Olivia’s 20 Best Films of 2018

Is there anything worth saying for a feature of this nature that hasn’t been said already? You’ll get your critically acclaimed style lists, full of movies you haven’t heard of, and then you’ll get the ones fuelled solely by fun: so, why not have half and half as Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96) takes you down the best films of the year?

20. Venom

Venom was one of the most enjoyable experiences I had both in the cinema and online in 2018. It’s also not a good movie. I made that clear in my review of it earlier in the year. The pacing is all over the place, it’s filled with early 2000’s comic book edginess and Tom Hardy spends the entire film looking like he slept in his car. But I genuinely can’t deny the immense amount of joy Venom brought me this year.

From the endless memes, thirst for the alien sludge tongue (and the immense amounts of porn that name of it), Tom Hardy’s entire performance of just doing weird shit for the sake of it, the way in which it could be easily read as a rom-com between a journalistic human disaster and a sentient pile of alien goo, Venom is the pure definition of just kicking back and having a good-natured riff. What helps is despite the endless story, character and tone problems, there’s very little cynicism to Venom. In being produced by a studio that obviously had no faith in it, there was a real sense of just going for broke and hoping it would survive.

And it worked – in spite of the reviews, Venom turned out to be a surprise hit and most people I’ve seen who like it do so for the same reasons as me. It’s stupid, campy, it has Tom Hardy being the absolute most and it’s strangely endearing in spite of itself. I can’t say it’s on the list as a genuinely good film but I’d be remiss not to give a mention to a film that genuinely brought me joy this year, even for unintended reasons. It may be some turd in the wind trash but it’s my turd in the wind trash.


19. Annihilation 

Believe it or not, I’m actually a huge sci-fi fan. Honestly, I’d put it up there as one of my favourite genres. However, when it comes to the sci-fi that grabs me, I usually find myself much more on the philosophical side of asking questions about the nature of our lives instead of detailed explorations of lore, character or world-building. So, I’m less of a Doctor Who or Star Trek fan and a bigger fan of sci-fi films that ask more questions than they do answer them.

Annihilation was that film this year. Taking a simple concept to explore multiple facets of ecology and human reflection, Annihilation is an intelligent, bold and frustratingly intriguing watch. The ending particularly leaves the viewer thinking long after the credits roll and I hugely respect its restraint in not talking down to its audience by explaining what and how you are supposed to feel at all times. One of the more underrated releases this year but definitely the pick for viewers hungry for some brain food.


18. Halloween (2018)

When it comes to Halloween sequels, Halloween (2018) really didn’t have a high standard to live up to. While some people have a soft spot for Halloween II and III, it’s generally agreed that none of the other films in the franchise touch the subtle magic of the original. Until this sequel, which gave us a genuinely great Halloween movie with Michael Myers and Laurie Strode back on top form. It makes enough call-backs to the original to not seem gimmicky and the visuals are striking with a great comeback performance by Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s the sequel fans were truly waiting for.


17. Deadpool 2 

While it has some writing issues and some things that could’ve been reworked, I thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool 2 more than the first. Since Deadpool’s origin story is now out of the way, the sequel gives the chance to do more with his interactions with other characters and it succeeds for the most part.

The jokes are funny, the queer-coding has been upped with many of the characters (our prayers of Negasonic Teenage Warhead getting a girlfriend came true. If only she got more screen-time), the new characters are all fun and memorable and the dramatic moments hit closer to home than the first one for me. Add in a great soundtrack and Deadpool 2 is a thoroughly satisfying trip to the movies.


16. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

As I progress in film studies, I learn more and more that trying to define film in technical terms and tropes is not only obnoxious but counterproductive to how we judge what films have merit and which don’t. For as much as film geeks (speaking as one) love to pretend they have refined tastes and their favourite films are a list of “important” Hitchcock and Tarantino films with a special mention to whichever indie director is being racist this month, film is a visual and personal medium and we have no way of knowing what will personally affect us. As Marie Kondo said; if something sparks joy, it has inherent value. Sometimes we don’t need a long, intellectual explanation of whether a film is “objectively” good or not and the reason for liking it can simply be “it makes me happy”.

This is a convoluted way of saying I had a blast with Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again!. I squealed when Cher showed up for no reason, I enjoyed the cheesy covers of lesser-known ABBA songs, I loved the beautiful Greek landscape, I loved Lily James and the sex-positive, female-centric aspect of the story (even if there’s more than enough continuity errors from the first film) and it’s surprisingly heartfelt ending. It’s dumb, cheesy, silly and fun and I was unabashed in my enjoyment of every minute.


15. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

I love films about films. Whether it’s a ‘based on a true story’ adaptation such as Saving Mr. Banks or The Disaster Artist, or documentaries about the life and work of actors/directors working on iconic or infamous films that even they didn’t know would hold such influence, I adore learning about the creative process. My love for film goes beyond what is just on the screen and finding out about the lives and trials of directors and actors throughout is every bit as fun for me as enjoying the art itself.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead explores the bibliography of Orson Welles, argued by many to be one of the greatest directors who ever lived. However, as the title indicates, he was only truly thought of as such following his death. While everyone around him argued Citizen Kane was the greatest film ever made (much to his amusement as he didn’t think much of it) Welles maneuvered the world of cinema with a wry humorous cynicism, willing to break the rules and conventions of film-making and producing work that was lambasted at the time and now regarded as some of the finest innovative cinema ever produced. This film is a wonderful look back on one of the true pioneers of the artistic merit of film.


14. Love, Simon

Love, Simon was ground-breaking for a number of reasons and as I revisit it, I find myself appreciating it more and more. While the plot and style of acting are intentionally over the top in accordance with 2010’s teen comedies, the anxiety and isolation felt by Simon as he struggles to come out to both himself and the people around him is treated seriously and sensitively. Some actors are little too over the top (the head teacher in particular tries to be hip with the kids and talks in a way no head teacher has ever spoken), a few scenes are fairly awkward and Logan Miller’s performance of an intentionally annoying character really makes you want to strangle him, which is probably the sign of a job well done but it doesn’t make the character any more pleasant.

But the core of the story about Simon’s relationships and his terror at everything changing once he comes out makes it stand out from other films of the type. The plot of two teens writing to each other having no idea who the other is a concept that can and has been done with heterosexual couples and films targeted towards teens but the film addresses that these experiences of crushes and not knowing the identity of who you’re crushing on takes on a specific fear for LGBTA+ teenagers. Simon has good parents, nice friends (somewhat) and some people would question why he would feel so trapped about his sexuality. But this is a fear that many LGBTA+ people (myself included) face constantly in our relationships: you could have the most progressive, loving parents and friends possible and there will still always be that corner of raw doubt and fear in the back of your mind. There’s a wonderful scene between Simon and his mother once he is at his lowest point and the words she gives him are the exact words any good parent should give their child in the situation.

It may unfortunately not be the reality for many LGBTA+ people but it’s a perfect example of how things should be. It’s an appreciation for the risk Love, Simon truly was as the first teen gay romantic comedy backed by a major studio. For as much as many like to pretend that LGBTA+ people and teenagers are more accepted now than they have been in the past, the fact remains that many films focusing on LGBTA+ relationships are often independent projects, as many big-name studios are unwilling to risk a large investment in films focusing on LGBTA+ relationships due to the risk of financial loss from casual homophobes (who unfortunately are a large demographic). Additionally, when they are made, many will often receive a higher age rating than a film with the same content focusing on a heterosexual couple. For a film about a gay teenager who is struggling with coming out to explore the anxieties related to it, getting a happy ending with a fairy-tale kiss that isn’t censored or implied and being rated as appropriate for the teenagers it’s targeting is ground-breaking and should be seen as such.


13. The Shape of Water

One of the things I love about Guillermo del Toro’s work is how he tends to have one foot in cold, harsh reality and the other in pure fairy-tale fantasy when making his films. Pan’s Labyrinth was the clearest example of this, with the Alice in Wonderland inspired story taking place against the brutal backdrop of the Spanish Civil war.

However, while Del Toro showcases both the beautiful and the brutal sides of human nature in The Shape of Water, his unabashed romanticism and love of fairy-tale logic and story-telling combines with his compassion for those outcasted by society, especially in 1950s Cold War-era America. The relationship in the film is a metaphorical statement made literal, showing the love that many outcasts hold in their heart. It takes the harshness of its setting and shows it in all its ugliness, just to completely reject it. It is his most personal film to date and also one of his best.


12. Black Panther 

Two big Marvel movies this year seem to have audiences spilt down the middle; most people I meet seem to like both but seem to love one while thinking the other was just okay. For some, Black Panther is the best Marvel film of the year and Infinity War is just okay; for others, Infinity War was the film they’d always been waiting for and Black Panther was just another good entry into the Marvel hero canon.

I find myself in the former camp; while I do think Infinity War is a good film, I find more things about it that irritate me the more I think about it whereas Black Panther is just as good the next time as it is the first. The characters are well-drawn and some of the most complex and likable in the MCU so far. While dues are rightfully given to Michael B Jorden’s amazing performance as Killmonger, I also think Chadwick Boseman’s performance of T’Challa’s thematic and emotional arc throughout is more interesting than many fans give it credit for. And of course, Shuri is wonderful. Infinity War is undoubtedly the more ambitious film but I also feel it is more flawed by comparison, while Black Panther utilises its isolated conflict to create more a more satisfying and complete film overall.


11. Paddington 2 

Paddington 2 is so unabashed in how genuine and sweet it is, I could swear I felt my teeth falling out at the end. It doesn’t have one hint of cynicism and its simplicity in just making the title character the most likable bear ever seen on screen is enough to melt the stoniest of us. Every actor’s dedication to the quaint and sweet tone the film sets completely sells it. It’s just a lovely film.


10. The Happy Prince

I adore Oscar Wilde and I’ll admit, a lot of reason for this film being on the list is through emotional attachment rather than the logistics or technical aspects of the film. However, I can’t imagine anything that could be truer to his spirit than choosing with your heart rather than your head. Named after his famously sombre fairy tale, The Happy Prince tells the story of Oscar Wilde’s life after the scandal that destroyed his career and eventually his life.

Being his first film as well as playing the title role, this is clearly a personal passion project for Rupert Everett. There are many roles actors can take that can be seen as a blatant Oscar grab, especially if they are a long-respected veteran who haven’t won one yet (Gary Oldman as Churchill in Darkest Hour and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady are the first to my mind). However, Everett combines the subtle pain with the natural flamboyancy that Wilde was known for as an unabashed and poetic romanticist with a wonderfully forward outlook on life and love, which the world around him cruelly rejected. He was also imperfect. He was selfish, frivolous and frequently took advantage of his friends. But the film consistently highlights that some of his more selfish actions may not have been necessary if he hadn’t lived in the time he did and even respected artists of the time were not immune to the prejudices of his society (if anything, they were heightened due to the public disgrace).

There’s a great line in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (featured above) in which one of the character’s remarks to the Asset “sometimes I think I was born too early or too late for my life”. This line sums up the sheer unfairness of how Oscar Wilde spent his final days and the film highlights the tragedy of Wilde being a prime example of a man born in the wrong time.


9. I Tonya

I’ve always felt Margot Robbie was underrated. Even when the projects she’s in tend to be utter garbage (hello, Suicide Squad), she is usually a bright spot in whatever she stars in and I was waiting for a film that would allow her to show off her range. I, Tonya is that film and I still say she absolutely deserved a best actress nomination for it. There were parts of this film that reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster (2002), in which she loses herself so much in the character you forget you’re watching a performance. The rest of the actors are all great, with main players Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney also giving standout performances.

The film ingeniously uses transcript interviews from the real Tonya Harding and her associates, many of which contradict each other, leaving it up to the viewer who to believe and how much of each character you can believe. Instead of demonising or sympathising with Tonya, the film instead smartly asks you to draw your own conclusions, with a fair bit of dark humour thrown in.


8. Won’t You Be My Neighbour

I didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers as a kid. While I was a devotee of many an American children’s show such as Sesame Street and Arthur, being a UK kid largely meant most of my exposure to Mister Rogers came through the internet. I knew he was a kids show host from the 1960s and was intensely beloved by all who grew up with him. His catchphrase “Won’t you be my neighbour” is the title of this one-and-a-half-hour documentary regarding his legacy as the host of one of the longest running children’s shows on PBS Mister Rogers Neighbourhood.

Like other icons such as Bob Ross or Steve Irwin, it seems radical at the time and nowadays for a single person to be so unflinchingly kind yet stoutly progressive. The film covers an incredible moment in television history in which he not only saved funding for public children’s television in front of the US Senate Subcommittee, his words are so powerful the Committee head doubles the amount of funding being cut. His argument that the ethics of kindness and teaching children that their emotions are valid and important is ingrained into the philosophy of how he lived and taught in his life. It’s hard to believe he was every bit as kind when the cameras were turned off but every acquaintance and friend he made testifies as such.

His concern was that children were emotionally intelligent and observant and deserved to be treated as such and the impression he left on the people he grew up with is undeniable. As someone who didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers, I’m not ashamed to say I sniffed and cried almost all the way through.  


7. Blackkklansman

BlacKKKlansman ties with I, Tonya for being the most well-acted docu-drama of the year. John David Washington and Adam Driver have incredible chemistry in this hard-hitting story that’s so implausible, it’d be impossible to believe if it wasn’t true. Spike Lee has never been one for subtlety but in this day and age, that approach is necessary to convey the parallels of 1970s race relations to modern day, showing how much has changed and how much has not changed while also being engaging as a straight-up great buddy-cop film.

While the film may have comedic moments of just the sheer absurdity of the situation, the story of African-American police officer Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan hits hard in its depiction of true events and real mind-sets with an ending that left the cinema I was in so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.


6. Overlord

Few movies captured the mood of the year better than Overlord. In the year of rising political tensions and fascism back on the rise, the catharsis of this bombastic, insane gore-fest can’t be overstated. Overlord is the prime example of taking an insane B-movie concept of an American soldier squad going up against mutated Nazi superhuman zombies and running to the moon and back with it, resulting in what can only be described as Inglorious Basterds on acid. It’s gross, disturbing and ridiculously fun, with all the Nazi killing you could ever want. What else do you need in a film?


5. Widows

If there was a list for best cast in a film this year, Widows would be at the top. With performances from acting powerhouses at the top of their game such as Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya and Elizabeth Debicki, Widows is a poetically shot and soberingly empowering film with some of the most well-developed and realised protagonists in any film this year.

Steve McQueen is one of the most uncompromising story-tellers working in directing today and his empathy in which he writes his characters elevates them from a simple heist movie. It’s slick, stylish and a testament to the strength of its cast.


4. Mandy

It’s been a surprisingly good year for Nicholas Cage. From his campy yet dramatic performance in the dark comedy Mom and Dad to the pitch-perfect casting of him as Spider Noir from Into the Spider-Verse, his reputation for saying yes to every script he’s offered finally seems to be turning out some good material and Mandy is arguably his best film in years.

Marrying intense emotion and horror with ridiculous bombast, Mandy gives Cage the perfect bonkers premise to really show off his range. Visually, it was one of the most appealing films of the year for me (I’m a sucker for that surreal neon grindhouse aesthetic) and topping it off with a dueling chainsaw is the perfect formula to have me grinning like an idiot the whole way through.


3. Hereditary 

Hereditary is one big gasp of ‘holy shit!’ all the way through. While an excellent film as a whole, the first half is undeniably stronger than the second. I feel the second half could have kept a few more answers in the dark instead feeling the need to explain nearly everything in a rush, as if afraid the audience would have been angry with a more ambiguous conclusion. But it’s still a good second half coming off of an incredible first half. While the latter half is horrific in a more conventional sense (though no less shocking), the first half of Hereditary is horror characterised as a howl of pure despair.

I’ve rarely been so uncomfortable and so upset simply watching a scene of a family eating dinner in silence, knowing the circumstances surrounding it. Hereditary forces you into a purely empathetic state with its characters, with many of their actions and words that would cast them as irredeemable in any other film coming with an understanding of the raw emotional pain every single character is going through under the circumstances. There’s no escaping the confrontation of what happens to them and the intensity of facing these ugly, horrific thoughts and emotions made for some of the best acting in Toni Collette’s career.

Save for my number one pick, it was probably the rawest and visceral experience I had in the cinema in 2018.


2. Into The Spider-Verse

Hands down the best-animated film of the year. What fascinates me about Into the Spider-Verse film is how little I can find wrong with it. One way to identify a successful film is looking at what it aims to achieve and how it accomplishes what it sets out to do. This doesn’t always mean the film is good or pleasant (the majority of early 2000s gross-out comedies aim to disgust and alienate the audience and they succeed. This doesn’t mean they are good films). But considering Into the Spider-Verse aims to adapt a large amount of characters and their universes through the use of multiple animation techniques to create a layered experience, it’s incredible how well they are adapted.

The film manages to tell the story of Miles Morales, keeping the focus on him and having him as the perfect vessel to explore the concept of multiple universes, each with their own spider superhero. Each spider incarnation is so likeable and charming and the animation corresponds with each of their characteristics perfectly. It’s so bright, creative, colourful and fun and easily the best Spiderman film, which is surprisingly a high bar now considering Tom Holland’s excellent reimagining of the character in Spiderman: Homecoming. But Into the Spider-Verse just gets everything right and accomplishes everything it sets out to do, which qualifies it for one of the best films of the year in my book.


1. Suspiria 

There’s a saying that the mark of an impactful film is one that doesn’t leave your mind long after the credits roll. Notably ‘impactful’ doesn’t always translate to good (I couldn’t stop thinking about The Greatest Showman when I saw it but that was more thinking about every single thing wrong with it and how frustrating it was) but it leaves a deep mark on your brain, an impression in long sea of everything you watched in the year. I have not stopped thinking about Suspiria (2018) since I saw it and I’ll probably continue thinking about it for the rest of my life.

A reimagining of Dario Argento’s horror aesthetic 70’s classic, director Luca Guadagnino stated that he based this film more on the feelings he experienced while watching the original rather than a straight remake. The result is a psychedelic explosion of ideas and concepts that better utilise the premise and complexity than the original. The original is a beautiful film but also very straight-forward – it’s true innovation comes from its atmosphere and aesthetic rather than being a tour de force in story or character.

Tilda Swinton’s triple performance not only testifies to her incredible skill but informs of her role in the philosophy of the story once all three parts are considered, matched by Dakota Johnsons subtle but unnerving performance once all about her is revealed. Guadagnino takes the opportunities that the original presents and goes all the way with what it can do, resulting in a final act that had my jaw on the floor and the need for a post-coital cigarette. There is so much explored through the visual storytelling and revealed nature of the characters, resulting in a film both stunningly beautiful, intrinsically layered and cringingly grotesque.

Top it off with Thom Yorke’s amazing score, which may be one of my favourite film scores of all time, and Suspiria is an uncomfortable, uncompromising, challenging and beautiful watch. It is definitely not for everyone but it is almost certainly for me.

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Top 50 Albums of 2018

editor’s letter

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
by
BOSTON MANOR

“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


49

FIREPOWER
by
JUDAS PRIEST

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


48

 

SOIL
by
SERPENTWITHFEET

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

 


47

 

HEART SHAPED BED
by
NICOLE DOLLANGANGER

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


46

 


KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW
by
MARMOZETS

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


45

 

SUM OF ALL YOUR PARTS
by
FATHERSON

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


44

 


I DON’T RUN
by
HINDS

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 Dont 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 youve got a record overflowing with instantly memorable hooks and an irresistible, unique charm. Nay-sayers be damned, Hinds are here to stay. – Rory McArthur


43

 

YE
by
KANYE WEST

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


42

 


HISTORIAN
by
LUCY DACUS

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


41

TWISTED CRYSTAL
by
GUERILLA TOSS

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. Its only 29 minutes long, but it packs in a whole universe worth of quality. – Rory McArthur


SWEETENER
by
ARIANA GRANDE

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


39

 

TA1300
by
DENZEL CURRY

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


38

 


REIDI
by
BLACK FOXXES


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


37

 

LUSH
by
SNAIL MAIL

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


36

LIFELONG VACATION
by
SLOPPY BOYS

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


35

ION
by
PORTAL

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


34

HONEY
by
ROBYN

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


33

I’M ALL EARS
by
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 


32

 

DOSE YOUR DREAMS
by
FUCKED UP

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 Abrahams 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


31

DANCE MUSIC
by
MASTERSYSTEM

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


CHRIS
by
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 


29

Time N Place
by
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 


28

S/T
by
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


27

Freedom’s Goblin
by
Ty Segall

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


26

Bark Your Head Off, Dog
by
Hop Along

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


25

Songs of Praise
by
Shame

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


24

Astroworld
by
Travis Scott

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


23

God’s Favourite Customer
by
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


22

Tell Me How You Really Feel
by
Courtney Barnett

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


21

Daytona
by
Pusha T

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


Sister Cities
by
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


19

Veteran
by
JPEGMAFIA

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


18

iridescence
by
Brockhampton

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


17

N**** Swan
by
Blood Orange

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


16

Year of the Snitch
by
Death Grips

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


15

2012-2017
by
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


14

Confident Music For Confident People
by
Confidence Man

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


13

Room 25
by
Noname

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


12

Holy Hell
by
Architects

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


11

Dirty Computer
by
Janelle Monae

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
by
Daughters

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


Ø9

Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
by
Arctic Monkeys

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


Ø8

S/T
by
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


Ø7

Some Rap Songs
by
Earl Sweatshirt

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


Ø6

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
by
The 1975

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


Ø5

Wide Awake
by
Parquet Courts

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


Ø4

Joy As An Act of Resistance
by
Idles

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


Ø3

Cocoa Sugar
by
Young Fathers

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


Ø2

Twin Fantasy
by
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


Ø1

Be The Cowboy
by
Mitski

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 

 

Rolo Tomassi electrify and inspire at London’s Scala

If one thing was made clear from this gig, it’s that headlining Scala in London was a special moment for everyone in Rolo Tomassi. As the band’s biggest lead performance to date, they used this golden chance to deliver a set that was both emotionally stirring & delightfully high-octane in equal measure, and after roughly 60 mins of vigorous performing, they managed to perfectly explain what makes them one of the most ambitious, artful & biting bands in math-core working today.

They held back zero punches as soon as the set began, opening with the thunderous & violent third track from their most recent record, Rituals. The band has stated that they enjoy opening with this song as it’s the most attention-demanding and dark track in their arsenal, and that was made immediately clear. Their unconventional lighting set up alternating between mostly red & purple did well to emphasise the bleak and destructive horror this song so boldly throws at you, kicking things into overdrive instantly.

All grounds were covered during the set, they managed to successfully balance aggressive cuts like Balancing The Dark side to side with more dramatic and awe-inspiring songs like Opalescent and Contretemps, whilst making sure the melodic sweetness of songs like Aftermath didn’t lose their impact in the process, and Eva Spence’s magnetic lead performance held it all together. As these songs played she danced around the stage in a complete trance, no clear pattern to her movements, displaying a natural harmony between herself and the music, which only made the set feel all the more raw & alluring.

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The most throttling moments of the show were when male vocalist James Spence decided to come forward and take centre stage. The chemistry between everyone in the band was completely tangible from beginning to end but to see James break out of it and deliver his maniacal screams directly to the audience made for some unbridled chaos in the crowd, most notably the point where he stage dived during Alma Mater, only heightening the connection between audience and performer.

The patient & ominous build at the start of Contretemps was performed to full effect, the tension was inescapable as soon as the nimble drums came in and eventually transitioned into the incredibly panicked & distraught opening verse. The keys throughout the whole set sounded gentle & inviting too, which alongside the havoc that you can usually expect from a Rolo Tomassi track was a comforting embrace and only further accentuated the beauty of their more melodic tracks.

This was especially evident during their performance of the incredibly evocative crescendo that occurs midway through The Hollow Hour. It was startling and engaging front to back resulting in a wonderfully opulent climax. There was a charming moment where it was evident that a wrong key was pressed, and the ‘oh s**t’ from James that then followed had everyone giggling.

The touching interval speeches from both Eva & James expressing gratitude for being able to perform here and acknowledging the band members’ family in the crowd brought everything home as they managed to weave in these moments of poignant humbleness seamlessly with the often abrasive song transitions. The fractured, elongated guitar feedback screech that played as they walked off stage left everyone feeling as if they had just witnessed something personal, stirring & dazzling, and they’re absolutely right. – Camden Vale-Smith (@staplebuffalo)

A Wee Chat with…Velveteen Riot

As they prepare themselves for a tour that will take them all over the prime cities to play in Scotland, there’s never a better time to sit down with Velveteen Riot than right now.

They’ve undoubtedly become more prominent over the past year, in no small part to them being brought on to support Wolf Alice in 2017 and following that up with a sturdy new EP. So before they set off to Perth in a fortnight’s time, let’s see what the band have to say as liam menzies (@blinkclyro) asks them about their career so far, what makes them stand out and much, much more.

 

photos fae Mairi McAnena (FB)

~

TRANSISTOR: Your EP ‘She Rains Over Me’ dropped last month – how have you guys felt since putting it out into public? Is there anything you’ve learned from any of the feedback received?

Velveteen Riot: We were really excited with how much of a response we got with it. It got way more attention than we anticipated and people were reacting really well to it. It’s definitely the work we’re proudest of so far.

T: In your view, what makes Velveteen Riot stand out as a band?

VR: I think what makes us stand out is that we’re basically the ABBA of shoegaze. Though joking aside, we’re not trying to stand out, we’re just making music for ourselves. We started out as four strangers who met online that wanted to play music but as times gone on it’s been out friendship that has driven the band forward. We’ve become really close, Velveteen Riot wouldn’t work without all of us – we’ve not had any lineup changes because to do that would be to change the entire dynamic of us as a band. I think this is what grabs people’s attention as we’re just trying to be ourselves rather than trying to emulate anyone else.

T: In addition, what’s your general view of the Scottish music scene, specifically Glasgow?

VR: Glasgow has such a rich music scene with so many great bands and venues. Although, there can be a very cliquey nature to some of it and a lot of smaller scenes have formed within it that can be quite hard to get into if you don’t know the right people. It’s a bit like high school in a way – if you get in with the designated cool kids you’re able to get much more attention than the bands that are still starting out, or running their own gigs.

That being said, we’ve had such a great experience playing in Glasgow and have gotten to play with some great bands. We’ve all grown up listening to Glasgow bands and are incredibly proud to be one ourselves and to be a part of such an amazing music scene.

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T: You got to support Wolf Alice – what was that like? Are there any other bands you guys would be keen on supporting in the near future?

VR: Wolf Alice was surreal. It’s been a year and none of us really believe it happened. They were some of the nicest people we’ve ever played with and that gig was one of the moments that made us think, “huh, people actually really like what we do”. It was a big confidence boost for us going forward and it’s given us a real determination to keep developing our sound.

The list of bands we’d love to support is endless really, of course, there’s Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. We’re also all big fans of Sunflower Bean. Additionally, it’d be very cool to support some of the Scottish bands we grew up loving such as Franz Ferdinand, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Pastels.

T: Speaking of gigs, how has your experience playing live turned out? What makes a Velveteen Riot show?

VR: Lots of fun and lots of mistakes. Playing gigs is one of our favourite parts of being in a band. What makes a Velveteen Riot show for us is having a lot of fun and not taking ourselves or the show too seriously. Our confidence playing live is constantly evolving, none of us are very extroverted so it has taken some time to find our feet on stage. We aim to produce the best sound we possibly can and just enjoy ourselves. Overall, I think our authenticity and pure passion for the music is what makes a Velveteen Riot show.

T: Lastly, is there much in the way of plans for the rest of 2018?

VR: We’re planning a mini-tour in Autumn with a couple of our friends’ bands which we’re very hyped about, details on that will be announced very soon! We’re also are planning on recording more music and getting as much stuff out as we can before the year ends.

~

stream velveteen riot’s she rains over me here

catch velveteen riot on tour:

18th October – Green Room, Perth

19th October – 13th Note, Glasgow

20th October – Secret Set, Dundee

21st October – The Cellar, Aberdeen

Album Review: iridescence by Brockhampton

words fae owen yule (@OwenYule)

During the recording process of iridescence, BROCKHAMPTON talisman Kevin Abstract rating 8noted that the group felt like they were back in their Saturation I days, yet, so much has changed. No longer are the group creating their music from a home studio in California; no longer are the group broadcasting out with the eye of the music world; no longer are the group working as independent artists; perhaps most significant of all, no longer are the group operating as an 18-man collective.

It goes without question then that iridescence marks a substantial transition in the boy band’s career and so, it comes as no surprise that said changes are reflected in the content of the music. In spite of all success and triumph that BROCKHAMPTON have earned since the release of SATURATION I, Iridescence relays feelings of anger at the world: soundscapes of aggression are facilitated by bombastic drums that often play in syncopation and at varied tempos, giving the LP an intense and abrasive quality. This aggression is perhaps at its most resounding on BERLIN, where each bass note thumps like an uppercut to the chin with the support and reinforcement of growling muscle cars. Nonetheless, this ferocity is only fully actualised by the vocal performances of the group, specifically, Merlyn and Joba who both give their best performances for Brockhampton to date. On WHERE THE CASH AT, Merlyn gives a performance with a cadence that accentuates the rapacious desire evident in the track title, while Joba’s rapping on J’OUVERT escalates in volume perpetually through the verse before culminating in maniacal screams.

Although the album frequently indulges in forceful noise, it succeeds in interpolating feelings of vulnerability and sweet balladry singing. This is a juxtaposition which at this point is well refined by the boyband. One moment they are seething and the next, romantic. The contrast is not only a testament to the myriad of talent in the group but also their versatility.

Halfway through the album DISTRICT evolves in to a slow finger-picked sprawl of melody so dreamy that we almost forget the track was once grimy and whiplash-inducing with its bass; momentarily before transitioning in to the short and soothing THUG LIFE, the album opens with a track that utilises a power drill sound effect to reinforce its abrasive aesthetic; SAN MARCOS marks one of the boybands most melodic and soulful tracks in their discography as it helps bring the album to a close in its latter stages. This contrast in tones is reflective of the group’s measurement in extremes. When it comes to their ideology there is no half-stepping and emotions all across the spectrum are fleshed out and brought to fruition wether it’s positivity or turmoil.

But if there’s a singular resounding force that comes through the lyrical qualities of iridescence, it’s honesty. As a rapper, Abstract works in a similar vein to Kanye West – a rapper that he has openly spoken off with ardour – in that his use of complex wordplay and flows are negligible or even non-existent. Instead, his appeal is derived from the honesty and heart in his lyrics that throughout this album continue to explore his inner conflict in addition to attempts to normalise homosexuality within hip-hop culture. However, in terms of rapping procedure, Dom McLennan continues to shine as the groups most poetic. On this LP he reaffirms his status as the groups most lyrical member with a plethora of verses throughout the album that showcases his technical skill. But again, in spite of all complexity, his raps come from a visceral place and never come across as masturbatory. On the albums closer Fabric, Dom tells us that he ponders how he can “change the world that I move through” and with such poignant explorations of mental health issues throughout the album, it’s hard to argue with the legitimacy of his sentiment.

The album hits are at its most moving in its latter stages, most notably with the long-awaited CDQ of the previously live performed,  TONYA. It is a track that is somber yet grandiose, it is a dissection into the psyche of the group, a step into the spiraling staircase of wallow and self-doubt, a summation of the hurt and anguish weighing on BROCKHAMPTON. With that being said, however, the album closes with FABRIC echoing the mantra that “these are the best days of our lives” and maybe that’s what Abstract referred to when he called back to the Saturation I days. That feelings of enthusiasm and hope are not only alive but reminiscent of those during the formation of the group’s breakout album. That feeling of hope and enthusiasm are here for the boybands future… a future that we can’t wait to see unfold.

 

SWAY: Standing Out and Speaking Up

words fae liam menzies (@blinkclyro), photos courtesy of Daniel Blake (FB)

In a year that has seen both great things occur, such as bands like The Vegan Leather landing a tasty spot on the Electric Fields billing, as well as harrowing events, the loss of the O2 ABC being a prime one, the music scene in Glasgow is certainly one thing and that’s active.

The same can’t be said about Paisley based rock outfit Sway: thankfully the shoegazey foursome haven’t split up but this year has been a relatively quiet one which mostly comes down to some hapless occurrences. “We sadly didn’t hit the ground running this year due to some unfortunate circumstances outwith our hands,” tells frontman Craig, the details of which are unclear but regardless, it’s not all doom and gloom. “We took it slow for the first half of 2018, but for these last few months of the year? You’re gonna be hearing a lot more from us” adamantly states Matt, the band promising not only new material but branching out with their gigging by hitting some other locations across the UK they haven’t yet played.

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If you so happen to find yourself nearby a venue SWAY is playing at though, why should you bother to fork out and go along? JonJoe doesn’t mince words when declaring what makes the band stand out, the group priding themselves on “the darker topics we explore through our music and our different perspectives, as well as our interests, bleed into that“. This isn’t just a bit of PR fluff either – To Be A Man saw SWAY take aim at a toxic relationship bubbling over with manipulation, all juxtaposed with poppy sensibilities that no doubt take influence from the bleaker state of rock during the 80’s. Not only that but their latest single Another Lover sees the bass agonising over a fittingly desperate set of lyrics that pack in equal parts heartbreak and determination.

While the boys are no doubt focussed on their newest material, Matt is sure to use their time to sing the praises of other acts that are often overlooked. “There’s a fair amount of people who I’d say don’t get enough praise, but personally I’d say Lizzie Reid definitely doesn’t. Lizzie is an incredible singer/songwriter who’s been playing in and around Glasgow for some time now. I saw her at the Old Hairdresser’s not that long ago and was stunned at how moving her performance was.

You may be wondering where cool as a cucumber David DIV Roberts is through all this but don’t worry, he didn’t keep hush through this entire interview as he chimed in to talk about one of his favourite releases of the year. “For me, Shredd’s EP is astounding,” he says, Jonjoe concurring, before going on to reminisce about The Walkmen record The Rat which fills in whatever other time he has left. 

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All those days spent writing and gigging must take a toll on you but it seems SWAY have a pretty healthy coping mechanism in the form of, well, each other. “Personally writer’s block has been a constant problem,” Craig says “that I’ve had to deal with since I started to write music especially with outside factors over the past few years that suck your motivation and drive out of you. Luckily enough I’ve always been able to bounce off the rest of the boys and get back into it when going through a slump.

As the photos included throughout show, SWAY are a wholesome bunch of boys who aren’t afraid to dabble in some fun as well as some sombre topics. The fluidity and brotherhood displayed between them all, while often seen, is refreshing in the scene considering how they channel it into their music as well as their live shows. The band are very much that in general: refreshing, like a nice cold glass of water, though with probably a tear or two in there.

stream sway’s new single Another Lover here

Every National Album, Ranked From Worst To Best

Ohio based rockers The National have been ever-present in rock music for the better part of two decades: forming in the late 90’s and releasing their self-titled effort in 2001, Matt Berninger and co. have been at the helm of seven records of varying quality, usually finding at least one of their albums in an album of the decade list. Thanks to their arty sombre work, The National have found themselves appealing to people both young and old which have helped them to remain both commercially and critically viable.

Of course, we can’t simply sit idly by and not ask the question: what’s their best record? Well, you won’t have to ponder for much longer as Transistor’s fantastic four Andrew (@weeandreww), Callum (@cal_thornhill), Josh (@jxshadams) and Kieran (@kiercannon) have helped to 100-per-cent-definitively rank their albums – will there be hot takes? Absolutely. Will there be an obvious loser? Probably. Will you be pissed off at us? Most definitely.

Quick disclaimer: This is, like, our opinion or whatever, dude. Disagree? The comments down below will house whatever rage you’re feeling.


7. The National (2001)

Andrew: The National’s self-titled debut actually isn’t as bad as its made out to be. It’s certainly no Pablo Honey in terms of quality, but in a similar manner to Radiohead’s debut, it pales in comparison with the rest of The National’s discography (apart from the sophomore Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers). If I’m honest, this isn’t a record that has stuck with me anywhere near as much as the rest of the band’s discography and I rarely find myself listening to this record.

However, it’s not a complete dud. On tracks like American Mary, you can identify the elements that the band have refined in recent years to make themselves so adored – in Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s interlocking guitar/piano parts, Scott and Bryan Devendorf’s airtight rhythm section and Matt Berninger’s hazy, weary baritone.

Callum: Although this record is being ranked last, it is simply because the others hold more personal and sentimental value. The National’s self-titled debut was, for me anyway, a record I went back to and picked up on vinyl to simply complete my collection. But now, it is a record I dabble in when catching the train or in need of background music. There are some tracks, for example, Theory of Crows that have stuck over the years with the lyrics “I’ll suck off investors, I’ll suck off VCs
I’m losing my posture from time on my knees,” that proved to be the core of The National’s witty and charismatic lyrics. A good foundation of what was to come for the Ohio alt-rockers.

Josh: It has been claimed that the band’s self-titled debut was made simply just because they could, and it shows.  Whilst it undeniably has it charms in cuts like “American Mary” and “29 Years”, it lacks both the punch of their other earlier work and the sophistication of their later albums, opting for an alt-country twinge that never totally sits well with the New York group.  “The National” is the sound of a band searching for their idiosyncrasies, rather than one fully formed and ready to turn heads – not offensively bad, but definitely less than essential.

Kieran: Grammy Award-Winning Band The National are a rare breed – they have yet to release a dud. Although their first two ‘forgotten’ albums (S/T and SSFDL) aren’t quite on the same level as the ones that followed, they’re still enjoyable in their own right. Those who were introduced to The National post-Alligator will be surprised by the Americana-tinged style of the tracks, but there are more parallels to their later material than meets the eye. 29 Years, for example, is essentially a lo-fi draft version of Slow Show, where the same “You know I dreamed about you / For 29 years before I saw you” refrain gets immortalised in its climactic outro. S/T is a solid album, although it’s rather eclipsed by what comes after it.

6. Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers (2003)

Callum: Murder Me Rachael, Available and Sugar Wife. With a fine collection of other The National tracks it could be easy to forget about these gems, but when we reminisce about their 2003 sophomore record we can see exactly why fifteen years later they are continuing to put out tracks that echo the sounds from this sophomore record. Very rarely will you see The National slip a Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, which makes it a more ‘exclusive’ record for those daring to take a punt on them all them years ago.

Josh: There’s not much between their second LP and their debut, other than the permanent arrival of guitarist Bryce Dessner to the fold and a more formidable growl from singer Matt Berninger.  The instrumental palette is widened and the lyrical tone sounds less despondent, and more whiskey-soaked, allowing The National to bear their teeth on what are, not coincidentally, the best tracks here: “Slipping Husband” and “Available” drunkenly shuffle with barely concealed bitterness until the rage erupts in one of Berninger’s trademark screams.  What really lets “Sad Songs…” down though is its production: flat and lifeless, it ruins the good songs and only makes clear the flaws of the bad ones.

Kieran: On their second album, The National start to move away from the country roots of their debut and begin to forge their own brand of indie rock. Containing some of their heaviest bangers to date (Available and Murder Me Rachael) as well as the debut appearance of Matt Berninger’s infamous screaming, SSFDL is significantly more fleshed-out than S/T but it still lacks the polish and songwriting finesse of the subsequent five albums. That being said, it’s the first time Matt’s lyrics really start to demonstrate his dark humour and wry observation – the unique ways in which he discusses life, love, and relationships.

Andrew: Once again, I’ll have to admit that I haven’t listened to this record nearly as much as the rest of The National’s albums since it’s almost a universally agreed fact that the first two National records are almost stepping stones for the greatness that soon followed. However, Sad Songs is undoubtedly a step forward from the self-titled.

It perhaps showcases the heavier side of The National which the band have flirted with throughout their career more than any other studio album, with Berninger’s groan turning into a full-bloodied scream on Slipping Husband, Available and Murder Me Rachael. However, especially on Rachael, it becomes apparent that these tracks deserve better production than they have on the record, and you can’t talk about Sad Songs without mentioning the undisputed-worst-track-ever-recorded-by-Grammy-award-winning-band-The-National – the somehow reggae-infused Sugar Wife. However, it’s on the tracklisting beside tracks as beautiful as closer Lucky You, so, ultimately, Sad Songs shows a band who have potential, but are sadly yet to fully realise it.

5. Alligator (2005)

Josh: This is where The National hit their stride, and it was helped by the fact their backs were against the wall where success had eluded them for years.  The performances are powerful, the lyrics are powerful, and the track listing consistent: from “Secret Meeting” to the absolutely stunning “Mr. November”, it has something for everyone to latch on to and form memories from.  The only reason it’s so low down in the list is that it pales in comparison to the heights the band have gone on to achieve off the back of this record, which in itself is a testament to its quality.

Kieran: The step-up from SSFDL to Alligator is astonishing. Within two years, their maturity and songcraft multiplied exponentially without losing any of their youthful energy. The best way to describe this album is it’s the pal who comes round to your house with a crate of booze when you’re feeling a bit shit, sits and drinks with you until you’ve forgotten what was wrong in the first place. It’s wild, raucous and (relatively speaking) fairly optimistic but also manages to be hard-hitting when it needs to be (see Val Jester). It’s also massively underrated – so many relatively unknown tracks like Lit Up, Secret Meeting and Geese of Beverly Road deserve to rank among the band’s very best. It’s possibly my favourite National album, and I’ve been searching for any reason to rank it #1 but the margins between Alligator and Boxer really are very fine indeed.

Andrew: Here’s where it gets interesting. Alligator is the first great National record, at the band’s third attempt, and the beginning of the Brooklyn five-piece’s ridiculously consistent run. More than that, Alligator marks the first iteration of what is now The National’s trademark sound. The Dessner’s songwriting is laser-sharp, and its marriage with Berninger’s occasionally hilariously honest songwriting (“Karen put me in a chair, fuck me and make me a drink”) is seamless.

The finger-picked guitar of Secret Meeting is the perfect introduction to the band’s most eclectic record yet. There are tracks as plaintive and stripped back as Daughters of the Soho Riots alongside massive rock songs like Abel, and almost everything in between. What is particularly enjoyable about The National is you can truly pick out each members’ contribution to each track and record and it must be said that drummer Bryan Devendorf is incredible on Alligator, and is the driving force behind some of the record’s best moments – none more so than the incredible closer Mr. November, where the life-affirming chorus is backed up by rapid-fire drumming.

If there is to be one criticism of Alligator, it’s an understandable one – the production isn’t flawless, and on certain tracks, the guitars especially can sound quite tinny – however this can be put down to the fact the band weren’t blessed with a huge recording budget, as this is more than rectified on later attempts.

Callum: All The Wine is as lyrically succulent as The National get and Alligator is the perfect example of Berninger and co.’s turning point. From a cult, nichely appreciated into a majestic, celebrated festival headliner. Teeing up the release of Boxer, the band transition from the delicate to the angsty and the record mirrors how The National construct their live show; just when you are settling into a steady theme of swaying shoulders you’re smacked in the face with fan-favourite Mr. November. Glorious.

 

4. Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

Kieran: This is where the rankings get *really* tough. The beauty of The National, who have consistently matured and adapted over the years, is that the run from Alligator through to Sleep Well Beast is crammed with five records whose individual merits are all sufficient to see them take the #1 spot. Ranking them objectively is incredibly difficult and fans listen to the band for such a wide variety of reasons that an argument could justifiably be made that, perhaps, TWFM deserves to sit at the top. It’s one of their most candid and accessible records, but it certainly isn’t lacking in genius. Matt’s lyrical poetry is in fine form on Graceless as he delivers the line “god loves everybody, don’t remind me” with a hefty dose of sarcasm. There are countless gems to uncover throughout, like the perfectly timed key change on This Is The Last Time, but in my opinion Fireproof and Slipped are comparatively weaker tracks – hence TWFM stays at #4.

Andrew: Anyone at all familiar with The National will know that they’re hardly a band for parties or sunny days at the best of times. This reputation is largely justified – thanks, in no small part – to Trouble…, easily the gloomiest record the band have put out. If you were to assign a mood to this record it would be anxiety, which seems to permeate every kick drum and guitar lick on the record.

This is personified on Don’t Swallow the Cap, arguably the best track the five-piece have ever recorded. The track isn’t heavy, but moves at breakneck pace, with a breathless guitar line propelling Berninger’s frantic, stream-of-consciousness delivery which details a 4am drunken panic attack. The track is backed up by some rapid drumming and a haunting string score, adding up to the kind of track only The National could make.

Personally, when I think of Trouble.., its stunning ballads are the first tracks that come to mind. The five-piece are rarely as stripped back as they are on tracks like Slipped, I Need My Girl and Pink Rabbits, with Berninger’s heart-breaking lyricism taking centre stage with lines as stunning as “I was falling apart / I was a television version of a person with a broken heart”.

Callum: In my opinion, this is where critics realised that The National were far more than an underappreciated, cult-followed, niche band. Some of their most heartfelt tracks feature on this record and have been echoed back all around the world since it dropped in 2013. Kicking things off with, yep you guessed it, a hearty ballad in the form of I Should Live in Salt; what follows is an accumulation of brilliance which makes it extremely difficult to choose just one highlight. Dabbling in the poetic, e.g. Pink Rabbits and I Need My Girl as well as the abstract lyricism of Graceless, this is without a doubt one of the greatest records since the turn of the millennium.

Josh:  “Trouble Will Find Me” is a strange album, and, in a way, arguably the most “National” album of all in their discography.  At first it is an uneven listing, with some of their best tracks ever recorded rubbing shoulders with some of their worst (looking at you, “Don’t Swallow The Cap” and “Fireproof”), and the whole record has a grey, almost lethargic sheen to it; like a fog smothering a skyscraper in the Financial District.  But over time, it grows and opens up, allowing some of Berninger’s most striking lines to cut right to the bone: “You didn’t see me, I was falling apart, I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park” from Pink Rabbits is a personal favourite, and it sums up why this album is so good; because you don’t see it at first.

 

3. Sleep Well Beast (2017)

Andrew: The newest entry in The National’s discography saw a pretty seismic shift in the band’s songwriting. Sleep Well Beast is far more electronic than its predecessors, and for the most part, it is a remarkably subtle record. The National’s 7th LP is characterised by tracks like Walk It Back and Empire Line, subtle tracks that establish a mood and atmosphere and stick with it for their entire run time rather than building to any sort of climax.

This could easily have backfired and come off as boring, but by this point in their career, The National are masters of atmosphere, and these tracks are all the more fascinating for their refusal to build to a crescendo. Walk It Back in particular features a brilliantly piercing guitar line courtesy of Bryce Dessner while a lengthy vocal sample plays in the background.

That is the record’s mood for the most part. However, there is one beautiful outlier in the form of Turtleneck: a track that just scrapes the three minute mark where the band really lets their hair down. Berninger’s ragged vocals fire shots at “another man in shitty suits” currently occupying the White House, but the track’s best moment comes when the Dessner twins trade guitar solos on the ferocious bridge.

Callum: 2017’s dark and enigmatic Sleep Well Beast ties together everything The National has ever released, but with a subtle yet gracious twist. Using samples, electronics and most importantly cutting lyrics to portray love, loss, and desperation; the Ohio outfit delve deep into one’s core and submerges itself in a portion of self-deprecation. In the quieter ballads, for example Carin at the Liquor Store and Guilty Party, we are offered a voyeuristic glimpse of where relationships have faulted – but, the hastier tracks like Turtleneck reminds listeners of their tongue in cheek abilities. Similar to Mr. November in terms of style; Turtleneck, however, refers to Trump as “just another man, in shitty suits, everybody’s cheering for.” Classic.

Josh: Only The National, the musical epitome of the underdog, could provide one of their greatest this late into their career.  The band’s embracing of electronics into their otherwise consistent chamber rock proceedings gives each song an unusual yet captivating flavour, with eerie vocal samples and skittering drum machines bouncing between Berninger’s voice and secret weapon Bryan’s drums, often revealing themselves to be a welcome addition.  Whilst it may stumble off a bit towards the end with one too many slow burners, “Sleep Well Beast” is proof enough that The National still have plenty of fight left in them.

Kieran: Their latest and most experimental album to date, Sleep Well Beast was a radical departure from pretty much everything else they’ve released. Plenty of electronic bleep-bloops, unconventional song structures and – wait – is that a guitar solo?! The sense of freedom is palpable, as the band eschewed the tedious and meticulous sort of recording process they endured for High Violet in favour of a much more freeform and avant-garde approach. The record evokes feelings of winter and hibernation – saying no to the party invitations, closing the windows and shutting out the world until everything makes a bit more sense.

For this reason, it’s melancholic even by Ntl standards, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of tenderness. On album highlight I’ll Still Destroy You, Matt sings about his daughter – “Put your heels against the wall / I swear you got a little bit taller since I saw you” – a bittersweet remark about the downsides of being on the road, missing out on important stages of your kid growing up. It’s an intriguing new direction the Cincinnati sad dads are heading in, and it’ll be fascinating to see how it pans out.

2. Boxer (2007)

Callum: The only record by The National to warrant an official, full-length live recording (Boxer Live in Brussels), so that means something, right?! For me, though, as brilliant as Boxer is, it is an accumulation of banging tunes as opposed to an iconic album as a package. The two year period between Alligator and Boxer allowed The National to develop from a somewhat angst-saddled outfit into a maturer, emotion charging, dinner party band. Of course, you can’t drop Available or Mr November when you’re in red wine territory, but you definitely CAN pull out Guest Room.

Josh: And this is where it becomes controversial.  “Boxer” is often considered to be the point where the band finally broke through and became the sad dads we all know and love today.  Everything about the group that has remained steady well into the present was firmly established here: Berninger’s baritone croon, the lush orchestral arrangements, the driving guitars, the powerful drums.  It all comes together in a glorious mix that nearly lasts the entire LP, with “Squalor Victoria” and “Slow Show” being definite highlights; unfortunately, like most National albums it stumbles towards the end with one too many slow songs after a balanced entrance that contrasts their enthralling energy with their gloomy tendencies.  “Apartment Story”, “Racing Like a Pro” and “Ada” to their best to save a sludge of the second half, but not enough to make it the crème de la crème.

Kieran: This is it. Boxer. The album that arguably defines The National and captures their essence in a way no other album has managed so far. In terms of their progression musically, it’s difficult to exaggerate how important this record is. Its use of lush orchestral arrangements and synths lifts the melodies to new heights – and despite the grandeur on the fanfare at the end of Fake Empire, on other tracks the devil is in the detail. Green Gloves, for example: the keyboard part playing in the background of the final chorus brings the song to a subtle but incredible climax. The genius is that you don’t even notice until you listen to it a few times and really pay attention.

The album’s track order is perfect as well – slower tracks arrive at just the right time to let off some of the pressure built by upbeat, rapid-drumming songs like Apartment Story. The decision to end on three fairly low-key tracks – Racing Like a Pro, Ada and Gospel – could be considered a bold move, but in reality there’s no better way to wind down the album. The explosive nature of Mr November was the ideal way to end Alligator, just as Gospel is a fitting way to reflect on Boxer as a whole. It’s the very definition of a slow burner, but trust me folks – it’s well worth sticking by it.

Andrew: While Alligator was undoubtedly a huge step forward for the band, Boxer was the record when the world really took notice of The National, and for good reason. In 43 incredibly concise minutes, the five-piece announced themselves as the band everyone knew they were capable of becoming. The piano part that opens Fake Empire and the record is now nothing short of legendary, and the track’s politically-infused lyricism is as relevant now as it was in 2007.

Boxer just feels like the trademark National album. From the legitimately threatening Mistaken for Strangers to the brilliantly bullish Apartment Story (“we’ll be alright, we have our looks and perfume on”) this is a band on top of their game.

Perhaps the quintessential National track is Slow Show, a ballad beautifully incorporating acoustic guitar and piano, with Berninger describing his social anxiety at a party and his desire to rush home to his partner, with a vintage lyric “can I get a minute of not being nervous and not thinking of my dick?” If you ever find yourself doubting why The National are such indie royalty, just look at how moving their tracks can be while Berninger sings about his penis.

1. High Violet (2010)

Josh: Here we have the only National album that doesn’t stumble once throughout its 48 minute long run time – the closest the band have ever come and probably ever will to a perfect record.  It’s almost ironic then that it starts tentatively, with an echoing muted guitar strum to test the water before jumping straight into one of their most moving songs, “Terrible Love”, that features a monster of a chorus that feels like it was designed for the larger crowds the group found themselves playing for after “Boxer”.  Nearly every song builds to a climax or a certain moment that takes your breath away: the repeated mantra at the end of “Afraid of Everyone”, or the joyous crescendo of “England”, or the final, reverberating chorus of delicate closer “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”. Everything just works, and works staggeringly well at that. What more could you ask for?

Kieran: When I first started dabbling in The National, in all honesty, I wasn’t sold – that is, until I heard the opening drumbeats of Bloodbuzz Ohio. High Violet is the album that got me utterly, utterly hooked on the band. It’s an explosive, cathartic wall of sound and it’s so compelling I still find myself struggling to turn it off without listening to the entire album front-to-back. Terrible Love is the perfect way to start an album (although plenty of debate has raged about whether the alternative version on the extended edition is better) and is a case in point that the band have mastered the art of the opening track.

It’s much more polished and painstakingly produced than Boxer or Alligator, to the point where Lemonworld was rewritten 80 times in order to achieve the perfect sound – although the final version ended up resembling the original demo. I absolutely loved High Violet (still do), and although it got me into The National –  Alligator and Boxer made me stick around.

Andrew: High Violet is a flawless record. As much as I love them, if I was to nit-pick, I could criticise Sleep Well Beast and Boxer, but High Violet is a different beast. There’s not a weak track to be seen in the track listing. Hell, there’s not even a weak chorus, verse or bridge.

To discuss the actual songwriting of High Violet, it’s easily the most cinematic National record. It’s almost the antithesis of Sleep Well Beast in that it is thoroughly anthemic: High Violet is personified by colossal climaxes – such as “it takes an ocean not to break” on Terrible Love, your voice is swallowing my soul” on Afraid of Everyone and the huge wordless crescendo of Bloodbuzz Ohio.  Remarkably on a record with moments this huge – it’s not at all disjointed, the flow is incredibly natural and even the less ambitious songs on the tracklist, such as Little Faith and Lemonworld, serve as small but vital parts of the beautiful canvas.

Arguably the record’s most dynamic track is penultimate number England, which develops from a world-weary piano riff into a colossal emotional epiphany – worthy of closing just about any album. However, what comes after is one of the most beautiful tracks in the band’s discography – Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, a stunning acoustic track which features Berninger singing in an uncharacteristically high octave, seemingly suggesting there’s nothing this band and album can’t do.

Callum: Another accumulation of The National’s musical prowess here. High Violet is home to the commercially wonderful Bloodbuzz Ohio, but it is elsewhere that we find the ripe, unpicked fruit. From front to back, this record oozes powerful emotion and tracks perfect for all aspects of life – predominantly the themes of abandonment (Anyone’s Ghost and Conversation 16) and pining for the second coming of what has gone before (England). Teetering on the magnificent, majestic and all round.