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Best Records: May 2018 Arctic Monkeys, Courtney Barnett, Half Man Half Biscuit, Ryley Walker, and more

May has been good. It contained one enormo-surprise and some records as worthy as anything else released in 2018.

The main turn-up for the books was the Arctic Monkeys album, ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’. Seemingly derided by many of their fans upon first listen, it’s a tour de force of exceptional lyricism married to a kind of slow-moving loungecore, with nods to David Bowie, Prefab Sprout, Scott Walker and the Beach Boys. It’s an adroit, self mocking beast of an LP that is multi-layered enough to reward repeated plays. Don’t let their earlier, more straightforward work put you off giving this a listen.

Similarly smart in the lyrical capacity is Courtney Barnett who has made a darker, grungier record with ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’ who shows the singer to be subtle, introspective and a bit furious amid some of the catchiest tunes she’s written to date.

And if we are talking about lyrics it’s hard to ignore Half Man Half Biscuit whose ‘No-one cares about your creative hub so get your fuckin’ hedge cut’ is worth existing for its title alone, but also rattles off plenty of examples of the lo-fi shambling indie tunes they are known for.

Ryley Walker’s latest album ‘Deafman Glance’ shows an artist unwilling to sit still. It is proggier and more complex than before heading up plenty of musical cul-de-sacs at times but also emerging squinting into the daylight with some lovely pastoral prog folk worthy of Canterbury itself.

Mary Lattimore, meanwhile, provided us with another album of her unique harp strums and loops.

Another discovery was Tess Roby, who gave us an album of mysterious and affecting electronic ballads like a softer Zola Jesus and named the LP after a beacon in Lancashire. Over in France Halo Maud became an office favourite with an album of dream pop which reminded us of Blonde Redhead and Melody’s Echo Chamber (in which she also plays).

Jo Passed are on Sub Pop and their second album ‘Their Prime’ (geddit?) was a surge of eccentric production and songwriting which was as much in thrall as 10CC as it was to Guided By Voices; Lithics brought to mind the superb avant-rock of the Ex; and we can’t ignore Parquet Courts, whose ‘Wide Awake’ was a stop/start juggernaut of energy and contrasting styles.

On an electronic tip, we had Nicolas Jaar’s project AAL (Against All Logic) used to air out all his odds-and-ends of house and techno compositions. Surgeon dropped a transcendental album in ‘Luminosity Device’ that was spiritual but also dancefloor friendly. The GAS LP...again I wasn’t convinced: the format of one long track didn’t bother me, the discordant orchestral samples he’s used since ‘Narkopop’ did. We all really enjoyed Kamaal Williams' batch of smooth jazz and funk on his first LP since Yussef Kamaal disbanded. And there were much less smooth sounds on Opal Tapes from AJA who caved even Ant’s head in with their tape of primal, cathartic noise.

As ever there were plenty of re-issues, and some good ones at that. Rehearing ‘Codename: Dustsucker’ by Bark Psychosis made many of us re-evaluate an album we’d dismissed a bit on first release; there was a deserved re-issue for Jeremy Enigk’s orch-pop classic ‘Return of the Frog Queen’; whilst fans of post-punk and Joy Division in particular should check out the collection of Nocturnal Projections' various singles and EPs.

Looking forward. Next month we are really looking forward to you all hearing the Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever album which sounds like it could be the guitar pop soundtrack to the summer. Lord of modern psychedelic jazz Kamasi Washington drops his latest ambitious opus. Australian quintet Tangents play more Tortoise-inspired post-rock and jazz improvisations. Whilst, finally, Flasher (on Domino) could fill the Breeders-shaped hole with their catchy off kilter guitar pop.

For now, over and out.