Ider – Mirror
From Sally Rooney to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, some of the most zeitgeisty British and Irish art of recent times has been from young women candidly announcing the sheer awkwardness of modern love. Doing so in a thoroughly mainstream manner are duo Ider, who have built a solid following with their unaffected live shows and highly relatable Gen-Z pop. Mirror is their best track yet, an upbeat power ballad that sees them beautifully harmonising about a loss of self in the wake of a breakup. “You chose to leave,” one of them repeats, but it doesn’t matter – they’re still checking when he was last online, and don’t recognise themselves during a night-time trip to the bathroom. Mirror pulls off one of pop’s trickiest tasks: being intimate and huge all at once.
Donae’o – Chalice (feat Belly)
A true British journeyman, Donae’o has perhaps suffered from being a jack of all trades. Across more than a decade he’s done UK funky, wobble-bass EDM and Afrobeats, all while rocking a logo that looks like a bad tribal tattoo you’d pick up drunk in Magaluf. But after scoring an underground hit with the uniquely hectic-yet-poised My Circle, he’s gone down a more credible path, producing beautifully spacious, funky and sleazy tracks for Giggs: Lock Doh and Linguo. New single Chalice slightly tweaks the formula for his next rung up the ladder, with US rapper Belly guesting, and Calvin Harris on production, whose piano chords halfway through are an unexpectedly great switch-up.
Bruce – What
More evidence that Bristol is the nexus of dance culture in the UK – where techno, dub and experimentalism feed back on each other – comes from producer Bruce, who has turned in the biggest, smartest banger of 2018. It is based around a creepy, ultra-populist rave melody that the Chemical Brothers wish they’d come up with, but he feeds in all manner of much weirder stuff: a time-stretched R&B vocal (points to anyone who can spot what it is), seething snares, and bass noises that blur angrily across bar divides. This will have formed the dark peak of so many recent techno sets: four minutes of reality-splintering mayhem.
Architects – Royal Beggars
Near-unimaginable pain was the crucible for the forthcoming album from the arena-filling British metalcore band: the death from skin cancer of guitarist and songwriter Tom Searle, brother of drummer Dan. You can, if you wish, choose to hear their catharsis in this sensational single taken from it: a blast of focused, excoriating hard rock with a clear-headed chorus melody. But the open-ended lyrics could be a parable for any number of things: male inadequacy perhaps, or a politically fractious Britain. The lick of sarcasm from throat-shredder Sam Carter – “You may not have noticed / We have totally lost our way” – is particularly savage in its bitterness.
Deerhunter – Death in Midsummer
Bradford Cox’s coaxing husk of a voice could be leading you anywhere: it always contains a seditious invitation that may or may not be trustworthy. On Death in Midsummer, the first single from their recently announced album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, it is set against a spindly, stately harpsichord riff from co-producer Cate Le Bon that gives Cox’s entreaties a picaresque feel. He uses that sage mysticism of his to draw attention to fading ways of life: the manual labour superseded by technology, and the noticing of it subsumed by self-interest. “Walk around and you’ll see how it fades,” he suggests, as euphoric bursts and a sidling, cosmic guitar solo cast things in a dazzling new light. Gorgeous.
Heather Leigh – Soft Seasons
The keening sound of pedal steel guitar is generally associated with country crooners, but Scotland-via-Texas musician Heather Leigh uses it in a much more exploratory way: drawing out gothic ambience, cascades of noise and pealing doom-metal chords. This gloriously heavy sound is topped by her querulous vocals, that recall Kate Bush at her wild and windiest. It all hangs together on her brilliant new album Throne, with Soft Seasons a highlight. “Won’t you say my name / It’s my only desire,” she pleads across a dark expanse of pedal steel, like PJ Harvey jamming with Earth.
Sheck Wes – WESPN
One of the longest slow-burns of the year is Mo Bamba by Sheck Wes – released in June 2017, but finally building up a head of steam a year later for its magnificently simple, out-of-tune terrace chant of a chorus. The New York rapper has now brought out his debut album and he sets out his stall in one track thus: “Similes and metaphors, that bullshit.” So instead of wordplay there is a forever-unspooling stream of self-aggrandisement, punctuated by bracingly high-pitched exclamations of “bitch!” On a purely lyrical level it’s narrow-minded, and the influence of Bay Area outsider Lil B is conspicuous, but it’s all so free associative and unbothered with metre that it becomes mesmerising – as on meandering, wondering ballad WESPN.
Pistol Annies – Best Years of My Life
The country supergroup comprising Angaleena Presley, Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe are almost painfully astute on the subject of female sadness. On Best Years of My Life, they sketch a dejected housewife contemplating “a recreational Percocet” and losing herself in the “intellectual emptiness” of TV re-runs to blank out the reality of her fading fortunes: the loveless marriage and the “10-cent town” that’s about to break her. A lengthy pedal steel and guitar solo, coupled with the trio’s harmonies, only make it more devastating, hinting at the size of the chasm in their heroine’s life.
Thom Yorke – Unmade
While much of his Suspiria soundtrack is probably best enjoyed in the confines of the cinema, at its heart, Yorke delivers a true classic for the ballad section of his best-of. Unmade has a little of Pyramid Song in the way its piano shifts unexpectedly on the offbeat, but is guileless and certain in the way so few Radiohead songs are. Perhaps when the film comes out, the song’s entreaties to “come under my wings … I swear that there’s nothing up my sleeve” will actually be quite creepy, but shorn from the screen this is Yorke at his most moving.
Julia Jacklin – Body
With a backing at almost Low-levels of minimalism – steady drum, bassline, piano, and guitar pressing slowly forward like a rubbernecking car – this is a hypnotic and compulsively replayable anti-torch song. Australian singer-songwriter Jacklin tells a tale of a possibly charismatic but essentially terrible boyfriend who gets busted for smoking on a plane, thus ruining their trip. She leaves him, and gets outta there with a quiet rush of self-actualisation: “I felt the changing of the seasons / All of my senses rushing back to me … Eyes on the driver, hands in my lap / Heading to the city to get my body back.” You can feel her horizons open up as the song trudges smoothly onward.