Staff Albums of the Year 2018
Jono (Rough Trade Nottingham)
1. The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices feat. Lisa Gerrard - BooCheeMish
Pretty breathtaking stuff really. This is less sparse than the Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares days, with traditional sharki-style folk instrumentation on most tracks. But it's still an uncanny marriage of earthy and celestial. No music, choral or otherwise, sounds quite like these legendary women.
2. Marianne Faithfull - Negative Capability
Probably the most downcast record she's made since Strange Weather; there's a bit of a sense of finality to this album, which is both beautiful and rather sad. Ruminations on life, death and old friendships - not really a barrel of laughs but Marianne's withered, warm croak makes the whole thing incredibly touching.
3. Meshell Ndegeocello - Ventriloquism
I only just got the cleverness of the title. These covers are almost all R&B and new jack swing hits from the 80s and 90s, some pretty unexpected. The arrangements are inventive but the whole record is tied together by its gorgeous, languid, reverby vibes. Already one of my favourite covers albums ever.
4. Neneh Cherry - Broken Politics
The overall feel reminds me a bit of my favourite Neneh album, the underrated Homebrew from '92. The sound is fuller, less dark and more reflective than on Blank Project but her stream-of-consciousness lyrics meld the personal and political as inimitably ever.
5. Happy Rhodes - Ectotrophia
Not strictly new music, but this compilation will be the very first time most people will have heard anything by this woefully overlooked artist, forever cursed by sounding a bit too much like Kate Bush for her own good. With the pyrrhic beauty of that voice, soundtrack-y synths and dark, prog-y lyrics marry pseudo-classical melodies and create a world unto itself.
6. Various Artists - Turkish Ladies
This amazing sequence of tracks takes me on a real trip, covering everything from lo-fi catchy disco (like THE banger of the year for me, Neşe Alkan's Tut Kalbimi Tut) to dreamy, 10-minute long Byzantine epics.
7. Yoko Ono - Warzone
I spend a lot of time defending Yoko Ono against the stereotype of being a tuneless, screaming banshee, noting that most of her work actually explores relatively conventional singing and pop song structures. Now close to 90, she sounds her age - and it's super cool to hear stripped back versions of some songs that were initially quite overproduced (half the tracks are from 1985's hyper-optimistic Starpeace). I don't think this will convert anyone, but it's a real treat for fans.
8. Cornelius - Mellow Waves
His first album in ages is very aptly titled, but still full of trademark sonic invention and beauty. Too sad and cool to be a great chillout record. You can have a nice cry in the club to it though.
9. Joe Armon-Jones - Starting Today
Dubby, ghostly, cosmic, psychedelic, celestial life-affirming space-jazz suitable for all occasions. Listen to it alone, at a party, twinkling away in the background or right in between the left and right speaker. I can't wait to hear what he'll put out next.
10. Various Artists - Kumo No Muko
Chock-full of artists and bands who are underrated/semi-unknown even in their native Japan; this is a beautiful and strikingly modern-sounding collection of quirky funk and dreamy soundscapes. Honestly, get it. It'll blow your mind. Best tracks are Mami Koyama's Love Song and Yumi Murata's Watashi No Bus. My favourite sleeve of the year too.