Tag Archive | "The Magnetic Fields"

Top 20 Albums of 2017 – Part Two

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Top 20 Albums of 2017 – Part Two

Posted on 20 December 2017 by Joe

Welcome to the second part of our end of year round up of the best albums 2017. This latest instalment reveals who has earned a coveted place in our top ten. The first part (20-11) can be found here

10. The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir

Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir

In which Stephin Merritt celebrates his 50th birthday by writing an auto-biographical song for each year since his birth. The results are pretty great and it is his best hit-rate since 69 Love Songs in 1999. Sprawling concept albums clearly suit him.

9. Guided By Voices – August By Cake

Guided By Voices

This 32 track double album is the 100th album that GBV frontman Robert Pollard has released. It is also the first album released with the latest Guided By Voices line-up, which brings Doug Gillard’s guitar skills back to the fold. Every band member gets some songs on this one, and the results are typically uneven in excellent GBV fashion.

8. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland


Perhaps the only act that can compete with Robert Pollard’s production rate is Australian psychedelic rock outfit King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. They set themselves the ambitious task of releasing five albums this year, with a fifth due to be released “very very late in the year” according to frontman Stu Mackenzie.

Of the four released so far this is our favourite for our best albums 2017 list – full of prog rock/jazz treats like 10 minute opener Crumbing Castle and psyche pop gems such as Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet. And what’s more it is available as a free download.

7. Mile Me Deaf – Alien Age


Sound the breakthough album klaxon. Wolfgang Möstl’s Mile Me Deaf act  has always been experimental but they are on the cusp of the big time on the basis of this Best album 2017 release

On previous album’s he’s been looking to push the boundaries of indie rock and guitar pop. Here he’s pushed, then smashed his way past them, veering off into trip hop, dub, jazz, and ambient. Above all, as XTC once proudly sang, This is Pop. Lead single Blowout is a great jumping in point for this entry into our Best albums 2017 list . Read our full review here.

6. The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody


This is best Lips release since they unleashed Yoshimi on those evil bastard pink robots during their last pop phase. After the mildly entertaining albums Terror and the awful Embyronic, Wayne Coyne and co have gone accessible again, with new classics such as How?? and There Should Be Unicorns among their best ever. Read our full review here.

5. Girl Ray – Earl Grey

Girl Ray - Earl Grey

We are delighted to include this impressive debut from Girl Ray, a quirky lo-fi pop trio from North London. This will particularly appeal to fans for Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci with Don’t Go Back at Ten among our favorites. Read our full review here.

4. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

LCD Soundsystem

The LCD Soundsystem split didn’t last too long, and this album is a high-quality return by the band to recording. The sound is unmistakably LCD Soundsystem (even down to the usual influences) and there are a few playful tracks among some slightly sombre numbers. This is a welcome entry into our best albums 2017 top ten.

3. Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock


It’s taken 21 albums but Robyn Hitchcock has finally gone down the self-titled route for a release, which by happy coincidence just happens to be one of his best in years.

From its purple, cat stroking, cover to its backwards guitars, it is a psychedelic explosion of awesomeness, with oodles of noodles of nods to the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The twinkling, shiny pop of Mad Shelley’s Letterbox is a particular highlight. Read our full review here.

2. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder


Just like the Flaming Lips, the almighty Canadian collective of Broken Social Scene also saw a return to form in 2017. The return of Leslie Feist to the line up takes them back to their early hey-day, especially with her jaw droppingly awesome vocals on the title track.

New member Ariel Engle, who takes lead vocal duties on Stay Happy, is another impressive addition. While Halfway Home is A fantastic alternative rock anthem that shows just how good this album is within their already prolific two decade spanning back catalogue.

1. Eyelids – OR

Eyelids Or

Featuring members of the Decemberists, Guided by Voices and Stephen Malkmus’ Jicks, Eyelids have leapt to the top of our list thanks to their sweet, jangly melodies on tracks such as Falling Eyes.

This second release from the band also adds ex-REM man Peter Buck into the mix as producer to give it extra class and a 1980s alternative rock feel. A triumph and deserved number one album in our best albums 2017 list. Read our full review here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers


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Arthur in Colour – Malatrophy EP

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Arthur in Colour – Malatrophy EP

Posted on 30 November 2012 by Joe

Tip for bands looking to get their EP reviewed – send us a personal hand written letter and include a picture of a rabbit drunk on tea on the cover and you’ll rise to the top of the pile. London five piece Arthur in Colour did just that, inviting us to review their debut five track EP Malatropy EP.

We are told their music has been compared to The Magnetic Fields and Belle and Sebastian and can’t argue with that. The band’s leader Arthur Sharpe’s deep throaty  vocals are more than a little reminiscent of The Magnetic Fields Stephin Merrit. But while the tracks he takes lead vocal duties on are very 69 Love Song era Magnetic Fields there is a subtle and welcome difference. Perhaps its being London based that gives them an added sense of English eccentricity. This is particularly noticeable on final and best track One In A Million, which sounds like Belle and Sebastian does Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. A marvellous heart warming, sing along  that warmed the cockles of my soul on the cold, winter morning this EP arrived through my door.

Elsewhere on the EP another high point is the hooky indie pop of The Ghost of the Town, in which the band’s Lizzie Owens takes lead vocal duties. Great voice and great pop song.


For more information visit here.

by Joe Lepper


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The Smittens – Believe Me

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The Smittens – Believe Me

Posted on 18 July 2012 by Joe

Fresh from an enjoyable set at this year’s Indietracks festival, Vermont’s The Smittens are this month releasing their fourth album Believe Me. In true indiepop fashion, the release will be on clear 12’ vinyl on Fika Recordings, limited to 500 copies and complete with a digital download code, a recipe for cider-glazed doughnuts and a bag of rooibos tea (we kid you not). You can also buy a digital download version only but the former format sounds a lot more interesting.

Believe Me showcases the best and worst aspects of the band. They craft  bittersweet indie pop, have genuine emotion when they sing and seem like a lot of fun. The problem though is that in sticking to the twee-indiepop path they have chosen to walk  so rigidly, they sound  just too similar  to their obvious influences, most notably The Magnetic Fields and Scottish twee-sters The Pastels . Along the way they have seemingly forgotten to be their own band.

We had a similar problem with Allo Darlin’s new album Europe this year. Sure the songs were good and the musicianship was great, but we’d heard it all before.  If you want to hear what our benchmark is for interesting, original indie pop  then Isle of Dogs by London’s Tigercats, or the self-titled debut by Brooklyn’s Hospitality are pretty good examples.

Anyway, back to The Smittens. Even though it sounds a lot like The Magnetic Fields and doesn’t push the boundaries of indie pop one jot, it’s still a fine and nice listen.

Typing, texting is an enjoyable ditty to start with with, some nice (that word again) three part harmonies and keyboard arrangements but by the second track Burning Streets of Rome I’m finding myself drifting a little; I’m not thinking “what a good song”, but “gosh, doesn’t Smittens singer Max Andrucki’s baritone sound an awful lot like The Magnetic Field’s Stephin Merritt.”

I’m back with them by the third track, Turn The Music Up, which has a good enough riff to keep me interested. And from fourth track First Bus till the end I’m less cynical, feeling pretty darn guilty about thinking they were just a Magnetic Fields rip-off and starting to warm to their sunny take on the whole indie pop genre. As much as I hate the word twee, The Smittens are surely up there with the twee-est bands around, although  they prefer the word ‘bubblegum’ to describe their pop, whatever difference that makes.

Despite my reservations I like this album,  and from what I can tell from those who have seen them live, they seem a likeable bunch as well, which is just enough to make up for their career- crippling lack of originality. The doughnut recipe and tea have also helped sway me.


by Joe Lepper




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Top 10 – The Magnetic Fields

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Top 10 – The Magnetic Fields

Posted on 11 March 2012 by Dorian

With an album released this week and a slot at the ATP festival later today it seemed like the perfect excuse to present our top 10 tracks by The Magnetic Fields.

It would be easy to pick all 10 tracks from the band’s career defining 69 Love Songs album, so we have chosen to concentrate on their other releases. This top 10 presents one song from each of the band’s other main releases in their 22 year career.

100,000 Fireflies

The debut album, with all vocals by Susan Anway, was a patchy affair but this track is one of the best of the band’s career.


The Bus, the last album to feature Anway, was more consistent that the debut and ‘Candy’ is one of the stand-out tracks.

Lonely Highway

The Charm Of  The Highway Strip can divide listeners with the country theme and sounds among the electronics, but it is one of my favourites and this is the lead track.

Strange Powers

Album number four, Holiday, was their most consistent  to date and contains some of Merritt’s best songwriting. This rare early live footage is a real treat.

Love Is Lighter Than Air

This track, from Get Lost, was covered by The Divine Comedy on some editions of their 1997 release A Short Album About Love.

Love Goes Home To Paris In  The Spring

This song is the only non-album track in the list heralding from the 1996 EP The House Of Tomorrow.

It’s Only Time

Coming after 69 Love Songs, the economically titled, i was always going to struggle to please, but several of the songs included were among Merritt’s best.

California Girls

I find the Jesus and Mary Chain homage fuzz and reverb on Distortion difficult to listen to all the way through, but individual tracks sound pretty great as this song demonstrates.

You Must Be Out Of Your Mind

The opening song from the folk oriented Realism, this track features some of Merritt’s best pithy lyrics and a beautiful melody.

Andrew In Drag

An excellent single from the new album, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea, and one that actually features an official video.

Compiled by Dorian Rogers



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The Magnetic Fields – Love At The Bottom Of The Sea

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The Magnetic Fields – Love At The Bottom Of The Sea

Posted on 04 March 2012 by Dorian

Love At The Bottom Of The Sea is the 10th album by Stephin Merritt’s Magnetic Fields, and his first for 13 years to use synths in the recording. More significantly it is the first album since 1995’s Get Lost to not be based around a single thematic concept. After the career defining 69 Love Songs the “no-synths” trio based around the first-person singular (I), the Jesus And Mary Chain (Distortion) and twee folk (Realism) have all had great moments but been a little disappointing. Recent interviews with Merritt have seen him admitting that 69 Love Songs was meant to be career defining moment and he knows that his work will never live up to it. Looking a this album from that perspective takes the pressure off the band, but also encourages you to listen to the album on its own merits.

Love at the Bottom of the Sea

The return of synths, and lack of an obvious theme, definitely mark the return of a more “classic” Magnetic Fields sound and feels like Merritt is enjoying the relative freedom this brings. The result is his most enjoyable set of songs since (if we take 69 Love Songs out of the equation) Get Lost, a full 17 years ago. It is also a very economical set with the songs all sitting just over the two minute mark, the longest being 2:37, and that reflects a desire to produce classic pop.

Lead single ‘Andrew In Drag’ is catchy pop at its best and features typically sexually ambivalent lyrics  against a classic synths and acoustic instrumental backing. A more conventional artist would have lead off the album with that track but Merritt chose the bitchy ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face’  sung by serial collaborator Shirley Simms to open proceedings.

The opening third of the album is great and features typically excellent lyics among the familiar sounds and arrangements (truth be told the return of synths is not as significant a change of sound and you might think) and any fan of the band will find much to enjoy. The middle third is more of a challenge, but reveals more rewards with each listen. My first response to this section wasn’t positive, but a few more listens and I had an almost total change of heart. Some tracks have pretty difficult moments, I’m am still unconvinced by the dischord in ‘I’ve Run Away To Join The Fairies’ but a Stephin Merritt is never designed to be a totally easy ride. Even 69 Love Songs has a few track that I am forced to skip on each listen.

Towards the end of the album we have some of the best songs, and songs that return to musical themes that Merritt has played with before on more than one occasion. ‘I Don’t Like Your Tone’ could be an  out-take 69 Love Songs and ‘Quick’ sounds so familiar that you wonder if it has appeared on another album already. This matters little, however, as Merritt is very open about reworking ideas and these are two of the best songs on the album.

Scoring an album like this is a difficult one, I like the record a lot but I know that it isn’t going to be for everyone. It is unlikely to convert a non-believer to The Magnetic Fields and is not the best starting point for a new-comer (there really is only one place to start). However, if you like the band, or just want to hear one of the best songwriters around creating some truly unique work, then you could do a lot worse than give this album a spin.


By Dorian Rogers



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Album Releases To Watch Out For In 2012

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Album Releases To Watch Out For In 2012

Posted on 14 December 2011 by Joe

Here’s Neon Filler’s five key album releases to look out for during those first few cold months of 2012. Looks like it’s going to be a good year for independent and alternative music releases with some contenders for our end of year best of 2012 list already beginning to emerge.

Guided by Voices –  Let’s Go Eat the Factory

Release date: January 1, 2012 (global outside US). Label: Fire Records

In 2010 the classic Guided By Voices line up of Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos and Kevin Fennell reunited for a series of shows in the US. But this was no mere trip down memory lane. The band has also been working on new material and plan to release two albums in early 2012. The first of these is Let’s Go Eat the Factory, which includes the single The Unsinkable Fats Domino. We’ve been given an exclusive  listen and according to our reviewer it’s a “21 song set of vintage Guided By Voices lo-fi pop brilliance.” Read our full review here.

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Release date: January 24, 2012. Label:  Wichita Recordings

This Swedish duo, who are still only young and were made moderately famous on YouTube a couple of years ago for their cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,  have already released two impressive albums. This, their third album, which has been produced by Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes, is set to  take them to the big time. The title track video has already been released and shows a new depth to their music. What’s more their vocals sound better than ever.

The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

Release date: February 6, 2012. Label: Fat Cat Records

Forget the Night Ahead, the last album by this powerful, moody Scottish band made our Top Ten Albums of 2009 list. It quite simply blew us away.

We’ve had a listen to their next album. They’ve upped the production quality and clearly listened to a few later Depeche Mode albums but  have lost none of their power. The full track list is: ‘Alphabet’/ ‘Dead City’/ ‘Sick’/ ‘Don’t Move’/ ‘Nil’/ ‘Don’t Look At Me’/ ‘Not Sleeping’/ ‘Another Bed’/ ‘Kill It In The Morning’.

Shearwater – Animal Joy

Release date: February 13, 2012. Label: Sub Pop

Shearwater, the band formed by members of Okkervil River and now a full time project for its singer and chief songwriter Jonathan Meiburg, have moved label to the mighty Sub Pop but look set to lose none of their trademark beauty. It’s all about nature with Shearwater, with their last three albums focusing on environmental splendour and tragedy. Animal Joy was recorded in their native Texas, includes the track Breaking the Yearlings and was produced by Danny Reisch. Their previous two albums have both been listed in our 2008 and 2010 end of year lists. We are already predicting a placing in our 2012 list for Animal Joy from what we’ve heard.

The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Release Date: March 5 (UK) March 6 (US). Label: Domino (UK), Merge Records (US)

The Magnetic Fields 1999 classic album 69 Love Songs reached the top 10 in our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Music Albums list. Love at the Bottom of the Sea marks a return to Merge, the US label that released 69 Love Songs.

This move bodes well for another stellar release from Stephin Merritt and his band. Contributors include Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, John Woo, Shirley Simms, Johny Blood, and Daniel Handler. Merritt has promised a mixture of synth and acoustic instruments this time round.

Compiled by Joe Lepper

See Also: Top 10 bands to watch out for in 2012.


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Stephin Merritt – Obscurities

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Stephin Merritt – Obscurities

Posted on 20 September 2011 by Dorian

Stephin Merritt is best known to most in the guise of the Magnetic Fields, a band that released the superb 69 Love Songs. The album was critically acclaimed, made number 2 in our Top 100 albums list, and has proved to be a hard act to follow. Since it was released Merritt has spread himself a little thinly over a number of different releases by The 6ths, The Gothic Archies, The Future Bible Heroes and under his own name. His latter Magnetic Fields albums have remained interesting, with a number of stand-out tracks, but have been a bit single minded at times.

For a fan like me they have all been releases worth investing in, offering enough flashes of brilliance to justify the cover price, and I can forgive him having trouble matching an album that had as many ideas as most artists manage in a career.

Stephin Merritt - Obscurities

His latest release, Obscurities, collects b-sides, compilation tracks, alternative versions and unreleased songs from his time recording for Merge records in 1994-1999 and earlier. Merritt is the only musician on most of the tracks, with some drum and vocal contributions from other artists, and the bulk of the songs have a home recorded feel. Listening to a couple of the songs you understand why they weren’t used on a full album release, but in the most part the quality of tracks is high, and the selection never less than interesting.

‘Forever and a Day’, ‘The Song From Venus’, and ‘When You’re Young and in Love’ aren’t the albums strongest tracks, but they do leave you wondering how they might have turned out if he had completed the sci-fi musical, of which they were meant to be part, had been completed in collaboration with Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket). ‘Yet Another Girl’ is a piece of bouncy synth pop that is made more interesting by having Young Marble Giants’ Stuart Moxham on vocals (under the 6ths moniker). ‘You Are Not My Mother and I Want to Go Home’ is another interesting curio, written for the audio-book of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

Stephin Merritt

The real joy of this record is hearing the development and perfecting of the Merritt sound as a work in progress. Better examples of some of the songs can be heard on full magnetic Fields albums, but hearing the experimentation and refinement as a work in progress is fascinating.

Two of the songs here appear in different forms of official Magnetic Fields releases, and are two of the best tracks on the compilation. ‘I Don’t Believe You’ isn’t quite the match of the version that appeared on the synth-free I album, but it is still a great track and the addition of synths and 8-bit video game sounds give it a different feel. ‘Take Ecstasy With Me’, a track that appeared on Holiday, is sung here by the original Magnetic Fields vocalist Susan Amway and is superior to the album version.

This is a difficult album to score or fully recommend, it certainly isn’t a good starting point for people new to Merritt’s work, and it won’t appeal to everyone who loved 69 Love Songs. However, if you are a more committed fan of his work, and want to delve a little bit deeper into his catalogue, then you will find a lot to enjoy. It is a compilation that acts as a great companion piece to the career of this most singular and unusual musical talent.


By Dorian Rogers


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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

So here it is. After two months of releasing this list in stages we’ve finally arrived at our Top 10 indie and alternative albums. Hope you enjoy this final instalment. Feel free to browse through the rest of the top 100 here and leave a comment about some of your favourites.

10. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

This debut by The Stone Roses is an old fashioned album, full of 1960s influences. This is perhaps unsurprising given it was produced by John Leckie, whose previous efforts include two albums by XTC’s psychedelic alter egos Dukes of Stratosphear. Yet in 1989 when it was released it sounded like the most exciting and different album for years.  Decades on and it’s lost none of its energy and is arguably the best album to emerge from the so called ‘baggy’ scene of late 1980s Manchester. Highlights include the indie-dancebility of final track ‘I Am The Resurrection’, ‘Waterfall ‘and its backwards companion piece ‘Don’t Stop’, and ‘She Bangs the Drum’. In an interview with Quietus Leckie, who is the most name checked producer in our Top 100, explains that the album’s success was down to the band’s confidence and open minded approach to making music. “They seemed to have had experience, they were very well rehearsed and they wanted to try lots of things. But they weren’t frightened,” says Leckie.

9. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

After an underwhelming debut with 1995’s AM Jeff Tweedy’s post-Uncle Tupelo band have released a string of brilliant records from 1996’s Being There through to 2009’s Wilco (The Album). Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the album that demonstrates all that is good about America’s best rock n roll band. Recorded with a line-up that featured the late Jay Bennett, the multi-instrumentalist who would leave the band prior to the albums release (tensions during the recording are brilliantly documented in Sam Jones’ film ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’). The album earned the band the tag of the alt-country Radiohead due to the more experimental production techniques and sounds used by producer Jim O’Rourke. The albums reputation as being challenging is more down to the record labels reaction (and refusal to release it) than it is to the songs themselves. ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ has a weird feel and an erratic beat and ‘Radio Cure’ has an uncomfortable starkness but most of the record is very accessible and features some of the bands best realised songs. ‘Kamera’, ‘War On War’, ‘I’m The Man That Loves You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ are all great catchy tunes that sit comfortably with the more cerebral tracks.

8. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand

Bee Thousand, originally released in 1994, represented a turning point for Robert Pollard’s Guided By Voices. It was intended as the band’s swansong due to the lack of attention and money their previous five albums had garnered. The album was recorded in various basements, rather than the studio, and was primarily the work of Pollard and Tobin Sprout (with various members of the “classic line-up” pitching in). The songs were recorded in just a few takes on to simple 4-track equipment and the rough and ready sound is one of the album’s charms. Guided By Voices albums from this time are an acquired taste, with half formed song snippets sitting alongside  rough diamond pop classics like ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’. However, this is all part of the magic formula that makes Bee Thousand so special. There are no songwriters out there like Robert Pollard, no bands like Guided By Voices and no albums like Bee Thousand – this is a pretty special record.

7. The B-52s- The B-52s

Two years after performing their first gig at a Valentine’s Day party in 1977 in their hometown of Georgia, Athens, the B-52s self titled debut hit the stores. It was a sleeper hit in 1979 reaching 59 in the US Billboard 200 but has since been widely recognised as one of the best alternative albums of all time. Blending new wave, punk, 1950’s sci-fi kitsch and Duane Eddy style guitar playing the tracks have a strange timeless feel. Above all they are fun. There’s some silly stuff like ‘Rock Lobster’, but tracks like ‘Hero Worship’ and ‘Dance This Mess Around’ are serious, emotional stuff and showcase the powerful vocal talents of singer Cindy Wilson. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.

6. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

Sufjan Stevens probably regrets his claim that he would release an album for every American state, a feat that would be difficult to achieve and probably not an enjoyable or ultimately successful task. Illinois is his second and, thus far, last in the series. Nobody likes a show-off but it is hard to resent Steven’s ability to play every instrument under the sun when he produces music as wonderful as this in the process. The album covers a sprawling 22 eccentrically titled tracks ranging from the soft and sombre (‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’) to the exuberant and celebratory (‘Come on! Feel the Illinoise!: Pt. 1: The World’s Columbian Exposition’). The album tells an expansive story about the people, places and history of the state and listening to the album is like being taken on an exciting road trip. The brilliant ‘Chicago’ has been used on many a soundtrack, but for me the desert island pick from the album is ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ a song so sad and beautifully played that it made it to number 1 in our Top 10 Tearjerkers chart.

5. Lemonheads – Shame About Ray

Shame About Ray from 1992 is a masterclass in making two to three minute pop songs. Across its tight-as-you-like 12 tracks (bumped to 13 on reissues to include their excellent cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’) each is perfect indie pop. An album you can listen to from start to finish can be rare thing, but an album with 12 (13) potential singles that still retains an alternative edge is worthy of a Top Ten place in anyone’s indie and alternative books. The title track is an undoubted highlight, but each has its own merit, from the hooky ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ to the cover of ‘Frank Mills’, from the film and stage play Hair. We’ve been listening to this a lot in preparing for this list and are staggered each time at the energy and consistency of  this fifth album from the band

4. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes

When Gordon Gano, Victor DeLorenzo and Brian Ritchie took their busking trio intro the studio to record their debut album it is unlikely that they could have realised what an iconic record they were producing. Their acoustic blend of Lou Reed, the Modern Lovers and punk crackles with youthful angst and pent up anger over the tens songs here. ‘Blister In The Sun’ must be the most shamelessly ripped off tune in advertising and bursts the album into life, and ‘Add It Up’ stands as an indie disco classic due to the stark dropping of the f-bomb early on in the track. The album has more subtle moments and album closer ‘Good Feeling’ is sad, simple and honest. The band would release more good songs throughout their career but they could never quite match up to a debut as perfect as this one. The 20th anniversary reissue is a lovely package with demos, early singles and a live concert on the second disc.

3. XTC – Drums and Wires

Following the departure of keyboardist Barry Andrews in 1978 XTC opted for guitarist and fellow Swindon resident Dave Gregory to replace him. It turned into the making of the band, transforming XTC from a quirky, tight new wave outfit to a bonafide great English rock and pop act. Drums and Wires from 1979 was the first album to feature Gregory and his 1960s influenced electric guitar style as well as a new bigger drums sound, hence the title. It also gave the band far greater chart prominence through singles such as ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ , while losing none of their creativity.  Tracks such as ‘Complicated Game’ and Roads Girdle the Globe’ are among the most inventive you will hear in this Top 100. Amazing what a band can achieve with some drums and a bunch of wires. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

2. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

Stephin Merritt originally conceived this album as being 100 Love Songs before scaling back the idea out of practicality as well as adopting the rather appropriately more salacious number of tracks. Released as triple album, each disc containing 23 songs, it was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Each track deals with a different aspect of love and relationships and the album covers a wide range of styles from piano ballads to synth-pop to jazz to noise and beyond. Merritt’s wry gay new Yorker personality could overwhelm you over so many tracks and he wisely uses a team of vocalists (two male, two female) to record a selection of the songs. This adds depth to the record but also a more universal feel; relationships are kept unclear so that as a listener you can’t tell if the protagonist is singing to another man or woman. The result is that songs like the sprightly ‘I Need A New Heart’, the downbeat ‘I Don’t Believe In The Sun’ or the vicious ‘Yeah, Oh Yeah’ can speak to anyone.

1.The Clash  – London Calling

Tommy Tomkins excellent book on London Calling sums up the album perfectly as being about ” roots, with a sense of place.” For the band the roots were not just in London, but across the globe, especially through singer Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simenon’s love of Caribbean and US culture. The range of styles on London Calling from punk to rock to blues to reggae showed The Clash to be arguably the most mature and musical act to emerge from the UK punk scene. This double album has gone on to receive widespread critical acclaim and we are delighted to add our voices to that. From the pounding bass line of the title track, heartfelt lyrics of ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ and pop savvyness of ‘Train in Vain’ London Calling still thrills us decades after its 1979 release. Read our full review of London Calling here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers


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The Magnetic Fields – Realism

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

When Stephin Merritt released 69 Love Songs he made one big mistake, he’d produced an album so good that he was unlikely to ever better it. In the subsequent years he has released some interesting, although not always successful, side projects and a couple of Magnetic Fields albums that have failed to set the world alight.

One of the problems has been a decision to base his albums on a strict cohesive theme. The follow up to 69 Love Songs, I, featured songs that all began with the titular letter and was the first to have the “no synths” stamp. Distortion was a tribute to the Jesus and Mary Chain and rapped all the songs in fuzz and feedback.

Realism continues in the same slightly problematic vein, the theme this time being a focus on folky instrumentation and a softer sound. Like the two albums before it is manages to be good without hitting anything like the greatness that Merritt is capable of.

The album starts well with ‘You Must Be Out Of Your Mind’ an unmistakeable Magnetic Fields melody with Merritt’s withering put downs. “I no longer drink enough to think you’re witty” he sings to a former lover.

Your appreciation of the album as a whole is likely to depend to some extent on your tolerance for campness. This album is by far the campest he has produced under the Magnetic Fields moniker. ‘The Doll’s Tea Party’ followed by ‘Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree’ could be a camp coupling too far for many listeners. The listener who perseveres will hear one of the albums high points, the melancholy ‘Walk A Lonely Road’.

The final third of the album is strong with the fun ‘Dada Polka’ and the mournful ‘From A Sinking Boat’ closing the album with some real quality.

It is an accomplished album with some real variety on show in the song writing. If Merritt would drop his obsession with setting restrictive themes for his albums, and allowed the variety of sound and arrangement that made 69 Love Songs such a success, then it would be that much better. As it is we have a good album produced by a pretty original and unique figure.

I hope that he decides to allow synths on his next album and embraces the grand scope of ideas that made 69 Love Songs such an amazing album. Until then Realism will do the job just fine



By Dorian Rogers, Jan 2010


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