1 Dec 2011

Active Listener's Top Twenty New Discoveries of 2011




I'm fully aware that there's stuff on this list that I should have discovered  a long time ago, but better late than never. Here's my favourite twenty albums of all vintages that I've discovered in the last calendar year. Hope you find something to enjoy here too.


1. The La's ( 1990 )
It's ridiculous that I've only just discovered this, I know. I'd previously heard There She Goes and thought it a little twee ( not helped by my over familiarity with the Sixpence None The Richer version ), so hadn't investigated further. I finally gave it a go and it turns out that this is gritty merseybeat of the highest possible order. A necessary purchase for all. Doledrums is absolutely fantastic.

2. The Green Pajamas - The Complete Book of Hours ( 1987 )

My first exposure to this consistently great Seattle psych pop outfit. Fans of the Beatles and Dukes of Stratosphear take note. Still going strong today, their back catalogue is ripe for discovery. Start here.



 
3. Danny & The Champions of the World - Streets of our Time ( 2010 )
Truly great U.K Americana ( eh? ). Echoes of Ryan Adams, Springsteen and more with consistently wonderful songwriting, lovely harmonies and group arrangements bursting with life.


4. The Fallen Angels - It's a Long Way Down ( 1968 )
This is one of the best obscure U.S psychedelic releases I've heard in years. Comparisons to Love's Forever Changes are fair - they have a shared sense of melancholy and musical adventurousness. Much more depth than a lot of albums of this era.


 
 5. Maggie Bjorklund - Coming Home ( 2011 )
Maggie is a Danish pedal steel guitarist. Her wistful compositions are ably complimented by the playing of Calexico and guest vocalists Mark Lanegan and Jon Auer. This sounds more like Black Light era Calexico than Calexico's last few albums have. Beautiful.


6. Michael Head & The Strands - The Magical World of the Strands ( 1997 )
Leader of Liverpool legends Shack tries something a little bit different here. He's still writing classic guitar pop but the mood is more introspective than usual with echoes of Astral Weeks and Forever Changes.


7. The Shangri-La's - The Mercury Years
Leader of the Pack always put me off the Shangri-la's, but these girls are no one hit wonders. There's greatness by the bucketload on offer here, not to mention wonderful arrangements and a high sense of drama. Girl pop of the highest order. The only mystery is why Tarantino hasn't used them in his soundtracks yet.


 
8. Caribou - Andorra ( 2007 )
Great updating of the sixties psych pop sound from this laptop guru. If Tame Impala had grown up listening to the Beach Boys instead of the Beatles they'd sound a lot like this. See also Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

 

9. Robyn Hitchcock - Storefront Hitchcock ( 1998 )
Filmed live in the window of a store by Jonathan Demme, Hitchcock is at his best here - an abstract beat punk Syd Barrett in polka dot shirt. Melodically gifted and with a unique world view, Hitchcock is the definition of a cult artist.



10. The Wolf People - Steeple ( 2010 )
A very English strain of progressive psychedelic rock is on show here - think early Jethro Tull and obscurities like Ginhouse for comparison. Or Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief on acid.
Great however you choose to describe it.




11. Jessica Lea Mayfield - Tell Me ( 2011 )
Produced by the Black Key's Dan Auerbach, Mayfield comes on like a grittier southern Cat Power. Great voice and timeless arrangements that follow in the tradition of Dusty Springfield and Shelby Lynne. A great album and an artist to watch for in the future.



12. Kurt Vile - Smoke Rings For My Halo ( 2011 )
Blissful hipster folk rock which owes as much to Neil Young and Lou Reed as it does to Thurston Moore and J Mascis. Timeless songs and some lovely intricate acoustic guitar picking.



13. Francoise Hardy - La Question ( 1971 )
A much more mature release than her sixties pop material - acoustic guitar, hushed vocals and wonderful string arrangements which bring to mind Robert Kirby's work on Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left. Sublime stuff.



14. Swervedriver - Mezcal Head ( 1993 )
If there was any justice in the world Swervedriver would have been seen as the English Nirvana. Alas brit -pop was the flavor of the day, and quality post-shoegaze alternative guitar rock didn't get a look in. Check out Last Train To Satansville and be blown away.



15. David Vandervelde - Waiting For The Sunrise ( 2008 )
This was a big surprise. Vandervelde's first album was T-Rex inspired glam pop, but for this release he's gone all canyon rock - Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne and on the wonderfully Crazy Horse-ish Lyin' In My Bed,  Neil Young. Fans of Midlake's Van Occupanther should investigate post-haste.


 
 16. Matt Berry - Witchazel ( 2011 )
An unexpectedly great prog rock album from the musical geezer from the Mighty Boosh. Berry's affection for the genre is both obvious and infectious. Hugely enjoyable.




 
17. The High Dials - A New Devotion ( 2003 )
This sounds like a lost mid sixties classic. Great sitar playing, supple McCartneyesque bass and excellent songs informed by all the sixties masters, Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys, Zombies et al.



18. Sleepy Hollow ( 1972 )
A rarity in the pantheon of Beatles inspired bands, Sleepy Hollow seem to be more interested in the Beatles post break-up solo albums - from the lyrical Harrison slide guitars through to the How Do You Sleep string arrangement on Sincerely Yours. The harmonies are top drawer too.


19. Geneva - Further ( 1997 )
Lumped in with the brit pop scene when it was first released, but definitely more Radiohead than Blur. Epic guitars which can shift from shoegaze on one track to glam rock on the next. Think Suede or Mansun, but with Tim Buckley on vocals. Massive. Avoid the follow up at all costs though.


20. The Strawberry Smell - Odorama ( 2001 )
An obscure French outfit this one, with more than a slight whiff of patchouli. Specialising in the kind of Beatles informed, Jon Lord style keyboard heavy psychedelia that Kula Shaker had previously made their own, these guys could have had a future had anyone heard this at the time.

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