It’s all subjective of course and I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow. Let me know if you agree or if you’re jumping up and down about what I’ve missed…
1. The Streets - Original Pirate Material An absolute masterpiece from the pen and South Birmingham bedroom of one Mike Skinner, OPM is as much an historical document as it is a collection of songs. A truly epochal album that perfectly encapsulates a time and place in UK music and culture, its influence still heard in clubs, raves, on urban radio stations and even at football matches. When Aston Villa’s Cameron Archer scored a hat-trick on his first appearance for the club recently, I overheard one fan describe it as ‘the best debut since Original Pirate Material!
2. Peace - Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll The third long player from the B-Town pioneers marked a real progression from their previous work - the clever lyrics and catchy choruses that are the band’s trademarks were still present and correct, but on Kindness… they were applied to subject matter that really matters. Abusive relationships, mental health issues, the environment and humanitarian concerns, all addressed in a nuanced and profoundly poetic manner, with the stand out moment being From Under Liquid Glass, hailed by Kurt Cobain’s daughter Francis Bean as her favourite song of the decade.
3. TrueMendous - The Misdiagnosis Of Chyvonne Johnson Truemendous has long been a lyrical genius, but it wasn’t until signing to the highly-regarded High Focus label that the instrumentals and production really caught up. Toxic relationships, self-empowerment, racist police brutality and ambiguous sexual politics provide hard-hitting themes explored with intelligent and wonderful wordplay. I’d love to interview her but I fear I’d be out of my depth. Not for nothing does jazz/hip-hop heavyweight Soweto Kinch describe her as ‘one of the best MCs in the world’.
4. Laura Mvula - Sing To The Moon The queen of Kings Heath graduated from the esteemed Birmingham Conservatoire with a degree in composition, and her training is evident here on an album that fully merited its Mercury Prize nomination. Laura’s powerful vocals and thrillingly adventurous choral arrangements combined perfectly to make her the first Birmingham-born artist to win a Best Female MOBO, blazing a trail since followed by Lady Leshurr and Stefflon Don (not to mention Mahalia who went to school here), and inspiring the remarkable number of phenomenally talented black females this city is blessed with. I thought her second album The Dreaming Room was even better for a while when it first came out but I’ve changed my mind again now. Her third, Pink Noise, is ace though. 5. JAWS - The Ceiling It’s often a difficult introduction when a band you’ve never seen before plays an album you’ve never heard before at a live gig, but that was the task facing JAWS when I saw them in Digbeth a couple of years ago - they passed with flying colours. From dreamy, trance pop, through shimmering shoe-gaze to driving indie rock, every track is a winner. I was so impressed I bought it on the way out of the gig and haven’t stopped playing it since.
6. Swim Deep - Where The Heaven Are We
A bit predictable to include the album containing the track that this website is named in honour of, but entirely deserved all the same. Swim Deep’s debut is brimming with fun, optimism and adolescent joy, not to mention brilliant songs. The ultimate embodiment of the carefree B-Town vibe. Pass me a K-cider.
7. The Twang - If Confronted Just Go Mad This will have long-term Twang fans checking the blasphemy laws, but for me it’s their best album among some very stiff competition. I was initially seduced by lead single Everytime and quickly fell in love with the rest of its sometimes visceral, always vibrant tracklist. Phil Etheridge has never sounded better as he leads us on a melodic journey through kitchen-sink adult dramas told with wit, warmth and wisdom. The Twang’s own songwriting goes from strength to strength but the cover of Blue Nile’s Tinseltown In The Rain is better than the original by A Million Miles, with a stunning vocal from Phil. Most bands go a bit flat if they’re lucky enough to get as far as a fifth album, but The Twang keep on pushing away the ghosts of their incredible back catalogue. Long may it continue. 8. Editors - The Back Room I discovered this album when looking into the production credits of Gavin Monaghan, the Wizard of Wolverhampton’s Magic Garden Studio, and immediately thought: where have you been all my life? The relentless, hypnotic rhythms, driving beats and squalling guitars are a perfect backdrop for the darkly oppressive lyrics, all brilliantly produced for full atmospheric effect. And as I write Munich is being played on the radio in the barbers! 9. Katherine Priddy - The Eternal Rocks Beneath This near-neighbour of the late, great Nick Drake (both geographically and artistically) doesn’t need me to sing her praises - the bandwagon of acclaim for her first album is in danger of collapsing under the weight of plaudits from the likes of Guy Garvey, Richard Thompson and what’s left of the music press. Such fulsome praise is well-deserved and only the start of a career that sparkles with potential. I often listen to this walking home from the night-shift as daylight dawns on the beautiful south-east Birmingham countryside. Lost in my headphones and Katherine’s bucolic, ethereal world, I sometimes nearly get run over by a surprise pushbike or growled at by a dog on an early morning walk. But it’s worth it. 10. Jorja Smith - Lost and Found
Jorja could have almost filled this album with high profile collaborations with the likes of Stormzy, Preditah, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, who have all fallen over in the stampede to work with her, but instead chose to showcase her own poetic and mature lyricism and the most instantly recognisable voice to come out of the West Midlands since Noddy Holder. A stunning debut from a stunningly talented artist.
0121 since Y2K | King City Online Playlist |. 2021