Here at the Mayflower (2001)

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You might be surprised that I’m writing about a Barry Manilow album, which (believe it or not) one of my favourite albums of 2001. I’ve previously written about my eclectic musical taste, so actually you might not find it as strange as it first seems. I’m not one to shy away from a particular musician simply because some might consider that choice uncool.

Here at the Mayflower is a concept album, based on the Brooklyn apartment complex where Barry Manilow grew up. The album contains a mixture of musical styles, and some you not might expect. It’s very different from his work of the 1970s and 80s, and something of a hidden gem. Each song tells a story about the occupants of an apartment block. It’s a wonderful album.

Tapestry (Carole King)

The classic album Tapestry by Carole King was released on this day (10 February) in 1971. It’s a wonderful album (one that’s stood the test of time) with an iconic cover, and there were so many of those in the 1960s and 70s. I haven’t really got much to say about it, other than it’s one of the great albums. I bought it at the time, and I still listen to it regularly. Do check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Collapsed in Sunbeams (Arlo Parks)

Arlo Parks‘ debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams became an instant favourite on first hearing, it stood out as an exceptional piece of work. The album [has] received widespread acclaim, with many music critics praising Parks’ versatility and vulnerability. Wikipedia

She has described the album as a series of vignettes and intimate portraits surrounding her adolescence and the people who shaped it, one that’s rooted in storytelling and nostalgia. It was recorded during the coronavirus lockdown, mining deep-rooted, sometimes traumatic places at a time when the world was crumbling around her.

A universal collection of stories that’ll provide solace for listeners of all ages and backgrounds for decades to come. Her music is like a warm hug, a reassurance that everything is going to be OK when the world is dark and things seem out of control. True to form, her debut album is a sanctuary of compassionate lyricism and groove-along tunes. NME

This is a great album, and well worth a listen. You can see all my favourite albums of 2021 by clicking here.

Serpentine Prison (Matt Berninger)

You’ve probably guessed that I enjoy listening to new albums, as well as discovering old music that’s new to me.

I find out about new albums from a variety of sources, and sometimes I kick myself for missing one – like Earth by Ed O’Brien. But, this debut album by Matt Berninger of The National, is one I didn’t miss! It was recommended to me by Anisa Subedar, a friend I haven’t met in real life yet.

I immediately liked the overall sound of the album and the fascinating lyrics, and it’s one of my favourites of 2020. The album was produced by the legendary Booker T. Jones and features Gail Ann Dorsey (probably best know as David Bowie‘s bass player from 1995 until his death in 2016) in one song.

Serpentine Prison isn’t the drastic change of pace that many frontmen create when they do a project outside of their main band, but it does enough to justify itself as separate from The National’s catalog. At the same time, longtime fans of the group will undoubtedly feel at home here, too, while also admiring what Berninger does differently. It’s not all equally captivating or distinctive, but it is consistently moving, tasteful, and alluring, promising something even greater when Berninger returns for his sophomore solo sequence. Jordan Blum

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

See also: Melting Pot (Booker T Jones)

Song for Our Daughter

Song for Our Daughter by Laura Marling is a wonderfully mature and polished album, it’s one of my favourites of 2020. She writes songs for her fictional daughter, and by implication, her former self. She was inspired by Maya Angelou‘s book Letter to My Daughter.

The accompaniment is stripped right back to create an intimate sound, her accomplished playing and singing is always central with some beautiful harmonies and melodies.

This is one of a number of albums I’ve discovered this year because they were nominated for the Mercury Prize 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Inner Song (Kelly Lee Owens)

This wonderful album became one of my favourites of 2020 on first hearing, especially as the opening track is a superb instrumental cover of a Radiohead song.

The unexpected opening track, a wordless cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” offers a sort of formal thesis statement. Owens’ interpretation emphasizes the Steve Reich-like qualities of Jonny Greenwood’s guitar line, stretching it into an undulating synthesizer pattern. Forgoing vocals, she distills the song’s harmonic essence, stripping it down to emphasize a single part of the whole, evoking a state of trance-like contemplation until a jittery breakbeat crashes through. Pitchfork

Kelly Lee Owens is a Welsh electronic musician and producer, who skilfully combines multiple genres in one perfectly formed album. This is a beautiful piece of work, and ideal for evening listening.

One track features vocals from John Cale in both English and Welsh, this collaboration and the inclusion of the Welsh language was a means to connect with her Welsh heritage.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Honey For Wounds (Ego Ella May)

As the title suggests, this album is one to soothe troubled spirits in a challenging world, even when addressing tough issues in today’s society. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Ego Ella May is a British songwriter and vocalist from South London. She has an all-encompassing love of music, which she channels into her own neo-soul and contemporary jazz compositions. She boasts a rich, mature sound, one that belies her years.

You can find the album on Bandcamp (and other streaming services) and an excellent review here.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple)

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Fiona Apple. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020. The album was recorded between 2015 and 2020, and released during the coronavirus pandemic.

The album is rooted in experimentation and improvisation. It’s a highly percussive album which resists categorization, it could be described as genre-straddling.

While conventional instruments, such as pianos and drum sets, do appear, the album also features prominent use of non-musical found objects as percussion. Apple described the result as “percussion orchestras”. These industrial-like rhythms are contrasted against traditional melodies, and the upbeat songs often subvert traditional pop structures. (Wikipedia)

The album explores freedom from oppression, and its title comes from a line in the TV drama series The Fall. Apple has identified its core message as: “Fetch the f***ing bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation you’re in”.

The album also discusses Apple’s complex relationships with other women and other personal experiences, including bullying and sexual assault. It has nevertheless been referred to as Apple’s most humorous album. (Wikipedia)

Many have found its exploration of confinement timely. It’s also been described as an instant classic and her best work to date. I’ve certainly enjoyed listening to it, mainly while walking our dog Toby.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

When I Was Cruel (Elvis Costello)

One of my favourite albums of the 2000s decade (2002 to be specific) is When I Was Cruel by Elvis Costello. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, it doesn’t appear to be available for streaming on Spotify, although I have it on CD.

The video is the title track on Later with Jools Holland in 2002. This album might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but here is a singer-songwriter at the top of his game, an album that repays careful and repeated listens.

Favourite Albums of 2016 Part 2

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In any normal year The Ship by Brian Eno would be my favourite album of the year but for three outstanding albums released in 2016 which top it.

All my top three albums deserve the number one spot, and each of them have been number one at some time in the last few weeks. So I’m going to bottle out and give all three joint number one status, listing in order of release. They each have qualities that make them deserving of being number one.

David Bowie‘s twenty-fifth and final studio album Blackstar was released on his 69th birthday Friday 8 January 2016, two days later his death was announced. Blackstar is his swan song and parting gift. It’s a remarkable piece of work and the track Lazarus is my favourite single track of the year. The picture is imagery from the album simply because, of the three albums, this is the most significant.

Radiohead‘s ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool was released in May with minimal promotion, namely two songs and associated videos the week before. Several songs date back a number of years, one right back to 1995. It can be described as an art-rock album, notable for acoustic guitar and piano timbres and some wonderful choral and string arrangements.

The third album in my top three is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds‘ sixteenth studio album Skeleton Tree, a follow-up to their excellent 2013 album Push the Sky Away (my favourite album of that year). The album is not an easy listen, but worth the effort. Most of the album had been written at the time of Cave’s son’s death, but several lyrics were amended by Cave during subsequent recording sessions and feature themes of death, loss and personal grief (Wikipedia).

Let me know what you think of my choices, and why not share your favourites?