One of the greatest changes on the blog (besides refocussing it under the overall AT name) in the last year has been the widening of genres that we cover. There’s so much good music out there from outside the electronic field it felt a shame to not cover it, but also it gave us an opportunity to share how diverse our own musical taste can be.
That made it harder to pick ten albums of the year than usual, so let’s just say this is only ten favourites from what has been a stellar year for music in all genres. I’ve not included any label releases because that’s probably cheating, but we did put out some good stuff this year!
Ionnalee – Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten
The Swedish sensation continues to beat a very individual drum with every release and every reinvention. This was the album that saw her music deservedly gain a wider audience outside Scandinavia, as its dark, danceable take on moody electronica also saw her turn into a bit of an alt queer icon. If Fever Ray is too arch and Sundemo too pop for you, Ionnalee hits a sweet spot between both. Her live shows are audio-visual spectaculars that need to be seen to be believed.
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
I have to admit that it has taken me some time to warm to the Norwich duo. Their debut album felt a bit contrived to my ears (pun not intended) but their sophomore album is a work of lush majesty. Coming across like a band redefining their own musical vision and being more assertive in their ability to express it, it’s modern, confident and will be a benchmark for experimental and downright weird electronica for the next few years.
Robyn – Honey
I love Robyn so even if Honey was a dud, I’d still probably have included it in my roundup. It doesn’t disappoint, that’s for sure, as it sees her move on from her feminist pop that became the template for much of modern chart music after the release of Body Talk in 2010. This time out the music is more chilled, more sensual, at times overtly sexual and lets her voice carry the energy and movement of much of the songs. There’s no blistering dancefloor classics in the making as it harkens back to the days of the classic album format, but every song is a winner and her sound is sure to influence the charts once again in the years to come.
MaidaVale – Madness Is Too Pure
This Swedish quartet need to be heard to be really understood. The ecstatic wall of noise, coming from angles as diverse as Goth, Krautrock, psych and some good old, down home metal is as bewilderingly seamless as it is raw, taking the listener by the scruff of the neck, shaking them out and straightening them out with a sound that is, most of all, a lot of fun! The vocals manage to bring out new depths to the songs and the arrangements as they channel Ozzy Osbourne and Siouxie Sioux in equal measure.
Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Idles seem to be a rather divisive band, with some just hearing noise and anger. Yes, there’s a lot of that going on as the album powers on, but for me they capture so much of the early spirit of punk, yet manage to avoid the pointless nihilism and shock-theatrics others easily fall into. The lyrics are personal and political, the anger is real, but so is the sense that is a band that for all their passion and poetry, love what they do, believe in their message and want the world to hear that – loud and clear.
Lebanon Hanover – Let Them Be Alien
They don’t come much moodier and morose than the English duo, now based in Berlin. I suspect there’s a knowing, tongue-in-cheek side to their sound, its miserabilist fantasies taking so many of the basic tenets of post-punk and darkwave and setting the dial to eleven each at every turn. The songs are beautifully crafted as if from the blackest jet, but therein lies the light and fun in this erstwhile dark and serious album.
Randolph & Mortimer – Citizens
Given the history of Sheffield in the pioneering of electronic music in the UK – and subsequently in the world – it can be hard for bands from the Steel City to stand shoulder to shoulder with acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Chakk to name but two. R&M do it with ease on Citizens, as it provides a soundtrack for modern industrial and electronica. Brooding and bruising, it still manages to be a captivating and easy listen, from a much-underrated band. (And yes, I did cheat a bit with this one as it’s more of an EP, but that Schwefelgelb remix is to die for.)
Esben and the Witch – Nowhere
I do like my music dark and this Berlin based band certainly hit the mark. They take similar elements to MaidaVale but the sound here is something very different. Swirling, suffocating at times, which is odd given the crystal clarity to much of the production, as the songs head in to the nether reaches of doom metal, shoegaze, folk and some classical gothic nuances. Nowhere is merciless and magnificent in its headstrong desire to put the music at the centre of what that band do. But relegating themselves to second place to such a wonderful sound might relegate the album to becoming a cult classic when it deserves wider hearing.
Marie Davidson – Working Class Woman
You could call Working Class Woman a concept album. The tracks revolve around the life of a woman in the music industry, from being in the club bringing the crowd to the floor, even as they as asked if they’re bar staff or the DJ’s girlfriend. Each track feels like it’s set in a different club, from the anodyne high street Spotify pop emporiums with their soulless fun, to pretentious alt electronic nights, to the BDSM abandon of Berlin or London. The beats of Sheffield, Detroit and Chicago grab the listener, make you pay attention, and make you want to dance as it navigates music, success, sex, power and empowerment – what more could you want?
Virginia Wing – Ecstatic Arrow
Those that know me IRL will often hear me bemoan how hard it is for Manchester based artists to get wider attention if they don’t keep to a sound comprised of the unholy trinity of Oasis, Doves and Elbow. Bucking the trend is Virginia Wing, who are more likely to reference Reich, Sylvian and Glass in their breathy soundscapes than thudding guitars. Complex and tricky rhythms feel fragile and fresh, but the vocals act as a strengthening, unifying force, creating a very different kind of crowd pleaser.
Hope you found something of interest in this list, it was tough to compile but a lot of fun for me to listen to! Onward to 2019!!
Photo by William van der Voort