10 best albums Q3 2018


(in alphabetical order)

The long hot summer of 2018 saw slightly fewer interesting new releases compared to the first two quarters. In a way that is great because I managed to stick to just ten albums (and a comp!) on the list without having to leave more than a handful of great things out.

But the Q4 list is already halfway filled with essential stuff… See you there soon!

The Goon Sax – We’re not talking


Gryphon – Reinvention



Honeybus – Recital



Lemon Twigs – Go To School



Simon Love – Sincerely, S. Love x


Low – Double Negative


Paul McCartney – Egypt Station



Mull Historical Society – Wakelines


Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt


Alexander Tucker – Don’t Look Away


Best compilation Q3 2018

Bob of the Pops – Volume 3

Gryphon reinvent Alice in Wonderland


Sometimes people sigh at me for being such an anglophile. And in these Brexit times I am increasingly seeing their point. The insular attitude of the Brits is not exactly helpful at the moment. 

But then a strange oddity like Gryphon’s new album ‘Reinvention’ comes along and makes me forget all of that.

You really have to be a bit insular to make an album like this.

Gryphon were a band that got away with putting out albums of medieval music back in the 70s by adding drums and amplifiers to their crumhorns, lutes, flutes and whatnot, and calling it prog.

Here they are back with their first album in 40 years or so, with all their original members (except Richard Harvey) chipping in together with some new recruits. 40 years might seem like a long hiatus, but in the medieval perspective it feels just like yesterday.

And the new album can easily be compared to the original ones, as the nice folks at Esoteric Records are just now releasing a double CD with remastered versions of all the original albums. Particularly, the irresistibly titled ‘Midnight Mushrumps’ and ‘Red Queen to Gryphon Three’ are highly recommended albums as far as I am concerned.

Although Gryphon got away with calling themselves a rock band back then, they really weren’t. And they still are not. How about music for a Robin Hood reunion party? Even the singer sounds like a bard at King Edward’s court. Well-articulated and declamatory as if trained to make himself understood to a large crowd without extra amplification.

In any case, a track like ‘Haddock’s Eyes’ is exactly the type of thing I simply adore. 

‘Haddock’s Eyes’ is a term for the name of a song sung by The White Knight in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’, in chapter VIII to be exact. It involves a lot of convoluted play on different levels of symbolisation, which you can read more about elsewhere. The whole thing is just plain silly, while somehow managing to be not contrived and really quite smashing.

It is in fact all the way up there with Mike Batt’s musical rendition of ‘The Hunting of the Snark’. 

And by the way, the Brits will suffer more from Brexit than the rest of us. So keep calm and carry on, if that really is what is needed to keep this kind of music flowing.


Only a Gibson can better a Gibb

I don’t like cover albums. I really don’t. But now I am going to try to convince you to listen to one anyway. Because, how can you not like Robyn Gibson a.k.a Bob of the Pops? 

Cover versions are often made out of speculation, or they are sloppy homages, or just simply pointless. But the choices Robyn makes convey both his love for the music and deep insight into the minds of the original songwriters. His versions actually add something where detraction is the unfortunate norm.

Robyn recently released the third instalment in his Bob of the Pops series, again as a free download. I mean, you can’t even pay what you want. And I for one certainly would want to pay for this!

But apart from the price, there is nothing cheap here. On the contrary, the sounds are genuine and the bisonaroundsuspectosound production is tasteful down to every detail. 

Apart from a few guests this time round, we are left in Robyn’s exceptionally talented care for the whole thing. As an effect, that gives a coherence to the songs although they originate from many times and places.

It also inevitably makes me think of the Fading Yellow compilation series, which stands out for its uncanny coherence in production values – and the genre here could indeed be called Fading Yellow.

When listening, you are immediately torn between wanting to put on the originals to compare and being totally fascinated by the stuff you haven’t heard before. It is like peeking into someone else’s record collection and realising that it just has the great stuff without all the fluff that’s in your own.

And suddenly, giving this away for free starts making some sense. The Bob of the Pops albums are an invitation from a fan to other fans to a conversation about what makes pop music good. In addition, it eliminates elitism about taste from the get go. Robyn has spent a lot of time listening to music but rather than be the expert who dictates to others what is good, he is simply sharing his love for this stuff. And I am certain that he would be thrilled if listening to this makes people actually continue on to the originals.

The album opens with a sunny version of ‘When Your Light’s Turned On’ from the ‘Evolution’ album by the Hollies. It makes for easy yet glistening listening and sets the tone for what’s to come: More pop than psychedelia and more sweet than sour.

But it is soon evident that easy in this case certainly doesn’t mean shallow. The treatment of the Bee Gees ‘Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts’ is… in fact better than the original. 


It starts off with just piano and voice like it should, but about two thirds in the sound expands to a full band treatment before going back to just the voice from the intro and ending on the song’s signature lone piano note. 

It seems so obvious that at first I thought that’s the way the Bee Gees did it. But they didn’t. I even had to listen to an alternative version just to make sure the full band part wasn’t there either. Although it sounds so much like a Bee Gees thing, it just isn’t there.

It takes a Gibson to better a Gibb. And a genius one at that!

A track that I had to search deep for in my collection is ‘Bathroom Wall’ and I can’t say I properly remembered it. Thanks Robyn for putting this catchy 1968 B-side by US band the Tokens with roots back to Neil Sedaka in the mid 50s back on my playlist!!

The totally new acquaintance for me this time around is Joe Pernice. To be honest, I am still not sure who this guy is, but I went straight ahead and ordered his ‘Big Tobacco’ album. 

“So help me Lord, get me stoned again” sings Robyn with an irresistibly bittersweet voice, but despite the drug reference this is not a 60s song. The original release is from 2000 and like the covers of songs by Andy Partridge, Julian Cope and Elliot Smith help extend the album through time.

Another killer track here is ‘Goose Step Mama’. The original is a spoof track by Neil Innes’ Beatles tribute band the Rutles. Doing a serious and honest Rutles cover again – after having done ‘With a Girl Like You’ on volume 1 – is cool because it places Neil Innes where he should be, namely among the originals.

But there is one thing that worries me with this release. Volume 2 came only a year ago, but it has been two years since the latest release by Robyn’s proper band, the Junipers. And I, for one, have been counting the hours ever since.

Every single Bob fan in the world now screams for a new Junipers album!

The Lemon Twigs get thorny

lemon twigs_go to school

With last year’s ’Do Hollywood’ the young D’Addario brothers that form the core of the Lemon Twigs charmed the world with their wide-eyed, theatrical and fun pop.

But with their new album, a rock opera about a monkey that gets adopted and goes to school, their honeymoon with the critics is over.

And it is easy to see why people now either seem to love or to hate, rather than just simply adore the band. ’Go To School’ is as hard to listen to as ’Do Hollywood’ was easy.

Long, story-focused, less catchy, and sounding like the illegitimate child of a Broadway musical and a 70s music hall performance in Brighton, this certainly is a mouthful.

In fact, ’Go To School’ reminds me of the original soundtrack version of ’Tommy’, the one with all the guest performances by Elton John, Jack Nicholson, Tina turner and so on. Except now the guest stars are Todd Rundgren, Jody Stephens and daddy D’Addario – people who feel more like survivors from the 70s than stars by now. In any case, the comparison isn’t flattering as the movie version of ‘Tommy’ isn’t very good – although the Who’s album version is.

In other words, ’Go To School’ sounds like the movie is the main event and not the music. Only, there is no movie.

Yet, the Lemon Twigs are making things difficult for themselves here in a very interesting way. When they could have just gone ahead and tweaked things from the previous album just a bit and landed safely as the new indie-rock wunderkinds, they have taken a left turn and gone full speed into something else.

Exactly what, I don’t think we know yet.

So while this is not their masterpiece, ’Go To School’ certainly shows their huge ambition and their willingness to risk what they have gained so far. It very clearly promises that there is much, much more to come. The album is also an exhilarating listen in its own right, as it really makes you sit up straight and wonder what the hell is going on. Certainly one of the best albums of the year.

King of pop, still on top

paul mccartney_egypt station

Obviously, he was in the Beatles.

But then Paul McCartney together with his late wife Linda made ‘Ram’ in 1971. Although it was dismissed and derided by critics on release (to the point that Paul never played it live), as far as I am concerned it is one of the few perfect pop albums ever made.

I did not grow up with the Beatles. I grew up with McCartney, and ‘Ram’ was my rosetta stone to music.

His new album ‘Egypt Station’ is not on that level. Neither is it a new ‘Band on the Run’ or even a ‘Tug of War’.

But it might just be up there with his unexpected late career return to form ‘Chaos and Creation in the Backyard’. What we get here is a surprisingly sprawling volley of ideas and hummable earworms that bear the inimitable McCartney imprint. 

Silly? Yes. 

Trivial? You bet. And particularly songs that try to get away with titles like ‘Fuh You’.

Insolent? More than you’d expect from someone aged 76. 

But hey, this is pop music, not a dissertation on the quantum energy fluctuations of quarks. And really great pop doesn’t have to take itself seriously to be full of joy, life and relevance.

‘Egypt Station’ entered the US album charts at #1, and started at #3 in the UK. So given that there are reviews of this album all over the internet by now, I won’t go into detail. Suffice to say that although music that sells well is generally bad, this album is one of those exceptions that prove the rule.

In other words, Macca is still top of the pops. And as long as he is, the world will keep on turning.

The Goon Sax really are talking

If I hadn’t known that I was listening to the second album by Brisbane, Australia pop trio The Goon Sax called ‘We’re Not Talking’ I would have guessed that this was a hitherto unknown archival recording by the Go-Betweens.

And if that isn’t praise enough to immediately want to go and get this album, then I should say that although Robert Forster’s son Louis Forster is in the band, they don’t only manage to capture the frail and wonderfully imperfect perfection of the early Go-Betweens but they also manage to add an internet era teenage perspective that very much puts them in the here and now.

And I said teenage because the Goon Sax are still just 19-year olds and fresh out of high school. Their coming of age angst balances perfectly against the music that manages to stay wide-eyed while not in reality necessarily breaking new ground. Although their first album ‘Up To Anything’ was quite an eye-opener, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they tried a bit too hard to punch above their age. Here, they are more comfortable in their own age, and manage to convey the freshness and insightfulness of youth at its very best.

This is also the album where drummer Riley Jones steps up as a personality that is every bit as strong as Forster’s and James Harrison’s. Although she completes the comparisons to the Go-Betweens by being the female drummer behind the two boys trading vocal duties as well as bass and guitar up front, here she effortlessly goes beyond that role. Her songwriting and vocals add both complexity and nerve, particularly on ‘Strange Light’, turned by Jones’ slightly detached yet simultaneously heartfelt voice into one of the album highlights.

Production is also kept to a minimum, which is not to say that it is lacking in any way. On the contrary, the soundscape has grown quite a bit, but neither strings nor horns detract from the overall spartan atmosphere. 

The Goon Sax capture the same joyful amateurism as the early Go-Betweens, but if anything it is balanced with more solid playing skills. Still there is that feeling of just the right amount of discord that could just be unintentional, but in any case doesn’t feel calculated.

It all adds up to one of those pop albums that are simply irresistible. Just wow!

The Action capture the essence of pop

the action

Fruits de Mer Records is a label that focuses on putting out 60s nuggets that I already have in cover versions recorded by bands that I would rather have releasing their own originals. Furthermore, the tracks are primarily released as vinyl singles, which makes it very expensive to buy in piecemeal fashion if you live outside the UK. The postage costs as much as the parcel, and with Brexit we will all be looking forward to adding taxes and fees to that…

Nevertheless, Fruits de Mer is quite honest with their 60s homage, and given that Cherry Red Records and their various sub-labels (Grapefruit, RPM, Esoteric, Lemon etc) have more or less cornered the market for original reissues, you have to give them a lot of respect for what  they do. And, by the way, a lot of the Fruits de Mer releases are excellent!

For this reason, I perched my ears when Fruits the Mer last year released a full cover LP of the Action’s final blast of glory. We now mainly know it as ‘Rolled Gold’ although it first saw the light in 1995 as ‘Brain (The Lost Recordings 1967/68)’ and was never released back in the day. The cover album is called ‘Strange Roads’ and the group behind it is Long Beach power pop/mod trio Sidewalk Society.

Doing a start to finish cover version of an LP that doesn’t exist in the first place is such a bonkers idea that you simply have to love it. 

And the result is awesome. Not only do the Sidewalk Society really nail the charm of these songs, they also seem fully at ease with studiously recreating a set that was as close to improvised 3 minute pop songs that you might get. 

Action tapes

The original recordings were quick and dirty “lets get some demos together and try to get a record contract” tracks, never intended to go anywhere beyond the ears of jaded record company executives.

Which brings us to these hastily conceived originals themselves. They are now being reissued on Grapefruit as part of a complete The Action box set called ‘Shadows and Reflections’ that is curated by master pop archeologist David Wells.

If you don’t have any previous reissue, you desperately need to get this box. In fact, you need to get it anyway since you get basically everything else the Action did in their short career to go along with it.

The Action, by the way, were the other protégées of a certain George Martin. In case you didn’t know. They were the first band he signed after he left EMI to set up his own company, AIR Productions. But between 1965 and 1968 he only managed to produce five singles, issued on Parlophone. Not a lot of bang for the bongo.

The Action cut a bunch of demos at various studios through 1967 into early 1968 and presented them to George Martin, who picked a song called ‘In My Dreams’ as their potential 6th single and recorded it with them properly at De Lane Lea studios. But they never even got as far as recording a potential B-side before George Martin suddenly decided to drop them.

And to cut a short story even shorter, that was that. The Action tried to shop the ‘Rolled Gold’ acetate around but were turned down by everyone, including John Lennon and Paul McCartney, whom they knew. 

In late 1960s London, everyone was obsessed with the perfect pop song. And many succeeded, but more often than not only as one-hit wonders. 

‘Rolled Gold’ has no singles. But what it lacks in production and focus, it delivers in breath of creativity. Not only do these demos have a very strong sense of presence – they make you feel like you are there, listening as the magic spontaneously happens – but they also have an incredible lightness of being. You get the feeling that writing pop songs (in some case maybe only melody stubs) is effortless, or at least immediate.

The other band that gives you that impression is of course the Beatles.

In that sense, ‘Rolled Gold’ captures the essence rather than the execution of pop music. As a result, its reputation is greater today than ever – and that is why you have contemporary bands like the Sidewalk Society covering it from start to finish. Go for the original first. Then keep on going.