Slightly belatedly, a rundown of 2018’s best albums.
A year where keeping up in any genre was difficult so being eclectic like me, well, how the hell do I not miss great stuff? Not many of my established favourites, the ones you’d expect me to list, released albums this year. A few new favourites arose though.
And there were a few I came across too late to fully assimilate for list purposes. Farai, the London based Zimbabwean electro artist with a voice reminiscent of Ari Up for instance.
Quick note too. Unreleased track of the year was Gasteruption Jaculator by Mary Epworth a highlight of her live set I can’t wait to hear recorded.
But here’s what I did love…
30 Gaye Su Akyol – Istikrarli Hayal Hakkikkattir
Gaye Su Akyol has classic pop style and her band traditional Turkish folk meets psychedelia. Her voice cuts through on impassioned songs of press freedom and other vital topics.
29 Lubomyr Melnyk – Fallen Trees
Contemporary classical piano at it’s most blissful enhanced occasionally by the stunning voice of Hatis Noit.
28 Ammar 808 – Maghreb United
If Melnyk was for quiet moments, this needs volume and bass. Electronics and North African instruments bring modern and ancient into something new.
27 Cupcakke – Ephorize
Sexually explicit and very much positive feminist hip hop from Elizabeth Harris.
26 Maisha – There Is A Place
Pharaoh Sanders influenced spiritual British jazz with lush strings supporting.
25 Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
You’d expect anything described as genre agnostic to intrigue, this is, if not exactly Black Metal, certainly Very Dark Grey Metal.
24 Hookworms – Microshift
Their abrupt split after abuse allegations against their frontman overshadows a fine contemporary indie record.
23 David Byrne – American Utopia
In a way this is Byrne’s entire career. Adventures in rhythm beneath oblique political abstracts.
22 Saxon – Thunderbolt
I do like me some New Wobbum and nobody embodies its joys more than Barnsley’s finest.
21 Tony Kofi & The Organisation – Point Blank
Kofi’s hard bop sax joins the B3 driven Organisation on a selection of grooves.
20 Anna von Hausswolf – Dead Magic
As soon as I heard lead track ‘The mysterious vanishing of Electra’ I knew this was great. Howling gothic squalls of pipe organ and vocals that are part-Kate Bush part-Diamanda Galas are only part of this epic.
19 Anna Calvi – Hunter
A grower. Calvi’s sensual guitar and lyrics take time to infuse. It’s the apart contradictions of moody and frenetic that gradually make haunting sense.
18 Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
Yes the title is relevant to both Billie Holiday and Seamus Heaney. Taking black metal to spiritual and field songs seems unlikely but I can’t stop playing this late discovery.
17 Dirtmusic – Bu Bir Ruya
A step East into Turkey away from previous West African adventures modifies the detail of Chris Eckman & Hugo Race’s music but not the restless spirit. And songs like Border Crossing are vital today.
16 Ólafur Arnalds – Re:member
The intellectual heir to Bill Evans’ Conversations with Myself as Arnalds has written algorithms to play two more pianos responding to his highly structured compositions as he plays.
Half way and we’ve had jazz in various forms, hip hop, metal, classical and indie, and the outright avant garde. What next?
15 Hatis Noit – Illogical Dance
Nominally an EP but long enough and good enough. Japanese vocal artist Hatis Noit is another who convinced me on a single track, the glorious hymn Angelus Novus. I drove to Wakefield recently to hear her sing her self-sampled looped pieces.
14 Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
A more robust, balanced record than their debut. LEG are now 19 years old but keep enough whimsy to balance their doomy witch pop.
13 Anna Meredith – Anno
If you ask me Anna can do no wrong at present. This album reworks Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with her own compositions and brings out the best of both.
12 Tomorrow We Sail – The Shadows
Another melange of influences, or echoes (shadows?) of prog, orchestral folk and more. Soaring, melancholy vocals and carefully layered instrumentation are as effective live.
11 Nils Frahm – All Melody
Of the various superb classical inspired pianists around Frahm is both the most playful and physical. Listening to part of this one can feel the thwock of finger on keys the way guitar records sometimes carry the slide of finger on string.
10 Gwenno – Le Kov
Whodathunk a song about cheese in Cornish would be one of the catchiest things all year? The whole album is like that, beautiful upbeat melodies and lyrics that could be nonsense for all I really know but sound great.
9 Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
More Pharaoh than ‘Trane to my ear despite the standard comparison, but Kamasi continues to build and expand and soar. Maybe a triple CD was a little much but the album closer ‘Will You Sing?’ makes the journey complete.
8 The Lovely Eggs – This is England
Holly & Dave’s punk pop surrealism actually has a grounding in the quotidian that is often missed. It’s what makes this diverse mix of tunes work. That and the bloody good tunes.
7 Erland Cooper – Solan Goose
This I can’t wait to see live in March. Evocative pieces linked by Orcadian names and legends of great seabirds.
6 tAngerinecAt – Many Kettles
Punk as fuck. Hurdy Gurdy and penny whistle ? With electronics? Lyrics about gender and ethnicity and oppression and abuse?
5 Neko Case – Hell-On
You kinda know what you’re getting with Neko by now. But still she surprises. Brutal honesty, tender warnings, oblique yet head on challenges to patriarchs and abusers. And that voice. Joined here by Mark Lanegan and Beth Ditto amongst others but it’s Neko at her most glorious. Which makes it very great indeed.
4 Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Genius. Prince-level, Bowie-level, conceptual genius and the chops to bring it together. Janelle gets in your face, makes you dance, makes you think.
For extra enjoyment view the full concept Emotion Picture. Like Beyoncé’s Lemonade, this is a full package.
3 Park Jiha – Communion
Korean instrumental music, classical, traditional and jazz intertwined on beautiful traditional instruments. This was album of the year for months.
2 Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile
Blistering jazz from South London. Driven largely by Theon Cross’ pulsing tuba, featuring ranting and exultant vocals, and running with Shabaka Hutchings sax. Each track honours a great woman including the likes of Harriet Tubman and Doreen Lawrence. ALSO number 1 for months.
1 Haiku Salut – There Is no Elsewhere
Then there was this. Haiku Salut with their third collection of cinematic, beautiful pieces of instrumental music. Unusual structures, multiple instruments and melodic lines that take you somewhere but don’t always show you how to get back at least not directly. This is good.
And there it is. To be fair any of the top 5 could shuffle to the top on a given day. That’s a sign of a great year. A diverse, eclectic, great year.