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I'll Give You An Annual Review

Jason Lewis listens and listens so we don't have to... his top 30 LPs of the Year...

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by Jason Lewis, UK Music Editor for outsideleft.com
I approach this year's list with some caution...
by Jason Lewis, UK Music Editor for outsideleft.com
I approach this year's list with some caution...

It's an awkward sensation. Whenever I look back at my round up of last year's 'best of' albums, a tightness forms in my stomach because there it is, in black and white (or whatever colour scheme we were using then): it's Number 29.    

Just like an ex that I can't bring myself to mention by name, I can only refer to the artist and their eponymous debut album by the position in our countdown....it's Number 29. 

I really liked Number 29 at the time.  I was somehow fascinated by it's bedside confessional lyrics and hazy slouching sound. And I chose to ignore the things that would later aggravate the hell out of me.   

I've grown to really dislike Number 29's eponymous debut.  In fact I'll go so far as to say I hate it!  I probably now despise it more than I hate Brexit, Michael McIntyre or people who post videos on YouTube about how much they oppose the 'agenda' of the new Doctor Who. Maybe more than all those things combined! 

That's why I approach this year's list with some caution.  Will there be another Number 29 (other than the album that's actually at that position)?  Suffice to say that the record that occupies that slot, is the one that was greeted with more angry glares from colleagues when I played it than any other album in this list.

Below you'll see the albums 30-26, I'll whisk you through them before we get into the more in depth analyses of the top 20. 

30.  Le Kov - Gwenno
The flimsiness of the term 'World Music' was made apparent by the inclusion in end of year polls by Welsh born Gwenno's album of songs in Cornish.  

The cinematic sweep of strings that opens Gwenno's second album ('Hi a Skoellyas Liv a Dhagrow'),is one of the most breathtaking introductions to an album I've heard this year. Her almost whispered, intimate vocals are reminiscent of the late Trish Keenan of Birmingham's fabulous Broadcast. 

The delicious synths of 'Eus Keus' is sheer exuberant pop, but the albums most enticing moment is the psychedelic-swirl of 'Koweth Ker' that closes the album. 

29.  Sharing Waves/Shared.Waves - Cool Maritime
Sean Hellfritsch composes most of his music whilst outdoors usually sat by lakes or in a forest.  His instrument is his  'lunchbox'  (filled with dials, switches and wires - not sanwiches and soft drinks). He takes inspiration from his environment and the results, as heard on his latest album 'Sharing Waves' are fascinating. 

The equally enchanting remix album 'Shared Waves' offers some remarkable reinterpretations, two of which are produced by Hellfritsch's  label mate Matthewdavid. Unlike the vast majority of remix albums this is a delightful experience.

28. Resistance is Futile - Manic Street Preachers 
When their thirteenth album was released in April, online fan forums for the Manic Street Preachers overflowed with chatter about where it should be ranked alongside all of their other records. There was a sense that 'Resistance is Futile' was not one of their greatest achievements, and a fear that their finest hour was long past. 

Fortunately the former isn't true and the latter is unlikely. Distant Colours and International Blue still showed that they could squeeze intellectual arguments into swaggering pop songs, and their reflection on the  Hillsborough tragedy  'Liverpool Revised' more than adequately made up for the awkwardness of  'SYMM' two decades previously.  

Of course, there are songs that don't quite work, great ideas that don't always. translate into great songs. But this a Manic Street Preachers album and with one, possibly two exceptions, that has always been the case. Long may they continue to rage against the dying of the light. 

27. 1,2, Kung Fu - Boy Azooga
26.  Endless Scroll - BODEGA
It's disconcerting when you realise that a band who you think you've just discovered has actually been having their music played on a radio station that you listen to for months on end and you just haven't noticed.  

Magnificent singles by both Cardiff's Boy Azooga and New York's BODEGA have formed part of the aural wallpaper of Radio (pick a number between 5 and 7) and I just haven't noticed.  Their brilliance just couldn't be heard clearly above the din of all the groundfill indie around them.  

'Face Behind Her Cigarette' from Boy Azooga's debut is one of the classiest and funkiest pop singles of 2018.  Whilst 'Jerry' has one of the sultriest opening riffs I've heard in a long time, and the line 'where did you go to get that smile?' just makes me want to dedicate it to someone special. 

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn,  BODEGA may just be starting to tire  of comparisons to LCD Soundsystem.  Certainly, Ben Hozie's droll vocal delivery has more than a passing resemblance to that of James Murphy, and there are similarly great gems of sarcastic wit here (I rarely raise a smile at many attempts at humour, but I laughed aloud at 'Name Escape').  

Opening song 'How Did This Happen?!' is a taut, bass driven, punk delight that offers the wry observation that 'this machine, you know, it don't kill fascists'.  Better still is co-vocalist and songwriter Nikki Belfigio's celebration of  female masturbation (frequently in public): Gyrate, any ambiguity over the song's meaning is eradicated by the chorus of joyous yelping.

Other remarkable moments here include the jittery irreverence of 'Warhol' and the raw mourning of 'Charlie'.  None of these songs overstay their welcome as they all seem to say what they need to say in around two and a half minutes. A punk rock maxim if ever there was one. 

Tomorrow it's albums 25-23. See you there.... 

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Jason Lewis
UK Music Editor

Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.

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