We’re approaching the business end of the run down now, into the top 10. We’re now at the point where hairs are being pulled, where deciding the places becomes almost impossible, and where frankly all the records are just brilliant. There will be tears, thrills and spills as we get closer to the top, but without further ado here’s number 10…
10. THE WHARVES – AT BAY (Gringo Records)
London-based, anglo-franco-irish trio The Wharves emerged late in the year with one of the most thrilling and different debuts of the year. Tight vocal harmonies with a riot-grrrl flavour sit neatly above a psych-tinged folk backdrop that brings to mind Stealing Sheep and Bikini Kill in equal measures.
They’ve created and honed an intriguingly different and utterly brilliant sound that belies their status as a new band. Rather than smooth their edges into a haze as so many have this year they left them in, giving them a jerky-rhythmic side that Field Music would admire. Renew bounces along on thrashed guitar chords and pounding drums, Scarlet For Ya matches a killer chorus with a stop-start rhythm, and The Grip is a percussive dream, all meandering electric guitars, stabs of piano and rattling cymbals.
It’s an album packed full of inventive melodies, fascinating time-signatures and a complex melding of genres, which all add up to a sound that’s at once reminiscent of many acts but entirely their own. Unique, infectious and a whole lot of fun, it’s a triumph!
9. HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER – LATENESS OF DANCERS (Merge Records)
It’s taken five relatively unappreciated albums, but on Lateness Of Dancers, M.C Taylor’s band Hiss Golden Messenger seem to have finally found an audience for their rootsy-Americana. Well received by many critics, and absolutely adored by Uncut, the timing of his new found audience might just be perfect, as his music has never sounded better, fitting neatly alongside the likes of Bill Callahan, Jonathan Wilson and Bonnie “Prince” Billy at the very top of the genre.
His seemingly mundane tales of being “a grown up US male with a couple of kids and a marginally successful career” may not sound that promising a starting point, but the honesty and relatable nature of his words make for a more intriguing listen than you’d imagine. His way with words allows him to be rueful and contemplative without ever getting too downbeat or miserable.
The music fluctuates from little more than a vocal and an acoustic guitar, to rich full bands tracks that showcase the quality of his musical companions, from the spectacular organ that closes Lucida, to the surprisingly tasteful banjo in the title track or the impressively meaty guitar riff in I’m A Raven (Shake Children) It’s a truly majestic album from a musician at the top of his game!
8. ALVVAYS – ALVVAYS (Transgressive)
Alvvays self-titled debut album arrived in a blur of hype, for whatever reason they were accepted by certain incredibly hip corners of the world as the saviours of guitar music. They should by all accounts have had no chance at breaking through into mainstream success, but on this short but perfectly formed collections of songs they not only lived up to expectations, but blew them out of the water.
The Canadian five-piece, fronted by the stunning voice and superb lyrics of Molly Rankin, crashed through thirty-three minutes of stunning pop-songs, not least the best single of the year Archie, Marry Me. Three minutes of reverb heavy guitars, tumbling bass and Molly pleading with her loved one to forget all the nonsense that goes with it and just marry her for the old fashioned reason of being hopelessly in love…it’s perfect!
Musically accomplished, lyrically intriguing, wonderfully produced and perfectly paced, if you thought there wasn’t any more room in the market for another great pop-tinged guitar band, one listen to this stunning album will change your mind.
7. PERFUME GENIUS – TOO BRIGHT (Turnstile)
On his third album Mike Hadreas aka Perfume Genius, performed something of a career u-turn. Whilst his previous records presented us with a series of heart-achingly beautiful piano ballads, here he gave the listener not just a new sound but a new attitude. Where previously he was a deeply emotional and somewhat miserable soul, here he presented not sadness but anger. Out with the misery and in with the rage!
Take the albums lead single Queen, a bile-fuelled attack on homophobia and gay stereotypes, set not to a plaintive piano but to crashing drums and the swaying lilt of a synthesiser and as he yelps “no family is safe when I sashay” the whole song erupts into a stunning waltzing crescendo, it’s the albums unmissable highlight.
Elsewhere the album goes from the shrieking distorted electronica of My Body, to the frankly bizarre, unique and unnerving I’m A Mother, as a collection of tracks it’s never short of challenging and fascinating, and there’s even some time for a few absolutely gorgeous piano ballads, almost as a reminder of what a supreme talent he truly is.
6. TIMBER TIMBRE – HOT DREAMS (Full Time Hobby)
Timber Timbre might be from Canada, but on Hot Dreams they seemed to channel the feel of a seedy Hollywood Motel! Indeed if it’s not already being lined up as the soundtrack to a creepy Tarantino stalker flick it really should be!
The key word is certainly creepy, because if there’s one thing the band do well it’s that! They called an album Creep On Creepin’ On after all, and if anything here they’ve got even darker and seedier. There’s Hot Dreams where singer Taylor Kirk starts off wanting “to dance with a black woman” before moving a tad too quickly towards promising to be a champion in her eyes, and then ending up wanting to “take all your air” I think we can all agree that’s a tad full on! Whilst the excellent Bring Me Simple Men sounds as much influenced by Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock as it does the more obvious comparisons of Tom Waits and Mark Linkous.
It’s a musical revelation, all smoky saxophones, atmospheric strings and meandering guitar lines. A thoroughly rewarding listen, perfectly formed, flowing effortlessly from track to track and slowly unfurling it’s finer points to the listener who’s willing to give it the time it requires. It’s spectacular!