This is a time of looking forward. To the familiar artists that will return. To the new artists that will be discovered. This year, like any other, comes with a wish list. Some albums will never materialise. Others will slightly disappoint. A few will remain life-long friends. Fingers crossed for the latter. In no particular order, apart from alphabetical, my 2018 wish list includes new releases by Alela Diane, Anäis Mitchell, Bill Callahan, Caitlin Harnett, Cat Power, East River Pipe, Field Report, First Aid Kit, Jacob Golden, Jenny Lewis, Jessica Pratt, Jim White, Jonathan Wilson, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Pearl Charles, Phosphorescent, Pinegrove, Richard Edwards, The Delines, Vetiver, Wooden Shjips, Wye Oak and the artist formerly known as Young Man.
And yet, there is a special place in the 2018 wish list for a new album by Kramies (pronunciation to be determined). With rumours going back at least a couple of decades, there are unconfirmed reports that an album is finally on its way and that Ireland had some part to play in it. We wait with fingers crossed, though we have learned not to hold our breath. The hard way. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful feature by Shon Cobbs and his Behind The Scenes colleagues from Denver. It features Kramies answering questions and sometimes asking them too. Plus a lot of laughing.
Well, here we are. The culmination of yet another musical year. And the great thing? Next year’s only just around the corner. Can’t wait.
Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Released on her own record label, Lucinda Williams returned with a new-found freedom. The songs were strong. The lyrics were stark. The band was tight. And there was a great JJ Cale cover at the end.
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
After a period of musical self-doubt, Jenny Lewis returned with her first release in six years. And it was well worth the wait. Voyager was chock-a-block with foot-tapping melodies and grown-up lyrics.
Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Ultraviolence has been largely overlooked in end-of-year, best-of lists. Perhaps it’s unsurprising. Slowing things right down, LDR managed to alienate most of the people who loved the dance-floor anthems of the last album. What a relief! Let’s hope she’s got the strength to explore the altogether darker nooks and crannies of her current musical space.
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
By contrast, TWOD are a seemingly obligatory inclusion in everybody’s end-of-year list. But it’s a no-brainer as to why. This was an old-fashioned sort of album. Full of great build ups, long wind downs, and thrilling middle sections. (Don’t tell anyone, though, but it ran out of steam a little bit towards the end of side 2).
The Antlers – Familiars
Familiars was full of slow but irresistibly funky songs, most of them led by a trumpet or two. It was the sort of party you’d have if you were stuck in a funeral procession. Against your better nature, you’d be really enjoying yourself.
Jenny Lewis – Voyager
There’s more than a whiff of pop about Jenny Lewis’ new release, Voyager. On a scale from Katy Perry to Scout Niblett, superstar producers Beck and Ryan Adams have delivered an album that’s somewhere shy of Haim but still well north of Annie Clark. It’s a good place to be. Everything sounds wonderfully crisp. The hooks are in exactly the right place. And around the land FM radio stations are updating their playlists accordingly. It’s a genuinely enjoyable record. But is it a Jenny Lewis record? As the head girl of former indie favourites Rilo Kiley, she has a resolutely ‘alt’ reputation to live up to. As the author of two country-flecked, yet slightly folky solo albums, she’d started to create a different niche for herself. And a nice one it was too. So, how does Voyager fit in? Very snugly is the answer. The pristine nature of the production emphasises the phrasing really well. Jenny Lewis is someone who sings likes she’s reciting Shakespeare. Every syllable is perfectly present. Here, her voice is placed right up front. And that can only be a good thing. The themes are also immediately recognisable. Without falling into the trap of thinking that every lyric must be autobiographical, it’s an album of mature themes. Jenny Lewis is the undisputed spokesperson for a lateish-thirtysomething-woman-usually-in-a-relationship-but-with-no-kids-yet generation. She counts the trophy girlfriends among her set of ageing male friends. She sings about making babies rather than making love. It’s a refreshingly strong voice from a cohort of women that is usually silent. And there are some fine songs too. Perhaps the pick is ‘Late Bloomer’. Containing not just one but two great hooks, one for the verse and one for the chorus, it’s a story about a teenage trip to Paris. Take it literally it at your peril, but revel in the songwriting. Jenny Lewis may have ventured out on a voyage from ‘alt’ to pop, but if so there’s still plenty of ground to travel. And it may yet take some time. Let’s hope so.
The Line of Best Fit review
The 405 review
The Guardian review
All Music review
American Songwriter review
Irish Times review