50: John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness (2018)
By 2018 it was time for the decade’s album by John Prine. Thirteen years on from Fair and Square, Prine’s voice is even lower and more gravelly, as showcased particularly well on the comic scat of Crazy Bone. Elsewhere, the album plays a line in deftly-handled sentiment, as on Summer’s End, while on closing track When I Get To Heaven that reflective streak is combined with Prine’s more traditional hell-raising humour. The latter stages of his career have been a lesson in quality over quantity, and I very much hope we get an album from him in the 2020s as well.
49: Hospitality – Hospitality (2012)
Was I drawn to this because the lead single was titled Betty Wang? Well, maybe. But it led to a very excellent debut album – pretty no-nonsense indie, verging on Indiepop. Hospitality could easily have been booked for Indietracks, though to date in fact they never have been. A somewhat tighter follow-up album a couple of years later took the band slightly in the inevitable synth-pop direction, though they didn’t go all that far along it and the end result was still very enjoyable.
48: Basia Bulat – Good Advice (2016)
My Morning Jacket are one of a handful of bands that have taken a direction that hasn’t worked for me, so while I enjoyed their earlier records their more recent stuff hasn’t done much for me (Quasi would be another). But I’ve still been interested to see Jim James popping up as a producer for other people’s stuff, as he did here, with good results – Basia’s songs are presented attractively without competing with them for attention, with enjoyable arrangements that often contain very little guitar but still very firmly have a live band sound. Add in the craft of the songs themselves and Basia’s attractive vocal delivery, and you have possibly my favourite record of 2016.
47: Pixies – Indie Cindy (2014)
Above all it was a relief that the new material from the Pixies, a decade after they got back together, proved to be so good. If Kim Deal was indeed the block on going back in the studio, you’ve got to feel her departure was the right trade-off. The format of the releases worked well too, with the EPs gently introducing the new material to the audience, rather than a ‘big bang’. It proved, if anything, what a substantial contribution Joey Santiago and David Lovering make to the Pixies, as this surely eclipses Frank Black’s solo work (which certainly has its strengths) all over again. Kim Shattuck’s recent death makes this phase of the band’s history a bit sad to reflect on at the moment, not least because of her rather shabby sacking – though her phlegmatic public response whenever asked about it was hugely to her credit. I’ve enjoyed the subsequent two Pixies albums, though as with their original run of records there seems to be something about the early material that has a freshness and zip that fades out subequently.
46: The Wave Pictures – Long Black Cars (2012)
It took me until I saw them live, at the 2012 Winter Sprinter, before I got the Wave Pictures (technically I’d seen them during their stint backing Darren Hayman in 2007, but that’s a different proposition – though I do remember thinking the guitarist seemed pretty handy). It was something of a revelation, and I’ve since come to regard them as surely one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands in the country. In my defence, their recorded output at the time sounded quite different to their live sound, being much more acoustic. Over the course of their many albums across the decade, the heavier live sound has come to be reflected on record – 2016’s Bamboo Diner In The Rain and the Wild Billy Childish-produced Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon were also particular highlights, but I’ve gone for Long Black Cars, which still provides several key songs in most Wave Pictures sets.
45: Anais Mitchell – Hadestown (2010)
This record was a heck of an achievement. A suite of songs built loosely around the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, transformed into an America-set stage show of the same title, it’s a curious choice to have garnered so much acclaim and been so widely listened to. The key is, of course, that the songs are accessible and listenable in their own right, with all sorts of political resonances (which have perhaps faded a bit given the subsequent tumult in American politics, but still) – you can listen to this to try and follow the story closely if you like, but it’s much better enjoyed as an album in its own right.
44: Chris T-T – 9 Green Songs (2016)
By the time Chris T-T finally caved in and produced a sequel to 2005’s 9 Red Songs, fate had dealt him a slight blow by ejecting the Conservative-LibDem coalition from office in favour of a majority Tory government. This immediately overtook its predecessor for the title of Worst Government Ever (the opening track), and the judiciously-aimed kick to the collective Lib Dem eye Love Me, I’m A Liberal also seemed to hark back to past times as soon as it was released. Which was a real shame, as they are a tremendous opening brace of tracks for the album. Elsewhere, the environmental angle of some of the songs makes them seem to grow in relevance and prescience by the day, and A Hard Rain might just get my vote as Chris’s most acute song ever, as well as melodically one of his prettiest. In fact 9 Green Songs turned out to be Chris’s last new album, at least as far as his 20-year run from 1999’s Beatverse is concerned. His retirement was one of those decisions that seemed totally unexpected from the outside, but made total sense as he explained it. If he ever does return to music, he will be assured of a warm welcome back.
43: Traveller – Western Movies (2018)
This is one of those albums that appears not to have been released on CD. In this case it’s possibly because it was one of those side-project / super-group outings that occasionally emerges, in this case featuring Robert Ellis (my entry point to it), Corey Chisel and Jonny Fritz. It’s also one of those records that deserves a bit better than to be written off as a side-project, as it managed a degree of coherence you wouldn’t necessarily expect with three songwriters each bringing their own ideas. Their contributions are distinct, for sure, but it all slots together rather nicely, its title track being a particularly charming love letter to, well, western movies, that convincingly sells their appeal even to those of us who don’t tend to watch them. I’d definitely welcome a follow-up outing for Traveller some time in the 2020s, if the three amigos’ schedules allow it.
42: Help Stamp Out Loneliness – Help Stamp Out Loneliness (2011)
Something of a tangled web here. Incorporating a clutch of members from the recently-split Language of Flowers, but also pulled together by songwriter Bentley Cooke, HSOL looked set to become another staple band among the established Indietracks favourites. Their debut album was confident and polished, anchored by D Lucille Campbell’s classic-sounding vocals, just as their live sets were anchored by her captivating presence on-stage. I saw them twice in 2011, their Indietracks set being one of my all-time favourites (on a sunny afternoon complete with hot air balloons drifting across the site), and their immensely sweaty set at the Bull and Gate in the early autumn being probably the best gig I ever saw there. But by Indietracks 2012 the skies had darkened: trudging round the rain-soaked site that year, I heard reports that HSOL had split amid some acrominy, which I hoped weren’t true. But it turned out they were – I don’t know about the circumstances, but as recently as 2018 Bentley left a comment under their one official video on Youtube: “This still cuts deep – it took years for me to put this song and band together. Now, all we have is this horrid video. Thanks internet, thanks a lot.”
41: I Am Kloot – Sky At Night (2010)
Back in 2000, as I probably wrote somewhere in the top 100 for the last decade, five acts seemed to emerge fairly close together from Manchester: Badly Drawn Boy, his one-time backing bands Doves and Alfie, and Night and Day Cafe alumni Elbow and I Am Kloot. Of these, Kloot were probably the most spiky and seemingly niche, but as they went on a gradual musical journey together they became a slow-burning success story. By the time of this, their fifth album, they had grown into rich production values and augmented arrangements that might not have sat well with them earlier on, but turned out to complement their distinctive music, and John Bramwell’s dark but romantic lyrics perfectly. The swift follow-up, Let It All In (2013) was every bit as good, but I’ve plumped for this Mercury-nominated record for this list – as when Badders won the prize a decade earlier, and Elbow only a couple of years before, it was lovely to see another of those Manchester acts get recognised with a nomination. Kloot were bloody great live as well, and I’m sad I’ve not seen them for nearly a decade now. Maybe one day they’ll pop up again.