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26th February 2019

Albums of the Year 2018

I think that 2018 saw some excellent music releases. Here are five of my favourites.

Cat Power - Wanderer



Delightful melodies, excellent singing, guitar playing and some heartfelt lyrics make this return to form (after a six year gap). Apparently her record label rejected the demo, and told her 'to be more like Adele''. She told them to f*off, left, and recorded this herself. I like that.
It's mellow and simple, not exactly stripped-back, but often just her voice and one instrument, and it's beautiful.
Listen to one: In Your Face

BirdPen - There's something Wrong with Everything



The duo of Andrew Bird and Dave Pen (the frontman of Archive) released their fifth album. Sort-of pared back Radiohead meets Muse, Arcade Fire and Manic Street Preachers. It hasn't quite got the trip-hop uplift of the finest moments of their previous record (the brilliant "O Mighty Vision"), but that maybe reflects the times (as does the title). He (Pen) has got a great voice and the guitars and keyboard playing of them both are really well produced. You may not have heard of them (or Archive) but if any of the above sounds appealing, then Spotify away.
Listen to one: Eyes in the Sky

James - Living in Extraordinary Times



I'm not quite sure how these guys consistently still come up with tune after tune, but they do, and this is a great tour de force. Including some punky influences ('Hank', 'Heads') from their beginnings 35 years ago, to contemporary lyrics (as the title suggests) and some excellent multi-instumental playing, including lots of trumpet from the joyously named Andy Diagram. 'Many Faces' will have all but the truly heartless singing along by its end, even if it's fairly obviously a sung two fingers up to Trump (Tim Booth now lives in California). I first listened to this song while out running and I had to stop and play it again, Peel-style. Booth's voice (and energy on stage) as neatly belies his 58 years of age as his hairline doesn't ("My mum says I look like Yul Brynner" was a line on a previous record). A fantastic album.
Listen to one: Leviathan

Primal Scream - The Original Memphis Recordings (Give Out but Don't Give Up)



This sort-of doesn't count, because of course it was recorded in 1994, but only rediscovered recently, and released in November. The documentary on BBC about this was excellent. Rejected at the time by Alan McGee as not a suitable follow-up to Screamadelica (which is wasn't, but that was Andy Wetherall's fault), the music was then reworked extensively and released as Give Out but Don't Give Up, a sort of glam-rocked techno-y version of itself. It sold well but was ultimately unsatisfying. Because this is the record they wanted to make, and had made, and what the music was written for. Blues-y and raw, but with enough polish to reward musicianship that was clearly well ahead of its time. I have been listening to this a lot - it's a masterpiece.
Listen to one: Everybody Needs Somebody

Villagers - The Art of Pretending to Swim



There is something very, very good about Conor O'Brien's songwriting, and his first album - Becoming a Jackal (nominated for the Mercury prize) remains an often-played favourite, if it deserves criticism it is for a certain lyrical naivety (he was a teenager when he wrote it). But now, by the fourth record, his lyrics have become as involving as his beguiling honey-textured voice. You can tell he's Irish, but in a very good way. As previously he wrote, played and recorded everything himself, but on this record he has added several more layers of instrumentation (strings, keyboards, electronics) making it much more somehow 'fun' than the previous, rather more introspective "Darling Arithmetic". The melodies are perhaps his strongest yet. Trick of the Light, Fool, Ada and Long Time Waiting are all instantly catchy and memorable, while remaining worth listening to over and over again. It's a terrific record, and although they are all different, possibly the best of the four.
Listen to One: Trick of the Light

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