All posts by Elliott Simpson

15 (More) Favourite Albums From 2018

As mentioned in my 25 Favourite Albums of 2018 list, last year was a great one for music. That list easily could’ve ended up being a lot longer, but I wanted to avoid it becoming too much of a slog to read, so I kept it down to 25.

So, here’s a second list! I enjoyed the following 15 albums a lot last year and so I wanted to give each of them a little shout out. I’ve kept things brief, and they aren’t in any numerical order this time (just alphabetical). If you’re in need of something new to listen to, be sure to check any of them out that peak your interest.

Adrianne Lenker – Abysskiss
While not quite a mesmerising as Big Thief’s last album Capacity, the latest solo effort from the band’s vocalist is delicate yet powerful.

Listen to ‘Symbol’

Anderson Paak – Oxnard
Anderson Paak’s follow-up to the fantastic Malibu is filled with great track after to great track, acting as a dizzying showcase for his musical talents. (Read the full review)

Listen to ‘Tints’

BC Camplight – Deportation Blues
Bizarre and unhinged in the best ways possible, Deportation Blues stands out from the crowd with its unusual sense of personality.

Listen to ‘I’m In a Weird Place Now’

Blood Orange – Negro Swan
blood orange
Celebrating unheard voices, the fourth full-length from Dev Hynes is filled with gorgeous, soulful moments.

Listen to ‘Saint’

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Though it doesn’t quite match up to her defining debut, the second album from Courtney Barnett demonstrates that she’s still a singular, unique voice in the current music scene.

Listen to ‘Nameless, Faceless’

Django Django – Marble Skies
Bouncing back from the sophomore slump that was Born Under SaturnMarble Skies is a lean, focused and (above all else) fun effort from Django Django. (Read the full review)

Listen to ‘In Your Beat’

Goat Girl – Goat Girl
goat girl
One of 2018’s strongest debut albums, Goat Girl is filled with quick, punchy tracks that demand your attention.

Listen to ‘The Man’

Oh Sees – Smote Reverser
oh sees
Smote Reverser delivers the garage-rock goods, featuring tracks that are as punishing and unhinged as we’ve come to expect from Oh Sees.

Listen to ‘Smote Reverser’

Snail Mail – Lush
Though its second half falters a little, the debut album from Snail Mail features some of the year’s most memorable, heart-achingly angsty indie rock songs.

Listen to ‘Pristine’

The first full-length from SOPHIE attempts to redefine what pop music can be, with sharp, dissonant instrumentals and gorgeous lyrics about self-discovery and identity.

Listen to ‘Faceshopping’

Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo In Blue
Wearing their influences on the sleeve, Sunflower Bean together a fun and breezy pop-rock album that more than matches their debut.

Listen to ‘I Was a Fool’

Superorganism – Superorganism
No one else really sounds like Superorganism. Their first album is filled with quirky and colourful songs about fame, the night time and… prawns. (Read the full review)

Listen to ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’

Teleman – Family Of Aliens
Teleman’s third full-length is bright and inventive, featuring the band’s signature blend of off-beat instrumentation and unusual lyrical themes.

Listen to ‘Submarine Life’

The Voidz – Virtue
Julian Casablanca’s band truly comes into its own on Virtue – a rock album that avoids easy categorisation, bouncing from style to style, genre to genre.

Listen to ‘Leave It In My Dreams’

Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
young fathers
Young Fathers continue to be on Scotland’s most exciting bands and, as Cocoa Sugar shows off, there’s no one else quite like them.

Listen to ‘In My View’



25 Favourite Albums of 2018

Every year since I started this blog, I’ve intended to put together one these lists and finally, I’ve managed to get my act together and actually do it.

2018 was a  great year for music, honestly, and I had a tough time putting this list together. The fact that so many of the albums featured on here were not actually reviewed on Sound Mind just goes to show how many good albums there were. (It also highlights how flaky I’ve been with updating this blog, but whatever…)

At the end of last year, I resolved to try and expand my music taste a bit more, but the lack of genre diversity here shows that I kind of failed with that. Most of my music listening still boils down to indie rock and pop, which has always sorta been my comfort zone.

Anywho, enough with the preamble. Here are the 25 albums I enjoyed listening to most released in 2018.

25. The Internet – Hive Mind
Though never a big fan of The Internet in the past, I found myself coming back to Hive Mind again and again throughout the year. Featuring some heavy soul and funk influences, the album is filled with slick grooves that are hard not to get caught up in.

Listen to ‘Roll (Burbank Funk)’

24. Christine and the Queens – Chris24.jpg
Boasting a stronger sense of attitude than her much-lauded debut, the second album from Héloïse Letissier takes a few more risks. The songs here are punchy and poppy in the best way possible, without a single lowlight in sight.

Listen to ‘Doesn’t Matter’

23. Julia Holter – Aviary
Abstract and obtuse, Aviary presents itself as a puzzle. This 90-minute epic is filled with lush sonic layers, impenetrable lyrics and song structures that gleefully throw every musical rulebook out of the window. And it’s all the better for it – the perfect album to lose yourself in.

Listen to ‘I Shall Love 2’

22. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Swapping out straightforward rock for sleazy lounge music, Arctic Monkeys’ latest was bold in a way that probably shouldn’t have paid off. While Alex Turner may have alienated a few fans through the shift in style, the album succeeds in crafting a unique world that’s hard not to admire.

Listen to ‘Four Out Of Five’

21. Jeff Tweedy – Warm
The first solo album from the Wilco frontman is exactly what its title suggests it: warm. Though Tweedy addresses some of his most painful experiences – such as his struggle with drug addiction on ‘Having Been Is No Way To Be’ – as a whole, the album is beautifully life-affirming.

Listen to ‘I Know What It’s Like’

20. U.S. Girls – A Poem Unlimited
The sixth full-length from Meghan Remy is perhaps her best yet. Combining danceable, disco-infused instrumentals with sharp lyrics on gender equality, In A Poem Unlimited is an album that works on multiple levels. From sinister rocker ‘Incidental Boogie’ to the Talking Heads-esque funk-out ‘Time’, it’s nothing less than stunning.

Listen to ‘Rosebud’

19. Shame – Songs of Praise
Perhaps 2018’s first great release, the debut album from Shame shows that British punk is alive and kicking. Songs of Praise features just the right amount of variety, from the almost anthemic ‘One Rizla’ to unhinged slow-burner ‘The Lick’. (Read the full review)

Listen to ‘One Rizla’

18. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Jon Hopkins is one of the most respected names in electronic music today and for a good reason. Singularity, his first release in five years, is all kinds of gorgeous. It excels in its energetic moments – such as the stuttering lead ‘Emerald Rush’ – as well as its more tender ones, such as on the subdued closer ‘Recovery’.

Listen to ‘Emerald Rush’

17. Robyn – Honey
I am, and always will be, a sucker for a good pop song. Luckily, Honey has nine of ’em. The latest release from Robyn is just fantastic pop music from start to finish, featuring zero low points in its runtime. While love has been sung about in thousands of songs before, Robyn has a knack for making it sound like she’s the only one who’s ever experienced it.

Listen to ‘Honey’

16. MGMT – Little Dark Age
Following up their divisive self-titled album, in many ways, it feels like MGMT have gone back to basics on this release. And it works. Each of the songs featured on Little Dark Age radiates its own sense of personality, from the darkly gothic title track to the smartphone-critiquing ‘TSLAMP’. (Read the full review)

Listen to ‘Little Dark Age’

15. Low – Double Negative
How often does a band drop an album as good as this one over 25 years into their career? Double Negative conjures up its own little world, blending the band’s usual repertoire of instruments with some fuzzed-out and often tense electronics. It has a dazed, weary quality to it – like wandering through a lucid dream.

Listen to ‘Always Trying to Work It Out’

Somehow Laura Marling just seems to get better with every project. Last year’s Semper Femina was one of my favourite releases of 2017, but LUMP – a collaborative album with Mike Lindsay of Tunng – might be even better. The album is more playful and eclectic than anything she’s released before, both musically and lyrically. Each of its six tracks is gorgeously strange in its own way.

Listen to ‘Curse of the Contemporary’

13.Ty SegallFreedom’s Goblin
In terms of artists who released a prolific amount of albums in 2018, this year belonged to Ty Segall. Of the five albums he dropped through the year, Freedom’s Goblin is my favourite. Almost his White Album, it dives into a wide variety of genres and styles across its hour-plus runtime (with colossal 12-minute closer ‘And, Goodnight’) and yet it all fits together so well. A collection of experiments where just about all of them pay off. (Read the full review)

Listen to ‘My Lady’s On Fire’

12. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Parquet Courts have been around for a little while now, but it feels like they’re only just getting the recognition they deserve with Wide Awake! The album is stacked with great songs, blending clever political lyrics with the band’s usual slacker-rock sound.

While I loved many of the band’s previous albums, everything just feels that little bit sharper here. The band feel like they’re at the top of their game on Wide Awake! and it’s going to be exciting to see where they go next.

Listen to ‘Almost Had To Start A Fight / In And Out Of Patience’

11. Ezra Furman – Transangelic Exodus11
Ezra Furman has quietly been delivering killer album after killer album over the past ten years or so, and Transangelic Exodus might be his most impressive project yet. An allegorical concept album, focusing on Furman and his (literal) angel lover going on the run from the government, it’s bursting with personality and cleverness.

The songs here are all fantastic on there own – from punchy opener ‘Suck the Blood from My Wound’ to the joyfully lighthearted closer ‘I Lost My Innocence’ – but together they form something much more powerful. It’s a bold and creative celebration of queerness as well as a plain-good rock album.

Listen to ‘Suck the Blood From My Wound’

10. Pusha T – DAYTONA
The buzz surrounding DAYTONA when it was released was inescapable. The first album released as part of Kanye West’s GOOD Summer series, it’s also the best one. While Kanye seemingly becomes more unlikeable with every public appearance, here he excels behind the scenes as a producer, his production matching perfectly with Pusha T’s hard-hitting lyrics.

With its brief runtime of 21 minutes, there’s no room for filler on it and every track absolutely pops. DAYTONA is truly an album for the digital age – encouraging you to put it on loop, listening to it again and again and again.

Listen to ‘If You Know You Know’

9. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In
The opposite of DAYTONA in terms of length, Bottle It In is every bit as impressive. While Kurt Vile’s signature laid-back indie-folk sound hangs over the album as a whole, he delves into a number of different styles throughout it. There are straight-up rockers like ‘Loading Zones’ and ‘Check Baby’ and more tender, vulnerable songs like ‘Mutinies’.

Where the album succeeds most though is its longer, hazier moments like ‘Bassackwards’ and the title track. With their looping instrumentation and simple yet evocative lyrics, they’re the sort of songs you can’t help but lose yourself in. (Read the full review)

Listen to ‘Bassackwards’

8. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
What can I say about Mitski that hasn’t already been said? In a discography full of stunning releases (check out Puberty 2 if you haven’t already) Be the Cowboy feels like the artist’s most powerful statement yet.

The album is filled with short but striking tracks, each of them conjuring up a sketch of a troubled relationship. ‘Washing Machine Heart’ and ‘A Pearl’ each build themselves around brilliant central metaphors, ‘Geyser’ explodes with as much emotion as its title suggests and ‘Nobody’ is the perfect loneliness anthem. Each of these songs is filled with more emotion than some full albums are, and that’s a mighty achievement.

Listen to ‘Nobody’

7. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
A remake of the most iconic album from Will Toledo’s vast Bandcamp back catalogue, Twin Fantasy is not technically made up of new songs… But they’re overhauled heavily enough that I think it should count as a new release.

On it, Car Seat Headrest continue to make a strong argument for why indie rock is very much not dead. Tracks like ‘Sober to Death’ and ‘Bodys’ show off Toledo as a singular voice, with his lyrics being incredibly honest and revealing. The album’s most striking moments though are the two behemoth songs that sit at its beginning and end – ‘Beach Life-In-Death’ and ‘Famous Prophets (Stars)’. Each shifting through multiple phases during its runtime, these are the sorts of songs that Toledo truly excels at crafting. (Read the full review)

Listen to ‘Bodys’

6. Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance.
While Idles’ 2017 release Brutalism was a fantastic punk album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. definitely feels like something more significant. The band blend together some truly crushing instrumentals with the central theme of self-love. Songs like ‘Great’ and ‘Television’ tell the listener to accept themselves for who they are: ‘If someone talked to you the way you talked to you, I’d put their teeth through’.

Pretty much every song on the album lands, and it’s remarkable just how good it is considering Brutalism was only released last year. From slow-burning opener ‘Colossus’ to pro-immigration anthem ‘Danny Nedelko’, Joy as an Act of Resistance. is filled with moments that will stick with me for a while to come.

Listen to ‘Never Fight a Man with a Perm’

5. Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer
Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy was arguably one of the most talked about albums of last year. It was a gargantuan, sprawling album in which the singer-songwriter pondered on politics, religion, technology, society and just about every other big topic. It ended up being divisive and, in my opinion, a bit too much. While there are some fantastic songs buried in Pure Comedy, the whole thing was too self-indulgent for its own good.

God’s Favourite Customer, in comparison, is a breath of fresh air. It’s received much less fanfare than Tillman’s last album, but it’s stronger in just about every way. Instead of looking outward, it’s much more introspective, focusing on his estrangement from his wife as well as his struggles with depression. Half the length of Pure Comedy, it’s more concise and every track shines.

Listen to ‘Please Don’t Die’

4. Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Pop music doesn’t get much better than I’m All Ears.

The second album from pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma is full of songs that twist, transform and challenge the listener. Take lead single ‘Falling Into Me’. Incorporating prog elements, the song forgoes the typical verse-chorus-verse structure, constantly shifting and changing as it moves along. The song must go through at least four or five phases in its six minutes, but they all fit together seamlessly.

The other great moments on I’m All Ears act similarly. The album’s two longest tracks – ‘Cool & Collected’ and ‘Donnie Darko’ – which sit at its end are particularly stunning, extrapolating what ‘Falling Into Me’ does into ten-minute lengths. It’s difficult to pull off a long song that doesn’t get dull halfway through but Let’s Eat Grandma manage it effortlessly. It’s impossible not to get excited about where these two are going to go next.

Listen to ‘Falling Into Me’

3. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
Following a pair of killer EPs released in 2016 and 2017, Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever’s debut album doesn’t disappoint.

I mentioned earlier than I’m a sucker for a good pop song and, well, the same is true for a straight-up indie rock album. The band manage to do everything right on Hope Downs – the songs are punchy and energetic, and the lyrics shine with their own sense of personality. The album hits the ground running with ‘An Air Conditioned Man’ and doesn’t really slip up once from there.

Rolling Blackouts don’t really reinvent the wheel, but not every album has to. I’ve heard plenty of albums this year that have strived for a similar sound to this one – many from bands that have been around for a while – and it’s just great to hear an act get it right. As with Let’s Eat Grandma, it’ll be interesting to see where these guys go next, but I’m more than happy for them to keep doing they do on Hope Downs.

Listen to ‘Talking Straight’

2. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Narrowing this list down to just 25 albums was difficult in itself, but choosing an order was even harder. In the end, I decided it made sense to put the albums I had on repeat most throughout 2018 at the top… And yeah, Dirty Computer was one of those albums.

The first half of this album, in particular, is immaculate. Every song flows into the next one seamlessly and yet each one has its own distinct personality, from the Prince-inspired ‘Make Me Feel’ to the feminism-infused ‘Pynk’ and ‘Django Jane’, which features some fantastic rapping from the singer/actress. It shows off Monáe as a stunning jack-of-all-trades, able to shift into any genre she chooses.

Dirty Computer is just a great pop album through-and-through. Listening to it, it’s not surprising that Prince had a hand in the album, with it tight, consistent quality reminding me of some his best albums (Purple RainSign ‘O’ The Times, etc.) The album may not be particularly boundary pushing, but it succeeds so well at everything it tries its hand at that it’s impossible not to love.

Listen to ‘Pynk’

1. Beach House – 7
It’s been a running joke with Beach House for a while that they never really change up their sound. Across their first six albums, they hovered around the same dream pop style, making small tweaks here and there… And it was never really a problem because they were just so good at that sound.

All that said though, it’s the fact that they have switched things up that makes so fantastic. Songs like ‘Dark Spring’ and ‘Dive’ show the band pushing out of their comfort zone further than they ever have before, experimenting with new sounds and styles. Even when the band play it safe, the results are nothing less than gorgeous; tracks like ‘Pay No Mind’ and ‘Lose Your Smile’ could easily slip onto Bloom or Depression Cherry.

The album is also just so damn consistent. While Beach House has long been one of my favourite bands, this might be the first album they’ve released where every track is a stunner. Songs like ‘Lemon Glow’ and ‘Drunk in LA’ sit among their best, painting moods unlike any other band I know is capable of.

is the best album that Beach House have released so far, and that’s saying something for a band with such an impeccable discography. I can’t think of any other artist who’s been so consistently good for so long.

Listen to ‘Drunk in LA’



The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

The 1975 are a band I’ve been aware of for a long time, but have never been too interested in checking out. There’s always been a certain trying-too-hard, eye-roll-inducing quality about them (their second album’s title encapsulates this perfectly) that’s put me off really diving into their stuff.

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships ended up being hard to ignore though – due to all the buzz it’s been receiving online – so I decided to give it a go. And it’s a strange one, to say the least. The album is flawed, but it’s often admirably ambitious at the same time. You can tell that the band chucked a lot of ideas into it, and when they work, they often work spectacularly.

‘Love If We Made It’ exemplifies this best. The song is full of tension, featuring abrasive vocals and an ominous, repetitive instrumental on the verses. They act as a recap of the low-lights of the past couple of years (from the Syrian refugee crisis to ‘Thank you Kanye, very cool!’) before the glitzy 80s-infused chorus comes in. And it’s gorgeous – especially when paired the chant of ‘And I’d love it if we made it’. The song just perfectly encapsulates modern times and is the perfect anthem for them.

It’s the main highlight of the first half of the album, which is mostly filled with underwhelming moments. Matty Healy sounds too much like he’s trying to ape Bon Iver’s 22, A Million on intro track ‘The 1975’ and the two singles that follow it – ‘Give Yourself A Try’ and ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ – are just kind of okay. Neither are bad songs, but it’s difficult to get excited about them.

On the other hand, songs like ‘Be My Mistake’, which features the album’s cringiest line (‘You make me hard, but she makes me weak’) and ‘The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme’ are straight-up bad. They don’t really do much other than drag down the album’s batting average.

Outside of a couple of highlights, such as ‘Love It We Made It’ and ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships doesn’t really hit its stride until right near the end… Which is unfortunate. ‘Inside Your Mind’ is a fantastically twisted love ballad, managing to be haunting and romantic at the same time. On it, Matty sings about cracking his girlfriend’s head open to find out what she’s thinking. On ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’, the band once again wears their love of 80s pop on their sleeves and it pays off tremendously, featuring a cheesy chorus that they just about pull off.

Album closer ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ ends things on a definite high note. Swapping the 80s pop influence for 90s Britpop, it’s a great overblown alternative rock number – think Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’. It’s grand and climactic like a good closer should be. It’s just a shame that so much of what comes before it doesn’t work half as well.

Best Tracks: ‘Love It If We Made It’, ‘Inside Your Mind’, ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’

Sunflower Bean @ SWX, Bristol

Sunflower Bean has always been one of those mid-tier bands for me. Both their albums are solid, each featuring a handful of real highlights, but they’ve yet to drop something truly fantastic. That’s not to diss them though – the band members are incredibly young (hint: their latest album is called Twentytwo in Blue) and they’re still finding their groove in some ways.

Opening for them at SWX was Miya Folick, another promising artist. I saw her at the same venue just over a year ago, and it’s remarkable how much she’s reinvented herself in that time. Her first album  Premonitions (released in October) swapped out the indie-rock singer-songwriter style of her early EPs for a poppier sound, with big catchy choruses. While not all of the songs worked for me when listening to the album, they sounded terrific live.

Folick has an absolutely tremendous voice, and it sounded even better live than on her album. Her set built slowly, kicking off with some of the more sombre cuts from Premonitions (such as ‘Thingamajig’) and ending with the more energetic ones (like ‘Freak Out’). While it would’ve been nice to hear a couple of older songs, the set was still stunning, winning me over a little more on her new material. She made for a tough act to follow.

Fortunately, Sunflower Bean was just as – if not more – impressive. While I’m not normally a fan of shorter sets (the band only played for an hour), it led to the performance being tight and filler-free. From opener ‘Burn It’ to the one-song encore, there were no lulls throughout the entire set, which is something I rarely see.

And everything sounded pristine. It’s interesting how some bands can sound fantastic in studio recordings but incredibly underwhelming live (an example of this is Snail Mail, who I caught a few weeks ago). Sunflower Bean is one of those bands that work the opposite way, sounding even better live than they do on their albums. Every track they played was filled with energy, featuring passionate performances and some great impromptu solos.

Highlights include the band’s new track ‘Come For Me’ (from an upcoming EP), during which lead singer Julia Cummings moshed around the audience, and ‘I Was A Fool’, a woozy Fleetwood Mac-inspired cut from their last album. Sunflower Bean closed things out with an encore of ‘Wall Watcher’ from their debut, which was a lot of fun if not a little too brief.

If you get the chance to see them live, go for it. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a fan, I think you’ll be impressed.

Anderson Paak – Oxnard

Anderson Paak’s rise has been slow and steady. After years as an underground artist, he broke through in 2015 with an appearance on Dr. Dre’s Compton, following that with his stellar second album Malibu the next year. His latest album though, Oxnard, feels like his most explicit push for big mainstream success – packed full of potential hits and Paak’s palpable charisma.

While not as thematically and stylistically ambitious as MalibuOxnard is a lot easier to digest. It’s a smooth 13-track ride, filled with great moments, some carefully selected guests and just enough variety to keep things interesting. After opening with a couple of so-so tracks – the aimless ‘The Chase’ and ‘Headlow’, which is marred by a cringy blowjob skit – ‘Tints’ really gets the ball rolling. The track is pure pop perfection, featuring a funky bassline and Paak’s bombastic sense of personality. It also has a top-notch Kendrick Lamar feature, who fits into the singer’s world effortlessly.

And things don’t really let up from there. ‘Who R U’ matches some swaggering bars from Paak with a top-notch beat, while ‘Smile/Petty’ acts as a great one-two, approaching relationship troubles from two different angles. ‘Six Summers’ stands among the artist’s best songs; while the political theme is a little unfocused, the track features a gorgeous shift in tone halfway through – moving from pompous to melancholy in an instant.

Oxnard‘s greatest asset is its production – it’s stunning throughout. Every song features its own gorgeous instrumental touches, from the layers of percussion on ‘Tints’ to the saxophone solo on ‘Cheers’. While it generally hovers around funk and rap, the album dips its toe in a lot of different genres – sometimes multiple ones on the same song. And it never feels forced. The production is even strong enough to hold together some of the album’s weakest songs, such as the bonus tracks, ‘Sweet Chick’ and ‘Left To Right’.

The album mellows out in its second half; the pace slows down and the songs take on a woozy, almost psychedelic vibe in some places. It’s also more feature-heavy than the first half, though luckily no one feels out of place. Snoop Dogg and Pusha T in particular steal the show on their respective songs, with the production on their tracks complimenting their usual styles well. While ‘Cheers’ isn’t a particularly exciting closer, it wraps up the album well.

Oxnard comes together as a strong whole, making for a dizzying display of Anderson Paak’s talents. While it might not be quite as satisfying as 2016’s Malibu, it makes for a superb, accessible introduction to the artist’s world.

Best Tracks: ‘Tints’, ‘Six Summers’, Brother’s Keeper’

Kurt Vile – Bottle It In

Kurt Vile has a knack for making music you can get lost in. It’s a quality that’s been there since his first album back in 2008, Constant Hitmaker, but he’s just got better at it over time. Now eight albums deep into his career, he’s pretty much perfected it. Bottle It In is the sort of album you can just fall into – like a hazy, reverb-y bath.

Nowhere is this more clear than the song ‘Bassackwards’, perhaps the lushest, most atmospheric track he’s put out. For a ten minute song, it doesn’t progress a whole lot, circling around the chords and swirling electronics for most of its runtime, but it doesn’t need to. It paints a distinct mood – like being half-caught in a daydream – that Vile’s lyrics only emphasis: ‘I was on the beach, but I was thinking about the bay’. Like many of his best songs (think ‘Wakin’ On A Pretty Day’) it just feels effortless, like it was improvised on the spot, despite the amount of work that obviously went into it.

The song encapsulates Bottle It In as a whole pretty well. Vile takes his time to get where he’s going on the album (and most of the time it doesn’t sound like he knows where he’s going), taking just about every detour he can along the way. For any other artist, this would be a criticism. Bottle It In is a hefty album, clocking in at just under 80 minutes, but it just about works. It’s his most ambitious release, dipping into more styles and moods than any of his past albums. There are short-and-punchy rockers, drone-y ten-minute epics and just about everything in between on here. In many ways, it feels like a cumulation of the seven albums that came before it.

There’s plenty of classic Vile on here such as opener ‘Loading Zones’, which – of all things – is about trying to get free parking. It’s the catchiest track he’s dropped since ‘Pretty Pimpin’ and I particularly love the ‘I park for free’ chants that close out the track. ‘One Trick Ponies’ is a sweet and goofy self-referential song (‘Some are one trick ponies but so am I’) that features some of the album’s strongest lyrics. It’s schmaltzy, but Vile’s vocals sell it. Also great are ‘Yeah Bones’, which features a propulsive rhythm and a great hook, and ‘Check Baby’, a fantastically drawn-out rocker. The song fades out around the eight-minute mark, but there’s the sense it could roll along on its riff forever.

There’s a palpable shift in mood on the album at the halfway point with the 11-minute title track. Along with the equally long closer (‘Skinny Mini’), it’s likely to go down as one Bottle It In’s most divisive tracks. The instrumentation has an almost skeletal feel to it and the lyrics are some of the moodiest, most introspective ones Vile has penned: ‘Don’t tell them that you love them, for your own sake’. The tracks the follow on from it carry its mood. While Vile’s quirks still shine through on the second half of the album, it does have a more melancholy atmosphere overall.

On ‘Mutinies’, he mumbles over a particularly downbeat guitar loop, coming out with some of his most personal lyrics: ‘The mutinies in my head keep staying, I take pills and pills to make them go away’. ‘Come Again’ and ‘Cold Was The Wild’ carry a similarly melancholy feel; the latter in particular is an album standout, featuring some new instrumental twists. The song sounds like it was designed to soundtrack an old-school horror movie, featuring cawing sound effects, background static and some ominous bass guitar slides. It borders on uncomfortable at times.

Out of all the albums Kurt Vile has released, Bottle It In is the most difficult to untangle. Yet, it also feels like his best. It’s a versatile release, featuring tracks that explore sounds that Vile has more-or-less mastered at this stage (‘Bassackwards’) and others that push him into new territory (‘Cold Was The Wind’). It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next.

Best Tracks: ‘Bassackwards’, ‘One Trick Ponies’, ‘Skinny Mini’

Roosevelt – Young Romance

You can discover some fantastic bands by turning up for the support acts at gigs. While I’m guilty of skipping them more often than not these days, I’ve found plenty of favourites through showing up early, such as Vacations, Money and – as you can probably guess from this review’s title – Roosevelt. The project of Marius Lauber, Roosevelt constructions slick, danceable synth-pop. After catching him as the support for Glass Animals a couple years back, I quickly jumped on his debut Roosevelt, which was just as good as the live show promised. The album doesn’t do much that hasn’t been done before, but what it sets out to do it does incredibly well. The songs are fun with big hooks and feature just enough variation between them for things to stay interesting.

Two years later and we now have Young Romance. The album covers a lot of the same ground as Roosevelt, continuing to blend disco and house with an old school tinge. The mood of the album is somewhat different though. Roosevelt felt like one long night out with friends at the club, whereas Young Romance is more tinged nostalgia and a longing for the past. The brief opener ‘Take Me Back’ comes across as the album’s mission statement; the title can be read in two ways, both as the protagonist’s desire to return to an old relationship (a common lyrical theme throughout the album) and Roosevelt’s interest in the sounds of the past.

‘Take Me Back’ quickly leads on to ‘Under The Sun’, one of the album’s strongest cuts. Though its chorus doesn’t make much sense (‘Tonight I’ll show you everything under the sun’), it doesn’t really have to; the song is catchy, fun and summery, and honestly, that’s all it needs to be. Lyrics have never been Roosevelt’s strong suit, and the ones on Young Romance aim to be broad and relatable. They’re angsty, teenager-ish and a little overblown, as you’d expect given the album’s title. ‘Shadows’ is about being unable to forget a past lover (‘The shadows of our love’), ‘Yr Love’ rekindling an old romance (‘Bring your love back to be’) and ‘Getaway’ trying to run away from the world with a partner (‘We can get away tonight’). Like I said, big and broad. But they mostly work.

The album isn’t as routinely consistent as Roosevelt, nor does it flow as well, but there are some strong tracks on here. Songs like ‘Shadows’ and ‘Losing Touch’ can stand toe-to-toe with Roosevelt’s best songs, featuring killer basslines, thumping drums and the aforementioned catchy hooks. Young Romance doesn’t quite do enough to justify its 50-minute runtime though and there are a few clunkers around the middle (such as ‘Better Days’) that drag things out a bit. The album would have benefitted from having a couple of tracks cut from it, making things just that little bit leaner.

Young Romance is ultimately a fun but middling release. It’s not the sort of album that survives being picked apart too much and works best when you just chuck it on in the background. If you like your indie pop with a thick retro coating, then it’s worth checking out.

Best Tracks: ‘Under The Sun’, ‘Losing Touch’, ‘Shadows’.