While I was working on my list of favorite albums of 2013, I reminded myself of what I’d been listening to by skimming through the stuff that had been added to my iPod over the year, and saw a lot of worthy music that it seemed a shame to exclude simply because none of it had been released in 2013. It was all new to me! And so I made this other list. It’s numbered but not actually in any particular order. I kept it limited to things I could add to a Spotify playlist, but even so it got kinda long. Oh well! Here we go!
1) The Lifeguards, “Paradise Is Not So Bad” (from “Waving at the Astronauts”)
Robert Pollard’s output is exhausting and I only really love a fraction of it, so I don’t make a big effort to follow it all. But I was reminded this year of how much I enjoy Doug Gillard’s guitar work, and so when I learned Gillard had written all the music for this album, I got interested.
2) Bonnie Hayes With the Wild Combo, “Shelly’s Boyfriend” (from “Good Clean Fun”)
This song was one of a bunch I heard this year for a sad reason: the great songwriter Scott Miller died. I rode out the dark feelings brought on by that by reading his book of year-by-year music lists (much like the one I’m writing right now), “Music: What Happened?”, a book which I mentioned in the Agony Aunts entry on the previous list without explaining what it was, because I forgot the other reference to it was on a different list. That’s what comes of writing two lists simultaneously, I guess. Anyway, this, which Scott Miller called “a shining example of power and intelligence behind a veneer of simplicity”, was his favorite song of 1982.
3) Phoebe Snow, “Love Makes a Woman” (from “Never Letting Go”)
This could’ve been from any number of albums, because I’d never heard any of them and they’re all pretty great. She sounds to me like the soul music version of Joni Mitchell.
4) Emmanuelle Parrenin, “Plume Blanche, Plume Noire” (from “Maison Rouge”)
An idiosyncratic French folk album with psych elements and even a song noted for predicting the sound of trip-hop decades in advance (that would be “Topaze”). Lovely throughout.
5) Raymond Scott, “Suite for Violin and Piano (2nd Movement)”
I had no idea Raymond Scott had written a classical piece. I wish he had written more! It’s pretty different from his manic jazz compositions, though the through-line from there to here is audible.
6) Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)” (from “Ask Rufus”)
This was a recommendation taken from Questlove’s “Mo Meta Blues”. I had pretty much only remembered Chaka Khan as the woman that some guy wanted to be allowed to rock in the 80s, but man, I was missing out on a lot. I particularly like this track because it’s a little proggy.
7) Stackridge, “Fundamentally Yours” (from “The Man in the Bowler Hat”)
Speaking of prog.
8) Martha and the Muffins, “World Without Borders” (from “Danseparc”)
Another band I only knew from one song, “Echo Beach”, and even that one I never heard until well over a decade had passed since its original release. Took me long enough to listen to the rest of their albums (of which there are many, all pretty uniformly good).
9) Lusine, “Two Dots” (from “A Certain Distance”)
I think I heard this song on This Is My Jam before I gave up on that website because the music streams kept skipping. The lyrics are Platonically simple: “Two dots joined by a line / Might be detached by a crime / Who is responsible when the line is stretched? / Who is responsible when it becomes a triangle? / How irresponsible when the line is stretched / How irresponsible when it becomes a triangle.” I read it as a quiet musing on romantic infidelity but I’m sure other interpretations abound.
10) Jon Auer, “City of Sisterly Love” (from “Though a Faraway Window: A Tribute to Jimmy Silva”)
I would’ve posted the original Jimmy Silva version, but Spotify ain’t got it (and the version they do have is mistitled, but whatcha gonna do). I feel like I should’ve known about this guy, since he ran with the Young Fresh Fellows and I was very into them back in college, but nope. I am belatedly very angry with the universe for the fact that Silva died in his 40s from chicken pox.
11) The Blue Ox Babes, “Pray Lucky” (from “Apples & Oranges”)
Every so often I get on a Dexys Midnight Runners kick, but for some reason it wasn’t until this year that I discovered the Blue Ox Babes, a band that spun off from Dexys when Dexys was still pretty much a Philadelphia-style soul band, and whose Celtic folk-soul sound Dexys completely and blatantly stole for their breakthrough album, “Too-Rye-Ay”, after bandleader Kevin Rowland heard the Blue Ox Babes’ demo tape. He managed to get the jump on them, release-wise, and then they got tarred as Dexys imitators, which, ugh, it’s killing me just thinking about it. Anyway, you can buy pretty much everything they ever recorded in one go and it’s quite good.
12) Joan Armatrading, “Eating the Bear” (from “Walk Under Ladders”)
Much as with Phoebe Snow, I had way too many excellent albums to choose from here. I went with this song because XTC’s Andy Partridge contributes the electric guitar.
13) Arnold Hammerschlag Group, “Swish” (from “Sailing Neptune’s Water”)
Well, Arnold is a friend of mine, but I promise, his appearance here is not nepotism. He’s a trumpeter and jazz composer and I find this track of his particularly easy on the ears.
14) Kit Hain, “Awaking Again” (from “Looking for You/Spirits Walking Out”)
A criminally overlooked 80s singer/songwriter. I’m considering getting a turntable that can convert to mp3 just so I can hear her non-album singles. This album was produced by Mike Thorne, also the producer of Wire’s best album (“154″…as I think I’ve managed to mention in like three different blog posts now, and I don’t even post a lot) and “Tainted Love”, and also a Roger Daltrey solo album on which Daltrey covers a couple of Kit Hain songs. Who fans hated that album, but I like it quite a bit. It also features an obscure Bryan Ferry composition, in case you ever wanted to hear what late-period Roxy Music would have sounded like with Roger Daltrey singing.
15) The Parachute Men, “Sometimes in Vain” (from “The Innocents”)
I’m not sure there’s anything particularly distinctive I can really point to about this band, but it presses a lot of key buttons, ’80s-music-wise, and sometimes that is all one really needs.
16) Philippe Cauvin, “Comme un Miroir d’Echo” (from “Memento”)
This was a recommendation from a Russian music fan of my online acquaintance (as were Kit Hain, Judie Tzuke, and Li Garattoni). Two of his favorite genres are cheesy 80s AOR and French prog rock. A fine combination. This is on the prog side but is more like experimental solo classical guitar.
17) Shugo Tokumaru, “Katachi” (from “In Focus?”)
This album is from late 2012, so maybe I should have just fudged things and put it on the 2013 list. Anyway, I got super into a whole bunch of obscure Japanese acts this year (well, obscure here, anyway), and almost none of them are on Spotify. This fellow came up on amazon.co.jp as a related recommendation when I was looking up one of those other acts. He’s one of those people who plays every instrument (and uses a lot of instruments), and makes wild, busy, supermultitracked pop songs.
18) Penetration, “Shout Above the Noise” (from “Coming Up for Air”)
I really wanted to include a song from the self-titled album by Pauline Murray & Invisible Girls, an uncannily great post-punk album featuring killer songs enhanced by the perfect guitar of Vini Reilly, among other luminaries — but Spotify wasn’t having it (though there’s always YouTube), so I went with this instead, from her first band, which also rules. I see the AllMusic reviewer hates this album. Screw that guy.
19) Judie Tzuke, “New Friends Again” (from “Welcome to the Cruise”)
Another fine example of “how had I never heard of this person?” I think she’s better known in England, despite what seems like the plum promotional situation of opening for megastar Elton John on a North American tour (his label also released her first three albums). She’s got an extensive discography and is still releasing albums, though I’m less into her late-90s-and-onward output, which is very “grown-up and tasteful former rocker”-type songwriting. They’re still not bad albums by any means, but I don’t find much occasion to bother with them when there are nine others that are way better.
20) Ea Philippa, “Hestenes Sang” (from “Fjerne Himle”)
Sometimes I will wander over to rateyourmusic.com and look for people who have given 5-star ratings to my favorite albums, and see if they have anything in their list of high-rated albums that I haven’t heard of. That’s how I ran across Ea Philippa, who’s got a little Bjorkiness going on, though is much more in a chamber-pop/Nordic folk vein. Her albums are available as downloads, but if you like her enough to purchase, you might consider shelling out for the physical CDs, which are packaged in origami-like fold-out cardboard flowers.
21) Three Minute Tease, “Thanks for Lifting My Leg” (from “Three Minute Tease”)
This band is wack-folk singer-songwriter Anton Barbeau backed up by Robyn Hitchcock’s Egyptians (Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor). I like Anton Barbeau pretty well but usually think he needs an editor, and I think having bandmates of their caliber both inspired him to step up his game and helped make sure that what got onto the album was actually the best material. (And they really are an ace rhythm section.)
22) Nona Hendryx, “Problem” (from “Nona Hendryx”)
I was listening to some Labelle and realized that most of their original songs besides “Lady Marmalade” were written by Nona Hendryx, and so I started working my way through her solo albums. Which are … a mixed bag! A bunch of them consist pretty much entirely of underwritten dance-y 80s stuff (“Nona”, “The Art of Defense”, “Female Trouble”). But then there’s the jazzy “It’s Time” (with Kahil El’zabar’s Ethnics), the drifty-synthy “Skin Diver”, and the protest-rocking “Mutatis Mutandis”, all quite good, and my favorite, her self-titled solo debut, the most straightforwardly rocking-out of her albums. (And if you only know the song “Winning” from the 1981 Santana version, as I did, you might be surprised to discover Nona recorded her own cover of it four years earlier.)
23) Devine & Statton, “In the Rain” (from “Cardiffians”)
24) Weekend, “The End of the Affair” (from “La Varieté”)
In another story of discovering a band in a somewhat roundabout way, I was listening to an old Rough Trade compilation which featured Belle & Sebastian covering Young Marble Giants’ “Final Day” (another great song), and I thought maybe it was high time I actually listened to Young Marble Giants, a band that I barely knew but was cited as a major influence by lots of acts I’m a fan of. So anyway, I liked them, but their low-fi aesthetic makes them the kind of thing my ears get tired of in high doses, and I ended up getting more interested in some of the acts that vocalist Alison Statton worked with after YMG broke up, including Devine & Statton and Weekend, all of which have a breezy European feel I enjoy (a bit like early Style Council).
25) Jenny Scheinman, “The Careeners” (from “Crossing the Field”)
I noticed violinist Jenny Scheinman’s name cropping up regularly in the credits of Bill Frisell albums and started getting curious about her solo albums. This is a wonderfully diverse instrumental collection that I had a hard time selecting a song from — you might also try out the Thelonious Monk-ish “That’s Delight” or the groovy syncopated African-influenced “Song for Sidiki” — but I went with this one as being a particular showcase for the violin.
25) Chance, “Dead Medley” (from “In Search”)
26) Honey Ltd., “No, You Are” (from “The Complete LHI Recordings”)
A coworker recommended Chance’s “In Search” to me; I’d never heard of it, but it’s a legendary oddity, pressed privately and mostly impossible to find until this recent reissue. Chance Martin was a friend of Johnny Cash (and worked in various roles as one of his crewmembers for many years), but while Chance and Cash both work under the umbrella of whatcha might call country music, Chance is waaaaay way way off from anything traditional. More like drunk psychobilly blooze-prog country. Wild stuff. Meanwhile, the Honey Ltd. reissue was just sitting there on the front page of the website when I went to order the Chance album, and there was something about it that rang a bell … turns out I’d heard their second album, though they were going by a different name then (Eve, having changed the name after the departure of one member). Anyway, Honey Ltd. features a sort of dreamy lite-psych sound with lovely, unusual harmonies. They didn’t have a lot of success with either incarnation of their band (sounds like a lot of acts on Lee Hazlewood’s label met the same fate); a shame, but good that their stuff is available again.
27) Alessandro Alessandroni, “La Metropoli” (from “Inchiesta”)
Another genre I’ve been listening to this year is “library music”, which is to say, albums meant to be used as stock music to score films and TV and such. There’s a lot of it out there, and of course not all of it interesting by any means, but several composers are pretty reliable, and Alessandroni is one of them. (Piero Umiliani is another; see #30 below.)
28) Matia Bazar, “Io Ti Voglio Adesso” (from “Berlino … Parigi … Londra”)
Also from Italy comes Matia Bazar, another band I discovered by poking around rateyourmusic.com; in this case, several albums of theirs appeared on one user’s lists of favorite 80s albums by year surrounded by more usual suspects. Matia Bazar’s earliest stuff is more in a straightforward 70s pop-rock vein, and then around this album they started adopting new wave trappings (even more so on the next two albums, “Tango” and “Aristocratica”). Singer Antonella Ruggiero sounds a little Kate Bush-esque on this track.
29) Happy Rhodes, “She Won’t Go” (from “Find Me”)
Speaking of singers who are (sometimes) reminiscent of Kate Bush, here’s Happy Rhodes, whose vocal range is so wide that some listeners wonder who the male singer on her albums is. Her earliest albums feature a Fucking Scary Monster on the cover which might make one mistakenly assume she is actually an 80s metal band, but I am informed that the monster is a childhood imaginary friend and personal guardian, so, okay then. She has an interesting tension between beautiful melodies and dark subject matter (as one might suspect from someone who once dreamed up a Fucking Scary Monster as an imaginary protector).
30) Piero Umiliani, “Caravan” (from “Ode to Duke Ellington”)
The aforementioned Piero Umiliani has written a lot of music, one piece of which I guarantee you know very well: “Mah Na Mah Na”. I suspect you could wake up one morning, decide to listen to nothing but Piero Umiliani during your waking moments, and still be at it a week later. Anyway, I selected his version of “Caravan” because “Caravan” rules and I dig his retrofuturistic electronic arrangement.
31) Stump, “Charlton Heston” (from “A Fierce Pancake”)
Stump is the band Primus wishes it was … which I realize doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation. But they share many traits — big elastic bass lines, goofy lyrics, quirky vocal delivery. “Charlton Heston” isn’t the song that most embodies their sound to me (that would be “Buffalo“), but it’s a good one and more importantly for the purposes of this post is the only Stump song on Spotify. I was made aware of the existence of Stump via a remarkable one-man cover rendition of their “Ice the Levant” by Rhodri Marsden (of Scritti Politti and multiple other bands).
32) Patrick Zimmerli and Octurn, “Morning” (from “The Book of Hours”)
I’m a fan of jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, but he puts out a lot of music and I don’t do the best job of keeping up with all of it. One that I recently got around to was “Modern Music”, an album by Mehldau and Kevin Hays of two-piano compositions and arrangements by Patrick Zimmerli, who was new to me, but walks a half-classical-half-jazz line very well. “The Book of Hours” is sort of chamber jazz — layered, tightly composed when it’s not loosening up to let the players stretch out, and covering a wide range of moods. Also good is Zimmerli’s “Phoenix”, which tries to integrate electronics into acoustic jazz as smoothly as possible and does a nice job of it.
33: Li Garattoni, “Find Out What I’m Dreaming” (from “Find Out What I’m Dreaming”)
This delicate avant-pop album is mostly out of print, though for some reason four songs from it appear on a new-agey compilation. Time was you could find a rip of the LP online (which I know for … reasons), but now I think you would have to hie yourself to a file-sharing service and cross your fingers. Or, you know, ask someone who has a copy, if you can think of such a person.
For eons, I thought I was the only person in the US who knew any Martha and the Muffins’ music beyond Echo Beach. I collected a marvelous stash of their LPs and a few 12-inchers in the early 90’s when I was living in San Francisco and everyone was dumping vinyl (mostly from the Noe Valley Streetlight Records). Still one of my favorite bands, along with Squeeze, the Beatles… too many others (not “too many to name” – too many to pay for). Nice to know there’s someone in the US who wouldn’t go “huh?” if I mentioned M&M. Thanks. (Second-best Toronto band: The Paupers.)
I don’t know The Paupers (unless they later abbreviated their name to T’Pau). Will have to check them out. Thanks for the suggestion!