Dance to the Music

Here I will regale you with tales of death, destruction, music & jam, but mostly the music. Since I am regularly being ridiculed for my HMV-style room, stand up & salute the maggot-ridden corpse of 'Top of the Pops' as I present: Jon's (very nearly) Definitive Top Five(ish) Albums of All the Years, Ever (as long as they fall between 1988 and now). As the Scissor Sisters would say, "Ta-Dah!"


2008 The Near Misses

Scarlett Johansson
Anywhere I Lay My Head

A controversial choice, I can only assume, as the only one I know (everybody sing: 'has come to take me away') who even gives this album the time of day is me. 'Oh no', I hear you sing, greek chorus-like, 'another blonde actress that thinks she can sing'. But that's just it, she can't! At least, not in that squeaky bubblegum pop voice, or the equally offensive wanky, Mariah variety. Her register is pretty low, not unreminiscent of early Liz Fraser without the swoopy bits, but none the worse for that. TV On The Radio's David Sitek provides appropriate Cocteau Twins-esque 80s basslines & atmospheric guitar washes (before going on to make a second storming album of the year, TVOTR's own 'Dear Science,'). They even rope in lady of leisure, Dame David Bowie, to contribute some spooky backing vocals (before depositing him back in his straw & glitter lined hibernation pod/time capsule in the Blue Peter garden).

A quirky & unexpected, nostalgic yet shiny-new album; Miss Johansson has taken a pretty unpromising pitch, to say the least: 'Hollywood airhead with OK voice tackles the heavyweight catalogue of Tom Waits', and spins a thrilling, ragged (but wearable), musical yarn.

Amadou & Mariam
Welcome to Mali

Some may call this great 'world music', pah! Sod your lazy genres. Some may say they've strayed too far from their roots; 'more djembe', they may shout (they may not, I'm not quite sure who 'they' are). Sod your cravings for pointless authenticity and gimme something I can dance/swivel on my fat, lazy arse to (I'm talking about this album here, this is the one I want you to gimme. Do you see? They don't. They're blind. What has that got to with anything? Well, nothing really, but it is a good album. Good? Well, actually it's great. Is it? Yes.)

She & Him
Volume One

'She' is Zooey Deschanel, yes her of the steaming pile of stenchy excrement that is 'The Happening', the latest 'film' by M. Night ShyameOnYou, with a name sacrilegiously nicked from a mid-period Pixies song & a plot snatched from the wooley pages of a not particularly exciting edition of Garderner's World magazine (badly edited by God).

But all is forgiven, as for this collaboration she has chosen a far worthier sparring partner: 'Him', for it is he, M. Ward. I have been mildly aware of his work, partly because he's signed to my childhood sweetheart, 4ad, but mostly because he's been popping up on everybody & their monkey's (admitedly not too shabby) solo albums. Based on his excellent arrangements of Miss D's tip top songs here, I will have to investigate further.

The music industry is rampantly worried about the naughty downloaders taking all of their evil money away, but they're looking in the wrong place. It's those doe-eyed, Hollywood lady-thesps that've come to invade my top 10, muso space; but if you like your country like you like your coffee: hot & thick, smooth with a gravelly after-taste and bodged together by a crap actress, then this one's for you.

The Week That Was
The Week That Was

Ooh, now. This is a spin-off from the recently defunct band, Field Music, apparently. They are a beat combo that I've not really given much shrift to, not intentionally, they just never floated within my, admittedly limited, radar. Well, now I'm wishing they had, if this little beauty is any indication of their tunesmithery; and this one's by their drummer, for Chorlton's sake! I remember reading somewhere that this album was conceived around a certain week of telly watching. I do not remember which quite significant week that was. But who gives a skid-mark when the end result is this chock-full of delightful melodies, complex arrangement and a healthy dose of startled marimba?

British Sea Power
Do You Like Rock Music?

Yes, I bloody well do!



The Modern Tribe

Hands off my gold! It's all mine. Yes, good old Celebration can't resist a go on the cowbells or a little bongo fiddling.

When they appeared on my radar last year on the greatest label in the world, 4AD, I was intrigued. Their first album, while very good, seemed a little too empty and spacious in its production, with not enough going on to get your teeth into, more a cold buffet than a banquet. This, however, is a vast improvement.

They have returned with a moody, 80s-tastic delight, relying less on their presumed 'TV on the Radio' & 'Yeah Yeah Yeahs' influences, and really stamping their own unique personality on each & every song. There is lot more variety on show here, with a much fuller sound, but still retaining their odd, offbeat rhythms. Heavy organ can be heard in patches throughout, bringing to mind a rough around the edges 'Arcade Fire', but it gives some much needed welly and brings a sense of coherence to proceedings.

'Wild Cats' breaks out the 'Duran Duran' guitars, with extra brass for good measure; 'Pressure' is a slow bubbling mix of synth, bass & hand claps, culminating in a fitful, restless lullaby. Also, if you go here & get the Simian Mobile Disco remix of 'Hand Off my Gold' for flippin'free, you will discover a mighty fine, aerobic, Kraftwerk-style stomper with shimmering, whirly bits & strange, castrato vocals.

Finale, 'Our Hearts Don't Change' is an erratic mess of drums & cymbal crashes with Katrina Ford's voice, not so much floating over the top, as getting stuck in and having a good rummage around. In fact, the whole record reminds me of a perfect, childhood jumble sale; with the emphasis off rancid socks & moth eaten jumpers, and firmly focused on the hunt for dog-eared comics, footless Star Wars toys & bits of previously unknown space Lego.

Iron & Wine
The Shepherd's Dog

Beef up your blood! So says the bottle of liquid dietary fun that Mr Iron & Wine, Sam Beam, took his stage name from, and from the sounds of it, it's more than just the contents of his veins that have been beefed up. Dragging a couple of "" rockers, Calexico along from their last collaborative effort, 'In the Reins ep', to augment his band, he has created a record that I can only describe as deliciously meaty, compared to previous efforts.

Iron & Wine were first brought to my attention a couple of years ago by their cover of 'Such Great Heights' on a Postal Service single (which since appeared on the 'Garden State' soundtrack). I was reacquainted with them on my birthday last year, when I found their last 2 albums amongst my haul of pressies. Originally featuring mainly stripped back vocal & guitar, in an American folk stylee, there has been an organic progression to a mature & lush full band sound this time around. The soft whispery voice is still there, but a new found country swagger is apparent on some tracks, especially bluesy workout, 'The Devil Never Sleeps' and the single, 'Boy With a Coin', driven by infectious hand claps and a rolling guitar riff.

It's not all juicy Americana though, a couple of tracks seem to even go so far afield as dub reggae ('Wolves'), or mixing West African rhythms and an Indian sitar strum or two with the usual slide guitar & banjo ('House by the Sea', for example), albeit less obtrusively or Paul Simonesque than my favourite new band, Vampire Weekend.

Lyrically, there are some standout references to America's recent troubles, specifically George Bush with his religious bigotry, and the Iraq war, as in 'Carosel': "Almost home, with an olive branch and a dove, you were beating on a Persian rug, with your bible and your wedding band, both hidden on a TV stand"; or, from 'Innocent Bones: '"There ain’t a penthouse Christian wants the pain of the scab, but they all want the scar." Old Testament characters even get a look in with allusions to Noah being a crackhead and Adam & Eve's son, Abel, a stoner.

Like the object of the song that bears the most resemblance to Iron & Wine of old here, 'Reserection Fern', Mr Beam's band has survived a remarkable change and returned stronger & more vital, but still as warm & reassuringly fuzzy as before. The perfect blend of old & new.

Patrick Wolf
The Magic Position

Although he's been around for a while, with a couple of earlier albums that I haven't got round to listening to yet, though I've been told they were more sombre affairs than this; the first time I heard of Patrick Wolf was on the E4 Musical Yoof Fireside Hour channel, when I was awoken from my dazed slumber by a bright red burst of joyous noise. Looking like something straight out of a kind of warped Children's BBC, from the first crashing bars of 'Overture', Mr Wolf pulls you into his colourful & complex world.

This a brilliantly bold & entrancing record, flitting from upbeat electronica to stripped down ballads with a bit of indie thrown in for good measure, switching back & forth before you have a chance to catch your breath. Like the Crabbman's number 4 choice, Rilo Kiley, there is an eclectic collection of styles on offer here. Possibly too many, as it begins to lose focus in places, streching it's coherance as an album a little too much, before snapping back in the opposite direction. It may not always work, but there's more than enough genius here to overlook a few stylistic stumbles.

Just like the magic roundabout on the cover, a spin of this disc will take you on a very odd & exhilarating rainbow ride.

Band of Horses
Cease to Begin
This was a bit of an impulse purchase, just based on a tiny, little review in The Independent & the fact that it has The Moon on the cover. The glowing review mentioned that it was released on the Sub Pop label, which in recent years have produced some superior, happy & crunchy on the outside with a sad & runny centre, morsels of american indie pop, which I like to dub, 'melanjolly' (hands off, NME).

Well, they've done it again. Band of Horses is your new favourite band in the super smashing Sub Pop tradition of The Shins & Rogue Wave, and can now be heard all over late night Radio 1 and 6music. According to my very brief research from the website of lies that is Wikipedia, this is their second album, and bloody brilliant it is too.

It's only once you've listened to it for a few times that you realise the lyrics of the first track (and initial single) 'Is There a Ghost' only contain 14 words, but what perfect words they are. A repeated, but not repetitive chorus over layered guitars, this slow building, exhilarating opener leads into a dreamy 'Ode to LRC' (The website of lies has no information on what LRC stands for). This song, with its soaring refrain of "The World is such a wonderful place" comforted me during the rough times when Katie 'oh dear God' Melua & Eva 'more comebacks than Tupac' Cassidy squatted over the Christmas number one slot with their similarly named, but infinitely less appealing cover of 'What A Wonderful World'.

The lyrics here hit you in your heaving bosom as much as the music. The happy clappy march of 'The General Specific' includes the intriguing thought that "pants have gotta go"; meanwhile amongst the jangling 80s guitars of 'No One's Gonna Love You' comes the line "You are the ever living ghost of what once was" which catches them sounding like a more poetic Stan Lee from the pages of a 1960s Spider-Man comic book.

And on the subject of heaving bosoms, they even find time to throw in a couple of Dolly Parton style country songs into the mix with 'Marry Song' and the fade-to-black finale of 'Window Blues'. A gorgeous end to an exceptional record: "And always in time, I'm never looking over my shoulder, I sing to you, I sing it to you".

Gruff Rhys
Released right at the beginning of the year, this album has had a special place in my heart (and pants) for a full twelve months. I've not been exposed to a huge amount of Mr Rhys's band, Super Furry Animals' output, but what I have heard I've loved. They've been placed firmly at the top of my to do list for a long time. But I couldn't resist the cover of this little pink gem when it peered out at me from the shelves of a pre-HMV Fopp; despite the fact that it brings back my childhood, recurring nightmare of the freaky, hairy-yet-bald man in a grey polo neck out of Fingerbobs.

I all evokes a strange kind of nostalgia for a childhood that never was, where Rod, Jane & Freddy were clinically insane and pink hippos had torrid affairs with brown creatures with zips for mouths. Well, okay maybe that childhood did actually exist, but this one has Arthurian archaeologists, penguin carnations, lemon dalmatians and plane hijackers, all together in imperfect harmony.

The title track is all glockenspiels, xylophones, shuffling percussion and jaunty strings. 'Lonesome Words' is a jittery theme from a lost spaghetti western. 'Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru', which I'm told translates as 'Drive Drive Drive', is a perfect, rolling, singalong song, or would be if it wasn't in Welsh, but at least the chorus is easy enough. 'Cycle of Violence' has an insistent, jolly beat with happy sha-la-la's sitting next to the words "aspects of terror", and the comforting notion that "dirty bombs and clean ones look the same if you look closely".

It all comes togther with the epic, quarter of an hour long 'Skylon'. A psychedelic classic, with backwards guitars & flutes, telling the story of a bomb disposal expert and his friends' fight against terrorism, mediocre movies and frivolous magazines. And, as befits the bizarre fairy tale theme; they all lived happily ever after.


2007 The Near Misses

The Flying Cup Club

Before I go any further I must make mention of this album. I'm loathe to leave it out of the list, mainly due to the fact that their debut, 'Gulag Orkesta', was a glaring omission from last year's rundown; but I didn't get to hear it until January, owing to the international, pre-Christmas, personal CD buying embargo. It doesn't quite live up to expectation, but is still a rollicking good, faux-European, brassy extravaganza, so I will just mention it here in honorary 11th place, and let no more be said.

Róisín Murphy

I've always enjoyed a touch of mentalism in my fizzy pop. Add in a sprinkling of Lambeth-Walk-on-smack dance moves and you'd be on to a winning formula. But I was more than a little disappointed by the former Moloko figurehead's last effort. Tunes seemed to have been sacrificed at the altar of bonkers and the plot was generally lost, but this time around she's got the balance just right. There are melodies here to crawl inside your mind & cling on for dear life, until you too will take to wearing a man-sized furry, Christmas bauble & beret combo in public ('You Know Me Better', 'Let Me Know'). There are groovy rhythms here to chase you through the night in your pants, with nothing but a spoon to fight off the terror ('Primitive', 'Overpowered'). Fun for all the family.

Manic Street Preachers
Send Away the Tigers

I was umming & erring about this one for a while, as it probably wouldn't have appeared here if I hadn't attended a recent gig of theirs. It reignited my passion for this long-lived Welsh trio with their penchant for fancy dress, and brought my attention back to their latest opus to force a reappraisal. I couldn't honestly say that this is a return to form, since, with the exception of damp squib ' The Love of Richard Nixon', I thought that last album, 'Lifeblood', was a thing of rare beauty. But I will say that it is a return to the sound of the Manics of old, fresher and more youthful than they've seemed in years. While their erstwhile idol, Axl Rose, stumbles around in a ginger stupor, The Manics make the case that it is indeed possible for a band to doggedly stick around for over 15 years and not go all shit. (Go get their free Christmas single here. Now!)

Black Francis

From what I remember, without bothering to go and check my sources, this is the Pixies album that never will be. Featuring songs that were written for the reunited, but still unstable band to record; hence the use of his old, pre-Frank Black alias. I have no idea why this never came to pass; though it's not really a surprise that they never got it together. Mr Francis went and did it without them, anyway, complete with Kim Deal-alike vocal interjections and authentic, freaky lyrics. Some of these songs sound like classic Pixies, some like you think they would sound now if they'd never broken up, and some really quite close to the best of his solo, rockabilly output. Sort of like a pick 'n' mix of his entire musical career, but with each shiny sweet a brand new taste sensation on your tongue, and with none of those icky, stray, aniseedy ones, hiding at the bottom of the bag.

The Shins
Wincing the Night Away
One of the few albums that immediately grabs you on first listen, but doesn't fade with time. Full of melodic hooks that never seem to lose their heady thrill, no matter how often you badly sing along with them. On stage, they're a bit of a conundrum: uplifting tunes with an underlying tinge of sadness coming out of the mouths & fingers of beardy, strangely static & not particularly talkative fellows. But on record, you can ignore all the chaff and enjoy their spangly torrent of gut warming niceness with no distractions.

Our Love to Admire

Coming in at number six, Interpol brings you the kind of album that Editors should have made. After a stunning debut, and an okay follow up overshadowed by the aforementioned Editors, they pull a switcheroony & completely outclass the British pretenders with a stylish collection of melancholy brilliance.

Compilation of the Year.
Ed Harcourt
Until Tomorrow Then (The Best of)

No, I'm afraid it's not 'The Very Best of Bucks Fizz'; though it was a close run contest. Not only do you get his catchiest numbers all on one disc here, but also a whole bonus album of fabulous, unreleased delicacies for you to crimp along with all through the night.



Big Black - Songs About Fucking
Eurythmics - Savage
Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares
Guns n Roses - Appetite for Destruction

Big Black - Now this deserves a mention if only for its title & the gorgeous combination of pink, green & panting woman on the sleeve. Main Big Black man, Steve Albini, curiously neither particularly big nor black, is most famous for being über-producer to such indie/grungey stars as Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Pixies, The Breeders; and now fronts equally ace band, Shellac. Chock full of ear-stripping guitar and a fair amount of unintelligible shouting, with a Kraftwerk cover thrown in for good measure.

Eurythmics - Not immensely popular at the time of its release, I seem to recall, but 'tis my favourite of all the emanations from Miss Lennox's honking mouth. A little bit pop, a little bit weird, a little bit scary, a welcome return to their electro roots, after their commercially successful, but not entirely satisfying dalliances with Stevie Wonder & Aretha Franklin.

Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares - More weirdness, brought to public attention by Ivo Watts-Russell of 4AD records after receiving an unlabled cassette of 15 years-worth of recordings by the ethnomusicologist Marcel Cellier of the Bulgarian State Radio Female Vocal Choir. Otherworldly & mesmerising with intricately woven vocal harmonies, it fits in completely with the mid-eighties sound of 4AD, despite originating from a completely different time & place

Guns n Roses - Now is the time to rock. The complete antithesis of the kind of music my 12 year-old brain found acceptable, mindless noise. My present day brain, on the other hand, finds it witty & fun, with large dollops of guitar riffage, not at all mindless and not even all that noisy. The sort of cheese I was listening to at the time would probably qualify as mindless, but is all the more spangly because of it. Anyway, it's a shame that Axl & co never reached such heights as this again (and probably never will, judging by their lacklustre set at Download last year) though they got close with the odd song. There's not a single duff track here, in fact they might as well have re-released this as their Greatest Hits and left it there.

1987: Jon the 12 Year-Old's Top Five Tunes
Madonna - Who's That Girl
Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Perpetuum Mobile
Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield - What Have I Done To Deserve This?
Kylie Minogue - I Should Be So Lucky
REM - It's The End Of The World As We Know It


Five. Giant Drag Hearts & Unicorns

This is one of those records that in the olden days you might have thought had been played at the wrong speed, or the vinyl was warped, or even the tape in the cassette was stretched to buggery. But no, after a couple of minutes your ears adjust and realise that it is supposed to sound like that.

Every so often the air is startlingly punctuated by barmy and unintelligible sounds erupting from mad Miss Annie Hardy's mouth. The music looks around, wondering why everyone is staring, open-mouthed, and then starts up again as though nothing out of the ordinary just occurred.

The titles of the tracks, such as 'Kevin is Gay' or 'You Fuck Like My Dad' (obviously stolen from the black-hearted, Irish girl group B*Witched) may give a small insight into the inner workings of the minds of those involved. The lyrics are mostly downright twisted, full of emotion and dark humour.

The entire length of the album, there is always something niggling at the back of your senses, a feeling that something is almost amiss. If it wasn't for this slightly sinister undercurrent this would still be a strong collection of songs. Killer tunes that are a little rough around the edges, but the growing sense of unease and, yes, excitement elevates it into a listening experience worthy of its place in this years greatest aural achievements.

And unlike some silly people I am very much fond of the bonus track cover of 'Wicked Game'. Much better than Mr. Isaac's yodelling original.

Four. Beck The Information

Some commentators have dubbed this a return to form, but I cannot agree with this statement. I am not convinced that Beck ever lost his form. He may have ventured further afield, wandering around between arbitrary musical genres, but I don't believe a bad album he has made. Still, this is a bit of a page three stunner.

More varied in style than his previous records, this is like a mix of his best work, a Greatest Hits, but with all new songs. Original, yet familiar, his funny skew-whiff raps are teamed with more melancholy numbers. This creates not a schizophrenic feeling, but more the image of a well-rounded, if a bit weird, individual.

Ordinarily I would find an album clocking in at 67 minutes a bit of a struggle, but worry not, there is never a dull moment and no time to be bored. Denied a chart entry for its 'gimmicky' DIY cover concept (I think the BPI have been misinformed if they think that is the reason people buy CDs), playing with all the groovy stickers continues the overall sense of fun and freedom that fills any room in which these tunes can be heard.

"One, two, you know what to do!"

Three. Thom Yorke The Eraser

I've never been a big fan of Radiohead, for no particular reason, the stuff I'd been exposed to just didn't really grab me by the shoulders, spin me round by my ossicles and force me to sit up & take notice. I went to see Lamb at the Jazz World Stage during Glastonbury 2003, rather than partake in the "best festival set ever"™ by Radiohead on the Main Stage, and never regretted it.

But this, ooh, it gets me right here (no peeping). It was given to me as a birthday present and I was a little dubious before I put it on. The second I did, ooh, the sound hit me in the guts, albeit gently at first, like a bitch-slap from a small child. This record's odd tone makes it seem like it should be a grower, and it kind of is, but even on first listen you find yourself immersed in a whole new sonic world.

Thom Yorke's soaring voice has an edge of the miserablism that had turned me off his band in the first place, but the jittery beats and the interjections of electronic bleeps & squiggles lifts the mood. The dark, smoky atmosphere continues throughout the record, but despite this adherence to a limited soundscape it continues to hold your interest with its varied melodies and strange, layered noises. The album rewards repeated listens, though it initially sounds sparse and misleadingly minimalist, there's always something new to tempt the ear. It's obviously time to ditch my preconceptions and give Mr. Yorke's old band another try.

Two. Sonic Youth Rather Ripped

Sonic Youth were always a band I meant to check out and I know I would have worshiped them if I'd gotten in to them earlier. I bought a couple of their late 80s/early 90s albums quite a while ago and was genuinely impressed, but I've never managed to catch up. Every time a new album came out I kept prodding my fast draining mind with a spoon handle, but to no avail, it wasn't until the magnificent 'Rather Ripped' that I finally made the commitment, and oh boy (yes, oh boy) I'm glad I did.

The first voice you hear, about a second in, is Miss Kim Gordon's, and she's actually singing, quite a rare occurrence, my limited memory and even more limited knowledge tells me. This is indeed a good thing and she keeps it up through most of her vocal appearances on the record, contrasting nicely with the stoned & throaty stylings of Mr. Thurston Moore.

This is a great wonky, rocking pop album, not too experimental, but in no way ordinary. An array of stylishly duelling melodies, just the right amount of dishevelled tunelessness, this gang have aged like a fine (farmyard of) wine. Employing a varied palate of big choruses, quiet moments, fat chords & skinny guitars, there's a good balance of the slapdash and the skilled. It is, in fact, skill. There's a song here for everyone. Mine is the catchy 'Incinerate', guaranteed to get you jiving like John Prescott's wife, complete with strangely unflailing, angular finger movements.

One. Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins Rabbit Fur Coat

At long last, here is my tip-top, most favouritest record of the year, and it's not just because it's got twins in it.

Jenny Lewis began her working life as a child actor, starting off in a Jelly advert and graduating to become Becky's friend in Roseanne (the original puffy Becky, not the Scrubs one). This kind of CV would not usually bode well for musical greatness, but, with her band Rilo Kiley, she has managed to produce a mighty fine body of work so far. The band was generating a fair bit of a much deserved buzz at the beginning of last year with their 'More Adventurous' album, but this seems to have passed most people by. A dirty shame, as I feel that this surpasses it by a mile. Eschewing the rockier side of some of her earlier songs, this embraces 1970s twangy country music head on.

From the first few bars of the a cappella first track 'Run Devil Run' the mood is set, with the lush vocal harmonies of the artists currently known as The Watson Twins and buckets of heartfelt emotion. While the music has one foot firmly in the past, the lyrics are thoroughly modern, witty, tragic and funny. The "Big Single" 'Rise Up With Fists' includes concerns about pollution, "It's like trying to clean the ocean, what do you think, you can drain it? It was poisoned and dry long before you came." and Californian life, "You can wake up younger under the knife, and you can wake up sounder if you get analysed." It just proves that it is possible for Los Angeles to produce something intelligent and worthwhile, however rare that may be.

Old chums Bright Eyes, Johnathan Rice and The Postal Service/Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard show up for a sing-along on an appropriate cover of the Traveling Wilburys song 'Handle With Care', echoing the gang's all here feeling of the original supergroup (comprising George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty & Bob Dylan). Then comes the slow-burning masterpiece, 'Born Secular', dealing with the traditional country themes of God and loss. The end comes all too soon, a sad & lonely voice unconvincingly repeating the refrain "So happy, I'm so happy" with only a woodblock for company.

This is a vintage and gorgeous dusty trail of an album. No home or heart should be without one.


2006 The Near Misses

Here is the run down of the albums that didn't quite make it into my top 5 this year.

Ten. Lou Rhodes Beloved One

It could have been The Guillemots, Peter Bjorn & John, Roddy Woomble, Pure Reason Revolution, The Long Blondes, Joanna Newsom or Bellowhead, but no. A tough choice had to be made and here at number ten is the former Lamb vocaliser, Louise Rhodes. As a witness to Lamb's final concert I was pretty gutted that they had decided to call it a day, but this more than makes up for it. A world and a half away from their dancey ways, this is an organic, almost traditional folky record. Strong melodies and sympathetic backing makes this a hidden gem, a sleeper hit niggling at the back of my mind all year. A pleasantly surprising Mercury Music Prize nomination brought it to a wider audience.

Nine. The Dears Gang of Losers

A huge leap forward from their still impressive debut. Another group to add to the avalanche of really rather good Canadian bands, this was released on the Cocteau Twins owned label, Bella Union, another reason to love or hate them. The title of track four has some advice, as well as summing up their attitude, "Hate, Then Love". I may be wrong, but the prevailing mood seems to be anger with an underlying sense of hope peeping through the cracks. Dark, mysterious & consistently strong, Murray the singer sounds a lot less like Damon Albarn on this one.

Eight. Cat Power The Greatest

Rampant ex-booze hound Chan Marshall goes to Memphis and teams up with Al Green's guitarist and songwriting partner Teenie Hodges for an album of rough, soulful goodness. Ditching the minimalist arrangement from past albums and embracing the full power of a host of veteran session musicians brings a warm and lush sound to this album, but not so overpowering as to bamboozle the senses.

Seven. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan Ballad of the Broken Seas

With a little help from The Scottish Arts Council our protagonists take refuge from their old homes in Belle & Sebastian and The Screaming Trees to provide us with a delicate slice of Scots-American Folk-Country. Mostly written & produced by the lovely Ms. Campbell, bringing Mr. Lanegan aboard to share the credit for this otherwise solo album was a genius move, broadening the scope of this wonderfully autumnal sounding record. The noise Mark's rasping throat makes is the perfect antidote to Isobel's high, airy warble, and gives the whole album a quietly sinister edge.

Six. TV on the Radio Return To Cookie Mountain

This year wouldn't be complete without a 4ad entry, it could've been Tanya Donelly, but much as I love her new album (best in a while) I had to choose the more upbeat & experimental TV on the Radio. Building on the screwy sounds of 2004's 'Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes', this is an even odder prospect. More untunefully tuneful, more scary, more fun, more David Bowie. In fact, pretty much just more. Bringing the fine tradition of whistling (along with Peter, Bjorn & John) back to pop music.



2005Martha Wainright - Martha Wainwright
Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004 US)
Brendan Benson - The Alternative to Love
50 Foot Wave - Golden Ocean
Editors - The Back Room

I first came across Martha Wainwright, based upon her brother Rufus' recommendation in Mojo magazine. Under 'currently
listening', he'd listed an ep called 'Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole' and I was intrigued. Maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but it's far more than the confessional, sub-Alanis Morrisette venting that the title may suggest, in fact it's not just more than that, it isn't that. Sometimes fragile, sometimes powerful, but always compelling, as can be heard on a recent single drowning out Mr. Snow Patrol's weedy voice.

The Arcade Fire's debut may well have been The Bowie's album of the year for 2004, but we don't all have the luxury of living in a country that releases records on time. Having seen this lot live I can only assume they are either very good at acting the part of complete nutters, or are, in fact, actually absolute nutters. Judging by the album I would go for the latter. Let this record confuse your ears with its cornucopia of musical (and non-musical) instruments, producing a cacophony of disparate sounds, but all seeming to coalesce into a unified, but noisy, whole.

Why oh why oh why is
Brendan Benson wasting his time with pub rock band The Raconteurs? He may be having more fun with his mate Jack White, but I'm not hearing it. Rewind a year and you can see what he is truly capable of. A stunning, highly melodic, heavy wow of an album.

I'm running out of steam, fast. I'm going to have to end on a couple of quickies. 50 foot wave is 4AD stalwart Kristin Hersh's new band. With Throwing Muses just reuniting sporadically, every few years, we can rely on The Wave to provide us with the loud, raw & rocking live sound we need as the counterpoint to her acoustic solo albums. The Editors have made the album that Interpol should have made as their second. This is a good thing, we get both.



2004John Frusciante - Shadows Collide With People
TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
Rufus Wainwright - Want One (2003 US)
The Stills - Logic Will Break Your Heart (2003 US)
(honorary mention: Kylie Minogue - Ultimate Kylie)

I haven't heard the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album yet, but based on the hideously dull, syrupy singles I'm not sure I want to. Ignore any chili-based preconceptions, John Frusciante's albums are never anything less than interesting and this is a stonker. He has a stronger voice than I would have expected and it's perfectly complimented by that of his collaborator, Josh Klinghoffer. The groups of vocal tracks are punctuated by strange, yet compelling electronic warblings, sending the listener into a hypnotising trance of both relaxation and unease.

I may not have given this bunch of odd noise makers a try if TV On The Radio weren't signed to the love of my life, 4AD. Which would have been a shame, but I did, so it's not an issue. Shut up. It takes quite a while to get used to the awkward, off-kilter sounds of this album. In fact, scratch that, you don't get used to it and you shouldn't. Maybe that's the point.

I was making a chilled-out birthday compilation CD for a mate and was a couple of tracks short. I followed up some internet recommendations and found the Sufjan Stevens CD. I'd never heard of him before and this was a bloody good find. Though he's now gaining a lot more recognition for his American states series of releases this one is a lot sparser in its arrangements. Just guitar, banjo and voice, mostly. Very pretty, but not too sugary sweet. A great Sunday morning record, if you can be arsed to get up that early and here's the perfect excuse.

I came quite late to this flamboyant Canadian-New Yorker's party, missing Rufus Wainwright's first couple of albums. I didn't even get this one until the end of the year, more than twelve months after it was released in America. I naughtily bought it on a whim, after the buying-for-oneself deadline had passed in December, lying to myself that I'd give it away to someone else for Christmas. Partly bombastic & operatic, partly quiet & circumspect, this is a monster of an album, producing sessions prolific enough for a sequel. Part two had already been released in the US by this time and I managed to score an import copy on a trip to Barcelona early the next year, but although Want Two is just as wide in scope, Want One is the original and best. Catch him in concert next year, singing the hits of Judy Garland. I'm not lying.

It was a toss up between this Stills album and Green Day. To make the decision easier I asked myself which choice would make me look cooler, so I plumped for the less well known one. Yes, I know I don't need anything to make me look cooler, I am, of course, as cool as it is possible to be, but that's as maybe. See look, I've gone all this way without actually mentioning anything about this lovely Canadian band or their album. That's how cool I am, I don't need to say anything about it and you will still trust my judgement implicitly. It's good, trust me. Peace. Word. No Doubt. etc.

And just to shoot all my ideas of coolness out of the water, here comes this years guest star, Kylie. I haven't been including compilations in my lists, but this is here for Jenny, so she will shut up about my glaring omission of this sexy, Antipodean dwarf. Disc one covers the same period as her previous couple of Greatest Hits, but with significantly fewer tracks. Some may say that this is a good thing. I would not be one of them, to my eternal shame.