As we head towards the end of the year, we enter a bit of a deadzone in terms of new music releases. There were still a few interesting pieces out there, but it really was slim pickings.
Top of the list was Aliment, with a blistering set of punk-rock anthems to counter the onslaught of Christmas cheese. Equally Ty Segall’s sixth album release of 2018 – this time with wife Denee Segall – also has some interesting moments of discordant rock.
Earl Sweatshirt and Brockhampton provide us with an RnB outro to 2018 and Beans on Toast’s tribute to becoming a father (and the dangers of having an omnipresent listening device in your house) also provides a lighter, folky touch to the month.
Overall, 2018 was a fantastic year for new music. Unfortunately December just wants a great representation of it.
Some unusual and intriguing releases in November. Let’s start with Thought Gang, the jazz project of Twin Peaks collaborators David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti. It’s as messed up as you would expect from these two but there’s just enough narrative in the music to keep it together (just).
Sun Kil Moon‘s jazz-blues-folk-rock effort This is My Dinner also sees vocalist Mark Kozelek employing a stream of consciousness approach throughout the tracks, which is for the most part, very enjoyable.
Most interesting of all was Slovenian industro avant-garde band Laibach‘s take on The Sound of Music (yes, that one). What could easily be dismissed as a novelty actually has some very interesting reworks of the very familiar tunes, and then suddenly goes off on a tangent about North Korea halfway through Maria/Korea from which it never returns. Still hugely entertaining.
A quick mention for The Prodigy. New album No Tourists doesn’t see them push any boundaries beyond the punk-rave genre they invented, but when it’s this good, who really cares.
Top pick this month, really shouldn’t be there. When I was compiling this review I had committed to making it about original albums. No live shows, no compliations, no reissues etc. But Robert Hood‘s DJ Kicks mix is just so damn good that it couldn’t be ignored. This is a classic slice of Detroit Techno that pushes all my buttons. As soon as you stick it on you’re transported to a sweaty all-night (possibly illegal) rave and you just don’t ever want it to stop. For me, this was everything that was joyous and hedonistic about music in my youth and I am clearly still mad for it.
As we entered October I was most excited by the upcoming release from Canadian punk outfit Fucked Up, who I have been an avid fan of for some time and treated me to what was probably my favourite gig of all time.
Their new work Dose Your Dreams saw them branch of in several different directions, including a bit of electronica, though it was still their out and out punk numbers which hit the hardest.
I also very much enjoyed the laid-back country-esque drawl of Tess Parks backed by the muscial genius that is The Brian Jonestown Masscare’s main man Anton Newcombe. Very pleaseant.
Other notable releases include a collaborative solo effort from former Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, some dreamy, synth-based shoegaze from The KVB and the discordant folk-rock of Kristin Hersh.
Top of the tree for October though was TVAM. Not a collaboration from Nick Frost and Anne Diamond unfortunately, but Wigan’s Joe Oxley, who blends elements of rave, 80’s synth, indie and shoegaze into an epic work. Well worth a listen.
A couple of my old favourites made an appearance in September. Firstly rave veterans Orbital produced another solid piece after reforming for the second time. Still not close to the absolute genius that is the Brown Album, but then again what is?
The kind of loops The Field also returned for a fifth slice of perfectly pitched, slow building ambient dance tracks that lull you into a trace-like state without you even realising it.
Other notable releases include Low, with their 18th album taking them in a new direction while simultaneously turning out to be one of their best. Leeds-based Menace Beach combination of indie and 60’s beach rock also impressed.
However it was Canadian alt-rock group Dilly Dally who tickled my fancy the most in September, with a strong slab of indie-pop and grunge coupled with the gravelly vocals of Katie Monk. Very nice indeed.
As summer hits its stride (though I do recall the weather starting to get worse at this point) there were some top album releases, and plenty to make you jump about.
First, the quieter moments were provided by the likes of Kathryn Joseph whose delicate album of heartfelt songs had an ethereal quality to them. There was also an impressive reworking of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons by Anna Meredith. Rather than messing too much with Vivaldi’s composition she provided a rich framework around the pieces, interpsersing her own works that gave the originals space to breath and added a new layer of experience to this classic piece.
Interpol‘s latest album Marauder, didn’t really pull up and trees, but it was competent enough and their musical approach always pleases me.
Nothing flew the shoegaze flag this month while female trio Our Girl provided the indie-pop fix. Warm Drag‘s excellent debut album added a 60s go-go feel to dubby synth with a dash of indie rock thrown in to the mix as well.
Justice’s live-not-live album was also a welcome reminder of just how good this electro-dance band are when playing to a crowd – even when there’s not one there.
A strong showing from punk this month too, with Slaves and Right Shitty producing some excellent moments on their respective albums. And it was punk that also provided the album of the month.
It was never really in any doubt that IDLES would be my top album of the month. Their debut album Brutalism was probably my favourite of 2017, and Joy as an Act of Resistance built on that magnificent start with a series of hugely infectious riffs coupled with Joe Talbots’s brilliantly simple lyrical style. Their awesomeness was brought home when they played a small venue in Brighton as part of their album launch. It was an amazing experience and I suspect we will never see them playing such a small venue again. They are destined for great things.
July was a relatively quiet month compared to some of the stonkers that have gone before it, but there were still some delights to be had.
We had girl-punk from Negative Scanner, whose album Nose Picker wins my special award for most unpleasant cover of the month. A mention also has to be made of Ross From Friends. The artists house- flavoured album is almost as impressive and the band name
here was also some great indie-rock to be had from the likes of Talons, Asylums and Bodega. My pick of the guitar-based albums came from Breathe Panel. Their lighter, dreamier take on the genre suited the mood of a balmy summer down to a tee.
I’ll happily admit that Jamaican Dancehall had largely passed me by as a musical area of interest, but K.O. by Miss Red is an album of truly epic proportions and one to really break out of a pigeon hole.
A varied bag during June with some new artists, some bringing back styles of days gone by and the reemergence of some old stalwarts.
First to Mike Shinoda. The Linkin Park rapper has put on tape what is essentially his grieving process following the suicide of former bandmate Chester Bennington. It’s raw to listen to at times but the emotion gives it a real depth that is often missing in this genre.
Floex and Tom Hodge‘s mix of orchestral beauty and electronica would be the top album of fused styles this month, if it wasn’t for the release of the third album from my favourite gospel/death metal crossover act Zeal & Ardor. Stranger Fruit perhaps doesn’t reach the heights of it’s predecessor but is still a mighty impressive set of songs.
Here Lies Man’s second album once again revives the afrobeat-meets-Black-Sabbath vibe to great effect while Sink Ya Teeth draw heavily on 80’s synth-pop on their debut album.
My top album of the month though is one of my perennial favourites. The Orb was the act that got me into electronic music in the first place. Alex Patterson has, in the past, tended to drift into meandering prog-style twiddling interspersed with dub-electronica. Fortunately No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds is a tight collection of house-dub that would be at home in a club – or at least during the late night opening of a micro-brewery.
A mixed bag in my choices for May. There’s some absolutely banging dance floor fillers, very loud guitars, some lighter pop moments and something truly unique.
First to the elephant in the room. Despite my great excitement over its release (coming as it did on my birthday) there’s no place for Arctic Monkeys in the list. It’s divisive album. I know many people that love it and its won a fair few awards but I just didn’t get on with it. To be honest, I thought it was a bit boring. Not only had it lost a lot of the spikier side of the monkeys, but also it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. I should probably give it another chance, but with so much good music around it’s hard to find the time.
On to those that did make the list. There was dreamy 60’s style Beach Boys-inspired girl-band La Luz, a strong outing from former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes and some Franco-pop from Halo Maud.
Putting my dance hat on we had an outstanding floor filler from Head Technician (Pye Corner Audio) while Jon Hopkins‘ Singularity moved seamlessly from all out dance classics to beautiful piano solos. It’s an album that starts with a bang before slowly fading to almost nothing – in the most beautiful way.
The fifth solo-not-solo effort from Future of the Left and Mclusky frontman Andrew Falkous, Christian Fitness adds further depth to his work with the addition of distorted strings on top of his tradenark super fuzzy guitars. Another nice effort from one of my all-time favourite artists.
It’s really quite hard to describe exactly what my top album of May is. I’ve heard the phrase heavy music bandied about, but I’m still not quite sure the cuts it. Certainly The Body has a spiritual cousin with the of the darker aspects of heavy/death metal, but this is cut from an entirely different cloth. All at once it is a beautiful, distressing, joyous and downright put-your-head-in-the-oven depressing album. I guarantee it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but kudos to those prepared to give it a go. It’s so intriguing that I keep coming back to it, despite it feeling at time like you are in someone else’s nightmare.
Top 10 May 2018
1: The Body – I Have Fought Against It But I Can’t Any Longer
My pick of top albums from April was very much dominated by girl-powered guitars and retro dance music.
Take, for instance, the highly rated post-punk outfit Goat Girl. This London all-girl band have seen their star rise sharply in 2018, and it’s no surprise with some finely crafted tunes on their eponymous debut album.
Also catching my ear this month were Blackwater Holylight. This female foursome from Oregon’s blend of drone rock and psychadelia ticked a lot of boxes.
Welsh singer-songwriter Bryde also managed to light up the month with her slightly heavier take on the traditional relationship-based crooning of her contemporaries.
On the electronic side of things, we had some head nodding, hands in the air moments from the like of Makeness, SCB (a.k.a. Scuba) and Daniel Avery – the latter pulling off the trick of bringing back the vibes of Aphex Twin and Plastikman while remaining rooted in the 21st century.
Elsewhere there were a couple of guilty pleasures to be had. Cosmo Sheldrake‘s use of woodwind throughout his album gives it a very whimsical feel – almost like visiting the circus.
Confidence Man‘s effort is something to behold and utterly irresistable. It revels in its high camp pop while laying on some serious 90’s style acid house grooves. Glorious – a top guilty pleasure.
Top of the tree this month was German outfit Die Nerven, whose mix of shoegaze and indie/post-punk kept me enthralled, even though I didn’t have a clue what they were going on about. Not sure they were a very happy bunch though.
About twelve months ago, I underwent what must have been a minor mid-life crisis. I started running, finally got round to trying to learn to play the guitar and promised to expose myself (ahem) to new musical experiences.
As with most resolutions, your dedication to them fades as time passes. The ridiculosly early starts for running finally got to me and I’m not picking up my axe as often as I should if I’m going to learn more than six chords.
One thing that did stick was listening new music. A subscription to spotify has helped massively, as has the latest releases newsletter from the brilliant local indie record shop Resident.
New Music Friday has become a weekly pleasure, trawling through all the latest releases to find hidden and not-so-hidden gems. It’s been quite an eye-opener for me. New releases from bands I’d previously revered often struggled to make my list of weekly favourites, while artists I’d never heard of before suddenly replaced them as my go-to listening.
As we approach the end of the year, it seems only fair that I share my discoveries with you lucky people. All of it is worth a listen – whether you’ve heard of the artists before, or haven’t the foggiest about them. Blimey, there’s even some jazz in there, which probably surprised me more than anyone else.
So buckle up, as over the course of the next couple of weeks I take you through my month-by-month musical review of the year, culminating in the big reveal of my album of the year. It’ll be a fun ride I promise.