I hear the sirens calling
As the rain is gently falling

My favourite album of 2011

Everyone’s doing their end-of-year lists at the moment. PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake” seems to be a lot of people’s choice for Best Album of 2011 – which makes sense even if it is a little predictable. If I were to write out an Albums of 2011 list (which I’m not going to do because I’m too old for that sort of carry on), PJ Harvey would most likely appear quite high up. I’ve also really enjoyed this year’s efforts from Roots Manuva, James Blake, Alphabet Saints, The Fall (natch) and the utterly daft Master Musicians Of Bukkake, but the album I’ve played most and liked best in 2011 is “Bye Bye… We’re Melting” by The Millipede Engine.

“By Bye… We’re Melting” picked up some great reviews here in blogland but was largely ignored by the mainstream media, which is a shame. Maybe it’s because The Millipede Engine – Brill Nudie and Honey Lane – don’t fit easily into any musical category. I guess they’re kind of art rocky, kind of edging on proggy pop (or poppy prog). They like guitars and synths in equal measure, they’re not averse to brass and strings, and Brill Nudie’s vocals have been compared to David Bowie, Pete Shelley and Hurricane Smith. Brill and Honey are clever lyricists too. “The Cup Of Unconditional Love” is about a Jonestown-style mass suicide, while “Magic Robot” and “The Planet Tasters” delve into Ray Bradbury-esque sci-fi territory (and I’m a huge Bradbury fan). My old Melody Maker pal Mick Mercer described the Millipedes as “a bit weird, but in all the right ways” and you’ve only got to take a cursory glance at the sleeve of “Bye Bye” to see what he means.

You can hear every track on “Bye Bye… We’re Melting” at The Millipede Engine’s website (typically oddball of them, it scrolls across the page rather than up and down). Just click here and fire up their steampunk jukebox. If you don’t have time to listen to more than a couple of songs, choose from numbers 1, 3, 4, 9 and 11, and get ready for some multi-coloured dreams.

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Waddling birds and little green men

I’ve been spending way too many hours at The Art of Penguin Science Fiction website, which charts the history and cover art of science fiction paperbacks published by Penguin Books from 1935 to the present day. All of the early Penguin covers featured three horizontal bands, with the book title and the author’s name in black type across the middle band, but the designs became more individual from the late 1950s onwards. I remember taking a battered, sellotaped-together copy of this 1962 edition of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four out of my school library. The other covers shown above are the 1974 edition of Ray Bradbury’s The Day It Rained Forever, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1985), John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids (1999) and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (2007).