Welcome back, for the third year running, now to the second of two roundups of 50 and more favourite albums of 2018 as nominated by, and popular with the Song Bar and readers. The first part was published yesterday.
Similar trends and themes appear as in yesterday’s roundup, and just like that, 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. 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.
Marlowe – Marlowe
For wordplay and loop-sampling brilliance, it’s hard to match this debut collaboration between Seattle producer L’Orange and North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham. Certainly inspired by Madvillainy and MF Doom, who also makes our list, there’s fresh joy to picked up here on every listen.
Marlowe – Marlowe (full album)
Mattiel – Mattiel
She’s a digital ad designer, illustrator, and set builder, but the singer from Atlanta, Georgia also has superlative pop voice and songwriting talent alongside colleagues Randy Michael and Jonah Swilley , with colours running through her work. We profiled two of her songs - Count Your Blessings and Whites of Their Eyes on Song of the Day, and her debut album certainly lives up to their promise. Out on Heavenly.
Mattiel – Bye Bye
Hookworms – Microshift
The Leeds band return after a three–year absence, with more than a micro shift in style – their psychedelic noise rock has merged with and transformed into a wonderful mix of electronic loops, synths and samples to add to the indie.
Hookworms – Static Resistance
Hen Ogledd – Mogic
The brilliant Newcastle oddball folk artist Richard Dawson’s returns, after last year’s acclaimed Peasant, with his sometime band, accompanied by Rhodri Davies (guitar, harp), Sally Pilkington (vocals), Dawn Bothwell (electronics). This is more plugged in, electronic work than his solo material, and is wonderfully eclectic, mixing myth and mystery, and a variety of distorted vocals with Pilkington that create an album utterly unique on the folk, or indeed any other UK landscape. Mogic is an old Welsh word for north. Tiny Witch Hunter is an outstandingly strange track alongside Problem Child, Sky Burial, and Gwae Reged o Hediw. Out on Domino.
Hen Ogledd – Tiny Witch Hunter
Go-Kart Mozart – Mozart’s Mini Mart
Fabulous collection of 17 chirpy, clever pop songs from the voice and pen of Lawrence, formerly of Felt and Denim. Let’s hope this album and the current tour, will put him back in the limelight, and living on “a tenner a day”, as mentioned in one semi-autobiographical and notable number, is no longer a reality.
Go–Kart Mozart – When You’re Depressed
Creep Show – Mr Dynamite
Creep Show brings together John Grant (who also released a higher-profile solo album this year) with the dark funk of analogue electronic band Wrangler (Stephen Mallinder/Phil Winter/Benge). There's drum machines and synthesizers aplenty but the real joy is the interplay between the two vocalists, John Grant and ex-Cabaret Voltaire frontman Mallinder, who switch between oblique wordplay to sinister humour.
Creep Show Modern Parenting
Cabbage – Nihilistic Glamour Shots
After 36 song releases on EPs and a compilation, a couple of tabloid storms, putting two fingers up The Sun, and sticking up very publicly for the NHS (good for them) the lads from Mossley, east of Manchester, finally bring out their first LP proper, full of quirky explorations into culture and politics, referencing everyone from Caligula to Aleister Crowley, and shouting out against the hypocrisy of the government and the arms industry. More chorus-heavy postpunk is the result, and while seeing their live shows are more of a way to appreciate their music, it’s great to have a bunch of young jokers who don’t take themselves too seriously, but definitely take their subjects so. Out on BMG.
Cabbage – Arms of Pleonexia
Field Music – Open Here
Commontime marked a breakthrough for Field Music who turn their attention to these strange and turbulent times on Open Here. If you thought the world made some kind of sense, you may have questioned yourself a few times in the past two years. And that questioning, that erosion of faith – in people, in institutions, in shared experience is grist to the mill for the brothers Brewis. Expect the usual meticulous attention to detail along with the odd flugelhorn.
Field Music – Time In Joy
Gazelle Twin - Pastoral
One of the most extraordinary albums of 2018, a four-year project by Elizabeth Bernholz, in which folk songs come in looping echoes, harpsichord, traditional recorder and electronica. It all conjures up images of village squares for torture and public executions and other scary practices, flies buzzing around the dead, xenophobia and tea-room gossip that removes the quixotic and bucolic from the quaint, replacing it with the queasy. It’s also devastating picture of the so-called green and pleasant England – past and present, and ripe or Brexit. She has also performed the album in a ghostly reworked version with female drone choir NYX. Also worth checking out is her J.G. Ballard-inspired A/V show Kingdom Come released in 2017, and 2014's equally disturbing and strange album, Unflesh. A unique talent and voice. Out on Anti Ghost Moon Ray.
Gazelle Twin - Hobby Horse
White Denim – Performance
The Austin quartet return with their eighth studio album, and one that may bring them to them an wider audience. Highly skilled proggy noodling is one of their facets, but they are re-energised with a new studio to produce tracks, like this and the title track, that hit a very catchy groove, channelling pop alongside jazz and an expanded psychedelia. One of their very best. Out on City Slang.
White Denim – Magazin
The Nightingales – Perish The Thought
Fabulous new album of thumping, pace-changing belters by one of the great postpunk bands, fronted by the deep voice and witty lyric writing of Robert Lloyd formerly of The Prefects, with a superb latest lineup of Andreas Schmid from Faust on bass, ex-Violet Violet's Fliss Kitson drumming and doing backing vocals, and James Smith on guitar, who has also played with Damo Suzuki. Imagine a hyperactive and droll Birmingham version of Captain Beefheart crossed with the B52s and The Fall, and you'll be halfway there to guessing how good this is. Out on Tiny Global Productions.
The Nightingales – Chaff
Farao – Pure-O
Fountainously fresh, otherworldly soundscapes by Norway's Berlin-based Kari Jahnsen again fill her second album, though this is also dancier than her still excellent, more folktronic debut of 2015, Till It’s All Forgotten. Jahnsen is a startlingly original, uncompromising multi-instrumental experimentalist. In sound, she also has as something of the Cocteau Twins about her, but here she has honed a style of pop accessibility that will hopefully also attract bigger audiences. Highlights include her love of obscure Russian electronic equipment (and disco) on Lula Loves You, the beautiful float-away fragmentation of a relationship evoked in The Ghost Ship, wobbly, cascading beauty on Luster of the Eyes, and the dancing upbeat melancholy of Marry Me. Out on Western Vinyl & Su Tissue Records.
Farao – Lula Loves You
Ólafur Arnalds – re:remember
The Icelandic multi-instrumentalist and producer returns with a work of phenomenal beauty and stillness, combining piano, strings, and sometimes gentle beats. The innovation here is also in his groundbreaking new software, Stratus, which brings together two pianos controlled by one in mesmeric instrumentals. Out on Mercury KX.
Ólafur Arnalds – re:remember
Ought – Room Inside The World
Taut work by the Montreal band who have honed their indie style with vibraphones, synths and drum machines, and with this, their third LP, move to Merge after their first two on Constellation Records. Singer Tim Darcy's wry, oddball lyrics address many a modern problem with intrigue in what is surely their best album yet.
Ought – These 3 Things
First Aid Kit – Ruins
Fourth album from Klara and Johanna Söderberg saw the them soar even higher into the international stratosphere in sales and reputation, but they remained true to their winning formula of deft arrangements built around their entrancing, sibling-intimate close harmonies, a folk-based pop that truly has a transcendant quality, grandisose and yet grounded.
First Aid Kit - Fireworks
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food
After the huge critical success of 2015’s Multi-Love, New Zealand’s Ruban Nielson and co return with their fourth album, continuing to innovate and evolve with intelligence and a variety of styles, from the heavy rock sound of American guilt, and the more tempered lounge-y Not In Love We’re Just High, to the pop-jazz Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays. One of the most interesting and hard-to-categorise releases of the year. Out on Jagjaguwar/4AD.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – American Guilt
Olivia Chaney - Shelter
For those quieter moments in 2018, it’s hard to beat the purity of voice and intimacy of sound of this English folk singer-songwriter who on guitar and piano, composed many of these songs in a remote 18th-century cottage on the North York Moors. This is the follow-up to Chaney’s previous solo work released on Nonesuch, The Longest River, after which she has also done projects with the Decemberists and Kronos Quartet.
The Orielles – Silver Dollar Moment
One of several superb young bands with debuts in 2018, the trio formed of sisters Sidonie B (drums) and Esmé Dee Hand-Halford (bass and lead vocals) and Henry Carlyle Wade on guitar are all highly accomplished musicians in their unique blend of indie, disco, funk and soul. This is with youthful, experimental exuberance with extraordinary maturity. On on Heavenly Recordings.
The Orielles – Let Your Dogtooth Grow
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
The producer and DJ who has worked with Brian Eno tackles the topic of singularity - where technlogy and humans merge. Or does he? Not really. No analysis of the topic at all, but certainly technology is skilfully employed on these pulsating, instrumental, smooth-groove tracks, perfect to lose yourself in, but not necessarily come out of with more insight than when you entered. Still worth exploring a little, however. Out on Domino Records.
Jon Hopkins - Everything Connected
Oh Sees – Smote Reverse
The prolifically energetic, remorseless heavy rock machine of John Dwyer and co rolls on (also known as Thee Oh Sees), this time taking a more prog-rock direction in the vein of Keith Emerson. With those perfectly co-ordinated double-drummers up the front of the stage, and Dwyer’s energy, stil the most exciting live band you can see. Out on Castle Face.
Oh Sees - C
Shame – Songs of Praise
Debut album of angry, fresh post-punk from the five-piece of 20- and 21-year-olds who used to practice at the old Queen’s Head pub in Brixton. Perhaps London’s answer to Manchester’s Cabbage, but less humorous and more full of bile, their live performances powered a growing reputation as a new force on the South London scene, spearheaded by singer Charlie Steen, who has a jerky, leering presence on stage that really is something to see.
Shame – Concrete
Tunng – Songs You Make At Night
After many other parallel projects, such as Lump with Laura Marling, to Wrangler, the gang are all back together again, with Sam Genders re-joining Mike Lindsay and co and adding an old, familiar voice to the vocals and the songwriting mix. It's a very welcome return to the innovators of so-called folktronica, with oodles of clever, quirky elements, squiggly pop catchiness, dry humour and wonderfully warm vocal harmonies. Out on Full Time Hobby.
Tunng – Dark Heart
Jon Spencer – Spencer Sings The Hits
Garage-rockin' greatness from the American singer and guitarist, a legend from the New York scene with Pussy Galore, Boss Hog, Heavy Trash and of course The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, here with his his first official foray into a solo album, and it's full of the same screaming energy as his other work. Hits? Not yet, but humorous in reference, especially with the additional sound of hammer on metal objects. Out on In The Red Records.
Jon Spencer – I Got The Hits
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Following her acclaimed 2015 debut album Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit, and her big-selling collabortion LP, Lotta Sea Lice, with Kurt Vile, the shap-witted, Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist returns with another that retains the similar self-effacing honesty, but a notch more serious than her first, addressing pressing issues of our times. The raw, resonant guitar sounds and her distinctive voice remain, and while there are slower, sadder songs such as Sunday Roast and Need A Little Time, the more upbeat City Looks Pretty and Nameless, Faceless retain her clever jauntiness, even though they centre on loneliness and stalking. Out on Marathon Artists / Milk Records.
Courtney Barnett - Nameless, Faceless
Villagers - The Art of Learning To Swim
Return after a five-year hiatus of more gorgeously gentle work by Ireland’s Conor O'Brien and co, echoes the sparse sensitivity of some of their earlier songs from 2010's The Jackal and 2013's Awayland, It's a work of true, intimate beauty, made in a tiny attic room in Dublin - with extra elements of the soulful, sensitive and subtle. Out on Domino.
Villagers - A Trick Of The Light
Suede – The Blue Hour
Suede came into prominence in the early-90s recession, and led the way in dark, brooding indie. Now in new, fraught times, this, their eighth studio album and the third in their comeback era, has just as much power, but now leaves the city and was written when they relocated to rural Somerset. The picture his hardly idyllic. It’s an album that is both experimental and also revisit the sound of past glories such as The Wild Ones and Dog Man Star, but with all sorts of oddities – spoken word and monk choruses, and singing about digging up a dead bird. It was written at the same time as Brett Anderson's memoir, Coal Black Mornings, in other words, gloriously dark. Out on Suede Ltd /Warner.
Suede - Life Is Golden
Josh T. Pearson – The Straight Hits!
An ironic title from the Texan although, after a seven-year gap this could turn into great commercial as well critical success. He now leaves behind the bearded slow acoustic ‘geetar’ style of 2011’s acclaimed Last of the Country Gentleman, for a more faster more upbeat, rock’n’roll and country recording, brimming with energy. And as the title of the the lead single, filled with “bar brawl, a high-speed chase, an army of robots, reincarnation, lots of explosions and kickass motorcycle moves” suggest, it might even by a self-fulfilling prophesy. Out on Mute.
Josh T. Pearson – Straight To The Top!
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
The Sheffield band return sixth album after 2013’s stadium indie AM, divided opinion but became a grower. It has with a clear change of direction, clearly steered by and with songs far more niche in their source, with writer and frontman Alex Turner citing Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, the Beach Boys Serge Gainsbourg as influences, and every sound sounds very sixties. Turner can still produce clever turns of phrase and innovation, as well as wry humour, but are they still the cheeky, innovators of old, or is success slowing down the ideas and the edge? Maybe they’re not bothered. But that’s open to debate. Out on Domino Records.
Arctic Monkeys - Four Out Of Five
Ezra Furman – Transangelic Exodus
Seventh album from Furman will undoubtedly see him firmly wedged in the end of year highlights with this stupendous road trip-style odyssey exploring the travails of a gay couple on the run after one of them has an illegal operation to become an angel. The album has its roots in early seventies – imagine what Furman describes as a "queer outlaw saga" combining the storytelling talents of Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen and you'll only be half way there.
Ezra Furman – Love You So Bad
Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo In Blue
The New York trio of Nick Kivlen (lead guitar and vocals), Jacob Faber (drums), and Julia Cumming (bass and lead vocals) return with pleasing blend of heavy rock, 80s new wave and jangly indie pop. Their live shows are much noisier and rockier than expected – well worth catching them if you can.
Sunflower Bean – I Was A Fool
Wax Chattels - Wax Chattels
Perhaps the most leftfield of this year’s favourite 50. The New Zealand band's debut – and instrumental mix comes with a interesting twist – no guitar, though you’d never realise listening to this swirling, frenetic, restless sound built around echoy bass, powerful drumming, organy keyboards and vocals, formed while studying jazz performance at the University of Auckland. It’s a heady mixture of krautrock, jazz and indie with a big dollop of anarchy. Original and addictive. Out on Captured Tracks.
Wax Chattels – In My Mouth
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
This is terrific sixth album from the New York postpunk quartet and Andrew Savage and co, who on this album not only retain edgy engry call-to-arms tracks such as this, but also play with a funkier sound on the title track and the more expansive sound of Mardis Gras Beads. Produced by Danger Mouse, they are certainly one of the best live bands around at the moment. Out on Rough Trade.
Parquet Courts - Almost Had To Start A Fight/ In And Out Of Patience
Jeffrey Lewis – Works by Tuli Kupferberg (1923 - 2010)
The prolifitic singer-songwriter’s charming and funny, long-planned project – a tribute recording of 15 songs by the American counterculture poet and frontman of The Fugs, who died in 2010 aged 86. Lewis has a real passion for such figures, and includes on this as a collaborator Peter Stampfel, who was in The Fugs in 1965. As Lewis puts it: “This is just a collection of interesting material created over decades by an interesting person who was not quite a songwriter but just a general creative, satirical, philosophical character, and a real New York City original.” Out on Don Giovanni Records.
Jeffrey Lewis - What Are You Doing After The Orgy?
Missing an album your loved? Please comment and add yours, and also have a look at the first part launched yesterday.
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