There are two ways to look back at music in 2018.
On the one hand, and as I hope these lists will prove, it has been a year of wonder. Everything listed here is quite marvellous. Stuff that makes you happy to be alive.
On the other, music may never have been as marginalised, despite being a child of the political 60s. Now Trump, May and countless other leaders ignore the need to stave off global warming and instead form a new axis of selfishness without much of an opposing musical scene taking shape.
There were two great Brexit albums, namely Robert Rotifer’s ‘They Don’t Love You Back’ and ‘Merrie Land’ by The Good, the Bad & the Queen. But two isn’t a crowd, it’s hardly even company. I vaguely remember reading an article by Nick Currie of Momus already back in the 19080s about the rise of unpop (unpopular music, a type of music that sounds very much like it should be popular, except it isn’t). It feels like unpop fragmentation has just continued since then and the idea of a common dream isn’t even on the table.
Greatest album 2018
While not outright political, my top pick for 2018 is an album that makes fragmentation its core idea. Like the soundtrack to a film about a world where humans never regained language capacity after being punished for building the tower of Babel, it is an album where the narrative is pushed to the fore but the narrators have lost the ability to communicate.
It also grinds musical languages such as ambient, experimental, electronic, musique concrète and progressive rock into a garbled whole. The effect is utterly captivating and I have played it almost daily since I got it.
Unfortunately, the album is even more marginalised than everything else. The ridiculously small pressing is long since sold out and right now even the digital download is unavailable. Calling all labels out there – reissue this instant classic right now!!
Sternpost – Anti-clock
12 best albums 2018 (in alphabetical order)
As always, it has been extremely hard to pair down the list and that is why I ended up with twelve rather than the proverbial ten. I just couldn’t make it smaller as everything here is really pure magic. And together with my greatest album pick, that makes for 13 albums this year; my lucky number!
Green Seagull – Scarlet Fever
Homunculus Res – Della Stessa Sostanza dei Sogni
Crayola Lectern – Happy endings
Simon Love – Sincerely, S. Love x
Palm – Rock Island
Papernut Cambridge – Outstairs Instairs
Regal Worm – Pig Views
Sanguine Hum – Now We Have Power
Testbild! – Stad
Cosmo Sheldrake – The Much Much How How & I
Slug – HiggledyPiggledy
Whyte Horses – Empty Words
Best singles 2018 (in alphabetical order)
I only listen to singles when there are no albums so it makes sense that this list should be short. And every artist here has made an album that I really love, not just this year.
With no less than five singles this year, it feels like Ralegh Long really could have made an album – and I hope he will in 2019. I picked one of his singles but all of them are equally amazing.
I should also say that although Beetles isn’t a very good band name, we find Tom O.C. Wilson behind that moniker. I selected his ‘Tell A Friend’ as best album of 2017, and since then, it has only risen in stature. In fact, it is so good that I haven’t even reviewed it, for fear of not being able to do it justice.
Beetles – Finding Fault
Chemistry Set – Firefly / Sail Away
Green Seagull – First Snow Of Winter / God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Ralegh Long – Super Blue Moon
The Wellgreen – Take What You Get / Cynthia Rhymes
Best archival issues 2018
An archival issue, as far as I am concerned, is an album that was never properly released when it was supposed to.
Some years ago, a test pressing of the second and unreleased Honeybus album ‘Recital’ came up for auction at eBay. I put in my bid for £666. Of course I didn’t stand a chance in hell, as someone used a bot and put in a last second winning bid at £667. After 45 years this Byrds influenced yet quintessentially English baroque pop classic is now finally officially released.
Equally amazing is the story about Zuider Zee, who like Monty Python’s classic ‘Life of Brian’ movie were born in the bunk next to Big Star. Although they put out a fantastic self-titled album that has been criminally ignored to this day, 2018 saw the release of earlier studio recordings that are every bit as classic. As the story goes, Zuider Zee main man Richard Orange cried when he found the recordings after not having known of their exitence for decades. And they are in fact good enough to make any listener cry.
Honeybus – Recital
Zuider Zee – Zeenith
Best reissues 2018
Many other reissue lists have the Beatles ‘White album’ at the top. While that is my favourite Beatles album and I did pre-order it, I wasn’t really overwhelmed by its contents, simply as great as expected.
What did catch me totally off-guard, however, was the release of the rumoured double album version of ‘Red Rose Speedway’ by Paul McCartney and Wings. Macca played the underdog after the Beatles, and unfortunately ‘Red Rose Speedway’ was whittled down to a single album due to what might have been lack of confidence.
Personally, I grew up with ‘Ram’ and still use it as the yardstick to measure everything else, so while I never held ‘Red Rose Speedway’ in the same regard, it is fascinating to hear the album in its full glory, complete with ‘Ram’ outtakes.
But if you really want to talk about underdogs, you should look no further that Fickle Pickle. Despite making the most intelligent pop music in Britain after the Beatles – and before 10cc – their album ‘Sinful Skinful’ didn’t even get a British release. But now, pop historian David Wells have put things right with a massive three CD reissue of the album. Just wish he would have included the Morgan Superstars hits cover album as well to make things really exhaustively complete…
Fickle Pickle – A Complete Pickle
Paul McCartney & Wings – Red Rose Speedway
Best compilation 2018
If there is one song that captured everything about the impending end of the 1960s, it must be ‘Fading Yellow’ by Mike Batt. Although compiler David Wells have elected to go for another Mike Batt track on this compilation, everything else here is basically essential for anyone who wants to get a feeling for the vacuum created in the wake of the Beatles. In fact, what we get here are bedroom symphonies that point towards the fragmentation that this article started with. So, by listing this as the final essential release of 2018, I have now come full circle.
Come Join My Orchestra: The British Baroque Pop Sound 1967-73
See you in 2019!
With that I would like to wish you a great new music year! As it happens, the Lost Crowns album will feature in my 2019 lists a year from now and is already up for pre-order. Get on, go out, buy one, you know why and you know how!