70: The Pipettes – Earth Vs The Pipettes (2010)
My hot take on the Pipettes: their second album is a better record, end to end, than their debut. Now, to be sure, by the time Earth Vs The Pipettes was released the group had travelled a long way from their exuberant, barnstorming girl group incarnation that I enjoyed so much during my first few years living in London in the mid-2000s. And it was a rocky road for them at times, eventually releasing the new record with just Gwenno and Ani on vocals, two successive other Pipettes having come and gone amid some apparent acrimony. And certainly 60s girl groups are more my taste than space-themed disco – the very best songs of the group’s first incarnation do have the edge over anything here for pure enjoyment, for my preferences. But with Martin Rushent on board as producer, and some songs with a bit more heft than 60s-style bubblegum – though still clearly pop, make no mistake – the Pipettes turned out a thoroughly classy sophomore album. It’s a shame their moment had passed, really – I’m not sure where they had left to go, but this was a much better final leg to the journey than often seems to be recognised.
69: Angel Olsen – My Woman (2016)
I suppose this sits in the middle of a Venn diagram where the circles are labelled ‘singer-songwriter’, ‘punk rock attitude’ and ‘alt-country’. Or maybe that’s unfair to every genre referenced and to Angel Olsen as well, I can’t decide. It’s very good though. There seems a constant tension between tight, hook-based songs and loose, noisy playing, that somehow maintains a perfect balance all through the record. In the songs, Angel hits you hard with her feelings, and you know about it.
68: Garbage – Strange Little Birds (2016)
There are a few bands on this list that tend to keep making the same record, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it’s a very good record. Somehow, the combination of talents involved produces music that flows along particular and distinctive channels. Garbage are one such, and this outing from 2016 is one of their very best expressions of their sound – much as 2012’s Not Your Kind of People was a decent record, the songs and production both have a punch here that I didn’t really hear on the earlier album. If you wanted a quick introduction to Garbage, you could do a lot worse than simply listening to their earliest and most recent albums.
67: Mikey Collins – Hoick (2018)
This could easily come out sounding wrong, but I was truly impressed by just how good this album from Allo Darlin’s drummer Mikey Collins proved to be. With something of an indiepop supergroup backing him up, Mikey delivers a suite of tuneful and emotionally acute songs. There’s more than a dash of Elizabeth Morris’s observational, storytelling style about them, and it would be totally natural for her influence to be at play here. But it’s just one ingredient, and there’s plenty else going on. While it might seem like a big call to put this ahead of the Allo Darlin’ album on this list, as an album considered over its entire length, this came out fairly comfortably on top for me.
66: Adam Green – Engine of Paradise (2019)
Bands and songwriters can follow differing trajectories, can’t they? Some start off producing their best known and most widely-liked music, and somehow never manage to top it. Others might start with music that gets attention, but with a decade or more’s hindsight appears simplistic compared to what they are later capable of – even though it might still be their most popular output. Adam Green is firmly in the latter camp, and I’ve no hesitation including his most recent album in this list on the basis that he just keeps getting better and better. While musically this still has recognisable echoes of is New York anti-folk origins, being attractively arranged without being overproduced, his style is now more that of a 60s pop crooner, verging even on some Jacques Brel stylings at times. Green’s deeper and more rounded voice has emerged as a characterful vehicle for his reflective and tuneful songs. Lovely.
65: Crybaby – Crybaby (2012)
Perhaps because I missed it at the time and never saw it toured, this album seems to stand perfectly alone to me. As Crybaby’s only album, it doesn’t fit into any story of a band’s development. Instead, Danny Coughlan seems to have turned up with a clutch of finely crafted heartbreak ballads, dumped them on the world and left us all to deal with it. The misery is unrelenting, and he seems quite happy to have turned it into our problem and not his any more.
64: Victoria and Jacob – Victoria and Jacob (2013)
This is one of those rare electronic records that hits the spot for me. Quite what this electronic duo were doing on the Indietracks circuit, complete with an album release on Where It’s At Is Where You Are, was never totally clear to me, but it definitely worked. While the synth backing is restrained and considered, it can deliver a hefty kick when one is needed, and Victoria’s ethereal vocals drift in and out of it alluringly. The release by WIAIWYA was particularly strong too, with a striking but simple range of visuals, and more than an album’s worth of remixes released alongside the album and various singles from it, some of them very strong and still tracks that I turn to from time to time.
63: Sink Ya Teeth – Sink Ya Teeth (2018)
Another record in electronic and dance traditions, this one, but I’m not sure you would straightforwardly call it electronic or dance music. There’s a strong indie lineage to the outfit too, and the phrase ‘post-punk’ gets bandied about in reference to them. Gemma Cullingford is a veteran of Norwich’s indie scene (also originator of Magoo, Bearsuit and others) as a member of KaitO. The music often involves relatively sparse but well crafted arrangements, with Maria Uzor’s vocals sometimes achieving a feel that recalls the soul vocals that crept into both house music and the pop mainstream in the years either side of 1990, and at other times offering a much harder, even sinister edge. Describing the sound of such a distinctive band, who are so literate in such a diverse range of music, turns out to be rather hard! But it’s a great listen.
62: The New Pornographers – Together (2010)
For what started out as a supergroup-cum-side project, the New Pornographers have established themselves as an enduring behemoth of Canadian indie. They’ve always been purveyors of quite a distinctive, twisty-turny and technical type of songwriting, mostly coming from AC Newman but quite closely matched by contributions from Dan Bejar and Neko Case. With a line-up that has changed only slightly and gradually, they have always combined to make records that have a very distinctive sound. I was impressed at how many records they managed to produce without the formula hitting diminishing returns, but being frank I felt 2017’s Whiteout Conditions was when they reached that point. It was followed very quickly by In the Morse Code of Brake Lights in 2019, and I got rather more enjoyment from that, but the contenders for entry on this list are 2010’s Together, and the somewhat more polished Brill Bruisers from 2014. You can’t fit a cigarette paper between them, really, but I have a soft spot for the earlier one in particular.
61: Just Handshakes – Say It (2013)
Formerly Just Handshakes (We’re British), this was a curious band from Leeds – curious mainly because they apparently just stopped, after a tour in 2014 if their suddenly silent social media is to be trusted. Still, whatever happened they left a highly interesting album, which is either distinctive and hard to describe or just descended from music I don’t know anything about. An unusual but agreeable lead vocal style marks them out, but there’s a lot going on musically as well, which emerges with a close listen. Not the usual guitar-based four-piece sound that might be found elsewhere on this list, but their sole album is well worth its entry here.