Gold Flake Paint’s 20
As 2018 draws to an close, GFP’s founder, Tom P. Johnson, shares his twenty favourite songs of the year. Our extensive end-of-year review – featuring interviews, essays, and new music recommendations – can be found in our brand new physical publication, A Music Journal, which is available to pre-order here.
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Listen to a new mix featuring all 20 songs right here
1. The Innocence Mission – Green Bus
From: ‘Sun On The Square‘ LP; Bella Union
Every now and again we stumble upon a song that quietly changes as it’s absorbed, its make-up (the chord changes, the melodies) weaving themselves into the fabric of our own being until it exists, uniquely, for us. From the moment we first heard Green Bus, a song we were lucky enough to unveil on this very site, we knew it was special. With repeated listens, however, it grew into something else, something altogether more special, more personal, no different to the memories we’ve kept; little moments of magic we’ve carried forth. A modest narrative, about searching for a gift for a loved one, Green Bus shimmers with early morning light, with the butterflies of adventure, steadily blossoming into something altogether more important simply through the weight of its conviction. “Down this street, I ride a green bus, early, deep into town,” Karen Peris sings, with that wisened voice as evocative as ever. “And what could I bring you, today in the meantime?” she continues, “Fruit from the sunlight, quartz from the bay? And where will I find this, perfect and wondrous? I look into shops, I slip into rain.”
2. Gia Margaret – Goodnight
From: ‘There’s Always Glimmer‘ LP; Orindal Records
Probably my own personal favourite album of 2018, Gia Margaret’s ‘There’s Always Glimmer’ is a quietly astounding piece of work, one where simple sentiments (day-to-day actions, drifting thoughts) take on far greater power within the dimly-lit world she’s created. A poignant document of relationship growing and falling apart, the record soothes, cracks, and then gently breaks, the whole thing crumbling away in slow-motion; like staring at a clock just to know you’re alive. ‘Birthday’ was the obvious choice for a ‘single’ but it’s the tender weight of ‘Goodnight’ that truly endures, the subtle undercurrent of its percussive heartbeat matched by swirling guitars and a haunting vocal that slowly disappears into darkness, never to be forgotten.
3. Damien Jurado – The Last Great Washington State
From: ‘The Horizon Just Laughed‘ LP; Secretly Canadian
In short, Damien Jurado’s ‘The Horizon Just Laughed’ is the best record yet from one of the best songwriters of his generation. If that sounds like a sweeping generalisation, know that we state such a thing only as a way to implore you to devote more time to an artist who continues to craft such impeccable records it’s hard to know what else to say. A swirling piano-led ballad, The Last Great Washington State is as lyrically inventive as Jurado has ever been, all his words and ways wrapped up within that soft but timbered voice that is like a pied-piper of melancholy, one you’ll willingly follow wherever it might lead. Rolling on for six-and-a-half minutes, it’s a spellbinding journey, one of ghosts and great adventures, of teachings and travel, of the great breadth of an America, romantically detailed alongside Steinbeck, McCarthy, et al. “Alone with your ghosts, and the question mark protagonist, leaving you in deserts in search of the answers, to all of the questions that lead to more questions, afraid to stand up or lose your salvation.”
4. Haley Heynderickx – Worth It
From: ‘I Need To Start A Garden‘ LP; Mama Bird Recording Co.
There was already much longing for Hayley Heynderickx’ debut full-length, thanks to the word-of-mouth praise that followed the release of ‘Oom Sha La La’ back in 2017. Despite that, nobody could have been prepared for Garden’s mesmeric centre-piece; the staggering, eight-minute powerhouse that is ‘Worth It’. A dramatic push-and-pull of tangled emotions, the song is a lyrical marvel but, more than that, its the way that Haley manages to tie the whole thing together that is most impressive, the jagged spikes of guitar, the calming refrains, the stop-start nature of it all, that picks you up, drags you down, spits you back out the other side, lost but in total awe of the experience. As a whole collection, I Need To Start A Garden deserves far more praise than it’s picked up along the way – and ‘Worth It’ is the furiously beautiful indication of such a sentiment. Leap into a brave new world.
5. Advance Base – Dolores & Kimberly
From: ‘Animal Companionship‘ LP; Run For Cover Records
Under his Casiotone For The Painfully Alone moniker, Owen Ashworth perfect the song-as-short-story, carving out a collection of slender pop songs that were comprehensive lives themselves, full of people and places you immediately felt a part of. The third album under his new name, Animal Companionship returns to this form and pushes such a thing to whole new melancholic heights. A concept record of-sorts, about, well animal companionship, this beautiful record reaches its poignant peak on ‘Dolores & Kimberly’, the kind of song that hits like a sucker-punch to the gut for no discernible reason. “That song in particular is pretty mysterious,” Ashworth himself tells us. “Leaving room for the listener’s imagination makes the experience of listening more personal, and more memorable, because you have to put so much of yourself into the song. By the time you finish listening, the story is half yours.”
6. Tomberlin – Seventeen
From: ‘At Weddings’ LP; Saddle Creek
Much like Black Belt Eagle Scout, also featured here, Tomberlin’s crushing ‘At Weddings’ fully deserved to be picked up by a bigger label, and it was, again, Saddle Creek that elevated Sara Tomberlin’s stunning self-release to new heights, the label re-releasing the 2017 collection with a handful of new and unreleased songs. Of those new batch, it was Seventeen that shone brightest, the beautiful guitar tone that underpins so much of her work matched by subtly stirring strings and a vocal melody that is immediately powerful; quietly enrapturing as the whole thing gently swells, burying the listener under an emotional weight unmatched in 2018. The kind of song, the kind of record, that stays with you like a lived-in memory; like a puzzle missing its final piece.
7. Nature Shots – what is the word for when you are screaming and no one can hear?
From: ‘Foreclosure‘ LP; Bandcamp
We were instantly grabbed by the first song released from Nature Shot’s stunning new album but, in hindsight, the gentle two-minutes of ‘a prayer; begging’ only hinted at what was to come from. Sometimes ethereal, like Grouper at her formidable best, occasionally more steadfast and focused, Nature Shots hit true heights on the six-minutes of ‘What is the word for…’, a heartfelt paean that swirls like a snowstorm, white upon white, a dizzying world where you can’t tell left from right, up from down. It all comes down to that voice; a truly enrapturing instrument in its own right that carries (and articulates) every ounce of pain expressed along the way, so much so that you can feel it in your bones as you sit and watch it unfurl.
8. Natalie Prass – Short Court Style
From: The Future and the Past; ATO Records
That bass line! What else is there to say?
A colourful, radiant, exquisite moment of pop music that sashays, shimmers, and shines brighter than most other songs released this year. The record deserved more plaudits than it received but perhaps everyone was just stuck right here, in this gleaming nook where the world feels like a wholly better place.
9. Foxing – Nearer My God
From: ‘Nearer My God’ LP; Triple Crown Records
An emotionally wrought journey from beginning to end, Foxing’s Nearer My God LP felt like the new shape of emo music, something altogether more focused, heavy-hearted and, well, meaningful. For all of its emotional weight and worth, it’s still the title-track that lands the most dizzying blow, however; a snappy three-and-a-half minutes that flies by in a whirlwind of stirring instrumentation and impassioned vocals that mask any hint of theatricality with a rawness that can’t be shied away from. Probably 2018’s stellar play-this-as-loud-as-you-fucking-can anthem. So, play this as loud as you fucking can.
10. Devi McCallion and Katie Dey – Be Cool
From: ‘Some New Form Of Life‘ LP; Bandcamp
Released just last month, the new collaborative record from Devi McCallion and Katie Dey is a wild, confusing, beatific ride, described in our review (here) as “trap beats stuck in the ghost zone of a hard drive, the spectrogram libidinal with its own sonic chaos.” There are moments of mayhem and disorder, of dark noise and rage, where the whole things spirals like some corrupt file that you can no longer play. Keep your head above the surface for long enough, however, and you end up at ‘Be Cool’ – the album’s stand-out emotional moment, a track unlike any other we’ve heard this year. “I will come undone, to be there in the sun, to be with you,” it sings; a tender post-script to this forsaken world we’ve all ended up in.
11. Lucy Dacus – Pillar Of Truth
From: ‘Historian‘; Matador Records
For all of its punchy brilliance (Night Shift, Addictions) it’s perhaps the momentous seven-minutes of ‘Pillar Of Truth’, Historian’s penultimate chapter, that is the record’s most formidable moment; a quietly-building seven-minutes, a singular piece of work as bold and expressive as anything we’ve heard from Lucy Dacus thus far. “It’s about my grandmother and I wrote it while we were at her house in Mississippi; visiting her death bed, essentially,” Lucy told us in our in-depth interview with her earlier this year. “It’s a positive song and I have really positive associations with that time because I learned so much from her example and her strength and composure. Her sense of calm was unbelievable.”
12. Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake The Want Is
From: ‘From When I Wake The Want Is‘; Rock Action Records
It was always going to be the most interesting of journeys; where Kathryn Joseph took her music after the breakthrough success of 2015’s ‘Bones You Have Thrown Me’, which won the Scottish Album of the Year award that same year. With everything heightened (vision, confidence, audience, support), she could have taken that record’s follow-up in numerous directions, each one bearing the risk of it all falling apart. What we ended up with was, well, a record where everything did indeed feel heightened. That voice was even more unsettling, the playing even more astute, the production even more nuanced and expressive, the weight of it all even more crushing and smothering than we thought possible. The title track is the record’s totemic heart; a powerful, moving, utterly hypnotic back-and-forth; a black tide flowing in the dead of night.
13. Sun June – Young
From: ‘Years‘ LP; Keeled Scales
Sun June’s beautiful debut is remarkably solid. Every track lasts for three-minutes-and-something long, save for ‘Young’ which is an outlier at just two-and-a-half minutes. The instrumentation is achingly detailed but always sturdy, never threatening to fall apart. And that voice, the tender light at the forefront, is hypnotising throughout, a steady gaze and gentile demeanour that invites you further and further and further in. We could have chosen any of the songs as a high-point, it’s the record’s most fleeting moment that somehow seems to linger the longest, however, the breeziness of its display, those wilting guitars, the voice that just about drifts into melancholy, stirring that far-off flicker of regret for every flame that’s now been extinguished, like it or not.
14. Yours Are The Only Ears – Fire In My Eyes
From: ‘Knock Hard‘ LP; Team Love Records
Life, if we’re to be so dismissively straightforward, is all about balancing the big and small. Susannah Cutler has a way with words that magnifies both of these two, often-terrifying, extremities in the most plain-stated of ways. Listen passingly and you might find ‘Fire In My Eyes’ as a simple and pretty folk song, the smart instrumentation and weightless voice characters of such a thing. Climb inside it though and you’ll find something else entirely, Cutler balancing little moments of distraction (“Do you want to sit in my room and listen to music? I had something to tell you but I forgot it”) with sudden flashes of something wholly darker and more uncomfortable: “Do you want to go on your roof and stare at the pavement?” she asks, before adding “I imagine my body on the ground… Am I a good person?”
15. Kississippi – Cut Yr Teeth
From: ‘Sunset Blush‘ LP; Alcopop! Records
Skipping past the technicality that it was first unveiled at the tail-end of 2017, ‘Cut Yr Teeth’ remains the stand-out moment on Kississippi’s bold and brilliant new LP, which was very much stitched into 2018’s fabric. As wonderfully heartening and wholesome as we’ve come to expect, the finalised studio version finds Zoe Reynolds melding gnarly, chugging guitars with her beautifully expressive lead voice which guides the whole thing forward, like a lighthouse in the storm: “I’m still afraid of the dark; you were my light for so long. Oceans deep and mountains tall, the future plays tricks on us, huh?” she sings, belying the wavering nature of those sentiments by leaping in to the light at the sound of the following kick-drum, the whole thing bursting into thrilling life.
16. Mr Twin Sister – Jaipur
From: ‘Salt‘ LP; Twin Group
The New York band’s first single in two years, and the first introduction to their equally decadent new album ‘Salt’ which was released in October. Always ready and waiting with some dazzling new trick up their sleeve, ‘Jaipur’ was exactly and exquisitely that; a gleaming and gorgeous burst of Indian-influenced pop music that merged colourful instrumentation with a radiant disco vocal that feels like it could have been pulled from the beating-heart of some long-lost classic.
17. Retirement Party – Are You My Mother?
From: ‘Somewhat Literate‘ LP; Counter Intuitive Records
One of those records that is so across-the-board brilliant that we could have donned a blindfold and picked any track at random as a highlight, Retirement Party’s Somewhat Literate is a gnarly beast, all unshackled slabs of guitar, tumultuous drumming and vocals that somehow manage to keep themselves in-check in the face of it all. ‘Have You Seen My Mother?’ is a gleaming testament of RP’s strength, a thrilling burst of noise that wins further plaudits for its (somewhat) literate tour-de-force through various complexities of modern life: “And I wrote while on my knees / A confession to the gods about why I can’t seem to eat / And I found familiarity in the words and phrases that had once been spoken to me.”
18. Mal Devisa – Beauty Is A Friend Of Mine
From: ‘Shade and the little Creatures‘; Bandcamp
Mal Devisa is a powerhouse; a wild, unshackled force of nature; a momentous gust of wind that blows across cities, countries and continents, shaping and re-shaping but always moving forwards, in spite of the forces of the world. ‘Beauty Is A Friend Of Mine’, the opening track on a new fifteen-song collection, which was released in November alongside a further two EPs, is indicative of her singular power; a gripping melding of genres, shapes, lights and darks; the power of Young Fathers shone through the prism of past greats (see ‘Sacred‘) to create something dizzyingly experimental and unifying. A truly special artist.
19. Illuminati Hotties – Cuff
From: ‘Kiss Yr Frenemies‘; Tiny Engines
One of 2018’s most endearing debut records, Illuminati Hotties navigated that tricky path between brattiness and endearment with wide-eyed wonder, and nowhere does that sentiment ring more true than on the dazzling first single ‘(You’re Better) Than Ever’ (listen here). As a singular stand-out moment, however, we’ve plumped for the burned-out brilliance off ‘Cuff’ – a magnetising four-minutes that drifts between blissful moments of retreat and something altogether more unsteady, where the overriding atmosphere becomes smothered by billowing storm clouds, as the whole thing threatens to fall in on itself. It doesn’t, of course. It survives. And so do we.
20. Black Belt Eagle Scout – Soft Stud
From: ‘Mother of my Children’ LP; Saddle Creek
One of those DIY-label gems that rightly got elevated to the next level, Black Belt Eagle Scout’s powerful and important record was re-released by Saddle Creek at the end of Summer – and its opening track is still an utterly mesmerising unraveling. Rightly heralded as a “radical indigenous queer feminist”, the record itself is a twin-tale; a beautiful depiction of human loss and pain, and a poignant picture of what it means to be a native person in the United States of 2018. The record’s opening track is a monumental introduction, a six-minute blast of sensitive vocals that are swallowed whole by one of 2018’s greatest guitar-ravaged outros.
A Music Journal, Issue Two, is released in January
Pre-order it here