1. The Horrors ‘Primary Colours' Always a bit of a surprise when someone you have totally written off produces something good! The Horrors debut seemed like what it was – immature cod garage schlock rock, little more than homage to the Cramps. But blow me down if their sophomore effort hasn’t come over all technicolour on us – the first hint should have been the production credit to Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, who lends the set an air of sophistication to an album that could crudely be described as “The Jesus And Mary Chain play the hits of Phil Spector, with Ian Curtis on vocals and Kevin Shields on guitar, with production supervision from Joe Meek”. Whew!
2. Bat For Lashes ‘Two Suns’ The very lovely Natasha Khan’s second album as Bat For Lashes (following the Mercury Award-nominated debut ‘Fur And Gold’) is a fantastically sophisticated set of songs that variously recalls Kate Bush, Sinead O’Connor, Siouxsie & The Banshees – in fact, any female British artist who has melded melody and atmosphere in a beguiling fashion. Highlights include the terrific single “Daniel” and the Scott Walker-featuring closer “The Big Sleep”.
3. Morrissey ‘Years Of Refusal’ After the previous set, ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ was a little underwhelming (despite strings by Ennio Morricone and production by Tony Visconti), ‘YOR’ returns to ‘You Are The Quarry’ producer Jerry Finn, and is all the better for it. The band is in the taut, muscular mode that served ‘Your Arsenal’ and ‘Southpaw Grammar’ well, and The Mozzfather is in a combative mood, particularly on blistering opener ‘Something Is Squeezing My Skull’ and the simmering ‘It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore’, while single ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’ suggests he hasn’t lost his sparkling pop touch.
4. Bachelorette ‘My Electric Family’ The second album from ex-Christchurch electronic-based singer-songwriter Annabel Alpers is certainly a step up from the (slightly disappointing) debut album, and delivers heartily on the promise shown on her debut EP ‘The End Of Things’. So good, in fact, she is now signed to hipster US label Drag City on the recommendation of none other than Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, with whom she is now playing US shows! Roping in Wellington scenesters Craig Terris and Tom Watson of Cassette was inspired move, and one which lends a more organic sound than earlier releases, but rather than a radical stylistic change, it feels like a natural progression. Very impressive indeed.
5. Richard Swift ‘The Atlantic Ocean’ More of the same from melodic, jaunty US singer-songwriter, but then, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it huh? Packed with effortlessly memorable tunes, great singing and cool squelchy vintage synth sounds, and a more than worthy follow up to excellent earlier releases “Dressed Up For The Letdown” and minor classic debut “The Novelist/ Walking Without Effort”, Swift is like a McCartney for modern times...
1. M. Ward ‘Hold Time’
Possibly his finest album to date. If you are a fan of his breathy vocals and lazy slide guitar, you will love this album. Highlights include a beautiful, stripped back version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Rave On’ and a heartbreaking duet with Lucinda Williams on ‘Oh, Lonesome Me’, which both sit perfectly alongside his reverb-soaked originals.
2. David Kilgour & Sam Hunt ‘Falling Debris’
My initial skepticism at this pairing of NZ’s indie lynchpin and the poet laureate of Cobb & Co disappeared immediately upon hearing this album. Thankfully Sam Hunt does not lend his dulcet tones to proceedings, instead he lends his poetry to Kilgour to set to laid back tunes, making this one of the ex-Clean man’s most consistently enjoyable solo set.
3. Iggy Pop ‘Preliminaires’
Wherein the Igster enters the French Jazz Café and comes out with an album of blues-tinged ballads about life, love and the death of his dog. Sounds terrible, huh? Actually, ‘Preliminaires’ is a quite charming album, and Ig’s Leonard Cohen-inflected delivery sits nicely with the jazzy backing, showcasing a man aging (reasonably!) gracefully.
4. Jason Isbell & The 400 Units S/T
Whilst never feeling any great love for his old band Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell has really grabbed me with this new album. It is a cut above other standard country rock fare, due to brilliant production, great playing and fine, Wilco-ish songwriting – a real treat.
5. Lemonheads ‘Varshons’
A covers album from indie-rock’s favourite lunatic, Evan Dando. Surprisingly well produced by ex-Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes, the songs are largely drawn from mix tapes Haynes had given to Dando over the years. My picks are ‘sensitive’ readings of The Cramps ‘Green Fuzz’ and a quite lovely version of the ghastly Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’. Not essential by any means, but a good fun listen nonetheless.
Bonus Top 5 Yoghurt Flavours
- Autumn Duet
- Berries & Cherries
- Simply Strawberry
- Apricot & Custard
- Fruit Of The Forest
Dennis' Top 5 Reissues
1. Mason Ruffner 'Mason Ruffner/Gypsy Blood'
Little known but distinguished (played with Dylan on ‘Oh Mercy’ amongst others) Texan guitarist has his first two albums released as a 2 on 1 by American Beat Records. The first (self titled) has more of a country-rock bent and was produced by Rick Derringer. The second (‘Gypsy Blood’) is a down-the-line rock’n’roll album produced by Dave Edmunds. Not at all in tune with the era they featured in (the 80’s), they’ve lasted terrifically well - highly recommended.
2. Fats Domino ‘Fats Is Back’
A Richard Perry produced album for Fats for Reprise Records in 1968. A lovely rolling record for Fats, surrounded as he was by King Curtis, Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Chuck Rainey and Randy Newman’s horn arrangements. Covers of a couple of Beatles songs and a couple of retreads all combine to produce a warm, rocking album that sounds as good now as it did 40 years ago.
3. Little Richard ‘The Rill Thing’
Arranged and produced by The Georgia Peach in Muscle Shoals in 1970, this is a terrific album, with raucous covers of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Lovesick Blues’ and classic Penniman variations of his inimitable style in ‘Dew Drop Inn’ and ‘Freedom Blues’. One of rock’n’roll’s great comeback albums.
4. Pozo-Seco Singers ‘The Complete 1966 Recordings’
The two albums produced by Bob Johnston for CBS and a couple of bonus tracks make for a folk-rock harmony dream. Don Williams’ lugubrious bass, Susan Taylor’s plaintive soprano and Lofton Kline’s warm baritone were a lovely mix. A couple of hits in ‘I Can Make It With You’ and ‘Look What You’ve Done’, and some gentle stylings of traditional and contemporary folk/ pop done with real care and restraint. Real favourite of mine at the time and crystal clear on this Cherry Red reissue.
5. Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon
The first CD collection of this American soul outfit who based themselves in England through the late 60’s and mid 70’s. Hits such as ‘Breakin’ Down The Walls Of Heartache’ and ‘Blame It On The Pony Express’ - a muscular lead vocal, catchy tunes and cracking production from the likes of Sandy Linzer, Denny Randell and Charlie Calello (all Four Seasons alumni) made for hot dancing soul music. 24 tracks with great covers of such as ‘Let’s Hang On’, ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’ and ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ make for a great party album.