All the rage apparently.
I’ve never done one before but thought the old Rough Trade Album of the Month would be the place to start. So going from least to most (as opposed to worst to best), here are the 12 albums and the order in which I have enjoyed them. The difference between “enjoy” and “best” should become apparent as the list goes on. It has been (mostly) fun revisiting these albums and I hope you have enjoyed keeping track of them during 2018.
12. audiobooks: Now! (in a minute) November 18
Still to be reviewed on the old BlackCountryRock blog. In the two months since I’ve received it, I’ve played it through a few times. At best it is reminiscent of the great Black Box Recorder. The problem is that the best is pretty rare on this album. Occasionally we get tuneful and humorous, such as in the Human League aping Friends in Bubblebath and the disco chops of Salt. But more often than not it is under-developed, wilfully experimental and smug. A double-sided 12″ of the aforementioned two tracks would have been just the ticket – 48 minutes is really stretching it.
I think you can get that I don’t really like it.
11. Idles: Joy As An Act Of Resistance (September 18 – click here)
I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve seen “Joy etc” crop up in all of the usual end-of-year lists. It is in everybody else’s “best of’s”.
Not me though. I still don’t get it for all of the personally difficult reasons that I expressed here. Interestingly since I’ve posted that write-up, quite a few friends who I would have expected to enjoy Idles have expressed the same reservations that I did.
10. Superorganism: Superorganism (March 18 – click here)
As I suspected at the time, this one hasn’t really lasted for me. It is relentlessly catchy but its joys have worn a little thin through the year. There are some very good songs but it is a little too self-consciously kooky to have stickability.
9. The Shacks: Haze (April 18 – click here)
Playing this back now on a cold December evening, it feels like an opportunity missed on my behalf. The clue is in the title – Haze. This is music for a hot summer’s afternoon (and boy did we have one hell of a summer in the UK). Strummed acoustic guitars, breathless vocals, sweet harmonies – and I didn’t listen to it much beyond April and May.
More fool me. It sounds a great deal better than I gave it credit for. I’m sure that I can find some app on my IPhone that will link the first sunny day of 2019 to this album so that I can pick up where I should have let off. It’s a wee understated gem of an LP.
8. Lump: Lump (June 18 – click here)
Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay – it’s a very good partnership. There are a couple of very good songs, especially Curse of the Contemporary. It just isn’t really an album. Effectively six tracks and just over half an hour long. I’ve enjoyed it every time that I’ve listened to it. It just doesn’t feel essential like so much of Laura’s other work.
7. Gabe Gurnsey: Physical (August 18 – click here)
There is very little wrong here. Possibly a tad overlong but aside from that it is a very high quality electronic vocal album. Apparently, Gurnsey had over 30 demo tracks which needed thinning out and I don’t think he quite got there.
It’s still worth a listen though if electronica is your thing. Think Virgin-era Cabaret Voltaire. Think early Human League. Gurnsey has carried his excellent work with Factory Floor into his solo career.
6. Amor: Sinking Into A Miracle (December 18)
Hot off the press, this is the latest Album of the Month. I’m still absorbing it but it did resonate with me at first listen. The Glaswegian band’s first album, it is a percussive rhythmic affair with a particular focus on Michael Francis Duch double bass and Richard Fowler’s vocals, which are redolent of Peter Gabriel, Bowie and the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan. The songs stretch out and have space to breath – think the first side of Talking Head’s Remain In Light.
More to follow soon but first impressions are very good.
5. Daniel Blumberg: Minus (May 18 – click here)
This one’s a bit of an outlier. A product of the improvisation scene, yet recognisably containing song structures. Yet again, the weather played a part in how this one gets enjoyed – either extreme heat or cold. Australian outback or Arctic chill.
It’s a bitter break up album cut from the same cloth as Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night. If you are thinking Joni’s Blue or Blood on the Tracks then forget it. They are floor packing party albums compared with Minus. Listening to Blumberg 6 months later and going through a bit of a dark patch myself, you can still hear the quality.
It’s an excellent album – you just might want to brace yourself in for the emotional rollercoaster ride.
“All of my records are stacked, and I can’t stop looking back”
4. Bodega: Endless Scroll (July 2018 – click here)
The four to two slots here are easily interchangeable. I’ve enjoyed all of the next three albums but I’ve ranked them on how much they’ve touched me as much as how much I’ve enjoyed them.
As such, whilst Bodega’s album is excellent and is a blast of hot fun, it didn’t resonate with me quite like the next two LPs. I’m off to see them in London in the new year and it should be an exciting evening.
In any event, I think they’ve nailed the catchiest song on all of these albums in the shape of Jack In Titanic.
3. Shame: Song Of Praise (January 18 – click here)
To be honest, this could be number one if it weren’t for the personal storms I’m weathering at the moment. This is a classic example of a very good debut album that was transformed in a live setting. Seeing the band in-store at Rough Trade the same month the album was released was transformative. As is often the way, first LPs feature material which has been honed in a live environment before being committed to vinyl (or digitals zeroes and ones). It was a privilege to see Shame in such an intimate venue with a supportive crowd of their youthful contemporaries. Something to get the blood pumping.
Plus it contained One Rizla, which ran Jack In Titanic close as the Album of the Month song of the year.
2. AdriAnne Lenker: abysskiss (October 18 – click here)
AdriAnne plays with capitalisation on this album. The line between upper case and lower case letters are blurred. Your English teacher would have a hissy fit.
AdriAnne sings in Joanna Newsom “little girl lost” voice. She sometimes waivers slightly off key.
AdriAnne has spent a great deal of time recently in Brooklyn. She probably cycles up and down Bedford Avenue on a fixed gear penny farthing,
Any or all of these factors could render Lenker’s recent LP an irritating turn-off in my book (or blog). She has however made an album which is beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming. Preconceptions have dissolved.
This and the number one selection are records that have helped get me through some tough times in 2018. They are close to my heart at the moment.
1. Nils Frahm: All Melody (February 18 click here)
Not just my favourite Rough Trade album of the year but my favourite album – full stop.
All Melody feels like the culmination of the various strands of Frahm’s to date – the fragile beauty of Screws, the propulsion of Says and the playfulness of Toilet Brushes (trust me on the last one). It’s his ninth album and is his most complete statement to date. It is 73 minutes long and doesn’t outstay its welcome, a triumph in itself.
It translated brilliantly to the live environment as we saw at the Barbican in February. This is human music, despite much of it being electronic. His sheer energy on stage, diving between vintage keyboards, teasing sounds out of a grand piano, enables the music to transcend from the typical “guy with a laptop” that personifies much of this genre. Frahm reviewed another side – a humorous side. Like a musical Henning Wehn.
Almost a year on and this album is still revealing its charms (and I can play it around the house and not get accused of listening to that weird/atonal/noisy stuff).
So that’s it. My first listicle. I must admit I enjoyed writing it. As wrong as it may be to try and qualitatively rank thinks, it does introduce a certain mental rigour. Relativity can be a focus.
Please don’t make me listen to the Idles album again for a while though.