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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Aldous Harding – Aldous Harding (Spunk Records)

This debut album by a young woman from Christchurch in New Zealand (or possibly nearby Lyttleton, depending on your reading of the bio) came out towards the end of last year and is one of the releases of 2014 without any doubt in my mind. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this album will be up there for best of the decade come 2019.

And talk about setting the bar high from the word go. The opening song ‘Stop your tears’ is one of those spellbinding musical moments, so memorable you might remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard it. It has a slightly gothic, debauched feel to it - ”I keep the pills inside an urn”, “Baudelaire in the afternoon” – in among the haunting, ghostly atmosphere of some of the most memorable backing vocals ever committed to tape.

‘Hunter’ follows and lifts the tone, a hearty strummed singalong with rousing fiddle, sounding a bit like some of the recent work of Alasdair Roberts.

Then the pace slows again for the spare, heartstopping ‘Two bitten hearts’, a languid acoustic guitar strum. Harding’s voice takes on new character, threatening to fly away into a falsetto at one point, then later assuming the wavering quality of the saw which drifts in and out of the arrangement. The first ever saw-vocal duet in history, I’m thinking, and a stunning triumph of sustained tone.

The flute arrangement of ‘No peace’ is another genius, mourning touch. Again the pace is slow, dirgelike, the guitar almost fumbling, Harding singing like a broken woman, sighing and shuffling off mike, suggesting years and experience well beyond her actual 20-something.

Later she assembles a straightforwardly beautiful ballad arrangement consisting of banks of fiddles on ‘Merriweather’.

In the end, what you surely take away from this album is her voice. What an intriguing instrument it is. Harding uses deliberate enunciation, crisp consonants, as if she’s tasting the words. There’s nothing mumbled about her delivery, it's more formal, you might even say it's declarative except that she still manages to connote heartbreak and loss magnificently. There's certainly a kind of cold-eyed clarity to it which is free of sentimentality. It’s a powerful restatement of the values of the English 1960s folk revival and the fact that it’s a debut album is just mind boggling.

Magnificent is the only word for it.

Playlist 340 - Jan 20 2015

There was a mini-binge of orchestral music in this week's show (I might spread that out over a whole show some time) consisting of some classic 70s despairing Harry Nilsson, with something new from Natalie Prass, a gorgeous white soul orchestral from her debut album.

At a stretch, you might even add Adrian Crowley into that set, more on the chamber folk side perhaps, and Stephen Steinbrink with some kind of cosmic lounge hybrid, beautiful.

Also this week, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith with lovely playful synth patterns from her new album which features the Buchla Music Easel instrument (look that up), glorious 70s kosmische from Harmonia, the haunting/uplifting Voix Bulgares, and widescreen sounds from Michael Price & Roll the Dice.

Plus The Drink, with another off-kilter guitar gem, this one with a little flavour of African hi-life.

More on these pages as ever.

Jan 20 2015 w/ Adrian Crowley,Joan Shelley,Natalie Prass,Kaitlyn Smith,Harmonia,Roll The Dice++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 340
Tues Jan 20 2015
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

Adrian Crowley – Trouble (playing Platform, Glasgow, Jan 23, w/ James Blackshaw)
Stephen Steinbrink - Synaesthetic ephemera (playing Waiting Room, London, Feb 22)
Harry Nilsson – All I think about is you
Nathalie Prass – It is you (playing Whelan’s, Dublin, Jan 25)
Neville Skelly – Child of the morning
Joan Shelley – River Low (playing Certain Three Tour, inc. Coughlan’s, Cork, Mar 1, w/ John Blek & Vikesh Kapoor)
Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – Pilentzee Pee
Harmonia – Dino
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Labyrinth III
Roll the Dice – Aridity
Michael Price – The attachment
Red Snapper – Traffic
The Drink – Playground (playing Old Blue Last, London, Feb 22)
White Fence – Anger! Who keeps you under (playing 100 Club, London, Jan 29)

*next week’s show will feature music from Twerps, O Emperor & Rozi Plain, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Playlist 339 - Jan 13 2015

A few more of the Best of 2014 bunch this week. A Lazarus Soul, Sean Nicholas Savage, Twerps, AWVFTS & Golden Retriever, all great music, find the full 4-part round up elsewhere on these pages.

We also had new music from Nathalie Prass whose upcoming debut album is receiving much critical love, and rightly so - she also plays Whelan's in Dublin at the end of January.

And Myles Manley, continuing his ongoing conversation with his public quite brilliantly with 'Pay me what I'm worth'.

Robert Pollard (GBV) is going under Ricked Wicky for a new album on Fire Records, going back to his Who rots which sounds great. Lubomyr Melnyk plays two Irish shows this month.

And The Go Betweens, the subject of a major new Domino box set reissue this month, with their lost treasure of a classic 'Karen' from 1978.

Jan 13 2015 w/ Best of 2014 AWVFTS,Sean NIcholas Savage,Twerps + Nathalie Prass,Myles Manley++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 339
Tues Jan 13 2015
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

The Go Betweens – Karen
Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting on you) (BADBADNOTGOOD Reinterpretation)
A Lazarus Soul – Mercury hit a high*
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Shirim
Sean Nicholas Savage – Heartless*
Nathalie Prass – Your fool (playing Whelan’s, Dublin, Jan 25)
Lubomyr Melnyk – Evertina (playing Ormston House Limerick Jan 22 & Unitarian Church Dublin Jan 23)
A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos V*
Les Baxter – Dawn under the sea
Twerps – Conditional report*
Ricked Wicky – Well suited
Myles Manley – Pay me what I’m worth
Kevin Murphy – This is the end
Roslyn Steer – Hey sunshine (playing Quarter Block Party, Cork, Feb 6-8)
Golden Retriever – Flight song*

*Best of 2014 – see for full round up

**next week’s show will feature music from Stephen Steinbrink, Joan Shelley & Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Best of 2014 - Part 4: Jazz/Chamber/Orchestral/Wonky/Ambient/Minimalist

And so the final part of this journey back through 2014.

I've titled this bunch in favour of the Orchestral/Jazz end of the pop spectrum but there are certainly a few refugees from Dream Pop, Folk, maybe even Soul (and one showtune). Who's counting though.

There are also a good number of Electronic pieces in here as promised, but more of minimalist, downtempo and/or industrial leanings. Mood wise, I think this set hangs together pretty well. Whatever, there's a lot of great music in here for sure.

Just as a reminder, here are the other three parts of my 2014 Review.

1. Polar Bear – Two storms (Leaf)

A wonderfully spacious late night saxophone elegy from last year’s Mercury Prize nominated album.

In fact a pair of saxophones are foregrounded - one a climbing figure, the other a holding melody which then wails in agony - against a shuffling percussion wash and double bass pulse.

It’s sparse, soulful and absolutely haunting.

2. Prescott – Floored (Slowfoot)

A fantastic slice of wonky pop with a raving mad free jazz undertone.

Featuring ex-Stump bassman Kev Hopper who is always worth checking. He contributes something like a 4 minute bass masterclass full of slaps and slides and cartoonish left turns. While Rhodri Marsden (of Scritti Politti) throws in an organ morse code of staccato high notes, atonal jabs and sparkling glissandi. And Slowfoot primo Frank Byng stirs the jam with a flurry of funky hi-hats and danceable mini-grooves.

It all goes to show that avant garde can also be great craic.

3. Automat feat. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge – Mount Tamalpais (Bureau B)

There’s a tremendous brooding dub presence on this track from the debut album of the Berlin 3-piece which came early in the year. All three are notable veterans though as the press release describes.

“Just to untangle the threads: Jochen Arbeit, the guitarist who came to world prominence with Die Haut and Einstürzende Neubauten; Achim Färber, a sought-after drummer with the likes of Project Pitchfork, Prag or Phillip Boa; and finally the bassist zeitblom, known from Sovetskoe Foto and through his award winning radio play works, especially in collaboration with author/publisher Michael Farin, with whom the piece “Kyffhäuser/Unternehmen Barbarossa/Träume vom Tod!” was musically adapted by Automat for the Berlin Volksbühne in 2012.”

The kind of wonderful counter culture high wire act that a cosmopolis like Berlin can nurture. Add in the searching lived-in musings of Genesis P-Orridge and you get an utterly compelling narrative to go with the throbbing industrial groove.

“One may recall the time of the mid-1980s, when the UK industrial-oriented artists discovered dance music. Automat docks onto that – sawing, ringing guitars and dub-reggae bass lines meet in empty hangars with harsh, slow breakbeat rhythms garnished by ticking percussion instruments from the most exciting and remote places on earth – and takes the dance into the present day.”

4. Pye Corner Audio – Black mist (Front & Follow)

A dark-hued kosmische treasure from the latter part of the year.

A relentless motorik pulse sets the tone, an array of percussive synth parts gather, then a high tone melody with eyes on the horizon.

For dancefloors of many shades. Brilliant stuff.

5. Roll The Dice – Aridity (Leaf)

Speaking of industrial, Swedish duo Pedder Mannerfelt and Malcolm Pardon completed their ambitious historical trilogy last year with the sublime Into silence.

This track was the centrepiece from it, conjuring a harrowing narrative from a bed of machine tick percussion, a plaintiff piano melody and the epic romantic backdrop of a 26-piece orchestral arrangement.

It’s become a cliché to describe instrumental music as cinematic. Let’s reserve the term for something as genuinely, gloriously widescreen as this.

Here’s some great reading from the press release while you’re listening to it.

“Until Silence opens with the tense piano reverberations of ‘Blood In Blood Out’; the two protagonists have escaped from the mundane grind of the factory floor, landing in a still more perilous situation. They find themselves in the midst of great societal turmoil, with war erupting all around them.

In order to capture that landscape, “we wanted to push the music to extremes,” reveals Mannerfelt. “To make it both harder and darker, but more romantic and emotional at the same time.” To that end the duo enlisted Erik Arvinder to work on string arrangements for several of Until Silence’s tracks, which were then recorded with a 26-piece ensemble. Arvinder’s arrangements further heighten the natural cycles of tension and release that have always been cornerstones of the Roll The Dice sound. During the album’s harshest moments, they sharpen every piano note and rhythmic sub-bass throb so the music cuts jagged from the speakers, while during quieter phases they carve open huge spaces within the music.”

6. Elisa Luu – Shebeen (La bel/Hidden Shoal)

A welcome return last year for two of Hidden Shoal’s family of stalwart and brilliantly individual electronic artists.

Rome native Elisa Luu produced another delirious mix of found sounds and ambient haze with a sprinkling of space dust on her appropriately titled Enchanted gaze album.

What’s so great about this particular track is how she takes something as familiar as an acoustic guitar riff and brushed drums into unexpected and even alien new directions.

Delightfully unpredictable.

7. Markus Mehr – In the palm of your hand (Hidden Shoal)

North to Augsburg in Germany, and Markus Mehr moved his singular vision on another notch by exploring what you might call the personal soundscapes around each of us.

This track is a great example. Machine whirr. Grinding industrial ebb and flo. Lush piano chords. Traffic sirens. Someone playing a trumpet. Snatches of conversation. Footsteps. The sighs and breaths of the city at work.

I hear it as a smaller-scale companion to Roll The Dice above. Which is to say, immersive and entirely engrossing.

8. Silver Servants – Jerusalem (Second Language)

Another autumn gem from 2014, a supergroup of sorts put together by the Second Language label.

“My favourite song from a beautiful album of folk, psych and chamber pop strands, with some baroque and minimalist shapes for good measure, put together by a kind of English underground pop supergroup based around a core of Second Language artists.

This tune is derived from a poem by William Blake and lands gorgeously on the dreamy psych pop end of the scale. Anna Bronsted of Our Broken Garden sings through a haze of clip-clop drum machines, circling Spanish guitar and the most perfect trumpet part in the second half. There’s also whistling involved. The song doesn’t seem to reside fully in either a major or minor key, so there’s a slightly disorientating effect. Plus there’s a strange feeling of something ancient wrapped in something modern. Surrender to the blur anyway, it’s glorious.

The album features the mother of all collaborative efforts, of the like perhaps not seen since Ivo Watts-Russell persuaded the considerable talents of the 4AD roster of the mid 1980s to record as This Mortal Coil.”

For the full backstory, check the link above – it’s fascinating and well worth a read.

9. Chloe March – Eucalyptus night (Hidden Shoal)

A gorgeous chamber piano miniature with shades of Ryuichi Sakamoto, another singular Hidden Shoal release last year.

It's dreamy (as you might expect with a title like that), rich, luxurious even like the lyric near the end.

That piano basically, I could listen to it all day.

10. Kemper Norton – Requited (Front & Follow)

A wonderful collection of seeping drones from the enigmatic Mancunian.

There's an air of a church organ fugue about it although through a psych filter, or possibly with the supposed object of devotion removed from the picture.

Whatever you think, there's a deeply personal atmosphere around this, as thick as a fog.

Secular devotional music for the 21st century and full of emotion.

11. Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa – She he see feel (Thrill Jockey)

Fans of Cornelius will be interested in this, and in fact Takako Minekawa has collaborated with him/them in the past, as well as with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Buffalo Daughter among others.

There's a touch of 80s English New Wave about her vocal, or what was sometimes called twee pop, a la Altered Images and the like. We're told that in this song Takako sings about “quantum physics, human consciousness and flying above a desert all within the framework of Japanese puns”, which definitely holds more weight than most of the twee pop you find on this side of the world.

The vocal has a lovely carefree attitude which seems to emanate from lots of Japanese artists (Pizzicato Five and Shonen Knife, to name a couple). And the backbeat has just the right balance of drone and bounce to stay ahead of the posse. (Her 90s hit 'Fantastic cat' below serves as an interesting counterpoint. It was apparently used in a Miller ad, which shows up the difference between what passes as (semi) mainstream in Japan versus in the western world.)

The impressive guitar work on this tune by ex-Ponytail member Dustin Wong veers from unexpected space country associations to wonky pop and hi-life riffing, but still manages to contribute to a coherent, infectious, groovy tune. Which is a fair achievement.

With a rush and a push, you could find this down your indie disco, somewhere wedged between The Flaming Lips and Battles. That is to say, it's off the beam, forward-thinking pop music you can dance to.

That is to say, inspired.

12. OOIOO – Gamel Uma Umo (Thrill Jockey)

The legend that is Yoshimi turned her attention (with friends) to the Javanese gamelan last year. The resulting album Gamel was a wonderful blast of fresh air, making wonky and classical and minimalist and effortlessly fun pop music all seem like strands of the same idea.

"While previous OOIOO albums have been largely studio creations, Gamel is the most accurate portrayal of the band’s overwhelming, forceful live presence they have released yet. Yoshimi leads her minimalistic rhythm ensemble by making quick, impulsive shifts in tone and attack, the group acting as one mind under her expert instruction. While the gamelan elements will be brand new to many listeners, the band offsets the bizarre with familiar, at times even nostalgic and childlike, melodies. Gamel is euphoric, bursting at the seams with an exhilarating frenzy that is universal yet uniquely their own. OOIOO’s music is reflected in the ear of the beholder, with each listener taking away something different."

Track 13 in this playlist

July 1 2014 w/ The The,Orange Juice,White Fence,Altered Hours,OOIOO,Tune-Yards,Howe Gelb++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

13. Little Tornados – Summertime (Rio Bogota)
14. Laetitia Sadier – Release from the centre of your heart (Drag City)

Laetitia Sadier was busy this year and prolific form seemed to suit her.

The Little Tornados project was formed by Laetitia with film-maker and activist David Thayer along with a bunch of other close collaborators. There’s a distinct political edge to the songs, albeit that they are wrapped in beautiful dream pop arrangements, with drunken steel guitars, woozy brass and even some unexpected harmonica.

Her third solo album saw her take another short step away from the beat-driven glory of Stereolab, in the direction of something more meditative, you might say taking a cosmic view, although as much as ever there was a distinct social, or even sociological, undercurrent to the music.

The middle track, ‘Release from the centre of your heart’, came across very much as the centrepiece of the album and the epitome of her musical manifesto. It has shades of Stereolab in the vocal layers, but these are outweighed by thoughts of the orchestral cosmic soul of Curtis Mayfield, or the lush uplift of Burt Bacharach. And a sense of how positive karma can spread from one small good thing. This song is like the one small good thing you need in your life, improving everything else as a result.

Stirring and beautiful.

15. Ann Margret – Bye Bye Birdie (from the soundtrack of the film Bye Bye Birdie)

Neither jazz nor from 2014 but this film soundtrack gem landed on my radar for the first time this year via a belated viewing of Mad Men and its infectious genius needs to be acknowledged in this round up. So allow me this indulgence.

For starters Ann Margret is a legend obviously (no wonder Lee Hazlewood took a shine to her). Such a legend of sound and vision in fact that it's quite likely this song wouldn't have half the impact without her star turn on camera. Vivacious is one word.

Other than's like a premonition of Grease undercut by West Side Story.

And her delivery is pure magic.

16. Paul Smith & Peter Brewis – Frozen by sight (Memphis Industries)

Frozen by sight was a sublime and intriguing album of chamber pop from the Maximo Park frontman and one of the Field Music brothers, which interestingly draws on their previous work in both bands.

Paul Smith’s lyrics are derived from writings done on tour with Maximo Park (locations include Barcelona, L.A. & Budapest) and they contain wonderfully off-kilter and side-on perspectives of daily life in a foreign place.

Like the picture of two people digging in the sand in ‘Santa Monica’. Or the deceptively plain image of the guy “flipping his mobile phone” and the “girl in pink flip flops” from ‘Exiting Hyde Park Towers’.

All the while, the perfectly sympathetic arrangements of Peter Brewis probe and tug at the outer edges of meaning and tone, with swaying strings, plangent piano, pinging guitars and brilliantly wrong-footing percussion (the other Field Music brother David Brewis was involved on drums and production).

‘Perth to Bunbury’ is a great example, a rolling tom pattern with rattling percussion setting the scene for a train journey, while piano and strings swoop and fall about and Smith’s observations sprout up like the palm trees going past the train window.

There’s a shade of Van Dyke Parks (any hint of chamber pop inevitably has) in the questing mood of the album, maybe later Talk Talk too in terms of the great expanses of space between lines. I believe Brewis has also mentioned David Sylvian as a reference point. This is particularly apparent on the beautiful ‘Budapest’, sparse piano, double bass and falsetto harmonies creating the most gorgeous almost-emptiness.

With a lyrical poise, combined with homely yet adventurous arrangements, this album is a wonderful collection of songs and all round a tremendous piece of work.

17. Golden Retriever – Flight song (Thrill Jockey)

One of the many soul-warming releases on Thrill Jockey this year, a label so bursting with good people and sounds it’s almost indecent. This, from the minimalist, electronic end of its wonderful spectrum.

An absolutely gorgeous piece of minimalist electronica from the Portland duo, Matt Carlson on modular synthesizer and Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet.

While the former lays down intricately patterned melodies, which dance over you like sparkles of light on the ocean, the latter brings some wonderful primal drones to bear, taking the music towards smearing, ambient majesty.

It's so good that while Brian Eno no doubt comes to mind, there's also a hint of the master French orchestral arranger (and Serge Gainsbourg collaborator) Jean-Claude Vannier.

Nothing short of superb.

18. Beck – Wave (Capitol)

Another album sure to feature in end of year round ups although it didn’t all quite hang together for me.

But we can all agree on moments as sublime as this track in which Beck’s father David Campbell's heartbreaking string arrangement channells JC Vannier a la Gainsbourg’s beloved Melody Nelson (an echo of Beck's collaboration with Charlotte Gainsbourg a few years back for which he also recruited Campbell).

And Beck’s flailing, drowning vocal, suggesting first a deep-sea undertow, then some kind of soaring transcendance as the end approaches.

It’s a beautiful, although distinctly upsetting, piece, a mid-album emotional trough which reaches convincingly into the depths of relationship death.

19. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos (Erased Tapes)

The second album by Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie was another masterful, majestic piece of work.

"As with the first album, despite (maybe because of?) the poise of the music, the restraint, there’s still something deeply romantic about it. What does that mean? Well, it seems to connote some vague sense of human yearning, something primal. Maybe for love, contact, a search for identity even, in this universe of ours.

The melodies are simple and direct mostly, lead by O’Halloran’s piano or strings, unshowy but massed and layered for maximum impact. Those melody lines are like the miniature details close at hand, while Wiltzie’s industrial interventions act like premonitions of infinity. The skittering samples of distant radio voices on ‘Atomos IX’ and ‘Atomos X’ for example, filtered and distorted so as to be out of reach of understanding.

As with any meditation on the human condition – for that is exactly what this album feels like – there is heartrending, sumptuous melancholy at every turn."

20. Bell Gardens – Darker side of sunshine (Rocket Girl)

Wiltzie's former partner in Stars of the Lid Brian McBride also returned last year, with Kenneth James Gibson and friends, to produce a beautiful album of dream pop lullabies, Slow dawns for lost conclusions.

This track summed up the tone of the album - a sleepy piano pulse, an orchestra of dreamtime guitars, brushed drums and hushed vocal harmonies.

Sweet and low.

21. Silver Apples – Missin’ you (Enraptured)

This was a tour single late in the year and made a huge impression on me with its irresistible kosmische pulse and bounce.

I think my favourite part is that flute-like melody line, rising into the clouds without a care in the world.

A great sign for the new album due from Simeon Coxe later this year.

22. John Spillane – River Lee (IML)

The Corkman’s latest tour de force is akin to Josh T Pearson locating the axis of the Christian religion underneath Texas on the first Lift to Experience album.

In this case the mythological powers of Cork’s main lifesource are traced all the way from pagan she serpent times right up to modern day freshwater swimming off the riverbank.

Apart from the energising delirium in Spillane’s voice, the arrangement of massed female backing vocals would bring Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’ thrillingly to mind.

Gospel, Irish mythology, cabaret, sean-nós, protest songs and just plain acting the spadgie - John Spillane has once again torn up the rulebook and produced songwriting gold.

23. John Sinclair – Mohawk (Ironman Records)

And to finish, a terrific oddity this year, a bolt from the blue last February.

A wonderfully gnarled and earthy account of a jazz session, ostensibly, from June 6th 1950 featuring "Bird and Dizzy and Monk", from this veteran although a new name to me.

The track consists of a Ginsbergian spoken delivery, supported only by a loose double bass and skittering drums (plus an electric shaver momentarily). The term beatnik has developed into something of a dirty word in recent years (decades) - 'Mohawk' brilliantly relocates its true beating heart.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Playlist 338 - Jan 6 2015

Happy New Year all. First off, a bit of a glitch at the start of this wk's show so apologies, we lost a few minutes of Aldous Harding, plus my intro (which is no loss). Check the full audio for that song down the page or better yet buy her awesome s/t album.

A selection of Best of 2014 tracks dominated proceedings - aswell as Aldous, we had Benjamin Schoos, Jennifer Castle, Paul Smith & Peter Brewis, Silver Apples. Check the blog (down the right hand side under posts) for a full review of 2014 in 4 parts (4th part to be added this week).

Also new music from Wildbirds & Peacedrums (a bonus track from the Rhythm sessions), Katelyn Aurelia Smith (more beautiful & minimalist analogue synths), Elephant Micah (plangent folk songs) and the great new single from Astronauts (hushed psych pop).

In this brand new year of love and death, let's face the music and dance. More on these pages.

Jan 6 2015 w/ Best of 2014 Aldous Harding,Silver Apples,W&P,The Drink,Jennifer Castle,Ben Schoos++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 338
Tues Jan 6 2015
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

Aldous Harding – Stop your tears
Elephant Micah – No underground
Paul Smith & Peter Brewis – A town called letter
Astronauts – In my direction
Silver Apples – Missin you
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Sundry
Theatre Royal – Doubt
The Wolfhounds – Me
Death in the Sickroom – Tonight
Liam Hayes – One way out
Cool Ghouls – Orange light
Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Set it free
The Drink – Microsleep (playing The Scolt Head, London, Jan 22)
Jennifer Castle – Truth is the freshest fruit
Benjamin Schoos feat. April March – J’ai essayé de t’aimer

*next week’s show will feature music from Ricked Wicky, A Lazarus Soul & Melody’s Echo Chamber, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Best of 2014 - Part 3: Psych/Krautrock/Punk/Blues/Glam/Tropical

Another hodge podge of generally loud fast music often featuring loud guitars and sometimes even loud keyboards.

There are also some hushed varieties (to make up for the lack of volume those have a spooky air) and at least a few with no guitars at all.

That's the beauty of pop music and 2014 was another vintage year.

1. Ezra Furman – My zero (Bar None)

Let’s start with an album not technically released last year (towards the end of 2013), but it sank home with me in the early weeks of last January. The day of the dog is a bracing blast of beat rock n roll from an age before The Beatles, never mind the internet...committed, passionate and filled with buzzing guitar hooks and, inspiringly, saxophones. This song was my anthem from it.

It’s a class tune all over. Shades of The Modern Lovers and even Violent Femmes here and there but Furman's voice in particular is all his own - brilliantly strained, reaching. There's not enough of that in pop music.

The whole album has a compelling air about it, cutting across anti-folk and punk pop.

A blues stench, a howl, an irreverence, a sidelong glance at the modern world, a kick up the arse.

Ezra Furman // MY ZERO (Official Video) from Ezra Furman on Vimeo.

2. Girl Band – Lawman (Any Other City)

Another blues stench from this (fed through a kind of art punk lens), an Irish band with a tremendous grip on the dynamics of the punk and the funk and who ended the year signing with Rough Trade.

I’d still prefer the vocals to be even a small bit less like James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem but you can’t have everything.

3. Sleaford Mods – Jobseeker (KRAAK)

Whether or not Sleaford Mods are any good is sort of beside the point. They are vital and furious and an emblem of 2014.

The images in this song are closer to a hyper real update of Trainspotting than anything else I can think of – a can of Strongbow, an NHS leaflet on depression, a dole interview, spending the day at home wanking. If the Mods move into filmmaking, I’m in. In all, nothing but essential.

*I have it on good authority that Mr Williamson is a thorough gent.

4. Trans Am – I’ll never (Thrill Jockey)

The outstanding single from their excellent tenth album Volume X that came out in the summer.

It’s interesting that the video features several close-ups of singer Nathan Means which are held for just a bit longer than comfortable (he stares into the camera, purses his lips, takes a drink of water, purses his lips, takes another drink). It’s the perfect corollary to the audio which forces you to focus on each of the song’s minimal elements closer than you might wish.

The flaccid poof of the bass drum. The flat collapsing snare. The vocoded vocals, two machined voices in tandem octaves. The faux-epic dislocated synth lines. The doomy bass rumble.

Slowly, uncomfortably thrilling.

*There’s also the alternate version, a straightforward homage to The Jesus & Mary Chain, an exultant fuzzball of energy with a great krautrock aftertaste. It’s not often you get to compare two versions of the same song by the same band at the same time. And it’s even rarer to find that each version is just as intriguing as the other.

Trans Am - I'll Never from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

5. The Altered Hours – Dig early (Art For Blind)

Another landmark single from the Cork band whose debut album we anticipate this year.

The rawness of the vocal is no surprise, it’s almost their trademark at this stage, a clarion call to wake the fuck up.

What really sticks with me from this song though is the groove. The thousand yard drone suggestive of something shamanic and trancelike with the relentlessness of a long straight German motorway.

6. Eat Lights Become Lights – Shapes and patterns (Rocket Girl)

For some reason I didn’t connect as strongly with this album Into forever as with the previous ELBL (2013’s absolutely wonderful Modular living) but there is always something outstanding to take from Neil Rudd’s releases. ‘Shapes and patterns’ was perfect heavy rotation material for late spring 2014.

This fantastic clatter starts out at the kosmische end of the krautrock spectrum, pitter patter arpeggios looking out to space.

But all motorik hell breaks loose around halfway, battering drumbeats ushering in frantic string parts and an almighty crescendo of drones.

Tremendous fucking stuff.

7. Ellis Island Sound – Intro Airborne Travelling (Village Green)

Brilliant motorik groove from Pete Astor and David Sheppard with vocals from regular Radiohead collaborator John Matthias.

What’s surprising with this is the lovely breezy – some might even say dreamy – quality of the tune. Where so much krautrock-infused music is heavy and serious-minded (and all the better for that most of the time), there’s a wonderful lightness to this.

Call it antodote. Call it a change is as good as a break. Call it variety is the spice of life.

Just sometimes music can point up the strength of something by playing on its opposite.

8. Jacques Caramac & The Sweet Generation – The highs and lows of Jacques Caramac & The Sweet Generation (Rocket Girl)

This was an album I dug heavily in the early months of 2014. You’ll find the first single, the memorable ‘Snowballs’, in last year’s Best of list. The album tickled both my prog and throwaway funny bones.

From April’s review –

They’re French (and Scottish and Bolivian apparently), they’re a bit trashy, a bit glam, they sing in English, they’ve got class tunes.

‘Snowballs’ we’ve spoken of here before, a headrush of scratchy/jangly guitars and Drumming 101 with one of the most deeply pleasurable pop choruses of recent years.

‘It takes all sorts’ is cut from a similar cloth, a short, sharp punch to the head channelling VU and The Modern Lovers. There’s a tongue-in-cheek swagger to it which also recalls the spirit of Marc Bolan, although in this case more for the purposes of social comment than sexual celebration, you feel. The press release mentions “on the edge of clever and stupid” and a provocative dadaist gene runs through the album. A hilarious title like ‘Liberté, Fraternité, Galaxy’ says it all, as do remarks about pop tarts and kream puffs.

Somehow, amongst the instant hooks and nods and winks they also manage to be quite a bit progressive. ‘El Dorado’ posits Spain’s conquistadores among a kosmische drone to unexpectedly brilliant effect. ‘Kream Puff’ takes a more sombre approach to relationships, a lovely louche rhythm built around a great interlocked bass/guitar sliding pattern.

Most of all ‘Walk in the park’, which brings a more serious demeanour to an eight-minute meditation on life (“surely life has got to be a walk in the park, not running a marathon”), amid a welter of pinging guitars and fizzing keys, rising and falling thrillingly, before settling into an irrepressible krautrock groove midway through.

I love this album. The band can obviously play - very well in fact - but the overriding impression is of dedication to a vision, a groove, a view of life even, not a wankfest. The songs are memorable, funny, groovy, pastiche and hommage thrown together with hummable melodies and forward-thinking arrangements. Pop music for the 21st century and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

9. Laurie Shaw – Handbag (Self-released)

This was also recorded some time before 2014 but only came on my radar last year (thank you Albert in Plugd Records). Either way this guy is a rare talent and prolific doesn’t come close.

‘Handbag’ is a whipsmart Parquet Courts-referencing slice of scuzzy garage rock, like Bowie putting back on his glam rags to soundtrack modern day NYC.

Get more background in this interview I did with Laurie during the summer.

10. The War on Drugs – Red eyes (Secretly Canadian)

Lost in the dream was one of last year’s loved albums I was agnostic about. But I could not dislodge this tune from my head. An irresistible hip shaking slice of vintage AM rock given an unwavering backbeat.

Do they have autobahns in Philadelphia?

11. Wussy – Teenage wasteland (Damnably)

Another prime example of an American band in vital touch with their blue collar roots who released their 5th album Attica last year.

This song consists of a response to The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ which of course features the refrain “teenage wasteland”. The Wussy vintage takes that shimmering guitar part of the Who song as a kind of starting point and proceeds to "answer" from the perspective of a middle American who grew up with The Who.

That would be Lisa Walker in this case, one of the band's joint vocalists and songwriters along with Chuck Cleaver. What she makes out of this dynamic is a moving paean to the power of rock n roll to cross oceans and affect lives. It's wonderfully heartfelt, personal, delivered in one chord more or less. You might even say epic, but with a small e if you follow me, compared to the very much capital E of The Who.

"yeah we heard you Pete, real loud and clear on the last one
and we were pulling for you a 1000 times a day
it don't take much to sound like a sleeping prophet
when your misery sounds so much like ours
so far away, so far away"

That reads great doesn't it? There's a real gritty poetic quality to it - "sleeping prophet". And here's Walker's comment on The Who and what they meant to herself and her generation growing up.

That band changed many lives of farm and rust belt kids here in America who closely identified with such a bombastic blue collar band. Very different from Stones and Beatles type bands. Regular guys. A band for the unpopular kids. Kind of a precursor to the ethos that underground bands in the US began to embrace in the 80s.

A band for the unpopular kids. Don’t you just love that.

And it also sounds great, inspired and inspiring great, hairs on the back of the neck great, particularly when Walker belts out those final words “so far away, so far away”.

*This is a live performance of the song for Cincinnatti magazine. It's also really good with a slightly rawer feel. And great to see them perform those dual vocals in the flesh.

12. Astronauts – Vampires (Lo Recordings)

If you check back through the Best of entries for the last few years you’ll find a band called Dark Captain cropping up more than once. That was a band led by Dan Carney, Astronauts is his new band and if you liked them you’ll love this.

An album which beautifully carries on the thread of spooked folk and krautrock beats from his (Carney’s) former band.

Opener ‘Skydive’ immediately sets out the beguliing combination of hushed vocals, sombre drums and plucked acoustic guitars, later joined by some mournful, long-bowed cello. It’s low-key but positively haunting.

‘Everything’s a system, everything’s a sign’ next adds some droning clarinet to create a great reedy undertow.

‘Vampires’ then changes the tone brilliantly with buzzing electric guitar power chords and percussive scrapes against a jerky breakbeat. The nervous energy of the arrangement perfectly captures the vague disquiet of the lyric.

‘Spanish archer’ employs a mid-range tug of E-bow against a chorus of “ba-ba-bas” which just can’t be denied.

And the album keeps these high standards. Wherever you turn, thrumming bass and brushed drums create great sound pictures of mournfulness transformed through defiance (or is it simply perseverance? Maybe they’re the same thing...), while restless guitar arpeggios and stoic woodwind blow past the clouds to find silver linings.

These are uniformly gorgeous, hushed psych pop songs capable of lifting the spirits from the doldrums. And that’s psych with a small “p”, the unshowy, creep-up-on-you but nonetheless burnished kind.

What a beautiful piece of work this album is.

Astronauts - Skydive (Official Music Video) from Lo Recordings on Vimeo.

13. Brother Earth – Out like a lion (Hidden Shoal)

Brilliantly coiled and deceptively low key psych folk beast by Todd Tobias and Steve Five from their album Positive Haywires.

I particularly love the way this song feels like it’s about to fall apart around the midpoint. It holds its shit together but the suspense created by that freakout hangs in the air long after its last moments.

14. Cool Ghouls – And it grows (Empty Cellar Records)

This is a band I came across for the first time late in the year and the kind of exciting discovery that keeps me doing this. First impressions aren’t always lasting I find but this album (A swirling fire burning through the rye) has done a great job of lighting a rocket under Christmas for me this year.

There’s a great freshness about this brand of psych pop from San Francisco band Cool Ghouls.

Unlike many of today’s psych purveyors, they come at it from more of a roots than a shoegaze or krautrock perspective. Think Creedence Clearwater Revival, for example, a phalanx of clean, jangly but strident guitars with buzzing riffs aplenty.

That’s not to say there aren’t some lovely fuzzy interludes - album opener and single ‘And it grows’ unleashes a great one just 2 minutes in, before reverting to thrilling core values.

But for the most part the swingingly insistent tunes are carried by sharp sounds and banks of glorious Byrdsian harmonies with the fuzz pedal reserved for extra emphasis.

15. Angel Olsen – Hi five (Jagjaguwar)

Olsen’s 2nd album (Burn your fire for no witness, the album title of the year for me) is sure to be up there in plenty of Best of 2014 lists, although I haven’t yet heard her string it all together for a full long player.

However, this live performance on Letterman brought something new and ferocious to light. The full band arrangements that seem (to me anyway) a little muddled in places on the record make perfect sense here, blazing a trail for her unforgettable near-yodel, a most remarkable instrument.

As a whole it comes across as ancient and completely modern all in one. A pretty good trick to pull off.

16. Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The offbeat (Leaf)

Brilliant thrilling expression and embodiment of the pain and pleasure inherent in the blues from the Swedish husband and wife duo.

Sex. Rhythm. Can’t stop. Must move. Lust. The beat. Put your hands on me. The need. The fury. Desire.

When I first heard it in August I could only think of Nina Simone jamming with LCD Soundsystem.

It still sounds that good. A master work.

17. St Vincent – Digital witness (Republic)

An album I found myself admiring more than loving and I do love St Vincent. But honestly the greatness of Annie Clark is based on a decade’s body of work and she can do no wrong in my book ever since she covered The Beatles’ ‘Dig a pony’ during her solo support of The National at The Olympia in Dublin in 2008. The woman can make a guitar talk. Don’t believe me? Watch this.

Her s/t record took a thread from the previous Love this giant collaboration with David Byrne, shooting her mutant funk into new territory with great brass syncopations. And in fact she toned her guitar playing down a notch if anything.

Her live performances too showed that more than just musical heritage had rubbed off from Mr Byrne. Her onstage persona comes on like one part Janelle Monae, one part ‘Girlfriend is better’-era Talking Heads and one part Blade Runner replicant.

Plus of course ‘Digital witness’ was just the most searching satire of our social media world. For which alone 10 out of 10.

*And this.

18. Sabina – Toujours (Naim Edge)

A fantastically bonkers excursion into the outer edges of Tropicalia from the former Brazilian Girls singer and now Paris resident.

In particular, clattering bossa nova percussion and an inspired Hammond organ lead line providing a memorable hook around an irresistible chorus – “we must make the best of it, we might as well be happy.” It's like mad lounge music with a shot of Monty Python.


A naked woman riding a donkey followed by a rooster with a star on her head playing the ukulele.

Find more on the album here -

19. Benjamin Schoos feat. Laetitia Sadier – La derniere danse (Freaksville)
20. Benjamin Schoos feat. April March – J’ai essayé de t’aimer (Freaksville)

I couldn’t separate these two duets, my 2014 spring and autumn bookends, but I figured life doesn’t have to be either or.

You can’t say which is more gorgeous. Both are a goodbye. Just that one swings while the other swoons. Hope or regret. Yin. Yang. Francophile transcendance in pop music form.

Schoos has been making treasures like this for some years now. Get into it.

21. A Lazarus Soul – Mercury hit a high (Intent to Supply Records)

A refugee from the Jangle Pop section of the Round up perhaps. But it had to be included.

I’ve been a fan of Dubliner Brian Brannigan’s ALS for a couple of albums now, generally producing a heartfelt brand of quietly furious but soulful rock. He also appears to steadfastly reside outside of current musical fashion and trend which can only be a good thing.

Last year’s Last of the analogue age had a particular nostalgic hue to it which is a tone that works so well with jangly guitars (see ‘Goin back’ by The Byrds). This tune has a glorious mid-REM feel, as Joe Chester’s sunburst guitar wraps around Brannigan’s lines.

“Every day in your arms was an honour
Mercury hit a high that summer
Everyday there’s a ray to pierce her armour
& she prays that the waves of your life are calmer
Your little charmer.”

It’s not that complicated, it’s just superb songwriting.

22. Merchandise – Enemy (4AD)

A band from Tampa in Florida. Not a place you associate with essential alternative rock music. A killer tune you need to hear. My thoughts last August.

An unforgettable guitar riff locked down with a four to the floor drumbeat. Not a distorted riff, it's clean, a descending pattern and it kind of unwinds itself, insidiously, vaguely threatening, like a snake raising itself off the floor.

Then there's the vocal of Carson Cox. What a wonderful instrument that is. You imagine him pulling off a white soul or lounge act quite easily. Plus he has a side of the mouth delivery that's intriguing. So chorus lyrics as innocuous as "all your thoughtless words" take on an extra weight or gravity.

That chorus also has a great arrangement touch, a layered octave vocal which lifts the whole proceedings another notch.

There's an atmosphere of coiled tension about the whole thing, even with the major key and smooth singing, which in itself is a great achievement. Apparently there's hardcore punk in the band's backstory so it seems maybe their aims haven't changed, just their methods.

They sound like they could be a genuinely great band, a band that could inhabit some strand of the mainstream while smuggling in higher concepts and darker intent.

For now, this is thrilling stuff, one of the songs of the year.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best of 2014 - Part 2: Soul/Pop/Jangle/Electro/Sunshine

And so Part 2 of this end of year series. There seems to have been less up tempo electronic music on my radar this year, hence a few crop up in this mostly-guitar set. (There are some ambient and other electronic cuts to come in the final part of the round-up.)

Let's not get hung up on that. Enjoy.

1. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting on you) (4AD)

With all due respect to Hozier (who owed a lot in turn to the work of Feel Good Lost, plus maybe ‘Take me to church’ was more of a 2013 thing in any case?) and Kim Kardashian’s buttocks, here was the true thing that broke the internet this year. It showed the power to light up the world of sheer chutzpah – a short, barrel-chested man who can sing his heart out all night and dances like he doesn’t give a fuck who’s watching. On paper those are not the most promising ingredients, perhaps, but Sam Herring turns them into gold, when combined with the thrumming, soaring melodies of Will Cashion and Gerrit Welmers.

Funnily enough, the Letterman performance overshadowed a little what I think was their best album yet (Singles). And what a joy it was to see those songs, plus all the other great ones they’ve produced over several years, played live in Dublin last month.

Pure soul, at the end of the day.

2. Sean Nicholas Savage – Heartless (Arbutus)

A Montreal singer I came across through the good people at Plugd, who hosted him in Triskel Arts Centre last autumn. He sings a most beguiling brand of bedroom soul, a concoction of home-made beats, gentle guitar picks and second hand synths, with the coup de grace of a yearning high register vocal.

This year’s album Bermuda Waterfall has a series of memorable underground pop tunes. ‘Heartless’ is the song I couldn’t get past, it really is the most beautiful and poignant thing.

I suppose because it has such potentially cheesy elements – drum pads rescued from the 1980s, backing vocals bordering on the edge of autotune – and yet it comes out as so heartfelt and just plain emotional.

Among the range of backing vocals is a gorgeous soft falsetto on the chorus refrain, a couple of layers of which rise and swamp the even softer, lower lead voice. The latter is uncertain, tentative, reflective even.

And behind, just a recurring acoustic pattern, a pitter-patter bassline, a go-ahead drum machine.

Reading that back makes it sound pretty unpromising, I realise. But it is the most heartbreaking paean to beauty, like the Mona Lisa but painted on the wall of some back alley.

Towards the end, this line seems to stick out and fuse with the musical backing to sum up the song -

“I blame your beauty
For my obsessive jungle pride”

I notice Sean Nicholas Savage has cited The Bee Gees as an influence, which would make sense – white soul laced with a certain fragility. It also reminded me of Donnie & Joe Emerson in its intimacy.

To repeat, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing in this dirty world.

3. Eyedress – Teen spirits (Abeano)

A spooky, insinuating piece of electro from the Phillipino producer Idris Vicuna.

Great, unguarded vocals and a wonderful combination of buzzing, rumbling and uplifting synth lines.

4. Tune-Yards – Water fountain (4AD)

Another one of those undeniable tunes from Merrill Garbus and friends, this time bringing her trademark slippery funk clapping song to bear brilliantly on Californian eco-politics.

Again, it’s worth checking the tv performance of the tune, it adds plenty to the overall enjoyment. First of all, there’s the intensity of the rendition (and not just from the frontwoman herself, she’s assembled a crack, hardworking crew around her). And the blazing costumes and facepaint find the perfect sweet spot between having the craic and confrontational campaigning.

5. Vertical Scratchers – Turn me out (Merge)

From an album (Daughter of everything) I might not have caught on to if it wasn’t from the ever excellent Merge label – lead Scratcher John Schmersal used to be in Brainiac and is also part of Caribou’s touring outfit. Almost all the songs are under 2 minutes in length, they rarely follow verse-chorus structure and they are graciously indebted to The Kinks. Intriguing concept, no?

This tune is the perfect example, an inventive vocal falsetto bursting straight out of the traps. Even so, if you’re not grabbed from the off, hang around until 1.13 (a mere 30s before the end) for the sighing, cooing counter vocal of the “middle 8”.

It does the heart good to see a little corner of the world still devoted to this kind of searching, off-kilter pop music.

6. Twerps – Conditional report (Merge)

Another Merge release, another class slice of out there guitar pop, and once more under 2 minutes.

Twerps are a Melbourne 4-piece from the noted Chapter Music stable. Something about this tune takes me back to early Go Betweens, sunny days with wiry guitar lines and lyrics that intrigue while they spin melodies like yarns of wool.

And I can’t say better than that.

7. The Elwins – Sittin pretty (Affairs of the Heart)

A knock-out slice of sunshine pop, surfing along on jangly electric guitar, self-deprecating faux brass and strings, heart-fluttering mellotrons and a winningly bruised male vocal.

It grabs some kind of forgotten zeitgeist laid down by underappreciated bands like The Zombies, a little, or Harpers Bizarre, who could wrap your heart in knots while giving your brain a workout too. There’s also a touch of the strident power-pop melodies of Jason Falkner, but the tune, although endearingly restless, never strays down the tricksy cul-de-sac that baroque pop can sometimes find, retaining its open-hearted sheen.

An absolute joy.

*And just to increase the joy, here’s another dose, this time in semi-stripped down form involving actual flutes, actual strings and a snowy stroll from house to garden shed.

THE ELWINS - Sittin' Pretty from Southern Souls on Vimeo.

8. Theatre Royal – Doubt (Vacilando 68)

A real old-fashioned treasure in the mould of Martin Stephenson or The Woodentops.

There’s a certain rockabilly swing to the tune, the guitars jingle and jangle in bittersweet style and the singing is open-throated - according to the old instruction “sing out” – with an ingeniously simple backing vocal consisting of the song title refrain.

Guitar pop is just the best thing.

9. Cormac O Caoimh – The moon loses its memory (Self-released)

Another interesting 80s echo here, more in the Prefab Sprout direction this time, the title track from the Cork singer’s 3rd solo album.

There’s a giddy quality to the tune, a wonderful offset against the poetic, poignant lyric. I love the stop-start too. And of course the major seventh chords.

Deceptively simple, like all great pop music.

10. Death in the Sickroom – Tonight (Reekus Records)

The debut single from this Dublin 4-piece last June was an absolute belter.

The appearance of a 12-string electric alone makes it something of an event but apart from that there’s plenty more to love in here.

The tune itself is a blistering jangle pop gem, channelling equal parts Johnny Marr and Paisley Underground.

There’s also a belligerence and bite to it that’s quite delicious. Check these lines –

You’re a lost cause, you’re mindless and fickle
Ignore your sister, she’s twisted and bitter
Leave her alone with the babysitter.

It’s most winsome and very clever but not at the expense of memorable hooks. It’s all enough to make you pine for the days when bands like Microdisney and Aztec Camera ruled the airwaves. It would certainly tend to restore your faith in guitar pop.

11. Ariel Pink – Put your number in my phone (4AD)

The new album got a mixed reception but this is another all-time great jangle pop tune from the pink-haired one (or actually green according to this video), equal parts gloriously poignant and vaguely unsettling.

In among the irresistible chiming guitars, the massed banks of synths over a heartfelt “baby” and the superb touch of a girl’s gently pleading message on his voicemail, I find myself returning again and again to the genius staccato of the chorus bassline. It seems to tap out a morse code of hope and love from Ariel to the world.

12. Caribou – Can’t do without you (Merge/City Slang)

The opening salvo from one of the albums of the year, hands down.

This tune in particular took a thread from Dan Snaith’s previous (also great) Daphni moniker. So you find bouncing house backbeats, a soothing bath of synths and soulful vocal samples. It's beautiful and organic and warm and manages to build a whole world, an entire narrative, an emotional arc, into 4 minutes.

The atmosphere comes out something like downbeat euphoria, which is also an intriguing state of affairs to find yourself in on the dancefloor.

13. Tennis - Mean streets (Communion)

Their spring EP this year was a glorious combination of pitch-perfect arrangements and aching, swoonsome vocals, with just enough bite to keep you on the edge of your seat, from husband and wife duo Patrick Riley and Alaina Miller.

You need go no further than lead track ‘Mean steets’, unrolling on an exquisitely languid groove in keeping with the subject matter ("summerin in the Catskills baby, singing just for the thrill"). If the electric piano and beautifully slurred vocal delivery aren’t enough for you, check the drop-dead bridge – a gorgeous fog of organ stabs and the most appealingly sunny, chiming guitar line in years.

It all makes for blue-eyed soul of the highest order, brimming with pent-up emotion. Coming a close second is ‘Dimming light’, making like a slowed-down, drowsy Supremes off-cut, with a distinctly ambiguous heart beating amongst the jangly guitars and ringing piano.

To die for.

14. Elephant – Elusive Youth (Memphis Industries)

A companion to Tennis for me, another romantic duo (or are they?) and another drowsy, gorgeous blue-eyed wall of sound.

This one has more of a delirious tone to it, driven along by that fantastic chorus organ part.

15. SlowPlaceLikeHome – She comes in colour stereo

Warm and fuzzy synth textures with buckets of heart and soul from Keith Mannion of Donegal.

There’s a class tune at the core, with more than a hint of kosmische to it, although considerably more uptempo than that might lead you to believe.

But what I like most about it is the wonderful building arrangement, a great combination of pulses and washes and squelches.

Track 6 in this playlist

May 6 2014 w/ Roll the Dice,Matmos,SPLH, Angel Olsen,Eyedress,Shonen Knife,Eat Lights Become Lights+ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

16. The Drink – Haunted place (Melodic)

A London-based band with an Irish singer, Dearbhla Minogue, whose debut album has just been released to some acclaim.

I was a big Throwing Muses fan in my 20s and there’s something about this tune that would remind you of Kristin Hersh’s group - off-kilter rhythms, buzzing guitars, a freewheeling vocal melody and a lyrical sense of ordinary details viewed through a fresh lens.

It’s furious in places, tender in others and is tremendous, slightly bonkers stuff.

17. Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac & Friends – Please Mr Kennedy (from the soundtrack of Inside Llewyn Davis)

There’s some debate as to whether this qualifies as an original piece of music (hence no Oscar nomination), as writer T Bone Burnett used a few well known parodies as template, Tom Lehrer and the like.

No such issues for this list, which is always open to self-referential pop culture gems.

Things you might miss on first listen – the genius bass vocal “Outer Space”, and just that sublime mouth trumpet lip flapping...


18. The Clientele – Suburban light (Merge)

One of a number of notable Merge reissues this year to mark their 25th year. Where it failed to find much of an audience in 2000, this album should find a much more receptive public these days. It’s warm and fuzzy, blissful dream pop with a strain of sadcore running through it. It’s interesting to read singer Alasdair MacLean’s comments about the band’s aims back then.

“We were just waiting to get in a proper studio and have strings, brass, choirs — Phil Spector-crossed-with-Martin Hannett production,” MacLean remembers. “At the time, every engineer wanted to make every band sound like Radiohead, which just broke everyone’s heart. We couldn’t get a warm sound anywhere we went in those days.”

They certainly achieved that warmth. You’ll recognise The Byrds in the guitar treatments, but also the downbeat moods of a band like Galaxie 500 and the late-night psych reveries of The Velvet Underground.

‘Rain’ has that Byrdsian sunburst guitar shimmer, but with MacLean’s hushed vocal it takes on a more muted, autumnal hue, perfectly in keeping with the longing of the subject matter. ‘We could walk together’ takes a soaring bassline to the chiming guitars, managing to make downbeat sound pretty thrilling.

‘Reflections after Jane’ is like the lost companion to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday morning’, a sparse, glittering, blissed-out love poem, as close to jazz as pop music. ‘An hour before the light’ takes this sound on a notch – a pitter-patter backbeat over another glorious guitar arpeggio gorgeously conveys the rush of being “lead astray by love”.

There are many more low-key gems in here ('Bicycles' is another stunner), most containing guitars that ring out like church bells and a hushed vocal which will burrow far into your inner ear. All round, it's utterly gorgeous pop music you could drift away on.

19. East River Pipe - The gasoline age (Merge)

A true modern classic of underground American pop music. Stone cold.

Read more about the album on this link, a Q&A I did with FM Cornog earlier this month. He’s a legend.

20. Anthony Reynolds – Underwater wildlife (Rocket Girl)

A quick flick around ex-Jack singer Reynolds’ website reveals seminal influences in the shape of Japan, David Bowie and Scott Walker, among others. Those aren’t bad reference points for getting a handle on this compilation of recent EPs, film and tv soundtrack work, which consists generally of sublime orchestral, or orchestrated, pop with great depth and texture. More recently, fans of The Dears, for example, will find plenty to love here too.

So ‘The laws of the game’, for example, would remind you a bit of labelmate Jon DeRosa, a deep-hearted mediation on love wrapped around with mourning cello and keening steel guitar.

While the epic ‘Loneliness is the engine of the world’, my own personal favourite, is more like a noirish novel crammed into 3 minutes with a sweeping prog pop soundtrack.

21. The Chills – The BBC Sessions (Fire Records)

One of the most heartwarming stories in music this year was the return of Martin Phillips and friends to performing live and at least the promise of releasing new music in 2015. This release was a collection of the band’s three Peel Sessions in the 1980s, when they were one of a clutch of treasured bands to be invited back several times by the legendary BBC presenter.

The crowning glory of this set for me is ‘Part past, part fiction’, from their 1988 session. It cropped up a couple of years later in studio form on the brilliant album Submarine Bells but there’s something wonderfully warm and resolute about this version.