Year end album round-ups are no longer a consensus of the nation’s listening experience. We live in a hyper fragmented world — a total niche fest. I’ve read about 50 lists so far and see few if any of my personal favorites on any of em. My year-end list is sonic comfort food for the soul. If you’re a child of the 80’s, there is a lot below that you might like. The only reason Bowie’s Blackstar didn’t make the cut is I’ve been too gutted by his passing and Prince’s death to listen to it. Even once. Soon I will be ready, but not now. George Michael’s Unplugged is on as I type this and his catalog will be in heavy rotation for a while. In terms of total hours, I spent half the year listening to Prince’s vault.
You also won’t see Beyonce on this list. Look at virtually every other mass media top albums list and you would think Lemonade was the greatest artistic work in the history of everything. I wound up writing a three paragraph indictment on the media’s obsession with celebrity over merit (Queen Bey, Trump, Kanye, Drake, Kardashian, etc.), but I decided to save that for a separate post. Let’s focus on the best music from the year that was.
Music helped me navigate a really rough year; some of my favorite artists released great new works and some bold new acts emerged to carry the torch for the dearly departed. Out of 87 albums purchased (retail therapy) and more than 200 others I perused or fully listened to for Popdose reviews in 2016, here are the best of the bunch:
THE TOP ALBUMS OF 2016
1.) Cait Brennan • Debutante
Debutante was the first new album I listened to in 2016 and it was a doozy; imagine Bowie fronting the Beach Boys, high on Cheap Trick, Donnie Iris and Sweet records, produced by Jeff Lynne. Her real life story, told in one of my all-time favorite pieces written for Popdose, was as epic as her songs. Finances, fate and health issues kept Brennan and her gonzo mastermind producer, Fernando Perdomo, from touring and promoting the record beyond the coasts; instead, they outraced the ticking clock by recording a sophomore album, Jinx, a third record, Introducing The Breakdown According to Cait Brennan, some demoes at the behest of Sire Records legend Seymour Stein for a deal that fell through, and an untitled album at Ardent Studios (Big Star, Led Zep, Cheap Trick, The Replacements) in Memphis. So while Cait creates a vault to rival Prince’s, there is plenty of time to return to the 13 masterful Debutante tracks that began it all.
2.) Eliot Sumner • Information
I was already obsessed with this dark, epic masterpiece before I realized there was a reason she kinda, sorta sounds like a young Sting. Track after track gets bigger, bolder and more ambitious than the one before. Information is a huge album, a hurricane fueled by big timeless albums that came before it, including The Police’s Synchronicity, Peter Gabriel’s So, Gotye Making Mirrors, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love and Delta Spirit’s self-titled third record. This is Sumner’s second album, following up on the different, but fantastic The Constant billed under the moniker I Blame Coco. Like her dad was in 1982, Sumner is one of the industry’s most exciting artists at the dawn of a big career.
3.) Against Me! • Shape Shift With Me
Laura Jane Grace authored the year’s best rock and roll memoir, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout. It told the tale of a thousand shitty gigs in a hundred pretty cities as the band crawled from violent gigs in abandoned warehouses and druggie-packed basements before failing up to disastrous headline tours, an ill-fated million dollar record deal and a coulda gone better tour with Foo Fighters. It weaves in the creation stories of their last three albums — each one topped my Best Album List in their respective years. Oh yeah, and like me, the lead singer struggled with gender dysphoria. Charli XCX and Avril Lavigne can cop a punk rock attitude til the cows come home, but Laura Jane Grace truly lived it, and that do or die energy drives each amazing track her band gets on tape and every white knuckle gig they play on stage. Shape Shift With Me is a another artistically genius, commercially underselling, rock record for the ages. It literally begins with a rage against the machine, said machine being the ‘ProVision L-3’ that TSA uses to screen people — a particularly sensitive topic for women and trans women alike. The screamo tone of the track throws back to the early 80’s hardcore scene. The rest of the album veers back to the blistering indie rock/punk sound the band has perfected in the past 10 years, kindred more to Dropkick Murphys and Green Day than what the media calls punk these days. That said, the joyously sinister love song, ‘Rebecca’, could even give chart topping pop punkers 5 Seconds of Summer a run for their money.
A 2017 tour opening for Green Day could help cement Against Me! as one of the biggest and best rock bands on the planet.
4.) Nada Surf • You Know Who You Are/Peaceful Ghosts
Indie darlings Nada Surf are having a really good year. You Know Who You Are (on sale for $5 at presstime) lit up the spring of 2016 with some of the band’s best-ever power pop songs; the crackling energy that drove their early albums High/Low and The Proximity Effect is back. Matthew Caws’ poignant lyrics pack just as much of a punch as the band’s monster hooks.
In the fall, Nada Surf surprised their fans with a live recording, Peaceful Ghosts, recorded over the summer in Austria with the Babelsburg Film Orchestra. While everyone from Guns & Roses to Metallica has done the orchestral thing to varying success, Ghosts’ nuanced score expands, enriches and elevates new songs and Nada Surf classics without overpowering them. The end result is so organic, I would imagine the band wanting to take the orchestra on the road from now on. I highly recommend putting these two CDs on a really good stereo to enjoy one of the top bands in modern rock as they continue to up their game.
5.) Angela Perley & The Howlin’ Moons • Homemade Vision
I grew up in Ohio and certainly don’t miss the winters and the high percentage of Trump supporters, but I do miss missing out on some of the best music in the country, including some bands that have yet to break big on the national stage like Cleveland’s The Modern Electric and Angela Perley & The Howlin’ Moons from Columbus. Perley’s last album, Hey Kid, has been steadily inching its way up my all-time Top 100 Albums list. Her latest, Homemade Vision, was a true ray of light in a very dark year. Rock, cow punk, honky tonk and Western music all co-mingle under the Perley & Co.’s beautiful Howlin’ Moon.
6.) Haley Reinhart • Better
On her second solo album away from a side-gig with Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox, Reinhart delivers one show-stopper after another. Jazz, soul, rock, pop, steampunk — when she steps up to the mic, anything is possible. Nobody can replace the late Sharon Jones, but Reinhart’s ability to command a Dap Kings-style horn section helps her take the torch and keep the party going. What could be Better than that?
7.) Jane Siberry • Angels Bend Closer
As a devout atheist, it seemed the last album I would find comfort and solace in would be so overtly religious. ‘Send Me Someone To Love’ is simultaneously joyous and heartbreaking, which just about sums up my year. I clung to it like a life preserver in a stormy relationship sea these past few rough months. Angels Bend Closer is a great gateway drug for new fans and a stellar return to form for fans of Jane’s big label run in the 80’s and 90’s.
Read my complete Popdose review.
8.) Lady Gaga • Joanne
For a while, Gagaloo got caught up in the Madonna riptide of music diva celebrity. Every Haus of Gaga outfit had to be more outrageous than the next. Every tour had to be be bigger and more audacious. It didn’t take too long for her to lose sight of the plot, abandon her Little Monsters, hang with celebrities and jump the shark with a meat dress. And then some time well spent with Tony Bennett reminder her that we loved her all along for one simple reason — she is one of the best singers and songwriters of the era. Joanne brings Lady Gaga back full circle to the days when Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta rocked coffee houses to their very foundation with her voice and piano. It includes a new dancefloor smash, ‘A-YO’, and plenty of meaty deep cuts to warm the soul throughout the long cold winter.
9.) Steven Page • Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct
OK, the album title sounds like the verse from a 12 Step Program, and perhaps that’s apt. While I wish the fellas would all mug and make up, Page’s winning solo albums deliver the goods I would want from a reunited band anyway. Heal sounds more like classic Barenaked Ladies album than the last few actual Barenaked Ladies albums. Page’s signature croon, dry wit and inventive songcraft are sharp as ever and there’s an urgency and lust for life in the melodies that makes for an captivating listen.
10.) Iggy Pop • Post Pop Depression/Live At Royal Albert Hall
I’ve already dedicated copious amounts of ink to Iggy Pop’s banner year, read it here, and it keeps getting better and better. I have yet to see Jim Jarmusch’s new documentary, Gimme Danger, but his new coffee table book — let that sink in for a minute, Iggy Pop has a coffee table book — just arrived and will keep me enthralled for months to come. Amazon has Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges on sale for $33 (normally $50.00) this week, jump on that shit while you can. It weighs a ton and is a ton of fun. But back to the music, Post Pop Depression was his first ever #1 album in the US, the Josh Homme collaboration delivered the intensity of scrappy young upstarts with the wisdom of a real wild life well lived. Don’t stop there, be sure to get the 2CD/DVD or Blu Ray concert set, Live at Royal Albert Hall, that perfectly documents Iggy’s greatest hits during that once in a lifetime tour. And he just dropped a new track, ‘Gold’, that already has a Golden Globe nomination.
11.) The Heavy • Hurt & The Merciless
If you love that big, meaty, sweaty, sax and Stax sound made famous by the Dap Kings’ work with Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse, then the Heavy should be in heavy rotation in your playlist. You all know their big hit, ‘How You Like Me Now?’ — and if you’ve never heard that track LOUD on a big stereo, followed by the sinister knicker soaker ‘Sixteen’, then you are missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. The new album, Hurt & The Merciless, keeps on swinging, delivering soulful, saxy, sinful, rockers guaranteed to shake your ass and get the blood rushing to your naughty bits.
12.) The Wonder Stuff • 30 Goes Around The Sun
The Wonder Stuff came and went in the late 80’s and early 90’s, delivering four flawless albums, including a few dozen of the era’s best singles including ‘A Wish Away’ and ‘On The Ropes’. And then a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity, they never went away. Miles Hunt popped out a few winning solo discs and then resurrected the brand and the band carried on. While Billy Pumpkin has tried a similar trick here in the states to much lesser success, Hunt’s Stuff 2.0, now fueled by powerhouse violinist Erica Nockalls, has delivered smashing album after smashing album, the latest title being a nod to how many years the band has been in business. 30 Goes Around the Sun is no retro affair, it is a modern British pop at its finest.
God is in the TV recently interviewed Hunt about each of the band’s five post-breakup albums, I highly suggest you read them all.
13.) Halo Circus • Bunny
POPDOSE had the honor of premiering one of the videos by Allison Iraheta’s fierce new band, Halo Circus, soon after a story we wrote about her and Haley Reinhart became one of our most-read features of the year. Don’t let the adorable name fool you, this Bunny packs one hell of a bite. Sung in English and Spanish, full throttle rockers, soulful ballads and a left-field pop gem co-penned by Duran Duran’s John Taylor coexist in epic harmony throughout the disc’s crackling 13 tracks. If the late Selena fronted Evanescence, that begins to zero in on Halo Circus’s epic sound. Hot on the heels of Iraheta’s blistering debut album, Bunny proves this red.. wait, red white and blue-maned superstar is really in a league of her own.
One of my favorite modern singer songwriters, Polly Scattergood, teamed with James Chapman (Maps) to create this haunting, lush and mesmerizing debut album. It was the perfect soundspace to enthrall fans of The Ravonettes, Beach House, Lush and My Bloody Valentine.
15.) Lydia Loveless • Real
Country music is rooted in heartbreak, but to get a hit song on the radio, all those sharp edges and pain points are usually sanded down to a blinding polish in the studio. Real is the title of Loveless’s latest album, and it’s also what sets her apart from the pack. Joy and heartache, longing and living feels real in every note she sings and plays. Like fellow Columbus, Ohio native Angela Perley (above), Loveless mixes rock, country and butt shaking boot stompers into her signature sound.
Read fellow Popdoser Annie Zaleski’s much more eloquent review on the AV Club.
16.) The Coral • Distance Inbetween
When the Coral were still scrappy young teens, they recorded a debut album with Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds; The Coral was a 60’s drenched masterpiece with inventive turns around every corner, it sold a half million copies and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. They’ve never really topped it, but their latest, Distance Inbetween, comes mighty close. Imagine 60’s soul and psychedelic rock filtered through the post Nirvana alternative 90’s and that’s kinda, sorta, the trip the Coral takes you on time and again.
17.) James • Girl at the End of the World
Much like The Wonder Stuff (above), James are having one hell of an after life. They broke up ages ago and then never really went away. Girl at the End of the World follows La Petite Mort (one of POPDOSE’s best albums of 2014) as one of the band’s best — ranking up there with Laid (1993) and Millionaires (1999). Tim Booth’s voice is as resonant as ever and the melodies are romantic, gorgeous and custom built for the festivals they’ve been headlining all year.
18.) Radiohead • A Moon Shaped Pool
Remember when Radiohead was like, the biggest, boldest band on the planet? Seems like forever ago doesn’t it? With OK Computer about to turn 20 and Kid A celebrating her Sweet 16, it’s been a while since they’ve done anything, well… new. All the dystopian bits and bops that cluttered Yorke’s solo work, Atoms for Peace, and The King of Limbs, kinda all sounded like cast offs from Kid A. I’ve been sitting around waiting, waiting for something to happen…. and then Radiohead dug deep and found it’s soul again. A Moon Shaped Pool jumpstarts the heartbeat buried beneath all of the technical recording innovation. With the computer, KO’d, the band is back.
19.) Banta • Dark Charms
Banta, led by the entrancing Sharaya Mikael, is one of the best new artists to emerge this year. Dark Charms presents a modern-day Fleetwood Mac, with LA’s Echo Park replacing Stevie & Lindsey’s Laurel Canyon. Mikeal recruited a modern day version of Prince’s Revolution to take off where Rilo Kiley left off as prime purveyors of the sunny Southern California sound.
Read Popdose’s interview with Banta.
20.) Matthew Logan Vasquez • Solicitor Returns
If the name Matthew Logan Vasquez doesn’t ring any bells, the sound of his band, the Delta Spirit, probably does. The stay classy San Diego indie darlings started off in the Americana scene but quickly rose like a phoenix to become one of the country’s most exciting, innovative and deliriously creative rock bands. Their 2012 self-titled album hit #1 on my year-end list as well as Billboard’s Heetseekers chart. 2014’s Into The Wide was just as ambitious, inching them closer and closer to the Top 40. After a winning side project, Middle Brother, and an underwhelming 2015 EP (‘Austin’, the title track was a maddening 17-minute rewrite of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’), I had no idea what to expect from this digital-only release. The best track from the EP, ‘Everything I Do Is Out’, brought all of its raucous good mojo over to the Solicitor Returns album, giving Delta Spirit fans a meaty album to tide them over until the band rises again.
21.) Sara Melson • Safe and Sound
A stone’s throw from Banta’s Echo Park (above), underneath the fading Hollywood sign, lies Beachwood Canyon, home to Sara Melson and Butterfly Child (see below). I first discovered Melson back in the day when Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe was giving rise to the likes of Sara Bareilles and Katy Perry. There was an unpolished edge to Melson’s singing voice and her earnest ballads and rockers. A solid, big label album on Nettwerk didn’t rock the charts as it should have, but Melson kept moving forward on her own. Safe and Sound is her third full-length, it is slow, sensual, sunny, stardust dark and stormy in all the right places.
22.) Ken Sharp • New Mourning
Music writer Ken Sharp is also a pretty ace songsmith himself, and his latest platter, New Mourning, was one of the year’s best power pop albums. Rick Springfield guests, Fernando Perdomo (Cait Brennan, #1 above) produces and Eric Carmen is a huge fan. If you like acts like Donnie Iris & The Cruisers, The Babys, Matthew Sweet, Cheap Trick and Material Issue, then New Mourning will be your new favourite album.
23.) Kaiser Chiefs • Stay Together
The Kaiser Chiefs had a perfectly fine post Brit Pop sound going on, right up there with Arctic Monkeys, the Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand among the best acts of the 2000’s; so why’d they go make a Duran Duran album? Heaven knows, but Stay Together works. This platter is slathered in sweet, sweet Roxy Music syrup. ‘We Stay Together’ is as delicious as big singles come. While 2016 certainly called for darker, angrier music, the Chiefs gave us nothing but love when we needed it most.
24. Ladyhawke • Wild Things
The only downside to Phillipa Margret “Pip” Brown’s stage name is you have to wade through a lot of movie-related links to find her delicious pop music online. Wild Things (another movie title) is equally search-unfriendly, but it’s worth the journey. This New Zealander singer/songwriter/musician/tour de force is three albums into a stellar music career. Where the first two albums were drenched in darker, deliciously sinister Joan Jett, Karen O, Siouxsie, and Robyn swagger, Wild Things is a brighter, lighter, more beautiful, almost OMD-esque affair.
25.) Shura • Nothing’s Real
Arianna Grande, Sia, Tove Lo and Gwen Stefani delivered some really good mainstream pop records this year, but the best of the bunch comes from a newcomer named Shura. Drenched in gorgeous vocals, 80’s synths and electro beats, Shura will take the edge off for Robyn fans waiting for the sequel to Body Talk; in many ways, Nothing’s Real is the first great Madonna record since 2000’s Music.
26.) ABC • The Lexicon of Love II
The Lexicon of Love II had bad idea written all over it, but the results were oh so right. Martin Fry, F-R-Y, revisited the holy city where it all began — without the original band — without mega-producer Trevor Horn — and somehow, he managed to once again capture lightning in a bottle. Orchestral arrangements from Anne Dudley (Art of Noise) bring that “over the top” 80’s magic to Fry’s soulful lamentations on life and love. Fry’s voice is flawless and producer Gary Stevenson does Horn, Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers proud with his glittering soundscapes.
27.) Kate Voegele • Canyonlands
Like Banta and Sara Melson above, Cleveland-native Kate Voegele calls Southern California home and exports its sunshine around the world with her sound. Voegele (with a rabid fanbase from her time on One Tree Hill) is by far the most commercially successful of the bunch, she’s been promoting Canyonlands at home and abroad for most of the year. As the title confesses, this is a straight-up Laurel Canyon record, continuing in the footsteps of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Buckingham Nicks. Kate previewed the epic ballad, ‘Middle of the Night Mind’, when she played Seattle last year (one of my fave concerts of the decade). Her ‘Ventura Highway’ isn’t a cover, but an equally beautiful ode to the land of sunsets and star-filled nights.
Eddie the Eagle turns out is NOT some animated kids classic, but the charming true life story of a British ski jumper. It’s playing on HBO and I highly recommend checking it out. The 80’s-set story leans heavily on classics you would expect in such a film, so FLY isn’t so much a soundtrack, but a tribute to the era and it’s shining stars. Producer Gary Barlow (Take That) recruits ringers from your favorite New Wave Hits of the 80’s compilation and co-pens smashing new tunes with them. Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) hits one of his career best with the anthemic ‘Ascension’ while Howard Jones adds ‘Eagle Will Fly Again’ to his long list of greatest hits. ABC, Nik Kershaw, Midge Ure, Kim Wilde, Go West, Heaven 17 and Paul Young are along for the ride; they’re in such top form you wonder why you haven’t been keeping up with them all this time.
Three of the most gorgeous voices in modern music, Neko Case, kd lang and Laura Veirs, harmonize the living shit out 14 songs in a one-off, once in a lifetime, tour de force. There really isn’t more I can say, it’s just radiant.
30.) Band of Horses • Why Are You OK?
Band of Horses have such a gorgeous sound that it would take a major lapse of judgement to screw it up. Thankfully they serve up more of the same old same new here and I couldn’t be happier. And I don’t say this because they are from Seattle (I am a transplant here) or because there’s a guy named Creighton in the band (on drums).
31. Little Mix • Glory Days
I was obsessed with Girls Aloud, a British reality show born girl group that released five flawless, ABBA-rivaling albums in the 2000’s courtesy of the Xenomania hit factory. I thought it history could never repeat itself but Little Mix is going for the three-peat. I was turned onto them when ‘Salute’ became the theme song for the US Women’s Gymnastics team at the 2016 Olympics. I snapped up their first three albums and was barely up to speed surfing their giant waves of synth pop when album #4, Glory Days, arrived. Flawless. And unlike Girls Aloud, their label was smart enough to release it in the States where it was a big freaking hit.
32. Sting • 57th & 9th
For the record, I LOVE the Police and loathe Sting solo records. Well, until now. I was curious about ‘50,000’, his tribute to Prince and Bowie, and well, I had Sting on the mind all year since his daughter landed at #2 on this very list. This album is a treat from start to finish. ‘I Can’t Stop Thinking About You’ is an earworm new classic and the deeper you get into the album, such as ‘Pretty Young Soldier’, the greater the rewards.
Top EPs of 2016
K Flay • Crush Me
With ‘Blood in the Cut’, Kristine Meredith Flaherty, aka K Flay, delivered the year’s best single. Rap, rock, indie, and deep brooding soul all mingle anxiously in her dangerous sound. Her 4-track EP, Crush Me, did exactly that; it was the perfect follow-up to the epic one-off single ‘FML’. The four wildly different yet sonically cohesive cuts show that K Flay isn’t some new power vitamin, but one of the most exciting forces in all of modern music. Get the whole thing for less than $3 bucks on Amazon MP3.
Grace Vanderwaal • Perfectly Imperfect
12-year old Grace Vanderwaal became a millionaire and superstar the moment Simon Cowell uttered the words “You’re The Next Taylor Swift” on America’s Got Talent. Her debut EP, Perfectly Imperfect, proves once again that Cowell knows what the hell he’s talking about. She’s equal parts Swift, Bjork and Jenny Lewis. Best of all, she writes amazing songs. Don’t go thinking this is ‘I Don’t Know My Name’ and some hastily rushed fullers. Her signature song is as urgent and awesome as her first televised performance, and the EP only gets better from there. ‘Clay’ is a heartbreaking song about bullying, ‘Light The Sky’ is the one from AGT most of knew as the “Firefly Song”, ‘Beautiful Thing’ is a love song WAY beyond her years, yet is sounds completely organic coming out of her mouth. She sticks the landing with ‘Gossip Girl’, a soul pop song that is going to blow the F up on radio if given the chance. Producer Greg Wells wisely keeps the production simple and the spotlight where it should be. Some strings here and there fill the mix without overpowering it. Best of all, they didn’t bring in a bunch of hack writers to commercialize her sound. AGT has a much better streak of minting true stars than other reality shows; here’s hoping this is the first of a lifetime of incredible music from an incredibly talented artist.
Lush • Blind Spot
Reformed after close to 20 years, Lush might have had trouble re-entering the US at the start of a mini-tour this Spring, but sonically, they are as ferocious as they’ve ever been. I saw them rock the crap out of the Showbox in Seattle — the night Prince died. I was so gutted by the news I never wrote up the gig for POPDOSE and the Blind Spot EP sat unopened on my desk for weeks. Once it was time to move forward, I popped the disc from its over-sized sleeve (one that matched the size of the recently re-released Chorus box set, see below) and was immediately swept back to the late 199o’s — you know, that magical time before 9/11, George W., Brexit and Trump. The four tracks show on record what Lush proved in concert, the time off refreshed and reinvigorated the band. It is a stunner; stepping closer to their earlier, etherial, shoegaze sound than the pop leanings of Lovelife (my personal favorite Lush album). Here’s hoping a full-length blossoms in 2017. We need something to look forward to, right?
Butterfly Child • A Shot in the Dark
Last year, Joe Cassidy’s Butterfly Child released Futures, one of POPDOSE’s best albums of 2015. This year has been pretty damn good as well. A Shot in the Dark reimagines two Futures tracks, a Stephen Hague (New Order, OMD, Pet Shop Boys) reworking of the title track and an orchestral version of ‘Holding On’, pairing them with three new cuts. Fans of the Ocean Blue, New Order and Blur will find plenty to love on the EP and album.
Taylor Hawkins • KOTA
Dave Grohl just might be the nicest guy in all of rock and roll, and the fruit of his sidekick, drummer Taylor Hawkins, doesn’t fall far from the tree. This makes the title of his new EP, King of the Assholes, all the cheekier. KOTA hits Hawkins right in his sweet spot, spot-on send-ups of 70s and 80’s rock and roll over-indulgence. Whereas his band Chevy Metal sticks to covers, Hawkins shows he can also rub out a few solid originals when he needs to.
Top Reissues of 2016
There’s certainly no shortage of punk rock compilation albums, most notably the 3-disc Burning Ambitions series and the No Thanks! box set that included acts on both sides of the pond. What makes Action/Time/Vision so special is its focus, 111 tracks focusing on UK acts in a four year period. It continues Cherry Red Records’ impressive winning streak of revitalizing specific English scenes in sets like Scared to Get Happy (indie pop), Still in a Dream (shoegaze) and Millions Like Us (mod revival). Cherry Red does liner notes like no other, they are mini coffee table books with an encyclopedic attention to detail. Who were these bands? What became of them? What bigger bands did they later form? Were these singles hits or duds? The 64-page full color booklet tells all, along with single sleeves, band pics and gig flyers from the era. The big names of the era are all represented, but the magic lies in the bands you’ve never heard of before. Out of print singles are resurrected to assume their rightful place in rock and roll history, and surprises await on every page and new track. Oi Oi Oi indeed.
I’ll admit, the only reason I bought this box set was to read the liner notes written by POPDOSE’s very own Annie Zaleski. And while that alone is worth the price of admission, the entire set will give you a whole new appreciation for that CD that’s been on your shelf for a quarter century.
Mike Watt • Ring Spiel Tour ’85
I was there. In the crowd. At this show. And while a soundboard bootleg of this show has been circulating for decades, there’s nothing like having it on CD, complete with liner notes to prove it actually happened. For the unfamiliar, ex Minutemen/fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt assembled an alt rock supergroup for a club tour in the months before Foo Fighters released their debut album. After open sets by Hovercraft and the original lineup of Foo Fighters, Grohl and the boys were joined by Eddie Vedder to be Watt’s backing band. Their set was a mixture of Watt solo and catalog songs with left field covers (Madonna, Blue Oyster Cult) and the debut of a Pearl Jam song. It gelled into a cohesive, studio-quality album, and stands as one of the best rock records of the 1990’s.
Kate Bush • Before The Dawn
The only thing that sucks about this gorgeous 3-disc set is there’s no 4-disc to show you the freaking visual spectacle that it soundtracks. The beautiful booklet gives you a hint at the costumes, set pieces and dance — not to mention seeing the reclusive Ms. Bush in the flesh — but the BluRay will remain in the vaults for another year or more, if ever. What you get is a solid sonic re-creation of some of her master works. Close your eyes and do your best to take it all in.
Stevie Nicks • Belladonna
Stevie re-released her ultimate album and it’s follow-up this year. Hissy bootlegs of many of these bonus cuts have been circulating for years, it’s a treat to have them all collected where they should be. Belladonna is also my all-time favorite album cover — one I owned on cassette for 30 years. And in the deluxe booklet, you get plenty of outtakes of that iconic, angelic image. Something to re-ignite that Stevie crush all over again.
Lush • Chorus
Lush are back — better than ever as a live act. With a stellar new EP on the shelves (see above), it’s high time to catch everyone up on what they missed out on. Chorus is a gorgeous box set, gathering all of the albums, singles, b-sides and rarities in a single place. One-stop shopping for one of the best shoegaze turned Brit Pop bands of the 90’s.
C86 was the promotional cassette that inspired an entire UK indie rock music scene. In 2014, Cherry Red Records gave it the CD release it always deserved, and audaciously expanded it to 3-discs. And it worked. So why not top it by creating the C87 that never was? Disc one introduces bands that made their debut that year (The House Of Love, The Shamen, The Darling Buds, The Inspiral Carpets, etc.) while the other discs revisit new tracks from the original C86 bands. Put all six discs on your stereo and you have your very own college radio station from the 80’s. Bliss.
Terry Dolan • s/t
Imagine if one of the great rock records of the 1970’s such as Rumors, Boston or Wings at the Speed of Sound was never released? Well it happened to Terry Dolan. His songs should be staples on classic rock radio and in Mellow Gold box sets but alas Warner Brothers shelved the album a few months before its release. Dolan, a San Francisco folkie turned rocker, would spend the rest of his days as a popular local favorite, always wondering what could have been. Four years after his passing, the album was finally released. It features a who’s who of famous and before they were famous musicians, including Nicky Hopkins (The Rolling Stones, The Kinks), John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service), Lonnie Turner (The Steve Miller Band) and Neal Schon (Santana, Journey). Prairie Prince, founding member of Journey and The Tubes and the Pointer Sisters were also involved early on. The resulting album, Terry Dolan, is like a self-contained soundtrack to any movie about Haight-Ashbury and the Bay area at the dawn of the 1970’s. Should anyone catch it without knowing its backstory, it would fit right in with today’s 60’s and 70’s inspired West Coast indie rock.
Daniel Ash • Stripped/Freedom I Love
It has been forever and a decade since the former Love and Rockets, Tones on Tail and Bauhaus guitarist has released anything new. But the one-two punch of Stripped (bold re-imaginings of lost classics) and Freedom I Love (netting a few rarities that slipped through the Anthology cracks) more than satiate his obsessive fans and attract plenty of new ones. Read the original POPDOSE review of Stripped. Get Freedom I Love direct from Daniel Ash.
Jack White • Acoustic Recordings
And here we are at the end of our list. Jack White, the champion of vinyl and actually owning physical copies of music, this year collected rarities from the softer side of his Sears catalog. You break open the CD case like a good bottle of whiskey, and inside there are two discs of acoustic gems from his solo years, the White Stripes and Raconteurs.