Neile's Favourite Music of 1995


Contents


This is my list of top discs of 1995. Warning--it's very long (a top 50 + reissues) and of course they're annotated which makes it even longer. Entries within each of the areas aren't in any order, and I also have really annoying "points for" comments. Read on at your own risk.

All links are to The Ectophiles' Guide to Good Music.


Neile's Total Obsessions of 1995

(6 out of a scale of 5 points)

Gabriel Yacoub--Quatre

This has to be one of the most magnificent discs of all time--a definite permanent favourite for me. The basis of the album is traditional French/Celtic folk, but it moves from there into very contemporary music. It's mostly fairly quiet but powerful, and at times so achingly beautiful it hurts to listen to it. One of the few male singer-songwriters that make it to my lists. Extra points for only rarely singing in English.

Kathleen Yearwood--Book of Hate

She's angry, but her songs still have beauty. There's hate on this disc, and yet there's a sense of redemption, too, and she's angry at the right things. Also an unusual sense of maturity. The best lyricist I've come across in years--poetic and pointed, impressionist and concrete, both. Diamanda Galas discovers traditional and contemporary folk music. She gets extra points for being Canadian & for being so forthright.

Kerri Simpson--The Arousing

An amazing rich voice, a rich musical tradition, and a depth of songwriting. Thanks to Anthony Horan for writing a review of her work on the ecto list, I chased down the web site and heard it and ordered it immediately. Strong, individual stuff that demands more attention. Individuality and Aussie points, points for using and not abusing traditional sounds.

Sandra Lockwood--Shell

Yes, her style is very early Kate Bush, but she also has early Kate's songwriting ability. She can tell a wonderful story and put together interesting music. An impressive debut disc. I hope she gets enough support to put out more music. I first heard this browsing through several discs at a used music store. Flipped through the cuts and by the start of the third song I knew I had to buy it. Extra special points for being from Victoria, BC, Canada, where I grew up. I had no idea anyone there knew what music is!

Happy Rhodes--The Keep

I don't care that I've heard some of these songs before--this is a wonderful Happy album. The new versions are mostly wonderful (though nothing is ever going to make me like "Collective Heart"--just too poppy & bouncy for me and the lyrics are too sweet, but that's another story). Extra Happy bonus points for reminding me so strongly of why Happy is one of my all-time favourites.

PJ Harvey--To Bring You My Love

Gutsy performing and songwriting in with PJ's inimitable powerhouse voice. Though I have a fondness for Dry, her albums just keep getting better & better, and she doesn't repeat herself. PJ going bluesy is brilliant. Points for doing just what the hell she wants to do and doing it so well.

Other Seriously Excellent Stuff

(5 out of 5 points)

Heather Nova--Oyster

I feel lucky to have know about and like Heather for a couple of years, but this album proves she's just getting better and better. The songs are strong and melodic and catchy. My only complaint is that hearing her in concert made me realize how frequently she uses the trick of a quiet beginning moving into a loud rocking song. Extra points for putting together a breakthrough album.

Throwing Muses--University

A wonderful album that may be my favourite Muses album. Great to know they can pull it off after the disappointment of Red Heaven. The whole album is a delight to listen to. Catchy. Melodic, yet pushing the rock edge. Extra points for recovery from losing Tanya Donnelly and putting The Muses back together again.

Waterson:Carthy--waterson:carthy

A brilliant traditional folk album. This is Martin Carthy, his wife Norma Waterson, and their daughter, Eliza Carthy sharing an album and having a wonderful time. It's a wonderful blend of voices and songs. Points being able to do traditional music in a simple, traditional way and still being lively and contemporary--and for brilliant musicianship.

Jennifer Ferguson--Hand Around the Heart

I fell in love with "Suburban Hum" on Vickie Mape's Femme Music Sampler and had been looking for Jennifer Ferguson ever since. It took me a while and a lot of email exchanges with someone in South Africa who was looking for some American recordings but I finally got this. It seems to be a compilation of her work. At first I thought it was going to be pretty conventional, but her songs always take an unexpected turn, and her songs and her voice have a warmth that is catching. Delightful. Points for sentimentality without sappiness.

Cordelia's Dad--Comet

Bare, straightforward traditional American music. The minimalist approach here is wonderful effective. I love the way the lead singer (a boy!) and background singer's voices blend or don't as the case may be. Solid and powerful. Points for knowing that simple can knock yer sox off.

Mari Boine--Leahkastin

Every album of hers is wonderfully powerful musically--I just wish I understood some of the words. These are kind of world music things with a tribal flavour, but still seems highly individual. Mari Boine is Sami (used to be called Lapp) and the way it as affected her music seems fundamental to its overall sound--yet it's contemporary too. Power seems to be the overused word in these annotations, but damn this is powerful. Points for making world music without the New Age musical cliches.

Innocence Mission--Glow

This one has just barely managed to usurp the place of their self-titled collection as my favourite Innocence Mission disc. The songs here have a maturity and depth and spirituality that is not only inoffensive and rare in contemporary music but seems totally organic and takes me along with it. Karen Peris has the most amazing voice! Powerful comeback points.

Jane Siberry--Maria

When I heard the first strains of "Maria" I got really nervous. I was the first person I knew of to hear the songs, and so I wasn't prepared at all, but as soon as I heard the second song "See the Child" I knew I was going to love this. My relationship with Siberry albums is long-term, and I know I will continue to find new & interesting nooks in this music. Jane with a jazz flavour is surprising, but surprisingly still more Jane than jazz. Points for convincing me that conventional jazz instrumentation doesn't have to be boring.

Other Stuff I Really, Really Liked

(4 out of 5 points)

Susan McKeown & The Chanting House--Bones

This one was a sleeper for me. I bought it on the basis of hearing a bit on a web site, then didn't think I liked the whole thing, but there was one song that stuck in my head and so I kept playing it and suddenly began to hear how interesting this disc is. On the surface it doesn't seem to have that much to offer, but with more listens I discovered all kinds of passages that offered things to keep playing the disc over and over again for. Points for pulling traditional elements into contemporary songs and sounding both old and new all at once.

Amy X Neuburg & Men--Utechma

Weirdness points. At first I thought I didn't like this because Songs 85 to 91 was so uneven and this isn't like the really catchy songs I loved on that album. It's something new & different and equally (and more consistently) good. Great and varied percussion and rhythms. Bonus points for being techy but not boring but minus a half-point for "Utechma" = "you take my".

Lois--Bet The Sky

Minimal, rocky folk and an understated performance and song-writing style made this a stand-out disc for me. Points for simple strength and knowing that you don't need 20 instruments to make a good album.

Boo Trundle--The Vast Underneath / Possible Bodies

Okay, The Vast Underneath is from 1993, but I just discovered it this year. This is stuff to play loudly and much of the time she's shouting rather than singing, but the lyrics are intriguing, the melodies catchy. Points for the way her music confuses me but digs its hooks in my mind.

Big Hat--Taqueria del Muerte

How can this be Big Hat's final album? They were such a great band, and this album shows how great they were. It may not be my favourite of their albums (I have a fondness for Shimmer that will be hard to shake) but it's a wonderful, worthy album. Extra points because there won't be any more of this music.

My Scarlet Life--Reliquaries

Preston Klik from Big Hat's new band. At first I wasn't sure I liked this because the overall sound and the lyrics are so quirky, but it grew on me and now I even like "Lunch with Ghandi" and "Cold Dinner for Elvis". Delightful and off-the-wall both musically and lyrically. Points for pulling this one off.

Lida Husik--Joyride

A favourite discovery of a couple of years ago, Lida Husik continues to produce strong albums. Her style shifts with each one, but there's something just Lida about them all--her unique view of the world? Her obscure lyrics? Playfulness? Points for those, I guess and for persevering in the indie world.

Marianne Faithfull--A Secret Life

I don't listen to this nearly often enough, but it's wonderful--Marianne in a dreamy collaboration. Her voice really shines (can you say that about a voice so raspy?) in this context. Points for a delightful album.

Garmarna--Vittrad

They've been called the Swedish Steeleye Span, which kind of fits but there's something much rougher and rawer about their sound. Haunting and more than a little eerie at times. Points for darkness & guts.

Rebecca Timmons--Rebecca Timmons

Kinda in the folk vein, kinda poppy, once you get past the boring first song this album rewards you with a deep warbly voice and deep warbly piano-based songwriting that sticks in my mind. Points for learning hairstyling from Jane Siberry! And she's Canadian so she gets extra points. And she has little short cool noisy intro bits to the songs!

Janice Durham--Just Hanging Around

Rock, pure and simple. At first I thought this was merely ok, but the way she throws her voice around in "Walking in Your Sleep" made me keep listening until I realized how great the album is and how strong her voice and songwriting are. And no one will ever hear of her because it's a local, self- released disc. I can only pray enough people hear this and she'll keep writing and recording. Extra points for being able to create a song called "Get Out of My House" that stands on its own beside Kate Bush's.

Bjork--Post

A surprising and constant delight. Points for managing to make me love dance music. Extra points for "Isobel" because I love it so much and for the video for "It's oh So Quiet".

Long Fin Killie--Houdini

Points for having a boy singer that I love. Points for pulling traditional elements into experimental rock and great songwriting and sounding like no one else. Another Too Pure triumph. A Houdini of an album.

Other Stuff Well Worth a Mention

(3.5 out of 5 points)

Jenn Vix--Jenn Vix

Mellow and electronic, but worth a listen, especially for the song, "Devils Chasing Angels". I think this one is actually from 1993, too. But that's ok--I never did a top list of 1993 so I'm making up for that this year. Points for getting beyond the electronic sameness of similar albums.

Suddenly, Tammy!--(we get there when we do.)

Though I like their self-titled disc better (maybe because I read the lyrics for this album) Suddenly, Tammy! are charming. Poppy without being brain-dead, and the piano/bass/drums only combo is a nice change from the usual. Points for originality.

Perfume Tree--a lifetime away

Dreamy, a little in the Cocteau Twins vein but also heavy on the guitar, Perfume Tree is always a delight. Heard them live for the first time a few weeks ago and they're great live, too (but they need a real drumset). Points for great vocals, even if I can't make out the words.

An April March--Instruments of Lust and Fury [EP]
Lessons in Vengeance

An E.P. and a new full-length. This is another Cocteau Twins-ish-ish band, and their songwriting is a little uneven--but that's only apparent because their good songs are so damn outstanding (points!!) that there merely good songs seem weak beside them. "Dossier" and "Clench" are among the year's best songs. Delectable.

Salad--Drink Me

Okay, they're not doing anything wildly creative, but it's great, straightahead alternarock, and "Drink the Elixir" is so damn catchy points.

Flash Girls--Maurice and I

All right, it's got some really cheesy humour and both of the singers need either to learn how to use their voices better, but they've managed somehow to make these flaws part of the charm of their music. Points for using their literary connections for great lyrics (Emma Bull is an excellent fantasy/sf author).

Low--Long Division

Slow & dreamy with minimal instrumentation, they get extra points for bucking all trends and being quiet and yet not sounding like the Cowboy Junkies, even though that's the only band I can compare them too. I guess they're different because there's not the Junkies' folky/country feel to their music--this is quiet alternative rock. If that's possible, this is it.

ani difranco--not a pretty girl

This is a strong album, but somehow it hasn't caught my heart the way Puddle Dive and especially Out of Range did. I'm not sure why not, but points for ani-ness and being a righteous babe no matter what.

Pram--Sargasso Sea

Yeah, they're still weird and off-the-wall musically, lyrically, and Rosie can't quite truly sing but put it all together and Pram is one of the most interesting experimental-ish bands around. Too Pure records points.

Ana Coutinho--Eyes Never Lie

Another older one I discovered this year. Folky, a little poppy (occasionally too much or me, depending on my mood) but Canadian, Joni-Mitchell-ish and production by John Switzer (Jane Siberry's earlier work) points. Strong, lower-range voice.

Stereolab--Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2)

A great compilation of their singles of the last couple of years. I like this much better than Mars Audiac Quintet. It hangs together as a collection fairly well, too. Points for Letitia Sadier's great voice, using weird '60s synths, and for witty socialist lyrics (is that a contradiction in terms?).

Susan Voelz--Summer Crashing

Running a parallel line with Lisa Germano, Susan Voelz is a little country-ish for my tastes, but I still love this album. Violin points.

Alison Statton and Spike--Weekend in Wales E.P.

The voice of Young Marble Giants reappears!! But, damn, this is from 1993. Still points for staying minimalist and sweet-voiced and being so much in advance of the times that doing the same kind of thing is still new.

Tricky--Maxinquaye

Well, here's something I never thought I'd like but I do, I do! Special points for making me like something even remotely rap music-ish. Points for letting Martine's voice carry the vocal weight.

Really Promising Starts

Jewel--Pieces of You

I fell in love with Jewel's singing and songwriting last year from Neal and Jeff's tapes, and while this album didn't quite live up to that promise for me, Jewel's oeuvre itself still is impressive and damn can she write songs and be funny and sing in all kinds of different ways. She's still finding herself but is also anchored. Bonus points for all the marvelous songs that didn't manage to make it on this disc. Hope some of them are on the next.

16 Horsepower--16 Horsepower E.P.

Boys agin! Country punk! Folky music as though sung by New Order! Super duper extra bonus points for making me like this kind of music. It's the juxtaposition of the depressive voice and the energy of their playing. Whatever. I like it.

Rebecca Moore--Admiral Charcoal's Song

Experimental? Kinda. Definitely interesting, but I wish she didn't also sound so consistently...whiny is it? Something in the tone, anyway, that I wish she'd varied a bit, but the music is definitely different and intriguing. Bonus points for managing to be both experimental-ish and ear-catchy.

My Brilliant Beast--My Brilliant Beast

Is this dance music? Not quite. Cocteau Twins-ish? A little. Beautiful and beastly and ear candy, and a very promising start. They have a new disc in the works and it this is any indication it will be well worth tracking down. Canadian and great band name points.

Weeping Tile--eePee [E.P.], cold snap

Points for being a good band despite the horrible band name. Damn. Loud rock with some folky touches, Sarah Harmer is a very good songwriter. A little uneven, there are some great songs here, especially "Westray" about the mining disaster in Nova Scotia. Bonus Canuck and theft from Robert Service points.

goya dress--Bedroom Cinema E.P.
ruby e.p.

In a couple of places the lead singer's voice is a dead ringer for Jane Siberry's--quite a surprise to hear Jane singing in a alternative rocky/dreamy/indefinable kind of Brit rock band. If these eps are any indication of what this group can do, I'm really looking forward to longer works from them.

Sandra Lockwood--Shell

See above

Stuff I Got This Year That I Should Have Got Years Ago

Agnes Buen Garnas and Jan Garbarek--Rosenfole

Dark & Northern. Simple. Haunting. Uniqueness points.

Area--Between Purple and Pink

At last I found a copy of this album! And then another, and then another, after looking for a couple of years. It's probably my favourite Area disc. Henry Frayne's guitar points. Bliss. (I did find homes for the other copies!)

Low--I Could Live in Hope

A great debut album, and especially a knock-out song about how "Lazy" Sarah is.

Finally, Finally, Available on CD in 1995

Gabriel Yacoub--Elementary Level of Faith

Like Quatre this is a uniquely beautiful collection. A little experimental in the Gabriel-ish vein, there's nothing like the love songs on here (and I usually hate straightforward love songs) and only Yacoub could get away with a song like "Seduction" that is so lovely it makes life worth living just to be able to hear it.

Lanterna--Lanterna

Henry Frayne's guitar is more evocative than most songs with lyrics. Instrumentals that speak.

Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas and friends--The Attic Tracks, 1972-1984

There will never be another voice like Sandy Denny's. Some tracks here than are among her best work. The Trevor Lucas stuff is ok, but it's the Sandy rarities that make this worth tracking down.

Larry Norman--Only Visiting This Planet
So Long Ago The Garden
In Another Land

The only Christian rock I can bear to listen to, and the only Christian rock musician that mainstream musicians cite as an influence. Wacky sense of humour combined with the seriousness of his faith make for some pretty strange music, but the wit and songwriting skills make these memorable.

The Magnetic Fields--The Wayward Bus/Distant Plastic Trees

Stephen Merritt's great pop songwriting combined with Susan Anway's voice. Enchanting.

Sheila Chandra--Quiet
The Struggle
Roots and Wings
Monsoon

Sheila Chandra's voice moving from Indipop to the beginnings of her stunning current work.


A note on Neile's point system: First off, I made up this point system after writing most of this message. I don't really rate my discs. I based the rating on the fact that I don't keep discs I won't play again and so I sell a fair number of the discs I pick up. Discs get 1 point if I like a few songs enough to keep the disc, 2 if I like the whole disc and 3 if I like the disc enough to play it fairly frequently. I know this is long, but there are still good discs I didn't list at all. Sigh.


1995's favourite discs § 1996's favourite discs § 1997's favourite discs § 1998's favourite discs § 1999's favourite discs § 2001's favourite discs


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