90: Art Brut – Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! (2018)
Art Brut’s second album of the decade, and first for seven years, was a schizophrenic affair: in places, reflections on big life changes, life in a new city and brushes with mortality; and elsewhere a rediscovery of the zest of youth – though Eddie Argos these days is in borderline territory age-wise in terms of whether that counts as a mid-life crisis or not. The expected raucous backing, albeit more musically accomplished than anyone involved would dare admit, gives it a winning charm. It’s bloody good to have them back.
89: Arctic Monkeys – AM (2013)
I never really bought into the hype around Arctic Monkeys in the mid-2000s, but somehow it crossed my radar that they’d produced en extremely well-rounded album with this one, and it’s a record I’ve returned to a lot.
88: Shy Child – Liquid Love (2010)
Was this synthwave before synthwave was invented? It sounds a bit like it to me. Following on a more lo-fi, keyboard-bashing album from 2007, Shy Child got somewhat ahead of the curve with 80s-style synth-heavy production on this record, which remains convincing and funky pop.
87: The Hector Collectors – Remember the Hector Collectors? You Won’t Believe What They Sound Like Now! (2018)
For reasons I now can’t remember, and quite possibly didn’t know at the time, in around 2003 or 4 Adam J Smith sent me a seven-inch single called Quest for Web of Fear 5. I didn’t know then that at around the same time he was encouraging his old school pal David Pope to take the nascent Just Joans further, or indeed that Web of Fear 5 would in fact turn up within the decade. Instead, truthfully, I struggled to get past the four-track production values and, shall we say, unabashed vocal technique. So this is the very opposite of an “I preferred their earlier stuff” review, as the Hector Collectors’ first studio-recorded album was an absolute blossoming. It’s not just that the songs are tightly constructed, but their observation of modern life, particularly online, and a range of cult TV references that even I struggle to keep up with, takes them into territory comparable with Half Man Half Biscuit. Comparable, yet somehow also nothing like them. But at the same time, indispensable.
86: The Understudies – If Destroyed True (2019)
I wouldn’t necessarily have expected a record like this when I first encountered the Understudies, probably at one of the excellent Daylight Music shows at the Union Chapel. I had them down at the time, not unfairly, as a likeably tuneful jangly indie band with an appealing romantic streak and the occasional lurch into 50s stylings, in terms of both guitars and hair. If Destroyed True goes to another place, though – the songs are not merely romantic, but truly dramatic, sometimes quite long and often piano rather than guitar-led. It’s hard to judge such recent records for a list like this, and I feel like I have many more listens of this album ahead of me, but even so it already feels like a real accomplishment.
85: Charles Watson – Now That I’m A River (2018)
This is an album of woozing, bluesy, almost slacker rock, and also one of those records that resolves itself pleasingly into its individual songs after a few spins. It rewards a lot of listens, and makes a lot of sense as an evolution of where Charles had got to with Slow Club by the time they split.
84: Mattiel – Mattiel (2017)
Mattiel Brown has been blessed with a powerful and characterful voice, and her debut album emerged seemingly fully-formed, offering an array of 60s garage-y numbers. The tighter and more deliberate Satis Factory (2019) was a strong follow-up, but there’s something effortless about this record that gives it an appeal over many listens.
83: Laura Veirs – July Flame (2010)
This is Another Very Good Laura Veirs album, which is no small thing to be. I’ve put this on the list rather than its successors because I particularly like the clarity and directness of the arrangements – which they achieve without merely being sparse – though any of them would sit happily here.
82: Jane Weaver – The Silver Globe (2014)
It’s rather melancholy to reflect on how things have panned out for the group of exciting and idiosyncratic artists who were associated with the Twisted Nerve label in the late 90s and early 2000s, from Badly Drawn Boy’s fade out of prominence to the incredibly sad death of Dave Tyack. It might have been a surprise to some in c.2002 that perhaps the most enduring and acclaimed career of the group would be that of Jane Weaver, whose 2014 album was a beguiling tour through electronic music, clearly drawing on huge knowledge of and enthusiasm for it, and presenting it in a digestible way for non-aficionados like me – often by putting it in a structure of the sort of wonky indie pop that Jane’s husband Andy Votel often oversees from the producer’s chair. Then again, it might not have been a surprise at all to anyone in the know. Is this the only Piccadilly Records Album of the Year on this list? Might be…
81: Chvrches – Love Is Dead (2018)
I half-seriously like to say that Chvrches are just Bis but fifteen years later. It’s not really true, but if you swap out Bis’s DIY punk sensibility for Chvrches’ more pure pop one, you’d probably find the other ingredients for each of the Glaswegian three-pieces are pretty similar. The other big difference is in their timing: while Bis’s 80s-inflected Social Dancing would doubtless have done much better if it had been released in 2009 than 1999, Chvrches’ sound matched and captured their time exactly. There’s not much between their two records, but overall the second one does what a second album should, but doesn’t always, and develops the band’s sound convincingly.