The world continued to be a terrible place in 2018. It’s not even worth listing all the terrible things that have happened, because you were there, weren’t you? At least we still had the sweet, sweet sounds of music, as this decade continues to shape up to be a fine one for popular music, in new and surprising ways.
Here’s my top-10 – opinions very much author’s own. Indeed, I’ve already managed to offend two dinner party guests with a playlist based on this list. These were people who really like Kendrick Lamar and Arctic Monkeys, so if you like those things a lot maybe this is not the list for you. If you’re a bit emotional, fond of melody and grand statements, and enjoy the sounds of guitars (albeit not exclusively) on the other hand; do come over for dinner some time.
It’s hard to put these things in order sometimes – so unhelpfully you’re going to have to deal with a three-way-tie for number one, presented in alphabetical order.
10. No Age – Snares Like a Haircut
A wonderfully-refined record that transfigures No Age’s direct style into something more shimmering and sparkling. Still a couple of full-on bangers there to remind us of the two-piece’s MO, though.
9. Low – Double Negative
A surprise package from the miserablist indie veterans. A dark, claustrophobic, pulsating beast of an album that sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before but speaks perfectly to the same emotional core.
8. Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
More of the same from Idles. Outrageously fun and wryly humorous, but with a keen sense of the injustice that pervades our society today, this does exactly what punk music is supposed to do. The album title says it all.
7. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
In a Poem Unlimited may just be Meghan Remy’s best work to date. Hypnotic and funky, sleek and detached, without being cold; those who enjoy latter-day Talking Heads should get a kick out of this.
6. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Frances Quinlan’s fourth release as Hop Along, the third plus band, is a stylish collection of earworm-y indie tunes – ranging from dancing on sticky floors drinking crap booze anthems to night-driving slick soundtracks. Quinlan’s sharp guitar work and gravelly voice are a masterful combination.
5. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
On the subject of grand statements, the latest from Jon Hopkins – his first since 2013’s Immunity – does all the things you’d hope from the keyboardist turned electronica aristocracy. To put it another way, there are few musicians on the planet that can justify calling an album something as grandiose as Singularity. Huge, icy, cosmic compositions; very much electronic sounds for grown-ups. If not available in its natural habitat, turn off the lights and fire up your best speakers.
4. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
Stick with us, this is a bit of a departure. Kamasi Washington’s place in wider musical consciousness comes courtesy of his association with the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar, on whose To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN his saxophone stylings may be noted. To the casual listener, his solo work to date has been a little unsatisfying; no more. Heaven and Earth is a lush and monumental masterpiece of a double album, with accomplishment and accessibility perfectly counterbalanced. There’s a political strand, but there’s absolutely nothing here that will prevent partying of the highest order. It may weigh in at a hefty two and a half hours – but it’s worth every minute.
1. Mount Eerie – Now Only
A follow up to 2017’s harrowing and beautiful A Crow Looked at Me, Now Only continues Phil Elverum’s exploration of grief, following the sudden death of his wife from a rare form of cancer. It’s aesthetically less stark, though no less so thematically, with any brief hints of comfort swiftly kiboshed. There’s perhaps a hint of remove though, lent by the slightly lusher soundscape, and a more reflective mode. Elverum also directly addresses the sheer weirdness of this very public form of grieving – a blessing and curse alike of his talent (how many people can say they have produced two of the best albums about death!?). Essential listening, but with a trigger warning.
1. Snail Mail – Lush
Lush by name, lush by nature, this wonderful debut from the still-teenaged Lindsey Jordan aka Snail Mail is romantic, elegant, and accomplished. Jordan has a rare gift for really getting feeling out of a relatively pared-down indie rock sound, which recalls the 90s while feeling fresh and timeless. It also helps that she’s also a highly-accomplished vocalist, capable of marrying intimacy and power. Without wanting to make it about her age, there’s something of the best elements of being a teenager expressed in the swooning beauty of these pieces. Here’s hoping we’ll see a lot more of her in years to come.
1. Soccer Mommy – Clean
Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley… Tennessee has a rich musical pedigree. A list to which we can now add Sophie Allison, who performs as Soccer Mommy. Clean is Allison’s debut studio-recorded album, with 2018 certainly looking to have been a vintage year for young American indie musicians. Soccer Mommy’s sound is somewhat in the pop-punk vein, albeit a sophisticated strain of the genre, which combines bouncy guitar-playing with various levels of edge with a confessional and direct lyrical mode. The perfectly constructed melodies are chunky and satisfying, with Allison’s straight vocal style giving it the relatability that makes or breaks this genus of music – very much made here.
Honourable mentions go to: Helo Maud, Steve Malkmus & the Jicks, Gang Gang Dance, Janelle Monae, Frankie Cosmos, Leonie Pernet, and Drinks. Any one of these could have crept into the top-10 on another day,