The 12 best overlooked albums of 2018 (so far)
From an ambient legend to punk newbies, discover the music that deserves a second listen
Released in March, this debut album from the London-based multi-national eight-piece is much more than the sum of its constituent parts. It’s the result of what happens when music obsessives from across the world meet up and swap/trade tracks via online forums. It’s also the result of what occurs when songs are formed by people with no agenda other than to have a bit of fun. The nerd aesthetic versus the natural bent of the creative mind? So far, so contemporary.
There is, however, an empirical truth in pop music which states that any group with more than five members never finishes the race – this could mean that Superorganism (the band) might not be here this time next year. In any case, Superorganism (the album) will be here for much longer. The songs are outstanding specimens of highly accessible synth-pop that mooches its way into the zeitgeist while hitching a lift with the millennial generation. TCL
Natalie Prass: The Future and the Past
It has taken some time for Natalie Prass to follow up her 2015 self-titled debut album. To all intents and purposes, it seemed as if that album’s good luck charms had all but dissipated in the intervening period, but the truth is that Prass’s prolific songwriting streak – she had at least two album’s worth of material standing in line – was gazumped by the US presidential elections and a result predicated on sexism.
Replacing most of the planned material with songs that sketch vivid portraits of the right-here/right-now variety, The Future and the Past plays out like an old-school collaboration between Janet Jackson and Joni Mitchell. Lyrically, Prass is clever enough to raise crucially important points (sexual harassment, domestic abuse, the gender pay gap, political unease, Trump at the helm of the US), but she squares the serious side with music that stretches from classic songwriting (Far from You) to ambitious, wildly lopsided adventure (Ship Go Down). TCL
Brigid Mae Power: The Two Worlds
You could probably go all year without hearing the name “Brigid Mae Power”. In fact, you could probably drift through life remaining blissfully ignorant of the Galway native’s output, but overlook her at your peril. Admittedly, The Two Worlds is for a certain kind of mood on a certain kind of day; its slow-drip nature takes time to percolate and charm its way into your mental playlist, but once it’s there, it’s hard to budge.
Power’s stripped back, wee-hours alternative folk is woozy and beguiling, as heard on languorous opener I’m Grateful and On My Own with You, but there is a snap of defiance amidst the swoonsome love songs, too – as heard on Is My Presence in the Room Enough for You? and Don’t Shut Me Up (Politely). LM
Paddy Hanna: Frankly, I Mutate
Paddy Hanna’s 2014 debut, Leafy Stiletto, saw the Dubliner break free of the unbridled wackiness of his former band Grand Pocket Orchestra to make a record with cohesion, smarts, humour and great melody-driven songs. Frankly, I Mutate also charms. These are nifty, wryly-pitched indie-pop tunes, supplemented by some gorgeous, swooping strings and Hanna’s versatile croon, a concoction of Jarvis Cocker, Morrissey, and Edwyn Collins. Meanwhile, the expansion of his musical palette gives this record a richness and depth.
It’s an album that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but there are personal songs in there, too; Mario Lanza touches on his dad’s illness, while others hint at the mental health problems that he has been open about in the past. LM
Wolfgang Voigt, aka Gas, has been at the vanguard of the Cologne minimal techno scene since the beginning of the 1990s and co-founded the illustrious Kompakt label. He’s been highly prolific, releasing music under the pseudonyms Mike Ink, Studio1, MI5 and Love Inc. In 2017, Voigt released Narkopop, his first album Gas album in nearly 17 years.
Rausch (German for “intoxication” or “frenzy”) is Voigt’s sixth album as Gas. It’s a startling state of the world mood piece, combining throbbing ambient techno with a lush instrumentation. Voigt has described his musical forays as an attempt to “bring the German forest to the disco”. Consisting of seven tracks, Rausch functions best as a continuous hour-long piece and a thought-provoking techno soundscape for our times. ES
Goat Girl: Goat Girl
Goat Girl is an all-girl quartet from south London’s vibrant free DIY scene, which has colonised community centres and rooms above pubs in Brixton and Peckham as part of a grassroots reaction to the relentless gentrification of the British capital. These Goat Girls are a very charming, rough around the edges guitar punk outfit, a little like a female version of Fat White Family or Moonlandingz, with shades of The Slits and The Fall, but they’re also very original and unafraid of tackling the taboos and issues of the day.
Burn the Stake lashes out at Theresa May’s Tory regime, while Creep addresses the unwanted attention of a creepy man on public transport. The songs almost fall into the next one like a continuous suite, as Goat Girl shoehorn a whopping 19 tracks into 40 minutes – an exhilarating breath of fresh air in a stagnant and stultifying UK indie scene. ES
Forth Wanderers: Forth Wanderers
The best guitar album of the year so far is loaded with songs riddled with young adult angst that you can only understand if you’re young enough to still sweat under the collar when stepping up to an off-licence counter – or you’re an elder still in tune with the awkwardness of youth. This is music that plays like the soundtrack to an American teen movie you’ve never seen. It’s indie rock with a 1990s bent, suitable for spinning through one side of a cracked old C-90 cassette tape.
Taste is a song about a sloppy tongue-kissing session, while Nevermine captures post-break-up defiance. The best song, though, is Ages Ago, the tuneful guitar licks scoring singer Ava Trilling’s emotive, shaky larynx as she remembers the blurry details of a relationship ending – the colour of the coat they were wearing, the fresh trim they were sporting. It’s a hell of a thing to make the awfulness of youth sound this desirable. DvN
Westside Gunn: Supreme Blientele
Alongside his comrades in the New York collective Griselda Gang, Westside Gunn has been making some of the planet’s toughest street rap. This is vicious music. As cold and hard as the barrel of a pistol but with a level of high-end craftsmanship, Supreme Blientele encapsulates Gunn’s incredible artistry.
Eternally entranced by professional wrestling, Gunn draws inspiration from it throughout the record. He wisely dropped the original title, Chris Benoit, though repeatedly references the wrestler who murdered his wife and son before committing suicide in 2007.
Instead, the name pays homage to Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele. The Wu-Tang Clan rapper and his compatriots remain Griselda Gang’s most obvious forefathers. And like Ghost, Gunn loves rapping over prominent samples. See Ric Martel, where he cooks up some cocaine over a loop of The Feminiques’ soul classic (I Know) Time Is Gonna Change.
Showing the dexterity of his writing, the mournful horns of Elizabeth finds Gunn contemplating prison, first welcoming a friend home from a stint and then brooding over the concept of Hell as he sits in his own cell. While on WESTSIDE, he spits over throwback boom-bap drums and quick record scratches, solidifying his bond with the legends of golden age NYC hip-hop. DvN
Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour
In recent years, pop stars have been donning a pair of stetsons in an attempt to channel a more “authentic”, country sound, but when a country star sprinkles some pop on their music, that’s when the real magic happens. On her third album Golden Hour, the 29-year-old country singer Kacey Musgraves from Texas tweaked her sound ever so slightly, taking in a heavy mix of inspiration from the Bee Gees, Neil Young and Sade, which allowed her to cross over into the pop market with ease.
Golden Hour features songs like Butterflies and Velvet Elvis that capture that fluttering and blinding feeling of a new love, while Wonder Woman finds her exasperated by a partner that keeps placing unrealistic expectations on her. High Horse is a disco-country track that makes Kylie Minogue’s country-pop album Golden wither in comparison.
Sensitive, smart and sometimes funny, there’s a fresh-eyed approach to her songwriting, disguised as something soft when really it’s about a young woman that has found strength in herself. LB
Hayley Kiyoko: Expectations
When we have performative pop songs like Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl and the catchy yet mildly problematic Girls by Rita Ora, Charli XCX, Cardi B and Bebe Rexha that use queerness as a shock marketing tactic, it’s refreshing to have Hayley Kiyoko place her own sexuality into her music naturally without adding a wink and a nod. Like Years & Years and Janelle Monáe, she uses the pronouns she wants to use with ease, making her debut album Expectations challenge the status quo.
Over airy electro and R&B beats, Expectations is loaded with lust, envy and frustration. Sleepover capture the torture of sharing a bed with a platonic pal when you want more and on Curious she teases a former lover who is now dating a man. Expectations are both light and heavy, and form the perfect pop album for the Instagram-era of self-discovery. LB
Dick Stusso: In Heaven
Laconic San Francisco Bay Area native Dick Stusso sounds like he has just emerged from an all-night bender into the light of a new dawn and is none too impressed with what he sees. “Modern life is a palace/ Built on endless suffering/I’m standing at the gates/ Pissing in the wind,” he sings on the album centrepiece Modern Music. Heavy? Well, not quite. There is an out clause: “I’m just looking for a good time and a little cash.”
In his slacker countrified take on popular music, for which he enlists influences from country-soul to T-Rex with nods to Keith Richards, Howe Gelb and fellow Californian Chuck Prophet, Stusso cruises along in an engaging lo-fi manner, full of existential woe, droll observations and angled guitar lines.
The songs don’t flow; they stagger from track to track, punctuated by time changes, mood shifts and strategic silences. Yet it all hangs together, bonded by Stusso’s maverick purview. JB
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Years
Country music always walked a thin line between emotions real and contrived, but in recent years it has been so debased by cliché and commercialism that it is sometimes hard to find a reason to believe.
Step forward Ms Sarah Shook. A North Carolina community activist in causes supporting women and LGBTQ rights, along with being a bisexual single mother, Shook does not fit the profile of a Nashville princess. But her edgy, funny songs of living, losing and loving carry the stamp of hard-won experience, as well as a real punch.
She and her muscular band have cowpunk tendencies along with more traditional honky-tonk instincts. Her voice also has a raw unfettered intensity, redolent of early Dolores O’Riordan, as if to say this is not a woman to be taken lightly. But she also can be vulnerable, self-deprecating, and open to questioning her own actions. This is their second album and the 10 tracks pulse with a loose-fitting energy and conviction. JB