JANUARY is far closer than intended and the days are running out before the ice rink and the (still) disturbing green goblin vanish from outside my flat.
So time for another couple of traditions for this time of year – this blog’s end-of-year best album post and the excuses for not posting it earlier.
The New Year’s Day state of the nation post will complete the trinity of Travel Marmot traditions (hopefully without being delayed far longer into 2019 than was intended, one annual favourite that needs avoiding).
The excuse for tardiness was pretty simple and frustrating – especially as most of this best of 2018 list and the appropriate links were sorted a couple of weeks ago. The normal download bonanza after scouring various end of year lists was delayed by a laptop constantly grinding to a standstill, so a few of the late entries may yet move further up the list. Or vanish altogether.
So what do we make of 2018? Seen a couple of reviews claim it had been a year packed full of great albums, but not sure about that.
There has been a lot of good albums, just not sure there has been too many approaching great status. How many will still be on regular rotation in a year’s time or longer?
And there is not one standout – for the first time since doing this on Travel Marmot, there’s not one clear winner (the 2016 list did not pick an album of year, but American Band by Drive-By Truckers emerged as the unrivalled number one.
So it’s a top two. Neither of them reinvent the wheel – one essentially a jingly-jangly indie guitar offering, the other best classified as punk – but both do them with a lightness of touch and reliance on bloody good songs. And there’s not much wrong with that.
Albums of the Year
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
The Melbourne five-piece rely on a pretty simple template – solid, if fairly unwavering, rhythm section over which three guitarists/vocalists weave any number of patterns that head off in any number of directions but always seem to complement each other.
A debut album – albeit one that has had a fairly lengthy gestation – crammed full of cracking songs, An Air Conditioned Man, Mainland, Time In Common and the summery Cappuccino City among others.
Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Rolling Blackouts had top spot tied up for much of the year but the argument for Idles just became too strong to ignore.
In many ways it is angry young men with guitars raging against… well, what have you got? But it is done with wit, intelligence, no little charm and, tellingly, any number of great songs.
Several standouts – and each end-of-year list seems to have picked a different one, while strangely ignoring the wonderfully snarling Television – but Danny Nedelko is up there challenging for song of the year. And possibly most thrilling Later… performance since At The Drive-In.
Not Really An Album of the Year
Boygenius – Boygenius EP
Regular readers will know my ongoing (mild) obsession with Phoebe Bridgers. She didn’t follow up her wonderful debut Stranger in the Alps, which made the upper reaches of last year’s list, but provided some excellent left-field covers (check out her version of Teenage Dirtbag). And this.
Teaming up with fellow rising singer-songwriters Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus to form an indie supergroup of sorts, they each took two songs into the studio and combined their very different styles to form one excellent whole.
And Bridgers’ Me & My Dog should be on any song of the year list.
Honourable mention in this category to last year’s top dogs Public Service Broadcasting’s White Star Liner EP.
The Always Reliable national treasure of the year
Half Man Half Biscuit – No One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut
In a country seemingly hellbent on tearing itself apart and losing any sense of perspective, it is good to know that some things can still be relied on as a sort of national pride.
It is not, as some claimed, among their very finest but Nigel Blackwell’s spot on skewering of hipsters in Every Time A Bell Rings and clueless contestants in Knobheads on Quiz Shows are about the most telling analyses of modern times as you will hear anywhere.
Honourable mention for Mogwai’s Kin.
The Surprisingly Good Comeback of the Year
Buffalo Tom – Quiet and Peace
Didn’t see this one coming from a band once described in one of my reviews for a paper as “the Norwich City of Premier League guitar bands”. That rather dates it but, after both disappeared from view, Buffalo Tom appear to be ahead of the Canaries in revisiting those levels.
Honourable mention for The Breeders – All Nerve
It’s Good But… Of The Year
Low – Double Negative
I’ll throw Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts in this category, but purely by dint of how high it appears in so many lists it has to be Low. It’s OK, but been told more than once it needs several more listens as a whole to really appreciate – that just sounds a little bit too much like hard work.
Time for a rethink of the year
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
The second album from Melbourne on the list and once almost consigned to the previous category – good, just not as good as previous efforts from a past obsession.
But went back on the basis of a couple of tracks dropped on a playlist and there’s reward for sticking with it. Maybe the Low fans have a point.
Ridiculously Young, Ridiculously Good Award
This one is shared, courtesy of the plethora of really good albums from young, female artists and groups this year. Barnett and Boygenius could easily have been in here as well, but think we’ve already got enough claiming the spoils.
Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy add to the singer-songwriter quotient, Goat Girl outdid so much of the indistinguishable lads with guitars that make up much of today’s indie landfill while Let’s Eat Grandma have moved on from their hugely-promising debut, continuing to provide something different and more ideas in one song than most bands manage in an album (which is, mainly, a good thing).
Snail Mail – Lush
Goat Girl – Goat Girl
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Soccer Mommy – Clean
And worth checking out (or in need of greater air time now the problem downloading them onto my iPod actually appears to have been sorted)…
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Lucy Dacus – Historian
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – Live from the Ryman (OK, the songs aren’t new and not a huge fan of most live albums, but many Isbell tracks come alive out of the studio – Cover Me Up heading to a whole new level).
Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
Dream Wife – Dream Wife
The Orielles – Silver Moment
Yawn – Bill Ryder-Jones
Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg
Colter Wall – Songs of the Plains
John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
Camp Cope – How To Socialise & Make Friends
The Not Actually This Year Discovery of the Year
Five Eight – Songs for Saint Jude
Nothing new, but in a year without anything new by The Drive-By Truckers and The Hold Steady, this filled the Americans playing guitars like they are performing in the corner of a dive bar hole. Even if it was from last year.
The album missed the list (worth a listen though, if only for driving me back to some old stuff and a brief obsession with all three parts of The Crane Wife) but they summed up much of the world in 2018 pretty well.