31st December, 2018
It was a year where music helped contextualise a world weighing heavy, my favourite albums serving as coping mechanisms. Stacking art in ordered lists is questionable, but also a way to exert a little control, to own something of the year. And so, here are my top albums, tracks, and gigs of 2018.
Low and IDLES addressed the corrosion of the US and UK respectively. Double negative felt a bit like a room full of Rothkos: often opaque and a little difficult, but the more time I spent within, the more I sensed reality being unpicked — a real work of art. Joy as an Act of Resistance was a proxy for my anger, its aggression and humour leaving me calm. Christine's polished pop barely disguised the anguish below the surface; gender and mental fragility explored through her own proxy, Chris.
I was captivated by some beautiful electronic and collaged sounds: Erland Cooper's Orcadian birds; Leon Vynehall's ode to his grandparents; Jonas Bonnetta's soundtrack to Newfoundland; Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut's reflections on landscape and togetherness.
I was never much of a Suede fan, but I enjoyed their reappearance with eerie songs about the countryside, and I fell for Bill Ryder-Jones's densely-layered themes about family. As for the much-misunderstood Arctic Monkeys album... well, it was a weird comfort during periods of head-down stressy work, and I totally fell for its strangely sleazy off-world sci-fi imagery.
Dozens more albums had multiple plays, including: Metric, Art of Doubt; The Beths, Future Me Hates Me; Palace Winter, Nowadays; Beach House, 7; Lucy Dacus, Historian; Adrianne Lenker, abysskiss; Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer; Mitski, Be The Cowboy; Interpol, Marauder; Manic Street Preachers, Resistance is Futile; Gruff Rhys, Babelsberg; Nils Frahm, All Melody; Gwenno, Le Kov; Johnny Marr, Call The Comet; S. Carey, Hundred Acres; Khruangbin, Con Todo El Mundo.
The second half of Doesn't Matter is insanely good classic pop. Pristine is a joyously pin-sharp song about a teen struggling to let someone go, and Lyla sees middle-aged men make relevant-sounding sounds. There's also room for 70s-inspired man-balladry, a 12-minute Swedish doom-epic, and a few quieter, reflective moments.
Just one, but it's good. I mean, out of nowhere comes a big R.E.M. at The BBC compilation, featuring an entire live broadcast recorded in 1984 at Nottingham's Rock City — the club where I learned so much about music and life. Brill.
I have to put New Order first: the band that changed my life, and yet this was my first time seeing them live. It was also my first time seeing the Manics, who I've always felt to be incredibly valuable. Metric kicked arse, and the one-day festivals were superb.