10) Destroyer- ken
Anticipation was very high for this Destroyer album. Kaputt is may favourite of the 2010s and Poison Season was not far behind. And this time his genre choice of the grimy 80’s sounds of The Cure, New Order, Jesus & Mary Chain filled me with eager anticipation. I remember first listening to ken with friends after listening to the National’s Sleep Well Beast for the first time. The stark energy was direct contrast to what we saw as lacklustreness of Sleep Well Beast.
The slick bass lines of ‘Tinseltown Swimming in Blood’ make for perfect soundtrack to exit any building with in style and the album offers some of Destroyer’s most bombastic lyrics (‘I can’t pay for this. All I’ve got is money’) and debatably one of his best ‘da da da-isms’ at witnessed at the end of ‘Sometimes in the World’.
9) Kamasi Washington- Harmony of Difference
Where his triple album The Epic almost overwhelmed me into submission, Harmony of Difference condensed Washington’s sound into an instantly relatable sonic world. He takes advantage of all the benefits of an EP: a bridge between albums, a bonus adventure, an easy access to his oeuvre- while avoiding just becoming a shortened afterthought. This is a journey and the first minute of ‘Desire’ should really be enough to make you jump on board.
8) Future Islands- The Far Field
Singles is my second favourite album of the 2010’s and In the Evening Air is one of my most listened to albums of 2017- so stakes were probably higher than any other 2017 album for me. The Far Field is certainly more an album of consolidating Future Islands’ oeuvre than expanding it, which may have caused unrest with fans. Stereogum put it best when saying the album has created a ‘whole new set of great songs to pick from’ on stage- i.e. a touring album.
And yet the songs are still excellent: ‘Ran’ grew in my esteem from a paint-by-numbers Future Islands song to a standalone hit and ‘Through the Roses’ is a work of technical brilliance. Future Islands have always walked the tightrope of being a silly band- teetering between raw emotion and gratuitousness. But it is keeping so close to the edge and keeping their flaws on the surface and having the courage to say such overused lines such as ‘It’s not easy, just being human’ that we are reminded of their power.
7) Gas- Narkopop
Gas’ Pop is probably my favourite ambient album ever, and so with a 17 year gap, Wolfgang Voigt’s return to his Gas-works filled me with trepidation. He seemed to have finished his Gas trilogy so comprehensively by guiding the listener from the dark forest floor of Konigsforst to the undergrowth of Zauberberg and lifted the listener to the light in the upper canopy with the bright Pop. I managed to force a solution by dubbing Narkopop my cloudy airplane listening music, and fortunately I was taking a lot of flights that year.
6) Protomartyr- Relatives in Descent
I finally managed to crack the Protomartyr nut by their third album. Their deep influences of The Fall and Birthday Party always seemed to like an impenetrable wall of grotesque machoism. Relatives in Descent doesn’t waver from this style, but instead offers enough of an opening to enter their flow and get comfortable there. ‘A Private Understanding’ is such a bold opening, almost three completely different songs sutured together- and ‘Windsor Hum’ is probably the angriest song of the year for me.
Seeing them right at the front of Le Guess Who? was such as treat- and nearly made me go deaf. We commented that every band member looked from different bands- the leader from an art-punk, bassist heavy metal, guitarist grunge- which probably says a bit about how they’ve created such a unique sound.
5) Mountain Goats- Goths
Who’d have thought all it needed for me to finally get into Mountain Goats was when they took their guitar away? This concept album about John Darnielle’s Goth-leaning upbringing is a wonderful journey, not to mention that there’s much more jazzy piano and gospel than Goth music here (not to mention a beautiful bonus disc of ambient music). This was further complemented by their generous performance at Shepherds Bush Empire, where John helped unpack a lot of the songs’ meaning. It just goes to show that a confessional album does not need to be sad- and even pubescent awkwardness (‘High Unicorn Tolerance’) can be approached with gold-tinted nostalgia.
4) Kevin Morby- City Music
This has been my comfort zone album. It is one rooted in Americana heritage, from Morby’s live ‘music suit’ to his road-trip themes, and Dylan/Lou Reed intonations. And also City Music is a flawed album, ‘1234’ is a half-hearted homage to the Ramones, and ‘Crybaby’ is a great but unoriginal song. But this album has made me feel safe in a very turbulent year. It is probably my most listened to 2018 album. The highs of ‘City Music’ and creeping beauty of ‘Come to me Now’, and obvious yet gripping guitar solos throughout have kept me going and I owe Kevin Morby a lot for getting me through the year.
3) Perfume Genius- No Shape
Having successfully ignored his first three albums and also No Shape after one failed listen, I was immediately converted to Perfume Genius when I saw him live at Le Guess Who? And I only saw the first half of the show, before having to go to another gig. He totally owned it with sheer power of will and self-control that I had no choice to go back to No Shape.
The uncomfortable beauty of No Shape comes from how Mike Hadreas pares back the songs to its bare essentials- which are then bloated and made beautifully freakish- not dissimilar to the body in the music video to ‘Die 4 U’. The album’s second half is its best, which is often a good sign, and gives a murky and emotional Talk Talk-inspired flow that makes it hard not to listen to all remaining seven tracks from ‘Every Night’ in one go. Also ‘Alan’ is probably the most beautiful love-song I can think of.
2) Mount Eerie- A Crow Looked at Me
This album is not meant to be enjoyed. As Elverum puts it on ‘My Chasm’ ‘I now wield the power to transform a grocery store aisle into a canyon of pity and confusion’. The same happens when showing friends any of these songs from his recent album about his wife suddenly dying of pancreatic cancer a year after giving birth to their first child. It leaves an awkward heavy feeling.
But this is part of the point, things are squeezed out in A Crow Looked at Me– any metaphor (‘all poetry is gone’), any overt emotion (compare to his earlier song ‘The Glow Pt 2’). All that remains is documentation. We know exactly how Phil Elverum is feeling and what he did just before he wrote that song, because he gives the dates on the songs, he details the mundane activities like chopping up wood, or taking the trash out- and, crushingly, he gives the minor aftershocks of his wife’s death- such as the schoolbag she had ordered for her daughter that arrived after her death.
And with this dearth of outward emotion coming to the listener, the weight of Elverum’s mourning fills the room and is crippling. You yearn for a distraction, a way to look at the big things like death or relationships through romantic lens or ‘finally satisfying way’ as he sings in ‘Soria Moria’. But as Elverum begins the album ‘Death is real’ and there is a dishonesty in approaching it in any other way.
1) Lorde- Melodrama
I surprised myself that this has been my number one album, as pop definitely not in my comfort zone, but I can’t think of any way this couldn’t be my top.
Melodrama is a concept and partial confessional album about the different stages of emotion in a breakup- yet in stark contrast to A Crow Looked at Me it is all emotion.
After being entirely unconvinced from her first album, and not moved from first listen of Melodrama, I made myself explore this further after a very strong recommendation from a friend. And once I got beyond the singles I was hooked.
The chorus of ‘Writer in the Dark’, the little click Lorde does with her teeth before the drop on ‘Perfect Places’, the painfully pathetic and specifics line ‘she says you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar’, the screeching waves of guitar on ‘Hard Feelings’- all of these tear me apart and I found myself in deep Melodrama hole for most of autumn and winter. I am almost looking forward to being out of this- or at least being able to look at it with some sense of perspective as what Lorde has created I’m sure will grow as layers of my own new experiences relate to what she has felt.