Another year, another list of albums that have thoroughly rocked my world in 2018. I think I have missed a lot of stuff this year, tending to listen quite deeply (obsessively) to the records that I have fallen for. A few of those have been made by old favourites – Neneh Cherry and John Coltrane who released fantastic records in 2018, despite Coltrane having passed away some 51 years ago. I’m never a fan of the theory often espoused that there are no great records released any more, I think this year has had more than its fair share of wonderful records so I shall share these ones with you. They are in no particular order but they all come highly recommended. Missing the cut due to lack of time to listen to them are Brix and the Extricated’s second album, Idles, Julie Holter’s Aviary and probably many others. Still you can delve into or ignore my favourites and compile your own lists. There’s probably so much out there that I have still to hear, not just from last year but many other years previously. So this is, in no particular order, the albums that I fell in love with, obsessed over and enjoyed in 2018.
Juniore – Magnifique (Outre Disque)
I’m a huge fan of French female 60s pop and Juniore mix elements of this in with a post-punk influence to make something that is both deeply familiar but with an edge all of its own. Magnifique is an absolute blast – short, sharp and very, very sweet with the 8 songs clocking in at just under 30 minutes. There is no filler though, each song is utter pop perfection. I find Juniore utterly joyful and thrilling to listen to. The songs are atmospheric and catchy and I adore Anna Jean’s vocals immensely.
Baxter, Etienne, Delilah – B.E.D. (Pias / Heavenly)
Another wonderful album with a French connection this is a wonderful concoction that wallops Juniore in the brevity stakes with 9 songs in around 20 minutes. And yet, what songs they are. Baxter Dury and Delilah Holiday’s vocals are sardonic and bittersweet. It’s musically very minimalist but devastatingly effective. There is a stark lushness to the music, and a darkness to the lyrics. I was kind of aware of Baxter Dury and Etienne De Crecy but had never really investigated their music before but now I’m on a mission to track down more stuff along with Delilah Holiday’s Skinny Girl Diet. File under music for misanthropes with a sense of humour.
John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once – The Lost Album (Impulse)
While this album was recorded over half a century ago it never saw the light of day until this year so it is included. My rules. And it’s a cracker of a record. I am huge fan of John Coltrane, A Love Supreme would accompany me on any exile to an isolated, sandy isle. I was concerned that Both Directions At Once could be a potential disappointment but it’s a sublime, gorgeous recording. Some of the tracks have no title but it never sounds half-baked or unfinished. My edition came with a second disc of takes and songs which are lovely. My only criticism is that the otherwise beautiful CD sleeve is somewhat fragile but what a release for 2018.
Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics (Smalltown Supersound)
I loved Neneh Cherry early doors but hadn’t really paid much attention to her music in recent years. However, the fact that she collaborated with Kieron Hebden on Broken Politics certainly piqued my interest. This is a lovely, thoughtful and inspiring record. While Hebden’s sonic imprint is all over this record it is very much a Neneh Cherry record as well drawing on a number of influences and styles but remaining a coherent and engaging work. ‘Kong’ is co-produced by Massive Attack’s Robert ‘3D’ del Naja and is a slow-burning dub influenced song that links the personal and the political. If anyone tries to tell you no one writes ‘political’ songs you can point them in the direction of Broken Politics. It’s also incredibly gorgeous.
Neko Case – Hell-On (Anti)
As with Neneh Cherry I adore a number of Neko Case records immensely but had kind of lost track of her music over the last few years. I don’t know why as if Hell-On is anything to go by Neko Case just keeps getting better. It’s the work of a superb songwriter at the peak of her powers, full of wonderful arrangements and utterly infectious hooks that roll around in your head. There is a real warmth to Case’s songs and a wondrous energy. I was lucky enough to see her play live in New York a few months ago and, as with this album, it was an absolutely joyous and life-affirming thing. Note to self. Pay more attention to Neko Case in the future.
The Lovely Eggs – This Is Eggland (Egg)
I think this may be the best album Lancaster’s The Lovely Eggs have released to date and they have a pretty impressive back catalogue. Producer Dave Fridmann brings his own brand of sonic magic to the production but without the songs to work on even the best producers in the world would struggle. Here though, Holly and David have produced a series of utter gems. There’s a psychedelic feel to Welcome To Eggland but rather than whimsy it’s a darker edged, haunted kind of trippiness, more The Wicker Man or The Witchfinder General than California. At times this album is bruising and raw, at others melodic and pretty but it’s always superb. Live they were utterly wonderful as well.
Superorganism – Superorganism (Domino Records)
This album took a while to grow on me. I bought it after hearing the excellent single ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’ on the radio but felt the rest of the album initially irritated me a bit. It couldn’t have annoyed me that much as I’ve played it a fair bit since then and it has really grown on me. Superorganism seem to be a collective of individuals from different parts of the world and their debut album is pretty quirky. It’s a smart collection of strange pop, psychedelic and slightly strange but ultimately very good fun and an enjoyable listen.
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears (Transgressive Records)
Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut album made a previous year’s list for me as it was an album that, while far from perfect, utterly charmed and beguiled me. So to say I was looking forward to the follow-up would be a bit of an understatement. Initially, however, I was a little underwhelmed with parts of I’m All Ears. It felt more coherent that the debut but also didn’t seem to have standout songs in the way its predecessor did. There was no tracks as instantaneously catchy as ‘Deep Six Textbook’ or ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms’. Digging in deeper though and I’m All Ears really unveils itself as a gorgeous listening experience full of different moods and ideas that has a euphoric, dreamlike quality and a hard edge. Superb stuff.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Man Alive (Ribbon Music)
Something entirely new to me in late 2018. I saw Thao do a solo set opening for Neko Case and was convinced to buy a copy of her album at the merchandise stall. Possibly the best ten dollars I spent all year. With a band the songs really open up, drawing on a vast array of influences but sounding perfectly formed and original. Man Alive updates the sound of post-punk meeting Hip Hop and gives it an entirely new twist. I love this album, it feels very fresh, funky and fine. Hopefully Thao & The Get Down Stay Down will make it to the U.K. in 2019.
Spare Snare – Sounds (Chute)
This is an interesting / strange concept for a new album by Spare Snare. They worked with legendary musician and recording engineer (he dislikes the term producer) Steve Albini and selected a set of songs spanning some two or more decades. And thankfully, it sounds great. While all these songs are familiar friends to me, they sound rather excellent and Sounds works as a coherent whole and shines a light on the current place the Snare reside in. A brilliant band who, while continually looking forward, have also amassed something of an exceptional back catalogue. Some of the songs here were never recorded as a full band such as ‘Action Hero’ and they sound even better for their new renditions. An ideal introduction for those who have yet to enjoy the delights of Spare Snare but there is also plenty here for fans.
Gwenno – Le Kov (Heavenly)
In a year of great releases once again Gwenno released pretty much my favourite album of the year. Gwenno’s debut album was an absolute joy and the follow-up, Le Kov, is no less wonderful. This time around, Gwenno Saunders has moved on from singing in Welsh to singing in Cornish. Despite my knowledge of both languages being rather lacking this is an emotionally engaging and absolutely stunning record. It sounds both otherworldly and totally pop with some of the sweetest melodies and wondrous vocals around. I got lucky and saw Gwenno live earlier in the year and it was fantastic, one of my favourite gigs of all time. I can’t wait to hear and see what Gwenno does next. I also can’t believe such a wonderful record hasn’t made more end of year lists. It is utterly sublime.
Cavern Of Anti-Matter – Hormone Lemonade (Super-Duophonic)
I’ve been a fan of Tim Gane’s music for a long time now, from his tenure in Mccarthy through Stereolab but managed to have let his current band, Cavern Of Anti-Matter pass me by. My error. I took a punt on Hormone Lemonade when it came out. While I initially enjoyed it the tracks took a little while to sink in but now it has become essential listening. Drawing on some of the influences employed by Stereolab this instrumental album have a real sense of groove and movement in its individual tracks which make for a brilliant extended listening pleasure.
The Buttertones – Midnight In A Moonless Dream (Innovative Leisure)
The Buttertones were a bit of a random discovery. Having booked a trip to New York over my birthday in September we were looking for gigs to possibly attend and came up with this bunch. They ticked all the boxes for me, a slightly dark, sleazy but expansive noir sound, deep baritone vocals and the air of threat. Live at Rough Trade in Williamsburg they were everything I could ask for and the album doesn’t disappoint either. It’s full of evocative songs and creates a lovely atmosphere with some superb songwriting to boot. They also look like a great band and a handsome bunch of hoodlums as well.
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage (Domino)
It’s been a good while since the excellent debut album by Melody’s Echo Chamber but well worth the wait. Bon Voyage is a looser affair than the first album but is no less wonderful. Mixing a clear, colourful pop palette with more pastoral and psyche-folk passages, a number of the songs take in more turns and twists than your average band do in an entire album. Several reviews have described the album as a bit messy but I find it charming, beguiling and deeply satisfying with the multiple layers and imaginative arrangements combining with sweet melodies and hooks. An utter pleasure of an album that reveals more on repeated listens.
Loma – Loma (Sub Pop)
This one was a bit of a late contender for me but I’ve been playing it pretty much non-stop since first hearing a song on 6Music in December and purchasing the album. At points Loma remind me a little of Low or Mazzy Star but this debut album is much more than just some cool influences. It’s an atmospheric, dreamy work that draws you in to its beautifully sculpted world. There is a subtle gorgeousness to the songs but gentle changes in atmosphere and instrumentation keep it flowing along. One play and I was drawn in and I don’t feel the need to escape Loma at this point or at any other point in time.
MGMT – Little Dark Age (Sony Music)
Following MGMT over the years hasn’t always been easy but Little Dark Age is an utterly fantastic pop album full of marvellous songs that, while not sounding particularly like New Order, remind me of that band in their perfect singles years in the 80s. The songs are bright and shiny, full of fantastic hooks and melodies but with a leftfield edge that keeps it all fresh. MGMT also use electronics but not in a way that sounds cold or detatched, there’s a real warmth and feel to these songs, even humour as evidenced on the wonderful opener ‘She Works Out To Much’. I love pop music and MGMT have produced the perfect 21st century pop album.
ILL – We Are Ill (Box Records)
My introduction to Manchester’s ILL came through their tour support with The Lovely Eggs in the autumn. Their debut album is absolutely off the wall, weird rhythms and multiple vocals. It’s a rough and raw record , with a feeling of chaos in every track, edgy and messy. In short, it is totally thrilling stuff. As with their live show ILL give the sense that anything could happen at any given moment and it often does. Scary and exciting like an intense rollercoaster ride.
Haley – Pleasureland (Memphis Industries)
We often read reviews of artists taking a ‘bit of a left turn’ but this is a genuine world away from the last release by the artist formerly known as Haley Bonar. Where Impossible Dream was full of big hooks and a confident brashness, Pleasureland is a quieter, more contained listen based around piano and keyboards along with guitar, cello, violin and upright bass. It’s genuinely gorgeous though once you get over the initial shock of how different it sounds. The tracks are all instrumental but sonically and musically rewarding. Pleasureland is a totally immersive listen and works together as whole piece very effectively. Music for dreams.
Mountain Man – Magic Ship (Bella Union / Nonesuch)
Hearing Mountain Man was a pretty fortunate accident on my part. We visited Bushwick in Brooklyn to see the immense display of street art and graffiti then took the Subway to Williamsburg for food, drinks and a trip to Rough Trade NYC. A chalkboard outside announced an instore by Mountain Man. We had truly horrific visions of a burly, bearded hipster bloke with an acoustic guitar but instead got three women singing beautiful, sparse songs that were absolutely enchanting. Straight after they finished I purchased the album. The songs are as beguiling as they were in an intimate live setting. Often acapella, at others accompanied by a lone guitar, the 11 originals and 3 covers are simply gorgeous as voices intertwine in a lovely fashion.
Reissue of the year
3 Teens Kill 4 – No Motive (Dark Entries)
My list has been fairly influenced by our trip to New York and this was my favourite ‘discovery’ of the year. Prior to travelling I read Olivia Laing’s fantastic book, The Lonely City, about a period she spent living alone in the Big Apple. There was some amazing stuff about an artist, David Wojnarowicz, who I really hadn’t come across before, and, lo and behold, the Whitney were holding an exhibition of his work. The exhibition was amazing and I was thrilled to discover that Wojnarowicz had been a member of a post-punk band, 3 Teens Kill 4. The sheer creativity, productivity and activism of Wojnarowicz is humbling (he died at a young age) but also the quality of the work astounds and the exhibition blew my mind. This reissue of the only recordings by 3 Teens Kill 4 is total trip. Quirky arrangements, electronics and toy instruments abound but the end result is far more satisfying than that description would suggest. 3 Teens Kill 4 appeared at a time when the cross-pollination of the underground art scene and music scene were at their height and the possibilities seemed endless. Heady days and heady stuff. It appears to be a vinyl only release but the booklet and accompanying artwork are fantastic. As are the additional songs.