It’s been such a great year for music that I have abandonded my usual practice of dropping a top ten list into the void of social medias in favour of an attempt at reviewing each album in a single line. With the exception of my choice for album of the year, which deserves a few paragraphs. Here goes.
10. George Fitzgerald: All That Must Be
Globe-trotting London DJ serves up a smorgasboard of danceable electro-sounds centred around the infectious burble of The Echo Forgets.
9. Adrienne Lenker: abysskiss
Just when we thought there was nothing cooler than the mellow sounds of Big Thief, frontwoman Lenker proves us wrong with a delicious collection of intimate ballads.
8. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
Shouty Texas-via-Brooklyn post-punks get us jigging to a noise that suggests an inebriated Jonathan Richman joined Cake then picked a fight with everyone in the audience.
7. Snail Mail: Lush
When Snail Mail’s uber-talented Lindsey Jordan grows up she’ll probably be Soccer Mommy; for now, we get to enjoy a near-perfect slice of teenage bedroom angst.
6. Haley Heynderickx: I Need To Start A Garden
Bonkers folk-pixie Heynderickx builds her album around a sublime title track that begins as a nursery rhyme but grows to an unequivocal crescendo that confirms she really, really needs to start a garden.
5. Connan Mockasin: Jassbusters
If David Lynch has not yet made a film set entirely in a sleazy, poorly-lit nightclub, he should do so at once, because peroxide Kiwi oddball Mockasin has already recorded the soundtrack.
4. Jon Hopkins: Singularity
If you’re going to call your album something as grand as Singularity, you better be a genius Eno collaborator and scorer of scifi movies whose dark, throbbing work knocks most other electronic music into the proverbial cocked hat, whatever that means.
3. Soccer Mommy: Clean
Barely old enough to be in college, Nashville’s Sophie Allison has produced the most real, raw indie record of the year, packed with singable tunes about love and loss and disappointment, and dogs.
2. Olafur Arnalds: re:member
The freakishly-talented Icelandic composer recently descended from his volcano to appear at the NPR Tiny Desk with two magic pianos that play by themselves; incredibly, with re:member, he’s made a record that’s even better than all his other records.
1. Mothers: Render Another Ugly Method
Imagine, if you will, a dystopian future in which we humans have been subdued by a master race of super-intelligent but malevolent robots. (Not shiny robots, like The Day The Earth Stood Still, but creepy humanoids, like Bladerunner.)
Now imagine that some of these robots, the teenage ones, become surly and disenchanted and form a band to express their robot angst. And imagine, moreover, that the robots have an argument about whether they should play indie or prog and, unable to resolve this argument, decide to play both at once. The result would, I propose, sound a lot like the extraordinary Render Another Ugly Method.
From Athens GA via Philadelphia PA, Mothers is the weirdo brainchild of Kristine Leschper, who is not only partial to unexpected rhythmical changes but also writes austere, poetic lyrics that demand to be studied. “Show me a beauty routine to erase me completely” she urges on the opening BEAUTY ROUTINE. (All the song titles are in capitals. Don’t ask me why. Must be a robot thing.)
On the beautiful-but-dark “IT IS A PLEASURE TO BE HERE”, Leschper intones the line “Startled and knowing at once the answer” repeatedly until it becomes a nun reciting a prayer. And in the slow-motion masterpiece WEALTH CENTER / RISK CAPITAL, she confesses, over and over, “I am excited by the prospect of living without a body. I am ungrateful and this proves it”.
This is a dark, sometimes difficult, often bizarre record, and my favourite of the year by a country mile. The music of the future has arrived early. You have been warned.