Best Albums of 2018
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Invasion of Privacy is the debut album by American rapper Cardi B. Opening with the explosive ‘Get Up 10‘, the 13 track record has a plethora of artists collaborating on it including Chance the Rapper, Bad Bunny, Kehlani and the brilliant Migos, who features on ‘Drip‘. The album goes through a narrative of highs and lows, with Cardi B making sure her voice is heard loud and clear. With its honest lyrics and hip-hop beats, ‘Bodak Yellow‘ is one of the many highlights on the album. If this is the kind of debut Cardi B delivers, we should expect even bigger and better things from album number two.
Lily Allen – No Shame
Mercury Prize nominee Lily Allen’s fourth studio album is a force to be reckoned with. The in-your-face lyrics and catchy melodies of ‘Come On Then‘ showcase the singer-songwriter back on top form. Blending pop with electro, dance and reggae, every song on the fourteen track album offers something different, with ‘Lost My Mind‘ and ‘Apples‘ particularly demonstrating Allen’s writing capability and lyrical honesty as she discusses themes of divorce, parental guilt and being in the public eye.
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Arctic Monkeys’ sixth album has divided fans and critics alike. And whilst it’s a definite musical change from the Sheffield band, it’s also a welcome one, with casual opener ‘Star Treatment‘ slowly easing listeners into the laid-back album. A common theme throughout the record is science fiction and there are noticeably darker notes here than on previous albums. The band have dubbed Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino as “lounge-pop” and with the smooth vocals from frontman Alex Turner and memorable melodies, it’s hardly a surprise that it’s earned them their third Mercury Music Prize nomination.
Album Review: Louise Goffin – All These Hellos
Today marks the release of Grammy-nominated artist Louise Goffin’s ninth studio album, All These Hellos.
‘Chinatown’ features yet more orchestral music and it has a magical feel as if it’s the opening to an animated film. This is the second of four duets on the album, with Rufus Wainwright lending his gravelly vocals to the song.
Billy Harvey features on ‘Turn To Gold’ and the album’s title track, which both have a 70’s inspired sound, taking listeners back to Goffin’s 1979 debut, Kid Blue.
The highlight of the album comes towards the end with the chipper ‘Good Times Call’. It’s the most upbeat track on All These Hellos and you can’t help but smile whilst listening to it.
All These Hellos is alluring music with jazz, blues and chilled out California rock influences. Goffin has mastered the art of songwriting, crafting an album of multi-layered, melodious songs with expert production. It’s exactly the kind of accomplished record you’d expect from the daughter of iconic duo Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
Album Review: Paul Smith – Diagrams
Diagrams is the fourth solo studio album from Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith.
Kicking off the eleven track album is ‘The Public Eye’, a catchy song with a darker undertone, which makes perfect sense given it was written with the British Home Office’s “Hostile Environment” policy in mind.
This emotive, storytelling approach, influenced by real life and the world around us, continues with ‘Around and Around’ – about the never-ending news cycle – and ‘Lake Burley Griffin’, a song inspired by an American who designed Canberra alongside his wife. They’re slower, heavier songs from the normally chirpy singer-songwriter, perfectly displaying Smith’s evolving style.
‘Silver Rabbit‘ is a frantic, short but sweet two-minute track, taking listeners back to the days of Maximo Park’s ‘Our Velocity‘ and ‘Apply Some Pressure‘. The album ventures back to more sombre territory with ‘The Beauty Contest‘, before ‘Critical Mass‘ takes listeners down a grungier road.
Fans of Smith’s more joyous songs might find Diagrams lacking, but it’s certainly the type of music you’d be willing to wait around for at a festival, just for the opportunity to hear it played live.
Album Review: Arkells – Rally Cry
Following a relentless tour schedule earlier this year, which saw them support folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner and perform at US festival Coachella, Canadian five-piece Arkells have released their highly anticipated new album, Rally Cry.
The 10-track record opens with ‘Hand Me Downs’ – a slow burner of a song with light drums, keyboards and echoey vocals from guitarist-frontman Max Kerman.
It moves swiftly on to ‘American Screams’, treating listeners to a funky, synthesizer-driven track that sounds like something straight out of the 80’s. It’s a fun, upbeat and poppy sound, a clear highlight from an album that has many.
‘Relentless’, ‘Saturday Night’ and the politically-charged ‘People’s Champ’ are lively, energetic songs, the type Arkells excel at. These tracks take the sound of the band’s live shows and marry them with their studio sound – providing a different listening experience to their previous offering.
The album swings towards a slower, lighter tone, before ending on a scuzzy rock sound with final track ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’, which is audibly influenced by fellow rockers Cage the Elephant.
Rally Cry is a confident record from Arkells, pushing their sound in a bold new direction that demands to be heard and refuses to be forgotten.
Album Review: The Milk Carton Kids – All The Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn’t Do
Americana folk band The Milk Carton Kids have returned with their fourth album, All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do – an epic (both in title and sound) 12 track record that’s equal parts melancholy and charming.
Opening with ‘Just Look At Us Now’, the Grammy Award nominated duo start slow and warming, with soft acoustic guitars and heartfelt lyrics soothing listeners’ ears, before segueing into the evocative and nostalgic ‘Nothing is Real’.
Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale’s simple cords and laidback country crooning are displayed perfectly in ‘Younger Years’, ‘Blindness’ and ‘You Break My Heart’, whilst ‘One More For The Road’, a colossal 10 minute 23 second long centrepiece, demonstrates the duo’s sublime synchronicity and harmonic vocals.
This is the band at its most diverse, building on the acoustic foundations they’re known for and adding more subtle layers to their music. It’s still sombre, bittersweet stuff – which can border on a little too meditative if you’re listening to the album in one sitting – but the instrumentation adds greater depth to the album as a whole.
The Milk Carton Kids have undergone some major changes – both musical and personal – since their last release in 2015, Monterey, and this album reflects those events. In Kenneth Pattengale’s own words: “We had been going around the country yet another time to do the duo show, going to the places we’d been before. There arose some sort of need for change.”
Change, as we all know, can be a liberating thing and it certainly was for The Milk Carton Kids, who’ve delivered a reflective album with a “bigger sonic palette”, asserting themselves as one of the most accomplished Americana bands on the contemporary folk scene.
Album Review: Dancehall, The Band
Recorded over two years, The Band is the 10 track debut album from London/Kent based garage-rock trio Dancehall.
The album opens with ‘KO’, a slick guitar intro instantly giving way to thunderous drums and an almost frenetic verve that ensures anyone listening is sitting up and paying attention to the music.
Debut single ‘Vs & Gs’ has the same raw energy and passion, simultaneously demonstrating the band’s feverous drive and rejection of the norm, as well as their musical influences of Sonic Youth and Fugazi.
‘Digging’ and ‘Droners’ both have that 90’s inspired punk vibe with a melancholy, hollowed-out sound and fuzzy vocals from frontman and bassist Timothy V.
The second half of the album provides something of a respite, taking a less heavy and frantic approach with ‘Burn’, ‘Virgin’ and ‘Salt’. In these tracks the trio are able to relax into themselves, letting their songs freewheel away from the sharp angular turns of the rest of the record.
With this self-released album, Dancehall leave a lasting impression. Considering the trio only formed two years ago, The Band is a solid debut that rollicks along with an energy that will make listeners yearn to see them live.
The Band is out now via Vibe/Anti-Vibe
Theatre Review: Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Having opened at London’s Aldwych Theatre back in April, Tina is an energetic jukebox musical that celebrates the life and music of the legend that is Tina Turner (played here by American performer Adrienne Warren)
It starts by taking the audience back to the singer’s humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee where Tina – born Anna Mae Bullock – meets her soon to be husband, Ike Turner, at one of his concerts.
Anna Mae gets brought up onto the stage and, though she’s young, her vocals are powerful and sublime. Ike notices her talent and asks her mother’s permission to take her on tour with him as a featured singer for Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm.
When recording songs, Ike and the producers thought it would sell more records if Anna Mae changed her name so that people believed the pair were married. Anna Mae was already in a relationship but she went along with it to help the record achieve greater success.
Tina Turner the Musical shares the story of how turbulent Ike and Tina’s relationship was, with Ike’s fiery temper leaving band members and Tina herself unable to stand up to him.
The narrative switches seamlessly between stage and private life, with Tina having two children (one with Raymond Hill, the band’s saxophonist, with whom she was in a relationship with, and another with Ike).
All the old Tina favourites are featured including It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, A Fool in Love and River Deep Mountain High, which Warren performs with pitch-perfect precision.
The second half of the show sees Tina trying to make it as a solo performer and desperately trying to earn money to make ends meet.
She takes a risk and flies to London where she has a few weeks to record an album with a more rock sound. Met with pushbacks, Tina shows her drive and determination to make it as a singer without the help from her now ex-husband Ike.
The show ends with an encore of Tina’s most successful songs to date, treating audience members to The Best, as well as a reprise of Nutbush City Limits and Proud Mary, which sees the audience on their feet and singing along to the iconic tracks.
Overall, The Tina Turner Musical is a great success, with the vocals, story and tracks taking theatregoers through an emotional rollercoaster of how Tina became the success she is today.
Album Review: The Get Up Kids, Kicker EP
It’s been seven years since The Get Up Kids’ released their fifth studio album, There Are Rules (2011), and now the American rockers are back with Kicker, a four-song EP released via Big Scary Monsters.
With its thunderous drums and heavy guitars, opening track and lead single ‘Maybe‘ throws listeners back into the band’s alt-rock sound. There’s no mistaking that this is The Get Up Kids, but it feels more grown-up, reflecting the fact that the band members are no longer twenty-year-olds. They’re seasoned performers in their forties and it lends the EP a new level of maturity without losing any of that punk-rock edge.
Catchy choruses, punchy lyrics and frontman Matt Pryor’s resonating vocals continue into second track ‘Better This Way‘, whilst third track ‘I’m Sorry‘ offers a synthesizer opening that explodes into fast guitars and solid drums. It’s reminiscent of The Get Up Kids’ earlier albums, bringing to mind other nineties/noughties punk rock bands like Blink 182 and Green Day.
The EP closes on an anthemic note with ‘My Own Reflection‘, a more down-tempo track with heartfelt vocals, which lingers as the record’s highlight and shows a band that’s come full circle.
Jim Suptic, guitarist and vocalist of the group, spoke about the EP’s concept, saying: “You always look back in rose colored glasses, and I always remember when this band was really struggling and we were selling our CD collections to pay our rent and that sucked at the time, but looking back that was an amazing time, that was so much fun. There was no pressure or anything,”
Kicker comes as the band have signed a record deal with Polyvinyl and are set to release a full-length album (date TBC). They’re also due to embark on a mammoth US tour in support of the EP.
Live Review: The Rolling Stones live at the London Stadium
The Rolling Stones played the first London date of their No Filter tour last night (22 May) to a sold-out crowd.
Taking to the stage with opening track a ‘Street Fighting Man’, it was a joyous, energetic song to kick off the two-hour show.
‘It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)’, ‘Tumbling Dice’ and ‘Paint It Black’ followed, with audience members mesmerised by Jagger’s stage persona and snake hips, which he’s mastered over the course of the band’s career.
Before the show fans could take to social media to decide what track The Stones should play, with ‘Under My Thumb’ ultimately being chosen. It was great to hear an early Stones song, which was released in 1966 and appeared on their Aftermath album.
The band performed a number of slower songs, with ‘Fool To Cry’ and ‘Can’t Always Get What You Want’ having the 88,000 crowd singing along to every word as the sun went down over the Olympic Park.
As Jagger disappeared for a costume change, guitarist Keith Richards took to the front of the stage and performed ‘Before They Make Me Run’ and ‘Slipping Away’. Even though the band have been performing for more than 50 years, Richards still seemed shy and nervous taking the lead role for both songs.
As Jagger returned the band performed more from their back catalogue with fan favourite ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, along with ‘Miss You’ and ‘Midnight Rambler’.
The stage featured pyro flickers, a runway into the crowd for the special ‘golden circle’ ticket holders, and colossal screens of the band either side of the stage.
A Stones’ gig wouldn’t be complete without ‘Start Me Up’ and ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, which saw Jagger run up and down the runaway, putting people half the 74-year-old’s age to shame.
The two-song encore of ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Satisfaction’ brought the 19 track setlist to an end, with the band proving they still have the energy and popularity that they started out with all those years ago.
Live Review: Liam Gallagher live at the London Stadium
Liam Gallagher was the first act to support The Rolling Stones on their No Filter UK tour.
Taking place at the London Stadium last night (22 May), it was the former-Oasis frontman’s first UK show after a month of touring and promotion in the US in support of his debut solo album, As You Were.
Taking to the stage in true charismatic style, the singer opened with Oasis track ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ which got the crowd into a wild frenzy.
The 45-year-old played tracks from his recent number one album including singles ‘Wall of Glass’, ‘Greedy Soul’ and ’You Better Run’, which received a warm welcome in anticipation for the main act The Stones.
‘Morning Glory’ had audience members singing along in the sunshine to the iconic sound of the 90’s.
The singer also performed ‘Some Might Say’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’, which featured former Oasis member Bonehead.
The set closed on the acoustic ’Live Forever’ – an emotional tribute to mark the one year anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack.
Before playing the song, Liam told the audience: “This is for everyone in Manchester. Sing along if you know the words.”
The frontman only played a short setlist of eight songs but packed a punch to help support one of the most successful bands the UK has ever produced.
Live Review: Manic Street Preachers live at Wembley Arena
The legendary Manic Street Preachers played Wembley Arena on Friday night (4 May) as part of the UK tour for their thirteenth studio album, Resistance is Futile.
Widely known as the Manics, the band played to a strong 10,000 crowd, opening their set with ‘International Blue’ – a bold, energetic, kickstarter of a song, before leading into ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’.
Having seen the Manics play live nearly a decade ago, when they headlined The 02 Arena and played the NME Awards Tour while receiving their Godlike Genius award, it was great to see the band still have that same energy and drive.
A highlight of the set was when the Welsh rock band performed their 2007 track ‘Your Love Alone is Not Enough’ with accompaniment from multi-instrumentalist and songwriter The Anchoress.
The trio – who formed in 1986 – played an assortment of their most popular anthems, including ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’, ‘The Masses Against The Classes’ and ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, as well as covers of Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ and the Sex Pistols classic ‘No Feelings’.
They closed their 24 song setlist with ‘A Design For Life’, a momentous song that seemed to strike a chord with many people at the gig, who sung the lyrics back to frontman Bradfield word for word.
The Manic’s Wembley gig demonstrated that they’re not just 90’s rockers rehashing their back catalogue. With poetic songwriting and energetic live shows, this is a band that’s still going strong over thirty years later and will be for years to come too.
Album Review: Be More Kind, Frank Turner
Be More Kind is the seventh studio album from British folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner.
The thirteen-track album gets off to a strong start with opener ‘Don’t Worry‘, before going into a slow, harmonic chorus. It’s the sort of quality music we’ve come to expect from Turner but with a slightly different approach.
Next up is ‘1933‘ – an upbeat and catchy track that’s the perfect song to get any festival crowd going. It was also the first single released from the album earlier this year, marking the Hampshire born singer’s return.
Turner has said the main influences on the album include Soft Cell, New Order and The Cure, with ‘Little Changes’, ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘There She Is’ demonstrating a new musical direction for him. Its lighter tones, melancholic choruses and prominent synthesizers also mark a departure from his former projects.
Yet the highlight of the album is ‘21st Century Survival Blues’, which has an indie inspired feel with its catchy guitars, thunderous drums and distinctive vocals.
“I wanted to try and get out of my comfort zone and do something different”, Turner said, and he’s achieved that with Be More Kind, which feels like a perfectly timed release that still retains that summery, festival feel.
The album is out on 4 May through Xtra Mile Recordings.