Here’s a brief listicle trot through of the Rough Trade Albums of the Month. A mixed bag – when they were good, they were great. When they weren’t good – well, they went back to the shop (or donated to my daughter in one instance.
So in the best tradition of all of these end of year wrap-ups (and hopefully to keep you all reading), in reverse order:
12: Bat for Lashes – Lost Girls (September – click here)
Vapid and saccharine, this is one that went back to the store. I’ve heard it all before and I didn’t like it then.
11: Cigarettes After Sex – Cry (November – click here)
Why do bands do this? Take a debut album that was pretty listenable if a little shallow and make the second album sound exactly the same? If they’ve run out of things to say already, then it doesn’t bode well for the long term.
Appropriately, it only avoided being 11th by the width of a rizla and that’s only because it now resides in my daughter’s bedroom and I didn’t want to upset her by ranking them last.
10: Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (April – click here)
The penultimate “returned to sender” LP. This is a bit like last year’s Idles LP (not literally of course – bear with me here). It’s in the sense of me being out of kilter with the rest of the end of year reviews who pitched it high up their listings (and remember these are ranking all albums released in 2019, not just Rough Trade Albums of the Month) – 14th best for Pitchfork, 10th in the Guardian, 13th for Mojo, 1st in Uncut.
I found and still find it to be skillfully crafted but utterly bloodless. The Carole King/Wrecking Crew singing and arrangements are carried off with aplomb but boy does it wear me down.
9: KOKOKO! – Fongola (July – click here)
This is an album that I returned to Rough Trade a little reluctantly. I can see how if any one of these tracks of Congolese electronica popped up on a dance floor or uptempo mix, it would get the hips moving. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as a continuous LP spread over 40 minutes or so. Sorry guys.
8: Mix Master Mike – Conquest (December – still to be reviewed)
I just received this in the pre-Christmas run-up and haven’t given it sufficient listening. I would say that as a thirty-minute mixtape by the turntablist pal of the Beastie Boys. At first listening, it certainly clears out the Festive cobwebs.
The more observant of you will see that I have literally drawn a line there. Everything beyond this point were keepers and I’d recommend all of them to differing degrees to certain people.
7. Viagra Boys: Street Worms (May – click here)
As I suspected at the time, the more immediate pleasures of this album have faded a little over the course of the year. Their in-store at Rough Trade was thrilling though and Sleaford Mods hooked them for a support slot. Not the worst endorsement.
5=: Pip Blom – Boat (June – click here)
The band that opened in the John Peel tent at Glastonbury. They were an absolute blast and Boat captures them sounding youthfully energetic in the studio.
Exactly what a bunch of mates and family having a blast sounds like.
5=: DIIV – Deceiver (October – click here)
As per the Pip Blom album, this isn’t breaking new ground. It’s been produced by one of the team behind My Bloody Valentine and boy, does it show. That said, it is well crafted and so far appears to bear repeat listening. Can’t separate this and the Dutch guys also at number 5.
4. Nerija – Blume (August – click here)
2019 has seen some sterling jazz albums by young British musicians – the Ezra Collective, Joe Armon-Jones, Comet Is Coming. I’m not sure that Nerija’s debut Blume is the best of the bunch but that bar is pretty high, especially when you chuck in Matthew Halsall’s stellar reissues too.
It soundtracked much of my late summer though and, with songs like Riverfest, offered a different take on the current British jazz scene.
3: Ex:Re – Ex:Re (February – click here)
This year’s slow burner. I mentioned back in February that this was an album that suited the chillier month’s of Winter and sure enough, as Autumn ended it was back on the turntable again. Elena Tonra’s debut solo record has a fragile beauty similar to that of last year’s Adrienne Lenker LP. Wrap up in your hat and gloves, find a deserted icy city street and give it a go.
2: The Delines – The Imperial (January – click here)
This was a toughie, with not much to chose between this and the next record. It has been wonderful having Amy Boone and the Delines back in 2019. Two fantastic gigs – a Rough Trade in-store and a candlelit Union Chapel, two great singles in Eight Floors Up and A Room On The Tenth Floor and the Imperial.
Ah – The Imperial.
Willy Vlautin’s vignettes of middle-aged lives resonate with this listener. The arrangements are just gorgeous (something that it shares with my number one selection). The playing subtle. The vocals go straight to the heart. Their debut Colfax was wonderful and this one’s even better.
1: Durand Jones and The Indications – American Love Call (March – click here)
There are many similarities between this and the Delines album – the quality of the songwriting and the performances, the roots in American soul music. We’ve seen Durand and the guys three times this year – a Rough Trade in-store, as part of Nile Rodgers Meltdown Festival and at Islington Assembly Hall, and they’ve got better every time. The live shows are sensational. Durand and Aaron the drummer offer superb contrasting vocal styles, soulful and falsetto in turn. The setlists often contain surprises – a rendition of the Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down at the Queen Elizabeth Hall or a Last Waltz style encore of Dylan’s I Will Be Released in Islington.
The key reason that this gets the top slot is the sheer joy that it has brought us this year. It’s been a tough 2019. I lost my Dad to cancer. We had a protracted house sale and purchase. And there’s the rest of the world’s ills, political, environmental social.
The Indications put smiles on our faces, time and time again.
That was just what I needed.