3. Field Music – Open Here
Serendipity bonded me to the English pop-rock combo Field Music, led by Sunderland brothers David and Peter Brewis, on a sunny afternoon last winter. I’d only recently become aware of the 15-year-old group, having read a rave review of its sixth album, Open Here, in a magazine, and listened to the catchy, lyrically potent single “Count It Up” online. Curiosity piqued, I ambled down to my favourite Portsmouth record shop-slash-eatery Pie & Vinyl to see if perchance the album was in stock. I entered the shop to find, amongst the pies and the vinyl, none other than the Brewis bros performing an in-store set to a rapt audience. I was only able to catch the last song, but I grabbed a copy of Open Here and got them to autograph it. (Dig their marker scrawls on the cover in the accompanying photo.) In that moment, I felt that fate was telling me I’m meant to be a fan. Continue reading
8. Neko Case – Hell-On
Indie rock hero Neko Case is one of our most fearless songwriters. She seemingly has no qualms about laying bare her soul on each album she puts out, and her no-bullshit vocals drive the emotional honesty home. She’s also rather prolific, having released six previous solo efforts as well as collaborations with the Canadian bands New Pornographers and the Sadies. (My favourite project in her extensive discography remains 2016’s case/lang/veirs, a gorgeous and strikingly simpatico pas de trois with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs, both of whom contribute backing vocals here.) The sheer volume of her repertoire combined with her artistic daredevilry has resulted in a laudable but inconsistent body of work – as much as I’ve liked some of her albums, I can’t name one that I would call brilliant from first cut to last. Her latest is no exception, but it’s quite worthwhile nonetheless. Continue reading
9. Superorganism – Superorganism
In the rather grumpy intro to this blog series, I laid the blame for the current dire state of the music industry squarely at the overpriced sneakers of those cursed millennials. But I must grudgingly concede that not everything the Snapchat generation does is bad. Take my #9 pick for the best albums of 2018. Superorganism, a multi-national collective of whippersnappers that features a shockingly young lead vocalist in 18-year-old Orono Noguchi, has a backstory that couldn’t be more “new school.” Continue reading
After two consecutive annual lists that have been mired in mellow indie rock, I’m happy to report that my picks for the best albums of 2018 are a bit more diverse – soul, folk, rafter-shaking arena rock, and even dubstep are represented, as are venerable masters and young guns. This year’s winners are also, as in the past, testaments to the art form. With one or two arguable exceptions, they hang together as cohesive works and are meant to be listened to in their entirety, from beginning to end. And not just these, but other worthy runners-up by Beach House, Fantastic Negrito, the 1975, and Christine and the Queens. 2018 really was an embarrassment of riches musically.
Rhapsody in White/The Love Unlimited Orchestra featuring Barry White
UNEARTHED from the Banana Moon Music stall at the Shambles Market in York, England. U.K. pressing. Pye International Records, 1974.
Pool party at Barry’s place! The invitation is for ladies only, of course. Dress for guests is pre-Labour Day cruise ship chic, while your host will brave the sun’s glare in a suave but ill-advised leather jacket and turtleneck. Activities to include poorly executed games of hide-and-seek, though, strangely, not swimming. But as always, the main draw is the opportunity to soak in the legendary soul singer’s supersized sexy aura. And to ogle his spectacularly sculpted coiffure. But don’t touch, baby!
My favourite Bowie album, by a smidge over “Scary Monsters” and “Station to Station.” Picked up this copy at the monthly pop-up shop by Nothing Ventured Vinyl at Portsmouth’s coolest java joint, Hunter Gatherer. A 1983 reissue from Spain, it’s a real find for this North American expat as I rarely spotted European pressings in the U.S. and Canada during my many and far-flung record shop digs. I snagged a soulful ’70s platter by Gwen McCrae at Nothing Ventured’s pop-up last month. What treasures will I unearth at the next one?
Vinyl on the Side
Being a vinyl gourmand, I love nothing more than the smorgasbord of a record shop devoted solely to the spinning platter. But shops that serve up vinyl not as an entrée but a side dish can be quite tasty too. Take Dress Code, a funky vintage clothing and tchotchke emporium in Southsea, England, my new stomping grounds. Its slogan is “Fine and Fabulous Shit,” and that’s a pretty spot-on tagline. Among the denim jackets, band T-shirts, anime accessories and skull-centric jewelry, you’ll find a small but super-hip stash of used LPs. The emphasis is on ‘80s new wave and alternative—if your Siouxsie and the Banshees album collection is lacking, look no further. PIL, Japan, and Ultravox are also well-represented, plus there are a few surprising outliers including a handful of Lynyrd Skynyrd records and, on my visit at least, the terrible, horrible, no-good soundtrack to the “Sgt. Pepper” movie. (George Burns, tsk-tsk.) I snapped up a rad promo compilation of covers, in near-mint condition, for £8, slightly more than the Discogs median price, but whatevs. (See photos below.) I’ve got my eye on a couple of those Siouxise LPs, so I’ll be back soon and I know Dress Code will become one of my regular haunts. But I’ll probably pass on the skull necklaces. I could never pull off that look.
As someone who bought his first 45-rpm record in a suburban Nashville drugstore, I’ve never been picky about where I get my music. Big box chain, charity shop, streaming service, wherever, as long as they have what I’m in the mood to hear, I’m good. Still, there is something undeniably satisfying about exploring an abundantly stocked, expertly curated record shop where the proprietor’s passion is palpable. (Apologies for all the p’s.) In this occasional series, I’ll be extolling the virtues of such establishments, and I encourage readers to chime in with their own favourites. There’s no better shop to start with than Uptight Records near Brighton, England. Incredibly, I’ve been to this soul music mecca only once, on holiday. Logistics, namely living in Canada until recently, have hampered return trips. But that lone encounter made a lasting impression. Continue reading