Bill’s Indie Basement: Favorite Albums of 2018
Squeaking in under the wire once again, it’s my end of the year list. Last year I did a Top 30 and this year I upped it to 40. My top three albums of the year were a virtual tie but I had to choose a number #1…but just know it was a photo finish. Like last year, I did a song pick for each and all of those are in a playlist and the very bottom.
A few of these ended up on the BrooklynVegan Top LPs of 2018 list too. Check out my Top 40 below.
More Indie Basement year-end fun: Favorite EPs of 2018.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
This Aussie band snuck up on me. I liked their first two EPs, and liked this album…but its 10 songs wormed their way into my brain to the point where it now plays basically like a Greatest Hits record. Zero bad songs, no wasted space and a great example of the “classic” indie sound — like R.E.M., The Feelies and The Go-Betweens — still working today. Bing, bam, boom — my favorite LP of 2018.
Gimme the hit: they’re all hits but “Mainland” is as good a place to start as any.
U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
She’s still using an old cassette recorder to make things sounds deteriorated, and samplers too, but Meg Remy went widescreen on U.S. Girls in A Poem Unlimited and her message of empowerment and action has never sounded more alive (or groovy).
Gimme the hit: the funky and scathingly funny “Pearly Gates.”
audiobooks – Now! (In a minute)
David Wrench & Evangeline Ling are an unlikely duo who made the most unlikely great album of 2018. Totally bananas and a real star-making turn for Ling (how long till she’s in films or TV?), Now! (in a minute) is unlike anything else now or maybe ever.
Gimme the hit: “Friends in the Bubblebath” is all Human League synthpop, but “Dance Your Life Away” is this album in one song.
Bodega – Endless Scroll
Brooklyn band Bodega basically made a concept LP for their debut, a look at trying to connect in our screen-addicted society. It’s poignant, angry, wickedly funny and jam-packed with big post-punky hooks.
Gimme the hit: no one sees your blazer jacket fall on your hips like I see… except “Jack in Titanic.”
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage
For her first album in six years, Melody Prochet teamed up with members of Dungen for this endlessly creative, wildly entertaining sonic journey into outer space. Mixing folk, baroque psych, krautrock and disco (and some hip hop beats), Bon Voyage dazzles at every turn.
Gimme the hit: “Desert Horse” is completely nuts, completely awesome.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard
His best since his first. This is Malkmus at his most direct, both lyrically and melodically, and it turns out getting to the point can be as satisfying as wry irony and Fall licks. Long may he reign.
Gimme the hit: “Solid Silk” is Malkmus at his playful, mellow best
The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking
This Australian trio, whose first LP was made while in high school, came back a little older, a little wiser, and bettered their debut in every way. They’re still making strummy indiepop but, embellished with swooning strings and horn arrangements, the songs on We’re Not Talking really soar with the heart.
Gimme the hit: the heartbreaking he-said-she-said duet “We Can’t Win.”
Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meatspace
Don’t call them a supergroup but Australia’s TFS are made up of members of The Drones, High Tension and Mod Con…and they’ve made a bold, brash, album that’s every bit as phantasmagoric as its album art. But it’s catchy too — poppier than the Drones ever were — while still being a punch in the face. Unsubtle art for unsubtle times.
Gimme the hit: “The Future of History” turns chessmaster Garry Kasparov’s famous match against computer Deep Blue into post-apocalyptic harbinger for the social media algorithms to come.
Gwenno – Le Kov
It’s weird to think 10 years ago Gwenno was once one-third of the winking neo girl-group The Pipettes, and now makes space-age concept albums in Welsh and Cornish. Le Kov is both an attempt to continue/preserve the use of the Cornish language as well as an ode to Cornwall, UK where she is from. I don’t understand a word but it’s amazing.
Gimme the hit: “Eus Keuss?” which asks the importand question, “Is There Cheese?”
Beak> – >>>
The trio of Geoff Barrow (Portishead), Billy Fuller (who plays in Robert Plant’s band) and Will Young (Moon Gangs) are still pulling from motorik postpunk, Can-style krautrock, proto-metal, and dark folk but it’s all more focused this time. There’s more singing, more varied sounds, and just better songs, making this Beak>’s finest record to date. Beak> screamed “side project” before, but not this time.
Gimme the hit: “When We Fall” which was reworked from a previous single and given an awesome new, extra-Beak>-y ending.
DJ Koze – Knock Knock
There are guest stars all over this record — Roisin Murphy, Jose Gonzalez, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner — but nobody outshines Koze himself. Whether it’s a chilled out groove, folk beamed from outer space, or the sort of bangers he’s known for DJing at festivals, DJ Koze’s crate-digging knowledge and sample mastery is unparalleled.
Gimme the hit: “Pick Up” is French Touch style house perfection.
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
When they announced Danger Mouse had produced Parquet Courts’ new LP, I was unsure what to expect, but Wide Awake! is no bid for middle of the road. It is first and foremost a Parquet Courts album, and a great, surprising one at that, tackling new sounds and styles while managing to only sound like themselves.
Gimme the hit: “This next one’s called ‘Freebird II’”…shout for it at all shows, Parquet Courts’ or others.
Insecure Men – Insecure Men
Former Fat White Family guitarist Saul Adamczewski goes off on his own (with childhood mate Ben Romans-Hopcraft) for a poppier take on his old group. With a love of Bontempi organ and tropical flavors, Insecure Men are like a demented, out-of-their-mind cruise ship house band, making deeply weird music while still trying to make the newlyweds and retirees dance.
Gimme the hit: The new wave-ish “Teenage Toy” coulda been a hit for Squeeze in 1980.
The Beths – Future Me Hates Me
Singer and songwriter Elizabeth Stokes has a knack for pairing bummer, self-deprecating lyrics with the most sparkling melodies. With the rest of The Beths, she then turns them it into irresistibly crunchy power pop. If they ever made a Josie & The Pussycats sequel, hire The Beths to write the soundtrack!
Gimme the hit: Like the Rolling Blackouts CF album, Future Me Hates Me is basically all hits but put on opening cut “Great No One” and you likely won’t take off the LP before it’s over.
J Fernandez – Occasional Din
Sometimes you’re ok with being just a little down, especially when you have a record like this — baroque, beautiful, and bummed-out — to walk around with while wearing your melancholy like a favorite sweater. It’s the feel-bad hit of the autumn!
Gimme the hit: “Volcanic Winter” feels like Stereolab and American Analog Set in all the right ways; “Rewards” is the best song ever about filling out online surveys.
Goat Girl – Goat Girl
Boozy and woozy but decidedly confident, the debut LP from London quintet Goat Girl nods to the past (Raincoats, The Fall) but sounds thoroughly modern, thanks in part to the great production work of Dan Carey. The band have a great ear for melody and a distinctive close harmony style that makes them instantly recognizable.
Gimme the hit: “Cracker Drool” sounds like closing time at the pub, complete with a bar fight.
Baxter Dury, Étienne De Crécy and Delilah Holiday – B.E.D.
Baxter Dury, maker of my #1 LP of 2017, teamed with French Touch maestro Étienne De Crécy and fellow Londoner Delilah Holiday for this short, sweet LP. Baxter shares the mic equally with Holiday, while De Crécy provides the beats and, as you’d expect with Dury, it’s full of detailed character sketches, thick London accents, plus a few Love Centipedes.
Gimme the hit: The funky “Centipedes” is the “hit,” but “Tais Toi” has the best swearing.
Simian Mobile Disco – Murmurations
A collaboration with all-female vocal group Deep Throat Choir, Murmurations is hypnotic, lysergic dance music that is SMD’s most enjoyable work since Attack Decay Sustain Release. It might be their best record ever. While some songs have proper verse/chorus structure, the heavenly voices play almost like a bank of modular synths. Like a dancefloor peanut butter cup, it’s two great tastes that taste great together.
Gimme the hit: this is really an album album but “Defender” is a great pop song.
Bambara – A Shadow on Everything
Brooklyn’s Bambara once knocked people back with sheer volume and a menacing stage presence, but have grown to be a more textured, nuanced group. A Shadow on Everything brings high drama, dark atmosphere, big hooks, impressive musicianship/production, and, maybe above all else, real swagger.
Gimme the hit: “Jose Tries to Leave” is the swaggeriest song on the record.
Go-Kart Mozart – Mozart’s Mini Mart
Cult artist lifer Lawrence — who fronted Felt in the ’80s and Denim in the ’90s — crafts one of his best-ever LPs; funny, heartbreaking, weird, and full of earworm melodies. The artwork’s amazing, too. Eccentric to the max, Mozart’s Mini-Mart is unlike to convert any new fans to the cult, but it’s a total triumph.
Gimme the hit: “When You’re Depressed” is the catchiest most upbeat song about not wanting to get out of bed you’ll hear this year.
Klaus Johann Grobe – Du bist so symmetrisch
The Swiss groove merchants’ go full disco on their fourth album and put their skill at killer basslines to great use. Their idea of what disco is is still closer to Can than Chic, but this album is way groovy. What’s German for “Let’s Boogie?”
Gimme the hit: “Out of Reach” is badass on or off the dancefloor.
Low – Double Negative
Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker blew up the Low rulebook for Album #11, making what Uniform’s Michael Berdan called “the most damaged electronics I’ve heard all year.” Yet it still sounds like Low with Alan and Mimi’s harmonies at the center. May all great groups be this original in their 25th year.
Gimme the hit: another album album, but closer “Disarray” mixes a bit of pop with those damaged electronics.
Virginia Wing – Ecstatic Arrow
After two albums of icy, krauty synth music, UK duo Virginia Wing defrost just a bit for their third record. The climate does wonders for them, as did the saxophones — this is brainy, oddball synthpop at it’s best.
Gimme the hit: “Glorious Idea” could’ve been in Pretty In Pink… if Aki Kaurismäki had directed it.
The Orielles – Silver Dollar Moment
This UK trio’s influences are post-punk indie (Orange Juice, Dolly Mixture, Pastels) but there is an undeniable, joyful exuberance to their songs that really transcends the reference points. The Orielles are at their best when getting a little funky, and it looks like they’ll be heading further into that territory on LP#2.
Gimme the hit: “Blue Suitcase (Disco Wrist)” is like ABBA covering Delta 5.
Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg
Do strings make everything better? More often than not and it certainly makes the new solo album from Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys extra special. There’s a whole orchestra on Babelsberg, a record that confronts modern technological woes with sweeping flair.
Gimme the hit: the LP’s concept is at its most hopeful — and Scott Walker-esque — on “Limited Edition Heart.”
Bjorn Torske – Byen
The first purely solo album from this Norwegian producer in eight years was worth the wait. Byen is gorgeous, pastoral dance music that transports you to greener, blissful pastures whether you’re at the club or doing the dishes.
Gimme the hit: “Clean Air” sounds like its name, soaring above a forest, light and jazzy with a synth hook that sounds like late-’80s New Order.
Wimps – Garbage People
Seattle trio continue to crank out no-nonsense melodic punk that explores life’s many exasperating moments, be it gender pay inequality, having to do the laundry or go to work or leave the house in general, wondering what the vanishing bee population means to the planet, or pizza theft. This is my kind of punk rock.
Gimme the hit: You down with “O.P.P.”? That’s “Other People’s Pizza” in Wimps world.
Halo Maud – Je Suis Une île
If the Melody’s Echo Chamber album wasn’t enough French psych pop for you, here’s this great debut from her former bandmate, Maud Nadal. Alongside the spot-on, modern-but-classic production, Maud’s voice is the real star, somewhere between Bjork and Birkin, always selling the emotion even when you can’t understand the words.
Gimme the hit: “Tu sais comme je suis” is absolutely alluring with the most heavenly “ooh oohs” you’re gonna hear on a record this year.
Olden Yolk – Olden Yolk
Olden Yolk started as a side project for Quilt’s Shane Butler, turned into a collaborative duo with Caity Shaffer, and then became a full band. Butler doesn’t stray too far from the sound of his other band, Quilt — baroque psych-folk with a dab of krautrock –but that’s 100% fine. His songwriting’s never been better, the production is crisp, highlighting the killer rhythm section, and Butler and Shaffer’s harmonies tie it all together.
Gimme the hit: “Takes One to Know One” hits that sweet spot between Can and Nick Drake.
Teleman – Family of Aliens
I wish Pete & The Pirates were still around, but this offshoot featuring singer-songwriter Thomas Sanders gets better with each record. Family of Aliens may come off as slick at first, but after a couple listens you realize just how smart and sophisticated a pop record this is.
Gimme the hit: “Between the Rain” is classic British pop in the great Kinks/Madness/Blur tradition.
Sauna Youth – Deaths
Some bands follow the “speak softly and carry a big stick” ethos when it comes to getting their point across, but Sauna Youth prefer to yell. Angry about everything and ready to rumble, Deaths is shringy, shouty, snarling hook-filled ripper after ripper.
Gimme the hit: play the “Percentages.”
Les Big Byrd – Iran Iraq IKEA
Les Big Byrd have more going on than your average psych band jamming on two chords over a motorik beat. Iran Iraq IKEA — which is a great title for a Swedish psych album –features some surprising pop songwriting chops, and the lyrics are better than your average record like this. Don’t worry, there is plenty of two-chord motorik jamming, too.
Gimme the hit: “I Fucked Up I Was a Child” is driving, anthemic and just a little John Hughes-y.
The Bevis Frond – We’re Your Friends, Man
David Saloman is 65 years old, didn’t start The Bevis Frond until his mid-30s and this is his umpeenth album — a 19-track, 90-minute double, no less — and it’s absolutely jam-packed with great songs. There are not many other who can make such claims…though Saloman is not one to boast. He hasn’t changed his MO much in the last 30 years — fuzzy, melodic psych rock that owes debt to Neil Young, Love and The Beatles — but when the songs are this good why would you want anything else?
Gimme the hit: “A Hard Way to Learn” is in the Dinosaur Jr/Teenage Fanclub mould, but “Little Orchestras” is flat-out gorgeous.
Roisin Murphy – The 12” Singles
I’m cheating a bit, as this isn’t an album, but Roisin Murphy released four 12” singles this year — all collaborations with house legend Maurice Fulton — that as a whole was one of the best dance records of the year, and the best thing she’s done since her solo debut. This is the sound of two dance music iconoclasts still at the top of their game.
Gimme the hit: the bass-poppin’, tribal drum-filled “All My Dreams” from the first 12” is, in Roisin’s own words, “ridiculously sexy.”
Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin
Like most years, Ty Segall released a bunch of records in 2018 (six which might be a record for him), all were good, but Freedom’s Goblin is just not his best of this year but up there for his best ever, a 19-track double LP that finds him flipping from folk to funk and most points in-between. It’s worth of all four sides.
Gimme the hit: funky with some killer falsetto, “Every 1’s a Winner” is a winner.
Sloan – 12
Together with the same four-songwriter lineup for 25 years, this is Sloan’s 12th album which offers further proof that they’re one of the best, most consistent bands around. 12 is their most collaborative album in ages, too, with lots of cross-pollination between the four members’ songs that makes it all the more Sloany.
Gimme the hit: “44 Teenagers” is a moving tribute to late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie.
Shannon Shaw – Shannon In Nashville
After years of making soulful garage rock with The Clams, producer Dan Auerbach (who also released this album on his Easy Eye Sound label) put Shannon Shaw’s voice in a new, string-laden context that tips its hat to Brill Building pop and Dusty in Memphis. I like The Clams a lot, but Shannon in Nashville is a knockout.
Gimme the hit: the sweeping, swooning “Freddies N’ Teddies” sounds like a Phil Spector production and is worthy of the comparison.
Confidence Man – Confident Music for Confident People
Even in 2018, sometimes you just want music that’s first and foremost fun. These Aussies deliver hook-forward danceable pop — descended from the late-’00s era that gave us New Young Pony Club, The Teddybears and The Ting Tings — that knows just how frivolous it is and embraces it. Will I be listening to this next year? Not sure, but I’m glad it was in my life for this one.
Gimme the hit: another record that’s packed with “hits,” but I’m gonna choose “Sail Boat Vacation” for its “bah da bah” hook. But “Out the Window” hits the sweet spot between Primal Scream and George Michael.
AMOR – Sinking into a Miracle
This Scottish quartet, that includes Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson, make disco that’s more Arthur Russell than KC & The Sunshine Band. The production has lots of headroom, giving it a warm, live feel, and singer Richard Youngs’ voice — somewhere between Robert Wyatt and The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan — is perfect for this very organic dance music. Sinking Into a Miracle is big music with a beat and a beating heart.
Gimme the hit: “Glimpses Across Thunder” is the album’s pop song and recalls The Blue Nile an Robert Wyatt.
Lithics – Mating Surfaces
Do you think post-punk is a dish, like revenge, best served cold? Lithics are sub-zero. Mating Surfaces, the band’s second LP, is all sleek muscle, minimalist style, icicle stabs of guitar, and buckets of unfakeable attitude. A wry sense of humor might be just below the permafrost, but Lithics don’t crack a smile.
Gimme the hit: careful you don’t cut yourself on “Specs.”
Bill’s Indie Basement: Best of 2018 Playlist
I also really liked these records…
The Fernweh – S/T
Lake Ruth – Birds of America
Shopping – The Official Body
Beach House – “7”
A Place to Bury Strangers – Pinned
BC Camplight – Deportation Blues
Iceage – Beyondless
FACS – Negative Houses
SAVAK – Beg Your Pardon
Cut Worms – Hollow Ground
Ty Segall & White Fence – Joy
Cavern of Anti-Matter – Hormone Lemonade
Flasher – Constant Angel
Woolen Men – Post
Girls Names – Stains on Silence
Hollie Cook – Vessel of Love
Ethers – Ethers
Peel Dream Magazine – Modern Meta Physic
Papercuts – Parallel Universe Blues
Salad Boys – This Is Glue
Warmduscher – Whale City
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile
Suede – The Blue Hour
Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics
Drinks – Hippo Lite
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Something Else
Viagra Boys – Street Worms
Bonny Doon – Longwave
Winter & Triptides – Estrela Mágica
Fenster – The Room
Kelley Stoltz – Natural Causes
Tim Cohen – The Modern World
Tunng – Songs You Make At Night
Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre
Soulwax – Essential
77:78 – S/T
Part Time – Spell #6