Following on from Elliot Burr’s Albums Of The Year So Far, Music Editor Tom Geraghty offers his top 5 albums of the year from the wonderfully generous 2018.
2012-2017 – Against All Logic (Feb 17th)
‘If you don’t know jack about house, then you’ll love this!’ reads the back of Against All Logic’s 2012-2017, a clear tongue-in-cheek dig at the non-purist collection of bloghouse-esque tracks contained inside. Released in February with minimal to no fanfare, Nicolas Jaar’s collection of disco-tinged sample-based house seemingly slipped under the radar before being picked up by big-name reviewing sites as a Jaar release. Of course, some knew instantly that the A.A.L alias was Jaar and others, such as myself, became aware through the ID’ing of a mysterious track played by Jaar at Dekmantel festival in 2014 as A.A.L’s ‘You Are Going To Love Me And Scream’, a full four years after it was originally heard.
Essentially an album of bouncey dancefloor offcuts, 2012-2017 is supposedly more of a ramshackle collection of oddities than it is a fully realised album. As such, each track feels like a monumental weapon in the right hands. The headfucking highs of ‘I Never Dream’ combined with the rampantly eclectic percussion could whip an ecstatic crowd into a frenzy. The aforementioned ‘You Are Going To Love Me And Scream’, already demonstrably creating such an impression at Dekmantel 2014 that it was still pined for up until release, plays with juttered samples before rolling into a low-frequency growler. The jittering piano tease of ‘Some Kind Of Game’ still gets me worked up just thinking about it.
Yet for all the similarities of the 5-year output as A.A.L – compressed-as-fuck vocal samples, low pass filtered synth swells, overblown drum machines, etc. – 2012-2017’s most compelling feat rests in the surprising cohesiveness of an album of singles. Despite not being a fully realised album in that it was not initially constructed as an LP, Jaar has either done some phenomenal work in stitching together these singles into album format post-creation or his vision of full-force deep disco is so precise that it flows regardless. The opening trio of tunes flawlessly roll into each other, building on fat synth blasts and rolling drums to pump you into a summer frenzy. And that’s before we get to the phenomenal album closer, ‘Rave on U’, a 10-minute exercise in end-of-night analogue celebration that fizzles around as a sort of rave catharsis.
You don’t have to know jack about house to love 2012-2017. You don’t have to know jack about disco, or Jaar, or even the Against All Logic moniker. And even if you do know jack about house, there’s still a good chance that you’ll love 2012-2017.
Historian – Lucy Dacus (March 2nd)
There’s such ambition within Historian that the epic and experimental structure take precedent over specific melodies or hooks. There’s no standout single to show your friends; no tune that you’ll be humming as soon as Historian finishes or catchy hook that’ll creep under your skin for years to come. Instead, Lucy Dacus has conjured up an album of incredible nuance that demands to be savoured in the album format.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any brilliant melodies, hooks or even catchy songs on Historian. ‘Addictions’ is a short, sharp indie jam with the anthemic refrain of ‘you’ve got addictions, too’ blasted out over horns and impending crescendos. The peppy ‘Next of Kin’ is juxtaposed by a morose couplet regarding mortality and the fleeting of time. ‘Nonbeliever’ feels magnificently cleansing. These moments are riddled throughout Historian, but they all seem relatively small in the grandiose and realised nature of the album. It certainly feels like a labour of love, worked on and perfected to an immaculate level.
Historian never quite goes where you expect it to. Bringing in a conclave of instrumentation helps build Dacus’ vision in the same way that Sufjan Steven’s Illinoise feels like one connected album despite varying wildly in genre. It’s this approach that makes those specific moments so rewarding as the payoffs feel contextualised within the narrative of the album. The engulfing bassline of ‘Timefighter’ feels so monumental after the lingering violins of ‘Body To Flame’ that it becomes a worked towards moment, even more devastating than if it were a single. But the defeatist view of morality presented in ‘Timefighter’ is instantly followed by the aforementioned ‘Next Of Kin’, a song that shares the sentiment of ‘Timefighter’ but from the perspective of someone who is now at peace with mortality. There’s a thread that connects Historian; one that interweaves lyrical thematics and musical progression, and it’s this dedication to the album format that pays off dividends for Dacus’ sophomore album.
Lucy Dacus depicts both suffering and pain vividly in the weaving and triumphant Historian. There exists an intrigue into examining and documenting losses of the past, one which Dacus captures with a variety of exceptional songs interwoven into a realised historical document of her own.
7 – Beach House (May 11th)
7 starts, somewhat uncharacteristically, amidst the fleeting volley of a drum fill. Beach House have never shied away from drums, but there’s something immediately distinctive about the opening flurry in comparison to both Thank Your Lucky Stars and Depression Cherry. There’s a looseness that dispels the often-stagnant drum tracks of prior albums that hints at a more organic and expansive approach to album-writing.
Beach House are scarily consistent, even if prior albums found criticism for similarities in sonic aesthetic. Bloom saw two arguments: one being that it was a refining of their exceptional Teen Dream and the other levied criticism for the lack of departure from an already established sound. Whilst I would strongly argue that Beach House have expanded their sound on each release in minute ways without fully dropping their recognisable dream-pop sound, 7 is the album that feels progressive. It’s easy for me to put this down just to the addition of touring drummer James Barone to the actual recording process, and whilst certainly this is a factor – the percussion throughout is notably more varied and prominent – there are further changes that make 7 feel so necessary compared to previous releases.
‘Lemon Glow’ incorporates the harsher sounds first realised in ‘Sparks’ and perfectly combines it into the melancholy bliss Beach House pioneered. There’s an ethereal sludge to ‘Pay No Mind’ that takes on grungey shoegaze, putting prominence on the low hum of reverb laden guitar instead of the usual show-stealing synths. ‘Drunk In L.A.’ sits closest to Teen Dream era Beach House but sound so majestically sweeping that it brings with it a certain grandeur not present in previous albums. And yes, not to labour a point, but back to the drums: ‘L’Inconnue’ feels bolstered by drumming creativity, ‘Dive’ practically explodes into overwashed ecstasy with a thunderous crash and ‘Dark Spring’ has a rhythm section that almost veers into indie boy-band territory.
In some respects, 7 is the perfect album for a band as far into their career as Beach House. There’s a signature sound that’ll captivate long-term fans but a renewed energy in songwriting that silences critics and invites previous detractors to sample a fresh offering. 7 is a remarkable album in so many aspects, but not least in the invigorated and innovative approach to a well-worn sound 7 albums deep into a career.
DAYTONA – Pusha T ( April 25th)
If you know, you know. In the era of bastardised music charts that desperately claw to some illogical relevancy through the inclusion of streams (although the streams to sales figure gets reworked almost weekly) and now music video watches, along came the bloated album format: 20+ songs of short length designed to exploit the current music chart climate. If nothing else, Kanye’s weekly succession of 7 song albums was a welcome antidote to the likes of Migos’ 24 song Culture II or even the vapid, nebulous More Life and Views from industry leader Drake.
It’s easy to call Pusha T’s DAYTONA the antithesis of Drake following his immense takedown of the culture-stealing Drizzy in the frankly ludicrous ‘The Story of Adidon’, but the album is more than just a two-bit character assassination. In a lot of ways, it’s disrespectful to frame DAYTONA’S greatness by a Drake beef: Pusha T’s album is such a landmark because it rejects the modern blueprint of rap to deliver a streamlined and lethal album. There’s no excess trimming or fat, just 7 phenomenal songs that see Push up his lyrical game and deliver devastatingly infectious flows. DAYTONA already feels like a classic; a tightly delivered and impeccable album that’s near impossible to fault.
And for all the Drake contextualising, there’s also the Kanye saga that threatened to derail Pusha’s genius album with Ye controversies and publicity spinning. Disregarding that shitshow entirely, it’s apparent that of all the albums Kanye put out Pusha seems to get the most out of Kanye’s production. There’s a respect between producer and lyricist on DAYTONA that has Pusha practically thrive off the mentoring from Kanye. There’s a quiet restraint on beats to deliver a more linear and sample-driven method of production, and it’s one that Pusha grabs with both hands and feverishly destroys. It’s a refined album that reeks of perfectionism, thrown away cuts, reworked lyricism and hours of crate digging. Put simply, DAYTONA feels like the lean result of meticulous work.
In the short term, Pusha T’s DAYTONA may have been engulfed and defined by obtuse Kanyisms and Drake beef. In the long run, though, DAYTONA will shine as a vital masterpiece of precision engineered hip-hop bliss.
Lush – Snail Mail (Jun 8th)
So much has been said about the current climate of indie rock that it’s exasperating, so without dwelling too much on the particulars, Lush is one of many phenomenal albums from the genre released in the last 6 months.
Lindsey Jordan’s Snail Mail outfit, like so many others on the Matador label (including Lucy Dacus and Car Seat Headrest), gained a record deal following increased online traction following DIY material. The result was Lush, an altogether cleaner sound that traded in some of the Lo-Fi particulars of the Habit EP in favour of more prevalent vocals. Drenched in reverb-laden guitars, Lindsey sounds dominantly resolute across Lush, vocalising finite particulars such as ‘I won’t love anyone else/I’ll never love anyone else’ across the phenomenal ‘Pristine’ or ‘I’m not yours’ throughout the yellow haze of ‘Golden Dream.’ Lindsey Jordan doesn’t exactly break new ground, but she delivers emotion with such certainty that it’s impossible not to fall for.
The cleaner sound of Lush may put distinction on vocals, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the gorgeously embellished guitar stabs of ‘Pristine’ or the finger-plucking magnificence of ‘Let’s Find an Out’. There’s a newfound maturity in Snail Mail vocals, but it wouldn’t be nearly as affecting if not for the shroud of music she surrounds herself in. Numerous fills and riffs expand the Snail Mail storytelling, favouring musical breaks and abrupt endings instead of more traditional writing methods: vocal refrains sound more devastating, breakdowns intensify emotion and softer moments (‘Deep Sea’) are all the more affecting.
‘Is there any better feeling than coming clean?’, Lindsey questions in ‘Pristine’. Lush is an intimate album that puts focus on the act of cleanliness, both in her lovelorn philosophising and in the aesthetic of the album. The debut album from Snail Mail is undoubtedly a cleaner sound, but it’s also a purging from an assured Lindsey Jordan that investigates the psychological messiness of emotional cleansing.