10 best albums Q2 2018? No make that 15!

Wow, what a quarter! 

So many brilliant releases that making a top ten list was undoable. Dear mr. Blind Clockmaker, why did you give us ten fingers? We need fifteen!

There were also lovely albums released by Artificial Pleasure, Kadhja Bonet, Cheer-Accident, The Fierce and the Dead, Mark McDowell, Gruff Rhys, the Trembling Bells and Kamasi Washington, but I felt they did not push my buttons as hard as the ones I am listing below. You should still get them off course, they are sincerely great!

Anyway, here goes. In alphabetical order, as always. But if I had to pick just one album, it would be Crayola Lectern’s ‘Happy Endings’. Instant wyattesque classic, hands down.

And the Zuider Zee album is outside contest – almost up there with Big Star… on a pedestal all of its own.

Aquaserge – Deja-vous?


Matt Baber – Suite for Electronics and Piano


Daniel Blumberg – Minus



Drinks – Hippo Lite


Jack Ellister – Telegraph Hill

(100 copies only and sold out – which is a shame as it is the most psych album so far this year!)


The Gold Needles – Pearls


Crayola Lectern – Happy endings



Matt Maltese – Bad Contestant



Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage


Papernut Cambridge – Outstairs Instairs


Kimara Sajn/+1 – The Mourning Past



Cosmo Sheldrake – The Much Much How How & I


Slug – HiggledyPiggledy


Ryley Walker – Deafman Glance


Zuider Zee: Zeenith



Fading Yellow volume 16: Sad about the Times



So that is all for this quarter. But Q3 is already looking great. We will finally see the third instalment of the Regal Worm trilogy of albums. And it is is every bit as good as the previous two, I will post the review as soon as pre-orders go live.

Fittingly for a third quarter, there will also be another third instalment, namely Sanguine Hum’s Buttered Cat saga closer (?) ‘Now We Have Power’. I have been enjoying this album since December of last year and I was seriously worried that it would not get a release, as it is, well, a bit too progressive to fit in that rather conservative genre they call prog. Very fragile. Very beautiful. And complex. 

But lets continue that discussion next quarter!

Achingly beautiful

Just a few short lines to say that Ralegh Long has a new single out today, his third this year. Not unusually for Ralegh the only sounds are voice and guitar, but this time it is just one take, no overdubs. And it is absolutely brilliant. And once more, the atmosphere of Nick Drake is quite tangible as Ralegh caresses sounds out of his guitar and somewhat reluctantly sings the wistful lyrics about wanting to be ‘Where You Are’. 

You immediately know that there will never be closure. The whole things is achingly beautiful while at the same time satisfyingly complete as an expression of a complex yet very relatable feeling.

I understand from Ralegh that he is currently writing a lot and that we might be expecting more from him upwards of summer, maybe in September. That is indeed something to look forward to, but in the mean time, get this and the previous 2018 singles ‘Super Blue Moon’ and ‘Am I Home’. And get his albums too if you don’t have them, they are such gems!

That other anglophile band from Memphis: Zuider Zee

Zuider Zee [vinyl 24-48]

One of my favourite 1970s pop albums is the sole, self-titled Zuider Zee album. Released in 1975 on Columbia by a band from Memphis, amazingly accomplished and beatlesque, it went nowhere and the band disappeared without trace. 

Personally, I only discovered it less than 10 years ago, when I stumbled across the somewhat uneven but nevertheless simply brilliant album ‘Big Orange Sun’ by Richard Orange. Turns out it was recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis and with increasing fascination I backtracked more than 30 years to Richard’s original band.

Now, Light In The Attic Records have suddenly released a collection of previously unheard Zuider Zee songs. Again, seemingly out of nowhere. And again, amazingly accomplished. These are not demos, what we have here comes across as a fully formed album. 

Recorded between 1972 and 1974, this collection is a precursor to that sole 1975 album. And indeed, ‘Zeenith’ plays like the ‘#1 Record’ to ‘Radio City’ by that other unknown-at-the-time anglophile Memphis band, Big Star; less complex yet every bit as engaging.

Both bands shared similar influences that led them to pre-empt the US power pop explosion by a few years, and as a result faced indifference from the public at the time. However, whereas Big Star posthumously achieved the fame implied by their name, Zuider Zee are totally forgotten to this day, although Richard Orange eventually found some fame as writer of the 1988 Cyndi Lauper hit ‘Hole In My Heart’.

Musically, Zuider Zee combined the quirk of 10CC with the glam of Cockney Rebel. And while Big Star had a broader inspirational background, Zuider Zee went hook, melody line and singer for Lennon-McCartney.

On ‘Old’, Richard even declares that “we are tired of your Beatles” but that must be simply because he had listened to nothing else for the past 10 years. In fact, when Zuider Zee at times sounds uncannily like Wings, it seems more like a logical progression than an influence.  

Not long after the original album’s release, bassist John Bonar was stabbed while protecting the band’s van from thieves, and Zuider Zee split shortly after the incident. This means that with ‘Zeenith’ and the original LP, we now probably have the works from this band.

But if the original Zuiderzee Works that protects the Netherlands from being swallowed by the sea has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the band inspired by that name should be given similar status – at least within the confines of US power pop!

Short like a Swedish summer, but oh so sweet


If you are a Dungen completist who felt slightly underwhelmed by the split record with Woods, Gustav Ejstes’ involvement in Hästpojken’s new album ‘Hästpojken är död’ or even the Amazing’s ‘In Transit’, then it is time to celebrate. The new Melody’s Echo Chamber album ‘Bon Voyage’ is for you.

Whereas Melody Prochet collaborated with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on her intriguing 2012 debut, she has broadened her vision considerably this time.

Although quintessentially pop – as opposed to rock – ’Bon Voyage’ out-psychs Dungen and mixes everything from vocoders to backwards vocals to flutes to Pink Floyd organ bursts to disco to Swedish folk music in a fucked-up but quite lovely way. And while Prochet’s voice sticks to a slightly anonymously high-pitched register as on her previous outing, she adds Swedish to her French and English. You might think it is for exotic effects, but honestly, this comes across as the collaborators just having a lot of fun. And fun it is!

Songs get interrupted by oddball sections and seemingly disjointed passages; they stop, start and stagger around but ultimately never falter. Partly this is due to the workout-like propellant they get from Dungen/The Amazing drummer Johan Holmegard.

He is joined by bandmates Gustav Ejstes, Reine Fiske and Fredrik Swahn who play, sing, scream and probably make a few other noises too. Oh, and the Tame Impala connection is still there, with Nick Allbrook who does a strange spoken part, among other things.

After overcoming a serious injury to her neck and spine, Prochet moved to Sweden to record this album with above friends in the stillness and seclusion of a forest. The results are genuinely out there in a Swedish hippie sort of way.

Clocking in at only 34 minutes it is short like a Swedish summer, but oh so sweet.

A suite of electronics and swirling piano

Matt Baber

Whereas Matt Baber’s excellent ‘Outskirts’ album from 2013 still had many anchor points in rock music, his second official album (he has privately made about 10 others) is something completely different. For lack of better (or any!) knowledge, I would say that his ‘Suite for Piano and Electronics’ in nine parts is a modern classical record.

Together with Joff Winks, Matt is the creative core behind progressive rock band Sanguine Hum. One of the aspects that makes Sanguine Hum such a unique experience is Matt’s textural work, utilising both electronics and keyboards. And you can recognise some of that here, with flights of notes that both loop and move at the same time; although they are repeated they also swirl and transform. And just like with Matt’s work in Sanguine Hum, there is quite some drama to uncover as chaos and structure combine.

Compared to solo extravaganzas made by keyboard wizards of yore, like Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz, this is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Minimalistic and maybe influenced by the likes of Terry Riley or Philip Glass. And that is a good thing indeed.

Although the album starts off with a warbling electronic sound, this really is a piano album more than anything else. The electronics mostly create a context in which the ivory tones are wrapped. 

And it works beautifully. Rather than diminishing the electronics, the effect is really to focus the listener on the physicality of the piano. Five of the tracks have electronic intros; they almost function as handrails that offer a piano music novice like me something to hold on to.

Despite the simple instrumentation, there is nevertheless a lushness to this music that makes me think of rain-soaked, rolling hills in the English countryside. Little melodies gather like rainwater in pools on the soft slopes and flow in rivulets of tones. And organically, they sometimes develop into quite catchy little tunes.

I am quite out of my depth with this album. It is not something I would listen to if it wasn’t for Matt Baber. But that just goes to show how important it is to step outside one’s comfort zone, as this is a great album.

My biggest surprise is how easy ‘Suite for Piano and Electronics’ is to listen to and how it makes me feel an increased sense of awareness. Headphone music that wakes you up rather than making you drowsy!

Cobalt Chapel listen to their inner kraut

Mountain [24 bit 44.1k master]

Cobalt Chapel, the haunting psych duo consisting of Cecilia Fage and Jarrod Gosling who made a splendid self titled debut album last year are back with ‘Mountain’, an EP that clocks in at over 20 minutes.

Compared to the debut album, this EP moves the duo into slightly harder territory. At least on the opening track, they definitely have been paying more attention to their inner kraut.

With the second track ’Bohemia’ we are back in more familiar territory. Cecilia’s wordless vocals float around like a modern day Norma Winstone, and there is a broken down circus feel to the whole thing as organs weave in and out. Lost my mind! Who? Me?

”It is all done with just organs, but there’s some Mellotron on ’Canticle’,” comments Jarrod. 

And maybe it is the Mellotron, but the mood on the third track is at first almost sacral. However it soon develops into a chaotic organ workout that is pagan more than anything else, before ending in something that could have been recorded in a church after all.

The EP concludes where it began, with a radio edit of the title track. Not sure if this will be played on the radio, but I do know that I love it!