Does Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino make the cut?
Welcome to our 2018 recommended smooth grooves, atmospheric electronica, guitar heroines and heroes, hip-hop, poetry, rock and indie jangle joy. Over twenty-one moods, in no particular order.
editors Ngaire Ruth & KitKat – feature pic design KitKat – copy editor Dominique De C
Jack Pritchard – IDLES Samaritans.
It’s such a good commentary on toxic masculinity, one of the most important albums of the year, I think.
Ngaire Ruth – Big Joanie Sistahs
BANG! That’s it. Music is power in so many ways. One loud listen to the single ‘Fall Asleep’, which weirdly is in no way soporific and life seems hopeful and that simple. Thankfully, now there’s a whole debut album, Sistahs, so the Big Joanie effect is longer lasting.
Music is the message and DIY is the answer but until this catchy single and the remarkable, critically acclaimed debut album, I have adored and respected Big Joanie from the periphery of my world for a different reason: they are writing their own story before someone else does. They are so thorough, work so hard yet they don’t give up because it’s shit being in an indie band.
I can literally copy and paste the blurb that goes with their social media and music media links.
“Inspired by The Ronettes, Nirvana, Breeders and Jesus and Mary Chain, Big Joanie have described themselves as being “similar to The Ronettes, filtered through ’80s DIY and Riot Grrrl with a sprinkling of dashikis.””
On a recent first tour to Europe, the van died and they had to crowdfund whilst standing in a ditch on the motorway in nowheresville, to cover the cost of the parts and mechanics. Who wouldn’t have gone home or got drunk and decided to have a different kind of adventure? Who wouldn’t have called the bank of mum and dad? And here’s another thing: each member is involved in journalism, art, activism, champions of other bands by playing in them, or promoting them, or maybe running someone’s else’s merch stall for a night. (We all had great role models. One of them, Debbie Smith, ex Echobelly and Curve, and a favourite guitarist of mine, features in this video, as DJ and generally larking around person. *)
Sophia – Tamino Amir
His voice is unmatchable.
Ngaire Ruth – Kojey Radical ‘Water’ the track
Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow poetry and hip-hop, that’s saying something. Highly recommended.
Hamish – Axel Enderlin ‘Seduction’ single (words taken from new artist profile and EP review @ www.justoneopinion.com)
A sound hit my ears, so vibrant and low-fi that I thought I feared I’d fallen through a wormhole into the ’90s, and all I had with me was a pair of sneakers, my big sweatshirts and a sense of growing nostalgia.
Bedroom Pop has risen suddenly and swiftly out of an over-produced music industry just to say “Fuck you”, and instantly awaken my, and many other 20-something’s long-dormant teenage rebellion. The scene started from the bedrooms of artists such as Clairo (‘Pretty Girl’) and Boy Pablo (‘Every time’) and has now taken on a life and look of its own – composed of pastel colours, ambient synth notes and a heavy dose of cheeky sarcasm.
The trend has now exploded upon the underground music scene, carving out its territory and proclaiming its leaders: Rex Orange County, Clairo, and Boy Pablo. All three have achieved a large amount of success in the past year and Rex Orange County, in particular, has achieved mainstream success, appearing on the Jimmy Fallon Show (Drees, 2018), endorsed by artists such as Tyler the Creator, and launching a massive U.S. Tour ( Gantt, 2018)
I was going to ask Axel Enderlin why he made music, but then I heard it.
‘Seduction’, starts soft and quiet, with the crackle of an electric guitar, and a sound that can only be described as static. He mixes French and English seamlessly, raised above by a constant stream of lyrics which wind around each other. The song is only 2 minutes and 24 seconds long, but still, I feel the sadness, the slow ache, the tenderness and longing contained within the voice of a man torn between his reality and his desire. His lust. His seduction.
Axel Enderlain was born in France before moving to Belgium at the age of two – he began playing music when he was nine because he wasn’t much into sports “Mum was like: well then you must be a musician!”. Axel moved to London to study music business at ACM, an interesting move by a solo artist, but to him, it was essential.
Alex – Alice in Chains Rainier Fog
Alice in Chains has come full circle. After all the tragedies, losses, changes, they recorded their latest album where it all began, in Seattle. The title itself, Rainier Fog, references the gloomy Washington capital. And just like Seattle, the album is as rainy, foggy and doom-ridden as one would assume.
I don’t think anyone should ever expect the band to change, any chance for evolution died when Staley did. Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the fact that they are keeping a piece of the 90s alive. Jerry Cantrell, the darkest of all riff-creators, does not disappoint (or surprise). Some would argue that the songs – albums even, ever since the DuVall period began – are derivative, that they all tend to mesh into one cloud that hangs over you and reminds you that there is no escape from the rain. I will not argue with that. But I don’t think, in their case, it’s a bad thing.
Some people want constant freshness, variety, moving forward musically; which is perfectly reasonable. Meanwhile, others need a link to the past, they need the continuous shower of rain to maintain their faith in what was once sacred which is what Alice in Chains are able to provide.
Rainier Fog is nothing new, nothing significantly more interesting than anything the band has done before. But, I can assure you, it is a quintessential, bona fide Alice in Chains album, and I don’t think we should dare to expect anything else from them. DuVall, like a first-class actor, keeps Staley’s spirit alive without mimicking him, the guitar riffs sting us like slow and haunting flashes of lightning, and the harmonies between him and Cantrell take us back to the deepest pits of the underworld, where – who knows? – the original Junkhead might be listening.
Ngaire Ruth – The Charlemagnes Three Chords And A Half Truth
Rock legends, in a punk-garage, racing rocking way. Sample the album to buy on Bandcamp.
Sam Cross – Beans on Toast A Bird in the Hand
Refreshing yet familiar, a coming of age record.
Dominique De C – HAERTS – Compassion (taken from the album review Music Meets Art, Art Meets Music).
The duo released this in October 2018, sticking with their sole intentions to their roots of indie folk with synthy undertones and anthemic instruments. It opens up with atmospheric ‘No Love For The Wild’ which amplifies Nini Fabi’s beautiful voice. You get hit with a growing phase of spirituality and contentment. The album protrudes folk and indie elements which captures your childhood innocence and unsure of adulthood.
Ben Caldon and Rowan Burnham – Hockey Dad ‘I Wanna Be Everybody’ single
The band name implies a sense of humour and self-awareness about this most excellent Australian two-piece – and hooray, it’s a theme (this year’s album is called Blend Inn).
Hockey Dad plays catchy indie riffs that you wanna hang out with; the dreamy vocals lull you into an immediate sense of contentment and mood to chill.
Not just traditional indie, part of the new evolution of a band that achieves a wall of sound using less and fewer band members, and instead make their equipment work for them. Think Royal Blood with an indie twist.
KitKat – BTS ‘Idol’ & Let’s Eat Grandma ‘Hot Pink’
Two very different songs from two very different artists but both commenting on screwed up social norms and people expecting too much or too little from artists. That’s either because they’ve had some success in the past (and therefore must work inhumanly hard without sparing a thought for their own mental health), or are young women who clearly aren’t as musically capable as men… Er, right.
BTS are the first (and as of yet only) South Korean artist to break America with a sell-out tour. Having frequently been compared to The Beatles and well surpassed anything One Direction ever achieved (please don’t compare them, ARMY – their fanbase – will not be impressed), they are clearly an artist you should be well aware of before 2019. And that’s before I even get onto Jungkook and his vocals! (Never get me talking about BTS)
On the other hand, I would be quite surprised if you’d ever heard of Let’s Eat Grandma. They are two young women who are not scared of experimentation and proudly admit to being precariously placed on the line between inspired and a headache. While you may not already know them, they are definitely someone to watch.
George Curnick – Froth ‘Turn It Off’
A dramatic, surf rock song with enough reverb to last a lifetime.
Ngaire Ruth – Hysterical Injury ‘Mother Rain single (with Kayla Painter Remix)’
Annie Gardiner doesn’t just play the bass guitar, she plays with the bass guitar. There are no rhythm or lead guitar in The Hysterical Injury, just brother Tom’s drums and Annie’s vocals and bass. This is the band that has me pacing the floor about alternative music again. Listen to more than the one song. You’re welcome.
Rowan Burnham – Johnny Marr ‘Hi Hello’
The Smiths’ ex-guitarist returns this year with his latest solo album, Call the Comet. Lead single ‘Hi Hello’ features socially conscious lyrics and lush, chorus-drenched soundscapes; layers of guitar and synth melt away the borders and float you along.
As ever with Marr, the hooks are the order of the day, songs that get straight to the point and grab you. Self-plagiarism is evident in the instrumental section, the strings mimicking ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’; the pathos is undeniable.
Ben Caldon – FEET ‘Backstreet Driver’ single
The band who, when you type their name into google, bring up some slightly questionable images.
The Coventry band of five create easy to listen to indie songs that hit hard with bouncy guitars, mesmerizing melodies and Pulp-esque vocals. These sometimes include moments of monotony which fits perfectly with the instrumentation.
FEET are releasing a new album next year currently titled Feetnado, and are going to embark on a “Tour-nado” alongside it, which I am personally very excited about.
Ngaire Ruth – Salad ‘The Selfishness Of Love’ single
I miss indie clubs. I miss being in a totally safe place with all my ambitious, creative friends, (e.g. with the geeks and freaks), and suddenly being inspired to launch myself onto the dance floor with joy and abandon because a truly catchy indie pop song has arrived. I started working full time for the Melody Maker in 1989 (until its sad demise in the 2000s), I had plenty of opportunities to indulge in this behaviour.
The dance is this: free-flowing swagger, then twirl, resume position and sway, Kate Bush raised arms, then look up, embrace anybody else who is on the same channel, within arms reach, and join in on the chorus.
Salad’s ‘The Selfishness of Love’ has brought this happy dance back into my life – if not my whole ’90s lifestyle. It’s their first release for 21 years, an album is scheduled for the new year. One of my favourite guitarists, Charley Stone, recently joined this band. Just saying. I love it when she rocks out.
Isabel Peckett – DMA ‘For Now’
Another Australian indie outfit that’s tugging at heartstrings this year. Singer, Tommy O’Dell is so different, he looks like he’s in The Streets and there is a tinge of Oasis song-sensibility here – if the Oasis brothers were as cool as the members of Doesn’t Mean Anything (yes, that’s the ace band moniker).
I work to this, walk to this, cry with this and wonder what the new year brings for DMA’s. I’ll be waiting.
Rowan Burnham – Anne-Marie ‘2002’ single
Anne-Marie’s gently acrobatic melody, punctuated by highly accurate, staccato guitar arpeggios, propel through this trip through nostalgia-tinted glasses. The track is sprinkled with more than a cursory nod to the early noughties: the lyrics reference many other song titles and lyrics from the early Noughties, such as Britney’s ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. Ed Sheeran’s influence is very evident here – he co-wrote it.
Nik Cockshott – Oscar’s Drum Degenerate Art
This year I have mostly adored Degenerate Art by Oscar’s Drum, mainly because I have recently realised that the common denominator with all the music closest to my heart is that it makes me feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff in a storm with my arms spread wide, lightning flashing all around me, and I’m smiling wryly at the horizon while getting totally soaked. This album does this a lot. Below ‘Hotel’ off DA.
Ngaire Ruth – Peluche ‘To Be A Bird’ single
Hippies burn sage to clear the atmosphere, I play this:
I’m very partial to chill out and/or experimental electronica, and dance music with a dip (for hip swing). Best club track for me is nothing like that though, a complex beat monster with African, Latin beats making hay: These Machines, ‘Martina’ featuring Rafael Berrio.
The Z (generation) is having the most fun – and getting a lot done. The vibe is Latin, funk, jazz, hip-hop, soul and psychedelia. There are stars, and they’re all collaborators; who flip a coin for who’s going on first, or during, or for the encore. They talk, rather than set about networking and know how to play their instruments; listen to old and new, and play with old and new (saw Damon Albarn discretely playing keyboards in a jam @ Ghost Notes, Peckham this year). They’re proper cool. No one stares. They smile, nod at anyone. Sway serene. Names? Jo Arman Jones (Crooked Man), Kaidi Tatham (Midlife), Nubya Garcia, Kate Tempest. Kamal Williams.
Ngaire Ruth – Kamal Williams this years’ album, The Return. This:
Picture this; a man, sitting at an outdoor piano surrounded by Aussie bush, sun gleaming down on his golden locks. This is how I imagine Matt Corby writing Rainbow Valley and no one will convince me otherwise.
Alex – Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
What can you do when you’re tired of hooks and yearning for a story to tell, or, at least, for another movie reference to share with the world? Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino is Alex Turner’s long and winding road towards a lyrical cul-de-sac. I believe it to have become his signature by now – enumerations, speech enjambments (now imagine Turner actually pronouncing ‘enjambment’ in a song, with that over-everything style of his), following The Story to such an extreme that the melody goes a little bit haywire. The band went from being curious teenagers to embodying martini policemen, flying around in 80s-like, kitsch batmobiles, and the music followed. I must admit, TBH+C took some getting used to. Somewhere at a point where the rhythm of the songs got marginalised into the slurry, sulky soliloquies, incoherent and oh so slow, I accepted that this – the ironic pretentiousness; or not so ironic, or not so pretentious? – is one of the things that makes the band, and the album, so fascinating.
It is a confusing piece of work, letting us inside Turner’s mind’s eye, and the music only amplifies the feeling of lazy helplessness caused by the dichotomy of just wanting to be one of The Strokes and actually being like one of The Strokes. Fame still being superfluous; technology still being deceptive. Arctic Monkeys seemed to have outgrown the audience. “You push the button and we’ll do the rest,” as Alex quotes the Kodak ad, which is followed by a rhythm not everyone is inclined to decipher. Is that mockery? A warning? Contempt? Whatever it is, I’m drawn.
TBH+C is not an obvious musical masterpiece, but I believe it to be a fresh representation of our times, ‘lounging’ in money and luxury, and looking at the world from a distance, a hotel/casino situated in space because one is simply not in a position to do it otherwise. Whether it’s because you are too rich or too human is a matter of interpretation.
And, just saying,
The freshness of youth matched with accomplished guitar tunes.
Not to mention
Jonathan Bree Sleepwalking
Gyda Valtysdottir Evolution
And yet more lushness, JFDT ‘Gravity’ the single
Superchunk – What A Time To Be Alive
Pete Astor – One For The Ghost
Monochrome Set – Maisieworld
Salad Boys – This Is Glue
The Total Rejection – Wrapping Yourself In Silver Foil Won’t Save You From The Blast
The Rightovers – Die Cruisin’
D.A. Stern – Aloha Hola
Davey Woodward & The Winter Orphans – S/T
The Love-Birds – In The Lovers Corner
Holy Tunics – Butter Dish
Smokescreens – Used To Yesterday
Happy New Year.
Add your opinion and recommends in comments, thank you kindly.