Best albums of 2016

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Uneasy listening was the musical genre that defined 2016.

The spectre of death loomed large over several of the year’s best albums, namely David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker – both artists died in 2016, shortly after releasing their records – and Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, which, in places, dealt with the grief and sadness he felt following the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015.

All three albums were masterpieces and highlights in their creators’ impressive back catalogues, but were difficult to listen to.

Songs such as Bowie’s vulnerable, jazzy Dollar Days – my favourite track on Blackstar – and Cohen’s twangy, twilight ballad, Leaving The Table, were undeniably beautiful, but eerily prescient.

I defy anyone not to shed a tear while hearing Bowie croon “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me”, or Laughing Len intone, “I’m leaving the table – I’m out of the game.”

When Danish soprano Else Torp duets with Cave on Distant Sky, her beautiful vocals could break even the hardest of hearts.

On a personal note, I had a difficult 2016, having to cope with illness, anxiety and family bereavements, so these three albums often suited my mood, but, strangely, I haven’t chosen any of them as my favourite record of the year.

I so nearly opted for another dark album as my top choice – Richmond Fontaine’s brilliant You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To – the final long-player from Willy Vlautin’s Portland-based, alt-country band who’ve now split up – but I didn’t.

Instead, I went for a record that always made me smile and cheered me up whenever I listened to it, thanks to its wonderful arrangements, sublime melodies and unashamedly retro vibe. 

My favourite album of 2016 is Over The Silvery Lake – the debut record from London’s The Hanging Stars. 

Released in March, Over The Silvery Lake was recorded in LA, Nashville and Walthamstow. It’s a gorgeous psych-folk-pop-country-rock record that owes a debt to The Byrds and the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons, but also Fairport Convention’s pastoral ’60s English tune-smithery.

It’s laced with pedal steel guitar and shot through with blissed-out harmonies. There are songs where willows weep and ships set sail on the sea, hazy, lazy, shimmering summer sounds  (I’m No Good Without You and Crippled Shining Blues), as well as brooding desert-rock (The House On The Hill], trippy mystical adventures (Golden Vanity) and, on the closing track, the beautiful Running Waters Wide, rippling piano is accompanied by bursts of groovy flute. 

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The Hanging Stars

Earlier this year, I interviewed The Hanging Stars about the writing and recording of the album – you can read the article here.

The band have just finished making the follow-up and it will be released next year. I’ve already reserved a place for it in my Best Albums of 2017 list… 

Here’s a list of my favourite 35 albums from this year and a Spotify playlist to accompany it, where possible – some of the albums aren’t available to stream.

This year, I interviewed several of the artists featured, so I’ve linked to the articles below. Happy Christmas – all the best for 2017 and I’ll see you on the other side…

  1. The Hanging Stars Over The Silvery Lake
  2. Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
  3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Key
  4. Peter BruntnellNos Da Comrade
  5. Vinny PeculiarSilver Meadows
  6. David Bowie – Blackstar
  7. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
  8. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
  9. Ben Watt – Fever Dream
  10. Quiet Loner – The Battle For The Ballot
  11. Britta Phillips Luck Or Magic
  12. Nick Piunti Trust Your Instincts 
  13. Cotton MatherDeath of The Cool
  14. Robert Rotifer Not Your Door
  15. Papernut Cambridge – Love The Things Your Lover Loves
  16. Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
  17. The Senior Service – The Girl In The Glass Case
  18. Cat’s Eyes – Treasure House
  19. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr Proust
  20. Teenage Fanclub – Here
  21. Wilco – Schmilco 
  22. Dr Robert Out There
  23. The Explorers Club – Together
  24. Cool Ghouls – Animal Races
  25. John HowardAcross The Door Sill
  26. The Junipers – Red Bouquet Fair
  27. 8 X 8 – Inflorescence 
  28. Ryan Allen & His Extra ArmsBasement Punk
  29. Primal Scream – Chaosmosis
  30. The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect
  31. Paul McClure Songs For Anyone 
  32. The Monkees Good Times!
  33. The Coral – Distance Inbetween
  34. Hurricane #1 – Melodic Rainbows [Japan only release]
  35. The Hosts – Moon

Power pop to the people

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Here at Say It With Garage Flowers we’re massive power pop fans and we always get excited when we get to hear new releases by UK-based label Sugarbush Records, which specialises in rare and limited edition vinyl, including power pop, psych and cool ‘60s stuff.

Over the last few weeks, Sugarbush has really been spoiling us, so we thought we’d do a quick roundup of some of its latest records.

Detroit singer-songwriter Nick Piunti’s superb 2015 album, Beyond The Static, has been issued on vinyl for the first time – it’s limited to only 250 copies on blue vinyl.

We interviewed Nick when the record was first released last year and you can read all about the making of it here.

Beyond The Static was the follow-up to Nick’s critically acclaimed album 13 In My Head, which we described as ‘an instant power pop classic’.

Fans of 13 In My Head will definitely love Beyond The Static. As we said when it first came out, it’s more of the same – infectious power pop songs with big guitars, harmonies and strong melodies.

There’s also a country influence on the song Six Bands and some vintage New Wave synth on Heart Stops Beating. Nick’s been compared to singer-songwriters such as Matthew Sweet, Tom Petty and Paul Westerberg.

Don’t forget to check out Nick’s latest album, Trust Your Instincts, which is currently available on CD. We’re hoping for a vinyl release of it on Sugarbush sometime soon…

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If you like Nick Piunti, you’ll also dig Dom Mariani’s Homespun Blues & Greens. Out on Sugarbush, this ‘lost’ album by the former frontman of Australian garage rock band The Stems is released on vinyl for the first time.

Limited to 300 ‘deep blue’ copies worldwide, it was recorded over a two-year period in the early noughties, but slipped under the radar when it came out in 2004.

Mixed by Mitch Easter (R.E.M and Velvet Crush) it’s top-notch power pop, with fuzzy riffs, crunching chords and some great hooks.

The title track has a brilliant soulful brass arrangement, gorgeous ballad Prove has cool ’60s-style backing vocals and tinges of country rock, thanks to its Faces-style guitar licks, while space-themed Yuri is, er, out of this world, and Bus Ride is power pop perfection.

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Finally this month, Sugarbush has another vinyl first – Irish band Pugwash’s second album, Almanac. Originally released in 2002, it’s now available on orange or white vinyl – there are 250 copies of each.

Pugwash’s main man, Thomas Walsh, is clearly a man who’s in love with vintage pop music – even  Almanac’s title is a nod to The Kinks.

For the most part, Walsh channels mid-to late ’60s Beatles and ELO – Everything We Need sounds like George Harrison meets Jeff Lynne, while the lovely acoustic ballad Sunrise Sunset could’ve come off  The White Album.

Keep Movin’ On reminds us of The Hollies and Apples sounds like English eccentrics XTC – it’s no surprise that, in 2002, XTC’s Andy Partridge said it was the most exciting track he’d heard all year.

Almanac is a Fab album and Pugwash are plundering pop pirates. Ahoy there, me hearties…

For more information on all of these albums – and to order them –  please visit http://www.sugarbushrecords.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the jangle

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The sound of the 12-string guitar is celebrated on a great new compilation album – Twelve String High – which includes 23 jangle pop acts from all over the world, who share a love of Rickenbacker riffs and heavenly harmonies…

From The Byrds to Big Star and The Raspberries to REM, the 12-string guitar has always played an important part in rock and roll history.

The distinctive Rickenbacker jingle-jangle can be heard in folk rock, ‘60s beat, garage, power pop, the psychedelic Paisley Underground scene in ‘80s L.A and the British indie tunes of The Smiths.

There are also a huge number of current bands that owe a large debt to that classic 12-string guitar sound and the best of them are gathered together on an excellent new compilation album, Twelve String High, from Spanish label You Are The Cosmos.

Available on double vinyl, single CD and download, it rounds up 23 acts from all over the world that are known for their love of 12-string guitars and heavenly harmonies.

Things get off to a great start with the brilliant opening track by US singer-songwriter Erik Voeks – the entirely apt and wonderfully euphoric She Loved Her Jangle Pop.

And, if, like the female protagonist in Erik’s song, you love your jangle pop, then Twelve String High is an essential collection. In fact, we’d go as far to say that it’s one of the best compilation albums we’ve ever heard.

The UK is represented by Say It With Garage Flowers favourites The Dreaming Spires (If I Didn’t Know You), as well as Kontiki Suite, Dropkick, The Carousels, The Junipers, The Higher State and The Hanging Stars – whose debut album Over The Silvery Lake is one of the finest records of 2016.

Some of these bands were already on the Say It With Garage Flowers radar, but listening to Twelve String High has opened our ears to a whole lot more acts that we’d love to find out more about.

Who are US band The Parson Red Heads, whose gorgeous ballad It’s Hard For Me To Say is included on the album? And what about Australia’s Wade Jackson, who pitches in with Coming Back, Elvyn from Canada, whose Lotta Lies is one of the highlights, or Sweden’s Arvidson & Butterflies, with their marvellous, organ-heavy Tired of Running?

It’s a jangle out there…

Twelve String High is available now from You Are The Cosmos and the vinyl version can also be bought on import from Sugarbush Records.