I love my commute home on a Friday night. It’s the one guilt-free evening of the week where I stop thinking about work, give my podcast-saturated brain a rest and spend a bit of time with my headphones on, getting lost in an album. Being involved in our little Album Club (and, more recently, investing in a turntable) has brought a lot of music into my life, and I’ve been on many voyages of discovery. On one of my recent Friday night commutes I collected together a playlist of 13 songs from the best albums I’ve heard over the past year or so.
Oyster Trails — Blue-Eyed Hawk
After falling in love with Snowpoet’s album Thought You Knew (more on that later), I dug around to find other music that the band members had created. Blue-Eyed Hawk’s Under The Moon features Lauren Kinsella’s beautiful voice front and centre, and pre-dates the latest Snowpoet album by a few years. It’s a really interesting album — it definitely pushes up against the boundaries of the kind of jazz that I like, but has some great songs on it. Oyster Trails kicks off the album in a very bizarre, dream-state fashion, kind of like an updated version of the start of Kate Bush’s Moving, the opening track from her debut album. This song then takes a different path when when the distorted bass and drums kick in, followed by Kinsella’s wonderful vocals and a gradual crescendo of the most incredibly beautiful trumpet.
Les Fleur — Minnie Riperton
This track is one that turned up on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist and made me sit up and take notice. The opening few bars were so warm and resonant and felt really familiar, even though I was sure I had never heard them before. They immediately got me into a place where I know I could be about to hear something really good. Riperton’s vocals are wonderful and delicate, and the song soon builds to a big crescendo with the backing vocals singing the main chorus. Like the album it comes from, Come To My Garden, it has a very strange vibe and reflects the out-there musical collective of Rotary Connection, the band that Riperton had emerged from. The album isn’t a straightforward listen and is a bit of an acquired taste; some of the songs leave me with feelings that no other music seems go give me, almost as they are not from this world. The final minute or so of Rainy Day In Centerville is a case in point; it is haunting and unnerving, and I cannot work out whether this was intended or if I am just hearing it with ears not tuned correctly to the 1970 vibe. Stevie Wonder was a big fan and collaborator, and said in an interview that he played this album so much that he wore out multiple copies.
Oh I Wept — Free
I spotted a copy of Free’s Fire and Water album while flicking through the bountiful vinyl crates in Aylesbury’s Deco Audio. I’ve loved All Right Now since my mum introduced me to it as a child but I’d never explored their music further. The super-cheap price lured me to take a chance and I am glad I did. This album has a lovely warm and organic vibe to it. Oh I Wept is the second track and has a sound that belies the bands age at the time they made it; when it was released in 1970, lead singer Paul Rodgers was only 21.
Send My Love — Marika Hackman
I wrote about my love for this album in a recent post. After many plays, this track remains my favourite. It comes at the end of side one and is achingly beautiful, starting as a quiet, understated message to a loved one and building to an incredible three-note guitar riff which sounds as though it is being played at the top of a mountain, resonating across the valleys all around. The song is a brilliant, clever bridge between the first and second halves of the album, and like all of the tracks it works best when heard as part of the whole.
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) — Sly & The Family Stone
Another ritual of many a Friday night is tuning into iPlayer, to see what music programmes have turned up. I thought I had already seen Janet Jackson: Taking Control but although it was a few years old, either I had missed it the first time around or wasn’t paying enough attention. I never owned any Janet Jackson records as a kid but her music was definitely something that I enjoyed, and it was a love shared with my school friends. In the documentary they broke down the details of Rhythm Nation and I discovered that the main riff that underpins the whole song comes from a break in this amazing Sly and The Family Stone tune. It’s a strange song — very monotonous, almost hypnotic, and only breaks at the end of each chorus. But it chugs along with such an incredible vibe that you don’t want it to stop. Soon after watching Taking Control I was fortunate to catch The Story of Funk: One Nation Under A Groove where I learned that this is the song upon which Family Stone bassist Larry Graham invented ‘slapping’. Maximum funk.
We Are The Light — The Alarm
Another discovery thanks to the BBC4 documentary team. Smashing Hits! The 80s Pop Map of Britain and Ireland with Midge Ure and Kim Appleby hit all the right spots for me, with new interviews with many different artists through a geographical lens. I settled into enjoy the series but didn’t expect to find anything revelatory. Then in episode two they focused on Rhyl, North Wales, and The Alarm showed up. I’d been aware of the band since I was very young; some forward-thinking relative bought me a copy of the Look-in Pop Annual in the early 1980s and I had started to read about groups and artists that I had never actually heard. Music was very expensive for a pre-teen on 50p pocket money a week and I had no access to explore anything I was reading about. The Alarm stayed in this bracket for me until a few months ago, when this documentary exploded them onto my screen playing 68 Guns from Top of the Pops in September 1983. The song is instantly likeable, as is their over-earnest performance and laws of physics-defying haircuts. It was like I had struck gold — a good eighties band that I had never heard of, hidden in plain sight. So far I’ve only managed to explore their debut, Declaration, and have been taken aback by how many great songs are on there. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them on the radio and cannot fathom why. We Are The Light is a real highlight and gives you a taste of the kind of music you can find on the album; it’s as good as anything else that came out of the 1980s.
Drink The Elixir — Salad
My parents bought a satellite dish in the late 1980s when I was eleven years old. Adding 161 channels to our existing four felt like a giant leap into the future, so much so that I had friends come over to my house after school specifically to watch it. The fact that MTV Europe was one of the channels was life-changing, and I don’t think that there were many days from that point on that it wasn’t tuned in for a few hours in our house. Listening to and talking to my friends about music dominated my time at school, and I remember Salad being one of the many guitar-based bands that were part of the chat in the mid-1990s. They stuck in my mind as their lead singer, Marijne van der Vlugt, was familiar to me as an MTV Europe host. At that time I didn’t invest too much of my attention their way. Earlier this year the wonderful Super Deluxe Edition blog alerted me to a new 1990s UK indie compilation called Lost Alternatives2, curated by Steve Lamacq. There are some highlights, as well as quite a few lowlights, but this Salad track is a standout for me. It’s a low-key, lo-fi start with some strange vocals but it soon finds its groove and takes me back to being 17 again. It’s of its time, but it still sounds great. YouTube even have a version of the song where the band appeared on the MTV Europe show Most Wanted, hosted by fellow presenter Ray Cokes, which makes me really feel like I’m back there again.
Fading Lines — Amber Arcades
Over the past couple of years I have spent countless hours listening to Brexit-related podcasts, catching up on news and trying to work out what I can do to help resist the nationalistic, inward-looking path that we are going down. The jewel in the crown is Remainiacs, which strikes a wonderful balance between humour, anger, information and positive thinking. What I never expected was that the podcast would introduce me to new music. Amber Arcades, a/k/a Annelotte de Graaf, appeared on an episode way back in October 20183, talking about her then new album European Heartbreak, and they featured an excerpt of her song Goodnight Europe. I loved it and couldn’t wait to explore more. Fading Lines is actually from her first album, which is a little less laid-back and a bit more indie. The song reminds me of 1990s pop, with its shimmering distorted guitar riff and difficult-to-discern vocals. Best played very, very loud.
Furnaces — Ed Harcourt
Ed Harcourt is another artist that I have been aware of for some time but hadn’t listened to. I’m pretty sure that his name appeared regularly in Uncut magazine when I read it in the early 2000s, but I never sought him out. Once again, Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist brought him firmly to my attention when the amazing Loup Garou turned up one day. The whole Furnaces album is very good, and the title track is a good representation of what you can find there. Great songs, great lyrics, great vocals. From what I’ve read, this may not be his best album which means that there is plenty more for me to get my ears wrapped around as I explore his back catalogue in the future.
Moonshine Freeze — This Is The Kit
From Discover Weekly once more. I’m not sure exactly which song from this album turned up in my feed (possibly Hotter Colder?), but it was quirky and different enough for me to notice and want to explore more. I don’t know much about the band yet, but I love the sound of this track, which blends an eerie folk sound with a beat that makes me want to dance.
Love Again — Snowpoet
I’ve written about Snowpoet here a few times. Their album Thought You Knew was a major catalyst to me purchasing a turntable last year. Love Again is a big track on a very short album, running at seven minutes of the 34 in total, but it’s a lovely thing that it is allowed to expand in the way it does. The main refrain is hypnotic and draws you in as the song progresses. All of the instruments perfectly compliment each other to make something wonderful — the jazz drums and keyboards alongside the most gorgeous, warm bass and a perfect saxophone solo — layered with Lauren Kinsella’s beautiful voice.
Honey — Robyn
Back to MTV Europe again. Robyn came to my attention back in the mid-1990s when MTV were playing Do You Know (What It Takes) and Show Me Love on heavy rotation. I’m an unashamed fan of great pop music and I loved both of these songs. Later, I picked up a cheap second-hand copy of her debut album Robyn Is Here. Ten years later, I noticed from the billboards on the London Underground that Robyn was back as a dance artist with tracks such as Dancing On My Own and seemed to have a new generation of followers, but I never spent the time to check out her new music. Fast forward another ten years to the release of Honey. This time, I took a chance and bought the album. After repeated plays the album reveals itself to be a masterpiece; it’s dance music, but it is so much more than that. I wanted to include both Baby Forgive Me and Send To Robin Immediately (sic) in this playlist as they compliment each other so well as back-to-back tracks, but that would be two songs! Honey is a good compromise. It’s the centrepiece of the album and manages to sound simultaneously joyous and contemplative. It’s wonderful.
You Don’t Care — Terry Callier
I stumbled across this album while browsing Discogs one evening, being drawn in by the amazing cover. This album is a complex affair from 1972, with incredible songs that stretch out without feeling too long, and an opener that runs to nearly nine minutes. I hadn’t realised that I’d first heard Callier’s voice when he duetted with Beth Orton on Pass In Time from her Central Reservation album, a favourite of mine from 20 years ago. What Color Is Love is a real late-night treat, and You Don’t Care finishes things off with a backing-vocal driven refrain and beautiful guitars. It’s the only song on the album that doesn’t feature Callier’s vocals, but it sticks with you long after it finishes.