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Boards Of Canada
Tomorrows Harvest (Warp)

Boards Of Canada Scottish brothers Michael and Marcus ‘Eoin’ Sandison’s fourth album (and their first in eight long years) sees the lads harking back to the bleaker feel of Geogaddi and Music Has The Right To Children which in all honesty suits them far better, and if we are now fully used to their peculiar brand of mournful melodies and disquieting mood-music, it’s no less delightful to have them back, and in top form. OK, there’s nothing here startlingly different or un-BOC-ish but their preferred template is bent, warped and stretched into yet more unsettling and beautifully gelid forms making this a cracking return and also right up there with their best.
Drew Base

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Black Sabbath
13 (Mercury)

Black SabbathHas to be said the lads were on a bit of a hiding to nothing here as their trademark de-tuned ‘Hand Of Doom’ riffage has been appropriated by pretty much every metal act on the planet. That and the fact Ozzy has kinda made himself a laughing stock with all the ‘family on the telly-box’ nonsense. Oh and Bill Ward isn’t involved! So given all of the above this is far better than it has any right to be with producer Rick Rubin coaxing tectonic plate loosening backing from Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler and, it has to be said, the best vocal performance Ozzy has delivered in many a moon (barked at or otherwise).
The Oracle

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The Bevis Frond
White Numbers (Woronzow)

The Bevis FrondThe 21st album from Nick Saloman’s Bevis Frond wherein Walthamstow’s favourite son continues to utterly ignore what is current or cool and ploughs on regardless writing and recording whatever the hell he damn well pleases, which in this case is a follow up to 2011’s The Leaving Of London (about moving away from Walthamstow) which, for the faithful at least, lacked enough noisy guitar pyrotechnics. So, Nick being Nick, this album (a double no less), concludes with a whopping great 42 minute instrumental called ‘Homemade Traditional Guitar Jam’. I mean what’s not to like? This man is an undiscovered treasure folks.
Ray Harper

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James Blake
Overgrown (Polydor)

James Blake If you were to sum up James Blake in one bullet point it would have to be ‘dubstep producer turned singer/ songwriter’ which sounds naff but is actually true as Blakes early EP’s The Bells Sketch, CMYK and Klavierwerke are very experimental bea(s)ts so his, equally fine, eponymous debut album with its chart worrying singles came, to some at least, as something of a shock. In reality you can follow the development of his sound throughout his releases, all of which find full fruition on Overgrown, a poignant stew of haunting sonic sculptures and beautiful melodies with just enough glitches and twitches to keep it unsettling.
Drew Bass

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Bo Ningen
Line The Wall (Stolen Recordings )

Bo Ningen It was always going to be tough trying to replicate the, frankly out and out bonkers maelstrom of their recent live shows in the UK but Bo Ningen (apparently it means Stick Men, which given they are all ludicrously skinny and hirsute seems pretty apt) - that's Taigen (vocals, bass), Kohhei (guitar), Yuki (guitar), and Mon Chan (drums) - have a pretty good stab at committing their fucked up psycho-delic, metal-acid-noise to tape sounding not unlike a hardcore punk cross between Hawkwind and the Mars Volta veering wildly from drone rock via off-kilter time signatures to feedback laden post-folk. File under not at all easy listening.
Ruby Palmer

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The Blues Band
Official Blues Band Bootleg Album (Repertoire)

The Blues BandThe first three Blues Band albums (OBBBA, Ready and Itchy Feet) all get the sonically buffed up, bonus track/reissue treatment and frankly any of ‘em are worthy of your time especially if you have a penchant for no nonsense, upbeat rhythm and blues, but we reckon you can’t go far wrong if you start at year zero and their ‘debut platter’ (as old time DJ’s were won’t to say), which the band initially released themselves – limited edition, all signed - back in 1980 due to lack of record company interest before being picked up by Arista and going on to carve out a hugely reliable blues based back catalogue.
Ray Harper

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The Brew
The Third Floor (Jazzhaus Records)

The BrewAlready a highly regarded live act on the Continent, The Brew are now making an assault on their native land with this, their third album, mixing classic rock with the odd touch of Prog. Acoustic tracks such as 'See You Once Again' and 'Hard Times' allow vocalist Jason Barwick to showcase his voice and, as he is also the guitarist of the outfit, offer up a wailing solo on 'Master And The Puppeteer' and acoustic slide on 'Hard Times', but it's the big, powerful sounds of 'Piper Of Greed' and the title track that see him really excel. Don’t miss Kurtis Smith’s drum solo at the end of the album as it’s hidden at the end of the closing track.
David Blue

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Bezoar
Wyt Deth (No World Order Records)

Bezoar Apparently Bezoar means an antidote to poison (although it also means a hairball found in the stomach of ruminants which was reputedly used in arcane magical spells) and they sound not unlike a dust up between PJ Harvey and Killdozer at a death metal festival. Wyt Deth is their first long player and it’s a huge great throbbing beast of a noise, it’s also all over the bloody place as songs lurch from sludgey riffage to breakneck clattering, several tracks stretching out towards the ten minute mark, one of which, ‘Are We Not Alone’, manages to sound like Siouxsie Sioux fronting Black Sabbath. Bonkers but endearingly so.
Ruby Palmer

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The Beat
I Just Can’t Stop It (Edsel)

The Beat So how do you improve on perfection, because let’s not fanny about here I Just Can’t Stop It is a phenomenal album without a duff or middling track in sight? Well how about adding the debut single non-album cuts ‘Tears Of A Clown’ and ‘Ranking Full Stop’ some hard to find 12” mixes, live radio sessions and a DVD of all relevant videos and TOTP appearances? That would work. The Beat were always viewed as the Johnny come lately’s of two tone but this ignores the fact that they were always far more than just a ska revival act as follow up albums Wha’ppen and Special Beat Service (also available in expanded formats) proved.
Drew Bass

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Oli Brown
Here I Am (Ruf Records)

Oli Brown There’s no Shortage of young blues guitar talent around at the mo’, in fact there’s somewhat of a glut of youngsters keen to fill the substantial boots of Peter Green, SRV, Jeff Healy and Joe Bonamassa, however it’s that little extra ‘something’, that all of the above had or have in spades, which lifts the merely great into something stratospheric and this, the third effort from the young lad from Norwich, definitely exhibits signs of tapping into that ‘something’ and is a marked step up from his previous albums Open Roads and Heads I Win Tails You Lose. I for one wait with bated breath to see what happens next...
Ray Harper

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Danny Bryant’s Redeyeband
Night Life (Jazzhaus Records)

Danny Bryant’s RedeyebandDanny Bryant is a guitar player and if you are in any doubt after the scintillating chops on 'Tell Me' then you may as well turn off now. Comparing favourably to his contemporary Joe Bonamassa on the grinding 'Heartbreaker' - his voice echoing Joe Cocker and Axl Rose on ballad, 'Love Of Angels'. Three covers in the shape of 'Master Of Disaster' (John Hiatt), 'My Baby’s A Superstar' (Buddy Guy) and 'Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door' (Bob Dylan) sit easily beside the self-penned songs and his mastery of the audience is evident on closer, 'Always With Me'. I’m surprised his guitar lasts the evening the way that it's thrashed about.
David Blue

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B.B. King
Live At The Royal Albert Hall 2011 (Commercial Marketing)

B.B. KingOkay, it’s highly unlikely that you are going to see a performer at the height of his powers when he’s reached the grand old age of 85 and, reasonably enough, nowadays performs sat down welcoming a long list of guests - Ronnie Wood, Mick Hucknall, Slash etc. – to allow for the odd breather, but come on people this is BB King, a genuine, no-nonsense icon and frankly I’d be happy to just sit in the same room with him if he was asleep, which he certainly ain’t here. He may be getting on in years (and girth) but the man can still play, and sing, the blues. Pick up the CD/DVD version for lots of extra gubbins.
Ray Harper

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Buckethead
Bucketheadland, Vol. 2 (Wienerworld)

BucketheadNever heard of Buckethead? Well his mum, Mrs Carroll, calls him Brian and guitar fans (especially fans of bowel loosening riffage and high octane metal shredding) - many of whom first saw him playing with Guns N' Roses sporting his trademark KFC bucket headwear and psycho killer mask - call him god. Unlike most of his peers however he is as happy playing progressive rock, funk, blues, jazz, bluegrass, ambient or drum and bass as metal and this thirty track sequel to his debut album Bucketheadland (his tenth solo outing), also features funny, demented (and a bit scary) spoken word interludes and is an excellent introduction to the man.
Ray Harper

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The Byrds
Preflyte (Floating World)

The ByrdsOriginally released in 1969 this collection of demos, which date back to 1964, were probably intended to cash in on the success of the Easy Rider soundtrack and spin-off groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash. However the resultant album was actually fascinating as it included alternative versions of later favourites like ‘You Won't Have To Cry’ and the McGuinn/Clark composition ‘You Showed Me’ and the 2 CD set now comes with an extra 20 minutes of unheard material the best of which are the final Crosby penned tracks, including a nod to ‘Mannish Boy’ on ‘I’m Just A Young man’ and a lovely take on ‘Everybody's Been Burned’.
Raft Thong

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The Bevis Frond
The Leaving Of London (Woronzow)

The Bevis FrondThe first album since Nick ‘Bevis Frond’ Saloman’s 2004 effort Hit Squad (remarkable in itself as from 1987 to 2004 he had been very prolific, managing one, two or even three albums a year) and the first since his relocation from Walthamstow to the south coast – something we can heartily recommend by the way. More or less absent are the extended psychedelic guitar wig-outs that pepper much of his output, but what this lacks in axe slinging it more than makes up for in good old fashioned song-writing, sounding not unlike the lovechild of Elvis Costello and Tom Petty, in fact this could well be the best thing he's released to date.
Ray Harper

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Björk
Biophilia (One Little Indian)

Björk Not content to trade on past glories, Ms Guðmundsdóttir has chosen to prod away at what a new album release means and unveiled a multi media project comprising an album, apps, a website, custom-made instruments, live shows, and educational workshops, however as most of the office have only just come to terms with the steam driven computer system and have phones like house bricks nobody could tell me what the hell the ‘apps’ do (for the more technically minded or just plain younger you can see more here ), so we’ll just have to content ourselves with telling the album is great and almost worth getting for 'Crystalline' alone.
Drew Bass

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Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Wolfroy Goes to Town (Domino)

Bonnie 'Prince' BillySeems barely a week goes by without a new Will Oldham CD plopping on the TM-Towers doormat – including live outings and collaborations he’s released seventeen albums, eleven EP’s and approaching twenty singles in the last ten years – which makes the quality of music regularly on offer all the more remarkable, and for those of you that prefer uncle Will on the grumpy side then you’ll be delighted to learn Wolfroy… is a very close cousin to career highlight, I See A Darkness, being a delightfully glum and disconsolate collection of tunes the apogee of this downcast bunch being the wonderfully woebegone ‘We Are Unhappy’.
Ruby Palmer

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Blueflint
Maudy Tree (Johnny Rock Records)

BlueflintNot entirely sure what a Maudy Tree is but we’re pretty sure you wouldn’t want one in your back garden, Blueflint however we’d be more than happy to let stroll around, especially if they were of a mind to recreate some of the banjo driven Gaelic tinged Americana to be found on the follow up to 2009’s High Bright Morning. Close harmony singing accompanied by banjo strumming may fill some of you with dread but fear not as Deborah Arnott and Claire Neilson are ably supported by Peatbog fiddle Faerie Roddy Neilson and double bass toting Hugh Kelway moving easily between folky hoedowns and darker ballads.
Raft Thong

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The B-52’s
With The Wild Crowd (Eagle Records)

The B-52’sWhat could be more fun than a night shimmying and frugging to the twangy surf punk of the B-52’s? Actually, as this live set proves, not a great deal. Is there a more immediately recognisable outfit than weird talky-shouty front-man Fred Schneider and his beehive stacked 60’s girl group co-vocalists Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson? Nope (the Duane Eddy twang supplied by remaining bee-fee Keith Strickland). ‘Private Idaho’, ‘Give Me Back My Man’, ‘Roam’, ‘Party Out Of Bounds’, ‘Love Shack’, ‘Planet Claire’ and yes, it wasn’t a rock, it was a... ‘Rock Lobster’, brilliant fun one and all (although sadly no ‘Devil In My Car’).
The Oracle

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Joe Bonamassa
Dust Bowl (Provogue Records)

Joe BonamassaEven the most cursory of listens to a Joe B album reveals the man’s love of classic Brit-blues axe men like EC, Jeff Beck and Rory Gallagher – even if his vocals lean rather more towards Gregg Allman territory – and on this, his twelfth studio album, that influence is even more apparent (not least on his cover of Free’s ‘Heartbreaker’). When’s all said and done there is nothing remotely new or groundbreaking about what Bonamassa does but, like the late lamented Stevie Ray Vaughan before him, he just does it so bloody well, and lovers of ‘Sloe Gin’ will be delighted with his latest Michael Kamen cover ‘No Love on the Street’.
Ray Harper

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James Blake
James Blake (Atlas/A&M)

James BlakeJames Blake is certainly a name that is cropping up a lot recently, especially if you tune into radio stations like Radio 6 or read the grown up press. Who is he? Actually, unlike the name might suggest he’s not the latest pretty boy singer/songwriter but actually a dubstep producer and this debut runs the gamut, from a woozy cover of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ via the vocodered Laurie Anderson-esque ‘Lindisfarne I’ to the downright lovely ‘Wilhelm Scream’ and ‘Give Me My Month’ and if the pace is occasionally a little singular there are just enough angular glitchy moments to keep everything intriguing.
Drew Bass

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Michael Bruce
Be Your Lover: The Anthology (Retroworld)

Michael BruceYou may not know the name (unless you are a bit of an old glam rock obsessive like several of the office bods here), but Michael Bruce’s name can be found in the songwriter brackets in the credits of ‘Under My Wheels’, ‘I’m Eighteeen’, ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ and yes, ‘Schools Out’. As part of the original (and we reckon best) line-up of the Alice Cooper Band Bruce co-wrote some real classics. Now his own versions of these classics are collected together with material from his 1975 solo album In My Own Way, making this a very desirable anthology which should certainly appeal to fans of the ACB sound.
Ray Harper

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Blue Floyd
Live At Birch Hill (Evangaline)

Blue FloydAnother of ex-Black Crowes axe-wielder Marc Ford’s side projects (see also Burning Tree, Marc Ford & The Neptune Blues Club, Jefferson Steelflex and Fuzz Machine), this one with a simple but effective brief of taking classic Pink Floyd tracks and going all Grateful Dead on their ass, using well known tracks like 'Money', 'Shine On…' etc. as kicking off points for some extended jazzy blues improv’s – ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ clocking in at over seventeen minutes. If you’re after straight up Floyd then you’d best stick with the Aussie outfit but if you are in the market for some high quality Floyd derived noodling this may well fit the bill.
Ray Harper

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Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
Blue Nights (Gonzo)

Bruford Levin Upper ExtremitiesFormed in 1998 these two complete masters of their art first met in the ‘80s (some would insist the greatest) version of King Crimson – both also boasting a seriously impressive who’s who of other acts from John Lennon to Yes – teamed up with guitar mangler David Torn and trumpeter Chris Botti for a well received, eponymously titled, jazz rock outing (which was also recently re-released) and this is from the tour that accompanied the release, with several improvisational cuts that aren’t on the album at all. If you loved the original album, or indeed most of the solo output of both Levin and Bruford, you will want this.
The Oracle

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David Bowie
Station To Station: Special Edition (EMI)

David Bowie Bowie’s final 'character based' album (Thin White Duke) and major transition point between the white boy soul of Young Americans and his impending fascination with synth bands like Kraftwerk and Neu! which would culminate in a link up with Eno for the Berlin Trilogy Low, Heroes and Lodger. However rather than being caught between two musical stools Station… is in fact a remarkably coherent collection and finds the dame easily moving between experimental textures, glacial funk and leftfield crooning. Die-hard fans will want the 5xCD, 1xDVD, 3xLP version, the rest of you should pick up the three disc version complete with a 1976 live set.
Ray Harper

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Syd Barrett
An Introduction to... (Harvest)

Syd BarrettAnother year, another Syd Barrett compilation, only this time there is a twist – it was executive produced and part-remixed by David Gilmour. Six early Floyd classics and a dozen highlights from his brief solo career make for a compelling collection, while inserting the CD into your PC allows you to download long-fabled outtake ‘Rhamadan’ (in reality, a listless 20-minute jam that few will want to listen to more than once). Regrettably, the opportunity to add the two great lost early Floyd singles – ‘Vegetable Man’ and ‘Scream Thy Last Scream (Old Woman With A Casket)’ – to the official canon has been sidestepped once again.
David Davies

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Burning Spear
Marcus Garvey/Garvey's Ghost (IMS/Universal)

Burning Spear If you have even a passing interest in reggae, and roots reggae in particular, then Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear is without question one of the albums which should be in your collection, the plaintive testifying of Winston Rodney's voice is a still genuinely moving to all but the dullest of ears, and the deeply-rolling, mantric bass heavy rhythms are just killer (check out the wonderful second set of dub cuts Garvey’s Ghost). Remastered from the analogue tapes to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its original release if you don’t already own this then now is definitely the time to remedy that oversight.
Drew Bass

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Being 747
Amoeba To Zebra (Wrath)

Being 747Let’s be honest here, the trouble with most rock opera’s is that lyrically they are just plain dumb (and deaf and blind in Tommy’s case), so an album purporting to encapsulate several billion years of evolution into 55 minutes of music has to be worth a listen as Amoeba To Zebra has a crack at doing just that. From opening track ‘The Microscopic Universe’ up to closing track ‘The Power Of Speech’ this is a genuine learning experience which is apparently going down a storm in schools, and aside from the slightly portentous spoken word intros this actually works musically as well, not unlike an indie biological S.F. Sorrow in fact.
The Oracle

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Jeff Beck
Emotion & Commotion (Atco/Rhino)

Jeff BeckLovers of Jeff’s Live at Ronnie Scott’s DVD who are licking their lips at the thought of more fretboard-melting jazz-funk-metal nirvana should be prepared for a shock: with a couple of exceptions, this is the great man in gentle, reflective mood. The chestnut-heavy track-listing does not initially inspire much enthusiasm, but true to form, Beck bends ‘Corpus Christi Carol’ and even ‘Nessun Dorma’ into interesting shapes. However, since the album’s two peaks are both originals – the lolloping dream-funk of ‘Serene’ and the barnstorming ‘Hammerhead’ – it would be great to see Jeff stretching out on an entire album of new compositions next time. David Davies

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The Besnard Lakes
The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)

The Besnard LakesCompared, variously, to My Bloody Valentine, Black Mountains, Godspeed You Black Emperor and the Beach Boys being produced by Phil Spector, The Besnard Lakes – basically the Montreal based husband-and-wife duo of Olga Goreas and Jace Lasek – are occasionally akin to all of these but more often tick the ‘none of the above’ box, offering glimpses of these influences rather than recycling them. Tracks like ‘Albatross’ and ‘Light Up The Night’ build layers of goosebump inducing noise, much like county-man Neil Young at his feedback drenched best, washing the resultant towering racket with gorgeous harmony drenched vocals.
Ruby Palmer

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Bass Clef
May Bridges I Burn Light The Way (Blank Tapes)

Bass ClefLong time viewers may well recall that we decided the first Bass Clef outing, entitled A Smile Is a Curve That Straightens Most Things, was ‘a joy from beginning to end’, which is quite a lofty platform from which to launch your second album, but launch it Ralph Cumbers does and with no little panache eschewing the more dub-glitch powered grime-y urban vibe of his previous album for a far more upbeat funky Latin feel, but one that is still nonetheless just as likely to come to a juddering halt for some bowel loosening bass and off-kilter jungle-ish clatter, before lobbing some Jaga Jazzist-esque horn parping into the mix.
Drew Bass

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Banco De Gaia
Memories Dreams Reflections (Disko Gecko)

Banco De GaiaA double disc collection of cover versions, live cuts and reworked earlier tracks, this seems to be Toby Marks drawing a line under the last twenty years before moving on. Having never shied away from his influences – his love of Pink Floyd prompted the use of ‘Money’ and ‘Us And Them’ sax soloist Dick Parry on ‘Celestine’ – it’s no surprise to find the cover versions include ‘Echoes’ alongside King Crimsons mighty ‘Starless’ and Hawkwind’s ‘Spirit Of The Age’, and fans who missed out on the early cassette only releases will be delighted by the inclusion of tracks like ‘Soufie’, ‘Tempra’ and ‘Terra Om'.
Drew Bass

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Blk Jks
After Robots (Secretly Canadian)

Blk JksIf anything 2009 is proving to be a year in which we have rediscovered and repackaged the past, so all hail the Blk Jks who, whilst certainly taking many influences from the past, are so ‘new’ sounding they’re positively science fiction. Their closest relation would be the Mars Volta around the time of Frances The Mute, only with an African rather than Latin flavour (they’re from Johannesburg), but in truth you can hear everything from careering prog and horn driven jazz to spaced out dubby ambience, raucous guitar riffage and adventurous Scott Walker style vocal passages. A serious contender for album of the year we reckon.
Ruby Palmer

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Lou Barlow
Goodnight Unknown (Domino)

Junior MurvinProduced by Andrew Murdock (Avenged Sevenfold and Godsmack), in what appears to be a sponge studio, although given Barlow’s contrary nature this non-production style could well have been thrust upon him, Goodnight Unknown nonetheless once again proves that Barlow exudes songs like most of us exude sweat, and if his best work to date has been under his Sebadoh/ Folk Implosion monikers (and of course with the newly rejuvenated Dinosaur Jr.) he has yet to release an album that isn’t liberally peppered with enchanting moments and this is no exception. The halc-Yin to the Jr.’s sturm und Yang if you will (Strewth! – Ed).
Ruby Palmer

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Big Star
Keep An Eye On The Sky (Rhino)

Big StarOne of the main complaints about this sort of collection is that it either misses out important tracks or just repackages what already exists with a few duff bells and whistles, something you certainly can’t say about this fine collection from Rhino with everything you would want to hear and oodles of unreleased and solo pieces which, when gathered together, give about the best overview of a hugely influential but commercially doomed (at the time at least) outfit, and if you can clearly hear the bands Beatles influences, then you can equally hear their own influence on bands like REM, the Replacements and Cheap Trick.
Ray Harper

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Roy Bailey
Below The Radar (Fuse)

Roy Bailey For the benefit of our younger readers (we do have some – Ed) Roy Bailey is one of our most important, and influential, lefty folk musicians – a sort of Brit Pete Seeger – who has been heartily haranguing the right since his early (pre- ‘60s) days in a skiffle group. In fact he’s been at it for fifty years now remaining the staunchest of supporters of the sort of folk music which enlightens, educates, entertains and, most importantly, exists regardless of whatever else is currently in favour. For this reason alone he is to be cherished, but he also makes bloody fine music, amongst which Below The Radar sits very nicely thank you.
Ruby Palmer

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Brighton Port Authority
I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat (Southern Fried)

Brighton Port Authority OK so we know this wasn’t really recorded at a dockside warehouse in the 1970s and only rediscovered when a mysterious box of reel-to-reel tapes were found but if you stop having fun with pop music you have to ask what’s the point of it? The best moments here (like the David Byrne and Dizzee Rascal fronted ‘Toe Jam’, and the loping lovers rocker ‘Spade’ – featuring Martha Wainwright) rank up there with Norman Cooke’s best (for BPA is indeed the Fatboy) and if it occasionally it sounds a bit like a various artists collection due the raft of different vocalists on offer Cooke’s expertise as DJ ensures it all trots along very nicely thank you.
Ruby Palmer

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David Byrne
Big Love: Hymnal (Todo Mundo)

David Byrne Written for the hit HBO series Big Love - the tale of a Salt Lake City Mormon with three wives, three houses and three families if you’ve not seen it, and jolly good it is too – and very definitely written with the spiritual aspect of the show in mind. Now this may, on the face of it, sound like the sort of thing all of us atheistically inclined types wouldn't listen to in a million years but fear not, this is David Byrne we’re talking about here, and if anyone is going make a hymn sound vaguely ominous DB’s your man. Like many soundtracks it probably works better with the visuals but on the whole this stands on it’s own merits very nicely.
Ray Harper

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Jackson Browne
Time the Conqueror (Inside Recordings)

Jackson BrowneIf there’s anyone out there who still doubts Jackson Browne’s rare gift for eloquent protest music then they are advised to make a beeline for ‘The Drums of War’, the third track on the singer/songwriter’s first album of new material since 2002. Over the course of six dignified minutes, Browne expresses the frustration, sadness and incipient doom of this frightening decade with considerably more panache than any of his more high-profile peers have so far managed. Indeed, Time the Conqueror is consistently strong throughout, its unfussy production a perfect complement for songs that span the personal and political with characteristic skill.
David Davies

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Lindsey Buckingham
Gift of Screws (Reprise)

Lindsey Buckingham Funny old cove, Lindsey Buckingham, forever straddled between experimental inclinations and commercial expectations bestowed by his colossal success with Fleetwood Mac. After 2006’s sublime acoustic foray, Under the Skin, this more electrically-orientated follow-up could well be Buckingham’s most successful attempt yet to represent all aspects of his work. Opening with the exquisite multi-tracked ‘Great Day’, Gift of Screws romps on through archetypal LA pop (‘Did You Miss Me’), barking mad blues-rock (the Fleetwood/McVie-enhanced title track) and all manner of confessional musings during an eminently enjoyable 39 minutes.
David Davies

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The Bug
London Zoo (Ninja Tune)

The BugKevin ‘The Bug’ Martin’s latest in a long line of projects, including Techno Animal and God – he has also racked up collaborations with the likes of John Zorn, Kevin Shields and Antipop Consortium and been personally asked to remix Thom Yorke, Primal Scream and Einsturzende Neubauten – this will doubtless be racked in the dance section, but check the mans CV and you just know this is going to be far more than another dub-step knock off. Meshing grimey urban bass’n’beats with digital reggae, roots chatting and some inspired blasts of hardcore noise this rocks to a completely different beat to anything around it. Astonishing.
Drew Bass

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Elvin Bishop
The Blues Rolls On (Delta Groove Music).

Elvin BishopFrom back in the day in The Butterfield Blues Band right up until the present day, Elvin Bishop remains regarded in the highest echelons of blues guitarists, so it comes as no surprise to learn that his new album, The Blues Rolls On, has some of biggest names in blues lending a hand, such as the pulsating eponymous title track – featuring Kim Wilson’s wonderful harmonica - or BB King donating his trademark licks (and a little insight) to 'Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket'. Featuring blues, Cajun, boogie and funk Bishop shows that his slide guitar playing has lost none of its sparkle. A welcome return from an old master.
David Blue

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Beck
Modern Guilt (XL)

BeckAlright, so he’s a Scientologist, which is a bit barking, but no more so than Dylan banging on about some god or other, or Bob Marley extolling the virtues of Jah, in fact it’s precisely this slightly bonkers-ness that has led to such magnificent creations as Mellow Gold, Odelay and Sea Change, it has also allowed the man to veer wildly between folk, indie, funk, rock and of course top notch pop. This time drum loops and guitars mesh – thanks to the production skills of producer-del-dia Dangermouse – and, in direct contrast to the very lengthy The Information, Guero remains mean, lean and focused. More like this please.
Ruby Palmer

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Captain Beefheart
Electricity (SPV)

Captain BeefheartFinding your way into the labyrinthine Captain Beefheart back catalogue (including later compilations), can be a disheartening task for any new traveller, certainly you will want a copy of the flawed masterpiece Trout Mask Replica and the later, some believe better, Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), but what else? Well this collection of tracks from The Magic Band's earliest releases, Safe As Milk and the unreleased It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper (an abbreviated form of which became the second release Strictly Personal) is a fine example of the raw bluesy/R&B the band excelled in before it all went a bit ‘fast ‘n bulbous’.
Ray Harper

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The Breeders
Mountain Battles (4AD)

The BreedersAlthough far less prolific than her Pixies band mate Frank Black (who let’s be honest could occasionally do with rather more vigorous quality control), Kim Deal is no less talented, and whilst she has only managed four Breeders albums in the last eighteen years (compared to Black’s fifteen odd), all four are crackers, this latest, with guitarist sister Kelly, bass player Mando Lopez and drummer Jose Medeles, is possibly the most accessible of the quartet, but by Breeders standards that just means there are slightly fewer off-kilter moments amongst the melody driven alt-rockers, the album growing in stature with each new listen.
Ruby Palmer

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Bauhaus
Go Away White (Cooking Vinyl)

BauhausSo what are we to make of the fact that Peter Murphy, Kevin Haskins and Daniel’s J and Ash have reconvened to record a brand new album – their first since 1983’s The Inside Out) which they now insist will be their last? Flying in the face of the current fad of reforming to make killing on the live tour circuit and opting to plump for the a far less lucrative new/final album (especially one without tour support) just seems wilfully perverse, even more so when Go Away White actually fizzes with attitude, all of which will doubtless leave Bauhaus fans feeling both delighted and horrified, great to have them back, sad to see them go.
Ruby Palmer

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Billy Bragg
Mr Love & Justice (Cooking Vinyl)

Billy Bragg It’s been six years since Bragg’s last album and a good deal longer since he recorded songs with the sort of strident aggro that peppered his early solo output, so if you are looking for a 2008 version of ‘It Says Here’ or ‘Between The Wars’ then you are going to be sorely disappointed, but where the verbal attack may nowadays be a lot more more modulated, and the music rather more country/folk than agit/punk, Bragg’s wry observations and telling couplets are still as razor sharp as ever, the personal and political getting roughly equal billing on what is a grown up and thoroughly thought provoking album.
Ruby Palmer

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Burial
Untrue (Hyperdub)

BurialOlder readers will doubtless be about as au fait with the current crop of Dubstep stars like Pinch, Cyrus and league leader Burial as they are with how far below the boxers trouser should be worn, but - unless you’re the sort of duffer who feels no decent music's been made since 1979 - you really should acquaint yourself with this magnificent album which, marries dub, breakbeats and deconstructed R’n’B vocal samples to the sort of moody scratched up glitch-scapes beloved of Massive Attack and Portishead creating something genuinely new, edgy, tense and as bleakly beautiful as his equally fine eponymous debut.
Drew Bass

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Blind Boys Of Alabama
Down In New Orleans (Proper Records)

Blind Boys Of AlabamaFour time Grammy Award winners The Blind Boys Of Alabama have recorded in New Orleans for the first time in their history, which stretches back almost 70 years. Supporting them in their stint in the Big Easy were stellar figures such as Allen Toussaint and the New Orleans vibe permeates the album on 'Uncloudy Day' - with the help of The Preservation Hall Jazz Band - and 'I’ll Fly Away' on which a military snare leads into a classic New Orleans jazz workout. A combination of Gospel and traditional songs complete the album, the highlights being 'You Better Mind' and 'If I Could Help Somebody'.
David Blue

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Bob Brozman
Post Industrial Blues (Ruf Records)

Bob Brozman Multi-instrumentalist Brozman has returned to his blues and Americana roots here, his National guitar ringing out on the Iraq protest, 'Follow The Money' and producing impossible notes on 'Look At New Orleans'. An Okinawan Sanshin features on 'Old Man’s Blues' and 'Lonely Children' is played on a myriad of instruments including a Chaturangui (a 22 string Indian guitar) and grass clippers! 'Slow Motion Blues' is a boon for lovers of slide guitar - and features a percussion experiment with a bag of metal rattles. The novel use of percussion reaches a peak on the Doors’ 'People Are Strange' with pots & pans and even a bamboo anklung being used.
David Blue

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Joe Bonamassa
Sloe Gin (Provogue)

Joe BonamassaI’ve not been so excited on receiving an album since I spent my youth queuing for the latest Who LP. Guitar wizard Bonamassa’s seventh solo album covers songs by such diverse artists as Chris Whitley ('Ball Peen Hammer'), Ten Years After ('One Of These Days'), Free ('Seagull'), Tim Curry ('Sloe Gin', which he thinks will soon be his biggest live track), Charles Brown ('Black Night') and John Martin ('Jelly Roll'). Throw in a few self-penned crackers, add Joe’s increasing standing in the blues rock community and you have a recipe for success. If you like your blues on the rocks then Sloe Gin is just the drink for you.
David Blue

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Frank Black
Frank Black 93-03 (Cooking Vinyl)

Frank Black Known still as the prime mover behind the mighty Pixies, Frank Black’s solo catalogue is now far more extensive than that of his illustrious previous outfit, if a good deal less feted. The reasons for this are twofold the first being the man is so incredibly prolific (eight albums in six years between 2001 and 2006, two of ‘em doubles) which brings us to the second problem, his lesser solo material - which may well have been nixed in a group environment - and pales in comparison with his Pixies output. But, as this ten year retrospective collection shows, there has also been plenty of fantastic music that easily compares with his early efforts.


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Bad Brains
Build A Nation (Megaforce)

Bad BrainsAnother of those bands who’s influence was more far reaching than their record sales may suggest the Bad Brains were a fearsome live proposition mixing brain pummelling hardcore with roots reggae and inspiring everyone from Black Flag and Nirvana to Rage Against the Machine and The Beastie Boys - whose Adam Yauch is to be found behind the mixing desk on this. Fans of the early albums like Bad Brains and Rock For Light will be delighted to learn the classic line up have reverted to the raw, dubby but highly combustible racket of the early 80s on this, their first proper ‘all-new’ album in over ten years.


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Bjork
Volta (One Little Indian)

Bjork Possibly her most accessible album since Debut, however this is Bjork we are talking about here so it’s no great surprise that wheezing clanking beats, brass bands, Atari Teenage Riot style synth violence and lush, massed strings all feature alongside that astonishing voice. There are also any number of collaborators - Timbaland, LFO's Mark Bell and Anthony from Anthony And The Johnsons being the best known – but as is always the case Bjork simply uses her collaborators as points to bounce from in ever more eclectic directions, from the beautifully bleak duet with Anthony ‘Dull Flame Of Desire’ to the clattering beat laden ‘Wanderlust’.


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Bright Eyes
Cassadaga (Saddle Creek)

Bright EyesConor Oberst’s tenth album as Bright Eyes, and his first (live and rarity efforts aside) since 2004’s double header I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Digital Ash In A Digital Urn. So, do we get electronic Conor, indie rock Conor or contrary bugger Conor? Well mainly we get country Conor (or Americana as we’re now supposed to call it). That said it’s far more sophisticated Americana, with very little of the more wilful dicking around found on his previous outings, so we can probably assume this is grown up Conor, but whilst the music may have far fewer jagged edges Oberst's lyrics can still leave a nasty gash. This one just grows and grows.


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David Bowie
Young Americans: CD & DVD (EMI)

David BowieClocking up it’s fourth time on the re-issue schedule, this time around with three extra tracks (including an alternate take of ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’), a 5.1 mix by Tony Visconti and some DVD extras from the Dick Cavett show. Originally released in 1975 this was the album which left the Dame’s glam rock fans totally bemused as he suddenly went all Philly soul on their satin flared asses, (with backing vocals by a young Luther Vandross) this also includes his first U.S. number one hit, ‘Fame’, co-written with John Lennon (who also contributed backing vocals), plus his rubbish version of the Beatles ‘Across The Universe’.


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Bass Clef
A Smile is a Curve that Straightens Most Things (Blank Tapes)

Bass Clef Actually released at the arse end of 2006, Hackney based Ralph Cumbers is a man who prefers the warm glow of analogue equipment – constructing this on four-track cassette, a drum machine, a sampler and a vintage synth – the results being deeply squelchy, scratchy, clattering and bowel-movingly bass heavy. Think early jungle meets ‘70s dub rinsed through with glitchy electronica, some scary Third Eye Foundation style heavy manners and percussive stabs like getting a slap around the chops with a wet fish, and you’re very likely still going to be surprised at much of this. A Smile... is a joy from beginning to end.


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Billy Bragg
Box Set Vol.1: Utility Version (Cooking Vinyl)

Billy BraggA slightly cut down version of the original long form box set (which is still around if you get a wriggle on) with one less DVD and no booklet but costing exponentially less dosh and still replete with all the early albums, outtakes, cover versions, alternate takes, live material and one disc of live DVD footage. At almost half the original box set’s price this is now a positive steal – and easily the best/most cost effective way to reacquaint yourselves with Bragg’s excellent early albums – the material contained within still sounding as fresh, vibrant and rabble rousing as when it was when it was recorded twenty odd years ago.


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Tim Buckley
The Best of… (Rhino)

Tim BuckleyCompiling a single-CD retrospective of a musician as eclectically minded as Tim Buckley is unlikely to have been a task dusted off in the odd lunch-hour, but this Rhino set makes as fair a job of it as we could reasonably expect. Anthologising Buckley’s journey in a mere 18 songs, The Best of… manages to check off all the principal phases – acoustic troubadour, free jazz-inspired sonic explorer and rather unlikely funkateer. ‘Morning Glory’, ‘Dolphins’ and ‘Song to the Siren’ are only three of the milestone tracks here, created by a gifted artist who remained admirably resistant to notions of commerciality.


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Beck
The Information (Polydor)

BeckAs long time Beck fans will already be aware there are two very different Becks, the introspective folky type of Sea Change fame and the quirky hip hop loving funky dude who gave us Odelay, so which Beck is behind The Information? Well in the main it’s the latter chap (helped once again by producer to the stars Nigel Godrich), as breakbeats, cosmic psychedelia and funky acid-fried bum wigglers all writhe together like Medusa’s bonce on a bad hair day. At 68 minutes and 17 tracks it’s probably a bit too long ('Fanfare/
Landslide/Exoskeleton' certainly outstays its welcome), but on the whole this is a welcome return to form.


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Lindsey Buckingham
Under the Skin (Reprise)

Lindsey Buckingham The Fleetwood Mac guitarist has never been one to rush things. The fact that this is his first solo album since 1992’s frighteningly creative Out of the Cradle makes even Kate Bush look like a fast worker. Still, within the opening bars of ‘Not Too Late’ – in which Lindsey takes a microscope to his life as a musician – it’s clear that he hasn’t been frittering away the time. Frequently thrilling, Under the Skin benefits from an unpolished and appealingly unfussy feel, although the beautifully-arranged highpoint ‘Someone’s Gotta Change Your Mind’ shows that Buckingham can give Brian Wilson a run for his money.


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Babybird
Between My Ears There’s Nothing But Music (Babybird Recordings)

BabybirdJudging a band by one song – it’s pretty shameful but we’ve all done it. This writer took an immediate and enduring dislike to Babybird’s airwave-battering 1996 single, ‘You’re Gorgeous’, and has consequently given a wide berth to everything creative mainman Stephen Jones has put his name to since. Still, it’s healthy to confront your prejudices, and playing this new album – Babybird’s first for six years – yields 45 minutes of melodic and often surprisingly melancholic music. Under-adventurous production renders parts of this a little samey, but there’s no mistaking the emotional pull of, in particular, ‘Lost In A Beautiful Place’.


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Banco De Gaia
Farewell Ferengistan (Disco Gecko)

Banco De GaiaAfter a lukewarm reception to 2004’s You Are Here (a fine, if admittedly more low-key than usual, album) Toby Marks’ Banco de Gaia returns to more familiar territory here, weaving sounds, rhythms, atmospherics and vocal snippets from around the world into ‘abstract techno/dance compositions’ or simply put ‘great sounds you can either dance to or chill out with’, and whilst there's no actual lyrical barbs aimed at Bush, Blair and Co. (although ‘White Mans Burden’, a Rudyard Kipling quote about ‘civilising heathens’, is certainly a pointed enough reference as is ‘The Harmonious G8’), this is both beautiful and thought provoking music.


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The Beauty Shop
Yard Sale (Snapper/Shoeshine)

The Beauty ShopCompared elsewhere to Beck, Johnny Cash and the Violent Femmes we reckon a better litmus test for John Hoeffleurs dark alt-country trio would be the Silver Jews, Will Oldham or indeed Bright Eyes, especially given the mans bittersweet, humorous way with a lyric – all delivered in a deep, dark, honey-rich rumbling vocal style - reclaiming country music from the staid redneck sawdust, beer and pickup brigade, the songs strong enough to need only the barest production sheen and sketchiest, no-nonsense backing to frame them. The charts may be filled with unimaginative, dross but brilliant new music is out there, buy this now.


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***************************************************************** Joe Bonamassa
You and Me (Provogue)

Joe BonamassaIf you hail from the US and have a passing fancy for the Blues then you will doubtless already be aware of the prodigiously talented Joe Bonamassa – some even believe him to be in line for the sadly vacated blues-guitar-god ‘throne’ vacated by the late lamented Stevie Ray Vaughan. For the rest of us however this is virgin territory and can be best described as a heady mix of Robin Trower, Jeff Beck, the aforementioned SRV and virtuoso blues peer Jeff Healy. Forget all that poodle permed ‘too-many-notes’ pyrotechnic nonsense associated with plank spanking heroes, this is genuinely gritty stuff, the boy can play, he can sing a bit too.


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BT
This Binary Universe (DTS)

BTWashington trance wunderkind Brian Transeau has an admirable CV working with everyone from poppets like Britney and NSYNC to more heavyweight artists like David Bowie and Sting, he has also scored films and ensured many a dance-floor has become pooled in sweat, and this is his grand opus a CD/DVD set being touted as a groundbreaking journey into sight and sound. Of course this is exactly the sort of thing Warp have been doing for many years (most recently with Plaid and Bob Jaroc’s Greedy Baby), but, grand statements aside this is still a fine album even if the visuals are occasionally less than inspiring.


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Frank Black
Fast Man Raider Man (Cooking Vinyl)

Frank BlackThe enormously prolific Frank Black (expect to see the Pixies back out on tour later in the year), this time out boasting a bunch of seriously heavy hitters occupying the muso backing slots - from Steve Cropper, Levon Helm and Al Kooper to Ian McLagan and Simon Kirke. Long term fans won’t be surprised to find classic Black moments like ‘In My Time Of Ruin’ and ‘Elijah’ but the fact is there’s a little to much makeweight material here - in fact the same track, albeit with different titles, crops up several times - and the inescapable truth is, as is so often the case, this would have made a fine single album.


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Long John Baldry
Looking At… (The UA Years 1964-1966) (EMI)

Long John BaldryIn the last few decades of his life, Long John Baldry appeared to be – from a UK viewpoint at least – a rather marginalised figure. Despite possessing one of the strongest voices of any Brit blues boom performer, he was increasingly well-known for his parallel career as a gifted voiceover artist (bizarre but true dept: he was Dr Robotnik in ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’). Now, following his death aged 64 last July, EMI offers the opportunity to reappraise LJB’s mid ‘60s recordings, and the fiery performances from first album Long John’s Blues, in particular, confirm that his really was an undervalued talent.


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Black
Between Two Churches (Nero Schwarz)

BlackBlack mainman Colin Vearncombe may not have enjoyed enormous commercial success since the mid-‘80s peak of ‘Wonderful Life’, but he’s continued to turn out quality albums at regular intervals (1999’s The Accused, released under his own name, is particularly worthy of rediscovery). Perhaps acknowledging there is greater public recognition for his original soubriquet, Vearncombe has returned to the Black name for this characteristically well-crafted collection. ‘Come Out of the Rain’ and ‘Charlemagne’ show that Vearncombe’s writing has lost none of its emotional poise, while ‘Cold Chicken Skin’ adds a delicious bluesy tinge.


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The Buzzcocks
Flat-Pack Philosophy (Cooking Vinyl)

The BuzzcocksIf there was one thing the Buzzcocks really understood it was short sharp blasts of bittersweet punk-pop, unlike their more nihilistic pogoing gobshite peers, Shelley and Diggle always recognised a passing tune, and so it remains. This sounds exactly as you might imagine, only more grown up. So are thirty year older Buzzcocks as good as their teenage alter-egos? Are The Rolling Stones? Is Bob Dylan? Nope, nope and nope, but all three are clearly still doing it ‘cos they want to, and honestly believe they still have something to say. So better, no but still good? Oh yeah, they’ve still got the buzz cock.


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Dennis Bovell
All Over The World (EMI/Front Line)

Dennis BovellFormer Matumbi mainstay Dennis Bovell is one of the great unsung heroes of UK reggae - an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer, composer, band leader and producer – his link ups with bands like Steel Pulse and poet Linton Kwesi Johnson resulting in some of the finest reggae albums to ever come out of the UK. Having spent time lending mainstream pop – everyone from Bananarama to Dexy's Midnight Runners - a little dubwise production gloss it’s great to see him back doing what he does best, i.e. melodic, accessible, if still rootsy, reggae that will doubtless be the soundtrack to many a fine summers day to come.


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Pete Brown
The Best Of (Harvest)

Pete BrownA singular lyricist, Pete Brown is still best-known for his writing partnership with Jack Bruce that spanned both Cream and the singer/bassist’s classic early solo albums, including Song For A Tailor. This collection of his own idiosyncratic solo material is drawn principally from the late ‘60s, and as the delightfully-titled ‘Things May Come and Things May Go, But the Art School Dance Goes On Forever’ suggests, is very much of its time. Brown’s wit and acuity of observation, however, mean that there’s more than simply period charm on offer. Nice to see EMI reviving beloved old prog imprint Harvest, too.


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Harold Budd
By the Dawn’s Early Light (All Saints/Rykodisc)

Harold BuddThe recent shift of the All Saints catalogue to Rykodisc means that a whole slew of the label’s atmospheric, evocative and often plain spooky releases are now available again. It’s a particular delight to welcome back this 1991 album from pianist and composer Harold Budd, whose normally austere vision is readdressed in favour of more expansive arrangements involving cello and subtle guitars. Stylistically, it’s Budd’s most diverse set, with the pedal steel guitar-flecked ‘Down the Slopes to the Meadow’ contrasting sharply with exquisite Delius homage ‘Albion Farewell’. An ideal place to start exploring a remarkable body of work.


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Beck
Geurolito (Interscope)

BeckHaving not heard the parent album to this remix effort (an album widely cited as a return to both form and Odelay country), it’s impossible to tell if the resultant remodelling efforts are superior or inferior to their antecedents – although experience would generally lead us to plump for the latter. However, given the quality of the re-mixers on show, including Air, Boards Of Canada, Nortec and El-P, it’s a pretty fair bet that these aren’t going to be sloppy ‘this’ll do, where’s the dosh’ mixes and so it proves, locating Beck’s distinctive wail in amongst an intriguing selection of bleeps, beats, shuffles, squonks and washes.


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Bright Eyes
Motion Sickness (Saddle Creek)

Bright EyesRounding off a hugely successful year - two excellent simultaneously released albums (see our end of the year round-up), sold out tours etc. – Conor Oberst leaves us with a natty little keepsake for 2005 in the form of a limited edition live album, and whilst none of the performances are ostensibly that different from their recorded forebears extra tracks like the splenetic ‘When The President Talks To God’ and a couple of well executed cover versions (Elliott Smith’s ‘The Biggest Lie’ and Feist’s ‘Mushaboom’) still make this well worth tracking down for fans, whilst Bright Eye virgins will find it a superb entry point.

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Babyshambles
Down In Albion (Rough Trade)

BabyshamblesCome on, you knew this was going to be a shambles didn’t you? Hell Doherty gives you advance warning with his newly adopted moniker (and that’s not even taking into account his current mental and physical state). Naturally enough, given Mick Jones involvement, there’s a real Clash vibe to the proceedings – not least on the scrappy reggae/punker ‘What Katy Did Next’ - and in truth there are some great moments like ‘Fuck Forever’, ‘Pipedown’ and ‘8 Dead Boys’, but several tracks are little more than basic demos and at least two ideas badly in search of a song. Doherty has talent, let’s hope he lives to properly realise it.


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Kate Bush
Aerial (EMI)

Kate BushWith Kate Bush albums being about as regular an occurrence as solar eclipses they tend to get people into something of a lather, however on first listen this particular lather seems rather misplaced as Ariel is a very mellow Kate Bush outing indeed. But by listen two the numerous subtle layers become apparent, and whilst there’s nothing here as endearingly off-kilter as 'The Dreaming' or 'Sat In Your Lap' (although the chorus of ‘Pi’ is the brilliantly potty 3.14159265 etc, etc and she does get Rolf Harris to sing rather atonally on ‘Sunset’ which winds up in a splendid Flamenco frenzy), it has definitely been well worth the long wait.


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The Blue Aeroplanes
Swagger Deluxe (EMI)

The Blue AeroplanesThe album many consider to be the Blue Aeroplanes masterpiece is given the full spit, polish and expansion works, but whether or not you ‘got’ the Blue Aeroplanes always had a lot to do with whether or not you could get on with Gerard Langley’s Morrisey-esque, droll-poet, spoken vocal delivery. Musically shades of REM, Cockney Rebel, Simple Minds and Mott The Hoople inform this big, guitar heavy, chiming, Gil Norton production and in truth it stand the test of time very well indeed ‘Cat-Scan Hist’ry’ in particular whips up a fair old shitstorm and ‘Jacket Hangs’ is the best track Michael Stipe never sang.


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Jackson Browne
Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 (Inside)

Jackson BrowneHaving parted company with Elektra after more than 30 years, Jackson Browne has founded a new label to issue his own new music and that of other, acoustically-oriented performers. The first release is a spirited live trawl through Browne's own back pages, taking in a dozen of his finest songs and some amusing audience-performer banter. Not surprisingly given current world events and Browne's own left-leaning inclinations, it's the one-two punch of 'Lives in the Balance' and 'Looking East' - both of which bemoan the powerlessness of the individual against corporate and governmental forces - that possesses the greatest impact.


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Backini
Re:Creation (Lumenessence)

BackiniThere was a time, not so long ago, when you could scarcely chuck a stale bun and not have it clout a sample welder on the noggin, legions of beat junkies doing their best to mash stolen beats to stolen vocals in an inventive stylee (and in most cases, failing miserably). Now of course proper beat collagists (as we feel like calling ‘em) are about as numerous as diplodocus so it’s kinda nice to stumble across Brighton resident Rob ‘Backini’ Quickenden – think DJ Shadow meets The Propellerheads - and this damn groovy collection of very, very classy down-tempo spliff soundtracks which is now all but welded to our CD.


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David Bowie
Platinum Collection (EMI)

David BowieWhilst there are any number of people out there that will gleefully point you towards Tin Machine, Never Let Me Down or Tonight as examples of Bowie’s occasional lack of direction they seldom qualify that by admitting that a person can only lack direction if they continue to plough the same old furrow for ever, something the thin white dame can never be accused of as this definitive 3CD ‘best of’ set proves only too well, and there are very few performers still around who can so easily pluck quality tunes like, for example, ‘Fashion’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Space Oddity’ from three completely different decades.


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Beastie Boys
Solid Gold Hits (Capitol)

Beastie BoysThose of us that still recall those early, bratty, heavy-metal themed snot-rap cuts like ‘No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn’ and ‘Fight For Your Right’ - the Beastie Boys cutting a Volkswagen trashing, handicapped child jostling (this last one a tabloid fiction) swathe through the UK’s gutter press – could scarcely have imagined that Mike D, Adrock and MCA would not only still be amongst us almost a quarter of a century later, but would also lay claim to a mightily impressive back catalogue and something of a reputation for highlighting the plight of the politically repressed. Great band, great collection and great deal more to come yet.


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Bonnie Prince Billy
Summer In The Southeast (Drag City)

Bonnie Prince BillyWhether you know him as Bonnie Prince Billy, The Palace Brothers or just plain old Will Oldham if you have yet to sample the delights of a live show you’ll be unaware of just how different – energised is probably the word here – this experience is to his recorded output. Intimacy is replaced by clatter, lo-fi minimal country gothic replaced by hi-fi edgy country rock, shambolic instrumentation replaced by, erm, oh alright it’s still shambolic instrumentation just a bit louder, and it’s a blast, not only to hear these great songs given such a sonic face lift but also to hear Mr lugubrious in such feisty spirits.


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The Beta Band
Music - The Best of the Beta Band (Regal)

The Beta BandReleased as a full stop to what even their most ardent fans would probably agree was a completely shambolic career – complete with farewell tour live set for fans who already own the studio material - this fascinatingly wayward four piece, a band who lest we forget on occasion even disowned their own releases, bow out after three full length albums, and a compilation album of their first three EP’s, full of wayward, genre mashing, occasionally confused, often brilliant music, something this collection nails perfectly (and is worth owning, if you don’t have ‘em, for the first four tracks alone), they will be much missed


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****************************************************************** Devendra Banhart
Cripple Crow (XL)

Devendra BanhartBouncing from waif-like troubadour via psychedelic night-tripper to Latin minstral in the blink of an eye for the very first time we are perhaps beginning to get the full picture about the bastard son of Vashti Bunyan, Marc Bolan and Donovan. Cross-dressing, flower-child (and current king of the entertainingly embellishment), Banhart gathers scenes and scensters around him like Mark E Smith’s jumpers attract lint, and if this album could have been judiciously trimmed by several semi-formed ideas there are more than enough fully realised beauty’s to justify the bohemian beatnik’s current place at the top of everyone’s ‘must check out’ chart

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Pieta Brown
In The Cool (One Little Indian)

Pieta Brown In The Cool works best when Pieta Brown is mixing blues and the sort of laid back country rock beloved of cowboys in pick-up trucks - like on opener #807, Tears Won’t Do Any Good and on the albums title track - in fact Ms Brown sounds remarkably like a C&W version of PJ Harvey or Rickie Lee Jones in her prime, sort of down-tempo, bohemian, beatnik-country (which actually sounds far better than it looks on paper). Less successful are the more explicitly unambiguous country cuts (both lyrically and musically) like This Old Dress and Ring Of Gold, but these are really minor glitches on an otherwise fine collection

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Black Mountain
Black Mountain (JagJaguwar)

Black MountainPaddling around in the same claustrophobic sludge-sucking swamp as the current kings of tectonic-plate grinding sleaze, Queens Of The Stone Age, Canadian five-piece Black Mountain (current day jobs, mental health care workers) bring a shot of plaintive Neil Young style crooning, a measure of Velvets dissonance and just a soupcon of angry young men (and woman) to the party - how could you live so close to the U.S. and not?. A party that just about everyone will be clamouring to attend in the very near future, so do yourself a big favour and sign up early as this is one club you really do want to join early


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Basement Jaxx
The Singles (XL)

Basement JaxxYou may think that you don’t know, or indeed like, Basement Jaxx, you would however be wrong. It’s all but guaranteed you have heard snippets of crackers like Where’s Your Head At, Jump And Shout and Fly Life and only the most curmudgeonly old grump could sit through floor fillers like Good Luck, Oh My Gosh, Fly Life and Romeo without twitching the odd extremity. Add to this the Latin fuelled perfection of Bingo Bango and Rendez Vu, the dip into Middle Eastern territory for Lucky Star, and the clonking great U Don’t Know Me and what you get is one hell of an impressive collection for a band at such an early stage in their career.


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Adrian Belew
Side One (Sanctuary)

Adrian BelewFans, and there are many who regard Belew as one of the most innovative guitarists alive, will once again find much to love and much to frustrate on this latest outing by the man who has smeared astonishing noises over acts as diverse as Talking Heads, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and of course King Crimson. In keeping with past solo efforts there are lunatic time signatures, amazing guitar mangling, wonderful catchy pop moments and - here’s the frustrating bit – some wilful dicking about. Even so this still has more ideas in one track than inhabits the whole of this weeks singles chart.


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Adrian Belew
Side Two (Sanctuary)

Adrian BelewPart two of a proposed triptych of albums from the man who does things with guitars Les Paul would never have dreamt possible. Built around drum loops, synthesizer pads and Belew’s distinctive guitar histrionics – unlike Side One which was more of a power trio effort with Primus’ Les Clapool and Tool’s Danny Carey. In truth Side Two fares less well than Side One as several pieces feel half formed, but Belew still manages to cram more ideas into thirty odd minutes than most acts do in a whole career, the standout track Quicksand brilliantly welding a beautiful song to ambient washes and astonishing guitar pyrotechnics


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Bang Gang
Something Wrong (Discograph)

Bang GangThey must be putting something in the water in Iceland (sulpher possibly?) as a country with a population of less than 300,000 continues to throw up (must be all those hot springs) a constant stream of gifted musicians who positively revel in body-swerving categorisation. If you have to pick a starting point then Massive Attack is as good a place as any, but that would be to ignore the many guitar led moments or indeed the 60s psychedelic interludes, you might as well try and nail jelly to a balloon as genre-fy BG and, an ill-advised stab at the Supremes Stop in the name of Love aside, this is well worth tracking down


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David Bowie
Stage(EMI)

David BowieRe-released alongside the more critically acclaimed David Live, this 1978 set featuring the thin white duke in cracking form draws in the main from Low and Heroes but includes enough Ziggy era material to keep the feather cut brigade happy. The band are fearsomely tight (guitar fans will be overjoyed to hear six string genius Adrian Belew in full flow), reinventing and remodelling tracks in a fine old style, and the sound, for a live show, is very impressive. Add a few previously unreleased tracks, a closer proximity to the original running order and the results are possibly diamond Dave’s finest live album.


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Devendra Banhart
Nino Rojo (XL)

Devendra BanhartDiscovering a ‘homeless, wandering, neo psych/folk hippie artist and musician’, Swans Michael Gira promptly released a selection of his early, very crude, demo’s on his own Young Gods label. Less than two years later Devendra Banhart has proved to be a seriously prolific writer as this is apparently a companion piece to the album he released only several months ago (Rejoicing In The Hands). Culled from the same sessions this is however certainly not a series of out-takes but a remarkable body of work in it’s own right. Expect to hear a good deal more about Banhart in the future.


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Björk
Medulla (One Little Indian)

BjörkGiven the sales dip of her last album, it would be a brave person (and, indeed, a brave record company) that would then release their most challenging and inaccessible work to date, but Björk is nothing if not brave, and this is definitely not for the short of attention span. What it is, however, is a wonderfully realised experiment with voice and sound in general (but mainly voice), and in places it is almost painfully beautiful. In a world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate one artist from another, let’s be thankful for the wilfully obstinate and increasingly indispensable Björk Gudmundsdóttir.


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Bright Eyes
Digital Ash In A Digital Urn (Saddle Creek)

Bright Eyes Two new sets recorded in tandem by the talented Conor Oberst. Album one, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning will doubtless get the most immediate support from BE fans and critics as it’s nearest in style to his previous alt-country/indie troubadour output – and in truth is uniformly excellent throughout. But it’s actually this, the more difficult second album, that is most fascinating, lurching from leftfield electronic clonking to (whisper it) pop, allowing the, always excellent, lyrical content a much broader palette of sounds to bounce around (not unlike the Cure in places) and just keeps getting better and better with each listen.

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Adrian Belew
Lone Rhino/Twang Bar King (Gott Discs)

Adrian BelewOne of the most underrated guitarists in the world – and without doubt one of the most inventive – Adrian Belew has played second fiddle to everyone from Frank Zappa and David Byrne to David Bowie whilst his solo career has largely continued un-remarked and unrewarded. So it’s a hearty welcome back for these first two solo efforts which find the ‘Twang Bar King’ wresting ever more animalistic squeals, honks and roars from his poor tortured instrument, casually tossing together magical little melodic gems, crafting genuinely hilarious lyrical bon mot’s and creating thunderous percussive waves of noise. Sublime.


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