HCTF's annual list of the 20 albums that will be in regular rotation for many years to come. As per usual many genres are represented. This blog covers a lot of ground and it shows in this eclectic, final tally.
Today: countdown from number 5 to 1.
Please shop at your local record store, buy directly from the artist, attend live shows. Don't block anyone's view with with your phone (better still, switch it off altogether). Shut the fuck up while the band is playing. Educate your friends. Word-of-mouth can't be beat as the prime source to discover new music.
5 The Special Pillow: Sleeping Weird
Psych-pop veterans bend genres and mix things up like a team of cocktail bartenders.
With a resume like that the underground is the place where they will find an audience and they have done so since they were founded in Hoboken, NJ, 20 odd years ago. Their latest album Sleeping Weird finds them exploring their favourite genres, mixing them up, pulling it apart and reassembling it again to create concise songs. They love to jam, but always keep it short.
There is a looseness and free-flowing spirit in the music. Lyrically they take cues from The Kinks and They Might Be Giants. They can be sardonic (All My Exes Live in Vortexes), harsh (Flaming Skull) and in awe of things (A Billion Years Ago). The title track is a mash-up of The Jim Carroll Band and Fairport Convention: energetic garage rock and violin driven folk within the same song.
4 Broeder Dieleman: Komma
Songs and soundscapes for a landscape by a poetic storyteller with a sense of humoour.
Dutch folk singer broeder Dieleman captures the spirit of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen on his new double album Komma, an impressive free-flowing set of music plus a book with a selection of the photos he made over the past two years. He explored the creeks and spoke to the inhabitants of this thinly populated part of the Netherlands, where the trees are lined up like a single file military parade and the air smells of sugar beets and the salty winds blowing in from the Westerschelde.
Komma, named after the priest and sculptor Omer Gielliet's signature - plus "Komma" is dialect for "kom maar" (come on over), is a two-faced album. The first is a band record with melancholic folk songs, sung in the dialect that is close to his heart. The second album is a lengthy, dreamy invocation of one his favourite creeks t Gat van Pinten, a poetic story told by different voices, enhanced by field recordings and found sounds
3 Johnny Dowd: Twinkle, Twinkle
Superb covers album by an artist who can own a song but disassembling and rebuilding it to make it sound like an original.
His take on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star will gives little kids nightmares and the unnamed male in Red River Valley is now a guy who is likely to kill the girl this time around. Dowd becomes a fire and brimstone preacher when he takes over John the Revelator, a part he reprises for album's closer, the spoken word lament Job 17:11-17. House of the Rising Sun is a song that has been murdered by many a poor boy trying to impress the fairer sex sitting around the camp fire. Dowd is the man who takes his instrument away without blinking an eye and throws it into the flames after he is done with it.
A good cover makes other versions sound bleak and boring and after listening to Twinkle, Twinkle any straightforward take will sound superfluous. What Jimi Hendrix did for Dylan's All Along The Watchtower is what Dowd did for these traditionals. He owns them and he won't give them back now that he has completed his mission to drag Americana into the 21st century.
2 Spottiswoode & His Enemies: Lost In The City
Anglo-American septet find their way in NYC. Autobiographical, literate and insightful by way of an amalgam of vaudeville, blues, rock and jazz.
How about a musical guide on how to cope in New York City? The Big Apple inspired lots of artists to do so, but the city is harsh mistress and many failed to pull it off. Spottiswoode & His Enemies however pass with flying colours with their new album Lost In The City, an amalgam of vaudeville, blues, rock and jazz plus lead singer's Jonathan Spottiswoode witty way with words. He is a sardonic poet, whose English heritage makes him a perennial outsider in the city that never sleeps.
Like Randy Newman and Ray Davies he is sharp observer, who can cram the contents of a short story within the confines of a song. The little people can become heroes of sorts (Goodbye Jim McBride, Batman & Robin). Autobiographical songs are used as reality checks.Hoboken is just Hoboken, not some mythical and better place on the other side of the Hudson River. And he takes the full blame for relationship going on the rocks in It's On Me and Now Didn't I? Loneliness and getting drink are captured in The Walk Of Shame: "It's 6 o'clock//The night was so delicious//But now a puddle is a mirror for Narcissus".
1 The Foreign Films: The Record Collector
Canadian multi-instrumentalist Bill Majoros delivered an epic concept album for his project The Foreign Films. Five years of hard work paid of in spades. A monument for indie pop that will stand the test of time.
Majoros grouped his songs into three separate themes, telling a different tale on each album, allowing the listeners to follow the ups and downs of the characters. The Record Collector is part autobiography and part make belief and dreams. Real adventures and everyday life events are closely examined, dissected and put back together again as he saw fit. The narrative point view tends to shift, with first-person observations giving way to character voices. It might take awhile to understand that the female voices could be belonging to the same person - the evasive and mysterious Emily, who turns up to various occasions, sometimes not even by name, but it slowly becomes clear that she is the axis around which the album rotates. Is she his muse? Changes are that Majoros is familiar with Dante's Beatrice or Orpheus's Eurydice. Well, maybe not that highbrow, but the "boy meets girl and is afraid to loose her" never gets old.
(...) Superb melancholy, complex psych-op orchestrated melodies and top shelf storytelling make this set into instant classic, a collection with so many highlights that is futile to try to pick one or a mere handful. Clear your schedule, disconnect the phone and embark on an epic journey led by a peerless pied piper and his merry band of collaborators. File next to Abbey Road, Smile and Quadrophenia.