What we said: "Right from the off, even with some unassuming light feedback and what by all accounts should be a bog-standard bluesy bassline, there's the sense that there's something creeping round the corner. A bit like that sense of unease/dread you get watching a Michael Haneke film (or maybe watching Brexit unfold). But here, there are no unanswered questions (and very little subtlety), what we get is a full on bombardment of doom drenched rock n roll. And that doom is an absolute joy to behold."
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Best Albums Of 2018
In 2018 Brexit trundled forwards/backwards, England did quite well in the football and Pete Shelley died. Meanwhile some excellent musicians released some excellent records which I've attempted to put into some sort of meaningful list below. Thanks to all the labels, bands and promoters who sent be things to review this year. See you in 2019!
From the colossal opening bars of "Colossus", to the raw baltic-punk rock of "I'm Scum" via the darkly-anthemic chorus of "Love Song" and the absolute gut wrenching heartbreak of "June", Joy as an Act of Resistance is an astonishing journey which pushes all manner of buttons. It's an intensely honest album for intense times (brexit, topshop, drugs, immigration, toxic masculinity also get a good seeing to), but it's still one of the most enjoyable and energising records of 2018.
Bold, complex and musically ambitious, this third album from Anna Calvi takes in a load of influences from Nancy & Lee to lush orchestral soundtracks to mid 90s PJ Harvey. Calvi plays with her sonic palette and conjures up some of the most breathtaking and rousing music of her career so far. This is one of those occasions where ambition and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at something can really pay off. More is more.
Mitski's fifth album sees her moving into the electronic realms of Mute Records creative and commercial peak. It's the sort of music that is odd and dark but also has the broad appeal and pop sensibilities to fill an arena. Then there's "Nobody" which takes euphoric disco tropes and turns it into something completely hopeless and tragic, just the way we like it.
There's been a fair few albums this year which ingest a multitude of broad ranging influences and turn them into something special, but Negro Swan by Blood Orange sits right at the top of that pile. Funk, soul, prog, synth-pop, polished pop, 70s rock excess, jazz licks and hip-hop beats are all there for the taking on Dev Hynes' wonderful and ambitious 16 track odyssey. You could call it a modern-day Songs In The Key Of Life and i'd be perfectly happy with that description.
Brilliant, inventive and very very sad. Kathryn Joseph's second solo album follows on from last year's critically acclaimed Out Lines collaboration with The Twilight Sad's James Graham. This one manages to surpass that fine album on just about every level though. Joseph's one-of-a-kind voice is the hook on an album which is an eccentric and wintry beast with music that veers between, dramatic, cinematic and starkly fragile.
What we said: "a typically brash, daft, thoroughly life affirming album title, and the contents only solidify that attitude...this album is at absolute odds to 99% of the music I've heard this past year. It's got a swagger, but it's a dry kind of swagger, it's full of hooks and ear-worms and it's an utter joy from start to finish. Welcome back Art Brut."
The amazing thing about Young Fathers' third album proper is it still sounds as raw and fresh as their very first mixtape did back in 2011, both musically and lyrically. Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole & G Hastings have obviously still got a lot to get off their collective chests, which is quite understandable. All we need to do is sit back and enjoy it.
What we said: "It's fair to say that Gwenno has a keen interest in researching her topics, and it's certainly an impressive feat, especially for the majority of us who struggle to speak just one language, but this isn't just a quirk or a history lesson (for those that can understand the words), it's also another amazing record...Le Kov is a more ambitious and fleshed out collection than her Lo-Fi debut, but it still has that distinct Gwenno feel"
A thoroughly grand and epic return to form from Suede. Opening with the ridiculously proggy guitar and synth tones of "As One", which also includes some ominous operatic backing, the album never really lets up in its dramatic ambition. Highlights include "Roadkill" which reaches the dizzy theatrical heights of Dog Man Star era Suede. Enough said really.
What we said: "despite the clear myriad of influences, this is a Field Music album through and through. And whilst Peter and David Brewis are the driving force, the huge array of new and semi-regular collaborators help to mould this album into something hugely ambitious and satisfying (even by Field Music's standards). Its got all their hallmarks. Their catchy guitar hooks, their dry humour and satirical digs and their sweeping orchestral flourishes"
What we said: "the album as a whole does seem to gradually descend into out and out madness, with a tribal, monotonous drum beat ramping up the tension on penultimate track "Phantom Limb" and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink being thrown into the finale of "Shiv". Autodidact: a record that goes from relaxing to properly exhausting. Give it a go"
What we said: "this mini-LP is more raucous and ramshackle and a whole lot angrier than before but there's an air of familiarity to tracks like "God Once Loved a Woman" which is spine-tingling, dramatic and sad...these are the type of songs that Frog do so well, you could swear they were cover versions or standards such is their power to get stuck in your head. But no, we just need to accept that Frog are just good at writing catchy tunes"
What we said: "the highlight of the record for me is "Shaley Brow", which is good, until the piano drop, at which point it becomes a sad, sad masterpiece. Here, Peters gradually brings in more and more instrumentation, the only constant being some beautifully rendered, backwards atmospherics sitting in the background. Tellingly, at first i didn't notice the backwards trickery, and the track as a whole sounds like some sort of neo-classical piece. Wonderful stuff"
Haiku Salut's third album is a masterclass in feelgood atmospheric ambience (think Yann Tiersen's early work and you won't be to wide of the mark). It peaks with "The More and Moreness" which mixes up electronica, wintry brass notes, some wonderful drumming and melodica and somehow manages to come up sounding warm and organic and just plain beautiful.
What we said: "It's the sound of a restless band, once again, broadening their sonic palette...an absolutely essential record for anyone who is bored senseless by the norm. Seek it out, and if possible catch them on tour, where they will no doubt take this heady mix and ramp it up another notch"
What we said: "Recorded live to reel-to-reel tape, late at night whilst soused, mistakes and studio ambience intact. The album comes across like the under-rated Beach Boys' Party!, although where that album was faked to sound like a knockabout piss-up, this one appears to be the real deal...the ramshackle nature of the record, along with the unpredictability and boozy joyfulness all makes for the sunniest Wave Pictures album in quite some time, maybe ever"
As Drinks - and as their separate musical projects - Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley keep getting weirder, and this album is the weirdest of the lot (if that's possible). It's abstract, stark, minimal, and at time confrontational and in the year that The White Album marks its 50th anniversary, this is probably the closest we have to a record which matches the playful and experimental nature of that masterpiece.
Gloomy subject matter and a gloomy sleeve design shouldn't put you off from what is actually a very enjoyable record. This is the return of Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, Simon Tong and Tony Allen after seven years away, and what they've come up with is essentially an album of "Ghost Town"s (possibly influenced by the DJ priest from Father Ted?) packaged into a seaside-brexit concept album. Scathing vignettes on the state of Britain, beautifully arranged and orchestrated with a show stopping dub back-line courtesy of Simonon and Allen.
Parquet Courts' sixth album can perhaps be neatly summed up by two tracks at the end of side A. "Almost Had to Start a Fight/In And Out Of Patience" has all the raw anger of west coast hardcore punk and (the excellently titled) "Freebird 2" channels the gentler west-coast proto-punk of The Modern Lovers. A half aggressive, half whimsical mix which is never short of a catchy tune.
Certainly one of the most inventive electronic albums you'll hear this year, Jas Shaw and James Ford's sixth album is also their most organic and ambient recording to date. That can be mostly put down to The Deep Throat Choir and the production duo's sublime use of their lush vocals, using them in the same way that they would use traditional synthesisers to form something atmospheric, tribal, poppy and truly unique.
Merril Garbus and Nate Brenner go further down the electro-pop rabbit hole with their latest album I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life. Music and production-wise this is almost unrecognisable from Tune-Yards earliest DIY recordings, but there's still that sense of unbridled fun that the duo do so well along with some uncomfortable truths, best exemplified by standout track "Colonizer".
It's now fully apparent that when Haley Bonar changed her name to HALEY back in March 2017, it wasn't just a rejection of her paternal name, it was a complete regeneration. The first album from HALEY ditches the country tinged, dark pop of old, and even ditches the vocals completely. What we're left with are 11 instrumental piano pieces which vary between ominous, dreamy, jazzy and pretty epic. Long live HALEY!
What we said: "The nine tracks which make up y flip between total dreamy ambience and floating, sci-fi eletronica. Fans of Gwenno (who coincidentally did a great mix of "Noordzee") and Charlotte Gainsbourg will be at home with Sobrenadar's icy, Julee Cruise-esque vocal performance and stark 1980s production style...All those years as an (essentially) undiscovered artist means that Sobrenadar has arrived on these shores fully formed. y is a bold and accomplished international debut and one you'd be wise to seek it out at the earliest opportunity"
Deportation Blues is Brian Christinzio's epic, not so subtle ode to a lengthy battle with UK immigration. Throughout the record he channels this "fucking nightmare" scenario into a biting but beautiful concept album of sorts. Reflecting a chaotic few years, the album flits wildly between atmospheric ballads, totally bombastic glam and swirling electronica.
What we said: "The songs are sung beautifully in both French and English and the music is ambitious and sprawling, perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who's so well connected with the French psychedelic/prog scene...The songs in general though feature heavy synth flourishes but are all grounded by a rough and organic rhythm section. Fans of Air's Virgin Suicides soundtrack, Radiohead, Gwenno, Charlotte (and even Serge) Gainsbourg (some of the bass parts in "Tu Sais Comme Je Suis" sound like direct descendants of Serge's Histoire de Melody Nelson") would be well advised to pick this record up immediately"
What we said: "As you might expect if you've heard any of Shaw's previous recordings, it's not entirely positive, but's it's not 100% gloomy either. Shaw has a knack of gently railing against the madness in society and mundane life with a healthy dose of self deprecating wit...With Megadead, Benjamin Shaw has taken another stride forwards, and come up with another great album"
What we said: "The album opens with "Express The Void", a bit of swirling noise and interference which actually sounds quite foggy, it sort of sweeps in all around you in a disarming and disorientating manner. The confusion is only broken up by dashes of echoing guitars and some slightly menacing organ. "Tommorowsland" adds more melody but there's still a distinct sense of unease in these recordings. That unease probably reaches it's zenith on "Loci" which is seven minutes on discordant synth, organ and some rudimentary percussion reminiscent of Scott Walker's The Drift"
What we said: "Plays With Fire opens with a healthy dose of feedback which rings throughout the entire song, offering a distant-dreamlike undercurrent to an otherwise standard acoustic number. It's stark and lonely and it's quite a good indication of the following half hour of music. There's tonnes off stuff that will appeal to fans of Galaxie 500 and the odd curveball like the electro "Wildfire" which sounds like an early New Order number (from the era when they were still finding their feet)...this may be the last Cloud album. I really hope that's not the case, but if it is, he's gone out on a high note"
What we said: "Jessica's Brother aren't really breaking new ground or looking to start a brand new genre here, but at the end of the day, who is? And truth be told, there aren't an awful lot of bands that sound like this in 2018, and there aren't many bands who can spin these influences into something as exciting as this. These are finely crafted songs with great melodies, played rough and raw and with a lot of heart and soul. A great debut"