Best of 2015: Part 3 - Punk/Psych/Motorik/Prog pop

Part 3 of this epic poem, and I hope your year's been good so far.

We're at a faster clip (tempo basically) for this section, there's something about these songs that shows some kind of urgency, people in a hurry, on some kind of mission maybe.

And it strikes me that few things in life are more exciting to me than pop music with progressive tendencies.

What exactly this means we can debate but wrapping a pop tune around a literary/unexpected/twisted lyric or conceptual idea raises the genre to a higher artform.

Or building a classic rock guitar riff then undercutting it with a kosmische synth. Or steeping a song in jazz influences only to strap a motorik backbeat onto it. Or...well you get the gist.



1. Ezra Furman – Restless year (from the album Perpetual motion people, Bella Union)
Fantastic opening gambit from the lipsticked one’s current album which picks up from where his last album left off, the equally wonderful Day of the dog.

That is to say, rollicking between the eyes Modern Lovers-esque rock and roll complete with fuzz bass, doo wop vocals and pots and pans percussion.

These lines, roared in gravelly tones, are as good a way as any to sum up Furman’s manifesto which should be inspiring to outsiders of all shades -

Making the rounds in my five dollar dress
I can’t go home though I’m not homeless
I’m just another savage in the wilderness
And if you can’t come down you can listen to this

There’s also pencil thin garage rock organ, Dostoyevsky and meditations on death.

It’s thrilling hip-shaking brain-tickling stuff.

2. Blank Realm – River of longing (from the album Illegals in heaven, Fire)
A storming piece of music from the Brisbane band’s 10th album, although the first to get a concerted release in this part of the world.

This tune sits on the brighter psych pop end of the spectrum, a headrush of gorgeous prismatic guitars (a chorus of Fender Jags if I’m not mistaken, which would remind you of ‘Friday I’m in love’ by The Cure), those reaching vocals and a lyric full of teenage longing, as the title suggests.

It rattles along at a headlong pace for 4 glorious minutes and then collapses beautifully in a welter of fuzz. It’s a little bit freaky and frazzled and pushes pop to the limit.

3. Deerhunter – Breaker (from the album Fading frontier, 4AD)
A shimmering thing of unsettling beauty that could well be the best work ever recorded by Bradford Cox and friends.

Say no more.

4. The Chap – Jammer (Lo Recordings)
An ingenious return last year from this transnational bunch of avant popsters with their album The show must go.

This tune managed to bridge the gap between Kenny Everett and Deerhoof, using many guitars and two vocal lines.

One voice uses a daydreaming “ba-dee-n-da-da” motif as the main line. The second is something between a forced cough and an exclamation of disgust, not a million miles from a Harry Enfield or even Kenny Everett character tic. The two (on the face of it unrelated) vocal lines are looped and spliced together superbly as the tinny aggressive guitars stack up on all sides.

It’s one of those songs you’ll hum along to absentmindedly with a smile on your face, before wondering what the fuck exactly you're listening to.

5. AJ Holmes & the Hackney Empire – Martyn’s elephant charm
Beautiful African guitar bounce to this tune with a hint of ska and calypso also bubbling under.

And those dual female backing vocals get me every time – “do it like that”.

A very tasty concoction from a band with its heart and its dancing shoes firmly in the right place.

6. The Feelies – Fa cé la / 7. Richard Lloyd – I thought you wanted to know (from the album ORK Records – New York, New York, Numero Group)
Two wonderful cuts from an album that has been thoroughly engrossing me since last autumn. More on the album here -

Both of these tracks failed to see the light of day at the time for different reasons but are true lost classics. (The former, initially because a deal ORK had done with Polygram fell through – when ORK did manage to rustle up the money to release the song, The Feelies decided they no longer liked the recording; a different recording of the song was to feature on The Feelies’ debut album Crazy Rhythms in 1980. The latter, because Richard Lloyd was contractually tied to Elektra through his band Television – the naivety of the time eh?)

The Richard Lloyd song in particular got completely under my skin for several weeks. If you’re a Television fan, you might be surprised by the brashness, the power pop of it, it’s thrilling. The song was subsequently released by the dB’s, Chris Stamey on vocals but I love this version for the added rough charm of the vocal.

“Crate” discovery of the year.

Track 7 in this playlist (just under 24m in)

Nov 10 2015 w/ ORK Records,The Drink,The Chap,Serge G,West Side Story,Julia Holter,Alela Diane++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

8. Princess – Black window
This knockout single from the Dublin band was actually one of their last acts before announcing their break up last summer.

All I can say is they went out on a high with a strand of post punk fed through a Stereolab filter.

The former you can hear in the great strident bass work, uncompromising drumbeat and insistent 2-chord structure.

The latter in the second half playout with the love of a gorgeous melody and irresistible overlapping da-da-da vocal.

9. Man of moon – The road (Melodic)
Man of Moon are a Glasgow duo who take a hint of Jagwar Ma and put a motorik worm into it.

Chunky power chords.
Unswerving drumbeat.
A song about the road.
World weary vocals. (They’re only young.)
Dancefloor breakdown.

It’s a beautiful thing.

10. Virginia Wing – Donna’s gift (Fire)
I know this song is a couple of years old but it came on my radar for the first time in 2015 (plus it also featured on the reissue of the band’s fascinating album Measures of joy).

It constitutes a wonderful taking on of the baton from Stereolab, organ flourishes, thrumming basslines, synth flickers, groovy backbeat.

11. Death & Vanilla – California owls (from the album To where the wild things are, Fire)
In the spring, this Swedish band produced a wonderful album of hushed and sparkling psych pop, managing to sound both precious and thrilling. Plus another string to the intriguing psych pop bow being developed at Fire Records.

‘California owls’ comes on like Julee Cruise fronting The Free Design, a kissing cousin of The Velvet Underground's 'Sunday morning', beautiful naive pop that takes on an edgier hue as it grows on you with the spooked atmospheres developing to a symphony of birdsong at the end. That fade out in particular calls to mind the various loopy and genius innovations of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

12. The Drink – Roller (from the album Capital, Melodic)
Another one of the albums of the year and again any one of the ten tracks could have stepped up for this list.

There’s a wonderful combination on this song of spooky vocal girl group atmospherics and spiralling math pop. The lyrics of Dearbhla Minogue are intriguing, enigmatic and her singing is tenacious, dreamlike, ferocious, birdlike, sometimes all in the one line. Her guitar playing is also a dream, fingerpicked arpeggios constantly on the edge of chaos.

The kind of music that could spawn a thousand bands. Inspiring.

13. Myles Manley – Pay me what I’m worth (Trout)
Unbeatable sub 2 minute pop song taking DNA from Devo and The Modern Lovers and a mini masterpiece of a keyboard solo.

Pay the man what he’s worth ffs.

14. Tender Prey – Pleasure pain principle (Bird Records)
There’s a lovely naive punk flavour to this tune, from Laura Bryon of Cardiff, a restless ticking drumbeat and a visceral lyric with a carefree tang and a tease to it.

Get in position
You know this might sting a bit
I like it but it hurts

Then the chorus (an instrumental break really) introduces a genius stabbing organ part – the kind you could happily hum all day - before ramping up the ante with a full scale breakdown later.

Sweet and intriguing.

15. Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian at best (Mom + Pop)
The Melbourner is making plenty of 2015 end of year lists and rightly so, she was one of the great blasts of fresh air of the pop music year gone by and this was her classic slacker (anti) anthem.

Apart from the wonderful pummelling riff I find I mostly get stuck on this line –

Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami honey

It’s one of those lines that reads quite plain on paper but somehow it shows off Barnett’s knack of being able to puncture all the bullshit poses we go on with while wrapping it all in lovely sloppy trashy guitar playing and hilarious wordplay.

Right then, carry on.

Doo doo doodoo Doo doo doodoo

16. Titus Andronicus – Dimed out (Merge)
A beautiful blast of intellectual fury from Patrick Stickles and friends.

This is one of those rare instances when you need the lyric sheet to get the full visceral benefit.

The righteous anger in Stickles’ vocal delivery will be immediately apparent but check the self-motivating thrust and burgeoning ego of this passage which would fly straight past the naked ear.

I don’t chase after clocks or calendars
I bow down not to masters, gods nor managers
Cause all the greatest artists they were amateurs
Unembarrassed dressed in only bandages

There’s a distinct literary sensibility lurking in those roars and pummelling backbeats, high brow masquerading as low brow.

Stickles here is the US Shane McGowan, slayer of the American dream.

17. Tame Impala – Let it happen (Modular)
Kevin Parker’s falsetto is one of the sweetest, most touching instruments in pop music now and it’s never sounded better than on this song, one of the musical highpoints of the year gone by, a set of sounds that could only have been created now (for example, that false alarm Pro Tools glitch midway through).

I think what makes Parker such an important figure is precisely that his instincts are within pop music. Having said that, he’s singlehandedly pushed out the boundaries of what we call pop music in several different directions in his short career to date. This means his musical travel reports from the outer edges are brilliantly accessible to all.

That and he’s one groovy motherfucker.

*I must also add this second single from the Currents album, another superior, reaching, self-doubting, warming slice of psych pop and with a music video to make your hair curl - “holding hands with Trevor” is right. Plus, what a bassline.

18. The Great Balloon Race – Why meddle?
This similarly epic piece formed a groovy pair with The Impalas for me last spring, from the Cork band’s upcoming second album.

Propulsive motorik rhythms (and another memorable bassline) counterpoint against a gorgeous kosmische-jazz stew.

By turns thrilling and dreamy.

19. Field Music – The noisy days are over (Memphis Industries)
Great return from the Brewis Brothers (although they haven’t exactly been idle since the last Field Music album), picking up the gorgeous prog pop threads of Measure and Plumb with an added glorious horn section.

Their upcoming new album Commontime is already a good candidate for one of the albums of 2016 at UOH Towers.

20. O Emperor – Switchblade (Big Skin)
Keeping the prog pop thread, this Cork-based band took things on a notch from their wonderful Vitreous album, with their 2015 EP.

The lead track was a punchy head bopper with delicious prismatic guitar twirls, falsetto vocals and and lovely scuzzy synths.

21. Twerps – Back to you (Merge)
And to finish, another new band to me last year, another Melbourne band and a sweet addition to the canon of indie guitar pop.

This first single from their endearing album rattles along on a chassis of early Go Betweens and a hint of Belle & Sebastian, breezy and carefree and thrumming with energy.

Try bottling some of that for optimum results in 2016.

Twerps - Back to You (Official Music Video) from Merge Records on Vimeo.


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