Here are the non-Seattle albums that spun the most in my rabbit hole over the past 12 months. The countdown starts with number 40, so you will have to scroll all the way down to find number one. For the first time I think, it contains some albums that did not see a physical release. With more and more music being exclusively released to air conditioned server farms I wonder if we’ll see a day when the minority of the list is made of records that had the privilege of getting a physical release? Most folks with all of their fancy means of consuming streams of music call that progress. Me, I just try to roll with it.
40. Cold Beat – Over Me (Crime On the Moon)
Truth be told, I like Cold Beat more than Hanna Lew’s previous band Grass Widow. The post-punk vibes on Over Me are just the right mix of early Dum Dum and Vivian Girls melodies and the spiky, jangly playfulness of Wire and Tubeway Army. High points like the stellar Mirror hit the ungodly sweet spot of driving beat, dissonance, and melody.
39. Hookworms – The Hum (Domino)
My main complaint with the Hum is that it’s nearly a carbon copy of last year’s number one album Pearl Mystic. The same interludes that have roman numerals for titles and it even contains last year’s number one single Radio Tokyo. That complaint is also why I still love this album. It’s nothing new, but it’s totally solid.
38. Skygreen Leopards – Family Crimes (Woodsist)
It’s hard to believe that Skygreen Leopards have been a band since 2001 and that this is their eighth album. The band have been quietly churning out wonderful psychedelic beauties inspired by Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and the Television Personalities for quite a long whild. This may be their most accomplished record to date, and if you like this, there is a treasure trove of Skygreen Leopards to discover.
37. Small Reactions – Similar Phantoms (Self-released)
Another self-released record in this year’s count down. I have a feeling in another year of two the list will be a majority of self-releases. Atlanta’s Small Reactions conjure krautrock from the below the Mason Dixon line. Influenced by Can, Stereolab and probably the Wedding Present, which makes them strangers in a strange land. Similar Phantoms is the real deal with some amazing bass playing (I’m still in awe that it’s not machine). Tons of pulses and killer grooves that will vibrate and rattle your too comfortable existence.
36. Pheromoans – Hearts of Gold (Upset the Rhythm)
If you were to judge this album by its cover you might think that Pheromoans are an odd lot who are into druids, fantasy game-play and general weirdness. You would be mostly right. This equally prolific and obscure band have released their most consistently entertaining album yet, knowing how to keep things interesting with just the right amount of weirdness and melody.
35. Ramona Lisa – Arcadia (Terrible)
Ramona Lisa is solo nom de guerre of Caroline Polachek of Chairlift. Obviously influenced by Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins and Goldfrappe, but still able to make esoteric synthetic sounds in a mold all of her own. This record seemed to get written off as just a minor solo excursion by most, but it delighted me throughout the year and I have a feeling it will continue to do so for a long time to come.
34. Vertical Scratchers – Daughter of Everything (Merge)
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen this record in the used bins around time. Every time I see it I fight the urge to buy it again and gift it to someone. John Schmersal was in Brainac and Enon and you can hear those bands in Vertical Scratchers, but it’s the organic feel to it that harks back to the Elephant Six collective of the 90’s that really makes it endearing.
33. Rat Columns – Leaf (RIP Society)
Rat columns achieve a zen like balance of murky depths and pristine shimmery pop. Guitars glisten with rays of light over a cold dark expanse. Rat king David West likes to straddle the extremes the way that the Church and the Cure always did. Recorded with the help of Kelley Stoltz, Leaf is just the right elixir of light and dark.
32. Alpaca Sports – Sealed With a Kiss (Luxury)
Sweden’s Alpaca Sports is most definitely twee, but their brand of twee is almost subversive. So cute and cuddly that you know that they have a dark side. They probably hide their death metal records when friends come over. Sealed With a Kiss is a record that could melt a cold dark heart with its sweet sugar charms. You can always hide it when your metal friends come over to visit.
31. The Lauras – The Lauras (Self-released)
There’s something both so right and so wrong about giving away an album this good for free. Wrong, because there was a time when bands this good could sell records. Right, because well, music this good for free is like free beer. You can’t believe your luck. Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Laura’s would not have been out of place on the One Last Kiss compilation that came out on SpinArt in 1992. Their swirling guitars and ethereal vocals remind me of the Lilys and the Swirlies with a bit of bossa nova thrown in for good measure.
30. Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)
My main complaint about der wunderkind Ty Segall has been his inability to be consistent. He seems to have conquered this weakness on his double LP Manipulator. Taking a T-Rex blueprint and running with it he strings together 17 songs that maintain consistency throughout. The kid may have finally done it.
29. Pow! – High Tech Boom (Castle Face)
Hi Tech Boom is a commentary on the current state of affairs in certain desirable cities. Techie nerds with their high salaries and bad taste are infiltrating the system and making it nearly impossible to eke out a living. No one knows that better than Pow! who come from the San Francisco bay area. Their post-apocalyptic vibes are akin of Devo the A-Frames and the Intelligence. And you thought Logan’s Run was just a movie.
28. Flowers – Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do (Kanine)
Recorded with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler this London trio won me over with their minimalist approach that evokes the sparseness of Young Marble Giants, the smart intensity of the Spinnanes and the melancholy melodies of Everything But the Girl.
27. Talbot Adams – Talbot Adams (Spacecase)
For all intents and purposes, this was Talbot Adams’ debut album. Last year’s download only album was made up mostly of acoustic self-produced home recordings was a self released download only record. Now he has a proper band and has delivered an electric powerpop record with a psychedelic streak to it.
26. Univers – L’estat Natural (Famelic)
Barcelona based moody rockers Univers live in the sun, but sound like the moody cellar dwelling southern cousins of Girls Names, early Cure and Big Country. L’estate Natural is sung in their native Catalan, adding a bit of mystery to its onslaught of soaring and darting guitars.
25. Ex Hex – Rips (Merge)
Mary Timony has been in her share of good bands. She could proudly retire with her resume of Autoclave, Helium, the Spells, and Wild Flag. Thankfully she’s not ready to hang up her axe. Ex Hex is in different league from all of those bands. Slick pop inspired by Cheap Trick and the Pretenders that is all killer and absolutely no filler.
24. Sugarstems – Only Come Out at Night (Dirtnap)
Sugar Stems singer Betsy Heibler has an amazingly strong voice. It easily cuts through her band’s twin guitar powerpop attack. Containing a great mix of Cheap Trick, the Bangles, the Nerves, this is easily one of the best powerpop records of the past few years.
23. Vic Goddard – 1979 Now! (AED)
Somehow Vic Goddard has been hoarding this treasure trove of northern soul since 1979. The guy can really keep a secret. A few have leaked out here and there like Holiday Hymn, but the majority are brand new to nearly everyone. Classic stuff 35 years later from the postman who thankfully rings twice!
22. Paperhead – Africa Avenue (Trouble In Mind)
The third album from Nashville’s Paperhead has a definite antique glow to it. Africa sees the band maturing quickly and features their best songs yet. In the garage-psych realm of things (Face to Face era Kinks and Rubber Soul Beatles) it don’t get much better than this.
21. Butter the Children – True Crime (Self-released)
Former members of Brooklyn’s Sweet Bulbs follow up their 2012 self-titled EP with a stormy noisepop beauty that features the siren-like vocals of Inna Mkrtycheva. This album is too good to be a free download, but that’s what it is. Everyone count your chickens!
20. Sea Pinks – Dreaming Tracks (CF)
On the fourth Sea Pinks album former Girls Names drummer Neil Brogan continues his west coast jangling affectations only this time he adds a cello into the mix with superb results. The cello adds a melancholy element to his airy songs making for the best Sea Pinks album yet.
19. Proper Ornaments – Wooden Head (Slumberland) / Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting (Trouble In Mind)
Veronica Falls guitarist James Hoare was a busy guy this year and there wasn’t even a new Veronica Falls album. He was at the center of two excellent records this year nonetheless, both of which shared an affinity with the Velvet Underground. For the first act, he teamed up with the Argentinian Max Claps in Proper Ornaments for a haunting set of songs that added in some Left Banke for good measure. Act two was Ultimate Painting, his collaboration with the Mazes’ Jack Cooper. This one was more straightforward Velvets stuff, but great songwriting refurbished a tried and true model.
18. Quilt – Held In Splendor (Mexican Summer)
The Boston band’s second album surpasses their good debut with a batch of psychedelic circle dances that sparkle and shimmer, effortlessly creating their own brand of psych with one foot in the past and other in the next star system.
17. Omi Palone – Ome Palone (Faux Discx)
The singer of Omi Palone has a baritone voice that makes you wonder what Calvin Johnson is up to these days. It’s a little more polished than that Olympia band’s oeuvre, but contains many of the same unique melodic twists and turns. This London band have quietly released a concise and economical (it’s only 8 songs) of blistering jangle reminiscent of Beat Happening, Butterglory and the Clean.
16. Nun – Nun (Aarght!/Avanti)
Melbourne’s Nun play dark, piercing, icy coldwave inspired music. Their debut album sounds so cold and detached that you’ll need to bundle up and experience it with friends to withstand its isolation inducing aura.
15. Soundcarriers – Entropicalia (Ghost Box)
I love how Nottingham’s Soundcarriers use their Free Design influence as inspiration. At times sounding as innocent as that late 60’s / early 70’s cult band and others they can sound sinister and mysterious. They even enlist the help of Elijah Wood on a 12 minute trippy soliloquy to add to the surrealism of the entire endeavor.
14. Chook Race – About Time (Self-released)
About Time was only released in December, but the debut record from this Melbourne trio is so immediate it easily climbed into the upper reaches of my top 40. The album is filled with boy-girl harmonies and jangling guitars that have similarities with the Bats and early REM.
13. Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit (Harbinger Sound)
This was the year that Sleaford Mods blew up. Well, at least in certain internet circles. They are certainly better known than they’ve ever been. Their distinctly British style of rap is not for the faint of heart, as this duo rages against the ruling class machine and mainstream bullshit over spare and ragged beats. No one else this year sounded this angry nor delivered their angst in such a manic and entertaining way.
12. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent (Lefse)
A Sunny Day in Glasgow turned a major page on Sea When Absent. Previously they were a mild mannered shoegaze band that kind of floated through you with little effect. They’ve kept their shoegaze roots, but morphed into a bigger life affirming pop band that demands attention with their new form of shoegaze gospel.
11. Peter Escott – The Long O (Bedroom Suck)
Peter Escott is also the singer of the Native Cats from Tasmania. On the Long Glow Escott wrote, played and rececorded everything. He sticks to piano and other keyboard oriented sounds that evoke an understated psychedelic tone that warms the sole and fits comfortably next to Frank Tovey, the Cleaners from Venus and Robyn Hitchcock.
10. Woodentops – Granular Tales (Cherry Red)
After reuniting to play some shows the Woodentops finally decided to record a follow up to their 1988 album Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway. You know it’s the Woodentops as soon as you hit play, though the band don’t come off as hyper as they did 25 years ago which wouldn’t make sense since it’s been so long. It’s decidedly darker but still danceable and utterly delightful.
8. Gwenno – Y Dydd Olaf (Peski)
Former Pippette Gwenno’s first solo album is a strictly Welsh affair. Inspired by Welsh sci-fi writer Owain Owain and sung in Welsh, Y Dydd Olaf is a sublime affair with rubbery beats, ethereal vocals and spacey vibes in the vein of Broadcast and Stereolab.
7. Total Control – Typical System (Iron Lung)
On the follow-up to 2011’s Henge Beat Total Control dial up a slightly more sedate and accomplished collage of synth-based pop. Lead by Australian garage rock luminary Mickey Young, the band delve into Ideal Copy era Wire, New Order and Depeche Mode territory while keeping their punk rock urgency and attitude intact which is truly a feat.
9. Alvvays – Alvvays (Polyvinyl)
This year’s countdown contains five self-released albums. There’s a ton of great records out there, only there aren’t enough labels to release them. Apparently this record came out as a self-released cassette over a year ago because they couldn’t find a label to release it. Polyvinyl finally came through to make this dreampop beauty available to the world at large.
6. Clap! Clap! – Tayi Bebba (Black Acre)
Tayi Bebba is something of a concept album where Italian maestro Cristiano Crisci takes you on a megatransecto of an island’s micro climates, villages, pastures and other not so physical planes. He uses a palette of sounds culled from field recordings, tribal rhythms, creek crossings, big beats, jungle vibes and trade winds to paint quite an adventure of a record.
5. Gotobeds – Poor People Are Revolting (12xU)
Pittsburgh’s Gotobeds like a good double entendre peppered with a tight jagged riff. Their debut album, is an elixir inspired by Pavement, the Fall and Wire (obviously) and packed full of adolescent energy, anger, spite and most importantly fun.
4. Primitives – Spin-O-Rama (elefant)
A couple years ago Coventry’s Primitives reunited and released a covers album to mixed reviews. It turns out that it was just a warm up to the real goods. Spin-O-Rama surpasses all of their early work. It’s slightly more understated, but more long-lasting. They still deal in autumnal and sprightly 60’s inspired pop but the production is more sedated and the hooks are longer lasting this time.
3. Hollie Cook – Twice (Mr. Bongo)
Hollie Cook’s second album is more tropical pop from the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. Her collaboration with Prince Fatty continues to produce sensual reggae infused pop, filled with strings and Cook’s easy croon. Twice is great batch of songs including her ode to her former bandmate Slits singer Ari Up.
2. Tee-Tahs – Buzzkill (self-released)
I don’t know what the legal limit of fun is in Edmunton, Alberta is, but Tee-Tahs have undoubtedly exceeded it on their debut album. This band doles out kinetic, irreverent fun. They’ve got an ear for a good chorus and can role phrases that are guaranteed to rile certain segments of the population. On Fun Forever they sing, “Kicking cans and breaking stuff, Fucking guys in parking lots, I don’t really give a fuck, I just wanna have fun forever.” It’s the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks updated by a bunch of Rat Babes for the millennial bunch.
1. Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)
Earlier this year Protomartyr frontman Joe Casey wrote a review of the latest Interpol album because apparently a lot of people think his band sound like them. For the record, Casey doesn’t think they sound like Interpol and neither do I. They definitely have some post-punk roots, though more along the lines of the Chameleons (think Return of the Roughnecks), but there’s more, so much more here! Casey is one of today’s best lyricists who talks more than sings over his always solid and inventive band. They cook their Detroit roots into each of the tracks on Under Color of Official Right. The name of the album, the legal term for extortion, was inspired by the corruption trial of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. There are few albums these days that make you actually think. Protomartyr do what the best punk and and postpunk records from the past have done, grab you with their hooks and then send you to the library to do some research.