Yes folks, it's that wonderful time of the year when we all sit down and gather together our end-of-year lists. It was another astounding 12 months in music, flying in the face of adversity, a crumbling music industry and the X Factor. Here are my top ten albums, which I recommend you check out and buy. Musicians are for life, not just for Christmas.
More Light — Primal Scream
The arrival of a Primals album always fills me with anticipation and excitement. This band have been a staple of the British indie music scene since 1987 and never fail to disappoint. Screamadelica, the band’s third album, released in 1991, was era defining and one the greatest British albums of all time. More Light falls between this and the 2000 album XTRMNTR. In part it's as joyous as Screamadelica and as dark and as disturbing as XTRMNTR, and there is no other British band that pull off this bleak, isolated and industrial sound. I said at the time that it would not sound out of place on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's classic 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick's bleak look into a futuristic dystopian Britain is More Lights' disturbed sibling, trapped in a decaying council estate with no future.
Pushin' Against a Stone — Valerie June
This could well be my favourite long player of the year. It’s a mesmerising record encompassing soul, bluegrass, country and in parts, echoing the 60s girl group sound. Valerie recently told me that her inspiration comes to her when she's in the kitchen peeling carrots and I believe her. Songs arrive when they are ready and Val receives them and gets them down immediately. The fact it's produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and features Booker T of the MGs, the Stax house band that backed the likes of Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, is testament to how much regard people have for her unique talent. She could well be one of the biggest stars around in 2014.
North South Divide — John Lennon McCullagh
Having just turned 16, young John is a discovery of Alan McGee and is signed to his new label 359 Music. This bright shining star has been writing songs since he was 12 and plays the guitar and harmonica admirably. Young Dylan, Jake Bugg and Donovan could be comparisons — but if this Doncaster boy is delivering this standard of work at this age, what will he be able to achieve by the time he's 20? Produced by McGee (a decent chap who knows his stuff), who spotted him when he was DJing and John's Dad convinced Al to put him on for a few songs. In the words of McGee “he nailed it”. With the weight of the man who discovered Oasis behind him, you would back McCullagh to be playing arenas by the time he is 20. He is about to record his next single with the experimental outfit Alabama 3, which could well be his breakthrough hit.
AM — Arctic Monkeys
At one time I thought this band would never reach this level of pop excellence. Were they about to implode or explode? Were they teetering on the edge of the pop precipice? Well, whatever happened at this pivotal moment, it worked. Their fifth and best album is their equivalent of Automatic for the People by REM or The Joshua Tree by U2, albums that kicked a band right into the mainstream and all of a sudden it all makes sense. Seeing them perform recently with the huge neon AM logo as a backdrop, along with a brilliantly tight, confident performance, compounded with a genuine connection with the audience not seen since Oasis in their heyday, this is a band going somewhere that few bands go — all the way. The whole thing revolves around Alex and his rockabilly greased back hair, looking like Jerry Lee Lewis but with a warm dry unassuming charm; he is about to snatch the crown from Bono and Chris Martin. Alex recently became the victim of an internet hoax. Fans became distraught after the hashtag RIPAlexTurner started trending on Twitter. Their followers were relieved to find out that it was an unfounded social network rumour. As the saying goes “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”
Silence Yourself — Savages
The dynamic debut by the all-female post punk London band is profoundly refreshing. The darkness and intensity that they project can also be found on albums like Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Juju by Siouxsie and the Banshees — and Silence Yourself is as good as the aforementioned. Any band who can go as dark and as deep as this can sonically go anywhere and where they go to next could be as exciting as hearing Disintegration by the Cure for instance. Essentially its success lies in the power of its songs. They take no hostages and leave you gasping for air.
Reflektor — Arcade Fire
The first thing that struck me about this album when I first heard it was that uber-producer Brian Eno must be involved somewhere down the line because this record is that good. The lead track would not be out of place on Remain in Light by Talking Heads (produced by Eno). The building of loops constantly gyrating hypnotically in the background was one of Brian's great talents and this record pays homage to the great man. The Canadian outfit are out there on their own when it comes to making fresh electronica for the dance floor and they sound like the future. There is a nice touch of Robert Smith of the Cure antics on You Already Know and David Bowie sings on the album too. They are the “new disco”. Nile Rodgers on the next record perhaps, or is that now too obvious?
Girls Like Us — PINS
As with the Savages it's good to see more girls making cutting edge music. Formed two years ago in Manchester they have been compared to 80s band Elastica, with one journo describing them as “Phil Spector-esque”.
Yes, I know we point out the fact that they are “an all girl band” and I know it’s to the chagrin of band leader Faith Holgate, but it should be stated that in a male-dominated industry the girls have to work twice as hard to be heard and noticed. I am sat here racking my brains about the last girl group out of Manchester and embarrassingly I can't remember one. After exhaustive research we have to go back to a trio called the Dollies, active in 1966. They may be the first, so I rest my case your honour. This group deserve recognition, the album is exciting with lots of hooks, delay and reverb, which is not a million miles away from the work of Shadow Morton and his all-girl group the Shangri-Las. Oh blimey, there I go again.
Blood Hot — Tess Parks
Another Alan McGee discovery who introduced herself to McGee at a London club before he started up his new label. He liked what he heard and told Tess to stay in touch. When he started up 359 Music he called the Canadian singer/songwriter and signed her. The album is dark and brooding and is a cross between Mazzy Star and Oasis, draped in echo with Parks's deep and haunting vocal firing off into the distance. The Oasis influence? Well, I can tell you that she grew up singing and playing along to Oasis (the sole reason why she introduced herself to Alan) and can do a wicked Liam Gallagher Manchester accent, which obviously involves a lot of swearing, but don't let that put you off. Her talents are fresh and unadulterated and her next set of songs, coupled with the right understanding producer, could see her reaching the heady heights that her favourite band reached.
Minute by Minute — The James Hunter Six
Still by and large unknown to the mainstream, James is one of Britain's best rhythm and blues artists — in fact he may be the only one. He operates in the early 1960s framework, with references to Sam Cooke, Little Willie Dixon and Ray Charles. This does not mean that it's not a modern record, it's the total opposite. Hunter presents his new recording with vigour and attitude, helped along by Gabriel Roth, co-owner of Dap-Tone Records, who worked on the world famous Back to Black album by Amy Winehouse. The thing I like about James, who is a great guitarist and live act, is that there is nobody doing what he does at this level in this country. He is a total journeyman who should be supported and applauded. This is a stunningly authentic R&B record that should have swept through this country's underground soul scene like wildfire.
The Next Day — David Bowie
Out of loyalty this record has to be included. This, his 24th studio album, comes after a ten-year hiatus and its first single, Where Are We Now, arrived one Monday morning as a download without prior warning or notice. Interestingly, Beyoncé has just done the exact same thing by releasing her new self-titled album straight to iTunes, but not causing anywhere near the excitement and consternation that Mr. Bowie achieved, which bordered on hysteria. The day the single-that-came-out-of-nowhere dropped, I found myself sat next to Steve Strange of Visage on the six o' clock news commenting on the day’s event, as if it was historical. Looking back it probably was more significant than I first thought, but I'm never the one to get carried away with these things, I’m more concerned with the cracks in my ceiling. His work speaks for itself and he is the greatest individual in music, so all hail David Bowie, a man from another planet.
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