I think I speak for everyone when I say that 2018 has been a year of growth: that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been a positive one, lord knows there’s enough to argue that it’s been far from it, but as writers, a site, and/or as individuals, we’re going into 2019 having change for the better.
That’s why lists like the one you’re about to read are pretty important as not only are they a lot of fun to speculate about and formulate, they act as a sort of pseudo-diary entry that documents the music that helped for this aforementioned development to occur: maybe it’s a record that taught us something new or gave us new insight, perhaps it was a gateway entry into a previously daunting genre or it could just be that over the course of the past 12 months, it was the album that just summed up what 2018 meant to us.
So without further ado, let’s talk about those records that we’ll be keeping in mind far after you’re done reading this feature – thank you and enjoy. – Liam Menzies
Note: Unlike some publications, there’s no editorial judiciary over the placements on this list. Each writer was allowed to choose between 10-15 albums with points allocated accordingly. This was all tallied up and has resulted in the list you’re reading now – if you don’t like it then you’re probably Kent Brockman.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
“BURY ME” roars Boston Manor frontman Henry Cox on England’s Dreaming – a track that has cemented its place very much towards to summit of a career that has always had the idea of constant growing and developing at the helm. Comparing, perhaps unnecessarily, with debut LP Be Nothing, the Blackpool punks have grown on the live stage as well as via the studio and the title, Welcome to the Neighbourhood, suggests that this is a new era where they call the shots. The closing ghostly chorus of “the day that I ruined your life” on Hate You repeats before drifting into nothingness, and it is with this that we realise Boston Manor are not just another one-dimensional pop-punk band, but an outfit with longevity and an abundance of as-of-yet unexplored layers. – Callum Thornhill
Judas Priest might come as a bit of a shock on an end of year list, especially with so many good releases in 2018, but Firepower showed that not only did Priest still have it, they were able to release their finest album to date. Despite being one of metal’s elder statesmen, Rob Halford has never sounded better as he howls through tracks like Firepower, Lightning Strike and Necromancer. An unexpected highlight of the unexpected addition is Sea of Red, an acoustic-cum-cinematic epic of an album closer, showing that whilst metal may have seen countless strong releases, sometimes, a golden oldie is always the best. – Oliver Butler
The debut full-length release from Brooklyn-based ex-choirboy Josiah Wise, who performs by the name serpentwithfeet. On soil, Wise’s impressive vocal range twists itself around confessional pieces exploring the strangest, tenderest parts of love and loss. The view we are presented with is unstable and full of contradiction – love is grotesque on messy (I’ve been sitting alone for hours / Waiting for you to bring your ugliest parts to me), but rapturously beautiful on cherubim (every time I worship you / my mouth is filled with honey.)
The lyrics are, at times, almost painfully personal and vulnerable, creating the sense that what we are listening to is a glimpse into something sacred, otherworldly. ‘serpent’ knows when to practice subtlety and when to let go – mourning song is a haunting break-up piece which unleashes all its anguish in its second half in a somewhat twisted celebration of romantic failure; “I want to make a pageant of my grief.” And what a beautiful pageant it is. – Lizzie McCreadie
HEART SHAPED BED
Heart Shaped Bed is delicately violent. Nicole Dollanganger sticks to what she knows best, melancholy barren instrumentation paired with heart-wrenching fantasy lyrics of obsession, death, and sex. Dollanganger plays the narrator, weaving stories, equally disturbing as they are alluring. Opener ‘Uncle’ introduces the album perfectly, it’s nauseating and uncomfortable but somehow beautiful. Songs connect hazily, tales of weddings and affairs pop up repeatedly, making the album completely compelling, requiring multiple listens to piece together the puzzle. HSB doesn’t deliver quite the same impact as her 2015 album Natural Born Losers, but stands solidly as one of the strongest releases of the year. – Isabella McHardy
KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW
Marmozets finding themselves on this list shouldn’t be a shock, especially with how good The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets was. But with Knowing What You Know Now, Marmozets have pushed themselves to new heights and expanded their sound to become one of the most exciting bands currently on the scene. On here, we’re able to listen to a cohesive sonic unit with a battalion of guitars and drums, with Becca’s vocal versatility acrobatically dancing over a sonic force. Whilst tracks like Major System Error, Play and Insomnia are some of the best they’ve ever done, you can’t help but feel they’re still holding a couple of cards close to their chests, and we haven’t seen the best of them yet. – Oliver Butler
SUM OF ALL YOUR PARTS
Killie boys Fatherson had a huge 2018, and that was all down to Sum of all your parts. The album is exquisite in all ways and proves fathersons immense talent in song writing and instrumentation. Songs like Charm School and The Rain shine have huge riffs and are made to be played live, While other songs such as oh yes slow the album right down, and create an intimate and beautiful feeling for the listener. The raw and unique approach to the production of the record is amazing, with loud and gritty guitars and beautifully crafted harmonies shining throughout. The band blew it out the park with this record and their rapid growth is only certain to continue into the new year. – Gregor Farquharson
I DON’T RUN
Madrid 4-piece Hinds receive a lot of back-handed compliments. Praise is often accompanied by odd comments on their musical ability and an apparent lack of sophistication in their song writing. And considering that they released one of the best indie rock albums of the year back in April, these takes seem pretty baffling to say the least. I Don’t Run improves on the band’s debut in nearly every sense, with their trademark sunny disposition married to a much-improved ear for melody. Add in the fuzzy, ramshackle vocal interplay between Ana Perrote and Carlota Cosials, and you’ve got a record overflowing with instantly memorable hooks and an irresistible, unique charm. Nay-sayers be damned, Hinds are here to stay. – Rory McArthur
What a fucking shiter of a year Kanye’s had out-with his musical output. From supporting Trump to claiming slavery was a choice, it seemed as though everything he touched turned to shit – that was until he got back in the studio. Recording and producing a string of great albums (Nasir not included, because fuck Nas). Coming a week after Pusha T’s spectacular DAYTONA, Ye is another left turn from chi-town’s king. Going back to the more self-analysing and scathing self-loathing that could be heard on 2008’s 808s and Heartbreaks (a criminally underrated record, but that’s by the by).
His bi-polar disorder is a theme running through the very veins of this record (the cover of the album even references it), and it’s refreshing to hear someone as influential and highly regarded (musically speaking at least) as Kanye discussing and being so open about these issues. Even if it is thinly veiled behind Kanye’s braggadocios and often times hilarious lyrics, it’s clear that music is a release that Kanye can always rely on to make his stances and viewpoints on everything more articulate than he ever could without a backing track. – Jake Cordiner
Dacus’ sophomore album seems to revolve around one thing: rebuilding from loss, whatever that loss may be. Historian’s penultimate track, ‘Pillar of Truth’, is an achingly beautiful recollection of Dacus’ late grandmother as she lies on her deathbed. Perhaps the apex example of her exceptional song writing ability; solemn, littered with religious imagery, dancing with perspectives, often placing herself in the role of her grandmother: “Lord, be near me in my final hour. I once had sight but now I’m blind / I tried to be the second coming, and if I was, nobody knew.”
Dacus gathers herself from the pain of loss and rebuilds herself without the optimism of a sunny disposition. Historians’ copes with loss in a way we all wish we could; taking pain as fodder for growth, a vessel to steer to strange new beginnings. – Madeleine Dunne
On their third album since 2016, serial experimentalists Guerrilla Toss produce their most satisfying collection of songs to date. Revelling in sci-fi themes, Twisted Crystal manages to be both surprisingly accessible and full of the sonic exploration you would expect from the band. Lead vocalist Kassie Carlson is the star of the show, providing the melodic anchor to the propulsive, space-age instrumentals that zip around her. But the supreme catchiness is only half the fun. On multiple listens, you begin to catch more subtle lines of guitar and synth that colour the record in a thousand strange hues and provide whole new layers to an already impressive record. It’s only 29 minutes long, but it packs in a whole universe worth of quality. – Rory McArthur
An emotionally turbulent last year for Ariana Grande seems to have resulted in an absolute masterpiece of a pop album. The once squeaky-clean star, straight off the Nickelodeon screen has grown up, honing her sound with sultry ballads, hip-hop inspired beats and an ever-impressive range.
Sweetener is an absolute joy to listen to, 47 minutes filled with hope, deeper meanings and important messages. She shares wisdom on how she deals with anxiety in breathin, preaches female empowerment on the sexy gospel god is a woman, and on dance anthem no tears left to cry she tells listeners how she’ll grow through all the bad, and create a bloody good pop song out of her hardships. – Beth McLeish
2018 was a strong year for hip-hop and evidence of that is TA1300, Denzel Curry’s latest album. Curry is a captivating presence, his flow chopping and changing with ease from track to track. TA1300 is cohesive without ever being repetitive, incorporating catchy hooks that also pack a punch resulting in highlights such as SUMO. Denzel Curry has captured the attention of many with this album and will no doubt continue to do so. – Ethan Woodford
Black Foxxes continue to excite with 2018’s Reidi, after a stellar debut with I’m Not Well in 2016. Right from the first melancholic chords of Breathe, the album just feels like a band wiser beyond their years, with a far more expansive sound than their debut. Highlights include Take Me Home, Manic In Me and Oh, It Had To Be You. However, with that said, the entire album from front to back IS the highlight. Mark Holley is one of the most exciting songwriters of 2018. With the band already rigorously working on new material for 2019, you get a good feeling they’ll be appearing on many Album Of The Year lists for many years to come. – Oliver Butler
Lindsey Jordan’s debut full-length release, Lush, proved itself to be infectiously catchy, supremely confident, and a stunning follow up to Habit, the EP that rose her to dizzying heights of popularity in her senior year of High School. Snail Mail has mastered taking sober self-doubt and turning it into the perfect crowd-pleaser with earworm guitar riffs. Take ‘Pristine’, beaming melodies dance with Jordan’s direct and earnest lyricism: “Don’t you want me for me / Is there any better feeling than coming clean?”
There are moments of pure introspection, too. On ‘Let’s Find Out’, Jordan drops the fuzz and offers a tender, folk-tinged side to Snail Mail: “Burn out when you want / something that’s lost belongs to you / someone should pay for it / Well, I don’t know who.” Unencumbered in sound and lyricism, Lush navigates heartbreak with melodic, raw authenticity. A mesmerising debut, and a tantalizing look at what’s to come from the talented young songwriter. – Madeleine Dunne
On Lifelong Vacation, the debut album by three former members of the brilliant and dearly missed Birthday Boys sketch group, The Sloppy Boys establish a hilariously dopey identity for themselves. These are the kind of guys who go to a coke party in search of beer. Who seem to think Michael, Janet, and Reggie Jackson all have the same catchphrase. Who hit up dance clubs to find girls who’ll tuck them in bed and feed them warm milk.
The humor is dumb-smart (or possibly just dumb-dumb) and maybe inaccessible for those who aren’t intimately familiar with the work the three comedians have done with The Birthday Boys and Comedy Bang! Bang! But incredulity will give way to earnest appreciation by the time the album reaches “I’m One Hell of a Dude.” – Sean Hannah
Five albums deep now Portal are still creating some of the most potent and out-there death/black metal you’ll ever hear. While the production on previous Portal releases tends to sound like the songs are bathed in murky and viscous tar, Ion clears up the sound and allows each individual instrument to be heard clearly in the mix. In doing so you can now fully hear how fucked up of a band they really are.
Riffs are winding and dissonant, the musicianship is as complex as it is perplexing and every track leaves the listener feeling totally unsettled. With a Lovecraftian flavour to the band, Portal makes soundtracks for descending into the abyss that’s as chaotic as it amazing. If you don’t shy away at a bit of extremity in your music theIon is an album to get lost in. – Liam Toner
Having waited eight years since her last album, many fans of Robyn may have thought Honey would never come, or that she would have lost her appeal by the time it did. Thankfully, Honey is once again a showcase of her ability to craft infectious songs that benefit from creative instrumentals and Robyn’s charisma.
Something like opener Missing U is lavish and fleshed out with a lot going on to help it channel the bombardment of emotions Robyn is documenting whilst Missing U is a tad more minimalist, leaving the Sweedish star to lay everything bare. Hopefully, she won’t leave us waiting quite as long for another album as good as this one. – Ethan Woodford
I’M ALL EARS
LET’S EAT GRANDMA
Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton emerged with their debut two years ago. I, Gemini was filled with fanciful fairy tale narratives, trippy tracks about radioactive mushrooms, dead cats and treehouses. Lyrically, carrying a childlike whimsy – but that was to be expected, it was literally written by two seventeen-year-olds finishing up their GCSEs. A promising release, but there was room to grow. And the Norwich duo didn’t disappoint.
On I’m All Ears Let’s Eat Grandma award their honed psychedelics a glossy coat of high-end production. It’s a thousand times more bold, dynamic and unlike anything you’ve heard before. With production credits from SOPHIE and the Horrors’ Faris Badwan, lead single ’Hot Pink’ builds with snarling synths to weaponize femininity in a sickly sweet pop-banger. It builds with thrashing bass and the indignation that the artists’ girlhood could undercut their presence: “Hot pink/ Is it mine, is it? / You won’t believe the shit that I can do.”
I’m All Ears is worlds away from Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut offering – still trippy and eccentric, but now lyrically mature and with much-needed fine-tuning, to the experimentation they’ve been praised for. With I’m All Ears, they solidified themselves as trailblazers, unafraid to leap boldly from intensity to intensity. – Madeleine Dunne
DOSE YOUR DREAMS
Divisive punks Fucked Up have returned with what might just be their crowning achievement. The hefty 18-song long tracklist of Dose Your Dreams finds room for a whole multitude of styles, including some spectacularly rousing punk (Raise Your Voice Joyce), heartrending shoegaze (How to Die Happy), and 90s-style indie (Came Down Wrong). Damian Abraham’s roaring vocals stun, but the real strength of this album is its variety, with other members often taking centre stage, as well as an impressive lineup of guest collaborators. The storyline concerning the bands favourite recurring character David is impossible to follow without a lyric sheet, but these songs nevertheless play as an enthralling odyssey that stands as one of the years most imaginative and unique releases. – Rory McArthur
2018 has been a great year for music, however, we know that when we look back at 2018 in terms of news out with the art itself, the first thing we’ll think about is the tragic loss of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison. His suicide was so tragic as it caught everyone by surprise as he had been so active. His latest record – Masterystem’s debut Dance Music was released just a couple of months before he took his own life.
Masterystem is a kind of supergroup formed of Scott and brother/Frabbit drummer Grant Hutchison and Justin and James Lockey, from Editors and Minor Victories respectively. To put it simply – Dance Music is a really fucking good punk record. Guitars bastardised in distortion and crashing drums intertwine to build to massive crescendos (Teething). However, what elevates Dance Music above the crowd is Scott’s lyricism. While some tracks may be uncomfortable to hear in the wake of the tragedy, Dance Music is further evidence that Scott was one of the songwriters of our generation. Rest easy big man, we all miss you. – Andrew Barr
CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS
Heloise Letissier of Christine & the Queens strutted back into our lives this year with a haircut and an armoury of brash, 80s funk-infused numbers under the androgynous new persona Chris. The production is much more maximalist here than on her debut Chaleur Humaine and, as always, everything is done in French as well as English. Lead single Girlfriend, featuring Dâm-Funk, is an irresistibly danceable exploration of desire and performativity, making for dizzyingly good pop music.
Chris makes a point of underlining desire from the perspective of a woman, while at the same time teasing and questioning the very concept of that womanhood. There are tender moments, too – Doesn’t matter is anguished and existential, What’s-her-face explores childhood alienation. It is an album which celebrates fluidity and instability, offering more questions than answers, and encouraging you to dance right through it. – Lizzie McCreadie
Time N Place
Kero Kero Bonito
London indie-pop mavericks Kero Kero Bonito came in strong on their sophomore album. Featuring singles such as Time Today and Make Believe, it’s as joyful as you’d expect from a KKB record. Well, until you reach something like Only Acting with its cacophonous climax or Rest Stop that feels like you’ve been transported to a menacing, out in the middle of nowhere gas station.
More often than not though, Kero Kero Bonito play with the concept of pop and take it to its logical conclusion, digital bleeps and pings you’re familiar with almost without knowing and sickly sweet melodies you’ll be humming till next year. Time n Place is like a 00’s board game with an unknowable amount of colourful plastic parts and rhyming chance cards you haven’t seen in years – an absolute riot. – Tilly O’Connor
Big Red Machine
A record that seems to have been overlooked by everyone (including this site’s very own Liam Menzies) is the self-titled debut from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and The National’s Aaron Dessner, despite the fact both Dessner and Vernon are two of the best indie songwriters of the decade. What is evident in Big Red Machine’s 10 tracks is the love of songwriting that Vernon and Dessner both share. It’s more experimental and less cohesive than anything that The National or Bon Iver would release, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
The near 6-minute highlight Forest Green is a longing, meditative track where Vernon repeatedly croons “I was gonna give you more time” between confusing imagery such as “I was gonna put it in my pocket / for every drying socket”. Forest Green epitomises the entire record – it’s undeniably scatter-brained, it’s the sound of two friends having fun and not taking themselves too seriously – it just so happens these friends are virtuosic songwriters. – Andrew Barr
Last January, Ty Segall quietly delivered one of the finest records of 2017. That is, of course, quiet as in it was met with little fanfare. The music, on the other hand, was a short, sharp shot of frenetic energy that blew the new year’s blues away with consummate ease. And now, almost a year to the day, a new project, entitled Freedom’s Goblin, has been unleashed upon the world to do the same.
This may well be the musician’s finest release yet, at the very least standing toe to toe with some of his previous classics. It’s a treasure trove that demands multiple listens to uncover its hidden gems, of which there are a great many, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone begrudging a few extra listens to really get to grips with it when the music is this good. – Rory McArthur
Bark Your Head Off, Dog
On LP4, Pennsylvania’s emo-folk sweethearts Hop Along really find their stride. Not that any of their previous work has been without merit, far from it, but Bark Your Head Off, Dog is surely their most texturally beautiful and fully realised release to date. Intro song How Simple is a sign of things to come, a jaunty, yet introspective number (a style of song that Frances Quinlan and co. have perfected over the years).
Not a single moment of the album’s runtime is wasted, with some unexpected instrumentations and timings always creeping around each and every corner. Simply put, Bark Your Head Off, Dog is one of the loveliest and deceptively saddest indie albums of the year. – Jake Cordiner
Songs of Praise
Shame blasted open the doors of 2018 with their wild debut LP Songs of Praise, the album title itself indicative of their particular brand of dry wit. This is a far cry from the eponymous Sunday afternoon BBC One religious singalong – you can imagine a pleasant elderly couple accidentally stumbling on this while browsing the interweb, recoiling in horror as Charlie Steen screams through the speakers like an angry goblin.
Although musically-speaking there’s nothing particularly revolutionary going on here, the rebellious attitude on display is a whole different matter. The South London five-piece have perfectly captured the anger of a generation fed up with austerity and itching for an uprising. Lead single ‘One Rizla’ is exhilarating and catchy in equal measure, while the ominous drawl of ‘The Lick’ builds to an intense finish. Songs of Praise may contain nods to the past, notably Mark E Smith, but the righteous indignation and nihilistic humour is very, very relevant. – Kieran Cannon
Texas-born rapper Travis Scott pushes boundaries and brings the cutting edge to hip-hop with his #1 album Astroworld, by far the GOOD music aficionado’s best body of work to date. Known for curating music, Travis brings something different to the mainstream hip-hop scene, purely through bringing together hazy beats and trippy effects to produce something heavily altered with tons of extra after effects. This keeps most songs in the album colourful as well as rich and with 37 different producers on board, this description shouldn’t be any surprise!
This metaphor may be a cliche at this point but this release is very much an hour-long rollercoaster with plenty of accelerating highs and loop de loops to keep you enthralled. Songs like Yosemite add the finesse and a pinch of stardust which sets it apart from most albums of this year. Then there’s Stargazing which pretty much sums up the album in four delightful minutes of ‘psychedelic hip-hop’ said the man himself. The futuristic feel truly does echo a theme park, like its out-there artwork. Astroworld features a bundle of brilliant samples not to mention The Beastie Boys as well as loads of unnamed features and surprises all over the place.
Finally, its highlight is without a doubt the Drake featured ‘Sicko Mode’. It constantly keeps you on edge with its huge beat changes that arguably make it an experimental masterpiece. The album takes hip-hop on a strange and oddly fulfilling roller coaster ride that is ahead of most of his peers. – Sanjeev Mann
God’s Favourite Customer
Father John Misty
Following 2017’s acclaimed Pure Comedy, Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman) wasted no time in releasing his next album God’s Favourite Customer. In stark contrast to its predecessor, a sprawling, grandiose project, this album is much smaller in scope, focussing mainly on Tillman’s marriage problems over the previous year or so along with struggles relating to his mental health, a powerful excerpt from opener Hangout At The Gallows comparing depression to mental terrorism. While many fans may prefer when Tillman tackles grandiose concepts in an ambitious fashion, the decision to make things more compact and set his cynical, witty sights on himself was a smart move.
Unsurprisingly, God’s Favourite Customer features some of Tillman’s most emotional songs yet. From admitting his darkest fears for his marriage on “Just Dumb Enough to Try” and being candid about his own failings on “The Palace” Tillman pulls no punches and this makes for a deeply personal album. This is highlighted on “The Songwriter”, where Tillman explores how art can affect relationships, serving as the emotional climax of the album and solidifies it as another success for Father John Misty. – Ethan Woodford
Tell Me How You Really Feel
This year, Australian guitar queen Courtney Barnett proved that the classic excuse of the “difficult second album” is merely that – just an excuse. Her follow up to 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit features her trademark snarky lyrics and memorable riffs with a more mature and broody tone. She takes on the ever-relevant topics of violence against women, mental health, and politics, presenting them in her own way. In catchy lead single Nameless, Faceless she cheerily paraphrases Margaret Atwood with “Men are scared that women will laugh at them… / Women are scared that men will kill them. / I hold my keys between my fingers.” It is in quintessential Courtney Barnett style to handle these heavy topics in a light-hearted way, whilst still making the important point.
The title of her album is representative of Courtney opening up to her audience. She answers the question of how she herself feels, singing of her anxieties, her loneliness, and her self-doubts. Her guitar playing is fierce, her story-telling lyrics are personal. City Looks Pretty is an extremely self-aware pop song about depression, Need a Little Time tells us of the stresses of her new found fame and the feminist undertone to the whole album is brought to a head in I’m Not Your Mother I’m Not Your Bitch. In all of these songs, however, she tells us that being vulnerable and strong aren’t mutually exclusive and that it’s okay to be both. – Beth McLeish
Pusha T’s solo career to date has been going from strength to strength. King Push, in particular, was dense and experimental, a demonstration of his considerable lyrical prowess. Not since the glory days of Clipse, though, has Pusha T sounded so focused; so driven.
Produced in its entirety by Kanye West, DAYTONA is one of five albums to emerge from his prolific ‘Wyoming Sessions’ and is arguably the strongest of all. Ye’s influence on the album is profound – his creative control gives the record a single-minded determination and an almost minimalist feel. The star of the show, though, is very much Pusha. Although the topics he raps about are broadly the same as they’ve always been – drug dealing, wealth, grudges – he occupies this space and makes it his own.
Kanye’s involvement was always going to court controversy, not least when he made the ill-informed decision to spend $85,000 on the licensing of an image depicting Whitney Houston’s bathroom after an apparent drug binge to use as the album’s cover art. Pusha still forges his own path, however, and makes it abundantly clear he doesn’t support his producer’s political agenda. No stranger to controversy himself, Pusha reignites his age-old beef with Drake on Infrared, calling out the Canadian rapper’s use of ghostwriters and kicking off an exchange of shots which culminated with The Story of Adidon.
Pusha has always been criminally underrated but after DAYTONA he can now legitimately claim to be one of the best in the game – his bars are relentless and he’s very much firing on all cylinders. – Kieran Cannon
The Wonder Years
The Wonder Years have always been one of those unique bands. With this latest record, the remnants of their pop-punk background have been power washed and with this clean slate, the band has crafted an exceptional album that is sure to lead on to bigger and better things. Raining in Kyoto is one example of the band’s ability to write a powerful and unique rock song, the powerful lyrics and loud guitar creating an amazing soundscape that pulls at the heartstrings as it simultaneously blows you away.
Other tracks such as the title track and Pyramids of Salt have the band’s signature all over it, while still managing to add new bits to the band’s style. Slower songs like When The Blue Finally Came show off another side, the heartfelt lyrics behind the slow and toned down instruments sounding completely different to any other track the band has on the record. The Wonder Years have always been a band praised for their lyricism that borders on being poetry more than anything but with Sister Cities, Soupy and co. have shown just how capable they are of making the foundations they’re playing on top off as sturdy as the words they want to graffiti on it. – Gregor Farquharson
Grabbing originality by the horns and screaming in music normalities face is exactly how it feels to listen to JPEGMAFIA’s Veteran. Barrington Hendricks’ second studio album incorporates sounds from the future. It’s politically charged and aggressive yet in and amongst the anger and hype there are signs of meticulous thought and devotion to the inner workings of music that sounds like it is years ahead of his peers. Thug Tears has some of the most interesting production with almost ear piercing clicking and speaker breaking bass, while songs like Macaulay Culkin show a different side of Hendricks’ forever interesting production.
While we’ve made it clear that this sounds like it’s from 3018, it’s more like discovering a vinyl from that era that’s been used on a player with the world’s worst anti-skate: songs regularly feel like they’re about to break at any moment and while this could be a cause for concern for anyone that likes their songs a bit chunkier, it only goes to make those moments where JPEG kicks down the metaphorical door hit all the harder.
JPEGMAFIA’s latest album is a powerful piece of work, it’s an album that you can find new sounds to focus on with every listen. While Peggy may state “Fuck a blog, fuck a fan, hope my record get panned” on the album’s opener, it’s clear that the jaded and abrasive attitude of his is something many are keen to hear more of. – Will Sexton
BROCKHAMPTON’S fourth album begins with Matt Champion saying calmly “perfectly fine, it’s fine” which sounds like something the boyband would have been telling themselves during the making of their 4th album. After a whirlwind debut record, BROCKHAMPTON’S 2018 was dominated by the sexual misconduct allegations against Ameer Vann, who was subsequently kicked from the band. Then there were canceled albums – namely Team Effort and PUPPY, leaving the BROCKHAMPTON camp in a bit of a mess.
Out of the ashes rose iridescence, recorded in 10 days in London’s Abbey Road studios. Thankfully, they more than rise to this pressure, and iridescence sees BROCKHAMPTON taking a left turn yet still going from strength-to-strength.
The production is harsher and noisier, like on WHERE THE CASH AT, where Merlyn takes centre stage and provides one of his best moments in the band’s catalogue, sounding almost demented atop a minimal drum and synth beat. Many members of the band provide arguably their best moment yet on iridescence, like Kevin’s emotive verse that sits atop a string section on WEIGHT, or Joba’s explosive and show-stopping J’OUVERT verse, which not-so-subtly addresses his feelings towards former member Ameer.
However, as always, BROCKHAMPTON are at their best when they are all in tandem and demonstrating their unparalleled chemistry. This happens on string-led SAN MARCOS, where Matt, Kevin, Dom, and Joba deliver stunningly emotional verses between an equally emotive Bearface hook. The track ends triumphantly, with a choir belting out “I want more out of life than this” – there’s no doubt BROCKHAMPTON were shaken in 2018, but iridescence shows that they’re not going to be defeated any time soon. – Andrew Barr
Devonte Hynes, also known as Blood Orange, is often the unsung hero in music today, providing so much inspiration both directly through collaborations and indirectly by releasing consistently adventurous, genre-hopping records. Despite not receiving the popularity some of his contemporaries have done, Hynes’ less direct approach and attention to detail make him a talent to treasure and one that will continue to impress through his career.
The latest proof of that is Swan, an album that delves into how we as humans view ourselves and how we view others. Hynes combines his lyrical ability with intricate instrumentals that all come together to form a cohesive album that has an atmosphere to it that Hynes has curated. Swan is one of those albums that impresses more and more with each listen, every return revealing something that went unnoticed the last time. Hynes also brings the best out of his featured artists, with A$AP Rocky delivering a more subdued performance than usual that serves as a standout moment on the album.
Swan is one of 2018’s most important and significant albums and perhaps one that will serve as the album looked back on as Blood Orange‘s finest output. – Ethan Woodford
Year of the Snitch
It only made sense that the build-up to Death Grips’ sixth full-length release was full of moments that us Scots would describe as the trio being absolutely at it: unconventional collaborations? Check. Releasing so many singles that you’ve essentially leaked your own record? Check. Working alongside the bloody director of Shrek? Fucking check.
Having had dropped a release every year since 2011, the cynical amongst you may assume this was to mask a lack of progression in the Sacramento experimental hip-hop group’s sound but as the saying goes, assuming makes an ass out of you (but not me). From the mid-noughties cut which has been submerged in black ooze that is the album opener to the metal-influenced Black Paint (that features none other than Justin Chancellor of Tool fame) to the full-on synth punk bop Streaky, MC Ride and co. succeeded in coalescing the band’s various stages into one package and posting that two decades into the future.
The band are well known for their saying “Death Grips is Online” but in a world that’s always connected, even when we’re off our phones, so too is their music omnipresent which is both an exciting and terrifying prospect going off of Year of the Snitch alone. – Liam Menzies
Against All Logic
“If you don’t know jack about house, you’ll love this” adorns the back of 2012-2017, a quote that could be weaponised by critics of this record but there’s a hint of truth to it that actually works in its favour: the complexities at play on here may falter compared to other powerhouses in this field but the hypnotic appeal of this record means that it is absolutely ideal to spin it at any given party (or moment).
This compilation of Nicholas Jaar’s house music alter-ego is certainly one of the best electronic albums released in years. The technical prowess displayed on the album is outstanding, with meticulous attention to sampling, and fantastic instrumentation. Jaar thrives off of his experience with more club-orientated tracks from his early days, and this is evident throughout. The tracks are thrilling and a joy to experience; sometimes they’re dark, deep and smoldering, before exploding into a funky and colourful flurry. Jaar has mastered track progression, and there isn’t a second on the release that is wasted. Listening to this album just can’t help but be an enjoyable experience. – Karsten Walter
Confident Music For Confident People
Hey everyone, remember fun? That’s the question Confidence Man ask with their music, as soon as that first four-to-the-floor beat kicks in, driving forward Janet Planet’s seductive vocals on Try Your Luck. What follows is an often-hilarious, always-danceable jaunt through forty-one minutes of groovy rhythms, buzzing synthesisers, and infectious melodies that refuse to leave your brain for months on end.
Building their name on their fabulously energetic live shows (featuring dance routines and costume changes, obviously), Confidence Man’s kinetic zest translates pitch perfectly onto record with cuts such as Don’t You Know I’m In A Band and All The Way, showcasing their inimitable knack for fusing pop music and dance music in a fashion reminiscent of the heady successes of LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip. Of course, the best song on the album is Boyfriend, the debut single on which helped the band to divide music lovers across the internet, and has to be heard to be believed. Whilst they may not be for everyone, Confidence Man prove wholeheartedly on their debut record that they deserve to be listened to, sung along to, and – duh – danced to. – Josh Adams
To say there’s been a narrative about female rappers in 2018 would maybe be a tad naive: over the decades, there’s been plenty of strong women in the genre showing that they’re just as, if not more willing to show off their skills. However, when it comes to the general public changing their ways, or maybe clearing out their ears, artists like Cardi B, Cupcakke, and Jean Grae are showing how silly it is to leave an entire group out of the conversation.
Welcome to the stage Noname who has been on radars ever since her contributions to Chance’s Acid Rap and with Room 25, she’s not only cemented herself as one of the greatest talents in hop but proved that to herself which may be just as important. It can’t be understated the infectiousness that her delivery provides, a smooth as butter flows that has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies that make her an absolute delight to listen to even on a surface level.
Her demeanour isn’t hollow though as there’s more than enough substance to this record, Noname peeling back the layers to talk about all the things affecting her, whether that be wider social issues like on Blaxploitation or deeply personal worries like on Don’t Forget About Me. While she may be fraught with anxieties about her impact on not just music but her family, this record is brimming with confidence that means even though as critics we can’t answer the latter, Noname’s importance to music is astronomical: a strong feat considering it’s coming from just one room. – Liam Menzies
The latest effort from metal outfit Architects marks a difficult past 12 months for the band since the extremely sad death of guitarist and songwriter Tom Searle. Holy Hell signifies their return and while they may be grieving over the past, their eighth studio album ensures that they’re firmly ahead of their peers.
It would be fair to say the band are back to their headbanging best as songs such as Mortal After All, Dying To Heal and The Seventh Circle ensure that while the compositions are meticulously laid out, the performances given throughout give them all a much-needed aura of mayhem. A great example of this would be the delivery from vocalist Sam Carter whose pipes somehow manage to contain all the rage and emotions brewing within, a nice parallel to how the bass just barely manages to remain intact from the guitars.
There’s not a single weak moment to be found which feels pretty apt considering the tragedy that is fuelling the band and is fortunately brought up in a touching manner with Death Is Not Defeat being the ideal, heart-wrenching tribute.
Harnessing their grief and sadness, Architects could find happiness in the fact that they’ve made a piece of work that critics and fans alike love. More importantly, though, they’ve made a comeback that doesn’t trample over Tom’s memory but instead makes a shrine for him that’ll stand the test of time. – Sanjeev Mann
Recently Grammy nominated for Album of the Year, Dirty Computer is the work of pop shapeshifter Janelle Monae. It’s shiny, it’s fruity, its liberating. This album propelled Monae from a relatively underground name known by most for feature tracks to the big time. Monae plays homage to her late mentor, Prince on this summer’s best celebration of pansexuality Make Me Feel (sorry Rita Ora, Cardi B et al). Coupled with a glowing, vibrant video, this cut feels like the coolest dance party you’ve accidentally found yourself invited to.
Afrofuturistic themes from her past works are carried through on cuts such as title track which plays with the idea of the corruption of a sentient computer hard drive. As well as featuring some impressive collaborators including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Pharrell providing some impeccable production, Monae shines on more minimal songs like So Afraid. A brief period of vulnerability on an otherwise outward looking hopeful record, it lets you inside the mind of someone scared of love. A topic done to death, but not unwelcome towards the end of an upbeat, confident album. Overtly political and passionate, Janelle Monae has created a perfect Pynk time capsule of what American life is currently like, as well as laying down her plans for what it could be. – Tilly O’Connor
You Won’t Get What You Want
Daughters have been releasing music since the early noughties and over the years, the band’s sound has made quite a change. Starting out in a grindcore style and then moving into noise rock territory, You Won’t Get What You Want sees the band take influence from the likes of no-wave, noise rock and industrial to create something altogether more unique.
The album has one common theme and that’s viscera. Most of the songs on here all create an overall oppressive and anxiety-ridden atmosphere and boasts powerful production that has the songs sounding grand. Held together by gritty baselines and a huge drum sound, sinister synth chords blend with winding and dissonant guitar riffs to create a potent mix of sounds that unnerve the listener on each track. Long Road, No Turns ends in particularly evil fashion when a synth lays down maddening minor chords that take the track into even darker territory than it was before.
Alexis Marshall’s vocals stand out on the album as well. Many others would have took a much more aggressive vocal style to fit with the albums sound but Marshall opts for a more reserved clean signing style which helps increase the anxiety factor in the music and allows his poetic lyrics to shine through and add to the overall sense of dread Daughters create on the album. It would be fair to say that You Won’t Get What You Want is Daughters magnum opus, with its ambitious combination of styles coming together so well and a near flawless tracklist it’s easy to see why this ended up on lots of year-end lists. – Liam Toner
Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
Tranquility Base represents a significant turning point in the Monkeys’ musical career. Alex Turner felt it was time to ditch the ‘realism’ of their previous material, a move which was always likely to polarise their fanbase. Nevertheless, this piano-heavy, riff-lite foray into surrealism and the abstract is an intriguing new direction for the Sheffield four-piece, one which ultimately pays off.
People were quick to disparage the concept – “we get it, you like Bowie” – but in reality it’s a complex record, borrowing ideas from the unlikeliest of sources ranging from lounge music to Serge Gainsbourg. The production is warm and understated, a far cry from the lager swilling, in-your-face attitude found on the likes of Favourite Worst Nightmare, and it makes for strangely nostalgic listening. Turner switches effortlessly between crooner and falsetto, delivering lines in a stream-of-consciousness manner and touching upon subjects as far-fetched as sci-fi hyperreality before crashing back down to earth again with contemporary US politics.
Some fans would be thrilled if the Monkeys were content with churning out albums like Whatever People Say I Am ad infinitum, but Tranquility Base shows a level of maturity and willingness to adapt and for this, they deserve to be applauded. It’s less party, more philosophical – but it’s still essential listening. – Kieran Cannon
Kids See Ghosts
Released just a week after Ye, Kids See Ghosts is, for our money, in the upper echelons of the best material from either Kanye or Cudi. A vibrant, brash and oftentimes surreal masterpiece that can leave you crying one moment and pishing yourself laughing the next (here’s looking at you Kanye’s adlibbing on Feel The Love). 4th Dimension for example, samples a mad sounding ragtime Christmas tune, please bare in mind that this album was released on the 8th of June. 4th Dimension also includes Kanye pitching his voice up and laughing like a witch.
But behind all the weirdness and wonderfulness contained within the production lies some very serious subject matters, the chief of which is Kid Cudi speaking with a fierce openness about his well-documented struggles with anxiety and depression. “Just a lost boy caught up in the darkness” he sings on the aforementioned 4th Dimension, and on album highlight Reborn he implies that he’s seeing the light at the end of the perpetual blackness that is his mental state.
It’s an album that highlights Cudi and Kanye’s strengths just as, if not more effectively than Man on the Moon and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy respectively, and believe you me, I don’t say that lightly. Though there are excellent features from Yasiin Bey, Pusha and Ty Dolla $ign among others, this is undoubtedly the Ye and Cudi show, and it’s absolutely fucking brilliant. – Jake Cordiner
Some Rap Songs
Who would have thought that a member of the decade’s most juvenile hip-hop collectives would go on to a) become a refutable rapper in his own right b) be compared to greats like MF Doom and, most importantly, c) release one of hip-hop’s most unique and essential listens this year.
Sure, this could have easily been the intro we used for Tyler’s entry on last year’s AOTY list sans the doom comparison, but Earl couldn’t be further away from what his frequent collaborator or 99% of hip-hop is doing at the moment. It’s easy to bring up run times in any of these write-ups but Some Rap Songs length is worth mention considering it’s so brief, clocking in at just over 20 minutes and featuring 15 songs which is more akin to a punk release than it is a hip-hop one.
And much like something from Black Flag, there’s a barrage of emotions that never seem to cease though Earl still delivers them in a candid, deep manner, his flow meaning he usually doesn’t let a second get chucked in the recycling. Most impressive of all is down to the fact that every bar is dazzling, managing to capture the pain that is eating Earl alive, whether it be his well-documented depression or his grief regarding his uncle and father. While we at TRANSISTOR like to wrap these write-ups aptly or with a side of wit, we hope that Earl finds peace soon and gets whatever help necessary. – Liam Menzies
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
The 1975 are simultaneously one of the world’s most divisive and most famous bands, thanks, in large part, to overblown ringleader Matt Healy. Healy is the definition of a love-or-hate character, and the majority of critics started out firmly in the hate camp as the band released their underwhelming 2013 debut. However, while the band (and particularly Healy) still had their detractors, their 2016 record i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it began to win over some critics.
The 1975 returned in 2018, announcing their third record A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. At first, it seemed like this would be more of the same – with the verbose album title and slightly average lead single (Give Yourself A Try). However, the record is something that even The 1975’s biggest fans didn’t think they’d be capable of. The pop moments from ILIWYS haven’t gone anywhere – It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) is an irresistible pop song which masks Healy’s playfully dark lyricism about his heroin addiction.
However, ABIIOR’s best moments showcase The 1975 as a more diverse band than those who wrote them off ever would have thought. Sincerity is Scary and Mine hear the band trying their hand at jazz, and it more than pays off. How To Draw / Petrichor genuinely evokes an Aphex Twin song in its second half, and I Like America and America Likes Me is sounds born of a Justin Vernon/Kanye West writing session. ABIIOR is a stunningly diverse and bold record, and every risk the band takes seems to pay off, making a record that only The 1975 could make. Maybe it’s time to give Healy and his bandmates a try. – Andrew Barr
Even from the title of the Brooklyn art-punk four piece’s sixth effort, you can tell parquet courts are up to something different from usual. Sure, their intellectually riotous trademarks were still intact – the rugged yells, the steady rhythm section, the thrashing guitars, the keen sense of experimentalism – yet from the outset, their inclinations towards the political (and the danceable) were made clear.
You could factor in the influence of new producer danger mouse as the sole bearer of responsibility for this bolder yet more accessible direction, but the signs were clear on their last LP, the 60s-tinged “human performance”, that parquet courts were never a group to remain static. That record fanned out the band’s sound, allowing them to experiment with the funkier grooves and atmospheric keyboards that dominate “wide awake!”, yet never at the expense of what made them so exciting in the first place.
Cuts such as “violence” and the title track take these new elements to the extreme, and is all the better for them, as the band bristle with a spikiness that matches the venom of the lyrics, which take aim at the alt-right in a defiant display of wokeness that never comes across as preachy or condescending. match these to some truly massive choruses, and you’ve one of the albums of the year – they make it sound easy. – Josh Adams
Joy As An Act of Resistance
Idles took the challenge of the ‘tricky second album’, chewed it up and spat it back out again. Joy as an Act of Resistance is a ferocious 12 track attack on the senses and the establishment. Beautifully observant word choice throughout, it almost reads like a carefully crafted piece of stand-up comedy. Tracks like Never Fight a Man with a Perm are so chock full of cuttingly quotable jibes, they take a good few listens to really get your teeth into, but are worth the work.
Lead single Danny Nedelko, named after a Ukrainian friend of the band will no doubt be the soundtrack to future BBC4 documentaries about the Brexit era, with good reason. It looks at Theresa May’s hostile environment and gets hostile back. Hitting you where it hurts from start to finish, Danny Nedelko feels like hope without borders. Despite the ballsy, brasen delivery, lyrically the entire album tackles sensitive issues such as love in the modern age toxic masculinity and immigration with tender sensitivity.
Track June tells the story of the stillbirth of lead singer Joe Talbot’s daughter. Quoting Ernest Hemingway’s micro poem, the words “Baby shoes for sale, Never worn” ring out towards the end of the song, closing off a poignant moment on the album and summarising a major theme of the record: you’re allowed to feel, you should, and Idles want you to. – Tilly O’Connor
It’s a challenge to figure out how to talk about an album like Cocoa Sugar.
On the one hand, it would be easy to praise Young Fathers for conjuring up a spellbinding journey that sees the band tinker with hip-hop, art pop, gospel, neo-soul, and R&B. Sure, being able to muster up songs in these styles and fitting them onto one record is admirable but a real accomplishment would be pulling them all off masterfully and wouldn’t you know it, Young Fathers did just that. We can’t discuss this record without mentioning In My View, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous cut of indietronica and R&B that’ll have you crying tears of joy without breaking a sweat.
And on the other hand, it would be painfully naive of us to not mention the lyrical content on here. Some have accused the band of not being upfront about themes like they have on other albums but if you do the work, you’ll notice that the trio has made their messages abstract but decipherable: Turn is a powerful song about refugees, Toy acts as both a tale of a toxic relationship in addition to a metaphor for…well, any sort of one-sided relationship such as government and Tremolo is all about fragility.
Huh, maybe it was a lot easier to explain why we love this album after all? – Liam Menzies
Car Seat Headrest
It is fair to say we live in an era where cries about the declining, decrepit nature of rock music in the twenty-first century are more common than Tommy Robinson supporters having the union jack in their Twitter bios, but apparently no one told Car Seat Headrest, who have come roaring through the 2010s with an almost unparalleled discography in modern indie rock.
The current version of twin fantasy – itself a remake of its rougher, younger 2011 self – takes everything you might love about crashing drums, distorted guitars and confessional lyrics and polishes it up for the modern day, somehow meticulously balancing the intellectual and the physical to a degree that only becomes more breathtaking as the record progresses through its ten tracks.
Frontman and one-man-band polymath will toledo’s songwriting has never been sharper as he updates and refines his most honest and raw lyrics to date, distilled into instrumentals that are both vast and profound, epic and intimate. The latter of these accomplishments can be traced directly to the talents of Ethan Ives, Seth Dalby and Andrew Katz, who breathe new life into the original’s charmingly scrappy arrangements and bring a new perspective to the tale of a crumbling relationship. “twin fantasy” is ultimately as near-flawless as indie rock gets, and we’re still not even that close to summarising its brilliance. – Josh Adams
Be The Cowboy
As the summer of 2018 drew to a close, Mitski released her third studio album, Be The Cowboy.
Heavy with vulnerability and the aching listlessness of solitude, it was easy to misread the release as autobiographical, particularly when you recollect how deeply personal Mitski Miyawaki’s existing body of work is. The release wove together several fictional, yet very familiar, tales of lost love, longing and above all, loneliness.
Before taking up the guitar on her 2014 release Bury Me At Makeout Creek, Mitski’s choice of instrument was the piano. Be The Cowboy sees her return to the keys, and perhaps that’s why a sense of growth permeates through the releases’ sound. Gone is the distinctively fuzzy distortion that decorated her two most recent albums, to be replaced with… well, the confidence to push the boundaries of experimentation.
Within the 14 tracks, only two of which had run times exceeding the three-minute mark, Mitski fluidly dints between genres. It’s a masterful method to showcase her dynamic songwriting ability – quickly veering from synth-pop to folk-rock to plaintive piano melodies, stylistically grounded by her distinctively clear voice and immersive narratives that, altogether create a clear and concise, oftentimes devastating, listen.
The word devastating comes to mind because, without doubt, there are moments where this album can downright wind listeners (I’m looking at you, ‘Pink In The Night’). While each short tale exudes that gut-wrenching feeling of being cast aside – something that Mitski has honed through her body of work – it’s fragility that’s always in some way protected, be that by wry wit, erudite metaphor or just in a disco banger (I’m looking at you, ‘Nobody’.)
While staying true to the raw vulnerability of her previous work, Mitski asks listeners to embrace their hurt, their rejection, and their solitude, to tilt their heads up and ask for something “bigger than the sky”. – Madeleine Dunne