❉ 2019 – pop music just gets better and better.
“Good business is where you find it,” says evil, uber capitalist and Omni Consumer Products Vice Chairman Dick Jones in Paul Verhoeven’s more-prescient-by-the-day sci-fi satire Robocop.
It’s the same with music.
If you are prepared to do your homework and sample the new tracks and albums released each week, you will quickly build up a bank of new songs and new artists to replenish your collection of old favourites and musical comfort foods – which are slowly turning you into your mum and dad.
You will be able to find gigs by new and upcoming artists who may or may not be the future’s big stars and it won’t cost you a fortune. It used to beak my heart seeing some of the poorer teenagers I’ve taught working and saving up and going without in order to pay the astronomical ticket prices demanded by the current crop of artistically mordant superstars. They would tell me about going to see X or Y and I could see the delight on their faces. I would also say the required words of agreement, but I’d always be thinking of the greed of the stadium/big venue artists who were, in essence, fleecing them.
Now I’m not saying that *I* didn’t work and save and go without to buy records and tickets for gigs and football games, but even allowing for the passing of a generation and its concurrent inflationary price rises, there is no correlation between the time I had to work to see a ‘big name’ and the cost of a ticket today.
Ticket prices for these artists exploded somewhere during the digital revolution of the early noughties in order to facilitate the rock industry’s millionaire lifestyles. Hard copy music stopped selling in numbers and an industry which used to charge extortionate prices for CDs (which cost just a few pence to produce) found a new method of extracting cash from what used to be ‘the record-buying public’. I was looking trough my equally moribund CD (another capitalist wheeze) collection the other day and found one with a sticker bearing the legend ‘Only £12.99!’ I could feel huge donkey ears sprouting as I remembered my previous foolishness.
The music industry will always find a way of exploiting its consumers, but four shifts at McDonalds to pay for a stadium ticket to see Adele, Ed Sheeran, Take That?
As I say, heartbreaking.
I’ll make the odd exception to paying ‘top dollar’ to see some pop music – just to justify my own hypocrisy – and I do like the odd bit of nostalgia – but that feeling when a new song by a new artist finally kicks in is unbeatable.
Anyway – 2019 has kept the momentum of last year’s fabulous array of new music and new talents and there have been so many great new artists who have made this (half) year’s 50.
On a much sadder note, I was really upset when I heard that Her’s – one of my favourite Liverpool based acts – had been killed in a car crash whilst touring America. Stephen and Aurun were two quirky, gentle souls and I remember having a little pang of harmless parochial pride when I saw a poster advertising their gig when I was in Berlin last year. Their 2018 album An Invitation to Her’s is a little thing of beauty and I included their excellent single Love on the Line in both of last year’s charts.
RIP Aurun, Stephen and their manager Trevor. You’re all sadly missed.
The rules for The List are simple: each artist is allowed one track, and I’ve got to rate and like them. Nobody I know personally can be included.
That’s about it.
And as usual, these are the songs and artists that have kept me alive for the past few months….. so here we go!
Bubbling Under/Didn’t Make the Cut
Patience – Living Things Don’t Last
Ichabod Wolf – Painted Horses
Death and Vanilla – Let’s Never Leave Here
Spielbergs – 4AM
51. Japanese Breakfast – Head Over Heels
Absolutely gorgeous, but sorry, no (well known) covers allowed!
50. Lennixx – Swimming
Lovely, yearning R and B from Sweden’s Hannah Larsson and Andrea Hallstrom. Some might blanch at the American feel and the diminishment of the duo’s cultural identity as their native Scandi tones are smoothed (cemented?) over by a seemingly ubiquitous nu-soul vocal delivery, but there’s enough darkness in this song to override such nagging doubts, and let’s face it, pretty much every British rock and pop artist from the sixties onwards has been tempted by the siren call of replacing an Anglicised short ‘o’ with the drawling short ‘a’ of American English.
I mean, does Elton John speak the way he sings? Course he doesn’t. Does anyone think he’s singing blue arse when he sings his plaintive Blue Eyes? Of course, they don’t.
Apart from my dad (God rest his soul), that is.
Anyway, a great song from a really nice album, and they were excellent supporting Hannah’s big sister Zara at Manchester’s Albert Hall a few weeks back.
Album: Split By
Sounds a bit like: Madison Beer (when she’s singing ‘slowies’)
49. Jane Church – Bleed
When I first saw the name, I immediately thought of Jane Crouch, the fearsome boxer from the nineties, but like Linda Guilala, Jane Church is a band rather than an individual and the brainchild of New Yorker Matthew Stevenson.
Bleed is ace, oddball catchy New York pop and has the weirdest opening lines of any song in the fifty:
Human population is irrelevant
To a child born without a face
And after such apparent randomness (it’s never explained), the song rattles long in a jolly fashion and at a merry old synthesised pace before telling us:
I could be on a train to Paris
Or drunk out in the streets of Volgograd
There’s no knowing where my life may end
Please don’t put me in a plastic bag
Which I’m pretty sure is a fate none of us would relish.
Bleed’s parent album Calomocho Molitov is pretty impressive as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing young Matthew’s band up close and personal in the UK before the year is out.
Album: Calimocho Molotov
From: New York
Sounds a bit like: nobody, really – quite a one-off sound
48 Anderson .Paak (featuring Smokey Robinson) – Make it Better
Hard to pick my track from the brilliant Ventura album; I had Come Home, Yada Yada and Good Heels before settling on Make It Better.
Flawless r and b from a massive star of the future – and good to see Smokey* back in the musical public eye. Just wonderful.
*Robinson – and not Bradford’s finest. Not that there’s anything (owt) wrong with (‘wi) Smokie. Chris Norman is Vladimir Putin’s favourite singer and if you go round Germany or most of Eastern Europe, you’ll know that Smokie are HUUUUGE!
From: Oxnard, California
Sounds a bit like: whoever he feels like – Prince, Marvin Gaye, Kanye West
47. Honeyblood – Harmless
Stina Tweeddale’s first album as a solo artist is initially disappointing, but it’s a grower. Drummer Cat Myers was one of my favourite performers and the dynamic between the two artists was one of the reasons that made Honeyblood such a special duo/group and such a brilliant live act. I’ve lost count of the number of women drummers on the ‘circuit’, but it’s an excellent sign of the times that the ‘novelty value’ is no longer a consideration or even a thought.
In Plain Sight is a development on Honeyblood’s previous sound and Harmless is the big show-stopping song at the end of the album. In an alternate world, Honeyblood would have been as famous as their progenitors Strawberry Switchblade (check out their Peel/Jensen sessions before 80s producers sullied their sound), but the world is a much bigger place now and nobody knows or cares that there’s a national pop chart any more*.
*They don’t! Remember when Ed Sheeran had 18 of the top 20 ‘positions’ on the chart. Me neither.
Album: In Plain Sight
Sounds a bit like: Scottish singer-songwriter/alt-country
46. Billie Eilish – Wish You Were Gay
A lovely, plaintive, dreamy song from a rather splendid debut album, and what I want to know is how anyone can write such deft and touching (albeit grammatically imprecise) lyrics as:
I’ll never let you go
Five words you’ll never say
I laugh alone like nothing’s wrong
Four days has never felt so long
If three’s a crowd and two was us
One slipped away
…when you’re seventeen?
It’s not fair.
Album: When We All fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
From: Los Angeles
Sounds like: Stella Donnelly (more later)
45. Foals – Exits
One of the more seasoned acts in the ‘50’ and not usually one of my favourites (I’m sure they’ll be devastated), but Exits is a strident, stop-start song hovering somewhere between eighties electropop and the borders of Krautrock*. I’m not sure if the lyrics are generically metaphorical, but in my mind I’ve given them a dystopian, sci-fi bent and it makes them even more exciting:
I said I’m sorry
To have kept you waiting around
I wish I could have come up
I could have shouted out loud
But they got exits covered
All the exits underground
I wish I could figure it out
But the world’s upside down
See what I mean?
Next week: Alannah Myles’s raunchy classic Black Velvet reinterpreted as a paean to the violence-inducing Guinness/cider cocktail so beloved of biker pubs and the Wirral.
*I hate the term, but that’s apparently how even the German musicians refer to it.
Album: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost
Sounds like: You must have heard Foals by now!
44. Tame Impala – Patience
Nothing new – sonically speaking – but more of the same (it’s been five years since their last single) is always welcome. Kevin Parker continues to delight and make the world an even more beautiful place in equal measures.
It’s like the soundtrack to your happiest dream:
Has it really been that long?
Did I count the days wrong?
Did we just go ‘round and ‘round
All the way to step one?
Album: Yet to be released
Sounds a bit like: It’s Tame Impala!
43. Jehnny Beth – Let it Out
Savages vocalist Camille Berthomier’s alter-ego, the oddly spelled Jehnny Beth delivers the saddest sounding song of 2019. Not one to listen to over and over again if you’re feeling mentally fragile.
Album: Xy Chelsea (official soundtrack)
Sounds like: the dream life of angels
42. Madonnatron – Goodnight Little Empire
A wonderful blend of dance, electronica and dreampop from the London quartet that evokes memories of the brilliant and sadly missed School of Seven Bells. Early listenings to the new album Musica Alla Puttanesca suggest a definite progression from their rockier eponymously title debut. Although there isn’t a title as good as Glenn Closer, album track Elizabeth Taylor comes, er, close.
Album: Musica Alla Puttanesca
Sounds a bit like: School of Seven Bells — I miss them so much.
41. The Mysterines – Gasoline
Fantastic name: fantastic band. I could write about fifty Liverpool/Merseyside tracks here (such is the strength of the Liverpool scene at the moment) but The Mysterines are simply outstanding and blew away the 6 Music Round Table reviewers when this was first aired a few months back. Unfortunately, one of those reviewers was Tony Parsons, but you can’t have everything.
They’re all far too young to have so much talent and any band name that conflates The Mysterons and Listerine is OK by me. (That’s not how they got their name. Or maybe it was, I don’t know – it’s getting late here.) I’ve seen them a few times over the last eighteen months and they’ve blown the main band off the stage on every occasion.
Gasoline is an old school, adrenaline-fuelled rocker and perfect last-song-before-going-out music.
Album: single track only
Sounds a bit like: The Distillers, The Runaways, The Jim Carroll Band
40. Tamaryn – Angels of Sweat
An absolutely mesmerising performer – especially when you’re in a tiny venue on a Tuesday night in Manchester. Tamaryn Brown will be a big star. Angels of Sweat is terrific and easily the standout track of a more than decent album. Have a listen to the last (terrible) Bond theme tune and imagine Angels of Sweat across those not-as-sexist-as-they-used-to be credits instead of Sam Smith.
They might have to change the title of the film, mind.
Album: Dreaming the Dark
From: New Zealand
Sounds like: The Trailer Trash Tracys
39. Juniore – En Solitaire
If you like modern French pop with a hint of old French pop, the prosaically-titled Juniore are for you. Lovely brooding, dreamy vocals and a sixties Hammond organ sound permeate Anna Jean and co’s terrific single. A Francoise Hardy for whatever this decade is called.
Album: Ooh là là
Sounds like: listen to any of Bob Stanley’s French girl compilations and you’ll get the idea
38. Okey Dokey (featuring Dent May) – Thick and Thin
Like any number of brilliant artists I’ve followed and loved, I have no idea why Dent May isn’t a megastar. Melodies to die for, brilliant, ironic lyrics and a voice that occasions an on-form Brian Wilson.
We went to see him in Haddon Hall in Leeds last year. There were about twenty people there, and as we had to leave early to get our train home to Liverpool (on a school night!), there was nobody there to cheer for an encore.
Check out his Across the Multiverse album for a real musical treat.
Album: single only
Sounds like: Brian Wilson
37. Pip Blom – Say it
Splendid, life-affirming guitar pop from a great band. I know they teach English from a very early age in the Netherlands, but hearing these four gifted only-just-out-of-their-teens talking with such warmth and using irony as a joyous positive rather than a piss-take was such a delight. A fabulous pop noise and one of my favourite gigs of the year in, of all places, Birkenhead library*. And in a year of great female drummers, Gini Cameron is the best. (Sorry any drummers in ‘the list’ who might be reading this!)
*as part of the Get it Loud British libraries initiative – a fabulous scheme that allows parents to bring very small children and has encouraged some of the most ‘mature’ audiences I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve been to a Steely Dan tribute act!). Great!
Sounds like: Wonder; Hope Sandoval
36. Marina – Handmade Heaven
The former (?) Marina Diamandis/Marina and the Diamonds – now just operating as Marina released the lovely Love + Fear album in April and it was preceded by this commercial, one-eye-on-the-American-market but still rather splendid single.
Handmade Heaven is large venue/but not quite stadium (yet) music.
Album: Love + Fear
Sounds like: Maria McKee
35. Kate Tempest – Firesmoke
An astonishing, beautiful love poem by a major British artist. I think I’ve played this to the point where I don’t remember the shock of the new:
My visionary is a vision
I watch her dancing by the window
And it rips my flesh to ribbons
And the whole world is just ripples
In the middle distance
I listen to her hips
I push my kisses to her lips
We move like we were born to move
The night is teeth and pistons
And there is something in this tenderness that makes me want to live
The album is a delight too. Ace producer Rick Rubin has pared down the sound to give the music an almost ambient and occasional triphop feel and the whole thing just washes over the listener in wave after wave of lyrical beauty.
Album: The Book of Traps and Lessons
Sounds Like: Because of the rolling enjambement, I keep hearing 80s comedy poet John Hegley messing about. My problem, obviously.
34. l’Imperatrice (featuring Isaac Delusion) – Dreaming of You
The best introduction of any song in the fifty. Dreaming of You (not to be confused with The Coral’s we’ve-sold-our-music/souls-to-‘the adverts’ song of the same name) is a hypnotic slice of cosmic disco… and just brilliant.
French pop just gets better and better!
Sounds like: floating on a raft in the Pacific (although – just to spoil it – I can occasionally hear strains of the Shite FM/commercial radio classic This Love by Maroon 5).
33. Frankie Cosmos – Windows
Another beautiful single from Greta Klein’s girls and boys. There’s such a purity and gentleness about this band that’s so refreshing. Hopefully parent album Close It Down will be as good as last year’s wonderful Vessel.
Looking forward to seeing them again in October.
Album: Close It Down (September)
Sounds like: an indie sound which can be traced back to The Marine Girls in 1980
32. Tacocat – Hologram
Tremendous guitar pop and vocal harmonies from one of Washington State’s and Sub Pop’s finest, and lyrics redolent of an inverted form of Thomas Hardy’s ode to the sadness of ageing, I Look Into My Glass:
Not so long ago, I used to feel like
I was too sensitive to even be alive
But maybe now it’s the opposite
Too much to say
So I don’t say anything
Is numb even a feeling?
I just wonder how anyone falls for this anymore
Don’t take this the wrong way
But you’re doing this the wrong way
Album: This Mess is a Place
Sounds Like: Madder Rose
31. Alice Hubble – Goddess
More analogue synth magic. Alice Hubley’s (Cosines/Arthur and Martha) solo project will inveigle its way into depths of your mind and one day you’ll hear it calling out to you at the most unlikely of moments. A spectral masterpiece.
Album: coming soon
Sounds like: Joy Division’s Atmosphere, but you can definitely sing a slowed down version of the Pistols’ Rock and Roll Swindle to the opening chords
30. Josefin Oran and the Liberation – Feel the Sun
More Swedish popsters. Josefin’s whispered vocals are a delight and the fabulous Krautrock motorik beat and swathes of pulsing electro make this ideal late-night musical fare.
I’ve just realised that I was going to say an ideal song for cruising the motorways, autoroutes and autobahns of Europe.
My goodness – recognise the Jeremy Clarkson within yourself and conquer it!
The Tron-like video is ace as well and will take you back to the early days of iTunes.
Oh no – I’m getting nostalgic for Apple now.
What’s wrong with me?
I’m getting old.
Album: Sacred Heart
Sounds like: Lindstrom
29. Taylor Swift – You Need to Calm Down
Token MTV song. I’m not being snobby about music (for a change), but there’s always been a dichotomy between pop music with some artistic leanings and the blatant cynical commercial tat that sells/streams in its millions. Having said that, every now and again, a song emerges from its Auto-Tune hell (and I’m not saying for one moment that the lovely Taylor needs Auto-Tune) that I quite like.
The opening synthesised bars of YNTCD remind me of The Human League’s Word Before Last (from their brilliant Reproduction album) and then evolves into the sort of bright, life-affirming song I would have danced to in my youth had I not been:
- resolutely English;
- had any level of confidence;
- and not been saddled by a bag of neuroses the size of Sudan.
Album: You Need to Calm Down
Sounds like: music to put your lippy on
28. Drahla – Stimulus for Living
Leeds art punks draw on an angular pop lineage dating back to their home city’s finest post-punk band Gang of Four. On the night we saw them, we witnessed a replica-shirted Spurs fan singing along to Stimulus whilst crying his eyes out with joy and relief as his team had just beaten Ajax in the last minute of an exciting Champions League semi-final.
We hadn’t seen the game because we were watching excellent support band (Liverpool’s own) Eyesore & the Jinx.
Pop Music or Football?
Album: Stimulus for Living
Sounds like: Bodega/Gang of Four
27. Weyes Blood – Wild Time
Natalie Mering’s wonderful album sounds like the essence of English pastoral mixed with a Laurel Canyon sensibility. A Carol King/Joni Mitchell for a new age.
A simply lovely record.
And Sub Pop: what a label!
From: Santa Monica/Pennsylvania
Album: Titanic Rising
Sounds like: Joni/Carol/Pentangle (again!)/Vashti Bunyan/ Anna Burch
26. FONTAINES DC – Liberty Belle
This year’s ‘hot ticket’ and many critics’ choice for the album of the year (Dogrel). There are shades of The Pogues. John Cooper Clark, Arctic Monkeys, The Ramones and The Libertines in this tremendous song, and singer Grian Chatten’s wonderful enjambment-heavy rolling lyrics sound even better for allowing his fabulous Dublin accent to flow unrestrained by American vocalised compromise:
You know I love that violence
That you get around here
That kind of ready-steady violence
That violent “How do you do?”
And the lie when it’s “Daddy why sleep in a phone booth?”
He’s just very very tired of having
That same old boring conversation
Just like me, just like you
Listen to it, love it and take it into your heart before THE LADS get wind of it.
And ruin it.
Sounds like: see above
25. Pixx – Andean Condor
Pixx is 21 years old Hannah Rodgers’ sobriquet. Andean Condor is terrific – the analogue synth’s welcome comeback continues apace, and young Hannah is in the vanguard of a legion of new British artists who are quite frighteningly good.
Her album Small Mercies (named after a WH Auden* poem) is promising and another example of how the 4AD label has long been the soundtrack of my life.
Good old Ivo!
Album: Small Mercies
Sounds like: an Italo disco song from the eighties – it’ll come to me eventually. (The year 2037, I reckon.)
*Possibly the wrinkliest of all British poets. Honestly, look him up – his wrinkles are sensational.
24. Rose Hotel – Write Home
The second Atlanta band in The Fifty. Almost the essence of dreampop – a really beautiful song with sad, siren vocals, chiming guitars, and a distant, heartbreaking trumpet solo in a very lovely musical mix.
From: Atlanta, Georgia
Album: I Will Only Come When It’s A Yes
Sounds Like: distant yearning from another planet
23. Solange – Way to the Show
A lovely track from a brilliant late-night album.
When I Get Home (the album in question) reminds me so much of Roxy Music’s last proper album Avalon, where words and music just flow together in an almost ambient mix.
I could have picked any of the tracks, but I remember my eyes getting heavier and heavier as I listened to this on the bus a few months ago. It was a lovely way to fall asleep.
Mind you, I can still hear my passengers’ screams as we went over the cliff.
REMEMBER KIDS: RECOGNISE THE BOB MONKHOUSE THAT’S INSIDE YOU AND CONQUER IT! FOR THE GOOD OF HUMANITY!
Album: When I Get Home
Sounds like: Erykah Badu
22. Julia Michaels (featuring Selena Gomez) – Anxiety
I try to avoid the Billboard/Grammys/MTV world, but I do enjoy songs about mental health problems, even when they start off with something as unnecessarily sweary as:
My friends, they wanna take me to the movies –
I tell ‘em to f*** off, I’m holding hands with my depression
Now, if my friends wanted to take me to the ‘movies’, I’d only tell them to eff off if they wanted to take me to see ‘Greta’ again (I’ll never unsee that ‘movie’), and I doubt if I’d be so explicit and specific about the root cause of my problems, preferring instead to sink into a troubling mixture of reticence and thousand yard staring.
Still, we all deal with anxiety in a myriad ways and Julia Michaels’ upbeat song is entertaining enough for a good few ‘spins’ and there’s the germ of much better song in the rest of the lyrics of the ‘songwriter turned superstar’:
Oh, I try my best just to be social
I make all these plans with friends and hope they call and cancel
Then I overthink about the things I’m missing
Now I’m wishing I was with them
From: California via Iowa
EP: Inner Monologue Part 1
Sounds Like: someone you’d see and hear on MTV/The Box/whatever Channel 4’s horrible music channel is called – if you watched that sort of thing
21. Tallies – Mother
At last – some Canadians! Sarah Cogan’s band are quite brilliant live and she’s such a gifted guitarist and singer. Tallies’ eponymously titled album is a real joy, as well – at turns upbeat and bittersweet with an unfailing humanism at its centre.
Mother is my favourite track, and when I first heard:
My mother taught me to ask questions
She said, “That boyfriend will not do”
I talked yet I still never listened
Somehow she always still rings true
I thought: “Too right, mate!”
And I love the imagery of:
She said leave your past tomorrow
And don’t leave those skulls to dry
Don’t fill your holes with sorrow
‘Cause you’ll never be left alive
Good old, mum!
Sounds like: Mazzy Star
20. You Tell Me – Enough to Notice
Former Futureheads – and (still with) Field Music’s Peter Brewis teamed up with Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes after performing at a Kate Bush celebration and you can sense the Kate Bush/minor Ted Hughes lyrical imagery in their charming track Enough to Notice:
The air began to sing again
Gimlet eye from on high
Four in the morning
We may as well be ready
That dizzy feeling
Staring up at the pines
A blizzard through the windscreen at night
The minnows silvered through again
Grateful for a map redrawn
A change is coming
We may as well be ready
There’s a gentle prog feel to the song and there were plenty of non-hipster beards nodding along at their gig at Yes basement in February; and Sarah’s live version of And Dream of Sheep confirmed to me that it’s my favourite Kate Bush song.
Note to Self: listen to some punk. Immediately.
Album: You Tell Me
Sounds like: Renaissance/Pentangle/Kate Bush
19. Sad Planets – Just Landed
The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and Guided by Voices’ John Petkovic (and others) first album as Sad Planets is enjoyable enough and yields this rather super and plaintive ‘rock song’ (other, better genres are available). Good to see old favourite J Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr) ‘in the mix’:
From: Akron, Ohio
Album: Akron, Ohio
Sounds like: Oh, loads of people – a sort of not so bombastic Guns n Roses, if pushed.
18. Little Simz (featuring Cleo Sol) – Selfish
Beautiful British nu soul/hip-hop from a massively talented artist. Just let it wash all over you.
Album: Grey Area
Sounds like: Crown Height Affair meets Lil’ Kim
17. Queen Zee – Loner
You wait years for someone who sounds like David Bowie and then two come along at once (see 5). A brilliant glam single from one of Liverpool’s next big things – and enthusiastic support from Radio 1 and 6 Music (plus an appearance at Glastonbury) will move them up a league or two in the next few months.
A fantastic album as well.
Album: Queen Zee
Sounds like: David Bowie 72-73/glam personified/Falco! (on this track, anyway)
16. Linda Guilala – Estado Natural
Fabulously named after a monster in 1967 Japanese movie (the equally fabulously- titled The X from Outer Space), Linda Guilala continue to make brilliant urgent modern shoegaze for the discerning customer.
I’ve been waiting to see them for years and eventually got to see them – along with twenty or so equally discerning punters – in the basement of the excellent Peer Hat pub on a rainy night in Manchester.
A brilliant gig ensued.
I left for the last train clutching one of Ivor’s drumsticks (not a euphemism). I’m far too old to be a fanboy, but there you go.
Singer/guitarist Eva Lopez is a pop genius.
EP: Estado Natural
Sounds like: Lush; MBV
15. Girlpool – Pretty
Wistful, wonderful outsider pop from Cleo Tucker and co.
There used to be a time when David Bowie and The Smiths were the only* ones catering for one’s lonely, existentialist needs; now there are a thousand excellent bands to look after us:
I’m not the person down the block
I’m not the kid you like a lot
I drive five-hundred miles a week
I count my words, I hate to speak
I remember seeing you in dreams
Trying to understand what this sadness means
I hate the way I feel confused
Like I’ll always be a part of you
And that’s such a healthy state of affairs.
*hyperbole – but you get my drift
From: Los Angeles
Album: What Chaos is Imaginary
Sounds like: the children of Kristen Hersh
14. Jessica Pratt – Poly Blue
The stand-out track from the achingly lovely Quiet Signs album. Jessica Pratt’s voice takes a while to get used to, but once its seeming strangeness wears off, it’s a thing of wonder. Poly Blue is a sad, lonely yearning ballad which was delivered absolutely beautifully to a hushed and reverent audience at Manchester’s splendid Yes venue.
Album: Quiet Signs
Sounds like: a voice like no other, but this track has echoes of Pickettywich’s 1970 hitThe Same Old Feeling
13. Coathangers – Bimbo
A song that veers from delicate indie to ferocious garage punk, Bimbo is a deft take on modern relationships, thanks to the initial, sweet vocals of Julia Kugel and the Jake Burns-like vocal assault of drummer Stephanie Luke’s* angry chorus:
It’s not easy for a heart that’s stuck in limbo
But it’s okay ’cause you’re a bum and I’m a bimbo
I am not the one you’re looking for
‘Cause I am not your window or your door
I enjoyed the ‘hangers Manchester gig, but a stroppy, opening ‘Hey, mother****ers” is no way to endear yourself to a paying crowd (and they went down like an osmium balloon on the next night in Liverpool) and then mentioning that they hadn’t seen the nine o’clock showing of the last episode of Game of Thrones (thus enabling some utter knobhead to shout out the ‘ending’**) wasn’t the best option either.
Nevertheless, a fine song from a terrific band.
*anyone else remember Doris Luke, Kathy Staff’s game-changing character from Crossroads?
**Luckily, I was coming to my free trial of Now TV and had watched it before getting my train that evening, and also luckily it stopped me from having to join in the chorus of ‘W**ker!’ directed at the plot-spoiler from the other Thrones fans.
Album: The Devil You Know
Sounds like: Strawberry Switchblade… and then Pixies
12. Sharon Van Etten – Comeback Kid
A really good pop song which had Radio 6 and the ‘classic’ rock magazines salivating in the belief that they had found another quality, prestige act to join the pantheon (and who will be charging £60 – £100 a seat in years to come). She looks the part, mind.
The song was on my Spotify favourites for a few weeks and then was quietly omitted.
Surprisingly good when I revisited it last week and quite a lovely, vaguely countrified album.
From: New Jersey
Album: Remind Me Tomorrow
Sounds Like: Chrissy Hynde; The Motels
11. Aldous Harding – Fixture Picture
More New Zealanders; more 4AD
A few of years ago, the Canadians invaded my music life and I was bowled over by such a massive influx of talent from such a relatively small population.
Now it’s Antipodeans everywhere.
Designer is probably my favourite album of the year, and Fixture Picture is a mighty fine song. Just think how much better the world would be if we were all gently introspective:
Honey, your face is folding up
As the memory kisses you goodbye
It’s better to live
With melody and have an honest time
Isn’t that right?
From: New Zealand
Sounds Like: Aldous’s vocals are uncannily like Lynsey de Paul (the first female winner of an Ivor Novello award, fact fans)
10. Melby – VCR
“Have we got a video?”
“Yes – WE’VE GOT A VIDEO!”
This is just gorgeous – floaty, hypnotic, Scandinavian dreampop from another mega-talented bunch of pesky kids – and a prime example of why it’s important to keep an ear out for new music.
I’ve got nothing against people following the same artists from their youth – it’s only music after all. I do my best to seek out new music, but there are any number of old bastards I’ve seen over the past year, and such ageing rockers and synth heroes are still heroically ploughing their lonely furrows to as (Spinal Tap manager Ian Faith would put it) ever-selective audiences. Original punk Vic Godard’s gig was just superb for example. But I draw the line at cabaret and heritage tours, and the day I pay sixty to a hundred pounds plus to stand in a giant crush at some enormodome in order to furnish the pension and lifestyle of some had-his-day/now just f*** off ex-pop star is the day I give up the ghost and get my Llandudno tattoo laser-removed.
EP: None of This Makes Me Worry
Sounds like: You can sing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or Robin the Frog’s plaintive Halfway Up the Stairs to the opening bars, but Matilda Wietzel’s vocals kept reminding me of an even more melodic Nico.
9. Vanishing Twin – Magician’s Success
Named after singer Cathy Lucas’s identical twin who was absorbed in utero, Vanishing Twin evoke the spirit of the much-missed Broadcast.
Magician’s Success is a dreampop/psyche song of immeasurable beauty.
From: London (based)
Album: The Age of Immunology
Sounds like: the Golden Age of French pop/Broadcast
8. Golden Daze – Took a Fall
I could imagine listening to Ben Schwab’s and Jacob Loeb’s beautiful ode to love and friendship in an immersion tank and it just vaporising every worry, pain and sad thought into the spirit world.
Almost ethereal and the song will give you hope that the slide guitar can be used for good as well as evil.
A gorgeous ‘record’.
From: Los Angeles
Sounds like: Alessi’s Oh Lori* rewritten in 2019
*Terry Hall spoke about how much he genuinely loved this song and that it wasn’t a guilty pleasure. It almost validated an argument I’ve been having for forty-two years.
7. Stella Donnelly – Mosquito
This year’s fifty is an Australian takeover. Stella Donnelly is quite the most engaging and also the funniest performer I’ve seen all year. And has the voice of an angel.
Beware of the Dogs is a fabulous album and Stella charmed the collective pants off an appreciative crowd in Manchester this year – so much so that my lovely partner fainted in the heat. (A big thanks to the smashing boys and girls in the crowd who helped out and particularly the wonderful staff at Yes in Manchester who were unbelievably kind and caring* that night.)
Mosquito is charming, playful love song:
‘Cause you’re a pretty light
And I’m so attracted to ya
A malaria mosquito
Buzzing in the shadow
Your name is up in lights
And baby you deserve it
I wanna bring you cake back home from work
But you’re allergic
But it also contains the lines:
I got sick of waiting
K Line sea containers
Thunder past my room
I use my vibrator
Wishing it was you
Which I thought, ‘Aye, Aye – a bit rude’, but it’s sung in such a plaintive little way that like Father Ted you also think: “Well, that’s the modern world for you!”
On stage Stella told a story about her mother being shocked when she heard these lines, but then added that she shouldn’t have been shocked because the item in question was actually a family heirloom – and had been handed down by ‘Grandma’!
A star of the future without a doubt and she will be wowing festivals throughout the summer.
*I remember the old days when security staff used to just kick your head in and get on with it.
Album: Beware of the Dogs
Sounds like: herself!
6. Soak – Knock Me Off My Feet
Great song. Great live. Great hair.
Album: Grim Town
Sounds like: nobody else on Earth
5. Sundara Karma – Greenhands
Regular readers will be aware that we’re all just a little bit fanatical about David Bowie at We Are Cult, and I’ve never really thought about it, but there are so very few bands or acts who have ever sounded like the man himself. Everybody was influenced by him – and Gary Numan was accused of stealing one of his personas – but soundalikes?
Enter Reading’s Sundara Karma. Singer Oscar ‘Lulu’ Pollock sounds remarkably like DB on this track, and this track sounds remarkably like the brilliant Teenage Wildlife from Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.
Normally such ‘homaging’ would put me in a nark all day, but not this time: Greenhands is effing marvellous!
For David Bowie fans everywhere.
Album: Ulfilas’ Alphabet
Sounds like: David Bowie!
4. Business of Dreams – Chasing That Feeling
Ex-Magic Bullets frontman Corey Cunningham has always delighted in all manner of bright jangly guitar pop songs. Chasing That Feeling is the sound of the best summer you ever had (even though it was released in January) and is the work of a near pop genius.
A brilliant pop song.
Album – Ripe for Anarchy
From: San Francisco
Sounds like: Brilliantly – The The’s Uncertain Smile; shamefully – Dire Straits’ So Far Away
3. International Teachers of Pop – After Dark
Singer Leonore Wheatley joined Moonlandingz Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer to produce an album of spellbinding old school analogue synth pop back in February. There are shades of fellow Sheffield legends The Human League in this fabulous electrodance single. A spellbinding live act and I was well impressed with band singer’s Katie’s choice of Aldi’s own Jesse James pale ale as her thirst-quenching rider when I saw them perform live at Jayne Casey’s District club back in February!
Album; International Teachers of Pop
Sounds like: Ladytron/The Human League
2. Lizzo – Juice
An amazing single from a great album.
Without doubt, Lizzo’s performance at Manchester Ritz was my favourite and best gig of the year. (And on my birthday, an’ all!) I’ve never heard such a reaction from a crowd, and I can’t ever remember such joy emanating across a venue. So many strangers wanted to talk to me as I quietly sipped my post-gig birthday drink, such was the glorious reaction from an amazing performer.
Juice sounds like it was beamed in from space – the first time I heard it I thought that it was a Nile Rogers production with its explosion of giant riffs and brilliant synthetic horns.
She’ll ace Glastonbury as well, and if:
Somebody get this man
I think he got lost in my DM’s – what? My DM’s – what?
By the end of the year, I’ll eat my hat.
And my DMs.*
*vegan (See, I’ve gone eleven minutes without mentioning it. I miss cheese, though. And trifle.)
Album: Cuz I Love You
Sounds Like: Chaka!
1. Penelope Isles – Chlorine
Some tracks just make you fall in love with guitar music all over again.
There are so many brilliant bands from Brighton at the moment – Squid and Our Girl are both wonderful, but my favourite South Coast record – and song of the year so far – is this fabulous, hypnotic, beautifully melancholic track.
I’m going to have to wait six months to see them (in Halifax, West Yorkshire gig-going fans), but until then I’ll be listening to upcoming album Until the Tide Creeps in.
If it’s anywhere near as good as Chlorine, it’ll be worth the wait.
A stunning song from a great young band.
Album: Until the Tide Creeps In
Sound like: if poet Stevie Smith could have played guitar
So there you have it. Hope you liked my more obscure choices – and if you do, ‘steal’ them and pretend that you discovered them first!
See you at Christmas for the full hundred.
❉ Here’s a Spotify link to the 50: https://open.spotify.com/user/1115364147/playlist/41WtRTn4ujnHqOWTfgEYY1?si=CZY3fm5MTYu2rfsXvTKRjQ
❉ Stephen Porter has written for Esquire, Backpass and a host of other publications.
❉ Header image: New Zealand’s Tamaryn at Manchester’s Night People