Turn It Up!
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The Best Rock, Indie and Alternative Albums of 2018
THE final days of the year will see me...
IN THIS PHOTO: Mitski/PHOTO CREDIT: Amber Knecht
combine more traditional pieces with articles relating to the best albums in certain genres. I hope to cover Punk, Pop; Folk, Hip-Hop and Rap soon but, right now, I have been looking at some of the finest Rock, Indie and Alternative albums of this year. It has been a successful and varied year for music and there have been some truly wonderful albums. Here is a selection of incredible Rock/Indie/Alternative records that have helped shape 2018 and should definitely be included in...
IN THIS PHOTO: Parquet Courts/PHOTO CREDIT: Slant Magazine/Getty Images
ALL ALBUM COVERS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images
Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Date of Release: 17th August, 2018
Label: Dead Oceans
Producer: Patrick Hyland
“Be the Cowboy is 14 songs long, only three of which exceed two-and-a-half minutes. This odd but effective structure lets Mitski investigate new styles, commit just long enough for them to stick, then quit before anything becomes a genre exercise. She trades most of the rock heft of her 2016 album Puberty 2 for exhilaratingly manic disco (Nobody), girl-group hypnosis (Come Into the Water) and gothic surrealism (A Horse Named Cold Air) among some straighter, strummier numbers.
Mitski’s songwriting trademarks are strong enough to transcend the stylistic revamp – arrangements that are rich without being precious (Pink in the Night), plus her terrifically mordant worldview. “Nobody butters me up like you,” she sings on twisted country song Lonesome Love. “And nobody fucks me like me.” It is hard to sing at a remove and maintain emotional directness – Mitski is famously private – but like St Vincent or even David Lynch, she specialises in the bait-and-switch of delight and obfuscation” – The Guardian
Standout Tracks: Geyser/Remember My Name/A Horse Named Cold Air
Finest Cut: Nobody
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Date of Release: 18th May, 2018
Label: Rough Trade
Producer: Danger Mouse
“The most pronounced influence, however, is the Minutemen, who in the early 1980s overturned hardcore punk orthodoxy by placing bass, rather than guitar, at the centre of their sound and dabbling in jazz and funk stylings. Indeed, on Violence and NYC Observation in particular, the hollered vocals even recall those of the late D Boon. Lyrically, meanwhile, our tumultuous times have evidently proved an inspiration, as themes of climate change, gun violence and general disquiet abound. But for all the po-faced worthiness of lines such as “collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive”, there are undercurrents of absurdist, tangential humour here, too – and a blunt rejection of Trump-endorsing jock Tom Brady. Wide Awake! might be too scattershot to appeal to a much wider audience, but it does cement Parquet Courts’ position as one of US indie’s more intriguing outliers” – The Observer
Standout Tracks: Mardi Gras Beads/Freebird 2/Wide Awake!
Finest Cut: Total Football
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Date of Release: 11th May, 2018
Producers: James Ford/Alex Turner
“Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino feels like poetic social and fantasy-world commentary penned by Turner, who then fancied having a go at the piano and then brought the whole band in for good measure. Turner is clever and cheeky, as he's been known to be, switching up his singing style from deep to falsetto, and even testing out different tones as he embodies certain characters.
"The Ultracheese" has a vocal melody that recalls Patsy Cline's "Leavin' on Your Mind", and the instrumentation on "The World's First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip" wouldn't be too out of place on Pet Sounds with its reverb and sparse touches of bass and percussion. "Golden Trunks" has a rather unsettling feel, and "Four Out Of Five" may jive best with fans who love the band for their grooves and riffs.
If you're a long-time listener, or someone that was tuned in to AM, you might be prepared to change the dial. But before you write this off as exhausting or pretentious self-indulgence, give it a listen or two. Peruse the lyrics, dissect them and have a laugh. Commitment isn't as scary as you think” – Exclaim!
Standout Tracks: American Sports/Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino/Golden Trunks
Finest Cut: Four Out of Five
Jack White – Boarding House Reach
Date of Release: 23rd March, 2018
Labels: Third Man/Columbia/XL
Producer: Jack White
“But White can knock these out in his sleep. He sounds most fully engaged bending form, as on the time-shifting heavy groove of Respect Commander and squelchy Daft Punk inflected robofunk of Get in the Mind Shaft. The sheer musical exuberance pouring out brings to mind Stevie Wonder and Prince at their most playful.
There is ultimately something sketchy about Boarding House Reach, pulling in so many directions that it suggests rough drafts for more fully formed work to come. But for all that, there are so many rich ingredients in the mix, even misophones should find something to soothe their troubled ears” – The Daily Telegraph
Standout Tracks: Connected By Love/Corporation/Respect Commander
Finest Cut: Over and Over and Over
Anna Calvi – Hunter
Date of Release: 31st August, 2018
Label: Domino Recording Company
Producer: Nick Launay
“The title track carries the graceful, aching melancholy of Bowie in his latter ‘Blackstar’ years, while the simmering brimstone of lead single ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy’ and ‘Indies Of Paradise’ sees Calvi’s message, guitar virtuosity and untethered vocal range all honed together as a knock-out one-two sucker punch. ‘Swimming Pool’ and closer ‘Eden’ carry her knack of Ennio Morricone-sque filmic dreamscapes to a much more realised realm, but are wonderfully anchored by the more primal rushes.
On the firecracker ‘Alpha’, she’s both vulnerable and predatory. On howling album highlight ‘Chain’, she constantly wanders between being girl and boy, revelling in every moment of the chase. This is an album of extremes, but they’re all bridged by bold and fluid movements of an artist refusing to be either man, woman or victim – always the hunter” – NME
Standout Tracks: As a Man/Hunter/Alpha
Finest Cut: Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy
boygenius – boygenius EP
IMAGE/PHOTO CREDIT: Lera Pentelute
Date of Release: 9th November, 2018
Label: Matador Records
“While these tracks may challenge lyrically, in terms of composition, both feel like they could have been taken from their respective solo albums. The long build in ‘Stay Down’ is characteristic of Julien Baker’s 2017 LP Appointments, while the loud/quiet dynamics of ‘Salt In The Wound’ could easily have found a place on Historian. The only track that really bucks this trend is closer ‘Ketchum, ID’. It feels like a more collaborative effort with all three taking separate harmonies and combing to get the most out of their distinctive styles. But where this EP lacks in progression, it makes up for in the strength of the songwriting. The riff on ‘Souvenir’ is endlessly infectious and the repetitive mantra of ‘Bite The Hand’ lingers long in the mind after the chords have ended. While the future of Boygenius may be unclear, we can be all be glad this particular in joke didn’t stay as just that as so many of them do” – Drowned in Sound
Standout Tracks: Bite the Hand/Souvenir/Salt in the Wound
Finest Cut: Me & My Dog
The Spirit of the Beehive – Hypnic Jerks
Date of Release: 14th September, 2018
Label: Tiny Engines
“With the band operating in countless speeds and tones, the vocals also swerve between a handful of styles. The title track opens with Parquet Courts-esque deadpan barks, coherent to the point of almost shattering the band’s illusion, but the song promptly pivots to something less earthbound. When the voices swing more ethereal, the lyrics tend to concern relationships, but even intimacy is seen through a kaleidoscope. The poignant verse-trading and overlapping vocals on “(Without You) In My Pocket” paint two sides of a dissolving romance; brutally honest lines like “I don’t feel compassion for you anymore” are mixed with vignettes of fame and “selling out MSG.” Though remaining enigmatic at their core, the Spirit of the Beehive are starting to let in some light.
On Hypnic Jerks, the Spirit of the Beehive find their home base when exploring open space, jamming with plucky guitar and inviting grooves, a notable shift from the claustrophobic delirium of their last record. Whereas Pleasure Suck unleashed an assault, Hypnic Jerks is content to kick back. Well, mostly kick back; whenever you feel you have a grasp on the record, it deftly changes lanes—music that rewards devotion as you memorize its contours” – Post Trash
Standout Tracks: mantra is repeated/poly swim/hypnic jerks
Finest Cut: nail I couldn’t bite
Cat Power – Wanderer
Date of Release: 5th October, 2018
Label: Domino Recording Company
Producer: Cat Power
“"Robbin Hood," with its vicious cycle of literal and spiritual theft, could have been written in the shadow of the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Conversely, Marshall also incorporates 2010s touches in ways that sound classic and, above all, genuine. On "Woman," she and Lana Del Rey bid a liberating goodbye to others' expectations, their voices combining in an evocation of the spirit of womanhood (although Marshall's confession "The doctor said I was not my past/He said I was finally free" is utterly, poignantly personal). Similarly, she hones Rihanna's "Stay" -- already an unusually naked and free-flowing pop ballad -- to its most soul-baring parts, and its spine-tingling beauty is another testament to the strength it takes to be so vulnerable. As tender as it is uncompromising, Wanderer is exactly the album Marshall needed to make at this point in her career and life. It's some of her most essential music, in both senses of the word” – AllMusic
Standout Tracks: Wanderer/Black/Robin Hood
Finest Cut: Woman
Beach House – 7
Date of Release: 11th May, 2018
Label: Sub Pop
Producers: Beach House/Sonic Boom
“Measuring Beach House albums against one another is tricky—how do you compare daydreams? But on a sensory level, you feel whether the spell is working, and how potent it remains. On 7, all the contrasts that mark their music are dialed up to blinding; you are plunged into darkness and then showered in light. The experience is so enveloping that you find yourself contending, once again, with that familiar itch to locate meaning. The secret at the heart of Beach House’s evocative music remains the same—there is no specific place Legrand wants to take you. But there will always be… someplace you’d rather be. Beach House will always help you dream of it” – Pitchfork
Standout Tracks: Lemon Glow/Dive/Lose Your Smile
Finest Cut: Dark Spring
The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Date of Release: 30th November, 2018
Labels: Dirty Hit/Polydor
Producers: George Daniel/Matthew Healy
“A tone of urgent honesty pulses through the album, a visceral need to connect that shatters the production's glittering surfaces, breaking through with emotional weight on the warped synth ballad Inside Your Mind and the dreamily epic final track, I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes).
"There are no big bands doing anything as interesting as us," Healy, 29, recently proclaimed. It is the kind of rubbish rock stars used to spout all the time, and yet it is oddly reassuring to hear a young, 21st-century frontman in the ring with that old-fashioned bravado, inviting all-comers to take pot shots. Right now, The 1975 are the band to beat” – The Telegraph
Standout Tracks: TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME/Sincerity Is Scary/I Couldn’t Be More in Love
Finest Cut: Love It If We Made It
David Byrne – American Utopia
Date of Release: 9th March, 2018
Labels: Nonesuch/Todo Mundo
Producers: David Byrne/Brian Eno/Rodaidh
“Abstraction abounds on the album, taking familiar forms from the artist’s back catalog: dogs, architecture, idiosyncratic dance moves. As funny as those moments can be (see: “The pope don’t mean shit to a dog”), the headier moments of American Utopia tend to dissipate in the ether. Telling the story of a shooting from the perspective of the bullet is a clever creative exercise, but the album can do, and does, better. What makes that True Stories scene stand out, more than 30 years later, is the way it sidesteps its guided tour to consider the people whose paths the narrator crosses: “People here are inventing their own system of beliefs. They’re creating it, doing it, selling it, making it up as they go along.” Utopia’s a nice thing to believe in, but it’s just an idea. So is America. What lingers is tangible, and personal, and here” – The A.V. Club
Standout Tracks: Gasoline and Dirty Sheets/Dog’s Mind/It’s Not Dark Up Here
Finest Cut: Everybody’s Coming to My House
Natalie Prass – The Future and the Past
Date of Release: 1st June, 2018
“Prass picks and chooses when these moments are allowed to happen. More often, she runs a tight ship; nothing feels out of place, and everything feels very considered. The Fire is probably one of the more conventional tracks on the record, but small vocal tweaks in the second verse and a gorgeous verse-chorus segue make it one of the highlights. Nothing To Say is another pared back affair, maybe unsurprising given it's one of the record's older cuts (you can find clips online of Prass playing it live as far back as 2012) – it's basically a power ballad. Big, chunky piano chords and a coda that deserves to be sung along to with everything you have.
You absolutely can hear the fingerprints of Prass' influences across these tracks, but as well as the Dusty Springfield and Karen Carpenter tones that colour her first record, there's bits of Dionne Warwick, Laura Nyro and Diana Ross. More than that though, you're hearing a songwriter who seems to know exactly what she wants to make, and has all the tools to do that. A glorious, glorious album” – The Skinny
Standout Tracks: Short Court Style/Lost/Nothing to Say
Finest Cut: Oh My