Albums of The Year
Starring: Low, Ty Segall, Rolling Blackouts and Spiritualized
50 THE NECKS Body NORTHERN SPY The latest from keyboardist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer/guitarist Tony Buck was their most thrilling yet, the Australian trio hitting an extended motorik gallop at the halfway point. At times reminiscent of Mogwai jamming with Michael Rother, at others dabbling in their customary jazzy ambience, Body shows that The Necks can still surprise, even on their 20th LP. 49 MARY LATTIMORE Hundreds Of Days GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL 2018 saw this LA harpist not only team up with Meg Baird for the experimental folk of Ghost Forests, but also bend her instrument’s 47 strings to Hundreds Of Days, a blissfully ambient solo work. With Lattimore looping her harp, and seasoning it with synth, piano, guitar and voice, she evoked the sublime textures of New Age tapes, and the timeless drones of Eno and Oliveros. 48 LAURA VEIRS The Lookout BELLA UNION Five years after her last record, Veirs’ 10th album provided a welcome reminder of the heights the Portland-based songwriter can reach. Her husband Tucker Martine was again producing, while Sufjan Stevens, Jim James and Karl Blau helped out with vocals, but the real stars here were Veirs’ lyrical, romantic songs, whether hushed and elegiac (piano-led “The Meadow”) or supremely crafted (“Everybody Needs You”, with its dub echoes and drum machine). 47 JULIA HOLTER Aviary DOMINO Have You In My Wilderness, Uncut’s Album Of The Year in 2015, tempered Holter’s more experimental roots with the influence of classic Canyon songwriting. Its follow-up Aviary, though, makes no such concessions as, across 90 minutes, Holter sketches out free-jazz freakouts, droning electronic tones and heady lyrics inspired by Sappho and medieval texts. Difficult and awkward, but full of delights. ON THIS MONTH’S CD 46 KATHRYN JOSEPH From When I Wake The Want Is ROCK ACTION Arriving fully formed with her 2015 debut, Glasgowbased pianist and songwriter Kathryn Joseph returned with an even stronger effort this year, inspired by a temporary break with her longterm partner. As expected, it was a bleak but intoxicating listen, with the singer’s broken, skeletal piano lines and anguished vocals on “And You Survived” recalling Thom Yorke, and “Mouths Full Of Blood” trying out the fractured jazz of Mark Hollis or Robert Wyatt. 45 ANNA CALVI Hunter DOMINO Calvi’s long-awaited third album was her most intense and hard-hitting yet, exploring the restrictions of gender roles over her most ambitious music to date – “Swimming Pool” recalls Scott Walker, and “Chain” channels the Banshees at their most psychedelic and anguished, while the opening “As A Man” reconfigures Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” for Roxy Music. The stripped-down “Away” shows that Calvi can do quiet too: “There is a rage in the sky/Is this the moment sublime?” 44 RYLEY WALKER Deafman Glance DEAD OCEANS “I didn’t want to be jammy acoustic guy any more,” wrote Walker, introducing this album. “I just wanted to make something weird and far-out that came from the heart.” So while Deafman Glance wasn’t as instantly seductive as Primrose Green or Golden Sings…, its vexed, meandering narratives felt like a more accurate reflection of its mercurial creator, casually blending jazzy Chicago post-rock with country desolation. 43 TRACY THORN Record MERGE Having been releasing stellar music for almost 40 years, Thorn would have been forgiven for relaxing a little on her latest; instead, though, she produced a set of shiny, graceful electro-pop with help from Warpaint, Shura and Corinne Bailey Rae, her lyrics discussing the joys of drunk dancing, the various obstacles that women face in our society (“Sister”), and her children (“Babies”): “Lay your pretty hair down/Get the fuck to bed now,” she sings wryly.
42 MELODY’S ECHO CHAMBER Bon Voyage DOMINO Burnt out creatively and personally, Melody Prochet headed to Sweden to record her second album with members of Dungen. The result was perhaps 2018’s most freewheeling and eclectic set, taking in Gainsbourg grooves, lounge jazz and sample-heavy hip-hop – and that was just the first track, “Cross My Heart”. Elsewhere there were hints of The Breeders and Tinariwen, and riffs inspired by Black Sabbath, the whole coalescing to reflect Prochet’s fearless, questing vision. 41 CAT POWER Wanderer DOMINO After 2012’s Sun, an ambitious, if awkward, pop record, the old Chan Marshall re-emerged for Wanderer, happier and more relaxed on new label Domino. The textures were familiar, sure – the sparse piano on Rihanna’s “Stay”, the country desolation of “Robbin Hood”, and the widescreen gospel of “Wanderer/Exit” – but the overall result, a slim but addictive 38 minutes, was one of Marshall’s best. ON THIS MONTH’S CD 40 ARCTIC MONKEYS Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino DOMINO Following 2013’s huge-selling AM, Alex Turner and co could have conquered the world, but instead they headed for the moon, crafting this audacious concept album seemingly about a lounge crooner on some futuristic lunar colony. Turner’s long tried to ape Nick Cave and Dion, but on the likes of “American Sports” and “Golden Trunks” he hit upon a style of noirish, plastic-soul balladry all his own. 39 ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER Rebound ROUGH TRADE After perfecting a stately folk-rock sound on 2016’s New View, the former Fiery Furnace took a different tack on her fourth solo album; inspired by an extended stay in Athens, and specifically a goth club she was taken to in the Greek capital, Rebound was all drum machines and woozy, vintage synthesisers. At its warped heart, though, lay Friedberger’s most characterful songs yet, from the galloping “Everything” to the fidgety, Furnaces-like “Are We Good?” 38 CALEXICO The Thread That Keeps Us ANTISwapping the Arizona desert for the lusher environs of North Carolina, Joey Burns and John Convertino made their most straight-ahead rock record since 2006’s Garden Ruin. Of course, this being Calexico, it’s still a heady mix, containing some venerable songwriting on the Wilco-esque rush of “Bridge To Nowhere” and the Neil Finn-like “Girl In The Forest”, not to mention some of their usual genrebending on the horn-assisted discopsych of “Under The Wheels”.
37 STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS Sparkle Hard DOMINO Four years after Wig Out At Jagbags, and with a whole host of young artists now in thrall to his loose, literate sound, the former Pavement frontman and his band returned with this effervescent LP. “Rattler” found Malkmus dabbling with autotune, but the rest was reassuringly familiar, from the lysergic assault of “Bike Lane” and the bittersweet chamber-pop of “Solid Silk”, to “Refute”, a country-rock cousin of “Range Life” featuring Kim Gordon. 36 THE LEMON TWIGS Go To School 4AD The Lemon Twigs’ second LP was, yes, an epic rock musical about a schoolattending chimp called Shane, as much Rodgers & Hammerstein as Rundgren. Yet the story was just funny enough to work, and the songs, performances and arrangements superb, whether the D’Addario bros were trying out picture-perfect Big Star power pop (“Queen Of My School”) or Van Dyke Parks balladry (“Wonderin’ Ways”). 35 GO KART MOZART Mozart’s Mini Mart WEST MIDLANDS Lawrence’s latest might have come out at the same time as the first set of Felt reissues, but it was as impressive. Glam-synth stompers such as “When You’re Depressed” bounced along musically, but touched on very dark topics – see Clavi-funk cut “A Black Hood On His Head”, seemingly about Isis killings. And who could resist songs titled “Crokadile Rokstarz” or “Knickers On The Line By 3 Chord Fraud”? 34 HOOKWORMS Microshift DOMINO As we went to press, this West Yorkshire quintet had just split after allegations of abuse involving frontman MJ; nevertheless, their third record was their bravest effort, with songs about the 2015 Leeds Boxing Day floods that destroyed their studio, and about Alzheimer’s, cancer, death and broken relationships. Lightening the load was a new, more electronic sound, with synths and loops replacing shoegazey psych-rock on “negative Space” or the hypnotic kosmische of “Static Resistance”. 33 CONNAN MOCKASIN Jassbusters MEXICAN SUMMER The Kiwi auteur’s third solo album was the soundtrack to his own short film series, Bostyn ’n’ Dobsyn, which Mockasin co-wrote and starred in. Divorced from this Lynchian, slightly creepy series, though, Jassbusters still delighted; recorded live and stripped down in a Paris studio, these eight tracks of hushed soul, led by Mockasin’s koto-inspired guitar leads and ad-libbed vocals, were otherworldly. ON THIS MONTH’S CD 32 GWENNO Le Kov HEAVENLY Gwenno Saunders’ second LP was sung purely in Cornish, inspired by both her upbringing and the government’s decision to cut school funding for the minority language. To show the language is living and breathing, she harnessed it to a gauzy set of psych pop, with crisp drums, bass and piano woven between all manner of synths and organs. Broadcast, Jane Weaver and Gruff Rhys (the latter featuring) were touchstones, but Le Kov showed that Gwenno could match those artists. 31 GAZELLE TWIN Pastoral ANTI-GHOST MOON RAY Elizabeth Bernholz’s third LP as Gazelle Twin found the Brighton-based musician examining Englishness through a nightmarish melange of folk and electro, cut up and pitch-shifted to ghoulish extent. The 14 short tracks flowed tightly, functioning more as a soundscape or radio play than an LP – perfect for Bernholz’s freewheeling message, then, which drew from William Blake and the perpetual call of the elderly (“Better In My Day”). ON THIS MONTH’S CD
30 MÉLISSA LAVEAUX Radyo Siwel NO FORMAT! This Canadian singer-songwriter returned to her family’s roots on her fourth LP, inspired by the music of Haiti. The result was an intoxicating mix, with Laveaux singing in Creole and accompanying herself with some striking guitar. Of the highlights, “Kouzen” has a minor-key lilt that sounds distinctly French – perhaps no surprise seeing as Laveaux lives in Paris – while “Twa Fey” is beautifully strange, its sound as thin and high as Laveaux’s reverbed vocals. 29 LET’S EAT GRANDMA I’m All Ears TRANSGRESSIVE Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth’s quixotic 2016 debut was hard to ignore, but their follow-up was the real deal; mixing together synth pop, weird folk and pumping dance, the pair, along with producers David Wrench, Sophie and Faris Badwan, created a thrilling and strange cosmic soup. Best of all was “Donnie Darko”, which moved from a plaintive ballad to Balearic slow-disco and back in 11 joyful minutes. Following the autotune experiments and ugly recriminations of 2017’s self-titled effort, this was a swift return to form for the indie-rock brainiacs. Buoyed by new love and a (mostly) new band, Dave Longstreth drew on ’70s folk rock and neo-soul for this giddily upbeat affair; he remains the only songwriter around likely to compare his lover to the Archimedes palimpsest. 27 IDLES Joy As An Act Of Resistance PARTISAN The biggest thing in British punk rock for years, this Bristol quintet put everything into their second album; thrashing guitars and ragged drums heightened Joe Talbot’s messages, whether he was calling out toxic masculinity on the Sonic Youth-esque “Samaritans” or writing about the death of his daughter on “June”. As the LP’s title suggested, these 12 piledriving songs documented a search for contentment and happiness in the face of a painful existence. 26 JOHN PRINE The Tree Of Forgiveness OH BOY Not for nothing is John Prine one of Bob Dylan’s favourite songwriters; and the long-awaited The
Tree Of Forgiveness didn’t disappoint. Dave Cobb was in the producer’s chair, with Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires contributing vocals and assorted instruments, but Prine’s lyrics, delivered in a moving, desolate croak, are the treat here: “Yeah, when I get to heaven, I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm,” he sings on the closing “When I Get To Heaven”. 25 COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS May Your Kindness Remain LOOSE Andrews’ sixth album was a strong follow-up to her breakthrough record, 2016’s Honest Life, and found the West Coast songwriter exploring a new intensity in the atmospheric production, and a new depth and tenderness in her songs. “There is always a reason/A story to tell,” she sang on “Border”, while on the title track she paints a picture of a friend “wearing loneliness like a costume for the whole world to see”. 24 PAUL WELLER True Meanings PARLOPHONE Hitting 60 after a savagely creative decade, Weller took some time to reflect, conjuring up these 14 tranquil and folky songs. The textures were homely, sure – hints of Nick Drake, Traffic’s more rustic material and his own Heliocentric (2000) – but True Meanings was all about the songs; from the waltzing live favourite “Gravity” and the soulful “Mayfly” to the majestic “Come Along”, featuring Martin Carthy and Danny Thompson. ON THIS MONTH’S CD 23 KURT VILE Bottle It In MATADOR The Philadelphia songwriter’s longest and most expansive album, Bottle It In seemed to stop time, inviting the listener to enter the guitarist’s gloriously woozy headspace for 80 minutes of ethereal indie rock. “Loading Zones” and country cover “Rollin’ With The Flow” were joyously immediate, but the real picks were the meditative 10-minute “Bassackwards” and the transcendent, circular “Skinny Mini”. Effortlessly unique. ON THIS MONTH’S CD 22 FATHER JOHN MISTY God’s Favorite Customer BELLA UNION After the grand scope of Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman’s fourth seemed modest by comparison; yet nestled within its 10 tracks were some of the songwriter’s finest songs, from the acidic, Beatles-y “Hangout At The Gallows” to the blown-out, twinkling title track. And forget wry songs exploring the whole of human history, God’s Favorite Customer instead found Tillman writing movingly about his own personal struggles. ON THIS MONTH’S CD 21 KAMASI WASHINGTON Heaven And Hell YOUNG TURKS After 2015’s gamechanging The Epic, the saxophonist refined his sound on this double album (triple if you count the hidden EP) of interstellar jazz-funk. Along the way it took in kung-fu themes, a classic bebop cover and 10-minute symphonies incorporating lush choirs, heart-rending arrangements and some stunning performances from Washington and his crew – especially keyboardist Brandon Coleman and vocalist Patrice Quinn. Divine. 20 JACK WHITE Boarding House Reach THIRD MAN/COLUMBIA/XL If some thought they had Jack White pegged as a traditionalist, his third solo album set them straight – here, White and a carnival of diverse musicians explored hip-hop, garage gospel, spoken word, digital funk and musique concrète, often in a single song. While the eclectic, ragged results proved controversial with some, there was no doubt that this was a game-changer for White, and perhaps the start of an exciting and experimental new era.
19 COWBOY JUNKIES All That Reckoning LATENT/PROPER Returning after six years away, the Junkies’ latest was arguably their best since The Trinity Session 30 years before. A stately, quietly experimental record, All That Reckoning found the Timmins siblings and Alan Anton weaving tales of “mugging politicians” and a“king of empty things”, with stately arrangements and Margo Timmins’ peerless voice to the fore. “And you can control hate,” she sang on “The Things We Do To Each Other”, “but only for so long/And when you lose control, oh man…” 18 THE BREEDERS All Nerve 4AD That All Nerve happened at all was a surprise, being the classic lineup’s first album together since 1994’s Last Splash; more of a shock, though, was just how strong these 11 songs were. Warped punk jolts such as “Wait In The Car” jostled with bleached miniatures like the title track, while Kim Deal’s enigmatic lyrics (“ox bow, strange glow…”) and Kelley Deal’s primal guitar daubings made All Nerve wonderfully more than the sum of its parts. If her debut LP cast Barnett as a genuinely funny voice, this follow-up showed a darker, more serious side to the Melbourne songwriter. The dejected trudge of the opening “Hopefulessness” set the tone, and the most immediate cut, “Nameless, Faceless”, took on male oppression and violence against women. Musically, there were allusions to Neil Young (“Walkin’ On Eggshells”) and Pavement (the second half of “City Looks Pretty”), while the sour, melancholic “Need A Little Time” showed just how Barnett’s writing has matured. Seriously good, then. 16 EZRA FURMAN Transangelic Exodus BELLA UNION A “queer outlaw saga” set in a world where angels exist and are deemed illegal, Ezra Furman’s latest didn’t lack ambition. The Chicago-born songwriter had the talent to pull it off, though, whether he was writing about passion (“Love You So Bad”) or faith (“God Lifts Up The Lowly”), or corralling synths and cellos into a new, restless sound. ON THIS MONTH’S CD 15 ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS Look Now CONCORD A surprise return to the studio for Costello, who after 2013’s Roots collaboration
Julia Holter: difficulties and delights
Kamasi Washington: from kung-fu themes to symphonies