Unsung ’18

10 Great Albums You Missed From 2018

The Beths Future Me Hates Me, Carpark 2018

The Beths 

Future Me Hates Me

(Carpark)

The verse-chorus-verse album of the year knocks you sideways with the harmonies of that dog., the Glaswegian liquidity of Teenage Fanclub and the anachronistic engine roar of Charly Bliss. Allo Darlin’ were fantastic, but they weren’t loud like this. There shouldn’t be a band alive who isn’t jealous of at least four things here, whether it’s the jangle-town intro of “Whatever” or the ecstatic drumrolls “Little Death” works up to, or (especially) the sugar-shot “ohhh-ohhhh” chorales of “Happy Unhappy.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t. But there shouldn’t be.  

 

 

Young Fathers 

Cocoa Sugar

(Ninja Tune)

This long-deserving trio of originals has felt unsung even after they won the Mercury Prize in 2014, but maybe that’s just the ripple effect of their gift for the sticky miniature, which sounds slightly less offhanded and thus a little more deliberate on their fourth great collection in almost as many years. Listening to a Young Fathers album still feels like eavesdropping on a writing session between gospel singers, dubmasters, and Tricky, basement demos that can’t possibly sound finished of ditties like “In My View” and “Lord” that sound classic before they’re even polished for prime time. Even better are “See How” and “Tremolo,” which exploit studio effects like a toddler assembling a Nintendo Labo. You hear the love in these tune-strips, but you also hear the play.

 

 

Elza Soares

Deus é Mulher

(Deckdisk)

At age 81, samba legend Elza Soares makes music more bracing and exciting than virtually any contemporaneous legend you could name. Nelson? Dylan? Cohen and Bowie’s final bows? Not even close. 2016’s A Mulher do Fim do Mundo was whirlwind of furious weirdness out of nowhere to alt-leaning statesiders. This follow-up is a touch slicker, more electronic, with Pere Ubu keyboards zapping each way, and tunes like “Credo” that stomp furiously rather than explode. The title means “God Is Woman,” petition Ariana to bring her on tour.

 

 

Jon Hassell

 Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)

(Ndeya)

The star of Eno’s most unsung Possible Musics (which he argues wasn’t Eno at all), treated-trumpeter Hassell sounds like no one else and has given texture a good name since the early 80s. But this startling constellation of Oneohtrix Point Never-cum-Jon Hopkins blips and washes and rattles of found-percussion-off-in-the-distance may be his actual best since Possible Musics, which the second half of “Slipstream” evokes mysteriously and fondly. In fact, the twitchy glitch spaghetti here beats both of the two above-named electronicists’ 2018 albums, and he’s the same age as Elza Soares.

 

 

Tropical Fuck Storm

A Laughing Death in Meatspace

(Mistletone)

Let’s say you found that Idles thing a little too barreling in its toxic-masc bona fides, a little too insipid with its Harry Potter/Nancy Sinatra/Katy Perry non-sequiturs, a little too close to Savages without the crafty bassist to balance out the unfun. Well, these Drones alumni are just as corrosive and far more unpredictable, like a faction of the Mekons that never relaxed enough to discover folk music. No one sounds like their guitar onslaught, a middle-Easterm scale grunge that gives these non-anthems their careen and weight on malfunctioning-chainsaw dirges like “You Let My Tyres Down” and “Antimatter” where every note has a sour bent. Come to think of it, they could be an alternate-timeline My Bloody Valentine, too — if you just switched out Kevin Shields for Marc Ribot. “Your politics ain’t nothing but a fraud, fuck you” is a cathartic chant we can all co-opt for 2019.

 

 

Flasher

Constant Image

(Domino)

As D.C. kids and Pizzagate survivors, they’ve not only picked up their hometown scene’s knack for decentered hooks and oblique slogans, but they also know something about the proximity to corruption. The interlocking call-response of “Material” beckons to “clutch the liminal” when you can’t “clutch the physical,” while the early-R.E.M. rush “Who’s Got Time” (“for the shit that you take”) is as succinct a crappy-relationship threnody as you’ll find in the alt-rock canon. “Skim Milk” calls out “listless entropy,” and oh, the very last line on the record is “what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” If they resemble an even more concise Imperial Teen, that’s because they don’t sound certain they’ll see 2020. But they write choruses that will.

 

 

Shopping

The Official Body

(FatCat)

This simple-enough British trio has pogoed along for three albums now as if the B-52’s’ Ricky Wilson was in Pylon instead, dispensing one surfed-up dancepunk riff after another on 2013’s Consumer Complaints and 2015’s automatic encore Why Choose. The 2018 edition adds heft to Rachel Aggs’ brilliantly spindly vamps and Billy Easter’s chest-punching bass, courtesy of Orange Juice’s Edywn Collins behind the boards. They didn’t change much. But you can feel them solidifying, putting down roots. Which doesn’t impede the movement one step.

 

 

The Mekons 77

It Is Twice Blessed

(Slow Things)

If you think Trump gets Taylor Swift heated, you can only imagine the fury of folk-punk’s original Marxists, who’ve invited the original singers back, Andy Corrigan and Mark White, to relay the sheet-metal industrial sentiments of “You Lied to Us” and “Not in My Name” while they attempt to unload all the foam in their mouths. An opening salvo like “Healey Wavin’” may ride aboard a classic Jon Langford chunk of chordage, but most of this unexpected triumph is herky-jerk Pink Flag homage to make Colin Newman and cohort proud. “This is history,” indeed.

 

 

Bat Fangs

Bat Fangs

(Don Giovanni)

The unofficial sequel to Ex Hex’s near-perfect triangulation of glam-rock, power-pop and Stiff Records in 2014 is another nine songs that sound exactly like “Fox on the Run” with perhaps a notch more crunch. Ex Hex’s Betsy Wright takes the wheel without Mary Timony this time, and virtually nothing is lost, just trade the astonishing “How’d You Get that Girl” for the excellent “Bad Astrology.” And now that we know a real Ex Hex follow-up is on its way, we can appreciate Bat Fangs for what it is without the absurd expectations it manages to meet anyway. Theme song: “Rock the Reaper.” Summer anthem: “Boy of Summer.”

 

 

Speedy Ortiz

Twerp Verse

(Carpark)

Sadie Dupuis continues to match her pointed unsettlements with bent-up hooks, melding the exhortations of her trusty axe with the buzzing synths of her solo bedroom-pop dreams. She commands respect from men ruining her bus ride, men ruining her sound check, men flashing unearned bro-ship credentials. All of them get taught, few will learn. But she’s still raising the skate, even on the relatively benign (and gorgeous) “Lucky 88.”

 

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