Whether you're shopping for friends and family or picking out a well-deserved treat for yourself, here's our take on the must-have releases for 2014 holiday gift-giving.
various artists - Songs from the Black Meadow (blackmeadowtales) --- Companion piece to the Soulless Party's Tales of the Black Meadow CD and Chris Lambert's short stories of largely the same title, names from as far afield as Alison O'Donnell, Emily Jones, Wyrdstone, Keith Seatman, Rowan Amber Mill, Elena Martin and the Soulless Party unite to celebrate in song the darkness that pervades the Black Meadow of legend, lore and more. Sometimes frivolous, sometimes chilling, let this be your entrance into one of modern acid folk's most pervasive myths.
Einsturzende Neubauten - Lament (BMG) --- Less a new album, more an aural scrapbook, Lament is the studio recreation of a live concept built around the on-going centennial of the Great War. It’s an absolute Frankenstein, created from new musical constructs, archival sources, historical samples, edgy atmospheres and even a spot of song and dance. Performed in both English and the band’s native German, it’s not an easy listen - you need to treat it more as a radio play than a performance, listening to what’s going on, and following it too. Give it that attention, though, and it is as utterly captivating as it is ultimately chilling. There’s going to be a lot of centennial projects unleashed over the next four years, but this is likely to remain one of the most crucial.
Sky Picnic - Her Dawn Wardrobe (Mega Dodo) --- On a label alive with vivacious psych, Sky Picnic serve up an album that not only exceeds some soaring expectations, it justifies the band’s name as well. The title of course is weighted towards the same CS Lewis/Kenneth Grahame territory that so many other tinkerers have toyed with, but with a lot better reason than most. Choose between ten tracks if you want to play favorites, but “English Breakfast” will certainly make you hungry for more.
Tor-Peders - Brev Från Ederstorp (Fruits de Mer) --- Reviewed here, where you will discover “a play-it-till-your-eardrums-burst slam of six magnificent instrumentals – among them, quite coincidentally, a version of the same George Martin composition that debuted FdM on the release racks in the first place.”
Thompson - Family Album (Decca) --- Hail hail, the gang’s all here! Linda and Richard, Teddy, Jack and Kami, lazily dubbed by sundry lazy dubbers as a micro-dynasty of English folk, but far broader scoped and stroked than that. Ten original songs cut for the sheer joy of singing and playing together, and reflecting that glory through every listen. An album to line up alongside whatever past Thompsonic favorites you fancy, but Linda’s voice remains a thing of such absolute timeless beauty that time itself feels irrelevant.
United Bible Studies - Doineann (A Year in the Country) --- The ever shifting landscapes of UBS converge once more, this time in a predominantly instrumental vein that echoes rainswept moors, moss-streaked doldems and a rainy gray that is as beautiful as it is chilling. The ten minute title track takes you places where music rarely wants to go, and the taste of what could be a hurdy gurdy adds a hint of MR James to the mix. Later, Alison O’Donnell’s vocal for “Across the Blackened Fields” feels as old as time, and if you’ve ever wondered why there’s such a powerful haunted folk insurgence happening now, this album is one of the key reasons why.
TV Smith - I Delete (TVS/Boss Tuneage) --- reviewed here - and still as great as we said it was then. “Lyrically, Smith’s traditional themes of underdogs biting, or at least snarling, back remain potent, thoughtful, intense. But his lyrics are only ever half of the story, and this time, they may be a fraction less than that. Because I Delete is an album of energies and tempers, of unspoken truths and unventured realities. Of lurid economy, but grandiose artistry.” Readers of a literary bent, meanwhile, might also want to pick up the latest volume of TV's punk rock diaries, reviewed here.
Bryan Ferry - Avonmore (BMG) --- One thing you have to say for the Class of 72. The years may come and the years may go, but they still huff and puff away with panache, and Ferry is still streets ahead of the rest. Whether he’s realigning “Send in the Clowns” or mourning his own “Midnight Train,” or even making a Robert Palmer cover sound like early Cure, Avonmore is unmistakably Bryan, of course, as is everything he does when he’s at his best, and if ghosts of princeps past occasionally gaze across the boulevard, then what else would you expect? Even on the first Roxy album, Ferry knew the value of nostalgia, and he served it up in spades back then. He still does today ... it’s just that there’s more to go around.
Crow Call - Crow Call (Crow Call) --- reviewed here, but just to reiterate: “Crow Call is what Elvis was playing in the truck as he looked for parking outside Sun Studios. It is what Robert Johnson was playing on his ipod as he walked to the crossroads. It is what they played to Blind Joe Reynolds before they told him he’d been blinded, and it’s what Thomas Edison heard the first time he left his phonographic equipment unattended in a haunted house.”
Emily Jones - Autumn Sky (Owl Textures) --- reviewed here just a few days ago, so go look for yourselves. But, on a related note, Jones can also be heard alongside the Rowan Amber Mill on Book of the Lost (Millersounds/Owl Textures)... reviewed here, where we said, “an utterly spellbinding CD soundtrack for the show that never was…a slice of dark-dreamy lost and lovely psych, with Jones’s marvelous voice a wraith-like presence that is both childlike and ageless.”
IT’S SORT OF OLD, SORT OF NEW...
James Williamson - Re-Licked (Leopard Lady Records) --- reviewed here, but just so you know, “Lisa Kekaula’s “I Gotta Right” actually makes the Stooges’ original sound like a pantywaist, so coiled and tense is its every moment; while Carolyn Wonderland first mines every last drop of the primal blues menace that “Open Up and Bleed” ever packed, and then blurs “Gimme Some Skin” beneath an even more sinister sheen.”
various artists - Forever Changing - A Tribute To Love's Forever Changes (Active Listener) --- From the greatest web label in the world... well, one of them, anyway... a tribute to what many consider to be the greatest album ever made. Well, one of them, anyway. Fully stacked with the cream of modern psych, which means the aforementioned Sky Picnic are back already, a magnificent package is also a chance to hear the bands you know you need to. The always superb Rowan Amber Mill, the delectable Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, the alchemical Chemistry Set, the interstellar Earthling Society, the so attractive Magnetic Mind (who do things to “Alone Again Or” that you just could never imagine), the Red Plastic Buddha and guess what? The whole thing is free! But The Solar System’s “Maybe the People...” would be worth the cost of admission, even if it was full price. Get it here. Now.
Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Century Media Records) --- not reviewed here... that was the Hammersmith album. But the same holds true for this one. “The actual playing is flawless, both technically and in terms of recapturing every song (almost) exactly as it used to be played. Roger King’s keyboards are Tony Banks’s doppelganger, Nad Sylvan’s vocals are exquisitely poised somewhere smack between Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, and so on. But Hackett not only replicates old guitar lines, he embellishes them with… sometimes, they’re the tiniest flourishes, but they make sufficient difference to remind you that this is the real thing.”
various artists - Seven and Seven Is (Fruits de Mer) --- A seven single box set rounding up an album’s worth of great American psych, through the wringer of the best in modern magnificence. Which is... a box-set of seven 45s featuring:The Bevis Frond playing Clear Light, the Higher State playing 13th Floor Elevators, the Chemistry Set playing Love, Sendelica playing the United States of America, King Penguin playing The Byrds, The Gathering Gray playing Moby Grape, Black Tempest playing Spirit and the Seventh Ring Of Saturn playing the Dead. Reviewed here... and here... and here... and here... and here.. and here... and here... and here....
RECORD STORE DAY
Life Without Buildings - Any Other Day (What’s Your Rupture) --- Prior to its Record Store Day reissue, this was one of those albums that you always tried telling people about, but the words were never there. From the first days of the century, an Edinburgh, Scotland, combo who made zero mark on the world at large... but then the whispering started. “You have to hear this, it’s magical.”
Cast away somewhere between whatever desert islands that early Low, classic Fall and the third Velvets album are marooned on, Any Other Day haunts with lyrics that sound like you’re thinking aloud, with vocalist Sue Tompkins more captivating with every breath. Catch her solo on the Junior Aspirin comp, or via a string of compulsive YouTube clips, then turn to the album's closing “Sorrow” - the first truly great performance of the 21st century, and still nobody has topped it.
Velvet Underground - MCMXCIII (Rhino) --- Cynically we look back on the 1993 Velvets reunion as an opportunity for an entire audience who missed them the first time around... to miss them again. Twenty-five years after the Reed/Cale/Morrison/Tucker line-up last played together, they were very different people who got together to play again. But still the accompanying live album is a real good time being had together, not to mention an at-last opportunity to hear the live show as it never sounded before, well-recorded and amply appreciated. Plusa new song. Plus Cale-fired takes of the Loaded-era stuff. And here it is spread across eight sides of vinyl, including one devoted wholly to “Hey Mr Rain.” Eat your heart out, Sister Ray....
various artists - The Dunedin Double (Flying Nun) --- The legendary, the classic, the one and only... a 2,000 copy limited repress for a spectacular sounding reissue of one of the founding fathers of 80s indy. The Flying Nun label’s ethic of low-fi antipodean psychedelia, served up with aside apiece by the Clean, the Chills, the Tall Dwarfs and the Verlaines, and then spread around the world.
Equally gripping, and simultaneously deployed, is a glorious reissue for the Bored Games’ 1982 Who Killed Colonel Mustard. Both are vinyl-only... CD releases for early Flying Nun material always lacked an awful lot in terms of the music’s original excitement; the remasters employed here, on the other hand, digs deep down into the grooves of the original vinyl to pull out every last nuance of sonic intention.
The Idle Race - The Birthday Party (Parlophone) --- Still up there among the most twee of all Anglo psychedelic offerings, no matter how much deeper into the vault the reissue gang have gone, Idle Race was essentially Jeff Lynne rehearsing for a career spent wishing he was a Beatle, and a debut album that proves how close he came. Devoid though it is of the weightier conceits that would later sustain his dreamscape, Birthday Party is nevertheless a truly characteristic trawler full of hooks, most notably across “The Skeleton and the Roundabout” - the most compulsively, gloriously, annoyingly perfect pop song ever written about either of its titular heroes.
Genesis - From Genesis to Revelation (Varese Sarabande) --- Expel from your mind all visions of hogweeds, of lying down lambs, of Phil Collins and “Mama.” Forget Trespass and Foxtrot, and whether they can dance. Discover Genesis as the world first heard them, a fresh-out-of-schoolboy British prog band, deeply in thrall to the Moody Blues, writing songs that they thought were vaguely Bee Gees-esque, and produced by Jonathan King, who made them sound as great as they were ever going to.
If Genesis had not gone on to anything else, this would be regarded as one of the lost classics of a gilded age. As it is, its contents have been reissued so often, and its makers have reviled them so frequently, that you need to be very forgiving just to play it. But when you do... oh come on! A teenaged concept album about the Bible. How can you resist?
The Doors - Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine (Elektra) --- The original double best of album, four sides of primo Doors compiled while Morrison’s death was still fresh in the memory. and neither the archives nor the reissue racks had been ripped to shreds in the desperate drive to exhume every last belch Jimbo consigned to tape. Equally balanced between the obvious hits and the deserving epics, non-album b-sides and a really great cover, Weird Scenes still stands as an object lesson in how to compile a decent hits package. Nothing too scenic, nothing too weird, and it doesn’t drag on for too long either.
Wreckless Eric - Le Beat Group Electrique, The Donovan Of Trash (Fire Records) --- Two for the price of two, but worth at least twice that, a pair of late 80s-and-beyond-ish jewels by the inimitable Wreckless Eric... a decade on from the whole wide world, but still mining the same vein of exquisitely pure pop that you’d expect. “It’s A Sick Sick World” and “Fuck By Fuck” might just see Le Beat Group shade Donovan if you had to choose between them. But “Joe Meek” and “If It Makes You Happy” would answer back. Plus, "Lureland" is reprised from the first Len Bright Combo album, and a cat with no ears could tell you how great that is. So you should probably get them both.
ARCHIVES AND BOXES
Underworld - Dubnobasswithmyheadman (Universal) --- Five disc boxed set reviewed here, where we marveled “Stubborn and steadfast, it sounds as great today as it did back then, and that’s astonishing because you can count on one thumb the number of other period electronica discs that don’t immediately send you spinning back to the days when mini-discs were the sound sensation of the future, cameras still demanded you buy (and develop) rolls of film, and the average household computer measured its memory in kb.”
various artists: Holland Dozier Holland: The Complete 45s Collection - Invictus, Hot Wax, Music Merchant 1969-1977 (Harmless) --- The title tells most of the story (there’s also a couple of discs devoted to acetates, test pressings and remixes), and it’s one you’ll want to hear. For the first half of the decade under the microscope at least, the former Motown hit machine was responsible for some of the most glorious soul of the age, with Freda Payne, Chairmen of the Board, Glass House, Parliament, Ruth Copeland and Lucifer leading a charge that still has no peer. Both a- and b-sides help jam pack ten CDs, and if that’s not enough, a second box from the same label and stable offers up the complete works of Chairmen of the Board, individually and collectively.
Nils Lofgren - Face the Music (Fantasy) --- With so much of the pre-release chatter revolving around two discs worth of unreleased material, and a Neil Young fired version of “Keith Don’t Go,” it would have been easy to overlook everything else - namely, one of the finest box sets of them all, a ten disc total that devotes one to Grin, one to the seventies, and so on up to date... plus the rarities, plus the DVD, plus a fabulous book.
There’s way too many Lofgren monsters to list all the goodies, an you can trace his own favorite albums by the weight he gives them when their turn comes around (his solo debut is present in its near entirety, and so it should be). But you probably won’t argue with the song selection, and you won’t argue with the fact that Nils is one of those so-very-rare artists who may even have improved with age. Or at least, has remained as great throughout.
Fripp & Eno - Live in Paris 28.05.1975 (Opal) --- Three CDs wrap up the show plus Eno’s prepared tapes, and maybe they still remind us just what a sonic shock to the system this was, neither Crimson nor Roxy, but a lot of bleeps and squiggles, an audience that clearly expected much more, and performers who would give them nothing else. Today, music like this seems and feels a part of the furniture... of the wallpaper, even. Back then, it was as unfamiliar as a haunted castle.
The Eccentronic Research Council - 1612, Magpie Billy and Other Curiosities (Bespoke Audio) --- Just in time for that cassette tape revival you’ve heard so much about... and a jolly fine reason for paying attention to it too... a limited edition (eighty copies) cassette of demos, out-takes and oddities by the synth and weirdness ERC. If you know them, then you’ll recognize their two album titles bound up in the title here (and if you don't, you need both of those as well) and the scraps are as fascinating as they ought to be. You even get to hear Maxine’s first ever witch call! Bled together into two twenty-minute side-long tracks, it definitely has its dislocated moments, and you do occasionally yearn for the structure of the regular albums. But there’s beauty and bewilderment here, too. Just don’t let the magpies near your record collection....
various artists - Millions Like Us: the Story of the Mod Revival 1977-1985 (Cherry Red) --- Four CDs reviewed in Goldmine #849, where we said “the music... cannot be faulted. Or, for that matter, thwarted. The bulk is cut, for obvious reasons, from the same cloth that fired the original fury, which means lots of Who riffs, Small Faces rhythms, proto-reggae inflections and Northern Soul sensations. Even at the end, by which time the scene was stuffed with bands that you will not remember (the Boss, the Blades, the Studio 68!), the sounds remain stupendous. And if just one more person falls in love with the mysterious Eleanor Rigby (whose “I Want to Sleep With You” is a box topping highlight), then the cost of the box was worth it. AS it is, everyone will fall in love with her, and with the rest of this package too.”
King Crimson - Starless (Deluxe box set) (Discipline Global Mobile) --- In a way, it’s almost too much. Twenty-seven discs, plus a twenty-eighth in download form, tracking the mighty Crim from the end of the Lark’s Tongue box of two years ago, to the dawn of the Red set last fall. Between them, that’s close to sixty discs worth of live music, drawn from from barely two years of touring. But Crimson were never about the songs so much as the mood and momentum, and every night has its improvisational peaks that send you reaching for the next one, as soon as the last one ends. The Starless and Bible Black LP is the focus here, both at the shows and via the DVD/Blu-Ray surround sound discs, but Red is already hoving into sight, and “Starless” itself is a highlight that never grows old, no matter how often you hear it.
Captain Beefheart - Sun, Zoom, Spark: 1970-1972 (Rhino) --- Four discs round up three studio albums and a set of demos too, capturing Beefheart as he shifted from the straightforward blues boogaloo that convinced so many different labels that they could tame him, to the yowling, growling Behemoth whose influence still bestrides rock’s left field today. Newly, and nicely remastered versions of Lick My Decals Off, Baby, The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot are the obvious point of entry, but the out-takes disc is probably where you’ll wind up spending the most time.
Anthony Phillips - Harvest of the Heart (Esoteric) --- Though some critics find it easier to file him into some spurious New Age vault, than to place him where he truly belongs, Anthony Phillips has spent the four decades since his debut album pursuing a vision that is quite possibly unique - classical, without a hint of the classics, progressive without a prog pick in his music room. From The Geese and the Ghost to today, though, and the clutch of brand new recordings which wrap up the final disc in this stunning box set, Phillips has more than matched his general lack of visibility with a vision that is at least comparable to any of his old Genesis band mates - and if you doubt that, think on this. Have any of them yet been treated to a five disc, career-spanning box set?
Bob Dylan and the Band - The Bootleg Series Volume 11 - the Basement Tapes Complete (Sony) --- Six CDs. Or raw - 2CDs. Either way, there must be a gazillion bands out there who locked themselves away in a basement for a few weeks of jamming, songwriting and play, and who wish that the resultant tapes... which are probably no better, no worse, than these honestly are... could merit even a fraction of the legend that’s attached to Dylan’s doodles.
The facts are, after all, hard to miss: that the best songs from the sessions were those that went out on a publisher’s acetate while they were still fresh, an were consequently covered by the familiar few. That the majority of the 130+ songs here were never intended for public consumption; an so on and so forth. But... time and place! Post-accident, pre-John Wesley Harding, this was Dylan on a creative high that he wouldn’t truly echo until the Rolling Thunder rehearsals allowed him to recreate the same kind of haphazard mind set as inspired the Basement Tapes, and though there’s a lot here to skip past, there’s even more to embrace.
Too many people have too many favorites for anyone to attempt to pick out the cherries. But a career best “Blowing in the Wind,” all Highway 61 chug-a-lug boogie, rules the roost; “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Tupelo” and “The Auld Triangle” paint what could have been a dynamite alternative to Self Portrait; and there’s the aforementioned acetate in best-ever sound quality, to show us what could have been the next great Dylan album. But wasn’t, because for some reason, he thought “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” was a better song than “I Shall Be Released.”
various artists - When I Reach That Heavenly Shore: Unearthly Black Gospel 1926-1936 (Tompkins Square) --- Three discs deliver precisely what it says on the box, some truly unearthly sounds of praise and promise, served up across a decade when gospel was in the hands of the holy, not the hucksters. Or, perhaps, vice versa.
Modern sensibilities will certainly be tickled by the likes of “Dead Cat on the Line,” a 1929 sermon by the Rev JM Gates, warning every man to be certain that when he’s told a child is his, that the mother is telling the truth. There’s plenty more like that as well, alongside more traditional explosions of song and speech, while the heritage that gospel and blues so happily shared is readily apparent too. Excellent sound quality, too. A fabulous book cast with traditional Tompkins Square attention to detail offers full annotation, some great illustrations and plentiful background as well.
Johnny Thunders - So Alone (Drastic Plastic) --- There’s a lot of Thunders records out there, and a lot that paint a fairly awkward portrait of the Artist in a state of Dissolute Collapse. This, on the other hand, is the one that nails his genius into place, and allowed us to forgive everything else. Recorded in 1978, as the Heartbreakers edged out of the picture, it catches Thunders toying with both his own past (a frenetic ride aboard the Dolls’s “Subway Train”) and rock’s own... a joyous “Give Him A Great Big Kiss,” Johnny and Patti Paladin Shangri-la-la-la-ing all the way home.
Guests include Peter Perrett, Phil Lynott, Steve Marriott, the Pistols’ Cook’n’Jones and Chrissie Hynde, but this is so much Thunders’s show that they’re all but immaterial. “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” is the albums enduring classic; “London Boys” its snot-nosed punk mocker; “Daddy Rolling Stone” its all-star triple threat vocal showcase; “(She’s So) Untouchable” its swaggering highlight... but seriously, there’s not a drab moment here, and as if that weren’t enough... the sound and space on Drastic Plastic’s 200 gram reissue wipes the floor with every past version you’ve heard, from your pristine UK original pressing, to the digital coaster that came out a few years back. In fact, the album’s sole drawback is, ten songs simply weren’t enough.
Saint Etienne - Tiger Bay (Plain Recordings) --- The reissue oddly opted for the weirdly-revised American version over the pristinely sequenced UK original, but still Saint Etienne’s third album stands head and shoulders over almost every other figment of its era - a sequence of delicious dance ballads and retro pop confections that are nothing if not the sound of the Shangri-Las, in whispered conversation with a box full of samplers. But though “Like A Motorway” is obviously the “Leader of the Pack” of the 1990s, “Marble Lions” is the best of Muswell Hillbillies too.
Trader Horne - Morning Way (Flashback Records) --- A most generous offering adds pictures, posters and even a period EP to the package, but Morning Way needs no such incentives. A stark duo of ex-Them Jackie McAuley and former Fairporter Judy Dyble, Trader Horne survived for just one album but one that is so perfectly formed, and informed by late sixties acid folk sensitivities, that more may have been too much. But the opening “Jenny May” is still part of the magnificent Ms Dyble’s live show, and her upcoming anthology will feature a brand new collaboration with McAuley.
Amon Duul - Phallus Dei (Cleopatra) --- A van full of Amon Duul reissues were reviewed here. This is the one that was “comparable in places to the rolling drums that powered Pink Floyd’s ‘Set the Controls’ (although the International Times compared it to a ‘mammoth, amplified Third Ear Band’),” and which was “both hypnotic and disorientating, particularly when it was spread, as was ‘Phallus Dei’ itself, over one full side of the album.”
Suede - Dog Man Star (Demon Records) --- We devote so much time today to denying that we even remember, let alone enjoyed, the mid-90s Britpop boom that it’s easy to forget that its two greatest components - and, consequently, its two finest albums - both shifted so far out on a stylistic limb that it was timing and their trousers alone that painted Suede and Pulp as kinsmen of the singing electricians that otherwise constituted the movement.
This, Suede’s second album, can only be bookended with Pulp’s This Is Hardcore (whose vinyl rebirth we still await), but even in isolation it hangs doomed and delicious, a ganglion revision of Stranded-era Roxy, if Aladdin Sane had replaced Eno on the keyboards. “We Are The Pigs” speaks still to the western world’s need to rise up in a decent revolution; “Hollywood Life” has a deathless air that makes even escape seem futile, and the entire album is poised so prophetically over the imminent death of rock as a force for change that it’s a wonder anybody bothered recording anything again.
Gram Parsons - Grievous Angel (Reprise) --- How strange, and sadly sobering to consider that, without Parsons’ tragically wasteful death, this... to all intents and purposes, his second solo album... would never have existed. Pieced together from whatever he left behind before he died, but miraculously blessed by the fact that even Gram’s off-cuts were magnificent, Grievous Angel probably doesn’t deviate too far from what he would have chosen himself... or, at least, we hope it won’t.
Across a first side that does not put a single foot wrong, and a second that is highlighted by a world’s finest “Love Hurts,” this is the album that most people are thinking of when they say how much they love Gram Parsons. And it deserves every plaudit it receives.
Sparks - Kimono My House (Universal) --- Seven previously unreleased demos, spread across a second platter, may or may not be worth the price of admission to the fortieth anniversary reissue of the Brothers Mael’s British breakthrough LP. But Kimono itself remains what Doctor Who would describe as a “fixed point in time,” one of those releases that hit so hard, and so unmistakably, that even people who weren’t born at the time can remember what they were doing the first time they heard “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us.”
And rightfully so, for it remains among the most distinctive 45s ever to spin on your turntable, and great swathes of the album that follows are likewise... “Falling in Love With Myself Again,” “Thank God It’s Not Christmas,” second single “Amateur Hour” and, to bid you farewell, “Equator” - the single song (although some would say a pestilence) that let us know that, no matter how weird we thought Sparks could become, at heart they were even weirder.