While tech developments and access has changed how we consume our favourite albums the truth is, a body of work still remains important: how an artist connects with their audience may be continuously shifting but a great record will always rise to the top. Raising a voice and amplifying emotion is unequivocally powerful, to be brutally honest and share real feeling… Well, there’s nothing more noble.
Looking back over the past twelve months, the Bitter Sweet Symphonies team have selected a gathering of personal favourites and notable releases to produce their Albums of the Year list.
Nominations and reviews by Jill Guthrie, Tom Saunders, Kit Gallagher, Paul Cook, and Charlotte Holroyd.
GLADES – To Love You
We first heard of GLADES back in 2015. This electronic indie-pop three piece from Australia has kept us happy with a handful of singles and an EP in the past few years, but the time has finally come for a debut album. To Love You dropped in November, lightening the colder days with warm beats reminiscent of driving nowhere in particular with the windows down.
The accented electronic sounds of GLADES are mixed at times with soft alternative pop rhythms such as in single release ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ and at other times more rock-based riffs ala ‘80 Miles’. All the while, the vocals of Karina Wykes cut through the arrangement in a soothing underline of the melody. To Love You boasts a comprehensive sound of the band and all of their multi-instrumental facets.
The album deals with love, as most do, in a confident way that hits a rather personal and nostalgic note. Wykes utters “When we get older, we can forget the truth” in track ‘Do Right’. It is easy to find yourself immersed in the emotional sentiment of her words, accompanied by the ethereal sounds created by bandmates Cam Robertson and Joey Wenceslao.
In all, To Love You is a strong debut, with some hidden gems such as 2016 hazily vibed single release ‘Drive’ and the upbeat ‘Not About You’ nestled at the heart of the collection.
THE 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
If there’s one thing we know by now, it’s not to expect the expected when it comes to The 1975. Having made a name for themselves back in 2013 with their self-titled debut album, they’re now on to the third studio release by the title A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. Roughly a few weeks old, with some mixed reviews but still mostly positive reactions, this collection tackles subjects from a different angle in Healy’s esteemed brand of prosaic composition that we’ve come to know. Single ‘Give Yourself A Try’ has particularly been praised for this.
The 1975 have many sounds; from their polyrhythmic early EPs in the Music for Cars era, to the alternative monochromatic pop-rock, and the bright ’80s pop vibe of their sophomore album, we now arrive at a crossroads of their style fused with a more electronically tinged foundation. Through each re-invention, however, the core of their music making remains in-tact.
A Brief Inquiry… sets out to be a defining pop album of the decade, as Healy has stated. It is still introverted, but making an outward statement, whereas the previous albums were very personally driven. There are several standout tracks amongst the ballads in this collection – one of them being single release ‘Love It If We Made It’. As Healy sings “Modernity has failed us/ And I’d love it if we made it” – it is not a protest song, but an observation listing all of society’s current shortcomings, accompanied by strong visual imagery. ‘The Man Who Married A Robot‘ offers a reflection into the state of how much we rely upon the internet, as a spoken narrative piece by Apple’s virtual assistant Siri; as well as the second track of the lineup ‘Sincerity Is Scary,’ a follow up to the album’s title.
With a promised fourth album by the name Notes on a Conditional Form due in June 2019, as a sort of second half to their current release, Healy has hinted at it potentially being their last big contribution – at least for now.
COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS – May Your Kindness Remain
Sometimes you just have to follow your feet and see where they lead, and that is exactly what Courtney Marie Andrews has done since the age of 16. That wandering girl from Phoenix, Arizona has blossomed over the past decade into a well-rounded and internationally recognized artist – as she was aptly named best of this year by the UK Americana Awards. May Your Kindness Remain is Andrews’s sixth studio album, following 2016’s highly praised breakthrough Honest Life.
No stranger to the road, Andrews draws most of her inspiration from travelling and the people she meets along the way. And that is exactly what May Your Kindness Remain is about – an inward reflection on the similarities she finds in a shared humanity. The album addresses the modern instability and infrastructure in trying to ‘live the dream’, the hard times that come to affect everyone at some point and the complexities of trying to overcome them.
Inspired by soul and Motown for this edition, May Your Kindness Remain is full of intimate arrangements, wholesome vocals, and a diverse range of sounds – from the piano ballad ‘Rough Around the Edges’ to the alternative folk-rock number ‘Kindness of Strangers,’ and everything in between.
As always, Andrews is humble, remembering where she came from and where her feet have been. May Your Kindness Remain offers a poignant commentary on her current American culture, as well as her growth as a musician. As she states in opening track, “If your money runs out/ And your good looks fade/ May your kindness remain.”
SNAIL MAIL – Lush
This past June, American newcomer Lindsey Jordan rolled in on her 18 years of wisdom with a debut album that speaks to the quintessence of indie rock. Lush plays like a lo-fi record from the 1990s that would have been an essential for any teenager, drowned in emotion, whispering their dreams to the music. Named by Pitchfork earlier this year as “a leader in the next generation of indie rock,” we can’t help but to agree.
Lush is full of, well, lush indie sounds that chronicle the searching heart. Having not intended to create a lo-fi album, Jordan inevitably captured the humble and honest sound of music made from that pure need and joy in what you do. Encapsulated in the tracks of Lush is a feeling of simpler days and the ups and downs of being in love, such as can be found in the powerful single releases ‘Pristine’ and ‘Heat Wave’.
Having released two EPs heavier in composition in the past years, Lush accentuates Jordan’s clean brand of vocals, lending a pristine stage to her talent. The music plays as a backing to her words, rich in soft reverb and ethereal riffing, creating a nostalgic mood. The perfected underground style of her band combined with her poetic confessions, it is easy to fall into the warm sound and let it swallow you wholly. Lush reaches beyond the average indie album, transcending the mainstream to beautifully usher in the next generation of music makers. Always true to herself, Jordan asks, “Don’t you like me for me?” – we certainly do.
SOCCER MOMMY – Clean
Another female forerunner of the indie music circuit, the 20-year-old Sophie Allison properly debuted her talents in her first studio album Clean at the top of 2018. Having grown up in Nashville, Tennessee, Clean doesn’t quite have the country vibe you might have expected. Instead Allison just wants to “be that cool” like the stoner girl at school, and may have very well reached that aspiration in this collection of sometimes raw and quiet, sometimes psychedelically melted tracks.
The lo-fi bedroom-pop production comes clearly to surface, especially in tracks such as ‘Cool’ and ‘Scorpio Rising’. Allison creates a vivid imagery through her words, equating experiences to gritty and visceral metaphors, such as finding a former lover by the creek – “A ring finger fell to the water from your bloody teeth” – in opening track ‘Still Clean’. Self-proclaimed as “chill but kinda sad,” the sentiment is almost an understatement.
Allison rips apart the complexity of emotion and love, like said wolf with bloody teeth, in a refreshingly cold truth and very down to earth way. The honesty of her statements are underlined by cleanly procured riffs and progressions that create a dreamy and hazy atmosphere that often melts away into the abyss. Edged and well-groomed, grounded in a bittersweet retrospect, Clean claws its way to the top as Mary with the heart of coal would – “she’s an animal.”
JACK RIVER – Sugar Mountain
Produced, written and performed by Holly Rankin, Jack River’s debut offering settles somewhere between the enchantment of imagination and the despair of personal tragedy. Rankin’s story isn’t casual, so why should her creative exports? The songs which make up the bulk of Sugar Mountain are a mix of shimmering escapism, pop sparkle and expansive wistfulness detailing an alternative youth. Rankin expertly captures her intention, reclaiming her pain as a blazing beam of resilience, hope, and overwhelming fortitude.
As a concept the album is fascinating, in practise it is inspiring and endlessly bountiful, Rankin doesn’t just pour her deepest feelings and dreams into the music but in moments like ‘Her Smile’ and ‘In Infinity’ the surface separates to reveal a true depiction of Rankin’s raw vulnerability and trauma. Intertwining light with dark, the juxtaposition makes for a compelling listen: take ‘Stardust & Rust,’ a noir-ish romance of foreboding and inevitability where reality breaks up the fairytale. In ‘Confess,’ a fearlessness of will reacts to an incredible longing, whereas the highs of ‘Fool’s Gold’ and ‘Ballroom’ camouflage a subtle incapacity to express how her characters are truly feeling under the bright lights. A breakout album from a remarkable young artist—exceptional.
BRYDE – Like An Island
Immediately introduced to the pummelling vulnerability of ‘To Be Brave,’ it’s a flag-baring sign of the emotional turbulence and nuanced beauty of what lies inside Bryde’s debut album. ‘To Be Brave‘ is an incredible opening statement: haunting, solemn and violent but equally gentle and intimate. As the record grows with intensity each subtle blow of lyric transitions into a powerful piece of expression, Sarah Howells’ masterminded solo project is unlike most musicians’ work; breathtakingly visceral, potent, sparse, rocking, simplistic at times, heady when it needs to be. The sequencing of the album is finely tuned as well; nods to previous moods are picked up and reflected throughout, lyrics tie into the whole and the journey feels lived, vastly felt, agonised but all the wiser for it.
Howell’s writing talent is exceptional, the way she is able to translate uniquely personal experience into tangible pieces of rich emotion is an incredible thing. Her skilfulness doesn’t just stop with the songwriting though, her voice is just as impressive, as is her playing, song structures, and diverse musical palette. Like An Island features many highlights and that’s why it’s impossible to pick the record apart and settle on a clear definitive reason as to why it’s an absolute stunner, the work should be listened back to front and front to back—easily a modern classic in my book.
FENNE LILY – On Hold
“Tell me why good things die,” Lily sings in ‘What’s Good’—a fascinating lyric and a lingering introspection of loaded value. Elements so palpable in Fenne Lily’s art, her emotionally astute and perceptive writings are layered monologues telling the heartbreaks of youth, love and innocence. Lily’s voice is spectacular as well, commanding in a husky, hushed, embracing sort of way her ability to linger on the edge of complete exposure is gloriously stirring, and it goes much deeper as the subject matter being so personal ensures, transforming epic melancholy into moments of genuine captivation while at other times, warbling into a visible fragility.
Top and tailing the album with two different interpretations of ‘Car Park’ tells the movement of Lily’s journey across the record, the opening instalment was created for the album and is meant to be more encouraging, a beacon of strength; yet the closing moment is the original demo of the track showcasing the raw, heart baring truth of her pain—a conscious effort to disrupt expectation and a nod to Lily’s wry unpredictability, but equally a startling finish to a record of weighty intimacy and meticulous warmth.
CAOILFHIONN ROSE – Awaken
An invigorating debut from Manchester native Caoilfhionn Rose, Awaken collects a rousing myriad of experimental designs, pretty harmonics, and explorative craft—and ties everything together in a beautiful bow of creative collaboration and DIY invention. Bridging the artist’s folk roots with colours of psychedelia, Latin guitar and electronica, Rose and her band have created a rich groundwork of texture and melody; brave and emboldening. The vocals play an ethereal part in the narrative too, Rose’s breathy lightness combines with a depth of tonality and timbre which transforms simple ruminations into towering flares of engaging significance and comforting compassion.
Layered harmonies interweave with an intricate vocal take on ‘Raindance,’ for a Ben Howard-esque production that urges “stop digging up the hurt, start moving forward” in a bold incursion of self-motivation. ‘Long Way Round’ appreciates the journey to recovery in a slow-moving, hopeful state of floaty atmospherics and emotive delivery. ‘Unravelled’ is one example of the broader dynamics ranging in Rose’s compositions, with a plush arrangement of retro ‘50s design the band strikes up a modest groove for a slow dance of stunning proportions. ‘Amy’ changes tactic and focusses more so on its lyrical presence, telling the story of Rose’s childhood friend—a delicate moment of nostalgia wrapped in the glow of maturity. An album that investigates the self, explores the outside world and uncovers a striking new voice—delve deep, Awaken will astound in many vibrant ways.
RMCC (FKA K.I.D.S.) – Evil
A project we first heard fruits from in 2013, yet the fully released debut only appeared in March of 2018. So why the long intermission? In fact, it’s most likely due to the collaboration starting out as a vehicle for recording artist and singer-songwriter Rosanna Munter, and White Lies bassist Charles Cave to experiment outside of their primary passions. Through this partnership the duo have created a dark voyage through worlds of synth pop, new wave and guitar rock. With an epic ‘80s tinge the record indulges in bombastic crescendos, industrial aesthetic, wall of sound surges, glitter Goth melodies, and tender ethereality.
Principal tracks ‘Blackstar’ and ‘All My Evil’ effectively grasp the pop sound Rosanna and Charles are going for: intriguing melody delivered sparsely before escalating into an aromatic orchestra of heightened manifestation. Electronic centred ‘Broken Chalk’ melds dissonant beats with eerie guitar and a beautiful brass refrain as Rosanna’s bare vocals undress the visible cracks of a fractured relationship. ‘Play Dead’ is the closest to White Lies’ driving rock sound you’ll get on this album, though definitely more grittier and raspier than the London trio’s output—polished perfection isn’t RMCC’s style but it’s visceral as hell and carefully crafted. ‘I Remember Us’ reminisces Eurythmics’ absorbing pop affinity while ‘Ragged Old Angels’ delivers rampant dynamics to contrast and complement its sleek underplay—a languid yet raucous show of Rosanna and Charles’ brutally intricate songcraft. A belated debut record well worth the wait.
CHARLES WATSON – Now That I’m A River
Undoubtedly one of the year’s most overlooked releases, this is the debut album from Charles Watson of indie darlings Slow Club. Every aspect is gorgeous. One way of describing it could be if Bob Dylan drank chamomile tea and paid more attention to melodic detail (also the lyric “You’ve got your way of leaving and I’ve got mine” is about as Dylan as it gets, albeit not necessarily intentional). With lush, organic self-production it is an irresistible collection of songs, perfect for both having on in the background on a cold night or fully immersing yourself in with a glass of red.
Watson’s voice is soothing throughout (“I’ll sing you to sleep/ Don’t listen to a word they say” he urges on ‘Abandoned Buick’), which is accompanied by his incredibly tasteful guitar playing (‘Voices Carry Through The Mist’, ‘You’ve Got Your Way Of Leaving’ and ‘Abandoned Buick’ are just three tracks to showcase this). Authentic and undeniably moving, Now That I’m A River has given Watson a voice for his sublime writing and arranging skills that stand out stylistically in the current climate. Essential listening.
FATHER JOHN MISTY – God’s Favorite Customer
After 2017’s bloated political rant that was ‘Pure Comedy’, Father John Misty restored faith with the quick follow up in God’s Favorite Customer. Spanning ten tracks, all the musical and lyrical themes covered across his first three albums make appearances here in wonderful fashion from the humorous out-of-body storyline of ‘Mr. Tillman’ to the self-deprecating, confessional trilogy of ‘Just Dumb Enough To Try’, ‘Please Don’t Die’ and ‘The Palace’ in which Tillman takes the listener right inside his deteriorating mental state.
Written over a short period during a solitary stay in a hotel, this album is essentially a product of its immediate surroundings. Every song here has a purpose, whether it be lyrically or sonically. God Favorite’s Customer is amusing, brutally honest, and downright dark at times but above all it’s a collection of songs that shows Tillman cementing his status as a truly timeless writer.
ARCTIC MONKEYS – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
With the longest gap between releases so far, Arctic Monkeys followed up 2013’s phenomenally successful ‘AM’ with their biggest musical U-turn to date. In Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the band released their first truly marmite album, dividing fans and critics alike, being both hailed as geniuses and labelled as finally hitting their downward spiral in the process.
Opener ‘Star Treatment’ finds Alex Turner reflecting on his own experiences of fame as he croons, “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes/ Now look at the mess you’ve made me make/ Ask your mates, but Golden Boy’s in bad shape,” while both the title track and ‘Four Out Of Five’ find the singer taking the listener on a tour of his fantasy holiday destination in immaculate detail, with Kubrick-esque videos to accompany them.
Anyone looking for fast-paced, riff-heavy songs here will be sorely disappointed as Turner’s new found love for the piano finds itself firmly at the forefront of the band’s sonic palette as they use it as a springboard to create their own brand of Sci-Fi lounge rock. Tune in and chill out.
ICEAGE – Beyondless
On their fourth album, the Danish punk band have proved they are still on a winning streak. Beyondless is a sonic locomotive, constantly threatening to completely derail but ultimately holding it all together in sublime style. ‘Hurrah’ sets a Stooges-like tone for the album, with the bass and drums thundering away under guitars stabbing at power chords like daggers and Elias Rønnenfelt snarling: “I was told to protect and serve / But I’m here to supply a demand […] An abstract notion that I’m flagless at last / I’m not fighting for a country, I’m fighting to outlast.”
‘Pain Killer (feat. Sky Ferreira)’ boasts a fantastic brass section, while ‘Plead The Fifth’ is a tortured, sombre march: “Have I ever mixed your memory with Tennessee? / Have I ever dialled you up, but never let it ring? / Do I wonder where you are with every sip? / Getting onto who you might be with / Drown myself in 90 proof, what else?”
Despite its age, Beyondless is already a timeless musical masterpiece, the band’s music perfectly serving Rønnenfelt’s brooding lyrics; it’s also living proof that such bands do still exist.
TELEMAN – Family Of Aliens
Formed in 2012, English indie quartet Teleman have toured with notable acts such as Suede, Maxïmo Park and Franz Ferdinand in their short career. As their third album in four years, Family of Aliens finds Teleman at the height of a prolific peak.
Across the album, the band play host to a whole range of musical styles: leading single ‘Cactus’ is an instant New Order-lite dance floor filler featuring a repeated synth line that you can never un-hear, while ‘Between The Rain’ smacks of the McCartney-dominated ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ era with its chugging piano chords accompanying an equally nostalgic lyric, “Good times always end and they seem too soon/ Oh, how I love the silence when I’m with you/ Nothing’s gonna hurt you/ Nothing matters.” Speaking of piano, it’s refreshing to hear it as a dominating force in this genre and the band use it to great effect, whether it be holding down the harmonic fort (‘Between The Rain’) or adding colourful counter-melodies that give the songs extra life (‘Sea Of Wine’).
Family of Aliens has arguably been one of the year’s most overlooked releases, but it is a musical gem that undoubtedly glitters in the band’s catalogue and stands them in very good stead for the future.
MITSKI – Be The Cowboy
Anyone saying rock is dead simply isn’t listening. In 2018 we were blessed with Mitski’s follow-up to ‘Puberty 2’, Be The Cowboy, a record that drew acclaim from pretty much every corner, and topped a number of end of year lists. Mitski’s never simultaneously sounded as expansive, cinematic and intimate as she does on Be The Cowboy, a record that comes as close as you can to capturing the fracturous, schizophrenic state of contemporary American culture.
Be The Cowboy feels restless, it never sits still – jumping from place to place and influence to influence. It’s a hugely ambitious project that couldn’t have been pulled off coherently without a genius like Mitski at the helm. We seemlessly jump from disco-pop to arena rock, continuity provided only in the form of Mitski’s beautiful singing voice and forlorn lyricism – “Venus, planet of love was destroyed by global warming/ Did its people want too much too?/ Did its people want too much?”
‘Nobody‘ is a brilliant and brave single; a beautiful ode to loneliness, full of aching, voice-cracking beauty that somehow masquerades as a radio-friendly pop song despite its complex modulations and inversions. Other highlights are Pixies homage ‘A Pearl‘ and devastating close-up finale ‘Two Slow Dancers‘.
LOW – Double Negative
“Pretentious guitar band downs guitars in favour of things-that-go-bleep” has been a pop-culture trope ever since ‘Kid A’ (which incidentally only had a few electronic tracks on it, and largely stayed within the confines conventional pop-rock song structures). However the creative leap that ex-slowcore guitar crooners Low have taken on their breathtaking 2018 record Double Negative defies all attempts at caricature. A work of rare beauty, its lo-fi hiss and crackle somehow fails to obscure the richness of the harmonies, the simple power of the lyrics and the transubstantial joy that this record brings to the table.
The long spectre of Aphex Twin’s classic ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume II’ looms large; ambient textures, judicious use of space, repetition and subdued menace all seem to flow directly from the work of Richard D. James. In the case of Double Negative though, compositions are imbued with the human voice, anchoring the listener to a narrative and focussing the attention in a way that allows these elements to take up the foreground space that ambient music traditionally sought to avoid. Another reference point could be Darkside’s ‘Psychic’, but whilst Jaar and Harrington went for subdued groovy rhythm and blues in an earthy electric shell, Low are shooting for shimmering transcendence and flight, in this truly otherworldly piece of art.
Highlights are the Vangelis-inspired ‘Tempest‘, lead single ‘Fly‘. But seriously, listen to the whole thing, preferably in the dark with some really good quality headphones, and just dissolve.
JEFF ROSENSTOCK – POST-
Jeff Rosenstock is aggressively uncool. He’s 36, sung (questionably) in unsuccessful third wave ska-punk (very uncool!) bands called The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb The Music Industry, and seemingly subsides on an unwholesome diet of obnoxiously delivered, un-self-aware, maximalist pop-punk earnestness and juvenilia. Despite these minor setbacks, however, his 2018 release POST- couldn’t be more of a triumph. The songwriting is structurally ambitious, melodically engaging and politically relevant.
Opener ‘USA,’ is a barrage of tempo shifts, key changes, diminished chords and a-capella breakdowns. Rosenstock takes the sonic cliches of the pop-punk genre and recontextualizes them into an epic, state-of-the-nation address. The stand-out track has to be ‘TV Stars‘ though, coupling uplifting Britpop-esque chord sequences and vocal harmonies with fatalistic lyrics.
POST- takes a bit of getting used to – it’s rough “in-your-face-ness” can be a little off-putting at the beginning, however it’s well worth persevering with – you’ll be left with a record you can keep coming back to for years.
BOY AZOOGA – 1, 2, Kung Fu!
1, 2, Kung Fu! is an album made for people who listen to music first and lyrics second. I make no bones about that. I can’t claim that its sparse lyrical content is sophisticated or clever when it proudly sports psych-cliches like, “Why does this song have to end/ Why can’t I ever comprehend, ohhhh” and “I love the way it feels/ When nothing feels quite real…”. However Davey Newington knows his strengths and plays to them: huge riffs, huge rhythm section, brilliant instrumentation and arrangements.
Kung Fu! plays out as a suite of interconnected musical ideas; themes introduced in one song are brought back and re-integrated into later compositions. Newington is a master arranger – brilliant compositional technique is on display as ideas that are initially introduced with substituted, tense chord progressions slowly have their harmonic layers stripped away to reveal shining gems underneath. In particular this is evidenced in the final bars of ‘Jerry‘ – where the initial line is restated over a simple I IV V cadence, resolving the tension created by using a reharmonisation of this same idea at the beginning of the song. Davey knows it would have sounded corny to start the song like this – but ending it this way makes it sound like genius.
Standout track has to be adrenaline-fuelled freak out ‘Taxi To Your Head,’ which showcases Boy Azooga’s dynamic range, awesome rhythm section and non-conventional structural approach. Honourable mentions go to picturesque ‘Jerry,’ thematic ‘Waitin‘‘ and madcap-Sabbath breakdown ‘Sitting on the First Rock from the Sun‘.
SHAME – Songs of Praise
Songs of Praise is not the sound of a fully formed outfit, nor is it a perfect record. However alongside art-school provocateurs, HMLTD, it’s definitely one of the most exciting things to have happened in British guitar rock recently, and unlike HMLTD, the group have at least one bona-fide classic track to their name already, in the form of lead single, ‘One Rizla,’ which boasts one of the best sing-along choruses of the last few years.
Shame seem to thrive on a genuine anger unlike the contrived styling of some of their contemporaries. Their live shows are driven by the righteous fury of frontman Charlie Steen, who’s hell bent on obliterating the leather-trousered, medallion-wearing, long haired rock iconography of the past, and rebuilding it in his own image. Influences like Gang of Four and Sonic Youth underlie their destructive approach to guitar work, building cacophonous walls of sound on top of a pseudo-motorik rhythm section.
Unfortunately, what Shame bring to the table in terms of rawness, rage and social critique is precisely what robs them of the subtle touch of more experienced songwriters. Vocal melodies in particular are often given short shrift in favour of spoken word diatribes. It’s a tribute to Steen’s raging lyrics and ferocious delivery that they were able to make a record like this at all.
I include Songs of Praise ultimately, because Shame are without doubt one of the most promising acts in rock. With a bit more attention to melody, diversity and dynamics, they could be the act we’ve been waiting for, the mythical act that conquers the mainstream without compromising.
Stand out tracks are sing-along-belter ‘One Rizla‘ and exhilarating rollercoaster ‘Concrete‘. Honourable mention goes to howling noise-rock opener ‘Dust on Trial‘ and the ferociously smutty ‘Gold Hole‘.
THE FERNWEH – The Fernweh
After first hearing ‘Next Time Around‘ from the band’s self-titled EP, I couldn’t wait for The Fernweh to go the whole hog and release an album. ‘Next Time Around‘ was just so thrillingly perfect that it positively demanded you listened to more from this wonderful band.
Liverpool-based, The Fernweh have served their time as members of other bands before coming together under their own banner. Taking elements of psychedelia, British folk and West Coast pop they have created a shimmering, beautiful, heartfelt collection of songs that could almost be an undiscovered masterpiece from the late ’60s.
That’s not to say that it sounds dated in any way – only that the touchstones are a dreamy Summer of Love vibe imbued with a generous dash of folk rock. Occasionally it reminds you of Belle & Sebastian at their most wistful, but it’s not an album indebted to anyone in particular.
And while it has an overarching sonic aesthetic, you can never take what you’re listening to for granted. All in all a truly glorious debut.
PARQUET COURTS – Wide Awake!
Album after album New Yorkers Parquet Courts continue to deliver the goods and Wide Awake! stands comfortably alongside its predecessors as a release of the highest quality.
On this, their sixth album, they have brought in renowned producer Danger Mouse to stretch the sonic envelope and there’s little doubt that the influence is there without detracting from the band’s essential qualities.
You could easily see this sitting in your record collection bookended by Talking Heads and The Stranglers and not notice what year you’re actually in.
The new wave urgency of opener ‘Total Football‘ contrasts with the post-punk carnival funk of the title track, while ‘Death Will Bring Change‘ has a title that Morrissey somehow missed and a nicely maudlin tone.
Contrast is a word that often springs to mind when listening to the album as the band mixes punkier elements with something essentially lighter like ‘Mardi Gras Beads‘ and does it without ever sounding forced or clumsy.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER – Rebound
This is an album of gorgeously elegant electronic pop that bears repeated listens without ever getting tired or stale.
Formerly one half of The Fiery Furnaces with her brother Matthew, Eleanor is now a critically acclaimed solo artist And on this, her fourth solo album she has produced a compelling collection that stands comparison with some of the best records of a similar type from the genre’s ’80s heyday. It’s also an unexpected detour from the sort of music we’ve been used to hearing her make over the last decade and a half.
The eminently danceable ‘Everything‘ and the yearning hook of ‘In Between Stars‘ are early highlights before ‘Make Me A Song‘ sends an earworm refrain burrowing in. Even on its most downbeat tracks there’s a warmth and an appeal to this album that allows the listener in.
If it’s a signpost to a future direction then there will be plenty of fellow travellers.
GOAT GIRL – Goat Girl
It’s been a good year for bands making committed, uncompromising guitar music. Shame, for one, have collected plenty of richly deserved column inches. And Goat Girl’s debut is a startlingly good and hugely interesting offering that gets dark and unsettling while mining a particularly rich post-punk and weirdly countrified seam.
The London four piece aren’t afraid to mix things up across the album’s taut 40 minutes and 19 tracks either. There’s the declamatory howl of ‘Burn The Stake‘ alongside the straight ahead riffing that drives ‘The Man‘ while there’s a touch of The Cramps horror-billy about ‘Viper Fish‘. Throughout you get a sense of tension and discomfort heightened by singer Clottie Cream’s expressive delivery.
File under ones to watch.
BLOOD ORANGE – Negro Swan
In many ways the perfect soundtrack for these times, Dev Hynes’ fourth solo album covers such topics as identity, insecurity, and gender through a collection of songs that could be part therapy session and part inner city soundtrack.
It’s an album you could image greats like Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield would have been making in 2018 and it particularly put me in mind of Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’ as there’s a certain lo-fi quality to the recording.
It also has that quality of being a late-night confessional where you’re willing to tell secrets to a stranger when the night’s activities are beginning to slow down.
Soulful, inventive, often surprising, it grooves along at times like it’s going to be an easy listen, but just under the surface there’s a lyrical tension as Hynes explores his anxious themes.
There’s a collection of collaborators involved including A$AP Rocky and Puff Daddy, plus a series of spoken word interventions from transgender rights campaigner Janet Mock, that never feel intrusive but add to the album’s overall feel.