Archive | December, 2018

My Favourite Albums of 2018

31 Dec
  1. Twin Fantasy by Car seat Headrest 
  2. Tranquility base hotel and casino by Arctic Monkeys 
  3. I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma
  4. A Brief Inquiry in to Online Relationships by The 1975
  5. Little Dark Age by MGMT
  6. Tracyanne and Danny by Traccyanne and Danny
  7. Now Only by Mount Eerie
  8. Magic Gang by Magic Gang
  9. Invasion of Privacy by Cardi B
  10. Insecure Men by Insecure Men
  11. Singularity by John Hopkins
  12. Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
  13. We’re Not Talking by The Goon Sax
  14. Hope Downs by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
  15. Wide Awake by Parquet Courts
  16. Kill the Lights by Tony Molina
  17. Go to School by Lemon Twigs
  18. Love in the Time of Email by Antartigo Vespucci
  19. I Dont Run by Hinds
  20. Be The Cowboy by Mitski
  21. Whack world by Tierra Whack
  22. Diary 1 by Clairo 
  23. Million Dollars to Kill Me by Joyce Manor
  24. Compro by Skee Mask
  25. Yolk in the Fur by Wild Pink 
  26. Lost and Found by Jorja Smith
  27. Last Building Burning by Cloud Nothings
  28. Future me hates me by The Beths
  29. Endless Scroll by Bodega
  30. The Future and the Past by Natalie Prass
  31. Daytona by Pusha T
  32. Safe in the Hands of Love by Yves Tumor
  33. Spanish Love Songs by Shmultz
  34. Superorganism by Superorganism
  35. The Horizon Just Laughed by Damien Jurado
  36. Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt
  37. Big Red Machine by Big Red Machine
  38. Room inside the World by Ought
  39. Room 25 by Noname
  40. Yawn by Bill Ryder Jones
  41. Marrauder by Interpol
  42. Ye by Kanye West
  43. At weddings by Tomberlin
  44. Warm by Jeff Tweedy
  45. What People Call Self Esteem is Really Just… by Awakebutstillinbed
  46. Freedom by Amen Dunes
  47. Malibu Nights by Lany 
  48. Kindness is the New Rock n Roll by Peace
  49. Ballads 1 by Joji 
  50. Novelist Guy by Novelist

My Favourite Singles of 2018

31 Dec
  1. Love It If We Made It by The 1975
  2. Beach Life in Death by Car Seat Headrest
  3. Alabama by Traccyanne and Danny
  4. I Like It by Cardi B
  5. Four Out of Five by Arctic Monkeys
  6. I’ll Never Love Again by Lady Gaga
  7. Almost Had to Start a Fight by Parquet Courts
  8. I don’t Want to Dance (with my baby) by Insecure Men
  9. Pretty Girl by Stefflon Don
  10. Jack From Titanic by Bodega
  11. Apeshit by Beyoncé/Jay Z
  12. Don’t Matter to Me by Drake
  13. This is America by Childish Gambino
  14. Venice Beach By Lana Del Rey
  15. Space Cowboy by Kacey Musgraves
  16. If You Know You Know by Pusha T
  17. Night Shift by Lucy Dacus
  18. Seventeen by Troye Sivan
  19. For Nana by Young Jesus
  20. Flaming Hot Cheetos by Clairo 
  21. Love Lost by The Goon Sax
  22. We appreciate Power by Grimes
  23. Danny Nedelko by Idles
  24. Getting Along by Magic Gang
  25. Think I’m still in Love by Joyce Manor
  26. Electricity by Silk City
  27. The Fire by Lemon Twigs
  28. Hot Pink By Let’s Eat Grandma
  29. Hey Ana by Hodera
  30. When we die by MGMT
  31. 5 Dollars by Christine and the Queens
  32. Baby I Love You by Ryan Adams
  33. This Time Around by Jessica Pratt
  34. 2002 by Anne Marie
  35. What Would I Do by FUR
  36. One Touch by Calvin Harris/Dua Lipa
  37. Missing You by Robyn
  38. Sicko Mode By Travis Scott
  39. pain Killer by Iceage
  40. First World Problems by Ian Brown
  41. Eighteen by Pale Waves
  42. Loading Zone by Kurt Vile
  43. Work Out by Chance the  Rapper
  44. You’re Better Than Ever by Illuminati Hotties
  45. How Can I Love You by Yellow Days
  46. Heat Wave by Snail Mail
  47. Middle America by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
  48. The Opener by Camp Cape
  49. The Whip by Terry
  50. Losing You by Boy Pablo

Mumford and Sons ‘Delta’ – Review

23 Dec

The headlines wrote themselves last time around – ‘Mumford and sons go electric!’ – and the narrative is just as predictable this time around for album number four: ‘The banjos are back!’ Which is accurate but doesn’t tell the full story. ‘Delta’ is a bloated, fourteen track odyssey that encompass everything from swampy folk rock to quiet piano balladry and what passes for streamlined guitar pop in 2018. Despite the seeming variety, most of the songs end up sounding the same in a polished, processed mix that will sound just fine blown out over supermarket speakers. The end result is unwaveringly proficient and almost totally free of personality (something you can’t levy at previous Mumford and Sons albums, no matter how much you may have disliked them).

How bland is it? ‘Delta’ makes you long for the days of the relatively effervescent Travis and David Grey. Melodies are totally interchangeable, lyrical themes are predictable, and even the song structures change little from song to song. Marcus Mumford has a fine, distinctive voice but here he’s asked to sing the same dreary nothings over and over again. Naturally, the emotive quality so essential to this type of music gets diluted somewhere along the line, not least because these lyrics are applicable to everybody and nobody in particular.

There are moments of experimentation but they often feel strained, as if the band are too aware of the need to explore new avenues. It does seem that Mumford and Sons are in a Catch 22 situation. When they attempt to diversify – as on the r&b flavoured ‘Woman’ – they are revealed to be one trick ponies. But stick to that trick – see lead single ‘Guiding Light’ – and they are condemned to criticism. The answer, perhaps, is subtle reinvention, the type that Paul Epworth is usually proficient at encouraging. The producer does a better job of modernising the music and highlighting the hooks than James Ford, who sterilised their sound beyond belief on the rock inflicted ‘Wilder Minds’, but some of Epworth’s choices simply don’t pay off here. The aforementioned ‘Woman’ is a good example of where the watery hip hop beats derail Mumford’s quiet English purr. The constant clicks, finger snaps and electronic gargles, that are totally inconsequential to the music, also start to grate after a while, particularly on the comical interlude ‘Darkness Visable’ and ‘Picture You’, the closest the band get to top 40, post-XX pop.

More damingly, these are all amongst the weakest tunes that the band have penned to date – and there are more of them than on any previous M&S album. The moody, moonlit atmosphere of ‘Wilder Minds’ didn’t frame the band’s natural gusto and soaring sentimentality effectively but that album contained the band’s most vulnerable and stirring songwriting so far. Here the mood is set early on by the wilting opener ’42’, an inquisitive plea to God that could equally be interpreted as a lovesick lament (‘where do I turn when there’s no choice to make?’). By the album’s closer, ‘Delta’, Mumford seems to have come to some conclusions but he can only muster the vaguest (‘I am a waste’) or most simplistic (‘tell your stories’) of answers. The most telling moment is when he confesses ‘my words are empty vessels’. Perhaps the album should have ended with the less pretentious ‘Forever’, a down to earth love song that rises above the occasional cliche to offer some sincere advice – ‘love with your eyes, love with your mind, dare I say forever.’

‘Delta’ reminds me of the last Kings of Leon record. Both KOL and Mumford and Sons are divisive groups who once placed great stock in an authenticity many people called in to question. ‘Delta’, like KOL’s ‘Walls’, has (for large stretches at least) replaced that homespun, rootsy vibe, however fraudulent, with an artificial, airbrushed superficiality that doesn’t structurally change or even challenge anything fundamental. It’s a slight makeover that doesn’t get to the heart of the problem with Mumford and Sons, a band who at their very best, and on occasion, are capable of producing gutsy, lighters aloft anthems but who seem unable to do anything else with much utility.



The 1975 ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ – Review

8 Dec

On the fabled ‘Antichrist’, from The 1975’s debut e.p ‘Facedown’, Matty Healy imagined hands and tongues ‘all covered in blood’ as he drowned in reverb amidst organ swells and cavernous drums. This was an unexpected diversion from the e.p’s lead track, ‘The City’ which was a heavily compressed and maddeningly catchy indie rock song. Even at the time people didn’t quite know what to think. In the Pitchfork review, Ian Cohen felt like the singles had ‘gone missing’ from the e.p, with an ‘unwise’ 3:1 torch song to burner ratio. From day one critics thought they knew what The 1975 should be about, and were somewhat incredulous when that wasn’t delivered to them. But for this band ‘Sex’ and ‘The City’ weren’t the point anymore than the ambient interludes, or post-rock instrumentals were. Dismissive critics be damned, The 1975 followed their noses, delivering numerous and two expansive albums of wild and experimental pop music. The threads have all been tied together on ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ their most accomplished album to date. And surprisingly, critics seem to be on board, the culture having finally caught up to the band’s ravenous, insatiable taste for anything and everything.

Like the previous two albums ‘ABIIOR’ has a wide remit whilst also self referentially honouring the band’s impressive mythology. It opens with ‘The 1975’, a distorted callback to ‘The 1975’, the atmospheric introduction to ‘The 1975’, which was of course the debut album by The 1975. The same song opened their sophomore album, ‘I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’ and has already been confirmed to appear on their next album ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’. If any of this reads as pretentious or ridiculous then you’d be half right. Crucially, the band’s endearing enthusiasm – not to mention incredible ability to pull this stuff off – overrides any cynicism you enter with.

Imagine the audacity it takes to create a song like ‘The Man Who Married a Robot’, a blatant update of Radiohead’s ‘Fitter, Happier’ that actually improves upon the original. Imagine out-Radioheading Radiohead. And then doing the same thing to Bon Iver (‘I Like America and America Likes Me’), Coldplay (‘Surrounded by Heads and Bodies’) and Drake (‘TooTimeTooTimeTooTime’). Like those stunt drivers who slide in to tight parallel parking spots, they only pull it off because any other outcome would be disastrous and unthinkable. The margins between genius and hilarious are so ridiculously tight when you’re getting Siri to narrate a monologue about a man addicted to the Internet whilst Disney strings swirl and sway in the background. It’s not hard to see how it could all go terribly wrong. This is an all-in, everything or nothing move, and they nail it.

It’s a difficult game, trying to establish your own identity whilst playfully pinching from the biggest artists in the world. It’s one they’re now masters at. All at once ‘ABIIOR’ will remind you of your favourite bands, whilst reminding you of no one so much as The 1975 themselves. Lead single ‘Give Yourself a Try’, which hurtles forward on the strength of a tinny drum loop and loudly compressed guitar squawks, has been compared to Joy Division but in truth the song is too soaked in irony and self awareness to sound like anyone else but The 1975. It’s a koi pond with a shimmering surface, reflecting whatever the listener projects – the millennial anxieties of infantilised adults, the post-modern sense that truth is evasive or the nagging, existential fears you can’t theorise away. It’s funny because revelation often is and emphatic because we live in urgent times. ‘What would you say to your younger self? Growing a beard’s quite hard and whisky never starts to taste nice’ is one of many quotables that tumble out with stunning regularity.

In a similar vein, ‘Love It If We Made It’ is an impassioned anthem for doomed youth and a fitting approximation of the intermingled dread and humour you feel whilst randomly scrolling down your timeline. Like a modern day ‘It’s the End of the World and We Know It’, the song is imperious and frantic in the face of possible annihilation. Cascading synthesisers and beats carved out of metal sound like aggressive approximations of the nostalgic 80s sounds the band utilised on their debut album. Just as ‘Give Yourself a Try’ slightly recalls a demented Joy Division, ‘Love It If We Made It’ may well remind you of a sinister ‘Downtown Lights’, that mid 80s melancholic masterpiece by The Blue Nile. It’s already been called a defining statement of 2018 malaise, and for good reason; it does after-all quote the leader of the free world (‘I moved on it like a bitch’) and will be censored for radio as a result.

Generally though the album steers away from the political, choosing instead to focus on the personal. As the title explicitly states, the band are particularly interested in the role that the internet plays in creating, sustaining and destroying modern relationships. Last year Arcade Fire were met with ridicule when they attempted to dissect online culture on ‘Everything Now’. It wasn’t the first time that a band of a certain age seemed sneering and out of touch when tackling the prickly topic. The 1975 succeed where Arcade Fire don’t by virtue of being totally submerged in online culture. They aren’t simply spectators, or commentators, they are absolutely immersive on a day to day level. Because of this they are able to comment on the sense of dislocation and alienation that is often a consequence of social media, in a tone that is empathetic rather than judgmental. They are able to prod without shooting targets down in to flaming wrecks. As Matty put it in an interview, he is ‘just asking questions’, not necessarily stepping up to answer them. Even the most moralistic moment, ‘I Married a Robot/Love Theme’ is narrated by Siri, and has an appropriately neutral, even handed tone. No approval, no condemnation, no judgment. Just observation.

Besides, the key word in the title is ‘relationships’ not ‘online’, and in 2018 It would be impossible to write about the former without some understanding of the latter. The internet is just another outlet for our self loathing and a vessel for our terrible excuses. When on ‘Tootime’ Matty’s girlfriend scolds him for not liking her Instagram post, and Matty replies ‘I only use it sometimes’, you get the point that is being made – and it actually has very little to do with social media. The narrator of ‘Sincerity is Scary’ (Matty himself?) has been using Social media in a vain attempt to control how people perceive him, ‘putting off conceiving’, putting off adulthood, content in his own self-satisfaction. The internet is a terrible escape, as all consuming as the pills referenced on ‘Surrounded by Heads and Bodies’ or the Heroin alluded to on ‘Its Not a living if it’s not with you’. Whether it’s drugs, fame, music or the internet, these characters are crippled by the crutches they rely on and desperately seeking real human affection.

More than an inquiry in to online relationships, this is evidence of one, as album standout ‘I Couldn’t Be More In Love’ suggests. The song is a soppy love letter to the band’s fan base; a group, largely but not exclusively, made up of teenage girls, who congregate on Redit, Tumblr and Instagram. A group who feel that they know Matty intimately from 180 character tweets and meet and greets. It’s a genuine relationship, of a sort, and a modern translation of a very old form of hero worship. But perhaps it’s more reciprocal than in the old days. Matty’s generosity towards his fans, and the genuine sense of connection he feels towards them, radiates through the song’s lyrics, which are desperately emotive. ‘What about these feelings I’ve got?!’ He pleads – a throwback to the Emo sentiments of ‘Sex’ and ‘Robbers’. And If that’s not emo enough for you, then the very next song is called ‘I Always Want To Die (Sometimes)’.

Needless to say it can all get a bit heavy at points. ‘TooTimeTooTimeTooTime’ is as close as the album gets to fun frivolity. Its tropical house bass-line, auto tuned vocals and four to the floor beat will prick the ears of whoever is streaming all those Drake rip-offs saturating Spotify. More of this flavour would have been appreciated, especially in the second half of the album which does get bogged down by a sense of its own soul crushing import. A few of the slower tracks would benefit from some of the intensity and urgency of ‘Give Yourself a Try’ or ‘Love It If We Made It’, not to mention the uncomplicated fizz and froth of ‘TooTimeTooTimeTooTime’.

Maybe this is a good point to say that whilst I admire what the band have achieved here, and appreciate it’s numerous successes, I’m not sure that I like it as much as ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ an album that was somehow, all at once, even more daring, and subtle, while taking itself a whole lot less seriously. ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ was welded together by glam 80’s glue, all gated reverb snares and twinkly synthesisers. It’s harder to find ‘ABIIOR’s sonic through line, which makes the album feel that bit less cohesive and more overwhelming, despite being twenty minutes shorter.

The band have carefully styled ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ as a classic album in the vein of ‘Ok Computer’ and ‘The Queen is Dead’ – albums very obviously about something. Statement albums. Albums designed for eternity, as much as they were for their moment, that nonetheless sounded as natural as breathing air. Make no mistake, ‘A Brief Enquiry In to Online Relationships’ is very much for this moment – and in that sense it’s a purposeful, exemplary record. Whether it survives in the same way as those other classics remains to be seen. On a melodic level the songs lack the sublime grace of, say, ‘karma Police’ or ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’, and Matty’s voice is not particularly memorable in and of itself. You also have to question whether an album as transparently ambitious and calculated as this can ever truly transcend its context. It’s expansive, technically nuanced, musically diverse and thematically complex – but it’s doesn’t cohere in quite the same instinctive, effortless way those classic albums did. Maybe that’s the point. This is a post-modern album, not a modernist one. My expectations are perhaps too tied to a canonical vision of Rock music that The 1975 do not pay heed to. It tries very, very hard to be very, very important; The 1975 know it and have acknowledged it. Your move. Too confusing? All over the place? Simply too much? Well, have you been online recently? That’s 2018 in a nutshell and this is the sound of 2018.



Earl Sweatshirt ‘Some Rap Songs’ – Review

2 Dec

We’re a long way from 2010, when Earl Sweatshirt emerged as perhaps the most imaginative, and certainly most divisive, rapper in a generation. His age, parentage and penchant for grizzly, grotesque imagery overshadowed his raw talent until ‘Doris’, his modest debut album, finally saw the light of day three years later. ‘Some Rap Songs’, his third album, is, as the title suggests, even more understated than his debut.

‘Some Rap Songs’ initially sounds like a spluttering cough of an album – something as tossed off as the jokes Earl used to make back in the day. His voice, noticeably deeper and less clipped than it used to be, is mixed low, beneath soul samples that stop, start and jitter. Only two tracks are longer than two minutes and the album is sequenced in a way that emphasises the whole rather than individual moments. There are approximately zero hooks on the album and Earl sounds less interested than ever in appealing to anyone’s expectations of what a rap record should sound like in 2018. And yet, ‘Some Rap Songs’ contains some of the sharpest and most deviously devised rhymes of the year.

Everything about ‘Some Rap Songs’ is that bit more nuanced and adventurous than what has come before. We’ve gone from silly similes to extended metaphors that build and advance as the album moves forward. He establishes the template within the record’s very first verse; wicked half rhymes, once used as an act of daring flamboyance, now develop along emotional lines and reveal the heart inside the genius. ‘Why ain’t nobody tell me I was sinkin / ain’t nobody told me I could leave and / yeah we could win again, seethin, wishin’ / seen teeth on the door, leakin’ again.’ To keep this precise momentum up for one track is impressive but to do it across fifteen is astounding.

Although Earl challenges himself to flip from topics and themes at will, this is largely an album largely about grief and family. Final track ‘Riot’ features a fanfare from his uncle, acclaimed Jazz musician Hugh Masekela, who passed away earlier this year, while Earl’s late father, poet Keorapetse Kgositsilealso is also sampled. Earl uses these songs to communicate feelings that are perhaps to raw to explicitly state. On ‘Penut’, he mourns ‘bless my pops, we sent him off and not an hour late / Still in shock and now my heart out somewhere on the range.’ On ‘Playing Possum’ a recording of his father is contrasted with one of his mother, UCLA professor Cheryl Harris giving a warm speech to an enthusiastic crowd. The two, who separated when Earl was very young, are made to battle it out; applause from the original recordings can be heard overlapping and drowning out any trace of Earl himself. There is an unresolved quality to the song, that makes it the perfect conclusion to an album that seeks much but finds little reassurance.

Musically, the album sounds like it’s held together by very little indeed. Simple, scratchy beats almost seem to decay as the songs progress. Samples are stretched across verses, which repeat, loop and slowly reveal hidden depths. This is a murky, muddy album. On ‘Red Water’ the central, howling loop hovers over Earl like a demonic nightmare. The track is over before any resolution is provided. ‘Nowhere2go’ has the record’s crispest beat, but even here it splutters randomly, interrupting Earl’s tired drawl. His oldest, and most familiar verse comes on December 24′ but it’s repurposed here as something even more stripped and edgy than the demo that’s done the rounds online. It’s over in ninety seconds.

In retrospect it’s very easy to see how Earl was something of a trailblazer back in 2010. Hip Hop’s current obsessions with youth, skater iconography and soundcloud reveal the precedent he set nearly a decade ago. More than that, the way in which he blurred the lines between Hip Hop, Soul, Jazz and Indie, whilst wearing that prankster’s grin, has been a clear influence on today’s movement. In some ways, ‘Some Rap Songs’ is an acknowledgment of that influence (its brevity and hazy vibe sounds very au currant) but more so, it sounds defiantly individualistic; the product of a boy wonder, who’s evolved in to a mature artist, still seeking to separate himself from the crowd.