Checked out the first batch of best albums of the year?
Good. Here's the concluding half, with ten more excellent releases. Buy them all.
Badbadnotgood & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
The instrumental Stark’s Reality, with its marimba flirting across a ‘70s crime film atmosphere (leaning bass, strings for emphasis rather than tension, shaker percussion more than drums) may be over in not much more than two minutes but its connection to a similar modern film noir soundtrack you would have found on the Portishead album Sour Times is unmistakable. That is extended on the following track, Tone’s Rap, as Ghostface Killah looms over a quietly predatory mood that enters late night streets with pronounced drums suggesting jazz and keyboards turning into guitars suggesting menace.
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Slinking towards Jerusalem with slow country, folk and soul and sex and erudition. Nods to Harry Nillson, Jimmy Webb and old Nashville appear in the baroque arrangements too.
Songhoy Blues – Music In Exile
Malia's Songhoy Blues feel like energy unbound rather than emotion contained, closer to Rokia Traore than Tinariwen. It’s not that they run wilder, faster and faster; they keep their shape and rarely speed away. Nor is it that they are full of searing moments from the guitar; there are touches of those, but really they are as likely to be lyrical as powerful. What we get instead is a sense that at all times there is momentum.
Bjork – Vulnicura
Vulnicura may be less difficult to grasp musically than its predecessors, its strings and subdued tempos balancing the bareboned electronic moments and, save for the flickering shadows of Mouth Mantra, the layered voices mostly eschewed for simple access to a solo vocal.
But it is even more challenging and compelling emotionally. This is a raw record, making it clear that “our hearts are coral reefs in low tide” and damage is being done.
Jess Ribeiro – Kill It Yourself
Ribeiro does not present with an experienced eye on pain, physical or emotional. She is more vague and keener on implication, making the most of Mick Harvey’s suggestive production in the disquieting If You Were A Kelpie as much as the romantic 1950s atmosphere of Strange Game.
Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
Cry For You is busy, computer dance from which emerges typically tender Alexis Taylor verses while Need You Now is a fluid house mover that carries little nuggets of need that detonate in the subsequent slow time soul of So Much Further To Go. Likewise Started Right is the Minneapolis funk (keyboards, falsetto, shoulders-more-than-hips grooves) flip to Easy To Get’s New York style (louche bass, choppy little guitar moments, an all-body-sway) while Huaraches Lights makes late disco eyes at you and Love Is The Future imagines Stevie Wonder as the natural partner
Lucie Thorne – Everything Sings Tonight
Thorne says more in her hushed hushed voice, and in the character-ful and varied drumming of Hamish Stuart – the two dominant elements of this slowly turning, jazz-flavoured album - than in any words. That’s so whether it is the internal turmoil of Room To Burn, the eyes on a fading horizon hopes of Lasseter’s Gold or the deep well of feeling in Up All Night.
Royal Headache – High
As with New Jersey's Gaslight Anthem, with whom they share not just punk roots but a soul spirit that manifests itself in focused rather than inchoate passion, Royal Headache come at you fast and that disorients. It means some will hear punk, and on hearing that, discard and move on. It means that some wanting an easy life will feel uncomfortably pressed to respond because vocalist Shogun isn't just insistent but intrusive.
Daniel Johns – Talk
Talk is a radical departure and yet it isn’t; it’s not at all like him and yet it is exactly him. He’s burnt down the house but he’s built one that is ready for occupation.
Talk is R&B and soul, with falsetto and hushed singing often. It’s electronic and slow to mid-pace, as much in the company of a James Blake or Lorde (whose co-writer/producer, Joel Little, has a hand in two key songs here) as a Frank Ocean and R Kelly.
Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete
Inside, Nashville Obsolete isn’t as archaic as the cover suggests, nor even as barebones as previous Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings Machine albums have been. The opening The Weekend has strings that don’t exactly sweeten but do cushion and in some ways lift, while Short Haired Woman Blues turns those same strings to a bit more tension and hints of disquiet and fiddle and bass bring colour to the heel-toe rhythm of Candy.
However, if not archaic, the people in Bodysnatchers “drinking straight Kentucky brown” over mildly tempered guitar; the narrator in The Last Pharaoh” looking for the titular Egyptian, over rustic picking, so as to “lay him down if I can”; and the anonymous but not faceless people heading away on the train in The Trip, including a woman’s body after “an unspeakable crime”, with “no one waiting for them, no judgement down the line” are not necessarily of this time.