80: Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi (2011)
With her operatic voice, sharp stylings and steely guitar licks, Anna Calvi isn’t quite like anyone else out there. She clearly approaches her work seriously, and the results are never less than interesting. I’m plumping for the first of her three albums, as it clicked with me a bit more than the others – maybe it’s just a bit more direct, as Anna has developed her craft over the decade and always offers a rich and interesting serving of music. Personally I’d like to hear a record full of guitar shredding from her, as she’s brilliant at it.
79: Sylvie Lewis – It’s All True (2012)
This third album from Sylvie Lewis got a much more low-key release than its two predecessors in the 2010s, but was no less lovely for it. It was her tour with Dawn Landes early in the decade that introduced me to the latter, and I was delighted to find her supporting Dawn a couple of UK tours later in 2014, Sylvie having returned to the UK from living in Rome (I think). I really must see her again.
78: Evans the Death – Evans the Death (2012)
I once overheard Sean Fortuna Pop! talking about how he’d been glad to work with a band made up of young people, who wouldn’t be stymied when arranging gigs by having to find babysitters. Trouble was they mostly couldn’t drive and had no money, so it was every bit as difficult to arrange for them to go anywhere. Apologies all-round if I’m mis-remembering any of that, but I’m pretty sure that was the gist. Anyway, Evans the Death were a band that grew noisier and heavier over the course of their three albums, each one honing their sound and making it more and more uncompromising. My preference was always at the poppier end of their work, so I’ve gone for their first album here – as throughout their time, the songs had a reflective lyrical side to them that cut through the artful noise. In the end, Evans the Death hit the end of their ‘three albums and out’ cycle at around the same time as Fortuna Pop shut up shop, so the last time I saw them was at the Fortuna Pop farewell weekender – under-rehearsed and Katherine’s voice shot, but chaotically enjoyable.
77: The Futureheads – Rant (2012)
I did slightly worry for the Futureheads by the time they’d released their fourth album. Had they taken their template as far as it could go? Maybe they had – certainly 2019’s comeback album was an enjoyable return to their familiar approach, though still helped by offering an excellent set of songs. But I was glad that they took a different approach for this record, jettisoning their instruments to deliver a mix of covers and originals, all entirely a capella. The live renditions were more varied musically, with some acoustic instruments coming in, and occasionally verging on skiffle. And there was perhaps a sense that this might be the band’s last record – and for a while it was. It was nice to see them go out (temporarily) on such a distinctive and worthwhile high note.
76: Tracyanne & Danny – Tracyanne & Danny (2018)
This was an unexpected and hugely enjoyable collaboration, marrying the musically sunny if lyrically sad approach of Camera Obscura, with the equally miserable but equally tuneful instincts of Danny ‘Crybaby’ Coughlan. A delightful and massively listenable record, my one complaint about it is that the video for showpiece single It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts was shot in black and white, when musically it’s surely one of the sunniest and most colourful things you’ll ever hear.
75: The Cornshed Sisters – Tell Tales (2012)
I can’t be alone in having got into the Cornshed Sisters by virtue of one of their number being Marie from Kenickie, but in fact they’re a product of a broader milieu of Sunderland music, linked (by marriage) to Field Music among others, and seen touring this album in support of the Futureheads, who were promoting Rant at the same time. The album reflects the band’s live performances fairly closely – arrangements based around piano or guitar, with tons of luscious four-part harmonies. Absolutely delightful. The band stepped things up a bit for the follow-up album Honey and Tar, with a more conventional band set-up both live and on record – it certainly had its up-sides, but the directness of the debut record’s approach is hard to beat.
74: The Leisure Society – Alone Aboard the Ark (2013)
In some ways The Leisure Society remind me of the Bluetones – the melodies are so strong and the songwriting so deft that you almost feel there’s got to be a catch somewhere. But of course, there isn’t. Everything about this release was just so nicely judged, from the deco-ish artwork to the attractive arrangements of the chamber-folk-pop instrumentation.
73: Rose Elinor Dougal – Stellular (2017)
I was mighty impressed by seeing Rose tour this record, for which she had transformed into a full-on, proper pop star. Her second album totally lived up to the task, too – disco-inflected and synth-heavy, it’s a completely convincing pop creation. So I was impressed again, in some ways, when its follow-up, 2019’s A New Illusion, went much more into overt singer-songwriter territory, with more acoustic instrumentation, lushly arranged – it’s a deeply interesting and sometimes challenging record. Though while I admire that, I feel a bit sad Rose didn’t keep the pop star momentum going and charge out a bit further into the mainstream – she was awfully good at it, and would surely have had further success there. On the other hand, with her refusal to repeat herself, I’m certainly looking forward with interest to the next record, whenever it emerges.
72: Pure Bathing Culture – Moon Tides (2013)
Funny band, Pure Bathing Culture. This debut album (mini-album?) uses the 80s-ish pop dynamic that seems to have been the decade’s key musical touchpoint… but does it in a slightly lo-fi, indeed low-key, way. I found the results hugely appealing – Sarah Versprille’s alluring vocals play a big part in this. Live, by contrast, they present a much more overtly 80s soft rock proposition, with Daniel Hindman throwing out Knopfler-ish riffs and solos – quite different, but no less up my street. The two full-length follow-up albums were both more refined and polished, and maybe you could argue technically better, but there’s a charm about this little record that’s led me to return to it many times.
71: The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts (2011)
I might be wrong, but this album seems to have surpassed their debut as the go-to, flagship record in the band’s catalogue. Certainly it’s the one whose singles still seem to pop up on 6 Music from time to time. The structures and production of the tracks was that bit clearer and punchier than on previous records, and the band remain a joyous blast to watch live.