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

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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.





David Bowie – Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78)

30 06 2018

Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) is a live album by David Bowie, recorded on the Isolar 2 Tour at London’s Earls Court on 30 June and 1 July 1978 by Tony Visconti, and later mixed by Bowie and David Richards in January 1979.

BLACKOUT

This is my favourite Bowie live album. Although having a similar track-listing to the 2017 Stage re-issue, I prefer the sound and performances on Welcome to the Blackout. The performances feel more organic and more loose, with more Bowie chat than normal (probably due to the end of tour high).

The Welcome to the Blackout version of “Heroes” is utterly heartbreaking, and breathes new life into probably the most well-known song Bowie song. There is such clarity and clear separation in the mix. This version works so well, compared to some other live takes, because Bowie’s vocal is more restrained early on and slowly builds to the songs emotional climax.

The bluesey Jean Genie loses the glam-rock swagger, so is not my favourite version of the song. The Heroes and Low tracks are the standouts on Welcome to the Blackout. Bowies intro to Blackout gives this album it’s title, and the live premiere of Sound And Vision sounds so damn funky and fresh. I never tire of hearing Breaking Glass, and this version is delicious.

The highlight of the album is the 11 minute plus version of Station To Station. An extended synth intro cut through by Adrian Belew’s amazing guitar squeals blows the Stage version out of the water. The subtle synth and rhythm guitar lines are so prominent on this recording.

“It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine, I’m thinking that it must be love”

Five Years is extended due the the end of tour thank-you’s, and a tongue-in-cheek Bowie band introduction.

The bass playing from George Murray towards the end of Suffragette City is amazing, and Art Decade features some great synth work, and achingly distorted lines from Adrian Belew, who was at the top of his game during this part of Bowie’s career.

A technicolour, uplifting take on TVC 15 leads into a mind-blowing Stay. The inventive Dennis Davis percussion and blistering Carlos Alomar guitar on the extended intro make this one of the finest live documents of this song.

A version of Rebel Rebel that feels like it has been injected with the spirit of Stephen Sondheim rather than it’s glam-rock roots ends this essential Bowie live album.

Have a listen to Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) on your streaming site of choice by all means, but nothing beats owning the physical product, which includes a replica of parts of the Isolar 2 tour programme.

CD 1:
1.Warszawa
2.”Heroes”
3.What In The World
4.Be My Wife
5.The Jean Genie
6.Blackout
7.Sense Of Doubt
8.Speed Of Life
9.Sound And Vision
10.Breaking Glass
11.Fame
12.Beauty And The Beast

CD 2:
1.Five Years
2.Soul Love
3.Star
4.Hang On To Yourself
5.Ziggy Stardust
6.Suffragette City
7.Art Decade
8.Alabama Song
9.Station To Station
10.TVC 15
11.Stay
12.Rebel Rebel

Buy Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) on CD from Amazon

BLACKOUT

Buy Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) triple vinyl from Amazon

BLACKOUT

Buy Life on Tour with David Bowie: We Can Be Heroes by Sean Mayes (the keyboard player on the Isolar II tour)








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