I used to pride myself in keeping up to date with contemporary music, but in recent years, this has proven harder to manage. I guess I’m not in regular contact with as many fanatics as I used to be. So, in a way, it’s a special treat when I come across a really good album to obsess over for a few weeks. In 2019, I managed three:
The Silver Globe (2014), Jane Weaver
I’m kicking myself for not paying closer attention to Jane Weaver. I remember visiting Piccadilly Records in Manchester, reading their 2014 recommendations, and seeing a great write-up on this album. I mustn’t have followed it up properly. Fortunately, an old friend mentioned her early this year in the same breath as Broadcast and Stereolab, and I remembered to look.
This album shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s a weird mix of psychedelic space rock, folk, motorik krautrock and pop. I even recognised a purloined Hawkwind sample in one song. The melodies are very catchy and the repetitive driving rhythms are hypnotic. Love it. The Amber Light quick follow-up is very good too. I saw her play in Manchester this year, too.
Heartbreak (2019), Unloved
I really enjoyed Unloved’s first album (Guilty of Love), so I was pleased to learn that the follow-up was out this year. I first discovered their music through the TV crime thriller Killing Eve. When I googled “Unloved” and discovered that DJ/soundtrack guru David Holmes was involved, I was in for the ride.
At first, I was disappointed in this album, as it’s not as brash, catchy and immediate as their first. But after a few plays, each track introduces itself to you, and you realise that there’s quite a lot going on under the surface. And, despite it having a real 60s Phil Spector vibe going on, it’s amazingly modern and sophisticated. I got to see Unloved live in Manchester this year, too. Highly recommended.
Three Friends (1972), Gentle Giant
As a big Progressive Rock fan in my teens, I listened to all sorts of weird and wonderful nonsense, from Amon Düül II to Zappa, via Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Yes and Van Der Graaf Generator. At the time, I bought a Gentle Giant album (The Missing Piece), but it was awful, and I forgot all about them. Reading about them again recently, I decided to try some earlier albums of theirs.
I’m very glad I did. Their most popular album Octopus (1972) is great, but the preceding two albums are even better, to my ears, especially Three Friends (also 1972). The first track is a mind-blowing combination of virtuosic playing, time signature and key changes, poly-rhythms, with rock music colliding with choral music. And it does all this without sounding contrived or pretentious. The rest of the album jumps about from one experiment to the next, with plenty of soul and sweat thrown into the mix too. Why did I leave it so long?