Monday, 5 January 2015

Friend of Rachel Worth's 'Top 30' Albums of 2014

'Friend of Rachel Worth' is David Ashley whose 'Cathedral of Sound' blog is sadly missed.
As you can see he still has an eclectic taste in music.

David writes:
Happy new year and as promised / threatened here are my favourite lps of the year. Apologies this was meant to 20 but grew and , meant to be a line on each but has kind of got fat on the turkey , so feel free to breakup , cut down , etc...
I’ve broadened it out to give a top 30 , so in true “in with a bullet” fashion here goes:

30 - From Scotland with Love By King Creosote - A marmite voice and by the reviews a marmite lp. Made to accompany a film about Scotland , the songs delve into social history through stories. There is nothing jarring here , the instrumentation match the caress of Kenny Anderson’s voice. One for late night listening with a single malt in hand - start with “Cargill”

29 - Avonmore by Bryan Ferry - His solo stuff for me falls into two camps , the smoother than smooth , polished out of all personality that while pleasant and proficient lacks the flint that creates a spark or the left field experiments in jazz or big band covers that might as well come with a big “progress at your listening peril” sign. However this got good reviews and so I took a punt. The craft and polish is there however the tunes have been remembered and a quieter , haunted , almost strained vocal style really suits. Feels like an older brother to Avalon the only slight jar is with the 2 covers of Send in the Clowns and Johnny and Mary. I cant quite work out if they really work or feel like a strange add on - start with “Avonmore”

28 - World Peace is None of Your Business By Morrissey - I’ve got pretty much all of Morrissey’s solo output and I really like probably a third , find a third okay and despair at a third. Not a great hit rate for the amount I have. I had this theory that anyone with real talent that brings out the best in him - Marr . Vinni Reilly , Stephen Street he ends up falling out with and goes to find comfort in mediocracy. How else to explain the endless dirge like chugging guitars that smother any kind of melody. Well this was a glorious surprise . The production is sparkling (closest in sound to his Viva Hate his first and best solo outing). There is the humour that made the Smiths so much more than misery merchants and the music is full of surprising flourishes . Vocally it is again his strongest lp for ages. The edition I got has 6 extra songs on a second lp , all of which were strong enough to appear on the main one. Ironic then that again he finds himself dropped and labeless. Start with “Staircase at the University”

27 - Jungle By Jungle - Got this after seeing them on Later. Sounds like a 70s funk band has discovered a time machine and landed in a modern day recording studio. A whole lp means the songs do blend into one long groove , but I defy anyone to listen to Busy Earnin and not start twitching and longing for an age before any dance floor moves had morphed into dad dancing - start with “Busy Earnin”

26 Present Tense by Wild Beasts - Slighltly disturbing , slightly deranged , kind of reminds me of a sinister mid period Talk Talk. Largely electronic backing with a focus on texture. Lulls you into a sense of relaxation but with a nagging doubt that all is not well that just wont go away - Start with “A Simple beautiful Truth”

25 So Long , See You Tomorrow by Bombay Bicycle Club - I've got a real soft spot for this band, so this was always going to probably feature somewhere. This is a dense poppy record , full of sing along choruses , bright shiny crunchy music and euphoric harmonies. A bit like the band itself it can suffer from a lack of real personality, but if I still went out on Friday night this would help me to get ready. Although not representative - the calm in the storm , start with “I can’t take my eyes off you”

24 La Petite Mort By James - This is in here due to the fact I cant separate it from hearing it launched live at a 1000 people gig that James carried out with new songs sprinkled among old favourites, obscure b sides and fan favourite lp tracks. An lp about death but death as a joyous celebration rather than a funeral procession. All the James clichés are correct and present , the phrase repeated 3 times as a chorus , the slightly irritating lyrics, the soaring trumpet, the guitar and violin duels , the catchy as hell melodies , etc and that is only lead off single the glorious Moving on (check out the video if you have not seen it) . Wont win any new fans and provides plenty of ammunition for those who don't like them, not their best but better than most of the rest, start with watching “Moving On” or listening to “Bitter Virtue”

23 Frozen Sight By Paul Smith and Peter Brewis - Taking time out from their main bands day jobs , this is one of those side projects that somehow sounds loads better than it should do. Featuring a travelogue of diary entries set to chamber pop backing the lp features post cards and photographs from around the world. I’m not sure what came first although I suspect it was the lyrics as at times you worry that the music in trying to find the rhythm is heading for a fall, the gorgeousness of the backing means that it is forever interesting rather than awkward. The lyrics by focusing on the mundane sucks you into the surrounding. Start with “Philly”

22 Long Way Down By Tom Odell - For some reason I think Tom Odell brings out the music snobbery in a lot of people . Not sure whether it is age or having the tenacity to cover a John Lennon song for John Lewis , or the choice of early Coldplay/Keane type sound. I came very late to this. “ She got a new boyfriend ,a little too soon if you’re asking me” - who has not felt that about someone and the lp is full of those universal truths told in an ache of a voice that bely the slightly safe backing. Start with “Supposed to Be”

21 Endless Days Crystal Sky By By the Sea - This is for all those people who miss the sound of Liverpool 1982. By the Sea mine a sound of Care , Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and the Wild Swans. As with those bands there is a delicious use of melody which means they get away without sounding dated .. just. If Flaming Sword and Bible Dreams mean nothing to you then I guess this will have you scratching your head . Start with “Emily Says”

20 Beautitude #9 By The Orchids - One of those bands that have hit a second wind. The have their roots in that twee indie Sarah guitar sound. But then again they can produce slabs of dancey electronic music , pure pop songs , dream like ballads and sometimes they can mix all of these into one song. This is full of top pop tunes , not going to set the world on fire but too good to be lost from the radar. Start with “The Coolest Thing”

19 No-one is Lost By Stars - I can never understand why this Canadian band aren't massive. Then again the bastard child of New order and Prefab Sprout may not be everyone’s cup of tea. This feel like a final throw of the dice as it has a now or never overtly commercial feel . It is as if they have tried to make lp of singles cliché. Everything is bright and catchy to an extreme ,all squeaky crystal clean. I know it has disappointed Toronto Tim and I think I can see why. It is like buying a greatest hits lp ie it misses the light and shade of the more interesting lp tracks . As a result it is like having a sugar binge , addictive and dizzy but can end up feeling a tad nauseous and empty. The only one on the list that maybe works better for the ipod generation in that the whole is less than the sum of the glorious parts. Start with “Look Away”

18 Clumsy Knot By Randolph’s Leap - mmm how to describe this lot - space folk, psychedelic country , country pop , who knows. Scottish band full of quirky songs with left of centre lyrics. Scabs are picked , the absurdities of life are explored, sores are poked , relationships painted in all their ugly beauty. Asked to explain why the singer doesn't like and ex’s new man , the response is “he talks like a weather man” and you cant argue with that. Start with “Weatherman”

17 Dizzy Heights By Neil Finn - I wasn't going to get this . I’d been stung by the Pyjama Club and the last Crowded House. The first single seemed to confirm all my fears , but then I saw him on later and got sucked in by both songs he did there. The lp does try something different in terms of sound , but it doesn't get in the way of the tunes and in Recluse, Flying in the Face of Love and Dizzy Heights he has written three of his best. Start with “Recluse”

16 The Breaks by Martin Carr - As the songwriter with the Boo Radleys , his songs flitted from purest pop to weirdest wig outs often in the space of a verse. Vocals were never going to be the strongest part of this lp , so to compensate we get simply belting hook laden pop tunes and harmony saturated ballads. An extra point also for a song attacking the noxious Katie Hopkins called “Senseless Apprentice”. Like By the Sea there is a mid 80s Liverpool feel to the production but this time for those that mourn the Pale Fountains. Start with “Santa Fe Skyway”

15 Everyday Robots by Damon Albarn - I could always take or leave Blur for every Universal there was a Country House and Goriillaz just felt a tad too gimmicky , so I am not quite sure why I took a punt on this. Apart from a Wings of a Dove type interlude , this is a very mellow , reflective down beat lp. The songs have subtle shading with electronica mixed in with the band instrumentation. The lyrics are grownup , with a sense of a mid life pause if not crisis. Its a low key affair and much the better for it . Start with “If lonely Press Play”

14 Ruckers Hill By Husky - Husky’s debut from a couple of years ago was one of great discoveries. A folk indie band of which there were many and they did seem to get lost in the crowd. Coming from Australia they have a slightly different feel to a lot of stuff in a similar vein. Their second lp is even better. There are more straight forward pop songs whilst still keeping the harmonies , the layered sound. Its a summer record full of pollen .Start with Rucker’s Hill

13 Seven Dials By Roddy Frame - This year I saw the Boy Wonder play one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to in the High Land anniversary concert, which meant a sense of expectation was heightened even more than the long wait since the last lp. Seven Dials is a really good lp but sums up this year for me in music , lots of relly good lps but not too many great ones. Having said all that it is full of sparkling songs pulling on styles from throughout his career and it is great to have him backed by a band again. I’ve got a feeling that in 5 yrs time this will be one of the lps that has grown with age - Start with “The Postcard”

12 Loads By Alien Envoy - Why isn't Nick Kelly hailed as one of the song writing greats? There isn't anything radical here just song writing of the highest quality. Not boxed in by the usual singer songwriter backing, there are noisy rants , driving pop songs , sad snippets , caustic wit and heart stopping moments of beauty. start with “Small Loads”

11 Open up the Colouring Book - The Pearlfishers - So to the cottage industry that is David Scott. No changes to the beach boy harmonies sugar sweet backing template. You will either find this sailing close to parody or like me you will wallow in a sugar high. I know some feel differently but for me the quality doesn't drop over the 16 tracks. Start with the heart stopping “Her Heart Moves Like the Sea Moves” 

10 Herd Runners By Cherry Ghost. This was another nice surprise . I liked the debut lp in places but thought the 2nd one was a big disappointment. Herd Runners is a joy (even if the joy as an ache at its core). The tunes are back and the backing is beautifully timeless almost Bacharach in places. A soft and warm woolly jumper of a record full of love and loneliness . Start with Love will Follow You

9 Mutineers By David Gray - Maybe this is the year for artists who have been chugging along making okay records to rediscover their mojo , ignore the record company and go sod it. David Gray’s last 2 lps have been okay and if I’m honest I put this on my xmas list more out of habit than anything else. I’ve not lived with it long but it gets better with each play. This has the song at its heart and is full of care and craft. Just as you think you know where the song is going there will be touch of instrumentation , a melody build , etc. that takes it to the next level . Start with Last Summer

8 New Gods by Withered Hand - Withered Hand is the recording name for Scottish songwriter Dan Wilson. It has all the trademarks of a classic Scottish lp , guitars jangle with clever word play and melodies that get lodged in your brain. The lp starts with “Here go , Pigeon toed to the feather weight fight and before they knocked me down , did you put a horsehoe in my glove?” which kind of sums the whole lp up. As catchy as hell , sad and life affirming at the same time which is a hell of trick - Start with “New Gods”

7 Islands By Bear’s Den - Imagine Mumford and Sons (no come back) with all the good bits and none of the bad bits and with the added benefit of not simply repeating the same song 10 x on an lp, you have Bear’s Den. Nothing radical or reinvented but 10 tales beautifully told. Start with “The Love We Stole”

6 All the Luck in the World by All the Luck in the World - This irish band and they could only be from island have made an lp of haunting , fragile songs in the same family as Stornoway. a thing of eloquent beauty. At its heart an acoustic lp with the added instrumentation providing the light and shade supporting the intimate vocals. This year,s best debut by a mile Start with Haven

5 To the Bone - By Jones - This may well have been higher but I get stuck on putting Phil the Hat on endless repeat - my song of the year that captures everything I love about Mr Jones’s music Start with “Phil the Hat”


4 Morning Phase by Beck - I hadn’t got anything by Beck , finding most of his early stuff annoying at best and in Loser obnoxious at worst. He was one of those artists that critics seemed to love but I always got a squint of the emperor’s new clothes. However this is gorgeous , like being lost in a melancholy summer dream. Also it gets double points as it led me straight to the sister lp Sea Change - Start with Heart is a Drum

3 My Favourite Faded Fantasy by Damien Rice. - O was a classic , 9 was a tough listen and then nothing. I am a sucker for the sad songs as they tend to say it best , and this is an lp of sad songs. He has rediscovered some of the quirkiness of sound of O , but what saves it from 9s uncomfortable self loathing is the warmth of the production and keeping any woe is me ranting in check with the tunes. Start with “I Don’t Want to Change You”

1= Hendra By Ben Watt - I cant separate my top two and they are there for opposing reasons. First of all I was rejoicing that Ben Watt had picked up a guitar and put on hold the life of a superstar dj, but I didn't expect it to be quite this good. As with Tracy Thorn’s last lp (not counting the xmas one) this is a proper grown up lp. I don't mean coffee table , dinner party grown up , but the grown up of looking back with nostalgia and regret , looking forward with hope and fear. No Tracy but he picks his collaborators well . Bernard Butler’ s guitar provides texture and support whereas it could have dominated. He is much better at the personal and the only slight misfire is the anti gun lyric on one track, although the sublime guitar makes up for it. Lets hope the guitar is here to stay. Start with “Forget”

1= Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs - I love this for exactly the opposite reasons I do
Hendra. I doubt anything I write will create any converts but here are the 5 reasons it is number one for me:

1- it has a song that I feel will stay one of my favourites for a very long time


2 - It manages the trick of wearing its influences proudly but still sounding fresh


3 - It is an lp of one continuing , flowing mood ,an lp to put on the headphones lie back and get lost in


4 - It feels epic and intimate at the same time


5 - it has those great 80s type lyrics that can mean nothing to everything


Start with Under the Pressure
So there we go Trev Happy New year
Friend of Rachel Worth

8 comments:

  1. Very interesting list, David. I have over half the albums and really like them all apart from Stars, that I think is far from their best work, Husky, that I think doesn't come close to their debut , that was excellent and Neil Finn who once again has released an album with a couple of very good tracks and the rest very so-so.
    Hendra is very good and I too didn't expect anything quite that good. I miss EBTG but as long as Ben and Traceys solo albums are as good as this then shouldn't complain. After Roddys 'Western Skies' album , that I thought for him was very poor , 'Seven Dials' sees him back on top of his game. Some of the songs sound like they could have been recorded during his Postcard days,
    I'll take a punt on Ferrys new one. I'm always cautious when buying a solo album from him as it's usually a let down, Nice to see you also rate Damon Albarns new one , I've been playing it none stop since first hearing it a month or so ago. Something about it reminds me of Bowie
    and I still haven't heard War on Drugs
    Phil
    Tel Aviv

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  2. I think you'd like all the luck in the world phil

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  3. I'll check that out too.
    Phil

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  4. interesting list presented with your usual clarity, David. It's so long since I could have put together a top thirty for the year just gone. I remain mostly stuck in old habits or filling obvious holes and rarely invest in new records. I did, of course, get To The Bone but to my shame that is the only one I have. Indeed it is probably one of around ten albums I bought during the year... Must do better.

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    1. Hi Seamus ive fallen into the habit of sticking LPs on an evil empire wish list and getting a shed load for birthday and then Xmas!

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  5. Hey David, your post has encouraged me to fire up the laptop, and hi-jack a WiFi connection during our winter sequester in Florida... It's fine, as it's overcast and a cool 60'F today, not much else to do...

    Blimey, what's happened to us? When was the last time that your 'album of the year' jibed with the unanimous choice of the journos??? NEVER! My contrary streak had me very tempted to reach for something under the radar, however, I can't help but agree with the critics that War On Drugs deserve the crown this year. Truly an epic rock LP. My great surprise is that "you" David would connect with this one, steeped in classic rock influences as it is. There's still a chance some day you'll come around to liking Brucie!

    Cool that we share overlap on 4 outa 5 in our Top 5, and now along with Trev and others, you're finally bumping me to buy Beck's album. Never, ever thought I'd get past the dry vocals, but here I am sampling now on Spotify (Hallelujah, I'm in the US!) and Morning Phase does sound pretty attractive.

    Ditto Phil's comments re: Stars, Husky & Finn. Same goes for James... fantastic single (Moving On), but the rest kinda pales in comparison. Also pains me to say it but felt the same about Roddy's 7 Dials... Two great songs (Postcard & Into The Sun) but nothing else hooked me. I know you & Phil have gotta be dumbfounded by my ignorance. Penance...

    Herd Runners has to be my "sleeper" of the year. Colin Elliot deserves big kudos for masterful production. If the marvellous "Kissing Strangers" from otherwise so-so previous album 'Burning Shoreline' was added this may well have rivalled WOD for my record of the year. As with 'To The Bone' the music is absolutely beautiful & timeless...

    Still gotta jab folk to give Pains Of Being Pure At Hearts 'Days Of Abandon' a proper listen... I know TJ would call it a "potporri of influences" - and it is. I just can't get enough of Postcard/Sarah/80's Glascow style retro-pop when it's done well.

    Happy to see that although you've put COS to sleep that you still love your music, managing to pack a year's worth of music into a pretty comprehensive list, 30 strong. You've got almost a dozen "whodats?" on your list I"ll be investigating. Sampled a couple... Withered Hand & Martin Carr sound promising...

    Truly a pleasure, having you share your musical knowledge & perspective David. C'mon, admit that you miss the blog thing just a little???

    Thanks Trev for coaxing Friend Of Rachel Worth out of the shadows...

    Best wishes to all for 2015... Now where's my sunshine & surf-board?

    Cheers, TT

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  6. Thanks Tim . I got pain of after your list ( and the Alaska one). Really like it but not lived with it enough yet. Funny with wod , the first thing I thought of was new gold dream and was a tad perplexed when people started mentioning Dylan and brucie! I was a tad disappointed with 7 dials but when I relistened I liked it a lot more. Think it is good wine of than lp and will get better with age !

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