An article I wrote a few months ago for MusicHype. I’d been thinking about all these great albums I had that never really took off, for whatever reason. All of them are really great albums – there was no filler to pad out the content and get numbers up to ten.
The great thing about the internet age is that music is available to everyone, all the time. Musical trends are less important than they used to be – if you’re a fan of a certain type of music, chances are someone, somewhere is doing it with a sizeable internet following. One downside however is that it’s a lot easier for great albums to get lost in the sheer volume of releases available at internet users’ fingertips. Here’s my picks of a few good ‘uns that you may have missed.
Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – “The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager”
Released September 2006
GCWCF is the alias of London-based performer Sam Duckworth. This, his debut album, is performed largely with Sam on acoustic guitar backed primarily by beats, horns and other instrumentation created artificially on his laptop. Self produced folk-rock with touches of electronica and even punk, GCWCF creates sweetly melodic tunes with radio appeal.
Top tunes: I Spy, The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager (Part Two), Once More With Feeling
Other albums: GCWCF has released two albums since his debut, most recently a self -titled 2010 album, neither of which quite recapture the charm of his debut, but both still well worth checking out.
Johnny Foreigner – “Waited Up Til It Was Light”
Released June 2008
Formed in Birmingham, England in 2005 Johnny Foreigner write the kind of shambolic indie rock music that makes you want to dance. The dual male and female vocals make them sound a lot lot like Welsh contemporaries Los Campesinos, but there’s more of an edge here, and some nice overdriven guitar leads thrown in for good measure. Great melodies and chaotic rock songs that bring to mind some of The Libertines’ finest moments. Well worth checking out if you’re a fan of really really really good UK indie rock.
Top tunes: Salt, Peppa and Spinderella, Yes! You Talk Too Fast, Our Bipolar Friends
Other Albums: They followed Waited up Til It Was Light” in 2009 with Grace and the Bigger Picture which is also really really really good, and is therefore highly recommended to people that like really really really good music.
Emmy The Great – “First Love”
Released February 2009
Born Emma Lee Moss, Emmy the Great was originally from Hong Kong but migrated to London where she resides and performs as part of the current ‘anti-folk’ scene of artists. She writes beautiful and often sparsely arranged (acoustic guitar and violin being a popular choice) modern folk songs about life and love, with a clever and contemporary lyrical twist. Instantly memorable and emotive tunes make this a great addition to modern folk fans’ collections.
Top tunes: We Almost Had a Baby, 24, On The Museum Island, Absentee, City Song
Other Albums: Emmy’s second album is due for release in late 2010, early 2011. She also performed backing vocals on Lightspeed Champion’s Falling Off The Lavender Bridge album (see below), and lead vocals on Norman Cook’s (aka Fatboy Slim’s) BPA single “Seattle”.
Gob Iron – “Death Songs For The Living”
Released October 2006
Gob Iron is Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo/ Son Volt) and Anders Parker (Varnalines) and this album was recorded over 5 days in 2004. It is made up almost entirely of traditional folk songs (there is one Farrar original), with every second track being an instrumental. Great folk/country style songs and some of Farrar’s finest work, and Parker’s songs (I admit I hadn’t heard of him before this record) are excellent as well.
Top tunes: Silicosis Blues, Little Girl and Dreadful Snake, Death’s Black Train
Other Albums: This is the only Gob Iron album, but you pretty much can’t go wrong with most of Jay Farrar’s Uncle Tupelo or Son Volt material, the majority of which is superb – although his latest, “American Central Dust”, is a rare weak record for him. His solo stuff is great too – he most recently recorded a joint record with Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard as the soundtrack to a documentary film about Jack Kerouac’s novel “Big Sur” entitled “One Fast Move Or I’m Gone” which is worth a look.
Delays – “You See Colours”
Released March 2006
Hailing from Southampton in the UK, You See Colours is the Delays second album. Mixing psychedelic effect-laden guitars, with nice melodies and singalong choruses, it’s incredible that this album wasn’t more successful. Singer Greg Gilbert sings in a high, instantly recognisable voice that, coupled with their keyboard heavy instrumentation, makes for a unique and beautiful album.
Top tunes: Cavalry, Valentine, Hideaway.
Other Albums: Delays’ first album Faded Seaside Glamour is also excellent, and their third album Everything’s The Rush is patchy but has some great moments. Latest album Star Tiger, Star Ariel is disappointing, so it would seem the band are on a downward trajectory. They have a live album forthcoming that should be worth checking out though.
Lightspeed Champion – “Falling Off The Lavender Bridge”
Released January 2008
Lightspeed Champion is the stage name/ band name of Dev Hynes, formerly of the humorously named Test Icicles. “Falling Off The Lavender Bridge” is a UK take on American alt-country, mixing garage rock guitars and melodies with acoustic sections, violins, pianos, slide guitars and even show tunes. Hynes is a hugely talented musician and songwriter, and the album reflects this in the quality of its songs and the diversity of the arrangements. He’s also extremely prolific, writing on his blog frequently and often giving away whole albums of unreleased material. Check him out.
Top tunes: Galaxy of the Lost, Midnight Surprise, Tell Me What It’s Worth
Other Albums: This album was followed by Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You in 2010, which features the excellent single “Marlene”. The album leans more to a show tunes style of songwriting, and while it works in places the album is not as consistent as Falling off the Lavender Bridge. He also has a new EP Bye Bye (a collaboration with composer Van Dyke Parks) due out in December.
Pinhead Gunpowder – “Kick Over The Traces”
Released June 2009
If you’ve ever wondered what Green Day would’ve sounded like if they’d never signed to a major label, then this is a pretty good approximation. Pinhead Gunpowder began life as a San Francisco bay area punk rock super group and consists of Aaron Cometbus on drums, Bill Schneider on bass, Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) on vocals and guitars, Jason White (Green Day touring guitarist) also on vocals. The biggest difference from Green Day (apart from the low budget) is that all lyrics are written by Cometbus, who gives them a low fi, scrappy, but fun element. Kick Over the Traces is their accumulated works (1990 to present), and you can see their craft improve as the originals get better and better throughout their career culminating in the excellent “Life During Wartime” and “Second Street”.
Top tunes: Big Yello Taxi (Joni Mitchell Cover), Second Street, At Your Funeral, Life During Wartime, New Blood
Other Albums: This is their “best of” compilation as the band has been releasing great and not so great EPs since the early 90s. Worth checking out are the Shoot the Moon EP, their only ever studio album Goodbye Elston Avenue, and their most recent release, 2009’s Westside Highway EP.
Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – “Angles”
Released May 2008
Recorded mostly in their bedrooms, Dan Le Sac (DJ and beats) and Scroobius Pip (rhymes) created hip hop for the indie crowd on the first album together, Angles. Single “Thou Shalt Always Kill” is full of rules to live by, like “Thou shalt not stop liking a band just because they’ve become popular” and a reminder that The Clash are “just a band” amongst others. Their philosophy is laid out nicely in opener “The Beat That My Heart Skipped”, and “A Letter from God To Man” illustrates their combination of great beats and clever lyrics, with God dictating a letter to the human race over a beat created from Radiohead’s “Planet Telex”. Great stuff.
Top tunes: A Letter From God To Man, Thou Shalt Always Kill, The Beat That My Heart Skipped
Other Albums: The pair recently released their follow up, The Logic Of Chance which is also very good. They also released a very nice High Fidelity spoof featuring Nick Frost to help promote it, which you can view here.
Justin Townes Earle – “Midnight at the Movies”
Released March 2009
The son of Steve Earle, Justin is a superb country performer in his own right. He first came to my attention when he opened for Wilco in Wellington, NZ in 2010. Midnight at the Movies is an excellent collection of well written country originals and covers of both traditional (“They Killed John Henry”) and more modern (The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” is given a superb alt-country makeover), with some equally excellent originals thrown in for good measure.
Top tunes: Can’t Hardly Wait, Midnight at the Movies, What I Mean To You, They Killed John Henry
Other Albums: This is JTE’s third album, preceded by Yuma (2007) and The Good Life (2008). His latest album Harlem River Blues (2010) is also superb and is doing much to bring him some of the attention he deserves.
Bedouin Soundclash – “Sounding a Mosaic”
Released September 2004
Bedouin Soundclash are a reggae band from Kingston (in Ontario, Canada, not the Jamaican capital as you may expect), that mix reggae, punk and ska, but not in the way you’d expect. Bedouin are unique amongst their ska-punk peers (a genre not known for its diversity) in their delivery and the quality of their songwriting, with beautiful melodies, and dubbed out bass lines over deceptively simple drum patterns. You may have heard opener “When The Night Feels My Song” before but not known who it was by, but the greatest revelation here is that the rest of the album is just as good, with songs varying from upbeat ska numbers, to laid back reggae and semi-acoustic songs, without ever veering into cliched musical territory. Contemporary ska with impeccable roots-reggae credentials.
Top tunes: When The Night Feels My Song, Rude Boy Don’t Cry, Shadow of a Man, Shelter
Other Albums: This album was preceded by Root Fire in 2001 which was good, but the band had yet to perfect their songwriting. The album after Sounding a Mosaic however, 2007s Street Gospels was an excellent continuation of their style, with lusher instrumental arrangements but perhaps slightly less charm than its sparser, warmer predecessor. They are also set to release a new album Light the Horizon very soon, which is sure to be a nice addition to their superb output so far.