Aside from being the warmest in forty-two years and England winning a penalty shoot-out for the first time since I was nine months old (I don’t remember that one), this summer was a special one personally, not least because it was the first one for which I’d had my own vehicle. Working at an array of music festivals in the south-west – Bestival, Boardmasters and Beautiful Days to name a few- I racked up around 3000 miles of driving across the parched terrain of Dorset and Devon. Best of all, I managed to get a huge amount of listening done, plenty of podcasts, and a good few albums that have all come out in the last nine months. Take a look at the recommended picks among them:
Distant Sky (Live in Copenhagen) EP – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Having gone to one of the many screenings of this staggering concert across the country at the Dundee Contemporary Arts in April, it was inevitable that the four songs released a week ago by the Australian polymath and his troupe – violinist and writing collaborator Warren Ellis needs to be named in his own right – were going to be top of many playlists this last week. From the intimate and abstract songs of his most recent release, Skeleton Tree, to the signatures and favourites of the 15 previous studio albums, this is the epitome of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and should, deservedly, assume a prominent position amid their already extraordinary live output.
Passwords – Dawes
Much has been made of the so-called cultural output of this “post-Trump, post-Brexit, post-truth age.” The sixth studio album of alt-folk, alt-country Dawes seems to have all the hallmarks of a reaction to and a retelling of the current socio-political climate, an album “for and about the modern age” as front-man Taylor Goldsmith labelled it. The four-piece band’s poignant vignettes of the small-town American life are as deftly handled and soothing as in their previous releases, and their ability to craft catchy melodies and expressive words into exceptional songs is second to none.
God’s Favourite Customer – Father John Misty
Yet another studio release from the Seattle-based rocker, who seems to be stuck in a prolific vortex of touring and recording that shows no sign of abating. His sometimes brazen and bold, sometimes delicate and tender attempts to make sense of the world’s, America’s and his own experiences in the 21st century are as lyrically refreshing as ever with theatrical vocals and lavish instrumentation aplenty. If the Father John Misty odyssey makes what would be a welcome return to Scotland this year, thoroughly recommend a trip to see him – a stunning performer.
Hope Downs – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
This Melbourne-based indie rock outfit hit the big time this year with this, their debut full-length album, and “Talking Straight” was named one of BBC Radio 6Music’s songs of the summer in July during those sultry, halcyon days of World Cup glory that feel so far away now. Forceful, authoritative drums beneath self-assured, snappy guitar lines lend an unforgettably retro quality to the spoken word vocals of Fran Keaney and the tracks’ sketches of urban existence. If you’re keen on the War on Drugs, this the distinctively antipodean answer you’ve been looking for.
Goat Girl – Goat Girl
Another rapid rise in 2018 with this self-titled debut album from these post-punk all-female south Londoners, who coincidentally signed their first record deal on the day the UK voted to leave the EU, and politics certainly dominates it. Two years later, cramming 19 songs into 40 minutes, the captivating lo-fi guitar riffs and vocalist Clottie Cream’s resonant lilt make for raucous and volatile listening. Playing in Glasgow towards the end of Independent Learning Week.
Evening Machines – Gregory Alan Isakov
Don’t be put off by the name – he isn’t a Russian classical violinist, but a folk singer. The South-African-born Colorado native returns with his first record for a couple of years, and, despite the absence of his home-state’s symphony orchestra this time round, he’s managed to maintain his knack for supremely crafted instrumentation. His dexterity for description and warm tenor voice chronicle the simple plight of the rural American in a low-key, cosy style, reminiscent of Damien Jurado, and the abundance of rich landscapes in the tracks are no doubt aided by his day job as a horticulturalist. My biggest regret of the semester so far is missing out on a ticket for his upcoming December gig at St Luke’s, Glasgow.
Soil – serpentwithfeet
A suggestion for those well acquainted with other trans-artists like ANOHNI of the Johnsons fame, serpentwithfeet is the R&B equivalent with quivering, experimental vocals fluttering over a range of atmospheric sampling, from Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique to Tchaikovsky, continuing where he left off from his extended play, blisters (2016). An exposition of what it is to be queer, trans and all the rest, and an innovative display of turbulent rage and touching melancholy of relationships.
re:member – Ólafur Arnalds
The gentle and trance-like piano music of this album, perfect for a night in with a book, is another continues the burgeoning tradition of Scandinavian modern classical, ambient electronica composition. Tranquil minimalist patterns seem to mushroom into complex, haunting frameworks of sound. The Icelandic multi-instrumentalist has worked in collaboration with Nils Frahm, who also released a similarly-styled album this year and the two will be playing Usher Hall within a week of each other in the new year.