This is going to become a common blog until the end of the year, with many different members taking part. Ben is first up to choose his top three albums of 2018!
It’s been a good year for music, and that’s made the job of picking just three records very hard for me. I’ve decided to go for albums that I thought pushed a band or artist’s sound further than it’s gone before (alongside just being great listens), or I’d never have been able to pick just three. Honourable mentions include Pinegrove’s ‘Skylight’, Johnny Marr’s ‘Call the Comet’ and Mac Miller’s ‘Swimming’. But in no particular order, here’s what I think are the three best records of the year.
Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino – Arctic Monkeys
The Arctic Monkeys’ sixth studio album has been deeply polarizing among their fans. Many who grew up with the Monkeys’ early albums express a deep dislike for the new record, given how different it is from the rough garage feel of the first two LPs. Initially I had the same view, but after multiple listens the album really grew on me and I began to appreciate the unique and interesting world crafted by frontman Alex Turner. I believe ‘Tranquillity Base’ to be a natural and necessary progression from the bland arena rock direction the band seemed to be taking with ‘AM’ and certain cuts on ‘Suck It and See’, and probably the absolute best way the Monkeys could follow their most commercially successful album to date.
The album chronicles the events in and around a hotel and lounge bar on the moon, its taqueria and a band called the Martini Police. It may be some grand allegory holding some greater meaning which mere mortals such as you and I don’t understand, or Turner may have simply wanted to make an abstract collection of artsy bass driven piano ballads. Or maybe he just wanted to be one of the Strokes. Personally, I think it’s the second option.
My favourite cut on the album is probably ‘Batphone’; it’s moody, features an understated but unmistakably groovy guitar line and some of Turner’s best lyricism since ‘Humbug’: “I launch my fragrance called Integrity; I sell the fact that I can’t be bought.” Impressive stuff.
I also love ‘One Point Perspective’; after numerous listens, I have no idea what the song is about, but I know it’s one of the glitziest tracks I can remember hearing for a long time, and features my favourite ever Monkeys’ guitar solo. That’s not to mention Matthew Helders’ amazing drumming: it’s completely understated across the whole album, but the way he accents the other instruments and holds the tracks together is something I haven’t personally heard since Ringo Starr in some of the later Beatles albums.
So, while I can understand why some don’t appreciate the new direction the band has taken with this record, for me it’s certainly the most interesting record of the year. I for one am very glad that the Monkeys didn’t cave to popular demand and release what could have been ‘AM2’, and instead experimented with a new and more out-there sound. The songwriting on ‘Tranquillity Base’ may be abstract, but it’s genuine.
Vide Noir – Lord Huron
American space-folk band Lord Huron’s latest studio album pushes away from the band’s acoustic country/western sounding roots and carves out a heavier, more bass driven and reverb-soaked sound while still maintaining the mystical lyricism which first drew me to them.
All the tracks are recorded in their entirety by frontman and multi-instrumentalist Ben Schneider, and brought to life in the amazing live shows by the band. I’ve seen Lord Huron twice; on the tour for this album and the previous one, and it’s evident that the band are only getting better.
This album, like all of Lord Huron’s full-length records, is a concept album, which means that all tracks revolve around a central theme, topic or musical motif. In the case of ‘Vide Noir’, it’s the Emerald Star which appears on the cover, and which I believe represents the love the narrator feels for the girl who leaves him in the first track, ‘Lost in Time and Space’. The actual story of the record is open to interpretation; it’s clear from the lyrical content of the tracks that the narrator is undertaking a huge journey through various spiritual levels to find his lost love, but it’s also implied through a video released by the band that this is all in his head, caused by his use of the drug Vide Noir. In the end, it’s up to each listener to decide what the record means to them.
My favourite track on the record is the title track, ‘Vide Noir’. It’s French for black void, which can give you some idea as to the lyrical content. The unique way in which the bass and guitar lines meet and part gives this cut a very ethereal, psychedelic feel, which lends itself to the interpretation of the record as a hallucinogenic experience.
I also love the rough, garage rock feel of ‘Never Ever’. The heavy bass line and deeply reverbed double tracked vocals along with the use of the Theremin gives the cut a distant, spacey vibe, and really gives Schneider’s passionate lyrics room to breathe.
The album tells a story far less hopeful than Lord Huron’s previous discography, but the brave new direction taken by the band leaves me very excited for their future.
God’s Favourite Customer – Father John Misty
‘God’s Favourite Customer’ is the fourth full length album released by Father John Misty, the pseudonym of former Fleet Foxes drummer turned singer-songwriter Josh Tillman. The album follows what many consider to be Tillman’s masterpiece; a 74 minute delve into politics, religion, life and death called ‘Pure Comedy’. I found that record to be a little preachy and impersonal; while I appreciated Tillman’s excellent lyricism and willingness to tackle hard topics, I preferred his earlier work, such as the love letter of an album that was ‘I love You Honeybear’.
This explains my love for this newest record; if ‘Pure Comedy’ was a carefully crafted and edited novel of Misty’s thoughts, ‘God’s Favourite Customer’ is his private diary. The record is so much more personal, stripping back the grand statements on the state of the world and looking at Josh’s mental state, drug use, and how it all affected his relationship. For me, this album is a dark mirror of ‘Honeybear’; where the earlier record was hopeful and excited about love, this one is downbeat and sad, which in itself is a statement about how much of a work in progress all relationships are.
My favourite cut on the record is perhaps the title track, in which Tillman talks about his distance from the religion that surrounded him during his upbringing and how he almost longs for it now his life is falling apart: ‘Don’t you remember me? I was God’s Favourite Customer’. The song tackles how religion can be a comfort to those in trouble, but on a much more personal level than anything on Pure Comedy, as you understand Josh’s need for the comfort of religion despite his knowledge that it isn’t real.
I also love the track ‘Please Don’t Die’ – the verses are from the perspective of Tillman, holed up in a hotel room, regretting telling his wife that it was ‘all too much’ the night before, and just generally considering how he got where he is. But the chorus is where the song really shines; this part takes the role of Josh’s wife. It’s powerful and moving to hear Tillman croon ‘you’re all I have left, so please don’t die’, and a strange experience when you realise that he’s playing the part of his wife begging him not to kill himself. It’s a heart wrenching cut, and it’s by far the furthest the listener has been allowed to delve into the mind of Josh Tillman.
‘God’s Favourite Customer’ is a fantastic album; it’s the perfect entry point into the weird world of Father John Misty, and doesn’t feature a bad track.