…and another release from 2014 that I missed first time around.
Whilst I know that many regular readers of Every Record Tells A Story are inexplicably somehow content to suffer through the odd turgid story of trawling record fairs, or hearing about bands that recorded their last meaningful record four decades ago, there is still an element of the public who want to know what is happening in the music scene now, dammit.
I know. They are more to be pitied than censured, but hey, I try to cater to all tastes and needs.
Hence here is part two of my “best albums of the year so far” list. All I can do is reassure you that these aren’t the only ten albums I happen to picked up this year, (let’s face it, always a risk) so there’s been a reasonable amount of filtering before reaching this conclusion. I hope you are inspired to pick these up and give them a listen.
FFS – FFS
Named after a racehorse that was, in turn, named after the unfortunate first victim of the Great War, Franz Ferdinand were, in 2004, pretty much as good as it got in indie pop. Arch lyrics, spiky guitars and haircuts, and tunes to die for. They were the latest in a long line of UK art-school bands. Brit and Ivor Novello awards followed, as did a follow up album that maintained the momentum. Alexander Palace was sold out. Things looked good.
Then, in 2006, as the internet caught up with the music industry, the Arctic Monkeys turned up on the same record label (Domino), and seemingly overnight Franz Ferdinand looked, well, old by comparison, and they never really recovered. It was a bit like when New Kids on the Block wiped the floor with Bros back in the day…
Sparks, meanwhile peaked early. Once you make a Top of the Pops appearance looking like an even more menacing, mentally deranged Charlie Chaplin impersonator than Hitler, the only way is down.
What else was more likely to happen in 2015 than a collaboration between the two?
The unlikely tie up happened two years ago after Ron and Russell Mael chanced upon Alex Kapranos in San Francisco whilst the latter was seeking out Huey Louis’ dentist after cracking a tooth on tour in Uruguay. Well, it’s happened to us all, right?
It seems that the experimental approach of Sparks has allowed Franz Ferdinand to stretch their wings a little. There’s still the odd arch lyric – in fact probably more to raise an ironic eyebrow to than on previous Franz Ferdinand records. However, the music is more adventurous, more spirited. More free.
It also sounds a little like Franz Ferdinand does Queen. There’s a mini Bohemian Rhapsody rock opera in “Collaborations Don’t Work”. For the avoidance of doubt, I see this as a good thing.
Muse has gone all out for music’s “gloriously bonkers” crown this year, but it appears to be more of a millstone around their necks, and frankly they’re wasting their time, because FFS has already got it sewn up.
They looked awesome at Glastonbury, too.
Sparks and Franz Ferdinand, eh? It turns out that this town is big enough for both of them…
Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
Memphis, Tennessee, 1962. The fledgling label Stax records has a house band consisting of Booker T Jones, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve Cropper and Al Jackson Jr. As Booker T and the MGs they form the Stax house band and go on to be the guts behind such great singers as Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett on some classic songs that have never been equalled.
Fast forward to 2015, and there’s a new house band in town, and it’s the one formed by Matthew E White. As well as their providing White’s own backing on his LP this year, they are also playing on this record, as White has generously shared them with his former eighth grade pal, Natalie Prass.
Prass has produced an outstanding album of heartbreaking songs and White’s band is the perfect accompaniment.
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Sometimes I can be really out of touch. For example, there was the time I thought Grindr was a coffee website. That was an uncomfortable moment having to explain my internet history to my wife, I can tell you.
Another example is my complete ignorance in the mid-nineties of Sleater-Kinney. If you had told me they were a law firm, I wouldn’t have challenged you. What can I tell you? I was too busy singing along to Oasis with a beer in my outstretched hand. Too much one of Pulp’s Common People to know much about the Riot Grrrrl and indie rock scenes of America’s North West. I never was that hip…
I still haven’t even seen Portlandia, the sketch show featuring Carrie Brownstein, one of two guitarist and vocalists in Sleater-Kinney.
But I have heard the eighth Sleater-Kinney album this year which is called “No Cities To Love” and which sounds as fresh as a daisy, urgent and direct indie tunes with killer guitars and lyrics, and makes me want to truffle through the S-K back catalogue to see if the other seven are as good as this one.
Drenge – Undertow
After their blistering debut album had members of parliament rocking in the aisles, Drenge has taken their two-man Queens of the Stone Age riffage, beefed it up with a new bass player and produced another snorter of an LP.
JD McPherson – Let The Good Times Roll
McPherson’s second album is rooted strongly in rock n roll, soul and the kind of sound the muscle shoals house band might have stumbled upon during an all night jam session. There’s a shuffle in the drums that fans of The Black Keys will appreciate, a timbre in the voice that Sam Cooke admirers will appreciate and a chug to the guitars that will appeal to everyone.
Stand out track “Head over Heels” may have been released in 2015, but might have been released in 1955 or 1965. Timeless, chilled and ever so slightly wonderful.
…and one from last year: Ty Segall – Manipulator
It took fifteen years for U2 to produce their seventh album, Achtung Baby. It took 22 years for Def Leppard to produce theirs, Euphoria. Manipulator is Ty Segall’s seventh. It’s a double album, and it came just six years after Segall’s first. Segall was still just 27 when he wrote, recorded and released it – a formidable statistic until you learn that Paul McCartney was 24 years old when he recorded Sgt Pepper – his eighth album in five years. It’s all relative isn’t it? Especially when you compare anyone to The Beatles.
But ignore such comparisons. Because this doesn’t sound like The Beatles. There’s T Rex, sure, in the vocals, and some great fuzzy guitar. It’s mostly up-tempo bangers, many under three minutes, and nothing over four and a half. But what it does share with The Beatles is that it is littered with some great pop and rock tunes.
It’s not on Spotify. You have to go out and buy it, or download it. The vinyl version only comes in one colour – not black, but a kind of orange, which is gorgeous. And it’s a great, great album that I am still kicking myself over because I didn’t find it early enough to be on my Best Albums of 2014 list.