Oslo’s Making Marks first came to my attention in 2012 when their lovely ‘Ticket Machine’ single appeared on the Fika label. I admit that it was the fascinating cover image by Sverre Bjertnes that first caught my eye. The fact that the sound on the vinyl more than matched felt like a bonus. Sometimes records can be like that.
The ‘A Thousand Half-Truths’ album that appeared in February of 2014 more then delivered on the promise of that single and in truth it contained a few of my very favourite songs of the year in ‘Bruises’, ‘Falling In Love Again' (that line about not having slept since the 22nd of November feels particularly apposite) and especially the wonderfully infectious ‘Lemon Sheets’. I have literally lost count of the number of times I have found myself singing various lines and refrains, notably the ones about being “just a bus and a train and a plane and another train from Haringey”. I mean, as a former Duke of (part of) the borough*, how could I not?
‘A Thousand Half Truths’ sounded like a lush roof garden hidden in an urban sprawl, or an iPhone screen glistening in the wilderness depending on your preference. Either way, it was an anoraked, desert booted indiekid rubbing up against a barefoot, countryfied beatnik and making beautiful babies.
Or maybe it was, simply, a top Pop album.
Making Marks - 'A Thousand Half Truths' (Bandcamp)
*When I first went online back in the mists of time, it felt important to have a nom de plume. At that time I was very much into the sounds of drum’n’bass and had only just picked up the excellent 'Alroy Tracks featuring the Duke Of Harringay' EP by Squarepusher. So I purloined the ‘Duke Of Harringay’ moniker and hence, from that moment and for many years after I became The Duke...
Fittingly, Papernut Cambridge first came to my attention in an advent project. It was the 2011 ‘Christmas In Howarth’ series to promote the 10” of the same title by Darren Hayman, and it was, coincidentally, also for the 10th of December. Now Papernut Cambridge is a gang of wonderful rogues led by Ian Button, and as Darren said at the time, "He’s on a record in your collection you just don’t know it”.
And if ‘There’s No Underground’, the glorious second album by Papernut Cambridge is not in your collection by the end of 2014 then you’re really missing out on something special. With its triple 7” pack it was certainly one of the most marvellously packaged albums of the year. I will accept that looks aren’t everything however, and I’m pleased to say that it sounded every bit as brilliant as it looked. Laden with mighty Pop hooks (the awesome Power-Popping psych trip of ‘When She Said What She Said’) and shimmering atmospherics (the Strands-like shiver of the frankly beautiful, haunting ‘The Long Shadows Of Lee’), ‘There’s No Undergound’ was a half-hour of near perfection. A record fine enough to file next to The Zombies, Mott The Hoople, East Village or The Television Personalities with no fear of being over-shadowed.
It was my friend Kevin Pearce who used to say something along the lines of “There is a new album by <insert name of group> and that is all you need to know.”* As I recall he said this about groups like Autechre or Clinic who seemed to soar just below the radar of most, yet were clutched close to the heart by many. Groups whose output was, for a long time, almost metronomic in both regularity of release and in terms of sheer quality. There was also the sense of knowing what you were going to get. Like Rothko paintings, they were quite uniform in their sound. No great leaps in style from one album to the next, but rather a considered honing of the art. I say all this because there is something of the same in The Twilight Sad. ‘Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave’ was a splendid selection of gloomy, viscerally spectral songs that took The Twilight Sad to either marvellous new heights or spectacular new depths, depending on your viewpoint. At its best the record recalled a grainy black and white road movie projected on the side of a derelict grain elevator. Or a blend of ‘Glider’ era My Bloody Valentine mixed with Arab Strap. Whichever you prefer. Ultimately though, when I say that in 2014 there was a new album by The Twilight Sad, then really that is all you need to know.
The Twilight Sad - 'Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave' (CD on Amazon)
*In my Unpopular advent of 2012 I used this strategy to recommend the ‘Ghost In Daylight’ set by Gravenhurst. In the wake of Nick Talbot’s tragic passing, I can only trust that by using the same angle here for The Twilight Sad I am not casting some kind of psychic cloak of doom, the likes of which might crop up in an M.R. James story. Then again, that would be the kind of thing that might appeal to Nick, and would perhaps appear appropriate given the tenor of The Twilight Sad, so I guess we shall see...
I will admit that I had not come across Brighton group Fear of Men before the delicious ‘Luna’/'Outrun Me' flexizine appeared on my radar courtesy of the fabulous Art Is Hard stable back in May. The subsequent discovery of the ‘Loom’ set (in covetable clear vinyl format to boot) ensured that they were one of my most treasured finds of the year. There was something very redolent of the late 1980’s Independent scenario about them that appealed. The very use of the flexi was like a blast from my past of course, but in terms of visuals and graphics there was very much a sense of Fear Of Men being firmly rooted in an aesthetic that owed as much to, say, those stylish Sugarfrost sleeves for Fugu and Eva Luna as to the sounds of lush dream popping guitar bands. That tip back to the dream pop or (whisper it) shoegaze phenomena has been going on for a few years in the contemporary indie scene of course, and so it was no surprise to see Fear Of Men tour in the USA with The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (who yes, I still adore!). But I’m still waiting for a group that sounds more like Crash than Slowdive to really excite me. Fear Of Men came closer than most, and that I’d happily play ‘Loom’ next to ‘I Feel Fine’ should tell you a great deal. Spinning ‘Loom’ I was also reminded of the wonderful group Sorrow, which of course featured Rose McDowall, and at times all it needed for Fear Of Men to tip into full Strawberry Switchblade mode was for a second voice to play Jill Bryson to Jessica Weiss’ McDowall. Now that’s something I’d really love to hear. As it is though Ive been more than happy to listen to ‘Loom’ just exactly as it is. From the glistening cascade of ‘Waterfall’, through the verdant luxury of ‘Green Sea' to the triumphant ’Tephra’ and beyond, ‘Loom’ was an album that delighted from the off and that continued to deliver sweet sensations with every listen.
When I wrote about Dublin band Ginnels in my advent last year it was to praise the wonderful Feelies infused ‘best of’ set ‘Plumes’. Well, I’m delighted to say that they make a return visit this year with another set of tunes for the Tenorio Cotbade label out of Madrid. Clocking in at 37 minutes for 14 tracks, ‘A Country Life’ is an album that rarely pauses to catch breath, and if that Feelies influence is still evident (and thank goodness for that of course), then this time around it is rather more of a hinted-at constituent part blended with a host of other nods, winks and gentle nudges. Some of those nods might be to the likes of, say, the fabulous Let’s Wrestle or perhaps Wake The President, whose Postcard Utopian sound Ginnels would also appear to subscribe to. Add in some moments of Fire Engines squalls blasting in the undergrowth beneath the foliage of A Riot Of Colour and you have a sound that is all classy references yet all fantastically Ginnels.