The Black Angels
I have a massive soft spot for a certain type of keyboard, triggered, I'm sure, by Sir Douglas's "Mendocino" and nurtured by the Dave Howard Singers' Acetone. The Black Angels, a quartet from Austin, Texas, boasts an array of Farfisas, Celestes, Rheem Mark VIIs, etc. The mighty and otherworldly sound these produce are driven forward by drums, guitars and bass. Best: the repetitive, massive, dark melodies. Their best yet. Highlight: "Don't Play with Guns".
The Black Angels, "Indigo Meadow" (Blue Horizon)
A real, wonderful oddity, this. L. Pierre is Aidan Moffat from the Scottish band Arab Strab. He says that L(ucky) Pierre is "the insomniac, slightly frightened side" of him. The album is a hypnotic collage of samples that range from accordion to operatic voices, seagulls and cascading, orchestral motifs. They are arranged in quietly, repetitive clusters, and the mood is one of strangely disconcerting contemplation somewhere between Erik Satie and a 1930s movie made in Hawaii. And all the way through goes the dense crackle and hiss of old vinyl, like a mellotron note held down forever.
L. Pierre, "The Island Come True" (Melodic)
I can't really compare Trouble, singer, guitarist and player of antideluvian synths (including here a mellotron) with anyone else. Spikey, spooky, sweet, powerful and fragile in equal parts, her music is propulsive blend of electro, rock and - if there must be a comparison - a hint of PJ Harvey. On this, her fourth album (even though she is still only in her early twenties) there's less synth then before, more drums and guitars. Full of unexpected changes of mood and melody, this is an enthralling - and joyoulsy loud - album.
Evelinn Trouble, "The Great Big Heavy" (Bakara Music, vinyl and download only)
The melodies are finely hewn and intriguing, the singing is, as ever, elegantly subtle, the guitar playing is superb throughout, and the instrumental arrangements – bongos here, a touch of brass there, a veil of strings – are exquisite. A beautiful album, then. Though I can’t help feeling that Marling’s concerns are a million miles away from my own.
Laura Marling, „Once I Was An Eagle“ (Virgin)
Tanger Trio is a Berlin-based project by pianist and composer Hansjoern Brandeburg, percussionist Thomas Wydler (also the longest-serving member of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds) and double bassist Andreas Henze. Their aim is to "offset the grey-cold Berlin winter" with the music of an "Art Deco hotel band in Tangiers". Augmented by various string and woodwind instruments, the results are intensely atmospheric and autumnally mysterious.
Tanger Trio & Ensemble Mondaine, "ditto" (Seriés Aphonis/Bronze Rat) www.seriesaphonos.com
With Hüsker Dü, Grant Hart helped shape the post-New Wave world of intense guitars. This album sounds nothing like the Dü. Based on William S. Burroughs's adaption of Milton's "Paradise Lost, Hart has composed a series of songs in a wide variety of styles, from ramshackle rockabilly to swinging cabaret chanson, autoharp-driven ballads to jaunty circus organ songs. There is a Cure'ish darkness here and there, but also a Vaudevillian "Underneath the Apple Tree". Quite wonderful, frankly.
Grant Hart, "The Argument" (Domino)
A sparkling second album from the Danish quartet whose bass player is also a member of the present-day incarnation of the immortal Savage Rose. They mix pounding, Krautrocky beats with lots of psychedelic swirls and whooshes, the odd exotic sample and a playful intensity, with lots of variety and songs that last ten minutes. Brilliant!
Pinkunoizu, "The Drop" (Full Time Hobby)
Her singing is assured and clear, the melodies are unpredictable like Björk's and Kate Bush's. Holter is a classically trained arranger, however, and that is where her real strength lies. Piano and guitar, augmented by cello, brass, percussion and other bits and pieces, plus innumerable over-dubs, never do the obvious. Quite cerebral in its finely-spun conception - and also quite gripping.
Julia Holter, "Loud City Song" (Domino)
There hasn't been a properly new Prefab Sprout album for twelve years, and this one only happened because Paddy McAloon forgot about a deadline and had to dig out and polish a dozen songs that had been languishing half-finished in his drawers to fulfil contractual obligations. Of course, it's another masterpiece of wise and funny lyricism, glorious hooks and timeless old-skool Atari sounds.
Prefab Sprout, "Crimson/Red" (Icebreaker)
Laura Veirs has been one of my favourite American singer/songwriters for quite a while. Her voice - intimate and unreachable-sounding at the same time - is obviously the focal point. But she also has a unique way with guitar textures, added instrumental touches (accordion, glockenspiel, cello etc.) and unexpected turns of melody. Here, she is sometime quite a bit louder than usual - refreshingly so.
Laura Veirs, "Warp and Weft" (Bella Union)
Yes, yes, I know, this is not at all new - it was released two years ago. However, having only the other day liberated it from the slush pile of one of my editors I have discovered its brilliance rather belatedly. The first song, "Art", with its mixture of electronics, gorgeous melody and wild Nels Cline guitar is incredible, and so is the endless last song, "One Sunday Morning". The rest isn't at all bad either.
Wilco, "The Whole Love" (dBpm/-anti)
Londoner Daniel Blumberg was once in Cajun Dance Party, later in Yuck, now he's Hebronix. There's no info at all about who plays what on this debut - perhaps he's a one-man-band? - except to say that Neil "Royal Trux" produced it, strangely. It begins in a stumbling, aimless sort of Sebadoh/Fahey/Crazy Horse fashion until it gets more intense half-way through to culminate in an extraordinary, luscious and yet minimalist track 6, "The Plan", which has an Eno-esque "Another Green World" beauty. And it wouldn't be the same without first listening to the other five tracks!
Hebronix, "Unreal" (ATP)
I've never liked Springsteen, the Hold Steady or any other of those mostly American bands with manly voices and solidly crafted, thoughtful rock songs where the lyrics seem to matter more than any idea of musical innovation. "The Silver Gymnasium" is utterly of that tradition. HOWEVER, in "Walking Without Frankie" it contains one track that is totally different in its blinding, musical intensity and lyrical brilliance. Makes you wonder what mad devil kissed the band here, and wish it would happen more often.
Okkervil River, "The Silver Gymnasium" (PIAS)
1) Kurt Vile, „Waking on a Pretty Daze“
2) The Black Angels, „Indigo Meadow“
3) Pinkunoizu, „The Drop“
4) L. Pierre, „The Island Come True“
5) Courtney Barnett, „The Double EP – a Sea of Split Peas“
6) Grant Hart, „The Argument“
7) The Liminanas, „Costa Blanca“
8) James Blake, „Overgrown“
9) Matthew E. White, „The Big Inner“
10) David Bowie, „The Next Day“
And here's my album top ten of 2013: