From the Intercom: The 18 Best Albums of 2018 (Part 3)
# 6. Ruru – Far Out
# 5. Sobs – Telltale Signs
[Middle Class Cigars]
Telltale Signs is an album filled with confessions.
On “Party Song”, frontwoman Celine Autumn admits that the party that she’s attending gives her “copious amounts of anxiety”, and that she’d rather stay “home and watch TV”. On the nefariously titled “All Poison”, she looks inward, trying to sort herself out and “rectify all [her] flaws”. At the very end of the album, on the title track “Telltale Signs,” she laments that she’s “tired of feeling so confused” before straight up telling her lover “Break my heart but at least I know”–in an attempt to finally clarify her muddled relationship. All of these elements coalesce in an introverted, rock-oriented pop album that reveals Autumn’s deepest desires.
Never do we get the full picture of what exactly is going on–Autumn’s lyrics are penned to be as general as possible, but they come with enough details to be from a real place. Put together, the eight songs on Sobs’s debut form sketches of an emotional summer that conversely feels refreshingly straightforward. Despite what the band name Sobs tells you, Telltale Signs is an album that encompasses all types of repressed feelings that spill out carefully, song after song.
# 4. MISS WORLD – Keeping Up With Miss World
2018 is the year of the influencer. Traditionally, reality shows (Keeping Up With the Kardashians) and beauty pageants were the places for wannabe models to flaunt excessive lifestyles. Nowadays, it’s a lot easier. Social media applications like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook have made it easy for anyone with a fit body, a sense of fashion, and a good photographer to become the next big thing, all from the comfort of their own home. All you really have to do is be attractive enough. But why? What’s the end-game here for all of these fame-chasers? MISS WORLD, UK’s own Natalie Chahal, reveals all on her debut album Keeping Up With Miss World.
As her MISS WORLD persona, Chahal cleverly lampoons influencer culture with hilariously psuedo-confessional lyrics and cleverly punny titles (“Carb Yr Enthusiasm”, “Diet Coke Head”). On album opener “Diet Coke Head”, Chahal makes fun of celebrity buzzwords with lyrics like “I count the calories / But what does that mean?” “Radio All My Bitches” has her asking “Is butter a carb?”, before she goes into a grungy song about “going gluten-free for the summer” (“Carb Yr Enthusiasm”). On other songs, she makes ridiculously straightforward demands as MISS WORLD, telling her listeners to “Put Me In A Movie” and “Buy Me Dinner”. At one point she even straight-up calls you out on “(U Watch My) Stories (But You Don’t Like My Posts)”, a catchy song that taunts you about how obsessed you are with her. One can only imagine that this is the kind of thought process that these social media influencers have–MISS WORLD is the only one who’s brave enough to tell us what she’s really thinking.
Jokes and one-liners make Keeping Up With Miss World one of the funniest albums to sit through all year (my favorite line: “Daddy won’t pay to inflate my chest / That’s okay ‘cause my life is so groovy” on “Put Me in a Movie”). And she’s unequivocally in on the joke, despite what some people on the Internet might think. She dances around with inflatable dolls, and purposely uses really low quality footage for her music videos. Album closer “Modelling / Actressing” features a soundbite from what sounds like a pageant interview, where a starlet talks about how she wants to continue her “actressing” career, even though those words make no sense at all. Chahal has succeeded in creating an album that’s not only an enjoyable listen, but also one that is instantly quotable.
Imagine the type of album that a grungy Bratz doll would make–that’s the best way to describe the rough, unhindered sound of Keeping Up With Miss World.
# 3. Say Sue Me – Where We Were Together
[Damnably / Electric Muse]
Busan’s Say Sue Me just won’t slow down. After releasing their eponymously titled debut album and debut EP only just a year ago, it seems like they haven’t left the studio at all thanks to their vigorous output. Within 2018, they’ve released their sophomore album Where We Were Together, a Christmas project (Christmas, It’s Not A Biggie EP), a classic cover album (It’s Just a Short Walk! EP), a song for an Korean exhibition project (“We Just”), and a fantastic B-side (“Just Joking Around”). Already, the band two years in the making has an output that puts most others to shame. Every single one of their releases is worth checking out (I actually prefer some of the covers on It’s Just a Short Walk! to their original counterparts), but Say Sue Me is at their best on their own terms. Where We Were Together, the obvious crown jewel in their discography, is indie-pop with a surf-rock edge.
On most of the songs off of the album, frontwoman Sumi Choi’s vocals are dreamy and comforting, which are further paired with lyrics filled with wide-eyed innocence. On a song like “But I Like You” where Choi professes her love for “cats” and “old movies” as well as the titular “you”, there’s an innate charm in the way that she sings each line. “Funny and Cute”, a sweet lullaby, is a song filled with longing and bittersweet wishes. “I’m afraid of making new memories without you”, she admits, before picking herself up and singing “Let’s smile, dance, and drink together / You know the place, our bar.” Right afterwards, she switches gears completely and excitedly pulls you in, shouting “I just wanna dance / I don’t need to get drunk / I just wanna dance / As much I forget who I am” amongst an upbeat rock beat.
While Where We Were Together could easily teeter on soporific (especially on echoey chamber songs like “After Falling Asleep” and “About the Courage To Become Somebody’s Past”) they have a natural tendency for all-out guitar-driven jams that’ll make you want to move your feet. For example, although “Old Town” is a song about hometown loneliness, it’s upbeat enough to make you forget the fact that you’re dancing alone. “B Lover”, the most energetic song on the album, is mostly guitar driven, creating a rush of emotions that’s topped with a ripping guitar solo.
Keep your eyes on Say Sue Me–2019 is bound to be an even greater year for them.
# 2. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Shedding the indie-rock image that defined 2016’s Puberty 2, Be the Cowboy is a different achievement for Mitski entirely. It falls somewhere between avant-garde pop and indie-rock, and the more raw sounds that she once championed on Lush and Retired from Sad… As a result, a change in image became necessary.
The rollout for Be the Cowboy was beautifully cinematic. Each of the single artworks–from “Geyser” to “Nobody” to “Two Slow Dancers”–featured the singer posing in vintage plush-red cinemas, striking blue-and-red lit bedrooms, and noir-like automobiles complete with a 50s-era headscarf. Of course, that all led to the release of Be the Cowboy, an album that put her in a floral swim cap with the enigmatic title of the album overlaid over everything. All of these different personas that she takes on–the lonely moviegoer, the determined driver, the eponymous “cowboy”, among others–are explored throughout Be the Cowboy, an album that seems to made up of skits akin to the costumes that she puts on.
Every single song on the album (save “Two Slow Dancers” and “Nobody”) is under two minutes and thirty seconds, just enough time for Mitski to lay out the framework and some context of each character that she’s playing. Here you’ll see Mitski in a taxi, waiting in a diner, or even “in a corner taking up space”. Explore the woes of her and her husband (which she doesn’t have in reality), her sad wails of an aging “horse named cold air”, and the unraveling character that she taps into on songs like “Washing Machine Heart”. But just like any great Hollywood actress, Be the Cowboy allows her to envelop these characters fully while still maintaining a faint sense of who she is in her work. Loneliness and love, two themes that Mitski have reprised again and again on the excellent albums that came before this one, are once again prominent.
“Nobody”, a song that quite literally has a chorus where she sings the word “nobody” forty-something times, has somehow turned one of the saddest words in the English lexicon into the calling card for one of the best songs on the album. “Geyser”, the album’s explosive introduction, is heart-wrenchingly powerful, even though Mitski reaches for something that isn’t there at all (“You’re my number one / You’re the one I want / And I’ve turned down / Every hand that has beckoned me to come”). Perhaps these themes all come together on the obviously-titled “Lonesome Love”, where she lays down some of the most quotable lyrics of the year– “Nobody fucks me like me” and “Why am I lonely for lonesome love / Why am I lonely?” before she straight up leaves at the end of the song.
Be the Cowboy, then, is the perfect name for such an album. Cowboys are the lone gunmen of the West, dropping by town after town–unable to make a true connection with the people that they’re with. After all, they can’t stay in one place for too long. Though becoming a cowboy seems great, they’re the outsiders that keep everyone else at an arm’s distance, never truly letting anybody in. Despite trying on all of these different characters on the album, Mitski knows exactly what she is at the end of the day–she is that cowboy.
# 1. Haley Heynderickx – I Need to Start a Garden
[Mama Bird Recordings]
Portland-based musician Haley Heynderickx is soft-spoken. If you’re lucky enough to catch her at one of her amazing live shows, you’ll also realize that she’s also slightly awkward, but talks candidly to her audience as if they were her close friends. Welcoming, vulnerable, and tender–that’s the kind of music that won us over on her first full-length debut I Need To Start a Garden. A collection of rock-tinged folk songs, I Need To Start A Garden is music for the searching soul–a fitting description for the singer behind the voice.
I Need To Start A Garden is filled with wonder, a place where Heynderickx is able to reimagine the fast-paced world around us. There’s also a touch of whimsicality to Heynderickx’s reserved folk songs. Here, she’s a bug collector, where the most pressing things on her mind are dealing with the angry millipede on the carpet and the priest-like praying mantis on her bathtub. On “Untitled God Song”, she revels in her own image of the holy being, imagining her own god as one with “thick hips”, “big lips”, and knock-off coach bags. Album opener “No Face”, a song about being kind to one another, is a bare-bones ballad based off of the infamously lonely character from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Heynderickx’s vision is one to behold.
But despite Heynderickx’s clear knack for creating curious versions of the world through her songs (much like Miyazaki himself), there’s a strand of self-doubt that still remains present throughout the bulk of her work. “I am humbled by breaking down”, she repeats on “Show Me A Body”, almost like a mantra that she’s unable to break away from. The sprawling, beautiful “Worth It” itself is a near-eight minute internal dialogue where she tries to come to terms with her self-worth. It all comes to a breaking point on “Oom Sha La La”, a stream-of-consciousness song where she is finally worn down, shouting the title of the album “I need to start a garden” over and over again in an attempt to start anew.
Gardening, then, becomes symbolic of Heynderickx clearing her own mind and taking care of the issues troubling her. It’s an apt metaphor for self-care that allows you to cast away the doubts and move forward. “I need to start a garden” is thus an influential battle-cry; it’s a reminder that there’s a motivating force in all of us that will hopefully bear fruit once our own troubles have been tended to. Heynderickx, it seems, has taken her first steps into her own self-discovery.
I Need To Start A Garden is beautiful proof of the beginning of that journey.
Spotify playlist with all of these albums:
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!