Best of 2018

It has been one hell of a year. From the influx of thousands of artists during festival season to watching many of our most-loved Brighton bands bloom into genuine world beaters, 2018 has been an incredibly successful year for music locally. Our Brightonsfinest writers now look back over the past 12 months to remember their highlights on record and in the live sphere as well as the ones we missed.

Review of the year – Jeff Hemmings

Favourite Album: Anna Calvi – Hunter

With mainstream music radio currently dominated by electro pop and urban music, it’s becoming increasingly rare for big personalities in the world of guitar music to make their mark. The split between the mainstream and the alternative is a bridge too far it seems. Which is a massive shame, as there are still some outstanding and innovative artists out there, who deserve wider exposure. Such as Anna Calvi, who released her third album this year, Hunter. A concept of sorts, it lyrically and thematically focuses on what Calvi says is frustration, “At the limitations of what a woman is allowed to be, on a very basic level”. She’s taken a long journey to better understand herself, her sexuality, and how she fits in this increasingly topsy-turvy, gender-fluid world, ever since her self-titled debut of 2011. A fiery, no-holds barred writer and guitarist of extraordinary skill and inventiveness, Hunter combines a harsh brutality with moments of serene beauty, as she oscillates between displaying strength, and understanding weakness all underpinned throughout by strong melodies and carefully crafted arrangements. Calvi is a rather disarming artist, and perhaps a little too much of an acquired taste to really strike home in the mainstream, but we should be very thankful for the likes of these increasingly thoughtful, and mesmerising musical personalities.

Favourite Gig: Idles – Concorde 2, Brighton – 27th October 2018

Bristol’s band of the moment Idles, have captured the imagination in a way few have been able to do in recent times. In lead singer Joe Talbot they have a lightning rod for some of the most pressing and talked about malaises of these times; men’s vulnerabilities being at the top of the list, along with fear of immigrants, stoked nationalism, toxic masculinity, and class warfare. Celebration and communion are at the heart of Idles, in a way that Killing Joke epitomised at the height of their powers in the 80s; a kind of open-armed tribal-punk catharsis, that pulls zero punches. With a roaring, groove-based post-punk band behind him, Idles are one of the best live acts around, as they mesh up Swans, with Birthday Party and The Fall, and transport this to the 21st century. They were able to transcend splintering genres to sell out this gig in one day, and next year’s follow up at the Dome, also in almost no time at all. A remarkable band for these extraordinary times.

One We’ve Missed: The Sound of Ivor Raymonde

Simon Raymonde is a man on a mission. Not only does the ex-Cocteau Twin run the successful indie label Bella Union, a record shop in Brighton, and heads up the rather excellent Lost Horizons band, he is also the son of one Ivor Raymonde, a composer, arranger and songwriter who was an integral operator in the musical wild west frontier of the 60s and 70s. Because he can (via his label), and because of his innate love of music in general, and his father in particular, Simon put together an exquisitely compiled package representing some of the best known moments that featured the hand of Ivor. With tracks, including a few hit smashes, from the likes of Billy Fury, Dusty Springfield, David Bowie, Tom Jones, Walker Brothers, and even Ian Dury & The Blockheads, it’s an extraordinary 26-track document of the work of a man who made brilliantly, and pain-stakingly, crafted music, all pre-computer, and pre-digitalisation. He even worked closely with trailblazer Joe Meek, when he was operating out of his tiny North London bedroom, making some of the most innovative music of the early 60s. With accompanying stories, and photographs, documenting this extraordinary period of music making, it’s as good a musical education as you’ll find.

Jeff Hemmings

Top Three Tracks:

Calexico – ‘Under the Wheels’
Courtney Barnett – ‘City Looks Pretty’
Mothers – ‘Pink’

Review of the year – Anna Claxton

Favourite Album: Gaz Coombes – World’s Strongest Man

World’s Strongest Man is simply a gorgeous album, full of texture and variety, to knock socks off any more obscure or supposedly clever releases this year. Coombes is a classic British songwriter who puts so much thought into what he does that it will take all that I have not to kneel at his feet when he plays his show at St Paul’s Church in Worthing next May.

Favourite Gig: Britney Spears – Brighton Pride

The most highly anticipated show the city’s LGBTQ festival has possibly ever seen, it was as crazy as it was wonderful. Britters in a corset and suspenders, lip-syncing to her biggest hits, in front of an ‘up for it’ crowd, on a balmy summer’s evening after one of the best days in BN1’s calendar. So what if Southern Fail cocked up the end of the evening in the most spectacular fashion? Ms Spears had us partying on the beach for at least a few days afterwards, right?

One We’ve Missed: Biffy Clyro Unplugged – Le Bataclan, Paris

Hardly surprising that Brightonsfinest missed this one, I guess, but I was there and, not only was it highly emotional due to the location, but the audience was a family, wrapped in a truly beautiful bubble like nothing I had ever experienced. When they played their finale of ‘Many of Horror’, the goosebumps really arrived and I’m pretty sure that everyone was crying, a sea of people standing with arms raised, singing at the top of their voices, letting anyone listening know that live music is freedom, even if we were dancing amongst ghosts. No gig in my lifetime will ever come close.

Anna Claxton

Top Three Tracks:

Gaz Coombes – ‘Oxygen Mask’
Justin Timberlake ft Chris Stapleton – ‘Say Something’
The Prodigy – ‘Need Some1’

Review of the year – Liam McMillen

Favourite Album: Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts

No matter your opinion on Kanye West, you can’t deny that the self-proclaimed “Yeezy Season” – which saw the releases of Pusha T, Kanye West, Kids See Ghosts, Nas and Teyana Taylor – was an incredible spectacle for 2018. One of the best records was Kids See Ghosts, a collaboration between West and Kid Cudi. A record that evokes Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak and shows a human side to both artists, it was much more of an answer to West’s headspace than his bizarre interviews throughout the year. Exploring both of their struggles with mental health, it’s a beautiful record that is as thrilling as it is innovative. Featuring Pusha T, Ty Dolla $ign and Yasiin Bey, too, it’s an excellent example of where we’re at with 2018 hip-hop.

Favourite Gig: Black Honey – Concorde 2

Truly one of Brighton’s finest, Black Honey have gone from strength to strength since their inception. 2018 was, without a doubt, their greatest ever year too with the release of their immense debut record and a very special show at Brighton’s Concorde 2. This gig was a celebration of the group between both the band and their adoring fans and a huge statement of just how far they’ve come as a band. From outings of their early, desert-rock-inspired singles ‘Madonna’ and ‘Spinning Wheel’, to their innovative takes on disco and funk with album cuts ‘Midnight’ and ‘Crowded City’, the band have become an incredibly well-rounded machine and their Concorde 2 show was testament to this.

One We’ve Missed: Anderson .Paak at Brixton Academy

In terms of musical moments for me this year, it’s been pretty special. From joining Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on stage for ‘Stagger Lee’ and ‘Push the Sky Away’ at Primavera Sound, to witnessing Noel Gallagher join YOTA at the 300 capacity XOYO in London, to the return of Childish Gambino at Lovebox Festival, 2018 has been a hell of a spectacle for me personally. One gig – and moment – comes to mind straight away, however, and that is Dr Dre joining Anderson .Paak at Brixton Academy. A free show, for Apple Music dubbed as “presented by Dr Dre”, it was a huge surprise to see the hip-hop icon join his protege onstage for an exceptional version of ‘Still D.R.E’. An incredible moment that will stay with me forever.

Liam McMillen

Top Three Tracks:

Janelle Monae – ‘Make Me Feel’
Childish Gambino – ‘This is America’
Kanye West – ‘Ghost Town’

Review of the year – Jamie MacMillan

Favourite Album: Idles – Joy As An Act Of Resistance

The second album from Idles, was a game changer. Taking the savage intensity of their debut, Brutalism, channelling its ferocity into a series of barbed socio-political anthems, they have helped to shape much of the musical conversation in 2018. Whether it was the pro-immigrant ‘Danny Nedelko’, the cry to change generations of attitude towards masculinity in ‘Samaritans’, or the sheer bruising power of album opener ‘Colossus’, they produced a record as near-perfect as possible. There were huge progressions, not just in Joe Talbot’s fierce lyrics, but in the barrelling guitar sounds cooked up by the Bristolians. Excitingly, work on album number three has already begun.

Favourite Gig: Shame – The Haunt

2018 saw the usual mix of legends and newcomers appear across Brighton. At one end of the scale, Patti Smith’s Brighton Dome show was an absolute treat. All those years of poetic, powerful messages channelled into one unforgettable evening. A legend of a different sort, Jarvis Cocker’s surprise and intimate Patterns gig was one of those moments that you just can’t miss – his mixture of Pulp standards, solo classics and new ‘Jarv Is’ material made it a huge step up from the usual Britpop nostalgia. However, as a live moment, Shame at The Haunt is unbeatable. The explosion of a band grabbing their moment with both hands, in a venue that became woefully too small for them in the period between announcement and performance, the intensity of that night was unbelievable. To see them playing in front of a few thousand in London a few months later showed just what a dizzying ride they had enjoyed.

One We’ve Missed: Lily Allen – No Shame

The finest record that slipped through the net was No Shame by Lily Allen. A fantastic return to form, after Allen’s hiatus from music following an identity crisis in the wake of 2014’s poorly received Sheezus album. It’s an electro-pop record, with those hints of dancehall and reggae that mark this out as classic Allen territory, and excellent lyrics which chart her personal battles alongside social and political issues.

Jamie MacMillan

Top Three Tracks:

Idles – ‘Danny Nedelko’
Black Honey – ‘Midnight’
Architects – ‘Death Is Not Defeat’

Review of the year – Adam Kidd

Favourite Album: Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

It’s been a good year for new music, there have been some amazing releases from the local scene that I’ve really rated, from Seadog and 12 Stone Toddler in recent weeks going all the way back to the start of the year when The Fiction Aisle, Fierce Friend and Fruity Water all put out strong albums. I have to be honest with you, though, there’s only one record this year that’s had true staying power for me, and that’s Father John Misty’s God’s Favorite Customer.

Misty, aka Josh Tillman, followed up the magnum opus of 2017’s Pure Comedy with a record that’s a little homelier, a little looser and a lot more personal; dissecting a difficult time in his marriage that saw him move into a hotel for a six week bender. The cultural mouthpiece and indie trickster star who was everywhere promoting the last record has morphed into a quiet, evasive social media emigre, well, until you see him strutting his stuff on stage that is. There’s just something about his witty and emotional Americana that keeps pulling me back in for more, making me constantly wonder what’s next for Josh and Emma Tillman?

Favourite Gig: 12 Stone Toddler – The Haunt – 10th October 2018

I’ve not covered as many live shows this year for Brightonsfinest, which is a shame when looking back and seeing how many amazing dates we’ve covered. I got to see some really cool stuff at the start of the year, and one that stands out for an honourable mention is the Brighton Festival show that saw Deerhoof working with the amazing Stargaze Orchestra, for a minimalist reworking of a Fugazi record.

However, while that was fodder for the head I think the guys who went after my feet have to win the prize. 12 Stone Toddler’s album launch at The Haunt in November was a real riot. Cementing the new line up of the band with a performance which included a longer set than they’d ever played before, they gave us a tour-de-force which drove home just how great their long awaited third album Idiolalia really is. After this triumphant party launching that wonderful beast of a record into the world, we’ll be eagerly watching Toddler in 2019, to see what tricks they’re still hiding up their sleeves.

One We’ve Missed: Yumi & The Weather – Yumi & The Weather

I mentioned some of the great local releases at the start of this piece, but one that stands out as a record we really ought to have reviewed is the eponymous debut album from Worthing’s star attraction, Yumi & The Weather. It’s a power pop record that has a fresh modern electronic sound and great songs with huge staying power from songwriter and producer Ruby Taylor. She’s had some great support from the likes of 6Music, and it’s hard not to be impressed by the quality of what’s been produced from this totally independent artist. ‘Look At The Night’ alone is a huge earworm that’s been following me around for months. Unfortunately the mid-September release date was at an insanely busy period in our schedules, letting the album duck slightly below our new music radars. I’ve been listening to it ever since, though, and can assure you it’s a corker that’s well worth revisiting.

Adam Kidd

Top Three Tracks:

The Fiction Aisle – ‘Some Things Never Die’
Fierce Friend – ‘Lies That Comfort You’
Father John Misty – ‘God’s Favorite Customer’