Starting the countdown of my favourite albums from 2013 with a varied selection of sort-of oldies.
10. Honey Ltd - The Complete LHI Recordings
When Light In The Attic announced their intention to reissue the collected works of Lee Hazelwood’s LHI label, few could have imagined how rich a seam of material would be uncovered. The albums of Hazelwood’s solo work are charming enough in themselves, but the real treasure lies in the dozens of acts he produced a few tracks for before seemingly losing interest.
Honey Ltd is the first LHI group to be comprehensively profiled by Light In The Attic, a 60s girlpop foursome whose Supremes-style harmonies sat somewhat at odds with Hazelwood’s louche, lounge sensibilities. At the time it didn’t really work - Hazelwood lost interest after a single or two and and cobbled together some session tracks into a single album - but in 2013 it’s a fascinating, compelling listen. It’s politically torn - at times flirting with hippy psychedelia, at others praising the soldiers of the Vietnam war - but it’s carried along by the beautiful harmonies between the band members. Their cover of Louie Louie might be utterly disposable, but it’s the breathy ephemeral vocal performance that brings the listener back time and time again.
There’s so much to love about this album. It doesn’t hold together very well, it’s an abandoned project by a fickle producer, it’s something which has otherwise been forgotten, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t listened to it repeatedly. It’s 60s pop in its most unexpected sense and is all the more welcome for it.
As an introduction to the LHI pantheon, it’s an intriguing taste of what’s to come. As the album’s title suggests, there’s no more Honey Ltd in the archives but the possibility of similar compilations for Kitchen Cinq, Hamilton Streetcar, Danny Michaels and many other LHI artists is now something that I’m eagerly hoping for. Fingers crossed!
9. Cults - Static
A simultaneously frustrating and enchanting listen, Cults’ second album is less in thrall to the Spector-esque Wall of Sound production and settles firmly into being a guitar pop album. It lacks the big pop hits from the first album but makes up for it by being a more consistent listen. There was a definite worry that they’d stay firmly in the stylistic groove that they found with the first album; Static may be the name of the album but it’s not a description of the band.
Ignore the beard-stroking reviews that focused on the couple’s break-up during recording; they’re still a pop band and a great one at that. Much like Honey Ltd, one hopes that Static is indicative that there is still much more to come.
8. Malcolm Middleton - 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine
Is this cheating? Probably.
5:14 (as it’s affectionately known) was finally issued on vinyl this year in a package including all sorts of live sessions, demos, and rarities. Those extras are almost worth an entry on this top ten in their own right, but it’s the album itself that makes the grade here.
It’s still the same miserable, self-loathing, witty, enchanting album from 2002, but it’s still a record that absolutely bowls me over. There are few lyricists who are as insightful as Malcolm; even on his most throwaway of ballads will be a couplet that you can’t help but grin at, and 5:14 is packed full of such wordplay.
Unlike most debuts, there’s no sense of an artist finding their feet here. It’s a document of a sad time in one man’s life rendered through the pen of someone who’s a bloody clever sod and probably knows it.