Another year is over and, as we do every year, here’s our favourite albums of the past 12 months. These are all ones Porky has reviewed, the exception being Hyperbubble and Manda Rin.
The House of Love made a very welcome return after an eight-year hiatus, She Paints Words In Red being their first release for boutique label Cherry Red.
It begins, suitably, with a burst of guitars and Chadwick’s plaintive voice on A Baby Got Back On Its Feet. Meanwhile, on Hemingway, he sounds like he’s always done on more sedate tracks, Leonard Cohen attempting to do The Jam.
Other standouts include the reworked Purple Killer Rose, the guitar assault of Money Man, and Never Again which also rattles on at full pelt.
Nevertheless, She Paints Words In Red isn’t the assault on the senses their spiky debut was, nor is it alike any of the subsequent albums; it is it’s own man, a pleasant and joyful listen.
Less rock, more information may be the motto for Public Service Broadcasting as their debut album soars and floats, ably supported by plummy English accents from a bygone age.
Inform – Educate – Entertain (Test Card recordings), is a sprightly set of tracks, relying heavily on samples, electronics as well guitars and drums. And a banjo.
Spitfire is an inspiring burst of shimmering guitars and beats that mingle deftly with samples from the war-based film The First of The Few. As the act’s name suggests, there’s a focus on using samples from public service footage of the past, such as the Conquest of Everest from the same year Hillary knocked the bastard off. The past meets the present, and PSB follow a fine tradition trawled in the 1980s by Big Audio Dynamite and Barmy Army/ Tackhead.
Fat Freddys Drops’ Blackbird is a more than an hour long, but, it has to be said, it is worthy of such longevity.
Many will pick up on particular styles and they mine their varied influences, including, of all bloody things, country music. An open mind and a willingness to spread the seeds far and wide is admirable. But if you listen to Blackbird with a view to picking up on the reggae, soul or even electronica sounds (Never Moving is slightly reminiscent of Neu!) you are missing the point. Today’s listeners are more attuned to the diversity and eclecticism of albums. That is why Blackbird will appeal to those who file Bob Marley and the Wailers alongside Led Zeppelin.
Niko Ne Zna make an almighty Gypsy/ Balkan cocktail that sounds neither contrived nor from a Serbian village, but certainly closer to the latter. They are a curious live experience: the first time I saw them was when I walked into my favourite record store in Wellington (sadly gone) and they were heading my way while playing before facing shocked motorists outside.
Their unusual style (to Western ears and eyes anyway) transfers easily to Renegade Brass Bandits (Monkey records), 10 tracks of high energy Balkan buzz such as the energetic, frenzied Smoked Paprika but there are also more reflective numbers, like Ederlezi. Traditional tracks Kustino and Gankino mingle with the self-penned material.
Tropical Popsicle’s debut Dawn of Delight (Talitres) was surprisingly satisfying.
It is the kind of record that will garner all sort of reference points, from
1960s garage psych to The Horrors.
They’re a tight unit who I imagine would be mesmerising live with some drug-induced Len Lye-style psychedelic cut-and-paste footage playing on loop in the background. I can’t fault it really, and it is an album that could be played without resorting to the fast forward button. It really comes alive on Ghost Beacons which sounds like the Stone Roses meets Pink Floyd, with some immense, and enthralling guitar work. The Beach With No Footprints is dreamy pop-psych that captures the shoegazing tag the record label seems to appreciate.
Porky’s good friends at Fishrider Records unleashed a quiet classic with the debut album by The Prophet Hens – Popular People Do Popular People.
The Hens are a four-piece who wear their Dunedin badges firmly on their lapels and shout out their love of all things Flying Nun and the requisite label/ city bands, namely The Chills, the Magick Heads et al.
There are Über-jangly guitars, playful drums and earnest basslines aplenty, with the delectable vocals of Penelope Esplin and Karl Bray. At nine tracks and 29 minutes long it isn’t one of those over-long efforts that the compact disk has encouraged. While there’s a distinct and discernible Mainland sound, Left It Out To Shine drips with English eccentricity and the 60s harmonies endlessly repeated that is the bootprint of Stereolab.
Dreadzone transcend genres and Escapades (Dubwiser records) is certainly a bag of birds.
Too Late features Mick Jones, ex of Big Audio Dynamite, and the song borrows the hook from the brilliant post-punk hit single Is Vic There? by Department S. They’re not a band I would have imagined being linked to Dreadzone, but the melding works.
Places has a summer feel and inspiring lyrics; portions of dub-heavy Next Generation hark back to their finest album, Second Light; I Love You Goodbye adapts samples and a ringing telephone quite cleverly; Rise Up pounds away mercilessly, and Fire In The Dark features a female Arabic voice sequenced by dance rhythms and has an insanely driving chant/chorus. This is the closest Dreadzone will get to Bristol.
Chris T-T’s ninth studio album, The Bear (Xtra Mile recordings) offers a refreshing take on the art of writing, with nods to the Kinks and Blur. The title track adopts the opening lines to PiL’s Rise, “I could be wrong, I could be right” before T-T quickly changes tune: “Well done John, marvellous insight, you think buying and selling your soul would be better/ well picture me giving a damn .. whatever”.
No icon is too big for T-T, and Jesus Christ hails a visionary and laments those who take his name in vain. Then there’s Paperback Kama Sutra, Bury Me With A Scarab and Idris Lung, music that should be for the masses, but won’t, as anything educational, challenging or even topical has long since been ditched in the too hard basket for music’s controllers. But the Hoodrats know a good thing or two, and The Bear is a heavyweight album, of intelligence and is the work of act that’s reaching a peak.
It was touch and go whether the self-titled release by Hyperbubble and Manda Rin on Pure Pop For Now People would even be considered for inclusion as it’s short and sweet; but it has six tracks that constitutes a mini-album in Porky’s view. This is a team-up between Texan technics Hyperbubble and Rin, formerly of Glasgow indie giants bis. That sounds like an ideal combo to me and on Geometry II there’s a cohesion and understanding even if it mainly relies on Rin intoning ‘Geometry’ at regular intervals. This is catchy electro-pop with bouncy drums, multi-layered vocals, and a huge sense of fun.
Teenager Nick Raven is eager and persistent, badgering Porky for a review of his debut, and we’re glad he did.
Love & Lomography (Powertool records) is an album of craftsmanship, desire and passion. Tracks generally veer from the edgy, entrancing psychedelic efforts of Butterfly and Sitting & Laughing, with folkier moments such as Love and Drown. For an 18-year-old Raven has a worldy-wise head on his shoulders, and this reminds me a little of an acoustic Kasabian or the House of Love. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this kid.
Worst Album of the Year
No contest, really, it was by a country mile, The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, which we said about: “Listening to the disk is a turgid exercise in self-flagellation. The proverbial terms paint and dry are most appropriate as singer Matt Berninger punishes the ears. The opening track, I Should Live In Salt, is a monotone dirge that remains at the same pace throughout. Another uphill stream, Demons, would be ideal for a road trip along a straight motorway with a 30km speed limit for its entirety.”