Best Albums of 2014


This year’s Say It With Garage Flowers number one album can be easily filed alongside Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker as one of the greatest breakup records of all time.

Broken Heart Surgery by singer-songwriter Pete Fijalkowski (Adorable and Polak) and guitarist Terry Bickers (The House of Love and Levitation) is intimate and stripped-down, with nods to Johnny Cash, Spiritualized, John Barry and The Velvet Underground. A raw, deeply personal, melancholy album, it documents the breakup of a relationship and the aftermath, but is shot through with plenty of gallows humour and deadpan wit. 

On the record, there are several lyrical references to material possessions – leaving them behind, or being saddled with someone’s else’s old stuff. There’s a lot of emotional baggage involved, but also a lot of physical baggage, too… There are some brilliant lyrics on the album – some of which made me laugh out loud when I first heard them. For example, “Hope – it’s more addictive than coke. Yeah – it’s cupid’s cruel joke…” (Betty Ford) and  “[she] just left me with cutlery and a whole pile of her duff CDs…” (Queen of Stuff).


When I spoke to Pete earlier this year, he told me: “I wanted the album to reflect the various aspects of a breakup, so while some of the subject matters are taking place more in the head, there are others that have a very physical location and an obsession with small details – the division of objects between a couple (Breaking Up), the forgotten objects left behind in a now half-empty flat (Queen of Stuff) or the changing soundtrack to a couple’s life as their relationship deteriorates – from furtive whispers and kisses, to slamming doors and uneasy silences (Sound of Love).”

Asked what he wanted to achieve with the album, Pete said: “First and foremost, I wanted to make an album that I was proud of.”

Rest assured, he can hold his head up high – it’s a stone cold classic.

While we’re on the subject of masters in melancholy, Morrissey made a welcome return this year with World Peace Is None Of Your Business – his first album in five years. His best long-player since 1994’s Vauxhall & I, it was a glorious comeback record, with epic ballads (I’m Not A Man, Mountjoy), unabashed pop songs (Staircase At The University, Kiss Me A Lot, The Bullfighter Dies ) and lavish, exotic arrangements, including mariachi brass, strings and flamenco guitar.

Alas, due to a dispute with his record label, Harvest, the album is currently not available on Spotify or iTunes, so, instead, here’s a YouTube clip of the mighty Staircase At The University…

Other notable 2014 albums included Fair Warning by folk-rockers The Rails; Charade – the debut album from LA-based country singer Meg Olsen; A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye by San Fran garage-psychers Cool Ghouls ; Phantom Radio by the Mark Lanegan Band, which explored dark, electronic territory; The Breaks by former Boo Radley Martin Carr – gorgeous, lush guitar pop – and Alexandria by alt. country artist Chris Mills, which was his first album in five years and saw him team up with a new backing band – The Distant Stars.

Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt impressed with his solo album Hendra, which featured former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler on a poignant set of songs that, at times, recalled the legendary John Martyn, while Cherry Ghost’s latest record, Herd Runners, was a soundtrack for the lost and lonely, similar to Richard Hawley’s late night laments…

Chris Mills
Chris Mills

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention News From Nowhere – the ‘long-lost’ debut by ’90s Britpop band Speedy. Recorded in 1997, the album finally saw the light of day earlier this year and was well worth the wait. The band even reformed and played live for the occasion. 

I  played a small part in getting the album released – a 2009 blog I wrote about the record attracted some interest and one thing led to another…

Here’s a list of my favourite 30 albums of 2014 and a Spotify playlist to go with it. 

1) Pete Fij & Terry Bickers – Broken Heart Surgery

2) Morrissey – World Peace Is None of Your Business

3) The Rails – Fair Warning

4) Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio

5) Martin Carr – The Breaks

6) The New Mendicants – Into The Lime

7) Chris Mills & The Distant Stars – Alexandria

8) Cherry Ghost – Herd Runners

9) Ben Watt – Hendra

10) Meg Olsen – Charade

11) Johnny Marr – Playland

12) Cool Ghouls – A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye

13) Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

14) The Delines – Colfax Avenue

15) Beck – Morning Phase

16) Speedy – News From Nowhere

17) Temples – Sun Structures

18) Cleaners From Venus – Return To Bohemia

19Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

20) Kings of The South Seas – Kings of The South Seas

21) Gallon Drunk – The Soul of the Hour

22) Len Price 3 – Nobody Knows

23) Little Barrie – Shadow

24) Tweedy – Sukirae

25) The Autumn Defense – Fifth

26) Neville Skelly – Carousel

27) Johnny Aries – Unbloomed

28) Pete Molinari – Theosophy

29) Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham

30) Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything

If I can make it through the summer…


In my previous blog entry, I wrote about trying to deal with the
recent bout of hot weather, which makes me very depressed, cross and
generally hot and bothered.

Well, I’ve now found a song that could be my theme tune – it’s called
Make It Through The Summer.

I recently spent a few days in Chicago (mercifully, it wasn’t hot) and
became dangerously addicted to shopping in Records Reckless – while I
was over there, I visited two branches.

What I love about shops like Reckless are the handwritten
recommendations and mini reviews that are stuck on some of the CD
covers, so if you’re browsing – like I was – and you’re not sure about
buying an album, you can read the store staff’s reviews and comments
and then make your mind own mind up.

As I was in Chicago, I was perusing the Wilco section (well, it is
their home town) and I stumbled across an album by
The Autumn Defense – a duo comprising Wilco members John Stirratt and
Pat Sansone. Hell, I didn’t even know this spin-off band existed.

The album’s called The Green Hour and I was drawn to it by the store
sleeve notes, which said it recalled ’70s AM radio pop, pastoral folk
and The Beachboys.

Add to that the fact that they’re in Wilco and I knew I had to be on
to a winner, so I bought it. It’s a great little record – those guys
at Reckless Records know their stuff. My favourite song is the
aforementioned Make It Through The Summer.

It sounds a lot like Wilco doing The Beachboys, which is fine by me.

Now, if I can just make…..…

Byrds-meets-Big-Star-meets-Beachboys – ‘the soundtrack of the summer’



Some of you ‘normal’ people are getting excited by the World Cup or by
the warm weather, but I must say I am not bothered about either.

In fact, this weekend I am avoiding both by staying in, listening to
some new music and updating my blog, which is long overdue.

Trust me, it’s better than being stood in an over-crowded pub full of
undesirable types who only go out drinking when it’s summer, an
international sporting event, St Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve, and
then spoil it for the rest of us who are regular frequenters of ale
houses. The hot weather brings ’em all out…

To keep me company – my girlfriend Susie is away in Barcelona – I’ve
stocked up on red wine and cheese. It could be a long evening….

There’s plenty of great new music around at the moment, but I’ve also
been digging around in record shops and online to discover some retro
delights, too.

Now, I may not be a fan of summer, but I am partial to the odd killer
sunshine guitar pop tune or two – and the new Teenage Fanclub album
Shadows is full of ’em.

It’s easily the best thing they’ve done since 1995’s Grand Prix.

OK, so if you don’t like Teenage Fanclub (hard to believe, I know, but
there are such deluded people out there,apparently) then Shadows won’t
convert you, as it’s classic trademark Fanclub to the max. Jangly
Byrds-meets-Big-Star guitars? Check. Beachboys harmonies? Check. Great
melodies? Check. Well, if it ain’t broke….

I always hate it when idiotic, inane presenters like Zane Lowe
proclaim something to be ‘the soundtrack of the summer’, but Shadows
will certainly be the soundtrack of my summer – and hopefully it will
help me to get through the imminent, oppressive heat wave.

Here’s the current Teenage Fanclub single, Baby Lee – if you dig this,
you’ll love the album. Yeah, it’s soppy, but so what? It’s better than
crying over a football match…

The Golden Age of Lucky Soul

Lucky Soul’s second album A Coming of Age is aptly named, as it’s the
sound of a band growing up, maturing and developing, finding their
feet and standing proud, ready to take on the world.

Sure, the elements which made their 2007 debut The Great Unwanted such
a joy are still very much in place- ’60s girl pop, meets St Etienne,
Stax and Motown – but this time around, songwriter Andrew Laidlaw has
widened his influences and plundered the history of popular music to
create an album that recreates the experience of rooting through – and
listening to – the best record collection in the world ever. I’d love
to nip round his house and check out his CDs and LPs.

So, we’ve got glam-disco, gospel, Southern fried
soul, country-rock, cinematic orchestrations and Smiths-style
melancholy on the menu. There are nods to Blondie, Dexys Midnight
Runners, Carole King, Neil Young, Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell,
among others.

Singer Ali Howard’s gorgeous ‘little girl lost vocals’ are now
accompanied by more complex, strident and bigger, bolder arrangements.

Rampant opener Woah Billy! is swathed in sultry Philadelphia strings,
Could It Be I Don’t Belong Anywhere (just how Morrissey is that
title?) sounds like Cilla Black’s Anyone Who Had A Heart reworked as a
big soul ballad but via Strangeways Here We Come and Upon Hilly
Fields is a lovely pastoral piece with an After The Goldrush feel.

The opening salvo of Woah! Billy, White Russian Doll and Up In Flames
makes for a powerful three-pronged attack – it’s like listening to a
‘Best of ’60s Soul’ Greatest Hits album; hook-laden killer tracks that
grab you by the throat and demand you shake, shake, shimmy as if your
life depended on it.

Laidlaw has also explored the darker side of life (a dark night of the
Lucky Soul, anyone?) with A Coming Of Age – especially on the title track –
all moody James Bond strings, but with a spiky Johnny
Marr-ish guitar riff. There’s a pervading sense of heartache to
many of the songs – Warm Water and Southern Melancholy are two of the
saddest, yet most swoonsome, tunes I’ve heard in a long time.

If there’s a better pop album than A Coming of Age released this year,
then I’ll eat my (porkpie) hat.