Oliver’s 365 Album Challenge Weeks 2 & 3: Pope Of Reviewtown

Date 07/01/19
Artist: Marmozets
Album: Knowing What You Know Now
Review Type: Recommendation/Re-evaluation

Hugh Jackman stares into your eyes. “I’m sorry Oliver, you were right, this was the worstest shit, man. Yet again, you were right, as you always are” he says. “Hmm”, you think, “you’ve fucking lost your mind after the first set of albums“. “Listen to Marmozets, please, it’s the least you deserve” he pleads. You know you’ve lost your mind, but who are you to disagree with Huge Jacked Man?

Knowing What You Know Now came at the wrong time in the context of album of the year lists. By the time list season came round, you couldn’t remember it coming out, not this year anyway. However, looking back on it, it was easily one of the albums of 2018. The Weird And Wonderful Marmozets offered something fresh with a raw and aggresive sound, but Knowing What You Know Now was a complete evolution, keeping that raw and aggresive blueprint but adding so many layers to it.

Songs like Insomnia saw the band’s sound evolve, and even songs like Play, Lost In Translation and Major System Error stuck to the blueprint, but were just… better. Becca further cemented herself as one of rock’s leading frontpersons in waiting, effortlessly bending her vocals to fit the tempo, sound and feel of the song. The girl you hear on Insomnia is a different one to Play, and both fit the bill perfectly.

Rating: 10/10

Date: 08/01/19
Artist: La Dispute
Album: Rooms Of The House
Review Type: Recommendation

Christ these lads need to cheer up. Just have a can, you know? It’s not so bad. However, within the misery of their craft lies the beauty of it. Though sonically, Rooms Of The House is flawless, the perfection comes from the lyrics. Each song paints a picture that you live in for a few short minutes.

In Hudsonville MI 1956, you’re there as the hurricane approaches. Scenes from Highways 1981-2009 transports you to the bridge. In every song you’re invested in the lyrical content, with the music acting as a side show. However, that isn’t to say the music isn’t good. It’s easy on the ears and helps set the scene. Whilst yes, La Dispute’s music is pretty fucking miserable, it’s crafted so perfectly that it paints a picture of tragedy so vividly.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 09/01/18
Artist: Scars
Album: Author! Author!
Review Type: Recommendation

Right from the off, this is probably the most perplexing album that’ll appear on this list. Not from a sonic or lyrical perspective, it’s because without sounding too churlish, you’ve never heard of it. Not that weird, right? Wrong. It’s fucking brilliant, and how it’s been consigned to a footnote in the history books.

Released in 1981, it was the only album by post-punk band Scars, shortly before their breakup in 1982. If you look at the timelines, and listen to the albums, it defies belief that Scars aren’t up there with The Cure. YouTube comments, which is one of the few places you can listen to this album, tell you that Scars were that good, but poor management made sure they’d be forever deemed as obscure.

Songs like Fear Of The Dark, Aquarama and Everywhere I Go should have been hits, but the upside is you get the joy of discovering a hidden gem, something that’s fantastic but not widely known. However, it’s a shame that ten short tracks is all we’ll ever see from post-punk’s nearly men.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 10/01/19
Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Album: Tranquility Base Hotel And Casino
Review Type: Recommendation/Reevaluation

Tranquility Base Hotel And Casino is a funny old Hector. On the one hand, it’s a cool, conceptual album, on the other, is it trying too hard to be cool? Either way, the lounge concept of the album is fantastic and should just be accepted as a complete departure from Arctic Monkeys as we know it.

The wildest take is that were this to be rebadged as the Alex Turner solo album, it’d be lauded as one of the greatest albums ever written. However, as Arctic Monkeys are an accessible, indie rock band, the deviation into becoming a lounge act is admittedly a bit too much to swallow at once. But if you can handle it, you’ll be rewarded with a smash hit in any form.

Though with that said, songs like Star Treatment, Four Out of Five and TBH&C are just perfect. Maybe TBH&C will lead to more lounge albums penetrating the mainstream and we all get to sit around in velvet smoking jackets, snapping our fingers to easy listening whilst sinking a smokey single malt. And that cannot be a bad thing. Get to the taqueria on the roof lads, big man Al’s taking us to deep space, ask your mates (and your mum, see if she says yes).

Rating: 8/10

Date: 11/01/19
Artist: Popes Of Chillitown
Album: Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard
Review Type: Discovery

Aw come on, as far as Simpsons related band names go, these guys have got to be front runners. Popes Of Chillitown, name a better Simpsons related band and we’ll do a week dedicated to shitpostworthy bands. Popes Of Chillitown are a ska/dub/punk band and they are GREAT FUN, as you might expect. With a name like this and a sound like that, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to move to this band’s beat.

Ska/dub/punk is always a recipe for success, mixing the oi! of punk guitars and the fun horns of ska. Maybe that’s a little basic but we’ve much ground to cover in this article. It’s fun to dance to, easy to listen to and really well put together. The whole album is fantastic, with songs like Vexed, Get On/Get Off, The Last Elephant and Upside Down providing the most fun and games.

A photo of a naked soldier gamer will get 200,000 likes, so let’s get that for our shitposting ska heroes!

Rating: 9/10

12/01/19
Artist: Tiny Moving Parts
Album: Swell
Review Type: Recommendation

You know what? Listening to one album a day for a year is pretty fucking fatiguing and we’re not even halfway through January. Maybe when dry January draws to a close, you can just get hammered and listen to the same album. However, Tiny Moving Parts make it all the more easier with Swell, their 2018 offering. A lot of this will be albums that the author missed the boat on in 2018, because he’s a lazy idiot, and was too depressed to review some albums.

Apparently, TMP are a screamo/math band, which sounds like a delightful cocktail and goodness it is. The vocal delivery on Swell is beautiful, and the mathy guitar flourishes are always welcome. It’s hard to pin them down for a “For Fans Of”, but their sound feels so broadly appealing that anybody who enjoys guitar-driven music would easily get into these guys. They’re just an incredibly well put together band, and are a cohesive sonic unit, almost as if they’re made of… tiny moving parts… really makes you think.

It’s one of those awkward albums where you enjoy it all so you can’t pick your favourite tracks, but if you must, Wildfire. That feels like the benchmark for the rest of what is admittedly a largely flawless album. There seems to be a lot of hype around TMP, and hopefully they continue growing from what is clearly a brilliant album in Swell.

Rating: 9/10

Date: 13/01/19
Artist: Kanye West
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Review Type: Recommendation

Remember the good old days where Kanye wasn’t that middle aged man in the MAGA hat who failed to hit deadlines with projects more frequently than legendary TRANSISTOR writer Oliver Butler? Never mind, Ye is nothing but a cautionary tale: Never love anyone.

Though back in the day, Kanye was just an out and out genius, rather than… whatever he is these days, and MBDTF was a hallmark of that genius. Though the roundly accepted 10 is overselling it a bit, perfection runs through the veins of this album. Runaway, POWER, Monster and Hell Of A Life are some of the best that Yeezy’s ever put out. Kanye’s production skills have always been A-grade, and yes, MBDTF is a masterclass in his talents with a synthesiser.

Is Kanye West a strange, confused, middle aged man in a MAGA hat these days? Yes, absolutely, but let’s not forget that less than ten years ago, he was an explosive genius.

Rating: 9/10

WEEK 3

Date: 14/01/19
Artist: Kano
Album: Made In The Manor
Review Type: Reevaluation

2016 was a good year for grime. In fact, every year seems to be a good year for grime. Remember the old days where it was Boy In Da Corner and lo-fi MySpace mixes of Serious by JME? Of course you don’t. Most of the people who read and write for this site are five years old. However, with Konnichiwa and latterly, Kano’s Made In The Manor being some of the year’s best album, 2016 was another good year for grime.

Made In The Manor contains one of grime’s, if not, music’s greatest lyrics. In album opener Hail, which is a study in how to write a good riff, contains the line “Gettin’ that belly like Sherman Klump”, which frankly, is just clever and funny in spades.

Sonically, Kano went to new heights with Made In The Manor, even inviting Damon Albarn on for a guest spot. The lyrical content of Made In The Manor was hugely poignant and thoughtful, with each song telling a story. T-Shirt Weather In The Manor, as daft as it sounds, makes you image in a sun-kissed evening. Whilst we feel the biting cold, that song can transport you back to the heatwave of 2018. Southgate, cans, Kano, it works.

Maybe this challenge needs to be revised for shit albums only, because you can keep going back to Made In The Manor and enjoy it every time for every mood. Fancy something a bit easier? Drinking In The West End. Want to feel powerful? 3 Wheel Ups. Songs for every mood.

Rating: 9/10

Date: 15/01/19
Artist: Skepta
Album: Konnichiwa
Review Type: Reevaluation

Well, when you’ve spent as much as you did to get this on vinyl, you’d be remiss not to listen and review it. As we said, 2016 was a good year for grime, with Konnichiwa no slouch. Containing one of 2016’s biggest songs in Shutdown, because even after 58,000,000 streams, it’s still fresh and still a banger. However, if you do get sick of Shutdown, listen to Slaves’ christ awful cover of it. How do they fucking ruin everything?

Konnichiwa was another album boosted by superior production quality. Obviously Skepta’s lyrics and flow were a-grade, but your flow is nothing if you don’t have the soundtrack to go with it. Corn On The Curb is a definite highlight, for both production and lyrics. And yes, we are gonna talk about how “Shower man down like Fireman Sam” is another highlight.

Skepta has long been one of grime’s premier MCs, whatever was in the water, it worked for the Adenuga family, with Skepta, JME and Julie Adenuga all being some of modern Britain’s best known musical figures. Konnichiwa was just another consistently brilliant album and hopefully, not the last.

Rating: 9/10

Date: 16/01/19
Artist: JME
Album: >Integrity
Review Type: Reevaluation

Fuck it, let’s get on a roll here. 2015 was ALSO a good year for grime, with JME sadly releasing his latest studio album >Integrity. As previously referenced, whatever was in the Adenuga family’s water worked, with JME being Skepta’s brother. It’s obvious that the highlight of >Integrity is Man Don’t Care featuring Giggs, with “Nostradamus couldn’t see me, expelliarmus coudln’t stop me” being a high point of a high point.

He’s only released 3 albums in the last 11 years and it fucking hurts. However, in that, you get to appreciate every banger he drops rather than being overwhelmed. Don’t @ Me, Pulse 8 and 96 F**kries are tunes, but you can’t help but feel the album is a bit too heavy on the tracklist, and can get a bit too much to handle in one go.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 17/01/19
Artist: Architects
Album: Holy Hell
Review Type: Reevaluation

Alright! Gig day! Architects’ future was in limbo after the release of All Our Gods Have Abandoned us and the death of lead guitarist Tom Searle. However, just two short years after Tom’s death, they were back with Holy Hell, arguably the best record of 2018 and the best of their career.

Architects set their stall out early with opener Death Is Not Defeat, which set the tone, and the mantra for the album. Just take a look at the density of this album. Dying To Heal, Holy Hell, Royal Beggars, Hereafter, Modern Misery, Mortal After All, Doomsday, A Wasted Hymn all stake a claim for the album’s best track. How the FUCK can you bounce back like this?

One of the highlights of the album however is in the liner notes for the vinyl, in the album credits, at the top, front and centre is a special guest star. Holy Hell contains some of Tom’s last riffs, noodles and ideas, allowing the driving force behind the last 7 albums to stay in the front seat.

Honest to god, this album, that gig, those boys. Fucking hell.

Rating: 11/10

Date: 18/01/19
Artist: The Twilight Sad
Album: IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME
Review Type: Release

For the FULL review of the album, you can catch it here. However, to give you the long and short, it’s fantastic. It feels poppier but without the cynical grab for the mainstream that a lot of bands seem to be going for.

Songs like Videograms, Sunday Day13, VTr and Keep It All To Myself are absolutely huge, mixing melancholic lyrics with big synths and hooks. It might have taken five long years for this album to come out, but the wait was worth it.

Rating: 9/10

Date: 19/01/19
Artist: Halestorm
Album: Halestorm
Review Type: Reevaluation

Halestorm are a funny old Hector. Funny old Hector in that they should be headlining festivals and be much bigger than they are. This should be a safe space for wild takes, so, here we go; Lzzy Hale is one of this generation’s greatest frontpersons. She oozes charisma and has the pipes to match it. Let’s also add in the fact she’s riffing to fuck whilst doing it. She is also, in no uncertain terms, a huge role model for young girls.

So their first self titled album, as you might imagine, was fantastic. The stall’s set out early with the power of It’s Not You. That follows a three song salvo finished with I Get Off and Bet U Wish U Had Me Back. Highlights past there include Familiar Taste Of Poison and the big riffs of Dirty Work.

However, compared to what followed, this was a shaky album in comparison, as they only got better, with 2018’s Vicious being one of the finest they’ve ever done.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 20/01/19
Artist: Freddie Mercury
Album: Mr. Bad Guy
Review Type: Reevaluation

Wild, wild take here, but this wasn’t that good an album. Yes, it has Freddie Mercury, giving it a high base score, but it doesn’t have the rest of Queen, which is what you needed. For instance, I Was Born To Love You as a Freddie solo track is sublime, but the full band version that was released as 1995’s posthumous cash grab, Made In Heaven, was even better.

That being said, when you consider the other disco-influenced, synth heavy album featuring Mercury, Hot Space, Mr. Bad Guy is a breath of fresh air. Living On My Own and There Must Be More To Life Than This are fantastic. But overall, it’s just not as amazing as your full-tilt Queen album. However, it’s just always so, so good to hear Freddie’s voice. We’ll never have another and that’s okay. He can never hurt us, never disappoint us. Somewhere in the cosmos lives a moustachioed man, singing I Was Born To Love You to the universe.

Rating: 7/10

Advertisements

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)

Sex Education: The first great TV show of 2019

I think we can all agree, the only thing more awkward than the greasy, confusing, acne-ridden years of puberty were the embarrassing and wholly uninformative sex education classes taught by your elderly Maths teacher who broke into a sweat every time he said “vulva”. “Sex” was the hushed word on everybody’s lips and with it spread increasingly ridiculous myths like a bad case of oral herpes. No one knew anything, even the people who had already “done it”. Thankfully, current media has picked up the mantle school curriculums so clumsily dropped and have taken it upon themselves to impart their wisdom of the nether regions. Netflix has already opened eyes to the grim truths of puberty with their hit show Big Mouth – a funny and ridiculous cartoon that everyone should check out, even if they think they know everything about S-E-X – and now they continue their wildly entertaining educational journey with Sex Education.

Sex Education follows Otis (Asa Butterfield of Boy in the Striped Pyjamas fame), a sexually repressed young man with a sexually liberated mother, Jean (played by the utterly fantastic Gillian Anderson of X-Files). Jean works from home as a sex therapist and despite this being a topic of distress for the irked Otis, it soon becomes apparent that her skills have rubbed off on Otis. Maeve (Emma Mackey) – a wickedly smart and blunt social outcast at high school – recognises Otis’ talent after seeing him couch a fellow student through a sexual problem. Maeve, being the cunning young entrepreneur that she is, convinces Otis to set up a high school-based sex counseling business with her for their sexually hapless student body. The plot unfolds with all the whacky fun and explicitly captivating sex tales you would imagine from this setup.

Along with a long line of ridiculous yet fully relatable sexual drama, the show also outlines a clear and captivating story arch thanks to the brilliance of the characters. It would have been so easy to simply rely on worn out high school stereotypes but thankfully Sex Education takes time to craft fully realised, complex characters. Thanks to this, it’s difficult to find a character you fully dislike as everyone has a characteristic that people can relate to or empathise with. The show strives to show that there’s more to people hidden behind the guise of Jock or Bully or Popular or Nerdy – everyone’s going through similar puberty issues and everyone’s got their backstory.

The realness portrayed on screen is helped in large part by the excellent casting. There wasn’t a weak performance in the bunch; everyone fully encapsulated their character. Amazingly, the majority of the main young cast are all fairly new to acting, with some only having two or three credits on their IMDB pages; this would not be at all recognisable based on their performances. Performances from Ncuti Gatwa (who played Otis’ enthusiastic and lovable best friend, Eric) and Emma Mackey, in particular, demonstrated a sort of tender beauty which should certainly help launch their acting careers.

The series offers more than any school curriculum could – it’s got intelligence and heart. The wide and inclusive scope of topics explored are handled with care and respect. The show takes time to analysis and explores each character’s issue and it gives the audience time to care and empathies even if they cannot personally relate. Although the show seems to tick off the list of topics that should be discussed, it never feels forced or like the audience is receiving a lecture and that’s mainly because the show as a whole feels so real and cleverly crafted.

50416186_2218708524814742_1712328247447912448_n.png

Brains isn’t all Sex Education has, it’s bright in more ways than one. The actually visual aesthetic is brilliant in its fun, retro style. The series looks like a visual ode to American 80’s rom-coms from the likes of John Hughes, with enough eye-assaulting bright colours and clashing patterns to give a vintage fashion fan wet dreams. Despite the complete 80’s feel with aged architecture and furniture completing the retro portrait, it’s clear the series is not actually set in this period due to modern technology continually cropping up. Visually, it’s more like a little-idealized pocket of time that’s free from the constraints of reality.

This series was a delight, with far too many brilliant plot points and characters to discuss in just one review. Sex Education should be added to everyone’s Netflix list, whether you’re a sexual novice or practised expert. It’s difficult not to feel attached to the characters of Sex Education and with a second series planned, fans will surely be excited to see what’s still to cum (sorry). – Michaela Barton (@MichaelaBarton_)              

rating 9

365 Album Challenge: The Worstest Shit, Man!

So you might be aware, or even participating in a challenge that sees the participant reading 52 books in 2019, so, one book a week, or one book for 52 days and spend the rest of it refusing to read. However, 52 books in a year is for wee guys, and TRANSISTOR is full of shaggers, which is why Oliver Butler has challenged himself to listen to at least 365 albums in 2019, one a day, for 365 days. Or 7 albums in January and 358 in December after he forgets to keep up with this challenge. But listening just isn’t enough; he also has to review them. Do 365 albums even exist? Let’s find out!

Some basic rules; A new album must be listened to at least three times, as per style guides and to give it a fair chance, there must be a mix of new, old, genres and recommendations and at least 7 albums must be listened to a week. Of course, no morally bankrupt/shitty/canceled artists. Bonus albums are allowed. With that in mind, let’s hit the ground running on January 1st with…

Date: 01/01/19
Artist: Royal Blood
Album: Royal Blood
Review Type: Re-Evaluation

New Year’s Day is a day dedicated to sore heads, hollow resolutions and a fresh outlook on the year, which becomes decidedly stale upon realising you have to spend the next year listening to 365 albums. So let’s start off with something soothing, and begin thumbing through the stack of vinyl that Father Christmas delivered at 33 1/2 rpm.

This might be a wild take, but Royal Blood are a very marmite-y band; you either adore every harmonised riff that falls from Mike Kerr’s bass, or you growl at the fact they’ve become so big so quick, but the truth is their self-titled debut album is choc full of bangers. It’s also organised upside down, because Out Of The Black should be the closer, and Better Strangers should be the opener. But seeing as there’s 365 albums to get through, let’s not dwell on where songs should and shouldn’t be.

It’s not hard to see why Royal Blood became so big so quick; songs like Come On Over and Little Monster are short rock bangers, perfectly crafted for radio play and to keep people captivated; big, simple riffs and unambiguous lyrics. You don’t have to think to listen to Royal Blood, you just get to sit, listen and enjoy it. Furthermore, when you consider what a rich tapestry of music we get to enjoy these days, with genres diversifying, dividing and developing with every recording, it’s actually quite nice to get back to basics and listen to a flat pack rock band. Music today is like a fine dining all-you-can-eat, with hip hop canapes, pop platters and rock smorgasbords, sitting down for three quarters of an hour and listening to big riffs is like having a burger and chips; not sophisticated, but damn if it isn’t enjoyable.

The band followed up their success with How Did We Get So Dark? in 2017, and you can only hope that 2019 sees them follow up two ridiculously strong albums with more of the same.

RATING: 9/10

Date: 02/01/19
Artist: Various
Album: The Greatest Showman (Original Soundtrack)
Review Type: Relevance

Your girlfriend’s a wonderful person. She sees the best in everyone and does her best to support you in everything you do. Life is richer for having her by your side, and every day is like Christmas. You tell her about your intriguing project to listen to 365 albums in a year, and she immediately suggests listening to 2018’s biggest album as a kickoff. Great idea! She pulls up the list. It’s The Greatest Showman. This must be a mistake. It’s not. It’s true. You look in her eyes, your mouth says “great idea”, but your eyes are so very tired, so devoid of life. She has sent you to your early grave.

First things first, The Greatest Showman is flagrant false advertising, because how the FUCK can you give a film that name and not include Freddie Mercury, who we all know, WAS The Greatest Showman. Second of all, how this is the biggest selling album of 2018 is a fucking mystery. George Ezra was second and that makes perfect sense, we can all enjoy a bit of George now and then. The only plausible reason is that a large majority of purchasers were half-arsed children buying a mother’s day gift, or a birthday gift, or a Christmas gift, because your mum saw it and said “eh, it was okay”, and somehow, that was the green light for you to go and buy it. She wrote you a fucking list, you lazy shite.

Third, this album is fucking dreadful. There’s slight high points, like opener The Greatest Show does have all the pomp and excitement of an album opener. However, on the whole, this album is just terrible. This is meant to be a musical and there’s like, no musical aspects to this album. The only settling thing on this album is Keala Settle’s voice, which is concerning seeing as Zac Efron was in High School Musical. The album has been streamed well over 100,000,000 times, a crime when you consider that the greatest album of 2018, Knowing What You Know Now by Marmozets has probably had less than 10% of that. It’s like that scene in Peep Show where they go to the play, and they’re imagining they’re watching Heat. That’s what you do, you listen to this and imagine you’re listening to something else. Like Marmozets.

On the one hand, this album lacking any kind of musical nuance is fine, it’s a film soundtrack, but when you consider other film scores, fuck, even the soundtrack to Hercules is 10 times better than this, a film score for a musical should be much better. On the other other hand, Marmozets should have sold more albums than this. This album is fucking dreadful. Three listens and each time you forget what you’ve listened to and get disappointed each time.

RATING: 2/10

Date: 03/01/19
Artist: Susan Boyle
Album: I Dreamed A Dream
Review Type: Relevance

You know what? This album was picked because it was the biggest selling album of 2009, meaning all our bases are covered in relevant and landmark albums, and tongues were bitten at the suggestion of this. Not Susan Boyle. However, whilst The Greatest Showman was beyond shite, I Dreamed A Dream was a delightful piece of pickled ginger to cleanse the pallet after having to digest a fully formed turd roll from Hugh Jackman and friends.

The cynic in you says I Dreamed A Dream is nothing but a covers album, which it is, but seeing as Susan Boyle has regressed into our memories and the hashtag #susanalbumparty, you’ve probably forgotten just how beautiful her voice is. The album opens with a cover of Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones, and while the original is melancholic enough, Susanalbumcover adds a new layer of melancholy, tragedy and beauty to an already fantastic song. Her cover of Cry Me A River sounds like something out of a Bond film, not the opener, but maybe something as a centrepiece in the move.

Of course, there’s her version of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables, which leaves you far from miserable, and serves as a poignant reminder that everyone digged at her looks, then were promptly silenced by her voice. Rightly so, because you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, especially when the contents are this angelic. Whilst this caused a sulk at first suggestion, on reflection, it’s a good album. Not repeatedly listen and get the LP good, but definitely something you could stick on at dinner and seem sophisticated. Put it on for your next date night and do hand stuff to Amazing Grace. Su’s got you covered.

RATING: 7/10

Date: 04/01/19
Artist: Queen
Album: Jazz
Review Type: Re-Evaluation

Christmas presents are mint, aren’t they? Jazz on its own is a fantastic album, but when you consider Queen’s output in the 1970s, Jazz is just a mere footnote in the band’s storied career. However, such was the law back then, every Queen album must have a era-defining song, and Jazz is no lawbreaker. For a start, Fat Bottomed Girls, which is, quite frankly, one of the greatest rock songs ever written. Still not enough? Bicycle Race, which was inspired by Freddie watching Tour De France cyclists, and apparently had a fling with one of them for a bit of trivia. More, you say? Let Me Entertain You, one of the finest set openers and contain’s a subtle wink to Freddie’s love of the New York gay scene, for those of you that like your Queen trivia.

And of course, of course, this album contain’s Don’t Stop Me Now, one of the finest Queen tracks ever written, and undoubtedly, one of the best rock songs ever. For some more trivia, Brian May’s noticeable absence on this song bar the solo is because he didn’t approve of Freddie’s hedonistic lifestyle of drugs, sex and partying at the time, worrying it’d all go horribly wrong. Don’t Stop Me Now is Freddie saying… er… don’t stop me now, because he was having such a good time, he was having a ball. However, it produced one of the best songs of all time, so who’s really in the wrong here? It’s you, Brian.

However, outside the big hitters, you have some underrated gems like Dead On Time, which contains a big riff and some of Freddie‘s strongest vocal performances. The man had lungs like fucking bellows. More Of That Jazz is a Roger Taylor classic, because he was a great vocalist. Dreamers Ball is a bit of the silliness that made Queen so great, but is still hugely enjoyable. Though probably lost in the ether of a decade of solid albums from Queen, Jazz was one component of an unstoppable beast that hasn’t really shrunk, despite the band not doing anything since Freddie’s death, because let’s face it, Queen + Paul Rodgers and Queen + Adam Lambert can get. To. FUCK.

Miss you, Fred.

Rating: 8/10

Date: 05/01/19
Artist: Enter Shikari
Album: A Flash Flood Of Colour
Review Type: Re-Evaluation

Kind of a Christmas present, but a signed copy of this doesn’t come around often. A Flash Flood Of Colour still holds itself as a high point in Enter Shikari’s recording career. Their third album found them break new ground and really improve on their aggressive, electronic sound and add new depths to an already intricate sonic blueprint.

Interestingly, System uses the same synth as Common Dreads to open the track. Meltdown is a monolithic track, with a lyrical theme that remains truer now than it did in 2012. It’s quite hard to pin down the evolution, as tracks like Ssssnakepit and Arguing With Thermometers are more aggressive than their predecessors, but Stalemate and Constellations are still some of the most poignant Shikari tracks released.

On the whole, this album is flawless, even some of your ‘forgotten’ tracks like Pack Of Thieves and Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrranicide are sonic masterpieces. Whilst Shikari’s career grew more with The Mindsweep and The Spark, launching them to the echelon of arena sellouts and festival headliners, but AFFOC was the calm before the storm. It created a solid foundation to launch the band from cult heroes to superstars.

RATING: 10/10

Date: 06/01/19
Artist: CHVRCHES
Album: Love Is Dead
Review Type: Re-Evaluation

Scottish bop exporters CHVRCHES have gone very far in a short period of time. From The Bones Of What You Believe in 2013, they’ve had a huge rise, with big pop synths, hooks and choruses proving a hugely successful approach, leaving them with a knack for creating big, BIG bops.

Love Is Dead was a hugely enjoyable album on the whole, but lacked the bop density of its two predecessors. It wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t bad either. It was somewhat average. However, tracks like Miracle, Graves and Get Out still qualified as bops. But overall, songs like Heaven/Hell, God’s Plan and Deliverance are just… nothing really. They’re not bad, but right after listening, you’ve forgotten how it goes. The National’s Jurgen Klopp, or Matt Beringer appears on My Enemy, which to be honest, his silky smooth voice fits it, but it’s still not great.

However, despite the negatives, it’s still a fun album to strap onto your turntable and listen to on a Sunday evening, because it’s a nice, poppy album with plenty of rich tones.

RATING: 6/10

Next week, will be a week of recommendations. Got any? Send a tweet to @transistorblog or get in touch with the writer himself at @notoliverbutler to be in with a chance of being told to fuck off!

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 

 

Top 10 Bon Iver Tracks

The creation story of  Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver project and its seminal 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago has become the stuff of modern myth.

Vernon broke up with his girlfriend, his band broke up and he contracted glandular fever. Down on his luck, Vernon sought isolation in the form of his father’s remote hunting cabin in Eau Claire. After three months, Vernon left the cabin with what he considered a set of demos. However, after some persuasion, Vernon released these under the pseudonym Bon Iver – and For Emma…has since gone platinum.

However, this might not even be the most unbelievable part of the Bon Iver story. Two years later, Vernon released the Blood Bank EP, which caught the attention of Kanye West, who flew Vernon to Hawaii to work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy before later describing him as his ‘favourite living artist.

The full-length follow-up to For Emma…landed in 2011, titled Bon Iver, Bon Iver, featuring a noticeably far bigger sound characterised by the addition of synths and horns. Bon Iver, Bon Iver propelled the band even further and won Vernon’s project two Grammys.

The end of the touring cycle for Bon Iver, Bon Iver was marked by uncertainty over whether the band were simply on hiatus or had split more definitely. However, in 2015 Bon Iver resurfaced with the thoroughly mesmerising 22, A Million, a radical departure born of Vernon’s recent hip-hop collaborations while never forgetting his Eau Claire folk roots, which come together to make 22, A Million a bona fide modern classic.

With three near-flawless full lengths and an underappreciated EP, the short Bon Iver discography is one of the most consistent in modern music, meaning that picking out the band’s 10 best tracks is a near-impossible task. But with no further ado, let’s attempt to do exactly that!

 

10. 715 – CR∑∑KS

 In its just-over-2-minute runtime, 715 – CR∑∑KS dispels one of the greatest myths in music – the dad-rock ideology that auto-tune (used as a catch-all term for any vocal effects) is the antithesis of any true expression or emotion. The track is stunningly scarce – consisting of only a Vernon vocal filtered through a synthesiser developed by his sound engineer called the Messina, which allows Vernon to play a keyboard and harmonise his voice in real-time.

To step back technically – the effect is what sounds like a choir of Vernon robots which doubles as both the track’s vocal and the instrumental. Perhaps CR∑∑KS’ most astounding victory however, is how easily discernible the humanity is through the robotic vocal effects, particularly as Vernon howls “turn around now/ you’re my A-Team” at the track’s dramatic climax.

9. Flume

Not that it’s undeserving musically, but Flume could almost be on this list for its importance to Vernon and to the Bon Iver project alone. Despite the fact he had played in bands before, Flume was the first track which Vernon sang in his now-iconic falsetto on, and he has called this his favourite song he has ever written.

Flume personifies the isolation of the writing and recording of For Emma…, dominated by simply Vernon’s voice and an acoustic guitar; even the production feels cold and desolate. Throughout however, Vernon’s beautiful vocals feel like an old fire which illuminates and warms the icy landscape the song creates and exists in; Flume is a track where Vernon manages to say so much with so little.

8. Blindsided

Perhaps the hottest take on this list, Blindsided is a track that is criminally overlooked during discussions of Bon Iver’s discography and I honestly have no idea why. The near 6-minute track begins with a guitar motif that is somehow suspenseful and peaceful at once, complemented by a beautifully calming vocal. The track’s crescendo features at around its mid-point, where Vernon repeatedly howls “would you really rush out?” in an explosion of emotion.

At the Eaux Claires Festival in 2015, Vernon callously stated that Blindsided’s lyrics are about trying to break into a building in his hometown, and it’s easy to see that at the root of the lyrics, but as always with Bon Iver, the words are so abstract that they seem to be about everything at once. In the final verse, there is a macabre but beautiful couplet that seems to reference suicide (“there’s a pull to the flow / my feet melt the snow”), followed by a genuinely uplifting conclusion where he modifies the track’s “I am blindsided” hook to “I was blindsided”, suggesting he has moved past his trauma and abandoned these thoughts.

7. Re: Stacks

The closing track of For Emma is stunning in its simplicity. While the entirety of For Emma is a low-key affair, Re: Stacks is the record’s most subtle, featuring nothing more than Vernon’s voice and a strummed acoustic guitar. Remarkably it feels optimistic and hopeful, while not forgetting the suffering and heartbreak that has been detailed throughout the record.

The lyrics carry this worn hopefulness too, with Vernon matter-of-factly stating “everything that happens is from now on”.This is not him saying he is suddenly free of his heartbreak, as he later says “this is not the sound of a new man / or a crispy realisation,” but the optimism of Re: Stacks is Vernon leaving the cabin and moving on with his life – or, as he puts it – “it’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away.”

6. 00000 Million

With 22, A Million’s closing track following For Emma’s on this list, it establishes a trend: when Bon Iver write an album closer, it’s usually a bit special. 00000 Million arguably follows the most traditional song structure on 22, A Million– it is a warm, old-fashioned piano ballad where Vernon’s voice is only very subtly obscured in vocoder.

00000 Million beautifully answers all the questions and rests all the lingering doubts presented throughout 22, A Million beautifully. After exploring spiritualism throughout the record, Vernon proclaims “a word about Gnosis, it ain’t gonna buy the groceries!”

However, if every Bon Iver track has its stroke of genius then this track’s is its sample: Vernon samples a line from Fionn Regan’s Abacus “the days have no numbers.” There could scarcely be a better lyric to put to rest the numerology and uncertainty woven throughout the record, and it’s not even Vernon’s own.

5. Heavenly Father

The only non-album or EP track on this list, Heavenly Father was released in 2014 as part of the soundtrack to Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here, making it the first Bon Iver release since the self-titled album in 2011. Heavenly Father exists in the middle ground between the lush 2011 self-titled record and 2015’s glitchy 22, A Million.

The dominant instrumental is a rolling, repetitive synth line which feels grandiose enough to fit on Bon Iver, Bon Iver and the analogue drums on the track show that Bon Iver haven’t shifted as radically as they did on 22, A Million. Lyrically, this track features Vernon musing his complex relationship with God and religion, climaxing as he passionately howls “Well I know about it darling I’ve been standing here!”

4. Blood Bank

After releasing one of the most stunning debut records of the century, Bon Iver returned with the Blood Bank EP – and its title track is better than every track on the debut. Blood Bank debuts a more full-blooded Bon Iver sound, noticeably featuring an electric guitar instead of an acoustic, but Blood Bank is still a product of the same sonic landscape – the production evokes the depths of winter, and Vernon even sings of snow in the track’s lyrics.

In a contrast from the frosty production on the track, the lyrics are easily the most romantic of Vernon’s career, detailing the stages in a relationship, moving from “that secret that you know / but you don’t know how to tell” to “that secret that we know / that we don’t know how to tell / I’m in love with your honour” between the track’s 2 choruses, and following the latter a warm acoustic guitar accompanies Vernon’s lullaby refrain of “I know it well”

3. 29 #Strafford Apts

A track that Vernon accurately described as a “stoner country song,” 29 #Strafford Apts is a stunningly warm song carried by a finger-picked acoustic guitar. Vernon and Bon Iver’s drummer S. Carey’s voices are both subtly doctored in the tradition of the record, and electronic effects drift in and out, but the bones of the song are provided by the warm acoustic guitar.

The opening lyric of this song is “sharing smoke” and it is followed in the first verse by “sure as any living dream”so the lyrics feel loose and not overly grounded in reality, especially as Vernon literally creates his own word with “paramind,”but the song’s most subtly genius moment comes at the end of verse two, where two separate vocals are layered at the same time, both suggesting opposing narratives. There more natural vocal is reigned to “throw the meaning out the door / there ain’t no meaning anymore” while a higher-pitched one hopefully asks “now could you be that friend? / come and kiss me here again.”

2. 22 (OVER S∞∞N)

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of 22, A Million’s opener to the entire record. In fact, without 22 (OVER S∞∞N) the record might not even exist. After touring the self-titled record, Vernon found himself struggling for inspiration, and this rut was ended when he sang the lyric “it might be over soon” into a sampler, which was then bastardised to make the “two, two” that soon follows.

The uncertainty of that line permeates the entire track, with almost nothing about it feeling truly concrete. The body of the song is built from just the titular sample, there are no drums, lyrics seem to drift in and out of nowhere alongside a Mahalia Jackson sample and a saxophone line. This is the sound of deep-rooted uncertainty and insecurity, but damn does it sound good.

1. Beth / Rest

Surprisingly the only song from Bon Iver, Bon Iver to make this list (sorry, Towers), Beth / Rest stunningly exemplifies what makes Bon Iver what a special band, as well as somehow being an outlier in their discography. It’s built on a massive synth line which evokes every cheesy ‘80s pop song but the emotion in Vernon’s lyrics and delivery more than qualify it.

Beth / Rest is stunning in its abstraction, with the lyrics featuring Vernon moving through a problem in a relationship – no concrete details are given, but Vernon’s passion is palpable even through lines as airy as “our love is a star / sure some hazardry”and by the time that he declares “this is axiom” it’s almost impossible not to be totally enveloped by the impossibly cheesy synth line. Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

 

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)