* Odessey & Oracle and the Casiotone Orchestra (Folkwit Records)
'Baroque Pop' is not one of my favourite names for a genre of music, but it's as good a description as any for this masterpiece by French band Odessey & Oracle. The band consists of the core trio of Fanny L'Héitier, Guillaume Médioni and Alice Baudoin, here joined by the Casiotone Orchestra.
Simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic, this is a beautiful and very Gallic album whose music seems equally rooted in 60s psych pop, space rock, (slightly twee) C86-style indie, Stereolab (go-to reference for modern French alternative music) and baroque/classical music.
That sounds like a slightly indigestible mixture, but it isn't; somehow the sound of violas/cellos/flutes etc is complemented perfectly by the analog synths of the Casiotone Orchestra, creating a sound that is wistful and comforting, but never cloying, thanks in part to Fanny L'Héitier's pleasantly cool voice.
The album was available through France's Carton Records but has been picked up by the excellent UK-based label Folkwit Records, who will be releasing it on 1st June this year and is well worth picking up. Check out the band here too.
Italy's finest black metal band returned with this sombre and furious album, an authoritative and scathing attack on pretty much everything, informed (but not constrained by) the tenets of Italian Futurism.
The imagery is austere yet grandiose and militaristic, but the music is far from rigid or dead. In comparison to their earlier masterpiece In Umbrarum Imperii Gloria (one of the most underrated black metal albums ever released),the tone of Vorwärts seems less despairing, more aggressive and dynamic but never simplistic, revealing hidden subtleties with each listen.
* Nippon Girls 2 (Big Beat International)
This second compilation of songs by Japanese beat/pop/rock 'n' roll girls is every bit as great as the first. Covering the period 1965-70, it's a wide-ranging selection, taking in the crazed fuzz-pop of Anne Mari, the Serge Gainsbourg-influenced erotic pop of Chiyo Okumura and the barely musical voice of Kemeko Matsudaira. These sometimes naïve, sometimes sophisticated records preserve the excitement of one of the most revolutionary periods of popular music.
* Oblivionized - Life is a Struggle, Give Up (Secret Law Records)
I've written about this at length elsewhere, so in brief: this is the superbly unpredictable avant grind debut album from one of the best bands in the UK underground extreme scene.
* Zombi - The Zombi Anthology (Relapse Records)
This great album gathers together all of the early work of Pittsburg's analog synth duo Zombi; superbly creepy and minimalistic John Carpenter-influenced tunes, perfect for when you just want to wallow in horror movie atmosphere.
* Pilot - A's, B's & Rarities (EMI)
A great compilation from terminally underrated Edinburgh post-glam pop-rock icons Pilot. Limited a little by its theme (some of their best songs were album-only tracks) but still more than enough to showcase the band's superb Beatles-esque songwriting skills and inventive musicianship.
* Frank Zappa - Over-nite Sensation (DiscReet Records)
At the time critics saw Over-nite Sensation as evidence of Zappa's descent into puerile inconsequentiality, but the accessible, (relatively) commercial songs on the album manage to compress all of the band's amazing musicianship into far more concise forms than is sometimes the case.
*Taran - Taran (Odium Records)
Straightforward, ultra-aggressive but still atmospheric old-school Polish black metal; kind of like classic Immortal but with a more anti-Christian focus. Well worth checking out for fans of second wave BM.
* Green Elder - beautifully atmospheric neofolk from the USA
* Enslaved - In Times: my new favourite Enslaved album
* David Bowie - Young Americans (the expanded reissue from the 90s with Who Can I Be Now - one of Bowie's best songs of that period - on it)
* Délétère - De Ritibus Morbiferis (Sepulchral Productions) Excellent compilation of some of the best Quebec black metal of recent times
* Neil Young - Harvest Not quite as classic as After the Goldrush, but it has its own charm
* Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique. An enduring classic
* The Beatles - The Beatles. People who think the white album would be better slimmed down to a single disc are WRONG. Without even Wild Honey Pie it would be a lesser album.