn’t feel like its sprawling or noodly, instead proving oddly confrontational at times and robustly hypnotic. It’s hardly standard fare and a very fine statement of intent. As with the rest of the record, rhythm is tight and engaging while the vocal sound sits naturally in the room rather than pulling you back to the speakers. Most definitely safe to proceed.

23. Dry Cleaning ‘New Long Leg’

4AD’s strike rate continues to impress, with these London post-punk types and their debut album ‘New Long Leg’. The musical interplay between the four piece is joyfully energising and they were poorly served by having this moment in the spotlight while the nation’s venues remain closed and quiet. Seek out video of recent KEXP performances to get a sense of how this band work together and this will also add a little extra valuable context before embracing the album fully. Florence Shaw’s mostly monotone, wry spoken words often paint enigmatic fragments, mixing found phrases with a poetry of everyday life.

The indie-stores-only yellow vinyl cut via Optimal does a decent job of keeping Shaw out of the space of the pulsing rhythm section. So distinctive is the delivery that it can take a few listens to really identify the varied approaches being taken by guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton. The comparisons with Wire and Magazine make sense, but there’s plenty of genre-hopping going on and closer ‘Every Day Carry’ possesses some of the spectral poise of Mogwai. A quick nod to the label for very reasonable pricing on this one too.

22. Knomad Spock ‘Winter Of Discontent’

Within seconds of hearing Knomad Spock’s voice, it’s pretty clear that you’re listening to something pretty special. The delicate, intimate tone has a definite folk feel but the songs on his debut record, ‘Winter Of Discontent’, have a palpable jazz sensibility in their use of space and the presence of the drums. Their skittering presence on ‘Egypt’ is utterly beguiling and, as one might expect from an artist who is also a poet and rapper, the words assert themselves in very deliberate locations also.

Get in quick for one from the hand-numbered initial pressing of 250 copies on Hinterland Creative, which features a separate lyric sheet and a selection of black and white photography to accompany the music. It’s a relatively quiet GZ cut which benefits from a little clean, but this music will cut through any distractions. One to watch, certainly, but also one to listen to right now.

21. Francis Lung ‘Miracle’

Discovering a record has been released by Memphis Industries gives it an automatic head start, such is the quality of that exemplary indie label. Francis Lung, the current stage name of Tom McClung formerly of Wu Lyf, unveiled his second solo album, ‘Miracle’, and it needed no such favours to warrant your attention. The most frequent point of comparison used for his music is Elliott Smith, which is undeniably fair, but there’s also hints of Big Star, Emitt Rhodes, Gorky’s and much, much more in this wonderful album. It takes a little time to grow on you, but the vintage singer-songwriter production is masterful and allows these songs to slowly lay siege to your waking hours. ‘Want 2 Want U’ is especially infectious, alongside already released teaser tracks like ‘Blondes Have More Fun’ and the harmonic charge of ‘Bad Hair Day’.

For the Clash column, I received the delightful Dinked edition with an alternative, mirror board sleeve, mint green vinyl and a bonus flexidisc. The song thereon, ‘Internet’, is a beauty which reflects upon our recent circumstances, but flexidiscs have never and will never sound great. The LP itself is an Optimal cut with only a little surface noise. Whichever version you can lay your hands on, be sure to seek it out.

20. Hamish Hawk ‘Heavy Elevator’

Regular listeners to 6 Music will be well aware of Hamish Hawk’s voice, his single ‘Calls To Tiree’ having been ever-present there in late summer. The parent album, ‘Heavy Elevator’, found its vinyl edition caught in the general delays and it finally arrived at the end of October. Hawk’s wonderfully expansive baritone has predictably though understandably picked up some Scott Walker comparisons. Try the tremendously titled ‘This, Whatever It Is, Needs Improvements’ to understand where that link has come from.

But that’s not all Hawk does. Explore the tremendous chorus of recent single ‘The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973’, the slightly manic Editors energy of ‘Caterpillar’ or the mid-paced glinting of ‘Daggers’. A compelling, autobiographical collection, it’s an album which repays repeated listens. The vinyl edition sounds pretty solid, a GZ pressing through Assai. I was sent the spangly Dinked edition for review, which was clear with black splatter. Playback was largely quiet after a clean, so it is possible for a record to look and sound nice at the same time. Regular readers of my writing here, there and everywhere will know that this is something of a rarity.

19. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis ‘Carnage’

After several recent albums with the Bad Seeds which were unavoidably inseparable from context, the surprise arrival of ‘Carnage’ at the start of 2021 resulted in it falling a little below the radar. This was very possibly no bad thing as I found it to be a record which gradually crept up on me as the months progressed. Ominous strings and malevolent synths are prominent, with the creative tensions of recent times still present. The jarring explosion of opener ‘Hand Of God’ becomes more striking which each play, switching from physical shock to captivating artistic vision.

These are often beautiful songs, as much because of rather than in spite of the various textures deployed. The title track is captivating, with its curiously swaying percussion, while ‘White Elephant’ feels a little like a different, previous Nick making a return. Then there’s the elevating piano notes of ‘Albuquerque’, of which I suspect I will never tire. It’s a Takt pressing, just like the troublesome B-Sides box set, so you may have to try a few. I waited until a few weeks ago to pick mine up and it’s pretty quiet, so there may be a fresh, better batch out there now.

18. Arlo Parks ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’

The long-awaited debut album proper from Arlo Parks, ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’, flew out on vinyl upon release at the end of January. It’s a wonderful pop-soul record with a powerful bottom end that needs a little taming for the analogue realm. Matt Colton at Metropolis has had a valiant effort, although the medium’s inherent tendency to blur heavy bass – often described as vinyl’s ‘warmth’ – means it still feels a little muddy at times.

I was sent the red pressing – although a picture disc was available for those who don’t play their records – done through GZ, which took a few cleans to tame the surface noise. While it’s not quite a perfect debut, the highs still soar with the year having passed. The tricky beat on ‘Hurt’ is magnificent, ‘Too Good’ somehow evokes the early Nineties (for some reason, the opening takes me to Shanice’s ‘I Love Your Smile’) with its emphatic chorus. More nuanced tracks like ‘Black Dog’ and ‘For Violet’ show that it’s not just all about the bangers. Not sure about the vinyl crackle effect on the latter, mind you.

17. Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan ‘Still As Your Sleeping’

The hopping across pavement slabs to avoid the cracks piano refrain which opens this album was enough to have me hooked. As the summer came to an end and my mood darkened a little, I found comfort in the often majestic music produced by the Hudson Records stable. Joining their ‘Hudson Club’ ensures immediate digital copies of all of their releases and so I became acquainted with this striking record. Scottish folk singer Polwart and pianist Milligan combine to offer an album which may be sparse but is far from sombre. Arranging several traditional tracks amongst more contemporary covers, Polwart’s beguiling delivery coheres the work of others with a number of new pieces into a very fine album.

‘The Path That Winds Before Us’, one of Polwart’s originals, has moved me to tears on several occasions. It is rare to hear voice and instrument quite so in-sync at they are on this particular track. If it does nothing for you, check for a pulse. ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ feels entirely in keeping with our impending climate catastrophe and if you, ahem, Do Look Up previous versions, you’ll find Pete Seeger and, most memorably, Sandy Denny have sung it previously. Milligan’s controlled intensity is especially noteworthy here. A decent vinyl pressing entered the world just before Christmas, should you be as smitten as I am.

16. Saint Etienne ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’

Saint Etienne’s latest, ‘I’ve Been Trying To Tell You’, is something of a departure from their more recent releases, opting to fully submerge themselves in the bleary pop landscape of several decades ago. Using samples that populated daytime radio during the New Labour era, they paint watercolour washes of times gone by. A woozy, lulling capacity to both ensnare and slightly unsettle the listener makes for a unique record that gradually reveals its charms. The murky sample of Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Beauty On The Fire’ which loops through ‘Pond House’ appears to be emitted from a submerged radio – fitting considering the source material’s original video – while elements of the Lighthouse Family and Tasmin Archer may not be quite so obvious to all. From the striking artwork on in, PVC sleeve aside, this is an aesthetic delight.

Demand coupled with the current pressing limitations met that, incredibly, different cuts were made via GZ, Optimal and Vinyl Factory. Having sampled the latter’s clear vinyl and Optimal’s black, this column would urge readers towards the second of those. The soundstage felt a little more controlled on that pressing and the clear version had a little bit more surface noise. Most striking, however, was the different space on each side used up, with Optimal favouring much more dead wax than The Vinyl Factory. Whichever variant attracts your cash, and there are a few, this record has true staying power. 

Part Two soon. Honest.

BEST OF 2012: 8. Tindersticks – The Something Rain

Opening with a nine-minute spoken word piece, with a neat sting in its tail, it’s immediately clear that this isn’t going to be a desperate stab for populism and huge sales. ‘Chocolate‘ has been described as a sequel to ‘My Sister‘, one of many highlights on their second album. And it’s somewhere between the passionate intensity of that classic record and the languid soul of their fifth studio outing, ‘Can Our Love…‘, that ‘The Something Rain‘ sits. It is an intense and deeply emotive listen when taken in one sitting and the fact that the band subsequently released a live recording of all bar ‘Chocolate‘ with no additional material perhaps underlines the power of this suite of songs.


Whereas ‘Falling Down A Mountain’ lost some its charms over time, this latest effort feels truly substantial. It doesn’t give a toss what anybody else thinks and doesn’t expect to sell thousands upon thousands of copies. It’s the sound of a band who have reached a point where they’re happy in their collective skin, with a guaranteed hardcore of fans waiting excitedly for each release and who will give things time to sink in. The feeling that Tindersticks songs are always slowly evolving has been with me for years, often returning to the first three albums in particular to see what I would notice this time around. ‘This Fire Of Autumn‘ is the perfect example, having appeared on the album in a manically intense form, only to be recast as a disco stormer for a singe release. The swaggering tracks are, this time around, a fitting match for the predictably excellent sombre moments like ‘Come Inside’.

Self-produced and with a grandiose sound borne out of recent performances of their many film scores, this represents their finest work since their return in 2008 by some stretch. Although this phrase seems a little like a Tindersticks trademark, having been used about them plenty of times in the past, ‘The Something Rain‘ really is a collection of understated majesty.

February and March Reviews – Magnetic Fields, Michael Kiwanuka, Leonard Cohen, Field Music, Tindersticks, Mark Lanegan and more


After the extravagant sprawl of 2010’s double album ‘Measure‘, ‘Plumb‘ lasts for half the time, despite seeming to contain at least as many ideas and melodies across its thirty-five minute run time. Mere moments after tracks have got going they segue effortlessly into others, and while not as safe as Sir Thumbsaloft can sometimes be, it evokes at times the creative schizophrenia of early McCartney solo albums. ‘Choosing Sides‘, itself several songs in one, wails pleadingly: “I want a different idea of love which doesn’t involve treating somebody else like shit,” while ‘A Prelude To Pilgrim Street’ has a glorious drum workout, accompanied by Who-esque shimmering keys, which offers an affectionate nod to Keith Moon.

Plumb‘ cements Field Music’s reputation for truly magnificently crafted classic pop-rock, with an unashamed love of the grandiose soundscapes of the Seventies and a taste for adorning songs with neatly selected sounds from real life. The highly strung plastic-funk of ‘Is This The Picture?‘, all runaway drums and falsetto screech, serves an unlikely precursor to the string-laden, percussive swoon of ‘From Hide And Seek To Heartache‘. This paves the way for the a cappella burst of ‘How Many More Times?’ and near-instrumental orchestral flourish ‘Ce Soir‘. ‘Plumb‘ genuinely doesn’t sound like anything else being released right now, partly because it doesn’t even sound like itself for more than a few songs at a time. An exhilarating and ambitious collection, it should bring Field Music a deservedly larger audience at last.

It seems so very long ago now that I was playing this on repeat over the Christmas break, but it still very much holds up and I’d even consider being more effusive in my praise for this title, several months along. The purple vinyl pressing is an absolute delight, mastered to perfection, and the music is wondrous. The early solo Macca comparison is one I maintain rings true, and entirely topical with the imminent reissue of ‘Ram’.


Eight years in the making, one might uncharitably say ‘Old Ideas’ is aptly titled, as little will surprise. However, that’s not to damn this gloriously produced and charmingly performed album. Mid-paced, soulful meditations are what we’ve come to expect from late-period Len and that is what we get, ‘The Darkness‘ and ‘Show Me The Place‘ as good as anything he’s done in several decades. ‘Amen’ isn’t far off being Tom Waits after a hot bath and a sit down, until the trademark syrupy backing vocals appear, while the thin, drum machine traits of old creep back in on ‘Lullaby‘. Still, plenty to get excited about.

New Cohen release and I get all of 105 words. Ah, what do you do? If you care about Len and don’t already know what this sounds like then I can’t imagine a pithy paragraph such as the one above is likely to change that state of affairs. I’ve not listened to it for a while, if I’m being brutally honest, but the vinyl pressing is cracking. It’s largely splendid and the tinny affectations of old are now almost out of his system.

MARK LANEGAN BAND – ‘Blues Funeral’ (4AD)

Possessing the finest album opener of recent times in the shudderingly malevolent ‘The Gravedigger’s Song‘, it would seem that the eight years since Lanegan last flew solo have provided the inspiration for songs of an astonishing calibre. This is a confident, bold and captivating record, and one which is dominated by that beguilingly ragged voice. Musical accompaniment includes turns from Josh Homme and Greg Dulli, with whom Lanegan previously worked as part of The Twilight Singers.

Gray Goes Black‘ picks up the electro touches from the opener and belies a penchant for Krautrock which puts in another appearance on the splendidly titled ‘Ode To Sad Disco‘. Having worked up some of these songs using keyboards and a drum machine rather than the guitar, ‘Blues Funeral’ possesses the fullest and most varied sound of his career to date.

When the guitars are foregrounded, Lanegan can still strut like the best: ‘Riot In My House‘ a particularly fine burst of energy. ‘Harborview Hospital’ is a curious collection of synth swirls and plodding drum loops, whilst tucked sombrely amongst the album’s louder moments is the melancholic ‘Phantasmagoria Blues‘.

Leviathan’, a squawly waltz, takes an unexpected turn towards the end when the repeated lyric “every day a prayer for what I never knew, this is one I said for you,” suddenly gains ‘Pet Sounds’ style harmonies, conjuring a sense of what Brian Wilson‘s more troubling moments may have sounded like in his head. In a good way, of course.

BUY THIS RECORD. Seriously. I still adore it. It’s a real headphones album and yet also one which will serve you well cranked up on the main system. Sharp writing and stunning delivery.

OF MONTREAL – ‘Paralytic Stalks’ (POLYVINYL)

After the studio pomp of 2010’s ‘False Priest’, Kevin Barnes retreated to his home once more and lost the gloss which raised eyebrows amongst some long-term fans.The results are largely excellent, with the usual explosion of restless melody at the fore. ‘Spiteful Intervention‘ sounds like a doo-wop Suede at the mercy of chronic moodswings, lyrically grim enough to warm the heart of every Magnetic Fields fan: “I made the one I love start crying tonight, and it felt good.” Squelchy-pop dominates, although the spun out fairground-gone-evil moments remain, most notably on closer ‘Authentic Pyrrhic Remission‘, leaving you wondering if your headphones have turned on you.

I think I like the idea of Of Montreal more than actually listening to the music. Which is not to say the music isn’t good, even intermittently excellent, but it does require a little…patience and a suspension of disbelief.


Opening with a nine-minute spoken word piece, with a neat sting in its tail, it’s immediately clear that this isn’t going to be a desperate stab for populism and huge sales. ‘Chocolate‘ has been described as a sequel to ‘My Sister‘, one of many highlights on their second album. And it’s somewhere between the passionate intensity of that classic record and the languid soul of their fifth studio outing, ‘Can Our Love…‘, that ‘The Something Rain‘ sits. Self-produced and with a grandiose sound borne out of recent performances of their many film scores, this represents their finest work since their return in 2008. Understated majesty.

Again, not an awful lot you can do with 105 words and an album like this. ‘The Something Rain’ has continued to grow on me in the intervening months and it really does stand up there with T2 as one of their finest efforts. Whereas ‘Falling Down A Mountain’ lost its charms over time, this latest effort feels truly substantial. It doesn’t give a toss what anybody else thinks and doesn’t expect to sell thousands upon thousands of copies. It’s there for you, dear Tindersticks fan. Don’t be rude, now.


It’s rare that the hype surrounding an artist translates to genuinely wonderful music. Rare, but not impossible, as ‘Home Again’ proves. Warm, beautifully recorded vintage soul is the unashamed goal here and there are no weak links. The Bill Withers comparisons may seem a little grandiose but Kiwanuka possesses a quite phenomenal voice, which he flexes and curls around joyous moments such as ‘Tell Me A Tale‘ and ‘I’ll Get Along‘. With an acoustic undercurrent and sympathetic production from Paul Butler of The Bees, this is an absolute treat for fans of rootsy vintage soul and a remarkable statement of intent for a debut release.

You know how I generally come out in hives as a result of excessive hype? Well, that’s still largely the case – Alabama Shakes, anyone? – but on this occasion I was truly seduced. I love beautifully produced soul music. Sure, I adore my Motown boxsets and the like but that floral, intricate sound of Seventies soul is just about as euphoric as music can get. And, let me tell you, ‘Home Again’ deserves to be talked of in such circles. The novelty has not worn off. I haven’t found myself sobbing myself to sleep at night muttering “it should have been a six” and I’m still playing it regularly. Really regularly. The vinyl pressing is alright, though not as good as this album deserves. Just give yourself a chance to hear it. Several times. Then let me know how you get on.


Haunting folk vocals with tricksy production and enormous ambition is not what you might call a revolutionary new idea for the music scene in early 2012. The cautious, unsettling way in which sounds seem to leak out of the speakers on album opener ‘The Third Time‘ is an effective way to draw the listener in, even if what follows is a little hit and miss. Studio gloss and sanitised drums too often leave things sounding a little safe, not least when compared with the truly wonderful glistening Krautrock chug of ten minute long album centrepiece ‘Paralyse‘. An album of that and they’d have me sold.

Honestly, ‘Paralyse’ shits on a lot of the new music released each week but also, sadly, a lot of the rest of its parent album. Worth seeking out that one, mind you.

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS – ‘Love At The Bottom Of The Sea’ (DOMINO)

After the dainty delights of 2010’s ‘Realism’ provoked a distinctly mixed response, ‘Love At The Bottom Of The Sea‘ finds The Magnetic Fields returning to their synth-pop roots. The lyrics are as sharp and malevolent as they’ve been in ages. Album opener ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face‘, concerning the hiring of a hitman, is blessed with the couplet “he will do his best to do his worst, after he’s messed up your girlfriend first.” ‘Andrew In Drag‘, meanwhile, has a radio smash chorus if not a radio smash title. The album’s fifteen songs all clock in under three minutes and the emphasis is on punchy, wonkily-melodic nuggets.

Ah, the electropop with moodswings and chronic flatulence is back and Stephin Merritt is beloved of the indie masses once more. ‘Andrew In Drag’ is still tremendous but there is much to love across this whole album. If you’ve ever loved them before then it’s time to give them another go and for those who’ve been there throughout the journey since ‘i’, I would imagine this will feel like a welcoming hug after a long, though largely enjoyable, walk on rough terrain.

DR. DOG – ‘Be The Void’ (ANTI)

Having pursued a smooth and soulful sound on 2010’s ‘Shame, Shame’ , the 2012 incarnation of Dr. Dog returns to their more customary shambling psychedelic pop approach, with hooks aplenty and a fondness for brash enthusiasm over studio polish. It’s largely endearing stuff and ‘Lonesome’ produces the instantly memorable hooky refrain “what does it take to be lonesome? Nothing at all,” which will serve as your new earworm for at least a week after initial exposure. ‘Do The Trick’ is a bouncy piano anthem, all swooning backing vocals and gentle lyrical clichés: “I count the days as they pass me by”, while ‘Over Here, Over There’ has a frenetic pop-punk pulse which could perfectly soundtrack the slightly inadequate walk of a hipster with their jeans half-way down their arse, but probably won’t win any song of the year awards. This slightly throwaway quality is what hinders ‘Be The Void’. While the impulsive nature of the recording undoubtedly leads to some fine moments of euphoric pop, the rough around the edges feel results in moments of filler, where a little more precision would have gone a long way. The diluted glam of ‘Warrior Man’ is crying out for a moment to send it into orbit, while album closer ‘Turning The Century’ comes across like an early Gomez b side, all muffled vocals and wanky sitar noodling. When they’re good, they are glorious and their enthusiasm is infectious, but there’s a little too much mediocre padding filling the, er, void.



17. Tindersticks–Falling Down A Mountain

Best of 2010As the slightly discordant trumpet weaves sleazily across the opening bars of the title track, it could be 1995 all over again. The arrestingly claustrophobic world of the band’s early albums was, for many, a potent protective layer against the slightly shit world outside. The rejigged line up that emerged in 2008 offered up ‘The Hungry Saw’, an excellent record but one which represented a slightly tentative regeneration. ‘Falling Down A Mountain’ marks the return of a bolder spirit and, as a result, there is another truly great Tindersticks album to add to your collection.

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While ‘Harmony Around My Table’ is the closest relation to that last record, ‘Keep You Beautiful’ mines the languid, soulful side of the ‘Sticks’ output and with ‘Peanuts’ their reputation for perfectly executed and utterly beguiling duets is once again kept intact.

“She rode me like a train, like a hurtling, steaming train” sings frontman Stuart Staples during the gallopingly randy ‘She Rode Me Down’, one of the album’s numerous highlights. Two instrumentals in only ten tracks is pushing it a bit, but album closer, ‘Piano Music’, is the better of the two, resolutely disobeying its title and demonstrating how strings in rock music are meant to work.

Not that Tindersticks have ever needed any help in evoking those difficult feelings. Few bands can convey aching sadness with such beauty and ‘Factory Girls’ is not only the album’s finest example of this but also one of the best songs that they have ever released. Plaintive piano underlines the sorrow at the heart of the message, “it’s the wine that makes me sad, not the love I never had.” It is an alarmingly raw song and if it doesn’t stir something inside you then you have a cold, cold heart. What? Me? Just something in my eye.

A Week With… Number Four

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Slightly later than normal, and a bit of a cop-out, this is the original text of my review of this wonderful album which appeared in a slightly edited form (and with its score dropped by 1) in the latest issue of Clash.  As it hasn’t appeared on their site today, I thought I’d post it up here as I did spent much of last week listening to this particular record. It truly is a great record and, as I suggest in the piece, one of their very finest releases. Anyway, over to me.


As the slightly discordant trumpet weaves sleazily across the opening bars of the title track, it could be 1995 all over again. The arrestingly claustrophobic world of the band’s early albums was, for many, a potent protective layer against the slightly shit world outside. The rejigged line up that emerged in 2008 offered up ‘The Hungry Saw’, an excellent record but one which represented a slightly tentative regeneration. ‘Falling Down A Mountain’ marks the return of a bolder spirit and, as a result, there is another truly great Tindersticks album to add to your collection.

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While ‘Harmony Around My Table’ is the closest relation to that last record, ‘Keep You Beautiful’ mines the languid, soulful side of the ‘Sticks’ output and with ‘Peanuts’ their reputation for perfectly executed and utterly beguiling duets is once again kept intact.

“She rode me like a train, like a hurtling, steaming train” sings frontman Stuart Staples during the gallopingly randy ‘She Rode Me Down’, one of the album’s numerous highlights. Two instrumentals in only ten tracks is pushing it a bit, but album closer, ‘Piano Music’, is the better of the two, resolutely disobeying its title and demonstrating how strings in rock music are meant to work.

Not that Tindersticks have ever needed any help in evoking those difficult feelings. Few bands can convey aching sadness with such beauty and ‘Factory Girls’ is not only the album’s finest example of this but also one of the best songs that they have ever released. Plaintive piano underlines the sorrow at the heart of the message, “it’s the wine that makes me sad, not the love I never had.” It is an alarmingly raw song and if it doesn’t stir something inside you then you have a cold, cold heart.


2010 on the record

Song Of The Day 2: Tindersticks – Bathtime

It’s loud, it’s brash and it’s got a tambourine being played by Stuart’s foot – in the video at least. My ludicrously expensive vinyl copy of ‘Curtains’ turned up today and I’m just coming to the end of the first play. This is one of the finest upbeat Tindersticks tracks, with a truly exciting malevolent drive to it and sweeping strings that do little to dampen the mood. It always sound so vital and I can’t help but love it for that alone. The black and white, swooshing-camera video is a perfect accompaniment to a wonderful song. The whole album is pretty bloody special and feel free to Spotify yourself silly with that one by clicking here.

Alternatively, press play on this clip and enjoy this song on its own.

What are we calling this decade then?

Graham Linehan tweeted a little after midnight today the following, clearly humorous, question: “So what are your favourite albums of 2010 so far?” Some hours later he revealed that plenty of people actually sent him entirely sincere answers. It’s a strange old world. Having said that, I will happily state now that if The Magnetic Fields, Kathryn Williams and Tindersticks albums are not in my End of Year list twelve months from now I’ll have either gone mad or a phenomenal shift will have happened in the world of music, because they are all fantastic records. One of the perks of reviewing is when you get the albums you’re genuinely excited about dropping through your letterbox several months before you thought you might get to hear them. However, odd chap that I am, once I’ve done the review I more often not end up only playing them sparingly until the actual release date. I suspect it’s some subconscious thing about not wanting to spoil the full enjoyment surrounding a record’s release and all of the accompanying interviews and the like but I’m still not sure why it matters. Despite this, if any three albums were ever likely to break that pattern, it’s these. As two of the three reviews will be published in the next couple of days, I’ll endeavour to say more about both The Magnetic Fields and Tindersticks on here, as I know there are a number of loyal readers very keen to hear about one or the other. All I was really getting at is the fact that I already have a small, but perfectly formed, selection of evidence that 2010 will feature some outstanding music. Inevitably there will be those who say it wasn’t much cop when the inevitable retrospectives start again in ten months or so – just as plenty have done about the phenomenally splendid 2009 – but it’s all there if you look for it. On top of these three, the new albums by Massive Attack and, more importantly, Laura Marling will be with us shortly. Reason enough for ludicrous levels of excitement, methinks.

I’ve so enjoyed the recent run of posts for 40 From The Noughties that I suspect the blog is going to make its most forthright and busy start to a year that I can remember. Having been maintaining my internet presence for a little over five years now, it’s nice to start the new year with a bit of renewed enthusiasm and purpose. Here’s hoping it lasts. To extend the aspect of the last 40 posts I enjoyed most – writing about albums from a personal perspective – a new feature will begin shortly entitled ‘A Week With…’ in which I will pluck an album by any artist, hugely familiar or not, initially from my racks but I’m open to suggestions and recommendations on this one, spend a week listening to it in detail and then share my thoughts. The first one seemed to choose itself on Christmas Day and I’ve been playing it almost obsessively since.

I’ve also got the small matter of the 2009 End Of Year list to deal with and that’ll be with you later today. I don’t imagine I’ll say much about them, but I’ll ensure that there are links for listening purposes. You list fans can have one final hit, now that the big countdown is over. Hope the 40 From The Noughties feature was suitably entertaining, the feedback I’ve had so far would suggest so. Feel free to disagree with any or indeed all of it, either via the comments option or via the Just Played email address found on the ‘about’ page. A crisp, wintery wander beckons but rest assured, the promised content will be with you soon. Happy New Year, by the way!

10. Tindersticks – The Hungry Saw

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For many, the release of this album represented the return of a dear old friend. Not quite the case for me as it had taken me far too long to realise that Tindersticks were a band designed for me to obsess over, to listen to intently, to turn to in hours of need and to absolutely love. All of those realisations, and more, have since occurred and they are now firmly installed as one of my favourite bands. I’ve been lucky enough to spend the past month in the company of their fantastic new album, ‘Falling Down A Mountain’, arriving January 25th, which I firmly believe surpasses this effort and is one of the very best things they’ve ever done. With ‘The Hungry Saw’ labelled my tenth favourite album of the past ten years, that should hopefully give you some idea of how impressive the new record is.

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But now is all about ‘The Hungry Saw’, an album featuring half as many ‘Sticks-men as the previous release by the band and displaying a little more carefree melody than they’ve been prone to in the past. It is, simply, a beautiful record. It lollops, it bounds, it intimidates, it heartens, it aches and it grins. It runs a gamut of emotions and never grows old. Stuart A. Staples, vocalist and unconventional frontman, is in fine voice but that in itself may be a reason for many to not want to go near this one. His voice is certainly different and there aren’t that many who really sound like Staples does. But, if it works for you (and give it a little time to do so) then it unleashes a world of incredible music.

I have come round to the opinion that any record collection without a copy of the second Tindersticks album (you can hear it here, but it’s got the wrong artwork showing) is never going to be much cop. Having said that, they’ve not released a weak album to date and your money would be well spent on any and all of their back catalogue. This album has echoes of some of their former glories but largely offers a more simplified sound – partly due to the departure of three band members after the previous record, ‘Waiting For The Moon’ – making the album more of a late night headphone listen in the dark of winter rather than an early evening barbecue soundtrack in what should have been summer.

‘The Flicker Of A Little Girl’ and ‘Boobar Come Back To Me’ are the poppiest tracks on the album, almost skipping along, the former inviting some middle-aged arm-swinging, finger clicking action. Both are glorious tunes, sung beautifully and neatly punctuating the two halves of the action. ‘Yesterdays Tomorrows’ and ‘All The Love’ offer the brooding, intense and emotionally exhausting counterpoints to such jollity, oozing moodily with shrugging guitar and insistent organ all playing their part.

Listening to it now, I’m noticing that my vinyl copy seems a little crackly at points, but it seems to rather suit this rather charmingly awkward music. Listen to a song like ‘Mother Dear’ and it’s almost like the song is trying to pull itself apart at times. The fact that you can’t really put a Tindersticks album on ‘in the background’ is a pretty clear indication of how engaging a record like ‘The Hungry Saw’ can be. The fact it sounded like no other record release in 2008 pushed it high up my end of year list but I think I’ve only really come to appreciate its depths in the last six months, returning to it frequently as my anticipation of the new record grew and grew. There’s a risk that the gushing could get out of hand with these last ten records, but I assure you that it’s all entirely deserved. Grab this one now and get yourself fully up to speed for an album I suspect I’ll be writing about in my ‘Best of 2010’ list, this time next year.

27. Tindersticks – Waiting For The Moon

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I came late to the music of Tindersticks and ended up buying loads of their records in a short space of time. A wealth of wonderful music entered my world, but two albums in particular stood out. Their superlative second record and this, 2003’s ‘Waiting For The Moon’, their last album before a long break and a halving in personnel. Often languid, occasionally discordant and always atmospheric, ‘Waiting For The Moon’ is a wonderful collection of songs.

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For me, it hinges on a double song salvo in the second half. ‘Sometimes It Hurts’ is a charming duet with Lhasa de Sela, straight off the classics pile from which ‘Travelling Light’, ‘Buried Bones’ and, from the wonderful new album ‘Falling Down The Mountain’, ‘Peanuts’ have all come. I may be way off the mark on this one, but I’ve always taken the line, “what got you to thinking I had a different song?” to mean that Stuart Staples’ character is looking at a long-term relationship and pointing out that he isn’t like to change. The low burr of his repeated statements of acceptance are utterly beguiling.

This is the then followed by the widescreen sound (apologies for the Q magazine style cliché, but it’s true) of ‘My Oblivion’, which slowly builds and builds but never quite seems to get there. And it’s that holding back that makes it so irresistible. Every time you hear it, you know what you’re going to get, but that sense of expectation is just as powerful on the thirty-first listen as on the first. They’ve released better – and are soon going to do so again – but this one works brilliant as an album to put on and absorb from start to finish.

Not quite ‘Just Played’ but nearly

Rain pours, Harriet Wheeler gently soothes the soul and the need for a jumper gradually creeps up on you. A good day, methinks. It’s strange to be mulling over the previous ten years of music, continuing to listen to a fair old pile of new stuff and already listening to some of the wondrous stuff that awaits in 2010. The Just Played Albums of the Decade feature will begin shortly and I have every hope that it’ll be at least quite good. The list is close to finished but, simultaneously, subject to a great deal of change. The end of year list is also coming together alongside the larger venture, but its progress is repeatedly stalled by the number of ‘late greats’ entering the fray.

In the last few weeks I’ve had my first listens to recent albums by Norah Jones, Hidden Cameras, Cate Le Bon, Cerys Matthews, Molina and Johnson, Mumford & Sons, Emmy The Great and Julian Casablancas. In addition, Noah And The Whale’s album got its first detailed listen and turned out to be really rather good while Monsters Of Folk, The xx, Cheryl Cole and Kings Of Convenience were explored in more detail. There have been so many fantastic records this year that it’s hard to know where to start.

Still, I’ll have a go. If the Cerys Matthews album was credited to Duffy instead, it’d be a chart-shagging behemoth of a record. As it is, it’ll sell a few thousand and turn up for £3 in Fopp within six months. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, ‘Don’t Look Down’ is a soulful set of beautifully constructed pop songs. It’s hard to believe that the same person was responsible for ‘The Balled Of Tom Jones’, in conjunction with Space.

The Norah Jones album is being touted as the ‘Norah Jones album for people who don’t like Norah Jones albums’. That’s clearly spurious bollocks, because if you like this then you do and, oh well, nevermind, eh? Still, it’s very, very good and more than a little noisier than her previous offerings. I always quite liked her somewhat sneered at laid back jazzy early albums but this is definitely her strongest offering to date. Far more bluesy and benefiting from the presence of some of those responsible for Tom Waits’ ‘Mule Variations’. Not Tom Waits though, I should add. It’s already available via the little green blob, so click the image below and enjoy.


The cryptically named Molina and Johnson are a double act comprising of Jason Molina and Will Johnson. Molina will likely be familiar to you as the man behind the always enchanting Magnolia Electric Co and, having already provided one of the better album of the year with that band’s ‘Josephine’, has now managed to turn in a second belter before the year is out. Far more sparse than the aforementioned, ‘Josephine’, this is a bleakly beautiful collection of melancholic music boosted by deft and subtle playing. Wait till it’s dark, grab a cup of something warm and sit by the window looking at the stars and hit play.


My new found love of Cate Le Bon came about as a result of a happy coincidence. Having heard her named mentioned in a few places and seen her profiled in a couple of magazines I knew of her, without knowing what she actually sounded like. I found myself thumbing through the singles in Spillers the other week and happened upon her self-released 7”, ‘No One Can Drag Me Down’, from a couple of years back. It sat in the bag for a few days until I finally dusted it down and gave it a go. Four play of each side later I was hooked. I can’t actually remember the last single that I gave instant repeated play to and this one truly deserves it. Click here and you can download both sides of that single for absolutely nothing. I will be absolutely amazed if you’re not glad to have done so. That might well lead you to her recently released debut album which doesn’t sound quite as Coral-y as that particular single but is one of the most charmingly simple collection of folky songs I’ve heard all year. It is, inevitably, available on Spotify.


David McAlmont has set about adding lyrics to a number of pieces by genius composer (and Divine Comedy inspiration) Michael Nyman. It probably shouldn’t work but, providing you’re a fan on McAlmont’s voice in the first place, it’s remarkably successful. I’m only the first couple of listens in at this stage but I’m strangely hooked. In the same way that Neil Hannon adding vocals to Yann Tiersen’s ‘Les Jours Tristes’ should have been a bit of a balls up but really, truly wasn’t, McAlmont’s mellifluous vocals are a perfect fit for the dramatic endeavours of Nyman and I suspect this one has the capacity to become a firm favourite before too long. Let Spotify be your guide:

mcalmont nyman(and should you wish to test my theory, here’s ‘Les Jours Tristes’ without Neil and then with – both are rather nice, eh?)

I was never hugely fond of the early sound of Idlewild. They always struck me a bit too much energy and noise and not quite enough in the tunes department. I reviewed their 2005 album, ‘Warnings/Promises’, and remember quite liking it and wondering if things had changed. A recent purchase of their best of for £3 confirmed that I’d perhaps been a little hard on the increasingly early-REM aping Scots. Their latest album, ‘Post Electric Blues’, has lifted them higher in my affections and with good reason: it’s a bloody good collection of songs. At times poppier than they’ve been in the past, this album is probably far too late to put their star back in the ascendancy but I suspect its quality will surprise you if you have them chalked up as indie also-rans who never quite delivered. It may have taken them a while, but they’ve very much turned up with the goods. (Plus, there’s a lovely vinyl pressing on the Newport based Diverse Vinyl label)


For those who follow my Twitter postings, Ellie Goulding should not be an unfamiliar name. She is responsible for one of the THE pop songs of 2009, ‘Under The Sheets’. With unashamedly enormous beats all over the place and a quirky vocal it pummels along for almost four minutes, doing everything great pop music should: slowly building to euphoria, staying just the right side of annoyingly repetitive, going a little bit dreamy around the two and a half minute mark before gradually returning to the enormous sound of the chorus. Oh yes, my music loving brethren, this is what it’s all about. You might, of course, think it’s bobbins. But I suspect that would make you wrong. (The b-side, ‘Fighter Plane’ is also rather good)


On the subject of top notch pop, if you’ve not heard Jamie from The xx’s version of Florence’s cover of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ then you should probably do something about that. Don’t be put off by the arse-shreddingly mediocre Florence reading, this remix is wonderful, entirely in keeping with The xx’s own fabulous debut album. 

I shall conclude by briefly gloating about some of the wonderful new music I’ve been listening to over the last couple of weeks. The first month of 2010 will deliver both a new Tindersticks album and SupergrassGaz and Danny doing a covers album as The Hot Rats. I spoke to the latter band for a ‘New for 2010’ piece and they are, quite rightly, rather proud of the twelve reinterpretations they’ve opted for. Their take on ‘Love Is The Drug’, ‘Love Cats’ and, most notably, ‘Fight For Your Right’ have been keeping me thoroughly entertained for a little while now and any Supergrass fans can sit back in anticipation of a genuinely wonderful collection of songs. Some versions are more conventional than others but all are delivered with gusto and style. Not all covers albums have to be ‘Swing When You’re Winning’, ‘Allow Us To Be Frank’ or ‘Studio 150’. This one is much more of a ‘Pin Ups’.

As for the new Tindersticks album, ‘Falling Down A Mountain’, it only arrived yesterday and I’m still a little bit too giddy to be particularly objective about it but suffice to say it’s another quality addition to a back catalogue that barely puts a foot wrong. It’s a little rougher round the edges than 2008’s ‘The Hungry Saw’ and it’s musically less restrained than that, nevertheless really rather beautiful, previous record. There are occasional hints of the more claustrophobic production sound of ‘Curtains’ and ‘The Second Tindersticks album’ on a couple of tracks, while closer ‘Piano Music’ is an epic instrumental piece which certainly evokes times gone by.