Albums I Liked This Year (2018)

I meant to write a mid-year one of these, but in all honesty I kind of forgot and now it is the end of the year. As far as my tastes are concerned 2018 has been fantastic for music, some of my favourite artists have returned with fantastic albums and I have discovered some new great ones too. I think numbering a list like this is completely pointless, I am comparing incredibly diverse albums and depending on how I am feeling any of these could be my favourite one day and not even make the list the next. A few years ago, when I was thinking about blogging my work, I did some arbitrary awards thing which I am going to revive because it allows me to explain why each album is great at what it is setting out to do.

Best Album at explaining pretty much every emotion I have under the sun

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

I fucking love Kacey. There is a cutting honesty to her lyrics that is refreshing and needed, especially in the current socio-political climate. Golden Hour marks a departure of sorts in that the lyricism is a lot less intricate and witty. However, what this album loses in wit it makes up for in emotional punch. Rainbow is the best at this, working as a beautiful ode to being yourself and accepting yourself for who you are, even when you don’t personally feel this way. Space Cowboy is one of the best break up songs of the year, ‘Night Shift’ just beats it in my opinion, dealing with the slow but painful realisation that a relationship just isn’t working for you partner and that, for their sake, it needs to end. But there is a joyousness to this album as well. The Disco Country (Is that even a thing?) of ‘High Horse’ is absolutely fantastic and the ode to her mother on ‘Mother’ is a beautiful take on the circularity of time.

Best Album at juggling being both a great political work and also a super fun and funky album

Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

I genuinely believe that Janelle Monae is one of the best artists of this generation. Every album and track she has ever released has been consistently great, and in some cases absolutely exceptional. The two lead singles from this album, ‘Django Jane’ and ‘Make Me Feel’ are only a taster of the versatility of this album. The Madonna-esque spoken word parts on ‘Screwed’, the sexiness of the hook on ‘Take a Byte’ this album is nothing if not varied. However, for me at least, the crown jewel of this album is ‘Americans’, Monae’s cutting yet loving ode to her country. By reclaiming her own patriotism and what she believes it to be an ‘American’ Monae destroys the toxic ‘patriotism’ of Trump and his ilk.

Best Album at making me feel like I am asleep even though I am awake but in a good way

Hatchie – Sugar and Spice

I really love this project. Hatchie’s blend of dream pop feels almost acoustic at points and yet sonically I feel like I am in some beautiful hazy dream. Lyrically it’s catchy and calming with an innocence to the lyricism. I don’t really know what to write about this one, I’ve listened to it so many times. I guess it is just comforting.

Best Album at making me want to dance erratically like someone who can’t dance:

Confidence Man – Confident Music for Confident People

This album is fucking odd. It feels like someone is taking the piss but at the same time making some of the most joyous pop music I have heard in a while. A continuous theme to most of my picks this year is a sense of irony and nothing conveys that better than ‘COOL Party’ an ode to and from the atypical ‘Cool Kids.’ This is an album which is fun before anything else, and in a year of yet more political and social despair sometimes it is nice to just listen to something like this and have fun.

Best Album from someone who I really was not expecting to make a genuinely fantastic album but actually made a genuinely fantastic album:

Ariana Grande – Sweetener

I would never have thought that Ariana Grande would make one of my favourite albums of the year but here we are. ‘no tears left to cry’ is undoubtedly one of the songs of the year, ‘the light is coming’ is a surprisingly experimental track for a mainstream pop album. But these are just the singles, the ‘blazed’ is a fantastic pseudo opener and the almost annoying braggadocios of ‘successful’ is frustratingly catchy. If Grande’s upcoming EP builds on this and ‘thank u, next’ then will it even be a surprise if it is fantastic?

Best Album from last year that I only heard this year:

Alex Cameron – Forced Witness

This might end up being one of my favourite albums of the decade. Forced Witness is probably the album that I have listened to the most this year and I am still unsure if it is sincere or not. Cameron’s snide and sniping take on toxic masculinity works as he takes on the role of the most disgusting, and yet common, traits of modern masculinity. There is a bleak and dark humour to this record that not many can make work, and yet when it all feels like it might be getting too much Roy Malloy plays a bit of sax.

Best Album at having a completely devastating opener and being relatively depressing for the whole album but being raw and beautiful.

Lucy Dacus – Historian

I’ll admit it, the majority of my love for this album comes from the opener ‘Night Shift.’ When I first heard this song it broke me, it is the best break up song I think I have ever heard. Dacus paints a devastating picture of avoidance and pain that is relatable and yet haunting. The rest of the album is great, the build on ‘The Shell’ to a soaring crescendo is a highlight and the album does tail off at the end, but the high points of this album are so impressive that It is one of my favourites of the year.

Best album that I picked up on a whim on Record Store Day because I thought it was something else and it ended up being a strange industrial album with sex sounds.

Colour Ciimaxxx – Colour Climaxxx  

So, I thought this was going to be 70’s porn music which to me is that stereotypical funky stuff that is usually pretty good. Having a whole album of it would have been good for instrumental background music. Instead what I got was an industrial tinged piece of insanity that actually uses sounds from pornography. There is something incredibly interesting about it, there are sounds from bestiality which are unsettling. It’s not something I listen too often, but it is a cool curio.

Best Album that is jazz and doesn’t feel like I have to put aside most of a day to listen to.

Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile

Kamasi Washington released an album this year and as much as I love all of his works it feels like I have to dedicate time to listen to them, and as such I don’t come back to them too often. Sons of Kemet on the other hand have made an album which is something I can listen to in smaller bursts. This feels like a Jazz album for Brexit Britain. Not only in the lyrics on the stand out first track ‘My Queen is Ada Eastman’ but through the urban laced jazz that is so beautifully constructed by Sons of Kemet.

Best Album of being the clichéd crying on the dancefloor

Robyn – Honey

It has taken me almost an entire other decade to realise it, but ‘Dancing on my Own’ is probably the best pop song since the turn of the millennium. There is nothing out there that is as catchy, moody and devastating as this one song. The return of Robyn on Honey shows that she can still create incredible pop. ‘Missing U’ is a brilliant return to what Robyn does best, depressing pop music about how much you miss someone. Typecasting Robyn as a depressing pop songstress would be unfair. ‘Ever Again’ is a much happier song that declares ‘I’m only going to sing about love ever again.’

Best Album from the Best Film of the year

Cast of Mamma Mia 2 – Mamma Mia 2

Mamma Mia 2 is the best film ever made. I cried, I laughed, I sang. It has Piers Brosnan singing SOS in a depressed reprise. It is a masterpiece. The soundtrack is also fantastic. An eccentric mix of people who can sing and can’t sing Mamma Mia 2 is exactly what I want from an album. I want the people singing to be having a great time. I want it to be as camp as anything. I basically want this.

Best Album I listened to once

Mount Eerie – Now Only

I’m not going to write much about this one. It’s spectacular but it takes me to mental places I don’t really want to go to. One of the best of the year, but more as a piece of art than something to listen to.

Honourable Awards

(Albums that I loved but didn’t want to write about)

Best Album about sucking dick

CupcakKe – Ephorize

Best Album that is great but isn’t as good as her last one so I’m not really sure why critics are going mental for it in a way they weren’t about the last one

Mitski – Be the Cowboy

Best Album from someone with a trash stage name

Soccer Mommy – Clean

Best Album which is incredible seeing as how young they are

Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears

Best Album from someone who I loved as a feature artist and their debut is even better

Kali Uchis – Isolation

Best Album to come from that Kanye Wyoming thing

Pusha T – Daytona  

Best Album that came out near the start of the year so I almost forgot about it

US Girls – In A Poem Untitled

Final Thoughts

This time next year I will probably be sitting here and thinking, if I had listened to that ‘Low’ or ‘Julia Holter’ album a bit more I would have loved to write about it. But that is the nature of modern music, there is so much out there and so much good stuff. The albums I’ve listed here aren’t comprehensive of what I have listened to this year, otherwise there would be a lot of the Twin Peaks soundtrack and Disco/Funk/Soul stuff. But it is an idea of what new music I listened to this year, what I loved and what really stuck with me. There is so much good music these days that this list will probably be defunct within a month. But ultimately 2018 was super good and I got to see Janelle live again which is pretty much all that matters.

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Live Review: Mount Eerie

Before going to see Mount Eerie, the current name of the recording project of Phil Elverum, play songs from ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ live I would have recommended the album to almost anyone. I would have called it my ‘Album of the Year’ in that pandering way people do, trying to say that one album can possibly be the ‘best.’ After seeing these songs played live and watching the man who wrote them perform them I cannot say either of these things. In fact, I’m not sure if this is an album that is meant to be listened to.

The setting was, in a first for me, a church. I waited outside on the steps of St. John’s on Bethnal Green, alone, under a concrete crucifix. A church seemed like a strange place for a gig. Usually, it is a bar, a pub or somewhere else where there is usually live music and not congregations and knitted pew seats. In retrospect, and with the benefit of hindsight, it was a perfect place for this particular event, as I would hasten to call it a gig after experiencing it. Churches, and any place of worship, command respect, you can be an atheist or another religion, but a church has a deep and spiritual meaning to somebody. From the words in the songs played by Phil, I don’t think he is religious, but I think there was a spiritual significance to him playing in a church. Just not one I can put my finger on.

Waiting for the doors to open I was excited. As I have previously mentioned on this blog I found ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ to be an incredibly moving piece of work, and the thought of seeing these songs played live was something I was interested in seeing. As the doors opened and I shuffled through to the right of me was Elverum himself selling his merchandise and albums. Someone asks him if he wants a drink and he says he will have a red berry tea. I asked him if he had any copies of ‘The Glow pt.2’ but he didn’t so settle on a copy of ‘Mount Eerie.’ He didn’t have any change for my £20 so I told him not to worry.

I sit down in a church pew. There is a long wait as the rest of the crowd make their way in, buy their albums and, inexplicably given the venue and the tone of the evening, buy their beer and wine. The wait is almost an hour but eventually, the lights darken, and Phil walks directly down the aisle. He places down his tea, picks up his guitar and launches into ‘Real Death’ a song that starts with the line ‘Death is Real.’

It was only throughout this performance that I realised how real death could be, looking at the man who had written songs that had touched me so much struggle to make it through singing them. I realised that these songs aren’t meant for me, they are for Phil, they are for his own personal healing process. Any attempt I make at finding personal meaning in these songs is moot. This is a man mourning a loss that hopefully, I will never have to face. A man who is dealing with a reality he could never have seen coming. A man trying to make as much sense of a senseless world as he can.

The experience is mesmerising but not necessarily enjoyable. Watching Phil pour out his heart, sing with nothing but unrefined and pure emotion is possibly the most moving experience I have ever had. But it feels like I shouldn’t be there. Phil put it best as before he played his last song he thanked the audience for coming to ‘whatever this is’ and stated that he wouldn’t be playing these songs again as hopefully there would be a future with different, less heavy material coming from him.

The new material he did play seemed to be an extension, and in many ways, a reaction, to ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ new songs dealt with the continuation of his mourning of Genevieve, with a particularly haunting thematic verse about fragments of bone. What stuck with me the most, however, was the song about being flown to a desert festival to play these songs. It struck me the absurdity of what was happening, that this art that had touched people had taken on a life of its own. People enjoyed and respected the album and the songs but the whole scenario was strange. Part of me felt voyeuristic, that I was bathing in the misery of another human being for even listening to ‘A Crow Looked at Me.’ I felt awful for being there expecting Phil to sing these songs and for expecting some sort of feeling from another person’s grief. But it was an experience I will never forget and in some ways inspiring. It is inspirational that someone can carry on to any extent after the events that became Phil occurred. Fighting through songs so raw, emotional and autobiographical that it must be difficult reliving these memories on a stage with an audience looking at you.

As Phil played the last song he walked back down the aisle and sat at the merch booth. The lights went up and people started to leave. As I left I nudged him on the shoulder and thanked him. I’m not sure if this was appropriate or what I was meant to do but I felt the need to thank him for doing what he just did. For giving a room full of people what they had expected and thought they wanted, even though it was evidently difficult for him to do so. He thanked me back, I can speculate as to why, but for whatever reason he did, I don’t feel like he needed to.

‘A Crow Looked at Me’ will be put on the end of year lists. It will be ranked against other albums and placed accordingly because that is what the public wants and will expect. When I first listened to this album I gave it a rating in my head, but in all honesty, that rating is meaningless. Anything I could write about the album is meaningless. Watching Phil play, hearing these songs played live, it was apparent that the meaning this album has is Phil’s and Phil’s alone. His musings on life, finding meaning in life and such are interesting and insightful, but this album and these songs are meant for him. I hope that in the future Phil can come out with songs that he can play with more ease. I hope he has the future that he wants and deserves.

A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie: Thoughts and Feelings

I have wanted to write about music for a while but I know literally nothing about music theory. It makes it quite difficult when writing, I can’t talk about the technicalities of music because to me music has always been about the effect it has upon me. To me the best albums and music have a profound effect on me that I can’t necessarily articulate. They make me feel emotions and take me to the place the artist was when writing them, and that is hard to put into words.

‘A Crow Looked at Me’ by Mount Eerie is a peculiar case. I cannot think of another album that has ever made me feel as strongly as this one has. I cannot relate to the death of a spouse; I have never been put into that horrific situation. For Phil Elverum his wife, Genevieve, died from cancer. This loss is the sole story of ‘A Crow Looked at Me’, a beautiful and haunting ode to love, and a diary of longing and loneliness.

I feel insensitive being able to relate to this album. I have never felt the extreme loss that Phil has, but I have lost. I have felt longing for something or someone that no longer exists. I have had to deal with, however on a much more insignificant scale, not being able to be with people I love. In many ways, this album being deeply personal makes it more relatable. I do not have the same stories Phil has, but I have stories of things that I miss. I can relate to him when he talks about thinking people want him to stop talking about Genevieve, as I can relate to my thoughts about people wishing I would shut up about the things and people I miss.

When looking at others thoughts on this album I have found many to say that it was an uncomfortable listen. I do not doubt this for one moment. It is certainly not an album that can be put on for background listening. It demands, and deserves, full unrivalled attention. There is not really any light that shines through this album, it is not hopeful, it is just a man trying to deal with something that fractured his world and outlook on life and nature. However, I have not found it, as some claim it to be, exploitive of Phil. There is a level of cathartic relief from sharing how you feel. I believe Phil wanted this out in the world. He wanted people to see the effect that this had on him. More than anything however I believe he wanted the world to know how much he loves Genevieve.

There is however, one solitary ray of light in this dark record and that is love. Although it is the tale of a relationship that perished too soon there is so much love and emotion devoted to Genevieve throughout the runtime of this record. The album, although about his struggle with loss, shows the absolute love and devotion that Phil had for Genevieve. One can only assume that the feeling was mutual. The love between them is what illuminates this record. It makes the loss so much more difficult to accept, but it is also what makes this album exist in the first place.

Ultimately ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ is probably not for everyone. As beautiful as it is it is very dark and is not an uplifting listen. It is also musically sparse, there is not much instrumentation on this and even then, it is used sparingly. However, as an experience, it is one that has had an impact since I first listened to it. It is one that in many ways confuses me. Part of me hopes I will never feel the strength of emotion that Phil describes throughout this album. The other part of me hopes that one day I can meet someone that I love as much as Phil loves Genevieve, that although it may hurt to lose them, that love having been worthwhile.