2018 end of year favourites (music)

20 12 2018

Here are my favourite music releases from 2018 AKA good ideas to use up your Christmas Amazon gift vouchers. You can thank me later.

Top 5 new albums (in no particular order)

Blancmange – Wanderlust

wanderlust

Blancmange released their tenth studio album, Wanderlust, in October. Wanderlust is a much more stark electronic offering than the early Blancmange albums, but it contains three of my favourite songs of the year with Distant Storm, the insanely addictive In Your Room and Not a Priority (featuring Hannah Peel). The album is a real late-career highlight.

Read my full review of Wanderlust

Buy the album at Amazon

The Midnight – Kids

the-midnight-kids

The Midnight were a new band to me in 2018. I stumbled across them via an online recommendation from Jacob Holm-Lupo from White Willow / The Opium Cartel, and 6 months later they are my 3rd most played artist of 2018 (thanks to Last.FM). If you are interested – my top 5 most played artists (via scrobbles) last year were

1. David Bowie
2. The Stranglers
3. The Midnight
4. Roxy Music
5. Sweet Billy Pilgrim

Anyway, back to The Midnight. They are an electronic act from the USA, described as being part of the synthwave collection of artists, and are heavily influenced by 80s music / pop culture. Their artwork matches the music perfectly, and putting it simply, they write well-crafted electronic pop songs.

Kids is The Midnight’s most recent album, and features the pure-pop of America 2 and is bursting at the seams with analogue synths and drums that sound like Simmons sds9.

Vocalist Tyler Lyle and fellow band member Tim McEwan perfectly capture that feeling of nostalgia and hope (tinged with melancholy) that ran through the music, film and TV of the 80s. I dare you to listen to their music and see if you can resist digging out your copy of The Stand, Back To The Future or any of your favourite series or films from that decade.

Buy Kids by The Midnight on Amazon (MP3)

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Wapentak

sweet billy pilgrim

The newly streamlined (now just Tim Elsenburg and Jana Carpenter) Sweet Billy Pilgrim released the wonderful Wapentak in mid-2018. Available in digital form from Amazon, or in physical form direct from the band, this is my favourite Sweet Billy Pilgrim album to date.

I love the way the album slowly builds as each song progresses. The first few songs are stripped back and highlight Tim and Jana’s perfect vocal interplay. By the time we get to Junkyard Dogs, the beauty of this album fully reveals itself. The trio of Why the Long Face, The Briar Bell and A Shelter of Reeds hits the absolute sweet-spot for me.

Why the Long Face feels like Steely Dan with a sprinkling of Field Music, and boy oh boy, what a perfect chorus. The Briar Bell highlights the vulnerability in Jana’s vocals that sit so well with Tim’s aching harmonies.

A Shelter of Reeds is simply stunning. At times the arrangement (especially the Danny Thompson influenced bass parts) remind me of Never For Ever period Kate Bush, and the two vocalists hit a real peak on this song.

Have a listen to A Shelter of Reeds and then buy the album (CD or mp3), it deserves to be added to your collection.

Tracey Thorn – Record

record

Record is an album full of one word titles and shifting moods, from the electronica of early single Queen, the love song to pop music that is Guitar and one of my favourite songs of the year Face.

Face is up there with personal favourites By Picadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept and A-Z as one of the most moving songs in Tracey’s solo catalogue. The whole album is musically and lyrically so strong and uplifting, and feels like an antidote to the often bitter and cruel world we currently live in.

Buy Record on Amazon

Lunatic Soul – Under the Fragmented Sky

fragmented sky

Under the Fragmented Sky is a companion piece to 2017’s Fractured album, and finds Mariusz Duda continuing to explore textures and moods with this largely electronic project. Album opener He Av En uses voice as an instrument, and adds Cure like guitar lines to the mix.

The fractured, jittery synths of The Art of Repairing sit in stark contrast to the more traditional arrangement of the title track. I love how the music of Lunatic Soul continues to evolve with each album, and Under the Fragmented Sky continues the journey.

Buy Under the Fragmented Sky on Amazon

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2018

David Bowie – Welcome To The Blackout

BLACKOUT

My favourite Bowie live album (it’s Stage on steroids, or maybe it’s the side-effects of the cocaine?) and worth buying for the version of Stay alone!

Buy Welcome To The Blackout at Amazon

The Midnight – Days of Thunder / Nocturnal

nocturnal

These are not 2018 releases but I am breaking the rules and including them here, as I first heard the albums this year. Sadly not available on CD at the moment, the albums are available on vinyl and download only.

If you want your pop-fix, you will fall in love with the feeling of Light Years (feat. Nikki Flores), but the title track, with its deep bass and neon-lit synths hits all the right buttons for me.

Buy Days of Thunder (mp3)

Buy Nocturnal (mp3)

Favourite re-issues of 2018

Kate Bush remasters

KB-CD-Packshot-2-Square-3000 2

The Kate Bush remasters finally arrived this year, and whilst the only new material was one previously unreleased track, Humming, the album’s have never sounded so good. If you don’t have much Kate Bush in your collection, the box-sets are a great way of collecting the vast majority of Kate’s music. 

The highlights for me are improved versions of The Dreaming and Aerial.

Read my full reviews of Part I and Part II

Buy Kate Bush – Remastered Part I  

Buy Kate Bush – Remastered Part II

John Foxx – Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

meta500

This year saw the release of the definitive version of this electronic classic from 1980, which contains 49 tracks across 3 CDs. 

Read my full review.

Buy Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

This Mortal Coil – It’ll End In Tears / Filigree and Shadow / Blood

Blood

The three albums from This Mortal Coil were made available in remastered form for the first time this year (the remasters were previously part of a now out-of-print box-set).

I think most people would be interested in the first album, It’ll End In Tears from 1984, due to the inclusion of Tim Buckley’s timeless Song to the Siren, featuring Elizabeth Fraser & Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) but all three albums are worth investigating.

Filigree & Shadow (1986) is my favourite and is a perfect winter album. Live piano and strings cosy up with discordant electronics to create a gothic masterpiece. The Jeweller (Dominic Appleton, Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski with Simon Raymonde) segues perfectly with a Simon Raymonde composition, Ivy and Neet.

Talking Heads Drugs (from 1979’s Fear of Music) is given a radical refresh by Alison Limerick with members of The Wolfgang Press and Colourbox.

The third and final release Blood, like Filigree & Shadow, was a double album on its initial vinyl and cassette release. Each album is a single CD disc for these reissues. Randy California’s Nature’s Way is a highlight, with powerful vocal performances from Alison Limerick and Deirdre Rutkowski.

Buy It’ll End In Tears 

Buy Filigree and Shadow 

Buy Blood 

Here’s to a great year of music in 2019.





Blancmange – Wanderlust

19 09 2018

Blancmange release their tenth studio album, Wanderlust, on October 19, 2018. Wanderlust features ten songs composed by Neil Arthur, and arranged, co-produced and mixed with Benge (Wrangler/Creep Show). This is the pair’s third album together following their Fader First Light album in June 2017 and last year’s Blancmange album Unfurnished Rooms.

wanderlust

As with last years Unfurnished Rooms, Wanderlust is a more stark electronic offering than the early Blancmange albums. The major difference with this album is the inclusion of three songs (Distant Storm,In Your Room and Not a Priority) that could easily fit onto a “best of” album, and if released in the mid-80s, would have probably been top 20 singles.

Opening with lead single Distant Storm, the duo lay out their intentions straight away. Pulsing bass synths and expanding percussion layers drive a wistful, vocoder treated vocal from Neil Arthur. A Giorgio Moroder meets Madonna’s Lucky Star keyboard arrangement lifts this song to another level and adds real colour and warmth to the song.

In Your Room dials down the warmth a couple of notches, and is a much darker track. Musically this has a feel of the edgier early Soft Cell tracks, and features a simple yet naggingly addictive chorus. You will not be able to stop yourself singing along.

“In your room, In Your Room, IN YOUR ROOM”

I Smashed Your Phone opens with what sounds like the drum machine intro pattern to Wham’s Everything She Wants and has some interesting percussion programming highlighting key points in the song. The lyric references our often fractious relationship with modern technology, and this theme continues throughout the album.

Gravel Drive Syndrome is another album highlight. The tightly, unnaturally sequenced bleeps underpin a growing feeling of unease mirrored by this tale of social climbing at any cost. Talking to Machines is a John Foxx influenced synthesised slow-burner, warning us that our interactions are often with machines that are “Always on, on always”. Switch off and step away people!

Not a Priority is my favourite track on the album. Easily the most commercial song since the early Blancmange albums, Not a Priority features a sugar-coated joint chorus with one of my favourite current electronic artists, Hannah Peel. The synths bubble away, and along with the ever-present Moroder, I get hints of Kraftwerk and Propaganda on this album highlight.

“Please be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.”

TV Debate is the first track to add guitars to the mix. A Berlin era Bowie / glam-rock backing drives a tale of channel-surfing and wall-to-wall talking heads displayed on the screen. David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush) adds an engaging guitar wall of sound to another of the albums key tracks, Leaves.  The arrangement rises and falls, mimicking the seasons, as nature meets mankind.

White Circle, Black Hole is a rare chink of light in the lyrical darkness, and has one of Arthur’s best vocal performances on the album, along with a twin guitar propelled chorus.

“Start again, such a good place.”

The album ends on the title track. Disembodied sampled voices, and a heart-beat kick drum introduces a song about living in this moment, in the here and now. Analogue synth lines take the lead instead of a traditional vocal chorus, as Wanderlust draws to a close on an optimistic note.

Blancmange 2018

I loved last years Unfurnished Rooms but Wanderlust sees Blancmange at their very best, bringing their pop sensibility back to the surface, whilst exploring the dark side of electronica. One of the strengths of this album is that the music channels the adventurous spirit of the 1980s, yet the lyrics explore a dystopian, close enough to touch, near future. This mix of darkness and light makes Wanderlust a unique album in the Blancmange catalogue, and one of the most interesting albums I have heard this year.

Distant Storm
In Your Room
I Smashed Your Phone
Gravel Drive Syndrome
Talking to Machines
Not a Priority
TV Debate
Leaves
White Circle, Black Hole
Wanderlust

wanderlust
Buy Blancmange Wanderlust on CD from Amazon

wanderlust

Buy Blancmange Wanderlust on vinyl from Amazon

near_future_-_ideal_home

Buy Near Future – Ideal Home on Amazon








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