TRANSISTOR’S 10 Best Albums of 2018 (Mid-Year Update)

intro and thumbnail fae liam menzies (@blinkclyro)

While we could start this off with some drivel about how 2018 has been fraught with political debate, general discourse and a shaky quality in memes, we know what you’re here for: a ranking of subjective apart, decided by people you don’t know and/or care about. We might not be in the same league as Pitchfork and the likes but we feel our contribution to the discussion is… somewhat worthy, plus, we’ve got some solid patter so why not get into the list season spirit early?

10 Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer

Josh Tillman is a man on a hot streak. Since leaving the Fleet Foxes in 2012, he has reinvented himself as folk rockstar Father John Misty – releasing 3 critically acclaimed records, 2012’s psychedelic Fear Fun, 2015’s wildly romantic I Love You, Honeybear and 2017’s world-weary Pure Comedy – which topped many end of year lists. However – Pure Comedy also proved somewhat divisive – with many criticising its 75-minute run time, filled mostly by less-than-energetic instrumentation.

Tillman’s response? He’s returned just over a year later with God’s Favorite Customer – his shortest record yet at just 39 minutes. GFC feels like more of a sequel to Honeybear than Pure Comedy, detailing a rough patch in Tillman and his wife Emma’s relationship when he was living in a hotel –hilariously depicted on lead single Mr. Tillman, with the lyrics coming from the perspective of a hotel receptionist concerned for Tillman’s welfare.

However, things get considerably darker on other tracks, like Please Don’t Die, where he details “pointless benders with reptilian strangers” and the chorus comes from the perspective of Tillman’s wife, begging him not to take his own life. Remarkably, on the darkest moments of this incredibly personal record, Tillman keeps up his absurd sense of humour which has been a staple of his FJM records. On the solemn The Palace, Tillman undercuts his confessional to declare “last night I wrote a poem/man I must have been in the poem zone” and perhaps even references the internet’s favourite Jeff meme. In a sentence – God’s Favorite Customer is hilarious, heartbreaking and incredibly catchy – all at the same time. It’s just what we expect of Father John Misty now. – Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

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9Jeff Rosenstock – POST

POST- is an album rife with conflict, vacillating between furtive political references and forthright internal turmoil. Yr Throat questions the efficacy of self-expression as the narrator’s body and mind lock into a stalemate: “What’s the point of having a voice when it gets stuck inside your throat?!” All This Useless Energy stages a contentious dialogue between under-informed neurotypicals and frustrated depressives: “You’re not fooling anyone when you say you tried your best.”  I’m worried of abandoning the joys that framed my life, but all this useless energy won’t hold me through the night.

Whatever the meaning you choose to ascribe to the term “post” (Post-Obama, Post-Trauma, or for the overdramatic, Post-America) POST- refers to the end of an era. Every generation grapples with its social and political conventions, and now the Millennials have been called to action. A daunting task, to be sure, for a throng of young people consistently written off as thin-skinned, lazy, and disinterested. But with Jeff Rosenstock at the forefront of punk’s socially-inclined philosophes, we’re sure not to be tired and bored with the fight. May we never be again. – Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

8Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin

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. A double album of 19 tracks, the record sees Segall at his most dynamic, hopping nimbly from futuristic disco to some of the fuzziest rock seen since Dwayne Johnson grew out his beard last year. In lesser hands, this sort of smashing together of styles could have resulted in a disjointed mess of a record, but instead, the constant variation creates an exhilaratingly sprawling joyride of ups and downs that at the very least, will leave you with a gigantic ear-to-ear smile.

According to the man himself, the concept of the album was to effectively eschew one altogether, and it undoubtedly has been a resounding success. Not all of the tracks work, Shoot You Up, for example, sounds a little too similar to last years Break a Guitar to really satisfy, but the general level of consistency across such a mammoth and diverse tracklist is nothing short of astounding. Segall tips his toes into disco, metal, and a whole host of other styles and comes out of the other side a bona-fide genre-hopping hero.

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 (@rorymeep)

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7 A.A.L – 2012-2017

Returning with a surprise album under his Against All Logic (A.A.L) moniker, leading electronic producer Nicholas Jaar ditches most of the experimentation for what could be pretty much summed up as a deep house album. Now, as this Jaar, this isn’t your chart-ready, sanitised house. Here, Jaar again samples with aplomb, but unlike other releases where the samples are manipulated into something totally new, here Jaar lets these groove-laden samples sit by themselves, letting the samples play out, with expert flourishes of percussion and electronic trickery to flesh out the instrumentation.

It might be contentious to some to include what is essentially a compilation album of previous songs onto this list, but it is for good reason. Here, Nicholas Jaar has arguably made a house album that will transcend normal genre barriers; this is an album that will go down in the history books as one of the best house albums ever made. Funk and soul samples are paired with some of the smoothest percussion heard this year, to make an album that is oozing style, charisma, and panache. – Charlie Leach (@yungbuchan)

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6UMO – Sex & Food

On their newest release, Unknown Mortal Orchestra hone in on the best aspects from each of their previous projects and produce some of their best work yet. The album swings from 80s pop to the psychedelic rock of the 60s and 70s so effortlessly and constantly applies a modern spin to each song, whether it be from the lyrics or production. On ‘Sex and Food’ an excellent mix between a vintage sound and modern ideas if found, as UMO refine their sound and deliver a cleaner than usual selection tracks that may be some of their best yet.

The brilliant songwriting and interesting production of Unknown Mortal Orchestra are sounding as good as ever with this latest project. Sex and Food sees new inspirations emerge and blend with the signature sound of UMO to continue the great track record that the band have formed since 2011. The album also finds more of a cohesive and clean sound than some of the distortion-heavy releases prior to this, which works well with the grooving baselines and beautiful melodies that can be heard throughout the project. Overall, it seems that Unknown Mortal Orchestra have matched, if not exceeded, the quality of Multi-Love, and continue to add to their already intricate and unique sound with a great album that continues to impress. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

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5Confidence Man – Confident Music For Confident People

When Australian dance-pop four piece Confidence Man burst onto the scene amidst a flurry of Triple J hype and YouTube comment section detractors with a stunning live rendition of their first single, “Boyfriend”, few expected them to capitalise on that potential and become 2018’s most surprising success story.  It goes without saying that a key component to this sudden rush in popularity is down to their near-flawless debut LP, which is in itself the most fun you’ll have with an album all year.  It kicks off the party with “Try Your Luck”‘s earworm of a melody and doesn’t let go until the final echoes of “Fascination” fade out into the night as you stumble out, breathless and hungry for more.

In the rest of its forty minute runtime, Confidence Man cover a lot of ground for a band who could have been a one trick pony, taking the best bits of house, techno and disco and repackaging them in a contemporary format that recalls the best of Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem, and Fatboy Slim.  Along the way, they will make you dance, laugh, sing, dance some more, and be oh so grateful that they exist in such dour times like this. – Josh Adams (@jxshadams)

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4Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

After 2013’s still-quite-good-but-underwhelming AM, you’d be forgiven for writing ArcticMonkeys off for good, god knows I did. But now the naysayers as a collective have egg on their ruddy faces! The Sheffield 4 piece are back in town, and they are back with a vengeance. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the self-inflicted kick up the arse the band had simply to give themselves after the AM album cycle left them positively stagnant.

Gone are the grease and leather jackets from AM, replaced with a Hugh Hefner-esque robe, a stiff whiskey and a wee pipe. TBH+C is lounge music for the modern era. A trip through an astral Las Vegas through the eyes of an aging patron. It’s straight out of left field and it’s all the better for it.

Each song weaves into the last effortlessly. This isn’t an album you can put on shuffle, it’s as deliberate as it is sexy. There’s no banger single on here (bar maybe the album’s centerpiece Four Out of Five), but what you, dear listener, gets instead is an album from a band finally totally free from the shackles of indie rock, and finally comfortable in their own skin. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino sounds, to me, like the album Alex Turner and the boys have wanted to make for a long, long time. It is truly out of this world. – Jake Cordiner (@j4keth)

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3 Parquet Courts – Wide Awake

Who would’ve thought that four white guys playing in a punk outfit in 2018 could sing about how “woke” they are and make it sound convincing? Parquet Courts have long played the role of rock and roll philosophers; co-songwriters Austin Brown and Andrew Savage often dive into popular rock fodder like relationships, travel, and technology, detailing each phenomenon with an enlightened, if blunt, sentiment. And on Wide Awake!, the group return with their trademark urban nervousness, this time with a wider musical palette, courtesy of guest producer Danger Mouse.

Removed from the context of the music, Brown, and Savage begin to sound like paranoiacs, their lyrics veering close to the basket cases spouting off outside of grocery stores and banks. “Lately I’ve been curious/ Do I pass the Turing test?” Savage sings on Normalization, his voice not so much panicked as it is angry, demanding. But for all the furor, the Brooklyn quartet remain woke, even if it’s the kind of social awareness that keeps you up at night: “Mind so woke cause my brain never pushes the brakes!” As always, Parquet Courts make anxiety catchy—to them, the human condition is a mix of mundanity and revulsion, terror and desensitisation, and on Wide Awake!, it’s never without a strong hook.

Oh, and fuck Tom Brady. – Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

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2Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar

One of the most exciting acts Scotland has seen in years, Young Fathers returned this year with the much anticipated Cocoa Sugar, an album which continues to showcase their ability to create an explosive collection of innovative and experimental tracks. On Cocoa Sugar, Young Fathers are catchier and poppier than before but sacrifice none of their talent for packing so much intricate detail into short but powerful blasts of music.

The Edinburgh hip-hop trio are as versatile as ever here as well, going from almost spiritual places on tracks such as In My View and Lord to the grit and sinister tones of Wow, Wire, and Toy. Cocoa Sugar gets more impressive with each listen and it’s most impressive aspect is just how layered each track is with its intertwining vocals, driving beats, backing choir and many minor details that you appreciate more and more with each listen. – Ethan Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

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1Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

What to say about Twin Fantasy that hasn’t already been said? Will Toledo’s lo-fi opus is a source of inspiration to all indie fans of this generation. Toledo’s enormous presence mixed with honest but cryptic storytelling led his diehard fans to pick and dissect every bit of truth behind the album. Usually, this kind of reaction would generate a pretty negative feeling towards the album from the musician’s standpoint, but the art Toledo created in 2011 stood the test of time.

Prompting him to redo the album completely; submerging himself in lyrics and feelings from years prior. This led him to create what is arguably his most grand record to date, labeled as (Face to Face). The structure from the original album is there but everything has been redone in the best possible way. There is enough for fans of the original to feel it has been done justice, but it also stands on its own enough to attract new fans. It’s the perfect love letter to what Car Seat Headrest used to be, written from where the band is now. – Ryan Martin (@ryanmartin182)

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The Wonder Years take you on a journey with their latest LP ‘Sister Cities’

by will sexton (@willshesleeps)rating 9

Raw emotion and wearing your heart on your sleeve in music can be very much a make or break for some bands. You can miss the mark slightly or, in The Wonder Years’ case, you can execute it expertly and continue to impress with hard-hitting, gorgeous lyricism that will never get old. One of the most impressive and consistently evolving pop-punk/alternative rock bands in recent times returns with their sixth album Sister Cities, an album whose opening riffs and drums sends goosebumps down your spine straight off the bat. Strap yourself in for a whirlwind tour of the past couple years of frontman and singer Dan Campbell’s life.

The album as a whole is very much based on travel, the effects of touring and being away from friends and family for a prolonged amount of time. Campbell himself even states that this album was “a record about distance, or maybe how little the distance matters anymore. It’s a record about how big we all thought it all was, and how much closer to everyone we really are.” The writing process included Campbell keeping a journal throughout their 2015 world tour and circling the most important and stand-out moments, which eventually became the songs you hear today.

Business gets underway on an incredibly strong note with the heart-wrenching Raining in Kyoto, a song written about Campbell’s late grandfather who sadly passed away while they were on tour; a song subject that, even on paper, is heartbreaking. The lyrics are something that you can never mention enough when it comes to The Wonder Years because the band have perfected this transparent songwriting when you can really feel and can almost see the emotion on Campbell’s face while recording the vocals. What makes this song so evocative is that this subject of ‘being away on tour while someone important to you is hurting/ill’ has been approached as a fear of Campbell’s already in the song Dismantling Summer from their 2013 album The Greatest Generation, which only adds to the sorrow. It’s this transparency that really ranks this band highly in the scene they’re in. It’s relatable to some and everyone who hears Campbell singing at the VERY least feels empathy.

On the other side of evoking emotion, Flowers Where Your Face Should Be (Considered You In January [Part 2] from their 2015 album No Closer To Heaven) is about Campbell’s now-wife and about preparing for their wedding day. It was influenced by seeing some blue Hydrangeas on tour, resulting in the most impressively affecting writing he has ever done. Aided by some incredibly soft instrumentation, it builds up to be one of the most romantic pieces of work they have put out. It’s a nice emotion shift from the other heavier songs. Some of the lyrics are nostalgic and sad, creating a lovely contradiction within the song itself, finally building up into that last line sung mostly in gorgeous falsetto: “I’m gonna marry you underneath driftwood from Crescent City”, a link to the arch that Campbell built himself for his own wedding. Having light and dark sides is very important for albums of this timbre.

The instrumentation is mostly the same compared to their older albums; however, there have been some defining genre changing moments, further solidifying their sound into alt-rock. These changes include some spacey electronic bass on the intro to their (not-technically official) second single Pyramids of Salt, which adds an element of eeriness. It could do with a little perfection, though – it’s pretty much a one-off throughout the record, so it feels like it sticks out a bit. That being said, on Flower Where Your Face Should Be they’ve utilised some different guitar pedals that haven’t featured much previously, which is refreshing to hear.

Two tracks that dictate a shift in subject matter are When the Blue Finally Came and We Look Like Lightning. When the Blue Finally Came is written about a moment on tour when the band went cliff diving in Sydney, Australia. It’s such a simple subject matter but somehow becomes a breath of fresh air in the album, while the instrumental relief relaxes you. In comparison to this ode to the exciting rush and celebration of life, We Look Like Lightning is written about the fears of death while flying in planes. The Wonder Years as a band flew on up to 40 flights around the world supporting their last album cycle in one year, so Campbell writes about the increasing chance of the plane crashing and “what song you’d wanna die to”. Still very much connected to the overall theme of traveling and touring these two juxtaposing song subjects add to the overall space that this album was born in.

Very specific highlights of this album also include the chords changes and vocal performance in the chorus of The Ghosts of Right Now, a song which is interpreted as being about wanting to spend time with the people you’re no longer able to, whether it be because of them passing or just not being around. The “wanting to see how the light collects in the high desert heat” is so specific and evoking. The second highlight is the connection of the soft and spacious When the Blue Finally Came to The Orange Grove. The transition is so seamless; like the calm before the storm. While WTBFC celebrates the feeling of enjoying somewhere new and exciting, The Orange Grove is the feeling of yearning for places you know and wanting to be back in time with the people you used to be around. The third and final of these highlights is the chorus of Sister Cities, the massive title track and lead single of the album. It is the song that will be screamed back at the band in live performances and the raw power from the vocals is another home run for The Wonder Years.

Every song on this album deserves its spotlight, which is the most powerful thing about this album. The Wonder Years have been on some serious journeys over the last two years and Campbell is able to take you on those journeys with them so easily through his incredible lyricism and storytelling. The absolute pinnacle of the album comes in the form of the end track The Ocean Grew Hands To Hold Me. You’ve been on this adventure with the band and finally pull up to the last, incredibly emotional track which explores the idea that all of the people you have ever met and made a connection with are an ‘ocean’; an ocean that you wish you could drown yourself in when you feel cut off and far away from home. After the final slamming of drums and aggressive strumming of guitars, you feel complete empathy. An excellent piece of work. Congratulations, boys.