When approaching the ubiquitous albums of the year lists caution is recommended and a reminder that many choices may not chime with your own. Such lists tend to induce a range of emotions from sagacious head nodding and beard stroking, through to puce-faced, spittle-flecked apoplexy. Which is fine – as at the very least they do encourage debate about music – even if it’s simply ‘ what a load of shite you MORON, what the fuck were you THINKING !’ However, there is one caveat when reading through the VPME’s albums of the year. This is the correct list. Everybody else’s ? Fake news, bought by the man.
2018 has been a strange year, one of vertiginous highs and crushing lows, of friendships, won and lost a year of painful bereavement and unexpected medical procedures all played out to the farcical backdrop of Brexit, Toxic Trump-icana and more worryingly far-right political views brazenly jack-booting their way into the mainstream. The latter seemingly has given an emboldened voice to the monsters we thought had been slain and left to rot in the past (The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there dont’cha know.) The braying return to polite society of blatant unequivocal racism, Anti Semitism, Islamophobia and vile everyday misogyny has been one of the most depressing aspects of 2018. The other being that Mrs Browns’s Boys is STILL on TV. For fuck’s sake, this is the world we live in? Future generations will judge us harshly for this alone!
Against such a backdrop you might expect my musical choices to be angry, incendiary, brutal and frothing at the mouth. Indeed artists such as Idles are at the vanguard of this explosive outburst of politically charged music and those who know me well might expect their excellent album Joy As an Act of Resistance to be in my top ten. But it isn’t. Maybe any other year it would have been, but this year I simply wasn’t in that headspace. Instead, I avoided venting impotent rage and the reductive closed mind that is the circle jerk political social media echo chamber. Don’t agree with something? Simply dismiss it as “fake news,” – someone has a differing point of view? Why engage? Just block the cheeky fucker ! And remember its far easier and more effective to sum up, complex, political machinations with a simple meme rather than reasoned debate. Fab. So this year I sought poetry, consolation, desolation and escape. In general, I think my musical choices and listening habits reflect that mindset. And each album listed here has been a body of work that has moved, inspired, amused, consoled and uplifted me throughout a very difficult year. So I give thanks to all the artists on this list and long may they continue to thrive.
1. Like An Island – Bryde
A stunning debut album from Bryde (AKA Sarah Howells). ‘Like An Island,’ combines raw emotion and grungy guitars with sombre reflective numbers that linger long after the album has finished playing. ‘Like An Island,’ seamlessly switches between raging brutal beauty to quieter more reflective introspection. It’s an album that swoops and soars through a range of emotions and is utterly compelling from start to finish .
On Dark Horses – Emma Ruth Rundle
On her 4th album, Emma Ruth Rundle once again proves what an awe-inspiring talent she is. Folk, shoegaze grunge all collide on this album, but her artistry transcends genre and On Dark Horses is quite simply the work of an artist at the top of their creative game. It’s an album of weight and power balancing light and shade and a sense of crashing foreboding doom with shafts of light. Genius is an overused term, but in Emma Ruth Rundle’s case is perhaps not used enough. A stunning album which both haunts and inspires.
Keeping Up With Miss World – Miss World
Part satirical commentary on the empty vacuity of life dictated by social media trends, lifestyle mags and hashtags, part art project, Miss World’s debut album “Keeping Up With Miss World” manages to be astute, funny, acerbic, engaging and crucially is absolutely rammed with killer pop tunes. OMG. – Full Review – http://www.thevpme.com/2018/10/08/review-miss-world-keeping-up-with-miss-world/
4.Bigger Brighter – Lyla Foy
“One good thing about music/when it hits you feel no pain” – hmm maybe – although I’ve never been entirely convinced about the veracity of that famous line. Of course, it doesn’t have to hit you like a jackhammer to floor you, some music can be so subtle that it almost creeps up on you by stealth and before you realise it you’re utterly immersed, bewitched and totally emotionally invested in its beauty. That’s exactly the effect Lyla Foy’s second album; Bigger Brighter had on me. It’s an album of devastating beauty, honesty and truth. An album that takes a little time to weave its spell but when it does and the penny drops its an enormously rewarding experience and in “With the Night” Lyla ha produced is one of the most beautiful songsI’ve heard in, like forever.
5. Black Honey – Black Honey
The album provides yet more compelling evidence that there are few artists who can match Black Honey’s ability to produce a collection of songs embracing seemingly disparate genres with such cohesion, style and confidence. But let’s not get tied up with artistically restrictive genre boxing because Black Honey’s gift has always been their ability to craft perfect pop songs, to blend a range of styles and influences – and in doing so make something uniquely their own. Full review http://www.thevpme.com/2018/09/20/album-review-black-honey-black-honey/
6.Southern Mind – Lowtide
Southern Mind is another album that you can immerse yourself completely in. Melancholic yet strangely euphoric it harks back to the classic era of shoegaze when subtly, nuance and intelligence was deployed rather than simply turning it up to 11. Lowtide craft beautiful noise juxtaposed with moments of fragile tender beauty perfectly.
7.Until The Lights Fade – Juanita Stein
You wait years for a Juanita Stein solo album and then two come along almost in the space of a year. After the sepia-tinged country of her sublime debut album ‘America’ ‘When The Light Fades’ arrives which again is imbued with a wistful sense of nostalgia. It’s an album full of whip-smart lyrics and of course, a beautiful vocal performance which embraces the cinematic sound Juanita and her band Howling Bells were renown for as well as shining a light on the indomitable strength of the human spirit. The vignettes are a mix of fiction and real-life experience that pack a real emotional punch and yet again has us scratching our head as to why Juanita isn’t a massive star!
8.Dove – Belly
Belly’s first new music in 23 years arrived in the shape of ‘Dove.’ It’s an incredibly accomplished album which encapsulates all that was wonderful about Belly first time round whilst demonstrating the development, obvious maturity and musical sophistication that the intervening years have nurtured. It’s also an album Donelly has described as the most ‘collaborative Belly album to date” and is a perfectly judged return.
9.First Aid Kit – Ruins
Ruins, the Söderberg sisters 4th album is arguably their most accomplished to date. Working alongside producer Tucker Martine First Aid Kit’s songs are given space to breathe and it’s within that space you can genuinely appreciate the Swedish sister’s ear for timeless melody. You also get the extra leg room to appreciate the lyrics which are intelligent, insightful and breathe new life into a style ( Country -tinged Americana) what many may consider a well-worn path. And a song such as ‘Fireworks’, a dissection of a doomed relationship is quite simply a timeless classic.
10. Estrons – You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough
Estrons debut is something of an emotional rollercoaster, in which it confronts and slays varies demons. It’s powerful, direct, mixing rage and vulnerability to produce something that feels cathartic and empowering. The band have always been a force of nature live, and this album adroitly captures that “lightning in a bottle” perfectly. It’s a bold brave stirring collection of songs which pull no punches and does so with real honesty and heart.
11. Dream Wife – Dream Wife
Without getting hung up on a genre again, Dream Wife have been labelled everything from pop to punk to grunge, but rather than power pop this is “empowered pop”, often passionate, loud and in your face but necessary and vital. Of the newer tracks ‘Right Now’ and ‘Spend The Night’ prove that Dream Wife have the songwriting chops to become much more than the latest exciting buzz band.
12.The Blinders – Columbia
Whilst Columbia doesn’t quite capture the raw power of The Blinders live performances, aside from perhaps ” L’ Etat C’est Moi, Hate Song and Gotta Get Through, it’s still a debut album to be admired. The Blinders conjure up an Orwellian dystopia which very much represents how many see the world we live in today, and whilst the band make powerful and poignant comparisons they sound angry but never sound overtly preachy.