Beating my self-imposed deadline by weeks, here is the Finest Kiss top 30 albums of last year. The list has been set for weeks, but the pesky writing part always causes a bit of delay. I don’t know, do you prefer a straight up list, or do you like a little reasoning and argument as to why a certain album is in solidly at number 12? Personally, I like lists that have a little bit of writing. Anyone can slap together a list of stuff, but when you actually have to write something about it inspires some more consideration. Ok, I know, boring music blogger talk. Please proceed.
1. Kiwi Jr – Football Money (Mint)
Football Money grew and grew on me throughout the year. This young Toronto band deftly combined the pure pop of the Kinks, Zombies and the Smiths with the more askew angular ideas of Pavement and Parquet Courts and ably added in off the wall humor inspired by Jonathan Richman. Songs like Salary Man and Football Money grab you with their immediate urgency and then roll you over and rub your belly with their innate pop sensibilities. These guys are sneaky and I love it. They can get you pumping your fist in the air with their rockers like Leslie and then cool it down with brilliant balladry of Swimming Pool, a song that references the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and sounds like a better psychedelic cousin to Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). Kiwi Jr’s debut album is nearly perfect. No pressure on the follow up fellas.
2. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (Drag City)
It had been over ten years since David Berman ended his previous band the Silver Jews. Most folks were aware of his mental health struggles and it was never certain that he would make another record. Well, he persevered, “spending a decade playing chicken with oblivion” to give us Purple Mountains, delivering the album a mere month before losing his game of chicken. The album is musically understated (his band is Woods’ Jeremy Earl, Jarvis Taveniere and Aaron Neveu) giving Berman’s lyrics the spotlight. He has a way with a rhyme and an uncanny ability to make the absurd and mundane beautiful and interesting. Snow Falling on Manhattan will be a future winter classic while Storyline Fever and All My Happiness is Gone are beautiful, brilliant, humorous, sad and ever so poignant given the circumstances. They don’t make many like Berman and his star shined brilliantly, but not long enough.
3. Holiday Ghosts – West Bay Playroom (PNKSLM)
Any band that can combine the Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers, Bats and the Pastels into a record that makes its influences known but not overwrought deserves some acclaim. Album number two from Falmouth’s Holiday Ghosts is a delight. It’s packed full of black turtleneck wearing, clove cigarette smoking, toe-tapping surf-garage rock numbers that are so well done, you’ll be calling your friends and inviting them over for a hootenanny.
4. French Vanilla – How Am I Not Myself? (Danger Collective)
French Vanilla are a Los Angeles band that sound inspired by 80’s bands like Romeo Void, Waitresses, and Oingo Boingo. Funny how 80’s inspired music and movies have not gone out of style. I wonder if it registers with the kids when a movie like Spiderman loosely apes John Hughes’ teen movies like Ferris Bueller and Pretty In Pink in theme and soundtrack? Wasn’t Weird Science a super hero movie after all? Instead of the English Beat, Oingo Boing or Romeo Void, movie soundtrack folks might consider any song from How Am I Not Myself to fill out the soundtrack for the next teen inspired comedy super hero film. Danny Elfman, if you’re listening…
5. Jeanines – Jeanines (Slumberland)
I’ve never been very good at predicting the future, but who doesn’t like to prognosticate? I hope I’m wrong, but this record has lost classic written all over it. Twenty years from now, old bearded millennials will be scavenging used bins for the Jeanines’ album for its autumnal jangle and frosty melodies that drip down on a sunny spring day melting the winter cold from the trees. Duo Alicia Jeanine and Jed Smith are firmly planted in the lore of Veronica Falls, Dum Dum Girls and the Shop Assistants and smartly possess the economical mindfulness of Guided By Voices. Don’t miss this classic.
6. Capitol – Dream Noise (Meritorio/Kingfisher Bluez)
Hamilton, Ontario’s Capitol are very adept at generating moody post-punk noir that takes flight. File them under the Cure, Adorable, the Sound and Chameleons. Dream Noise is an appropriate title and it is filled with great pop songs full of cascading guitars and motorik-based beats.
7. Dry Cleaning – Sweet Princess/Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks (It’s OK)
What do you do if you release two killer EP’s in a year? You put them together onto an LP is what. That is exactly the smart move that London’s Dry Cleaning (who remind me a little of Salad’s shrouded pop with the bouncy rhythms of Trash Kit) did here to create one great record from two. Singer Florence Shaw kind of sings/talks over angular backgrounds, can create atmosphere with her delivery alone, and knows how to use a curse word.
8. Metronomy – Metronomy Forever (Because)
I can be hot and cold with Metronomy. Sometimes they deliver a record that’s packed with great stuff, and sometimes they miss. Metronomy Forever might be not contain any misses. It’s full of sugar coated synth pop with a sense of space and a knack for staying with you like an everlasting gobstopper.
9. Robert Forster – Inferno (Tapete)
If ever there was an example to illustrate quality over quantity it would be Robert Forster’s album output since the death of his Go-Betweens partner Grant McLennan in 2006. Inferno is only his third album since then, but it may be his best. He teams up with producer Victor Von Vugt who also produced his first solo album Danger In the Past 29 years ago. The former Go-Between still has a knack for writing a song. No Fame and Inferno are pure brilliance and Life Has Turned a Page ranks up there with Darlinghurst Nights as one of his better nostalgia tinged semi-autobigraphical ramblers.
10. Big Quiet – Interesting Times (Unblinking Ear)
When I first I heard this record, I thought that Mitch Easter must have come out of semi-retirement and teamed up with Susanna Hoffs to make a record. I was half right, Mitch Easter is indeed behind the production board here for Big Quiet’s debut LP. The band though are responsible for classic paisley jangle that evokes everything from the Bangles, REM, and Let’s Active. It ain’t pastiche though, it’s a corker that belongs right up there with those greats.
11. Sneaks – Highway Hypnosis (Merge)
Eva Moolchan AKA Sneaks, finally delivers on the promise of here previous two albums. Where those records had promise, they never brought it home. Whether it was due to the brevity of the songs or being held back by fear of not being punk enough. Sneaks, finally says fuck it, and delivers a great batch of songs inspired by the likes Young Marble Giants, MIA and Bratmobile.
12. Durand Jones & the Indications – American Love Call (Dead Oceans)
No retro soul album could ever be considered groundbreaking, but then when did the last groundbreaking record come out? American Love Call does one thing and it does it very well. Album number two is a little more toned down and smoother sounding than the debut. It’s Heavy on the strings and sounds as smooth as silk.
13. Le Superhomard – Meadow Lane Park (Elefant)
This year has seen no shortage of records influenced by Stereolab and Broadcast which is fine by me. Le Superhomard lean more towards the Stereolab side of the teeter-totter with their ping-pong synths and bouncy melodies. They have a keen pop sensibility, with Scandinavian influences like Abba and the Cardigans elbowing in on the Stereolabisms to make this a very delightful affair.
14. Jamie Branch – Fly or Die II (International Anthem)
Chicago label International Anthem has been on a run of late, putting out some of the most exciting sounding albums in any genre. They focus on jazz and avant garde, and Jamie Branch’s second album is a little of both. Branch plays the trumpet, and even takes the vocal mic on this record. Prayer for a Amerikkka pt. 1 & 2 sees her push A Love Supreme from the gospel to the political over a menacing grove interspersed with blasts of horn. Elsewhere she get’s playful like on Simple Silver Surfer with its latin influence. This record keeps you on your toes and makes jazz accessible for those who might normally steer away from a jazz record.
15. Woolen Men – Human to Human (Eggy)
Down in Portland, Oregon Woolen Men keep on keeping on and releasing quality album after quality album. Human to Human is their latest and grooviest. The rhythm section has always been an important element of this post punk band but on Human to Human it is front and center. The songs are tight and confident (Mexico City Blues and Ecstasy of an Ant are two of their best songs) and the band are so locked into it that they even do an instrumental workout to flex their collective muscles. Could this be peak Woolen Men?
16. Ride – This Is Not a Safe Place (Wichita)
Ride reunited in 2014 and then released their comeback album Weather Diaries in 2017 which was promising as far as comebacks go. Their second post reformation LP though, really validates the band’s reformation. It uses the band’s shoegaze/dreampop sound as a launching point into new areas of sonic revelry and features some of the best songs the band has written in Clouds of Saint Marie, Repetition and Future Love.
17. Automatic – Signal (Stones Throw)
This Los Angeles trio make snyth pop sound dangerous. With no guitars in sight, their debut album calls on influences like Tones on Tail (Kevin Haskin’s daughter Lola Dompé is the drummer), Suicide, Gary Numan and Delta 5 (they cover Mind Your Own Business) and features attitude and atmosphere in spades.
18. The Reds Pinks and Purples – Anxiety Art (Pretty Olivia)
Glenn Donaldson bands have made regular appearances in this blog’s year end album lists. That Art Museums is still a favorite and the last Skygreen Leopards was a doozy. He’s back with The Reds Pinks and Purples and it features a little something for fans of the Art Museums and Skygreen Leopards. Donaldson has voice that evokes nostalgia and sadness. Combined with 12 string jangling guitars and general lo-fi sensibility the record isn’t meant to impress on the first listen, but rather slowly attach itself to you.
19. Cate Le Bon – Reward (Mexican Summer)
Cate Le Bon had a busy year, producing a Deerhunter LP, collaborating on another one with Bradford Cox, and this album her latest masterpiece of avant-pop. She’s an explorer, taking us along with her in endless endeavor to keep the pop song interesting. Where some of her recent work could be described as difficult, Reward is nothing of the sort. It’s never obvious or straightforward, but the edges have been softened making this an enjoyably, slightly experimental experience.
20. Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology (Fire)
Fire records, Vanishing Twin’s record label has got a lock on Broadcast inspired bands with this, Death & Vanilla and Jane Weaver. The Age of Immunology mines similar territory to my favorite Broadcast album The Noise Made By People. Yes, points off for not being original, but they add enough nuance to it to make it easy to ignore where it came from and just appreciate where it is.
21. The Young Sinclairs – Out of the Box (Requiem Pour Un Twister)
Quite a few bands get points taken off their score due to their songs sounding too much alike. Roanoke’s Young Sinclairs do not have that problem. Their creative juices flow from spacey drones reminiscent of Spiritualized, paisley jangle of the Church, folky harmonies of Buffalo Springfield, downbeat synths evoking New Order and Sam Cook inspired soul and that’s only half the record. Out of the Box is exciting because you never get bored and are surprised with every turn they take. What can’t this band do and do well?
22. Dumb Things – Time Again (Coolin’ By Sound)
This low-key Australian band hailing from Brisbane, the hometown of the Go-Betweens and possibly named after a Paul Kelly song, Dumb Things push all the right buttons. Their sophomore LP was released late last year with little publicity. It maintains the high quality standards set by their first album and sits comfortably beside your Dick Diver, Twerps and Chook Race records.
23. Zebra Hunt – Trade Desire (Tenorio Cotobade)
On their third record, Seattle’s Zebra Hunt continue their janglepop mastery and add a handful of new classics to their repertoire like Two States, See Through You and Coral Scenery. They also make a Fresh & Only’s song sound like they wrote it and stretch out on the nearly seven minute Don’t Say Anything. At only eight songs, Trade Desire is economically minded record with no filler or fluff.
24. Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Mandatory Reality (Eremite)
I think this record is considered jazz or experimental tonal jazz or some other mumbo jumbo. To me, it is hypnotic, trance inducing music that you shouldn’t listen to while operating heavy machinery. A warning sticker on the cover about the dangers of listening to it and ending up somewhere and not knowing how you got there should be placed on it. Better than drugs.
25. The Intelligence – Un-Psychedelic in Peavey City (Vapid Moonlighting)
I have no idea what the title to the Intelligence’s latest album alludes to. This former Seattle band relocated to the fake surfing environs of So-Cal a few years back to continue their warped Ventures inspired glue sniffing weirdness. Main brain Lars Finberg, appears to be on the wagon, but there is no discernible drop off in quality here. Perhaps this is really what he’s like?
26. Blue Jeans – Adult Hits (Bobo Integral)
This Ann Arbor, Michigan band is made up a veritable who’s who of the indiepop underground and the AllMusic writers bullpen. Tim Sendra of Veronica Lake, Fred Thomas of Saturday Looks Good To Me and Failed Flowers and Heather Phares who’s name I see quite a bit (along with Tim’s and Fred’s) on the AllMusic site. Adult Hits has a 90’s feel to it and a solid sense of humor. Opener Goodbye Forever has a Swirlies guitar buzz. We Hate Summer may be the best pro-winter anthem ever, “direct sunlight makes me wanna cry,” and “gimme gimme long sleeves” never fail to make me smile and the choruses on this song and many others will easily make their marks in your pop conscious.
27. Flying Fish Cove – At Moonset (Help Yourself)
At Moonset is a tropical indiepop paradise. It’s soggy and warm with an innocent brand of pop that has touches of Elephant 6 psychedelics, pastoral folkiness akin to Essex Green, and DIY P.U.N.K. reminiscent of Heavenly. The songs range from ramshackle to swooning synth-tinged odes, all delivered with a confidence and professionalism that belies the indiepop aesthetic.
28. BV’s – Cartography (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten)
This English-German duo excel at moody, atmospheric pop that may remind more than a few folks of one or two bands on Sarah records or even the Durutti Column. Some might call it dreampop, but these guys are too darn moody for a tag like that. Cartography has couple immediate songs and some that meander and others that will take a few listens to really appreciate.
29. Neutrals – Kebab Disco (Emotional Response)
Yank a Scottish guy out of Scotland and plop him down in the sun warped California bay area near a Kebab shop that doubles as a disco and you get this Swiss loving, CHiPs loving, slacker love record. Parts Art Brut, Ballboy and Television Personalities, Neutrals know a good joke, a top tune and great riff when they hear one.
30. The Divine Comedy – Office Politics (Divine Comedy Records)
I went through a Divine Comedy phase back in the 90’s around the time of the Liberation, Promenade and Cassanova albums. Fell off the wagon around Regeneration and picked up Office Politics this year on a whim. Happy to report that Neil Hannon is still a curious fellow doing his own thing with a sharp ear for a melody and weird streak in him that really keeps things interesting. Office Politics is a concept album about the office, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how songs like the Synthesizer Service Center and Philip And Steve’s Furniture Removal Company fit into the concept and I don’t really care. Hannon is still following his comic muse.
-Small Crush – Small Crush (Asian Man)
-Comet Gain – Fireraisers Forever! (Tapete)
-Daisies – What Are You Waiting For (K/Perennial)
-Marble Arch – Children of the Slump (Géographie)
-Piroshka – Brickbat (4AD)
-Edwyn Collins – Badbea (AED)
-J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest – TA DA (Hobbies Galore/Night School)
-Amyl & the Sniffers – Amyl & the Sniffers (ATO)
-Detox Twins – Dead Horse Ghost (Polytchnic Youth)
-Girl Ray – Girl (Moshi Moshi)
-Pernice Brothers – Spread the Feeling (Ashmont)