[sic] Magazine

Paul Lockett’s Albums of 2018

Here we go –

1. epic45 – ‘Through Broken Summer

Seven years in the making and worth every moment of the wait, epic45 have delivered arguably their finest album. Perhaps the most stark observation about Through Broken Summer is that it’s an incredibly understated record. Many of the tracks are introspective and there are no real attempts to suddenly take a leap into pop-song territory or lurch into big anthems, luring listeners with hooks and riffs; instead, songs are carefully woven, guided and developed – and they feel incredibly fragile and beautiful at the same time. The songwriting is extremely detailed – every note feels pored over and analysed, as if the band has locked themselves away in a studio, turned all the lights off and pressed [Record] to see what might happen, followed by moments where you feel that Holton has maybe deliberated over whether to play three notes or two – or even cut those two notes down to one, so as to ensure sufficient “space” in the music to allow songs to breathe. Similarly, whereas previously Glover might have automatically added a layer of keyboards, here he’s instead to be found reaching into his box of tricks and adding backing vocals, samples and field noises along with keyboard stabs. It’s taken me many listens to dissect the layering of many of the tracks – there’s real magic in there, and you don’t necessarily notice all of the complexity during the first few listens, just the simple delight of the songs.

2. Olan Mill – ‘Curves

Olan Mill is the recording project of Alex Smalley, once of Hampshire and now living in Germany. Since 2010, he’s released 13 albums under the name Olan Mill and 6 albums under the duo Pausal. I first discovered his work via the stunning album ‘Paths’, released on Facture Records. Anybody with a hint of interest in the instrumental artier side of 4AD (Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil) will love his work. 2018 has seen two new albums from Olan Mill – ‘Curves’ and the recently released ‘Sounds Of A New Father‘. Many of his releases are available physically only in tiny quantities, adding to their appeal. ‘Curves’ is an incredible piece of work, drawing on many influences and morphing them together only as Smalley can.

=3. My Autumn Empire – ‘Oh, Leaking Universe’

The most startling observation about this album is the overall dynamic, i.e. the bringing together of a whole scrapbook of ideas, memories and snapshots – and also the overall feel, which is really loose in terms of both the writing and recording. Let’s get this immediately out of the way – epic45 fans will not be disappointed – there are elements of Epic45 peppered throughout the album – but really, there is so much more going on here that the album not only possesses an identity all of its own but actually goes much further. There are arguably many moments where Holton attempts new techniques of writing and recording new sounds – and he doesn’t just pull it off – but unleashes the fireworks and loads the cannons.

=3. Field Harmonics – ‘Corpsing

Many of the tracks here feel like a commentary on Britain in 2018 – a dark, at times possibly critical, reflection on the world through Rob’s eyes. As a result, there’s not a single track which doesn’t deliver. Corpsing doesn’t attempt to be a pop record or conform to a mold, but simply wraps itself around you and accurately describes the world in which we live. Many of the tracks are looped and layered – possibly joining the dots which lie somewhere between Ulrich Schnauss and William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops. Gone are the more commercial aesthetics of the debut album and are replaced with something altogether arguably more sinister, fulfilling and uplifting.

It simply intrigues me just how good this record is. A release on cassette tape and digital simply doesn’t seem justice enough somehow. In other respects, maybe the imperfections of cassette tape are perfect.

5. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – ‘Wapentak

Tim Elsenburg has been releasing music under the name Sweet Billy Pilgrim since 2004 and the line-up has seen various changes along the way. Most recently, the band has slimmed down to a two-piece of Elsenburg and Jana Carpenter. Nominated for the Mercury Prize for their second album, ‘Twice Born Men’, Sweet Billy Pilgrim also saw an unlikely appearance in an episode of The IT Crowd. 2018 has seen the release of their fifth album ‘Wapentak’ – and it’s an absolute beauty. An altogether different album from its predecessor, 2015’s ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’, it’s fragile, delicate & beautiful. The harmonies work so well that you lose yourself completely in the vocals and almost forget all about the instrumentation, particularly during tracks such as ‘Asking For A Friend’ and ‘These Sudden Stars’.

6. Shame – ‘Songs Of Praise

London’s Shame released their debut album right at the beginning of 2018. Their youthful formation means that they weren’t around when many of their influences were releasing records and touring but that doesn’t matter because their album is an exciting, raw, energetic tour-de-force. Tracks such as ‘Concrete’, ‘Angie’ and ‘Friction’ are an ambitious love letter to the post-punk bands of the late 70s and early 80s. There’s no wonder that Shame have been picking up an army of fans during their hectic worldwide touring schedule this year.

7. Wil Bolton – ‘Viridian Loops

Never heard of Wil Bolton? With 15 solo albums to his name, he’s certainly been working hard to earn your attention. Bolton’s albums are explorations in instrumentation, taking us on a journey through drone, ambient, field noises and experimental electronica. He’s a master of the understatement. Albums build but never aim to reach the giddy heights of, say, Nils Frahm or Max Richter – this is much more subtle music and the magic is very much in how a single note can develop a life of its own and grow like a tiny flower. Tracks such as ‘Woven Geometry’ take you on a route from the familiar (dogs barking & birds twittering in the background) to a beautiful, unfamiliar place seamlessly. Likewise, ‘Vale’ starts with the sound of traffic and gently morphs into a rotating synth which becomes more layered & distorted in a similar fashion to some of William Basinski’s work.

8. The Boxer Rebellion – ‘Ghost Alive

Nothing initially really prepared me for ‘Ghost Alive’. The Boxer Rebellion’s previous albums have been thunderous, punch-the-air affairs but ‘Ghost Alive’ almost kicks away the amplifiers and replaces optimism with fear and darkness. On first listen, I wondered if opener ‘What The F**k’ might be a precursor to their usual anthemic sound – but the album continues its relationship with mental health and depression for the entire duration; it makes for a compelling listen and one of the real surprise listens of 2018.

9. Kina Grannis – ‘In The Waiting

Kina Grannis is one of those few artists who has built up her fanbase from scratch, initially by recording and releasing videos via YouTube. Her voice is the star of the show here – it just screams for your attention. The majority of her songs are gentle acoustic ballads, love songs to her husband. She toured the album earlier this year and unusually managed to silence the entire room when I saw her in Manchester for pretty much the entire set – no mean feat. New songs ‘California’, ‘Souvenirs’ and ‘History’ fit snugly alongside favourites from her previous albums including ‘The One You Say Goodnight To’ and ‘Oh Father’. When so many of her contemporaries use volume as a weapon, Grannis’s ability to send out a strong message with such a smooth, calming vocal is a testament to her talent.

10. The Declining Winter – ‘Belmont Slope

It’s really interesting hearing these different ideas living next door to each other on the same album; the risk for the band is that lovers of pastoral post-rock music mightn’t like the chill-out vibes and vice-versa, but in truthfulness they work together and gel magnificently. I’d be intrigued to discover what The Declining Winter might conjure up if they were to release an album of two distinct sides (‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’ perhaps?); one side containing more ‘typical’ music and one of completely experimental tracks, but maybe that’s for another time. Right now, I’m loving ‘Break The Elder’ for its minor chord riffs, layered vocals and lyrics about being knee-deep in clouds. I’m also loving ‘I Will Never Lose Your Heart’ for its heart-on-its-sleeve sadness; and I’m loving ‘Later And Later Indeed’ which, to me, describes the period of late summer, just before the evenings start drawing in and it gets that bit cooler of an evening.

So, ‘Belmont Slope’ is perhaps a sideways shift from previous albums – and I really like that The Declining Winter are taking chances with their sound, trying out new ideas and being more experimental. There’s also much to embrace in terms of their approach to producing laid back music and embracing a culture of never piling on the instrumentation, something which many a band has been guilty of when they’re in a recording studio. In summary, a lovely album.

The Next 10…

11. Nils Frahm‘All Melody’
12. Northerner‘End Of The Holiday’
13. Tape Loop Orchestra ‘Return To The Light’
14. The Longcut‘Arrows.’
15. EL Heath‘Smiling Leaf’
16. Editors‘Violence’
17. Mark Peters‘Innerland’
18. Scott Matthews‘The Great Untold’
19. Dead Can Dance‘Dionysus’
20. Pinkshinyultrablast‘Miserable Miracles’