Welcome back, for the third year running, to the first of two roundups of 50 and more favourite albums of 2018 as nominated by, and popular with the Song Bar and readers. The second part will be published tomorrow.
It was said of 2017, and of 2016, that 2018 would be challenging. That’s putting it mildly for another year particularly marked by further political corruption, incompetence and farce. Brexit’s shadow is looming ever larger, and Donald Trump continues to confound and astound. Can things get any lower? Is there such a thing as scandal anymore, and is there even a threshold. Perhaps that’s the strategy. And even bigger on the horizon is the prospect of climate meltdown. Albums of 2018 have certainly reflected such issues, as well as gender, the human relationship with technology, and for the latter parodying and questioning it, predicting the singularity that may likely arrive without us even being aware of it. Among musical trends, there have been a number of fabulous debuts by young artists across the world, from punk to folk to electronica. This selection seems to cover many of those, as well as established ones.
As before, this isn’t a countdown to leading to the so-called best album, or reviews, or anything as subjective or as flawed as that, it simply flags them up as worth a listen, and each offers something different, and again the list, which can only ever be a cross-section, will touch on the mainstream and more obscure. The order is not significant but simply alphabetical by title, and most tracks are chosen as a sample. Feel free to point out different ones.
As before these are readers’ suggestions emailed to the Song Bar, including by many who don’t usually comment. The list reflects not only numbers of votes, but also passion and enthusiasm. As a result, number of big names don’t make the final lists, just got ‘also enjoyed’ remarks, so they get honourable mentions, along lesser known artists below.
Think something is missing and want to suggest it? Then please add it in comments.
Beak> – >>>`
As the chevron arrows indicate, this is Beak's third album and six years since >>, and is very welcome return to the dark, brooding, but also humorous world of Billy Fuller, Will Young, and Portishead's Geoff Barrow, with bass-heavy riffs and disembodied vocals. Overall the sound is less fuzzy, sharper and more penetrating, Outstanding track Brean Down is inspired by a remote coastal peninsula near the Bristol Channel. Out on Invada Records/Temporary Residence.
Beak> – Brean Down
The Breeders – All Nerve
The first new album from The Breeders in a decade reunited band members Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson with a triumphant tour. Produced by Mike Montgomery, Steve Albini and Greg Norman, this was not some sentimental or cynical commercial project, but with passion and humour, one that brought them back to some of their best work.
The Breeders – Spacewoman
Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending
The departure of guitarist Nick McCarthy might have suggested that the wheels were coming off the juggernaut but this invigorating album is filled with indie pop classics that returned them to their 2004 pomp. They have demonstrably benefited from their recent FFS collaboration with the Mael brothers and co-opting Julian Corrie (aka Miaoux Miaoux) as McCarthy's replacement gives them texture and squelchy synths in abundance. There are other obvious art rock influences but grand larceny it ain't and the album has pop hooks to burn.
Franz Ferdinand – Feel The Love Go
David Byrne – American Utopia
The world may be going to hell in a handcart, but not if David Byrne can help it. This is an album brimming with optimism, and follows the his curated ongoing Reasons To Be Cheerful series of inspiring, positive society writings, photos, music, and lectures. The music itself has echoes echoes of Once In A Lifetime from the Talking Heads era, but as ever Bryne pushes the creative envelope, and working with Brian Eno, much promise comes from an artist with his first solo album since 2004 and a 2018 tour of astonishingly brilliant choreography - 12 musicians and Byrne constantly on the move with not a cable in sight. Out on Todomundo/Nonesuch Records.
David Byrne - Everybody's Coming To My House
Julia Holter – Aviary
It would be more accurate to call the Los Angeles composer and singer's fifth album a menagerie wilderness than a merre aviary, such is the noisy complexity of it all, and indeed her last LP from 2015 foretold this, being titled Have You In My Wilderness, though that one was far poppier. This, however, is a huge, 90-minute opus that throws in the full kitchen sink, ambient, orchestral screaming, swirling violins, electronica, the full works. It is mind-boggling in its vision, full of intimacy as well as vast craziness cacophony of ideas. Tracks to check out include I Shall Love 2 and Les Jeux to You. Out on Domino.
Julia Holter – Words I Hear
Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg
The fifth album by the Super Furry Animals frontman, features orchestral scores by Swansea based composer Stephen McNeff and the incredible work of the 72-piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which brings magnificent richness and swirl to these outwardly simple songs that echo the work of Jimmy Webb for Glen Campbell in the early 1970s - the likes of Wichita Lineman or Galveston. Rhys describes it has krautrock played by a 50s orchestra. But this is truly engaging, beautiful, mdoern dystopian work from Rhys and one of his best to date, with the orchestral work inextricably interwoven, and his songs coloured with concerns over middle-aged illness in laid-back melancholy. Out on Rough Trade.
Gruff Rhys – Frontier Man
Jack White – Boarding House Reach
After a couple of solo albums that oscillated mildly from terribly serious riffage to bonkers tongue-in-cheek pop, White expands his musical palate while, as a lover of analogue, using the same kind of gear he had when he was 15 years old (a quarter-inch four-track tape recorder, a simple mixer and the most basic of instrumentation). He also backs himself as producer once again – but would someone has the cojones to stand up to him might yield even better results? Possibly, but still an outstanding talent.
Jack White – Connected By Love
Paul Steel – Carousel Kites
Generally overlooked by the music industry, the Worthing-based singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist is a wondrous, genre-spanning innovator - and this beautiful album is a timelessly filled with stories, gorgeous harmonies and and pace-changing playfulness. The title track, alongside Skydaddy (souding a little bit like Steely Dan) and Crayola Springs are just three tracks to marvel at.
Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
The Edinburgh trio’s highly anticipated return was just as good as their previous work – the Mercury winning debut Dead (2014) and 2015’s acclaimed White Men Are Black Too. Again they bring further innovative trip hop – intimate, angry, tender and innovative and a tour de force in performance. Out on Ninja Tune.
Young Fathers – In My View
Aphex Twin - Collapse EP
A bit of a cheeky extra because this EP is outstanding. Aphex Twin is British electronica’s primary pioneer, and his new six-track release is full of offbeat mischief, and otherworldly brilliance, with videos to match. Out on Warp.
Aphex Twin - T69 Collapse
Czarface & MF Doom – Czarface Meets Metal Face
A joy for any fans of clever wordplay and idiosyncratic hip hop. Czarface, a collaboration of Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck, MC Esoteric and producer 7L join forces with MF DOOM, that other king of reference and puns when it comes to popular culture, food, cartoons, comics and superheroes. There are plenty of noodling and skits, but once the MCs get in the flow, plenty of gems come through such as a group text with Steely Dan, Groot, Baby Groot, the ghost of Dave Brubeck, Alex Trebek and Boba Fett, and lines such as “The way I kick bars and darts, you’d think I mixed Marshall’s art with mixed martial arts.” Glorious. Out on Get On Down.
Czarface & MF Doom – Bomb Thrown
Joan As Policewoman – Damned Devotion
Joan Wasser returns to the darker, sensual sound of her celebrated early releases. Stripped-back soul and funk arrangements are always likely to invite accusations of blandness but not here –there’s an edge to this album and a quality to Wasser's voice that makes these songs outstanding.
Joan As Policewoman – Tell Me
Mastersystem – Dance Music
An ironic title for this heavy rock supergroup from Scotland, a work full of noises but also nuance and sensitivity. It’s also moving tribute and one-off debut project, in retrospect, to this year’s sadly departed Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit on vocals and guitar, joined here by his brother and bandmate Grant on bass, alongside siblings James and Justin Lockey, the latter from Editors. Second track, Notes On A Life Not Quite Lived is tragically apt.
Mastersystem – Notes On A Life Not Quite Lived
BC Camplight - Deportation Blues
The complex, troubled and brilliant mind of New Jersey-born songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brian Christinzio, who has struggled for years with addiction and mental illness has, on this second album for Bella Union, been channelled into a rich tapestry of swirling orchestral richness, synth pop and 50s rock’n’roll - among many other styles. Dark humour and musical wit combine into one of the best albums of the year.
BC Camplight – I’m In A Weird Place Now
Dream Wife – Dream Wife
Another wonderful debut punk/indie album, this from the funny, feisty trio of Rakel Mjöll (lead vocals), Alice Go (guitar, vocals), and Bella Podpadec (bass, vocals) - an Icelandic-Somerset combo who met at Brighton University. With a name inspired by the 1953 romantic comedy film starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, the band was originally designed a mockumentary group in the mould of This Is Spinal Tap, but they turned out to be so good, it all went horribly right.
Dream Wife – Hey Heartbreaker
Low – Double Negative
It's 25 years since the married pair of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker from Duluth, Minnesota, formed Low, joined by Steve Garrington on bass, and this emotional, ambient, intimately dark work is no nostalgia trip, but possibly their best yet, uncompromising and pushing their own envelope further. A reaction to Trump, the crumbling eco system, this, like the bass sound on the song Quorum, is a like a shattering musical earthquake of hope and despair. Out on Sub Pop.
Low – Double Negative
Trembling Bells - Dungeness
What, in retrospect turned out the the final album by the Scottish folk group, is perhaps also their finest – a contemplation of death, religion and other matters channelling British psychedelia and folk of the early 70s, with sublime songwriting by drummer Alex Nielson and the pure voice of Lavinia Blackwell. A sad farewell, but a great one.
Trembling Bells - Christ’s Entry Into Govan
Whyte Horses – Empty Words
The Mancunian psychedelic pop band return with their second album after Pop or Not, with eclectic and uplifting 16 tracks. A cheerful wistful melancholy threads through that now characteristically big sound put together by Dom Thomas and a a variety of female guest vocalists. Out on CRC Music.
Whyte Horses – Empty Words
Bodega – Endless Scroll
Sharp as a pin and taut as s drum skin, the lyrics and riff-sharp as-style performance of this young Brooklyn five-piece make up one of the most brilliant debut albums of the year. Punk and postpunk in a mix of Ramones, early B-52’s, The Fall, The Wedding Present, Lou Reed and LCD Soundsystem, this album wryly lambasts screen scrolling and the internet effect of modern apathy, using a series of parody clips and entertaining, mouse-dangling, energetic, red-bloodied songs very much performed in analogue. Frontman Ben Hozie’s shouty delivery is an emotional rhythmic instrument, backed with Nikki Belfiglio's similarly unsinkable energy, guitarist Madison Velding-VanDam strums, struts and jitters like some unholy hybrid of Wilko Johnson and Ian Curtis, and the backline of Montana Simone and Heather Elle make them one of the tightest live bands around. With 14 blazing tracks, standouts include Name Escape, Bookmarks, Can’t Knock The Hustle, Jack In Titanic with the bookending tracks How Did This Happen?, and Truth is Not Punishment. This is an album that captures our crazy, contradictory world. Out on What's Your Rupture?
Bodega – How Did This Happen?
The Beths - Future Me Hates Me
Another fabulous debut album, this time from the New Zealand indie band fronted by singer songwriter Elizabeth Stokes with a wonderful fuzz-box sound, wry, clever lyrics and a delivery that reminds of something between The Cardigans, The Breeders, and Courtney Barnett. Out on Carpark Records.
The Beths - Happy Unhappy
Goat Girl – Goat Girl
The young all-female band kept up the momentum of a lively south London scene, particularly centred around Brixton’s The Windmill, of vibrant new sounds (see also Shame), with a debut of 19 short songs that paint a clever and often amusing picture of life growing up the capital. Produced by Dan Carey (The Kills, Bat For Lashes, Franz Ferdinand), it has echoes of The Slits and The Kinks, with a mixture of krautrock, bossa nova and jazz thrown in. Out on Rough Trade
Goat Girl – Cracker Drool
Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
“What would it sound like if you were the songwriter / And you made your living off me? Would you undress me repeatedly in public / To show how very noble and naked you can be?” Following last yearr’s lauded and wonderful Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman tilts even moire fully into self-reflexive parody mode. Titles such as The Songwriter and Mr Tillman arguably pivot between ridiculous narcissism and genius, just as the narrator who, in many of these songs, is a man constantly in transit, stuck in hotel rooms, and living in a world of mirrors and illusions. Just where this will ultimately take him is anyone’s guess, but if anything, behind these parodies of parodies, the former Fleet Foxes man is stil brutally honest about himself and the absurdity of our world. We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That) shows up plenty of heartbreak too, and reminds us that his songs were written in a fraught period between summer 2016 and winter 2017. His songs are still inescaply exquisite in melody and pace, so much so you could just hate yourself for it. Out on Bella Union.
Father John Misty - Mr Tillman
Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
A truly major work by a modern great, saxophonist Washington has taken jazz from the dusty corners of specialist clubs into the consciousness of the wider music world. He's done this without compromise. His last album, The Epic, was three hours long, and this is two-and-a-half hours. He made guest appearances on Kendrick Lamar’s epochal To Pimp a Butterfly, and this album, with tracks such as Street Fighter Mas, and Song for the Fallen, captures the angry spirit of the age, echoing the fury and invention of past greats from Parker to Mingus. The tone is set with his opener using the tune from 1972's kung fu movie Fists of Fury, which includes additional lyrics: “Our time as victims is over / We will no longer ask for justice.” Out on Young Turks.
Kamasi Washington – Street Fighter Mas
Drinks – Hippo Lite
A second collaboration between Cate Le Bon and former Fall member Tim Presley, this is another delightfully oddball collection of songs with all kinds of doorway squeaks, birdcall-like guitars and frog croaks, clever rhythms and vocals. Complex and yet in other ways ever so simple, it’s the sort of album that will yield fresh discovery on each listen. Out on Drag City.
Drinks – Corner Shops
Teleman – Family of Aliens
Third album of deliciously catchy, witty, indie pop from the high voice of Thomas Sanders and co since the core three changed their name from being Pete and the Pirates in 2012. Somewhere between Hot Chip and Franz Ferdinand, this is a consistent, clean and neat balance between synths and guitar. The singles Cactus and Song For A Seagull should hopefully catapult them to even wider audiences. Out on Moshi Moshi.
Teleman - Cactus
Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake The Want Is
A unique voice - ghostly, fragile, fractured, sensual and sexual, the singer, pianist and winner of the Scottish Album of the Year Award in 2015 with Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled, returns with an equally series of brilliantly intimate songs, again produced in Glasgow by Marcus Mackay. Out on Rock Action Records.
Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake The Want Is
Anna Calvi – Hunter
Calvi's first new music since 2014’s collaborative release with David Byrne, Strange Weather EP, her third full album retains the power and depth of her previous work, with that intimate yet also huge, soaring voice, and a panoramic, cinematic sound. Highlights including Swimming Pool, inspired the 60s work of David Hockney, the title track, and Don't Beat the Girl Out of My Boy, part of a gender theme that runs through the album. Out on Domino Records.
Anna Calvi – Don't Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy
Idles – Joy As An Act of Resistance
Visceral, hilarious, angry, highly unpredictable, Idles follow up 2016's brilliant Brutalism debut with something that more than matches it. They are Sleaford Mods in full band form, former careworker and recovering alcoholic frontman Joe Talbot just one a group of massive personalities, making the most blistering and brilliant form of punk entertainment on any stage. This album bursts with scything comedy and seriousness on personal and political subjects from the slow-building dynamic power of Colossus – about guilt-tinged wastage, to Brexit values (Great), small town bullies (Never Fight a Man With a Perm) or the importance of immigrants in Britain (Danny Nedelko). A tour de force of anarchic joy. Out on Partisan Records.
Idles – Colossus
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - King of Cowards
This, the their second album, is true British metal wrought in the loudest, 70s-style ilk, not from the Midlands, but from Newcastle upon Tyne, battering rams of sound in the ilk of Black Sabbath – pulverising, explosive, massive. OTT not just in name, and great fun live too, but bring your earplugs if you catch them live. Out on Rocket Recordings.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – GNT
Gwenno – Le Kov
Written entirely in Cornish, Le Kov is exploration of the individual and collective subconscious, the myths of Cornwall, and the survival of Britain’s lesser known Brythonic language. The album evokes the music of Gwenno's childhood – Brenda Wootton, Alan Stivell, BUCCA – along with Broadcast, The United States of America, White Noise and Serge Gainsbourg and there's a touch of the Cocteau Twins about the delivery.
Gwenno – Tir Ha Mor
LUMP (Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay) - LUMP
An otherworldly, exquisitely beautiful collaboration between the folk singer-singer songwriter and the Tunng frontman and prolific producer. LIndsay wrote the music with a mixture of Moogs, gorgeous flute sounds, synths and drum patterns and Marling brought in lyrics and melodies to make something unlike anything else you’re likely to hear this year. The seven songs are inspired by early-20th-century Surrealism and the absurdist poetry of Edward Lear and Ivor Cutler – a bizarre but compelling narrative about the commodification of curated public personas, the mundane absurdity of individualism, and the lengths we go to escape our own meaninglessness. The yeti-like dancing LUMP character came from an idea from Marling’s young niece. So everything about this project seems to be straight from the brain’s right hemisphere, casting strange imaginative colours, and with this music and Marling’s magical voice, truly gorgeous and original it is too. Out on Dead Oceans.
LUMP – Curse of the Contemporary
Django Django – Marble Skies
After their 2015 Top 20 smash Born Under Saturn, Django Django returned with an album of krautrock–inspired dance rock with a few rave thrills thrown in for good measure. There's also a dream–pop collaboration with Slow Club's Rebecca Taylor on the dancehall–influenced Surface To Air.
Django Django – In Your Beat
Missing an album your loved? Please comment and add yours, and also have a look at the second part launching tomorrow.
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