Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Albums of 2018

It’s that time again. Time to revisit some of the albums that made the biggest impression on everythingsgonegreen across 2018. The obligatory year-end “best of”, or in the case of this blog, those albums that got the most ear-time on my pod throughout the year. There’ll have been better albums released in 2018 than the ones listed below, for sure, no doubt, but if they didn’t make their way into my collection then they won’t have made the cut here. These are simply the “new” albums I own copies of and listened to the most, no more, no less: 

10. Cat Power - Wanderer 

I’ve endured an on-again off-again relationship with Chan Marshall’s music over the years, so I couldn’t really call myself anything other than a fair weather fan. But I thought Wanderer was a welcome return to form for an artist who hasn’t had her problems to seek over the past decade or so. It was certainly one of the more unexpected additions to my collection, and an album that kept growing in stature with each and every listen. Wanderer felt like a very deliberate return to the basics which served Marshall so well when she first emerged a couple of decades ago: strong songwriting, subtle hooks, simple structure and arrangements ... all geared to place emphasis firmly back on that sultry, seductive vocal. It was a very consistent set, with no real stand-out tracks, apart from the Lana Del Rey collaboration on ‘Woman’, which might just be something close to a career highpoint. A mature piece of work that possibly flew under the radar of all but her most committed fans. It didn’t get a full review on the blog but the above should suffice.

9. Darren Watson - Too Many Millionaires 

I can’t pretend to be all that knowledgeable about the blues, but I know enough to appreciate the fact that Wellington’s own Darren Watson is a serious talent. Too Many Millionaires is merely the latest in a long line of releases to prove that point. My review can be found here. 

8. Dub Syndicate - Displaced Masters 

I try to grab at least one release from the On-U Sound catalogue every year. I’m a man of routine and habit, and some 30-year-old habits can be hard to shake. Plus, I know what I like, and I like what I know. This one is a late 2017 release, of sorts, but as I was quite late getting to it, I’ll include it here regardless. Great for On-U devotees, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. My review can be found here. 

7. The Breeders - All Nerve 

I wasn’t too impressed with All Nerve after my first couple of listens. In fact, I recall messaging a friend much earlier this year to say “the new Breeders is just like the old Breeders, but not in a good way” ... as though I was expecting some kind of revelatory experience. Labouring with the belief that somehow the band would show signs of progression, or somehow offer something different from the tried and trusted MO used on EVERY other Breeders album. But with false expectation being the mother of all disappointment, I then decided to just relax and enjoy the album for what it was. And it turned out to be another genuine grower. Familiarity became anything but contempt, just feelings of warmth, comfort, and a much fuller appreciation of a damned fine rock n roll album. An uncomplicated rock n roll album. A stop-start fast-slow hybrid of fuzz, surf, and power pop guitar. Everything I could realistically expect from the return of the band’s Last Splash-era peak line-up. So yes, not a lot different from the old Breeders, but still a bloody good album. Another one that didn’t get a full review on the blog.

6. Marlon Williams - Make Way For Love 

It wasn’t so much a breakthrough year for Marlon Williams because he’d already achieved that much, but he did win best solo artist and album of the year at the NZ Music Awards, plus a highly coveted Silver Scroll. My review for Make Way For Love is here. 

5. The Cure - Torn Down 

Another year drifts by without any new music from the still active and touring Robert Smith. But there was this, Torn Down, a Record Store Day special. A fresh set of Smith remixes of old material, and a belated sister release for 1990’s Mixed Up. That will have to do. Truth be told, I loved it, and my review is here. A review, incidentally, that was the blog’s most read/hit “new” post of 2018. 

4. Thievery Corporation - Treasures From The Temple 

From all accounts - not least the word from the duo itself - Treasures From The Temple is supposed to be a “companion” release to last year’s largely overlooked Thievery Corporation album, Temple of I and I. Mostly because it’s a collection of remixes and leftover work from the same recording sessions. But it’s also a whole lot more than that rather underwhelming description would suggest. It’s an immaculately produced, eclectic mix of reggae, dub, hip hop, synthpop, and electronica that defies any real definitive genre categorisation. You could argue that the music of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton (plus assorted associates) hasn’t really evolved much since the release of the duo’s 1996 downtempo classic (debut) Sounds From Thievery Corporation, yet the formula applied back then still works today. The best of the plethora of guest vocalists who feature include rapper Mr Lif, reggae dude Notch, and the divine Racquel Jones. One small reservation: the glossy production and sheen on a couple of roots reggae tracks somewhat detracts from the authenticity of those vibes. It may have worked better if they’d left some grit or dirt in there. No full review on the blog for this one either.

3. Moby - Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Hurt 

This one is a bit deep and cynical in places and I’m not really sure why I’ve grown to love it as much as I have. Is it because of those traits, or in spite of them? Whatever, if it wasn’t exactly a comeback album for Moby (who remains prolific), it certainly heralded the return of his music to my own cynical and frequently insular world. Reviewed here. 

2. The Beths - Future Me Hates Me 

2018 could hardly have gone better for The Beths; extensive touring, a well received debut album, and massive amounts of barely anticipated global exposure. My review of the superb Future Me Hates Me is here. 

1. Antipole - Perspectives 

Perspectives tapped into my often suppressed love of all things dark and dramatic. It’s an album of remixes, drawing its source material from Antipole’s late 2017 release, Northern Flux (reviewed here). I didn’t manage to give Perspectives a review on the blog because it arrived in early November and I’ve spent the past six weeks or so fully absorbing it. Fully immersing myself in it. I think my familiarity with Northern Flux - which is effectively a stripped back version - only enhanced my enjoyment of Perspectives, with the remix album adding depth and texture to a set of tunes I had already fallen in love with. There’s a fair amount of additional percussion and synth thrown into the mix on a lot of these tracks, layers of the stuff even. And more generally, there’s an extra edge to the production not always evident on the original album. Although Northern Flux comes with its own standalone charms, of course. Perspectives includes remix work from the likes of Ash Code, Delphine Coma, Kill Shelter, Warsaw Pact, and Reconverb, to name just a few. I knew nothing of Antipole at the start of 2018, but discovering the band, and then digging further into the Unknown Pleasures label - and associated acts - opened up a whole new world. And yes, I realise it’s probably a little unusual to have a remix release as my album of the year, but I make up my own rules as I go along here in the padded cell that doubles as the everythingsgonegreen office. 

Close but no funny cigar: 

Through the first half of the year Rhye’s Blood got a fair old workout, but ultimately the chilled out take on soft-core disco was perhaps a little too lightweight to stay the distance. 

Suede’s The Blue Hour was yet another solid effort from one of my favourite bands of the past 25 years. Suede rarely falter, and this album was yet another quality addition to the band’s extensive discography. 

First Aid Kit’s Ruins held some appeal, before I decided it was all a little too similar to Stay Gold, the band’s last full-length release from 2014. I remain a big fan of the Söderberg sisters and their sweet border-defying harmonies. 

Local band Armchair Insomniacs caught me by surprise with their eclectic self-titled debut, which was highly polished and crammed full of great hooks. Where the hell have they been hiding? (Reviewed here) 

Also flying a little under the radar - for all but committed club fiends - was the globetrotting, sometime Auckland-based DJ Frank Booker, who raided his own archives to digitally release two disco-drenched mini-albums, Sleazy Beats and the Untracked Collection. Both on Bandcamp, both superb. Sleazy Beats qualifies as my short album or EP of the year.

There were plenty of reissues, retrospectives, and deluxe releases to catch my eye (and ear) across 2018, my own favourite addition being a toss up between Yazoo’s box set Four Pieces (the duo’s two albums plus demos and remixes), and Bronski Beat’s Age of Consent deluxe. The Yazoo release probably edges it on account of the volume and variety it offered. 

Compilation of the year - the inspired and long overdue late 2017 collection of New Zealand disco-era classics and not-so-classics, Heed The Call, reviewed here. 

Gig of the year? I didn’t get along to as many gigs as usual this year, but with a focus on quality over quantity I can’t really say I missed anything - or anyone - I really wanted to see. For my money, for the night, the vibe, and the company, it’s hard to go past Pitch Black’s sonic dub-driven extravaganza at San Fran in Wellington in mid-March. Reviewed here. 

In terms of cinema-going experiences, unlike last year, I can’t really hand-on-heart say there were any music-related films that held much appeal for me in 2018. And I include Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born in that assessment. But of the films I did see and enjoy, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri was probably the pick of an otherwise quite limited bunch. And although it was a late 2017 release, and I didn’t catch it in a theatre, I thought Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool had easily the best soundtrack of all the films I viewed during the year. 

Right. That’s that, annual stocktake completed. Happy festive things and thanks for reading in 2018 …

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