Drenge embrace the weird and uneasy on Strange Creatures

Drenge have made their grand return to the UK rock scene with their latest album Strange Creatures. This latest effort arrives after a relatively quiet few years for the band, whose last full studio album was released back in 2015. After the success of their self-titled debut and its follow-up Undertow, this period of absence has left a very particular itch unscratched for many fans. Known for their dark and blues-inspired grunge sound, the Loveless brothers usually kept their songs concise and direct, delivering memorable riffs and fast-paced action throughout their previous two albums. The usual distorted and heart-racing sound of their prior efforts have been largely left in the past by Drenge, who on this latest album deliver some of their most haunting and intricate work to date.

Some of the longer form and lyric-driven tracks from Undertow are the standout remains of the Drenge that fans had come to love, as their new sound often combines pulsating synthesisers and hyper-realistic lyrics to create an eerie soundscape that is often used by Eoin Loveless to explore deeper lyrical themes than on previous releases. This is not to say that the album has a slow pace overall, as some of the most pop-sounding songs of theirs to date can also be found on Strange Creatures. The two main cases of this are “This Dance” and “Autonomy,” which were both released amongst the flurry of singles that culminated in the build-up to the band’s comeback. The tracks take on more of a New Wave sound, yet still feature a certain edge from Eoin’s songwriting, particularly on “Autonomy,” where he delivers some of his most skeptical and witty commentary on the album. This new approach to writing catchy songs relies on a certain contrast between the upbeat instrumentals and the creeping vocals and backing synths, which make for an excellent addition to the band’s arsenal.

It has to be said that after the album’s introduction from three of the singles, Strange Creatures really does come into its own. “Teenage Love” provides an infectiously stirring track, with flat-out creepy lyrics that fit with the overarching theme of the record. This continues through to “Prom Night,” which is most definitely one of the standout tracks, featuring some of the most visceral and evocative storytelling that Eoin has produced over the course of all three albums. The merging of the classic Drenge guitar sound and some particularly spooky synths has been immaculately pulled off by the Loveless brothers. The shift away from guitar driven songs does not ever feel forced or alien, but more that it was the natural projection for the band’s evolving sound. This can be heard yet again on “No Flesh Road,” which feels alienating and estranged, which are themes that have always been found in Drenge’s own twisted musical stylings.

Without a doubt, the anthem of the album in “Never See The Signs,” which offers all of the aforementioned qualities in one blow. The track has all the catchiness of some of the new-wave elements of the record whilst simultaneously incorporating the dark undertones that give the album an overall eerie feel. The two closing tracks then seem to follow the apparent theme from Drenge’s previous two albums, giving the album a grandiose, almost ballad-like close. “Avalanches” offers a slow and distortion-induced shoegaze trip featuring some reverberated vocals from Eoin that combine with some isolated keys that add to the reflective tone of the track.

This is a nice change of pace that slows down nicely as the album comes to a close on the final song “When I Look Into Your Eyes.” The track definitely stands out as the most ‘out there’ and different from the Drenge of past years. The symphony of chanting vocals, acoustic guitar and prog-type synths is truly different to anything that Drenge fans will be used to, but the experimental sound seems to work for the brothers, with a solid vocal performance yet again, leaving the closing track sounding reminiscent of a Nick Cave song. This could also be said for the new role that Eoin appears to be taking in the band as he takes up the full-time job of a frontman by ditching his guitar during live shows. Although the two may not be correlated, it feels as though this change, or perhaps the maturing of the brothers, has led to a revitalised approach to songwriting, one that sees some of the band’s best written songs to date on the record, along with some of the most captivating vocal performances.

With Strange Creatures, Drenge have created an uncomfortably different yet enthralling soundscape that strays far from their simple two-piece roots. It seems that the band have abandoned the simple guitar and drums grunge combo and have opted for a more complex and moody sound that tends to deliver some haunting moments. It is great to see the Loveless brothers back in action after a four-year absence, and even better to see that they have remained consistent in their delivery of solid records. The disturbing world of Strange Creatures is almost incomparable to their previous studio albums, yet it contains songs of an equally great nature. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

rating 8

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FIDLAR Are Sillier Than Ever On “Almost Free”

FIDLAR first properly entered the public consciousness in 2013 with their self-titled debut album. An energetic garage punk affair with lyrics focusing around themes of drug use, depression and general debauchery, FIDLAR’s lyrics have always been on the cringey side but their debut had a level of charm and strong, simple songwriting which made it the soundtrack for angsty teens experimenting with drugs and skateboarding everywhere.

Almost Free has FIDLAR flex their versatility as a band. The group plays with a varied palette of sounds with the band dipping their toes in hip-hop, blues, and even gouse music, amongst other styles. The album also boasts a warm and full production style that contrasts nicely with their earlier lo-fi leaning endeavours.

This album also stands out as FIDLAR’s most hilarious album to date. When the listener puts on Almost Free they are immediately hit with the group trying to do a cool hip-hop track complete with aggressive, yet cringey vocal delivery and cool dad-rock worthy blues licks. A truly strong start for the band if they were aiming to make their funniest album yet. The problem here is that it’s unlikely the band were trying to make funny music (with the exception of By Myself but we’ll get to that). However, the blend of sounds the band has adopted over the years mixed with the still cringe-ridden lyrics makes a lot of Almost Free just unintentionally funny.

Too Real features lead vocalist Zac Carper giving out hot takes about current American politics and society today with an attitude that can only be described as too woke. The bridge section sees Zac spitting venom about flaws in both left and right leaning politics in a progressively angry tone. After some awkward ranting the chorus hook enters “Was that too fucking real?!” the listener is left thinking No. Not Really.

By Myself, arguably the silliest track on the album starts with Carper on acoustic guitar singing the song’s chorus, solo: “I’m cracking one open with boys, by myself”. Now ignoring the glaring fact that the boys in FIDLAR have based the hook of their song around a long dead meme there seems to be a level of irony built around the track that’s a bit refreshing. By Myself proves that FIDLAR are able to laugh at themselves from time to time and also shows a level of self awareness they’ve never shown before (Carper can even be heard laughing at his own bad joke). However, when the song launches into the verse section and adopts a cheesy house beat the self awareness disappears and we can be treated to FIDLAR running a dead meme song into the ground for just under four minutes.

This is all quite unfortunate as a level self awareness would greatly benefit FIDLAR’s music at this stage in their career because in some ways they seem to have developed into an unironic parody of themselves over the years.

When this album isn’t being edgy it tends to just be downright bland. Tracks such as Can’t You See and Flake have very generic indie aesthetics especially with the former which sounds like a track written by any local Arctic Monkeys influenced band ever.

Almost Free is far from terrible with songs such as Alcohol and Called You Twice been stand out tracks. The band are obviously competent songwriters and skilled musicians but it’s the band’s blend of cliched ‘cool’ blues riffs, generic indie stylings, bad integration of hip-hop and the all round cringefest that is FIDLAR lyricism that really makes Almost Free stand out as FIDLAR’s most unintentionally funny album yet. – Liam Toner (@tonerliam)

Deerhunter Never Lose Sight of Their Identity on “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?”

Atlanta indie veterans Deerhunter have kicked off  2019 with their much-anticipated comeback album after a relatively quiet few years by their prolific standards. The band, led by cult figure Bradford Cox, amassed a large underground following after a consistent string of stellar releases ever since their 2007 full-length studio debut Cryptograms. From there, the band went on to pioneer many new sounds during the height of the indie revival, introducing noise, art and psychedelic sounds that drew on the sprawling soundtracks of the 60s and some of the more experimental releases of the 90s. During this experimentation, Deerhunter produced some of the finest indie rock albums since the boom of new releases in the early 2000s, including both Halcyon Digest and Microcastle, both of which garnered critical acclaim and established a loyal following.

During the band’s hiatus, there was no lack of side projects and other artistic endeavours from the members, but with the turn of 2019 approaching, it was very quickly looking like it could be a four year wait for new music, leaving fans pondering the next release. Just as hope may have been diminishing for any new Deerhunter music in 2018, the band released singles “Death in Midsummer” and “Element” whilst also announcing a new album to be released in early 2019, much to the joy of the indie community and their fans. The singles did have that signature quality present across all of the bands work, the combination of beautifully atmospheric soundscapes and winding and sedate vocals from Cox, yet did seem to possess more of a softer pop feel than some of the more experimental work in their discography.

Upon the release of Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already?, it was clear that this new sound was to be carried across the entire album. The themes and inspirations for the new release seem to be more focused on synth pop and ambient sounds, rather than some of the rougher garage cuts that would maybe be expected from the Deerhunter of last decade. This could be seen as a move away from the past sounds that could leave the band drowning in a pool of nostalgia, and also as a conscious effort to move forward in their careers and continue to revamp sounds of the past with their own Deerhunter touch that brings each album into the future. On this latest release, looking forward seems to be a recurring theme, which flows effortlessly in the dream like atmosphere of the songs. Tracks such as “Futurism” and “What Happens to People?” really highlight this theme and give a glimpse into the mind of Bradford Cox, who always seems to be setting trends in his own weird and wonderful world. These tracks are also the finest examples of this new sound finding the perfect balance between the future and past from the perspective of a fan. Stylistically, these tracks are reaching into the realm of pop with catchy melodies and light, upbeat jingles feathered throughout, but maintaining the poetic nature of Cox’s lyrics and his unique and unflinching delivery that soars with the backing instrumentals.

Some of the more experimental and artsy takes on the album such as “Détournement” are definitely a step in a new direction, although the futuristic prose delivery does feel like a cut from a sci-fi dystopian movie and drags on a bit in the already short album run-time. It would be nice to hear more interesting sounds like those present on “Tarnung” and “Greenpoint Gothic,” which feature a very dense and layered soundtrack that could really bring the album to the next level if developed and interwoven. This is not to say, however, that the album ever feels disjointed, in fact there is a solid flow back and forth from these synth-heavy soundscapes and indie pop choruses and versus that make for very easy listening.

On the whole, Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already? feels like a step away from the overbearing madness of modern life, and a look back at the simpler things that hold beauty. The ever-poetic Bradford Cox is back on winning form with another collection of abstract lyrics that are carried by some of the most interesting and detailed instrumental accompaniments heard from Deerhunter in some time. It’s great to see the Atlanta idols deliver yet again, particularly after the death of long-time bassist Josh Fauver, who passed away in November of last year. Despite a change in sound, Deerhunter remain sharp and on-point, constantly on the edge of their own innovation, in their own world and detached from the rest of indie rock. The band never compromise themselves or go for the conventional or easy routes. In doing so, they have delivered yet another unique and deeply interesting album that will no doubt capture the attention and hearts of their cult following, whose wait for new music is finally over. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

rating 7

The Twilight Sad keep it brilliant with IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME

Five years is a long time at the best of times. However, in this day and age, five years is like ten years. Back in 2014, we lived in a world where Brexit wasn’t even a thing, David Cameron fucking the pig wasn’t even a thing, and we just lived in the bosom of the shiny-faced moon man that had a hard-on for killing the poor and disabled… and a hard-on for pigs, clearly. So much can change, and as we’ve seen, very little for the better. So, what has five years changed for Scottish post-punk heroes The Twilight Sad? 2014 saw the released of Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave, accurately surmising the mood of British and EU citizens respectively.

Back with IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, five years hasn’t changed much for the band, but with that, they provide a consistent sound with sonic developments. Slightly more upbeat than NWTBHANWTL, IWBLTATT opens with the rolling synth of [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs], with James Graham’s reverberated vocals dancing over the top. The album, which is easier to type than IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, is poppier than its predecessor. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a cynical assault on a faceless, mainstream sound, this album still has the melancholic feel of its predecessors and The Twilight Sad’s influencers.

Songs like album closer Videograms feels like it’s come straight from the eighties, but with a modern tilt. Think legwarmers with Yeezys, Walkmans with Airpods. The band are influenced heavily by post-punk bands like The Cure, and whilst songs like these remind you of eighties post-punk and shoegaze heroes, they stand shoulder to shoulder with them, rather than in their shadow. The Twilight Sad have simply taken a tried and tested blueprint and put their own sonic twist on it.

IWBLTATT doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises coming straight from NWTBHANWTL, though seeing as NWTBHANWTL was greeted by rave reviews, the smart move would be to follow the same path and offer slight variations. Think of NWTBHANWTL as a vodka lemonade; crisp, refreshing, always enjoyable. IWBLTATT is a vodka lemonade… with lime. It’s what you know, with a refreshing twist, but doesn’t completely change the formula. Please though, do not try to drink this album.

Though do drink in the sonic layers offered by this album. Underneath the vocals are a rock band, underneath that are crystalised synths. Good production can take a bad album and make it a good one, with this, good production has made a good album a great one. Moving from album to album is a gamble for any band, and The Twilight Sad have clearly made a killing by not looking to rock the boat too much. So many bands these days will put all their eggs into a basket of a brand new sound and turn fans off whilst failing to convert new fans.

This album does offer an alternative challenge though; picking your highlights. Rarely is an album so well done that you struggle to find your key points, rather appreciating it as one body of work. The only negative is The Twilight Sad’s policy of writing a novel as well as an album. You put a bit of The Twilight Sad on at a gaff, your mate says “This is good, who’s this?”. You’re excited, they’re invested in your musical taste. “Oh, it’s [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs] by The Twilight Sad off their album IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME” you reply excitedly. It’s been four hours, they’ve all gone to the club and you’re sat in the dark. It’s twilight, you’re sad. Poignant.

Find your highlights where you want to find them and you can’t go wrong. However, the melancholic synths of Keep It All To Myself are definitely a high water mark on the album. Sunday Day13 is particularly heart-wrenching, mixing delicate and moody synths with lyrics that seem to tell a story of a slowly crumbling relationship. Graham’s repeated questions of “Would you throw me out into the cold, would you throw me out into the road?” hitting you in your gut. The meaning of the lyrics are up to you to interpret, but the darkness of the words do not change.

Whilst IWBLTATT isn’t that far a departure from NWTBHANWTL, it’s a definite evolution and favours punchy pop hooks over the intimacy of its predecessor. Tracks like VTr definitely have the DNA of the eighties’ biggest pop tracks and feels like they could spearhead The Twilight Sad into the upper echelons of the genre, and indeed, music as a whole. Whilst some bands cynically pursue the mainstream AHEMBRINGMEAHEMWIFEBEATERAHEM, others find themselves naturally creating a sound that appeals to everyone; the old faithful and a new breed of fans open to pop hooks and post-punk sensibilities.

Though overwhelmingly, IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME is a perfectly crafted album, and could well see the band soar to new heights, whilst staying squarely on the ground. Whilst, for now, they stand amongst their influences, they could well soar to stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before them. – Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

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 

 

The 1975 break into the stratosphere on ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’

The 1975 are provocative and genius (if a bit pretentious) or overrated, maddening and straight-up wanky, depending on who you ask. One thing that everyone should admit, even those who can’t stand the sight of Matty Healy before he even opens his mouth, is that there’s no band quite like The 1975 in music today.

They released their underwhelming self-titled debut in 2013 and were essentially written off critically – yet this didn’t stop them amassing a huge fanbase. However, rather than giving the critics the middle finger and continuing down the same path, they released their sprawling, near 75-minute sophomore record i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it in 2016, a record where bubble-gum pop anthems rubbed shoulders with 6-minute instrumentals.

i like it when you sleep… remarkably won over some of the critics who had so vehemently trashed their debut, and by the end of that record’s touring cycle – The 1975, still one of the most divisive bands in music, had sold out the O2 Arena, Madison Square Garden and headlined Latitude Festival.

This meant that, in a weird way, the pressure was off when it came to making A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. If they were to look at it cynically, as long as there are radio hits (which The 1975 churn out for fun – just look at highlight It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) ), this album will send them into the stratosphere – as they proved on their first record, they don’t need critical acclaim, and already have a huge legion of fans who worship the ground they walk on.

But, rather than playing it safe, Healy and his bandmates (drummer/producer George Daniel, bassist Ross MacDonald and lead guitarist Adam Hann) revel in this, and make A Brief Inquiry…their boldest (and best) album yet. How To Draw / Petrichor is the best possible evidence – a reworked B-side from i like it…, the track’s first half is lullaby-esque – with gorgeously glittery piano and xylophone floating in and out of the mix, before Matty’svocals come in, absolutely buried in vocoder. However, then you have the second half – a production masterclass from Healy and George Daniel, an industrial dance beat with skittish beats that genuinely sound like an Aphex Twin track. Seriously, who would have predicted after The 1975’s debut that they would be drawing Aphex Twin comparisons on just their third album?

This Aphex comparison is a segue into a main point of discussion for this record. Matty is a huge LCD Soundsystem fan and in a manner similar to James Murphy’s LCD records, A Brief Inquiry…wears its influences very prominently on its sleeve – the intro track The 1975 – which has appeared in a different iteration on all 3 records – is a perfect example of this. A Brief Inquiry’s version hears Matty singing through a vocoder which sounds like a swarm of Matty robots, in a way that more than pays homage to Bon Iver’s 715 – CR∑∑KS.

Elsewhere on the record, the infectious single TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME sounds exactly like a dancehall Drake track, with breezy surface-level lyrics about infidelity. It’s undoubtedly generic and is the kind of track that those who love to hate The 1975 will latch onto, but somehow it’s irresistibly catchy and infectious.

There’s more Bon Iver influence on I Like America & America Likes Me (more like I Like Bon Iver and Bon Iver likes me, eh lads? Eh? Anyone?) where Healy’s voice is once again drenched in vocoder akin to 22, A Million. However, Matty is clever here – he knows he doesn’t have Vernon’s subtlety so substitutes this for his trademark brashness – America is carried by a massive trap beat and Healy’s lyricism is scatterbrain and manic, addressing the gun crisis in the USA (“kids don’t want rifles / they want Supreme”), but the unhinged and rapid-fire delivery and lyricism seems to suggest that Healy is using this rant as a way to deflect from his heroin addiction which saw him go to rehab during the making of this record – particularly as he howls “I’m scared of dying / its fiiiiiiine!” America is unhinged, wild and deranged – but it’s one of the best tracks this band has ever made.

While the rest of The 1975 are perfectly capable musicians, and George Daniel is a production wizard behind many of this record’s best moments. A Brief Inquiry…is dominated by the ever-fascinating Healy. This is especially evident on massive closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), which sounds at some points like a Nickelback track and at other points like an Oasis track – Matty himself even called it “a gritty, English ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’” – it teeters right on the edge of being unbearably cheesy, but Healy’s earnestness manages to pull it off and then some – the bridge’s mantra of “if you can’t survive; just try”is genuinely tear-jerking and inspiring.

However, when discussing Matty, even the most loyal fans of his work will admit that he is prone to talking absolute shite from time to time, and if A Brief Inquiry…is a reflection of his personality, then it reflects this too. Lead single Give Yourself a Try is good but not great, and the idol worship elsewhere on the album is taken too far here as the guitar riff is a rip-off of Joy Division’s Disorder. Elsewhere, Surrounded By Heads and Bodies is entertainingly titled after the first sentence of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (“Because nobody reads it all the way!”) but that is unfortunately the most interesting thing about the track, as it is a forgettable acoustic track.

These are only small missteps in the album’s near-impeccable 59-minute runtime, and these are more than overshadowed by the band’s best song yet – the monumental Love If If We Made It. Released as a single before the album, the lyrics were released in advance of the track, and with lines as brash as “fucking in a car / shooting heroin” and “poison me, daddy”, even the most devout fans found themselves cringing. However, when the track was properly released it dumbfounded almost everyone who heard it.

It’s been called a millennial ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, as it simply lists the biggest news headlines and social events of the tumultuous past few years (“a beach of drowning 3 year olds / rest in peace Lil Peep”), Matty doesn’t give an opinion on any of these events and simply states the headlines, but his passion is evident. Particularly on the track’s incredibly moving bridge, where he quotes Trump twice, including the strangest pop lyric of the year “thank you Kanye, very cool!”

What brings this cultural melting point of a track together is the powerfully simple chorus when Matty declares “modernity has failed us, but I’d love it if we made it”; it’s an admission that our world is a mess, but what comes through in Matty’s impassioned delivery is a true desire and a plea for humanity and kindness. It’s a protest song of sorts, but as only The 1975, and only Matty Healy could pull off. As unlikely as it may have seemed in 2013, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships makes a very strong case for The 1975 as the band that the world needs in 2018. – andrew barr (@weeandreww)

Get tuned into the radio with Vince Staples on “FM!”

Just over a year on from the critical triumph that was Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples makes a surprise but welcome return with FM!, a fun concept album/EP/mixtape/whatever the fuck it is. While some artists’ side projects between main projects can fade into insignificance, in 22 brief minutes Staples still manages to make a lasting impression.

Although this project is short, Vince packs in the creativity we have come to expect from him. FM! plays out as a radio programme, with a few skits that resemble radio transitions, with the running theme being Vince urging listeners to call in to win tickets to see Kehlani live. With how short the run-time is it is impressive that Staples manages to tie the few tracks included together with a plot making the project feel more cohesive.

As far as the actual musical content the Long-beach rapper delivers, FM! contains some of his catchiest material to date. While the overall themes and sound don’t stray too far from where Big Fish Theory left off, this is not a bad thing at all as we get more of the sharp production we have come to expect from Vince Staples. From opening track Feels Like Summer, Staples continues to demonstrate why he is streets ahead of his competition. One element that is perhaps improved since his last album is the hooks. On this track and throughout the album the choruses pack a punch and refuse to be forgotten.

Thematically, this is familiar territory for Vince, though again this is no weakness as his takes on gang violence are always sincere and compelling. Once again he finds the balance between humour and addressing important issues and it creates a perfect blend of a project that is a fun listen but also a more rewarding listen if you so desire.

As with Big Fish Theory, the highlight of FM! is without a doubt the production. From the sinister bass of Relay with the accompaniment of Vince‘s snarling delivery or the bouncing beat of FUN! that almost sounds out of place but, when paired with Vince, fits perfectly and makes for another stand out moment. With each release, Staples is becoming more and more creative and exciting and even with what could have been a throwaway project, he shows no signs of phoning it in.

For what this project is, it doesn’t leave much to be desired except more of the same from Vince Staples. In fact, the only weak spots on FM! are when Vince is sidelined: Jay Rock, Kehlani and E40 all hold their own but Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga’s interludes underwhelm. On the whole, Vince Staples reminds us of what he is capable of and if this is what he does in his spare time then his next output is one to be excited for. – ethan woodford (@human_dis4ster)

rating 8