2018 might be over, but we’re not quite finished with it yet. Suparna Arora brings forth the 7 albums that topped her list in the latest instalment of our Albums of The Year series.
7. Faces on TV – Night Funeral
Greetings from Brussels, temporary home to your favourite awol writer and permanent home to the European Union. While we have spent a great deal of our time this year laughing at the Brits here on the continent, that will not be the focal point of this article mostly because it just isn’t really news to anyone.
Faces on TV’s debut album is a Belgian surprise package of the psychedelic synth pop variety. And they do indeed resemble the Belgian people – a little shy at first but very comfortable in their own (musical) skin, especially enjoyable with a pintje in hand, which is the misleading Flemish word for ‘small beer’ commonly used to refer to the deathly brews that boast a remarkable 10% alcohol content. I can vouch for this after having experienced all of the above at their gig last month – the five-man party was refreshingly energetic, moving around the stage to play with the amusing interactive drum set. It’s evident that they thoroughly enjoy making the music they do, and the beer-guzzling crowd cheered non-stop in agreement. Also, the bass player is ridiculously cute.
I would personally recommend skipping the opening song and starting with ‘Dancing After All’ instead. The trance-like female vocals support Maekelberg’s effortless singing throughout an album that incorporates range like a band striding into their prime. Quieter numbers like ‘Same Thing’ and ‘Slowly Fading Out’ featuring the ridiculously talented Dienne Bogaerts on the flute break up songs that will make you break out into a boogie. Despite being utterly and hopelessly submerged in the miseries of student life budgeting (or my total inability to do so), I will pay you in many Belgian beers if you can stop yourself from dancing to the trumpet-fuelled chorus of ‘Looking Glass’.
6. CHINAH – ANYONE
I’ve been raving about CHINAH for as long as I can remember. These Danes have done beautifully with their debut album, which sounds just as dreamy as their previous EPs albeit undeniably darker. The bass is steady behind the echoic vocals and playful synth, making for some very wavy hallucinatory tracks.
With ‘Real Thing?’, CHINAH are comfortably, confidently, effortlessly sassy, with funky percussion and vocals bordering on rap. Listen to the whole song, but don’t stop until you get to 2:54, when it escalates into float mode. ‘Nowhere’ is a mesmerising way to close – the trio builds up layers of synth and vocals over the first two minutes, chanting ‘I feel so light’ in a song that embodies precisely that. The instruments and vocals all assemble for the peak in the third minute only to throw you off into a tangential beat for the next two minutes, before it’s all wrapped up beautifully with a percussion-less lullaby-like outro that trails off into, surprise surprise, nowhere. This band, however, is definitely going better places than nowhere.
5. Jungle – For Ever
I’m not sure how Jungle have missed my radar considering how well I pride myself in keeping up with XL, but I’ve become a fan of their ambient disco LA summer vibes since I found them on my Tastebreakers playlist on Spotify. I was surprised as I always am by the accuracy of how well Spotify understands me, regularly confirming my belief and fear that there is a data analysing algorithm somewhere that knows me better than I know myself. Life in the twenty first century is indeed an interactive Black Mirror episode, I suppose.
I would ideally rather listen to Jungle when it’s not grey and temperatures are not sub zero. The steady percussion and smooth falsetto will have you clicking your fingers and singing along, although if your singing abilities are as limited or non-existent as mine I would recommend you think twice before trying. Between ‘Cherry’ and ‘Cosurmyne’, I’m struggling to pick a favourite track. These two sound fresher against some of the other predictable yet still fairly enjoyable songs on this album. The emotional reach of Jungle is undoubtedly limited, but the music is fun nonetheless. ‘House in LA’ is oddly reminiscent of James Blake’s ‘Overgrown’ with a little more warmth in its sound. And if I were blessed with Donald Glover’s afro and dance moves, as exhibited in the dancing scene from BlacKkKlansman, I would totally be out in the club dancing to ‘Happy Man’.
4. Vancouver Sleep Clinic – Therapy Phase 01/02
Two little EPs, what have we done to deserve this double treat from Bettinson! It’s mostly more of the ambient pop we know and love, but my personal favourites are the two tracks that bring in outside influence. You can hear the musical landscape alter around the presence of THEY. frontman Drew Love in ‘Closure’ and Ebhoni in ‘Mercy’, and Bettinson morphs as he absorbs their R&B vibe and channels his own. ‘Closure’ kicks off with Bettinson’s impeccable singing and picks up gradually as Love joins in. On Mercy, his layered vocals are hauntingly in sync with Ebhoni.
That said, it’s impossible to ignore ‘Ayahuasca’, an 8-minute ballad that boils it down to the man and his voice. The vocals are more raw and bare, stumbling heartwarmingly with the acoustic guitar until the minimal electronic and percussion combo emerges to hold it all together. I’m happy with all of it, no complaints.
3. Little Dragon – Lover Chanting EP
Strangely enough, I’ve spent half this year becoming ridiculously obsessed with Little Dragon and the other half wondering how on earth it’s taken me this long to get here. Sure, I recognised a handful of tracks and appreciated ‘Twice’ like any other half sane human, but it’s taken me 23 years of life to appreciate the delightful variety of this little group of Swedes. No two songs sound too similar, and no song is even mildly uninteresting. I’ve been listening to their old albums non-stop this year, and have curated three different shortlists based on the mood I’m in just from one artist – if only I was this committed to my thesis. I am just so excited at the prospect of having yet another full-length album from them in the coming year, and the number of singles that they’re releasing sure suggests that something is in the pipeline.
For now, there’s the groovy title song from this EP, followed by the trippy ‘In My House’ that is the more sophisticated sonic equivalent of train in an 80s club. However, ‘Timothy’ is just too smooth to not be my favourite. Everything works – the vocals are unsurprisingly unique; nobody can imitate Yukimi Nagano. Meanwhile, the drums offer the perfect playful beat while the steady bass is ideal in its minimalism. The whistling itself shows how confident and comfortable this group is in producing whatever they please, and rightfully so considering they deliver so consistently. Little Dragon is, as always, on top of their game.
2. Florence and the Machine – High as Hope
Heartbreak, heartache, and healing, all wrapped into one big cry-fest of a record. You may not agree but I strongly believe Florence was a little off their game until this album, and this has just taken them to a high that I don’t think they’ve hit since their early days. The indie rock sound has simmered down to make way for Welch’s incredible voice to take centre stage, deservingly so. The lyrics are tear-inducing enough but her voice is art on its own, especially in the cracker opening that is June. ‘Those heaviest days in June, when love became an act of defiance’ – Florence sure as hell knows how to use words better than most, and I could go on forever with lyrics that do justice to the sheer magnitude of living and loving.
‘Sky Full Of Song’ has cradled me through the low points of 2018, whereas ‘Hunger’ is joyfully life-affirming. ‘Grace’, on the other hand, will absolutely ruin you. I would really not recommend listening to it whilst looking at old holiday photos with a sibling who lives halfway across the world, unless you want to actually induce a new depth to sadness on the emotion scale. I’ll take this chance to include an s/o to my idiot sister who actually refused to listen to this song after I told her that it was Florence’s ode to her sister. The incredible level of soppiness integrated in the silences of this song is a testament to Florence and the Machine’s mastery. With the poetry of their lyrics and the sheer magic of her voice, this album is ironically real in how ridiculously real it is and just an absolute pleasure to listen to.
1. Laxcity – Catharsis
Catharsis is an honest and humble December debut that is best described by the titles of some of the songs that feature on it. It is simple and introverted, but rallies a number of well-suited voices in support. Successfully weaving various vocalists into the album, Mbewe’s distinctive stamp is the expert subtlety and the impressive melodic coherence with which he weaves it all together. As for my favourite song on the record, I’m spoilt for choice. The songs definitely sound best if you immerse yourself and listen to the project as a whole, which shows the amount of thought that’s gone into the creative process in linking the eight songs. The album, teasingly short, is nonetheless a complete work of art, reminiscent of the integrity of XL’s Everything is Recorded, which you heard me rave about at great length back in the day.
Sherry W’s vocals on ‘Catch Me’ are enchanting and surreal, but ‘Changing’ stands out with its clever percussive transitions and invasive bass. Lani Rose is suitably strong, layering ethereal falsettos over the opening rap. These elements are melded together to create a heavenly and cleverly textured song that deserves a spot on the downtempo canon. Finally, ’Catharsis’ and ‘Healing’ are two beautiful instrumental tracks that show restraint and an understanding of layers indicating a maturity far beyond a debut album. What a way to end, this album and this year.