Before we reveal our albums of the year list this weekend (follow us on Medium to get an alert when the list is live), here is what the individuals who contribute to the site have been enjoying this year, and why.
TIP: If you don't have time to read all of this, search the page for an album you liked and check out the other records the writer is into.
Sean Adams (Site Founder)
1) Lykke Li So Sad So Sexy
2) LOW Double Negative
3) Hilary Woods Colt
I spent much of 2018 happily wallowing. As the world felt increasingly doomed, I reached for records that felt nothing and everything all at once. Records to bathe in. Music that applies so much pressure to your goosebumps that the numbness becomes pins & needles. In a Robert Smith-approved gothic mist there was Hilary’s haunting, monochromatic heart gently beating. In a disquieting fug, after a few listens Low slowly revealed that they’d made one of the most sonically thrilling albums of the 21st century. Double Negative is a deceptively apoplectic record that shares some DNA with Burial and the unrelenting tension of Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath. Throughout the record there’s the splendour of Mimi Parker’s voice floating above the unsettling menace of Alan Sparhawk delivering devastating lines like “it’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope.”
Mostly, I spent my time feeling washed up beneath the waterfall of tears that is Lykke’s fourth album. Itsa a record that leaves you dancing (on your own) to its sad grooves, cooling your fever against icy chrome walls before slinking into its darkness. Big party hooks meet the brutality of heartbreak, and yet this combo of uppers and downers couldn’t be any more intoxicating, and moreish...
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Marissa Nadler, Metric, Grouper, The 1975, and Manic Street Preachers.
Andrzej Lukowski (Reviews Editor)
1) Low Double Negative
2) Young Fathers Cocoa Sugar
3) Eleanor Friedberger Rebound
Being surprised by a new artist is great and all but I don’t think anything can quite compare to being shocked to the core by somebody you thought you had a handle on years ago. I’ve kind of been more or less into Low for the best part of two decades and greatly admired them without ever really fully engaging. But from the first WTF second of ‘Quorum’ Double Negative floored me. At a time when it sincerely feels like the endgame of the human race is at least on the cards, Double Negative feels appropriate because it feels like an album that’s post-everything: post-rock, post-indie, post-dubstep, post-soul, post-whatever. Genres and ideas dissolve within its gravity, and emerge reformatted into pure light.
Nothing else released this year feels remotely as significant to me, but I really liked Young Fathers’ Cocoa Sugar - another post-everything record, though altogether more joyous than Double Negative. And on an almost totally opposite tip, I’ve really loved Eleanor Friedberger’s Rebound purely on the grounds of the prodigious volume of earworms on it. Sometimes pop is in fact the answer.
1) Gazelle Twin Pastoral
2) Low Double Negative
3) Daughters You Won’t Get What You Want
On compiling my top three records it became apparent that each one is overwhelming in varying degrees and by disparate means (to me anyhow). But then, isn’t everything at the moment? Maybe in such circumstances, we need music to match that pitch. During times that seems to all intents and purposes beyond satire, Gazelle Twin proved that theory absolute tosh with the staggering work of art that is Pastoral. Similarly, Low also subverted preconceptions with Double Negative. It’s rare for a band to turn out a record in their third decade that really knocks the wind out of you but that’s just what they did, gawd bless ‘em. Finally, Daughters’
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: The Breeders, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, ILL, Sons of Kemet, Kristin Hersh
1) Idles Joy As An Act Of Resistance
2) Confidence Man Confident Music For Confident People
3) Gwenno Le Kov
It was always going to be a two horse race from the moment I heard Joy As An Act Of Resistance towards the back end of summer. If Idles debut made their intentions clear from the outset, the follow-up kicked down doors and broke foundations with it. Up to that point, Confidence Man’s debut was walking away with first prize. Its infectious blend of eighties style pop and rave from the next decade coupled with a hedonistic yet punk rock ethos makes it one of the most inspired releases this year. Finally, any concept album spoken entirely in Cornish accompanied by elegant, dreampop soundscapes will always get my vote, and Gwenno’s second album delivers on all fronts.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Basement Revolver, The Orielles, Boy Azooga, Haiku Salut and Spiritualized
1) Courtney Barnett Tell Me How You Really Feel
2) Parquet Courts Wide Awake!
3) Car Seat Headrest Twin Fantasy
Courtney Barnett manages to be beautifully witty and achingly heartbreaking all at once, and her new record has established her as one of the best songwriters today. With Barnett, vulnerability isn’t so much a weakness as it is something that needs to be valued, and her album lets you know that it’s okay if you’re struggling, and that you need help – just being yourself is enough. Parquet Courts have always said that they wanted to make punk music that you can dance to at a party, and Wide Awake! is a phenomenal addition to the dance-punk music canon - they are the best New York band today and if their socialist manifesto on ‘Total Football’, cowbells and pumping basslines don’t lure you in, I don’t know what will. I once thought that Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest is what The Strokes would have eventually morphed into had they not plateaued after ‘Room On Fire’, but I take this back – as to say it is a massive disservice to Toledo. Toledo matches Barnett in songwriting skill, and his re-imagining of his earlier release Twin Fantasy is romantic, intoxicating and breathtaking, the poetry of an early first love set to distorted garage-pop riffs and his incredible crooning. It’s ‘Bodys’ that is the pinnacle of the record, and it’s the song that I feel like my entire life has somehow led up to. There is no return after ‘Bodys’ – or Car Seat Headrest, for that matter.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Dream Wife, Janelle Monae, Mitski, Soccer Mommy, Camp Cope.
1) Blood Orange Negro Swan
2) Janelle Monae Dirty Computer
3) Young Fathers Cocoa Sugar
Audre Lorde wrote that “caring for [oneself] is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. Music acts as catharsis during tough times, so it’s no surprise that my choices for this year reflect the growing political insecurity we now all live in. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones is a weapon of choice to combat anxiety. Close your eyes and listen to Janelle Monae’s tale of an America which never existed and will probably never exist, and let yourself fantasize about it. Put Negro Swan on a loop. Let Devonté Hynes and his clique help you embrace your feelings and remind you that you’re not alone. Feed off Young Fathers’ raw energy and go through your day with a newfound confidence.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Mick Jenkins, Yves Tumor, Bob Moses, The Blaze, Rejjie Snow
1) Chvrches Love is Dead
2) Interpol Marauder
3) Metric Art of Doubt
Albums that are all euphoric and celebratory or sadness will always be my favourite. This year Chvrches celebrated the end of love, Interpol took us on an arty, river styx-esk voyage and Metric knew and Metric rocked out from the darkness the essential need for doubt. What a great year for the prima ballerina of the Sad Girl’s Club (that’s me).
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Nick Cave, Black Foxxes, Janelle Monae, She Makes War
1) Low Double Negative
2) Tirzah Devotion
3) Ought Room Inside The World
In my opinion, Low created this year’s most arresting work. From the fractured ghost-in-the-machine lament of ‘Tempest’, the forbidding cavernous pulse of ‘Dancing And Blood’ (that video!) and of course, ‘Fly’ – which sounds like the chilling paralysis of a life slipping away – Double Negative reaches a dire otherworldliness I once deemed Low could only capture on stage. I picked Tirzah’s Devotion because of its deeply-inverse, minimalistic take on pop music, delivered with such disarming, whispered affection. Speaking of that, I just couldn’t leave out Ought, who have become my favorite band this decade. Much like Tirzah – and contrary to many all-male guitar-wielding peers – this band fosters a deep sensitivity and willingness to explore more earnest concepts of beauty. Room Inside The World strives for a slow build towards overcoming, a magnanimous notion in these increasingly reactionary times.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Sons Of Kemet, Damien Jurado, Noname, Gazelle Twin
1) IDLES Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
2) Interpol Marauder
3) Beach House 7
‘Oh my boys, my boys’, was a phrase I’d exclaim as enthusiastically as Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, whenever I was extolling my love of IDLES this year. You see, IDLES are a band that make you feel like we’re all in this together, at a time when everything feels like it’s falling apart, and nothing showed that more than their sophomore album, Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
Rather than hiding from the post millennial malaise we find ourselves in, Joy As Act Of Resistance. took square aim at it. Few albums this year could attest to tackling head on topics as diverse as self-love, gender expectations, bereavement, vulnerability, immigration and toxic masculinity, and with the poetic precision and wit of front man Joe Talbot’s lyrics. Musically, the post punk of their debut Brutalism was given extra breadth and bite to perfectly mirror the themes at play. And, for the inversion of Katy Perry’s troubling ‘I Kissed A Girl’ lyric in ‘Samaritans’ alone, it has to be number one.
Conversely, Interpol’s sixth album Marauder was a scintillating singular experience about the record’s namesake that was a reassuring return to form for New York trio. Recorded live to two track tape, the album recaptured the emotive finesse I adore Interpol for, whilst adding a rarely glimpsed unpolished edge. Watching the crowd erupt to ‘The Rover’ at their recent Royal Albert Hall show, reinforced to me that this is an album that will forever sit high in their history.
Finally, Beach House’s 7 does what Beach House do so uniquely: plunging you into a warm well of hazy syths and Karen Carpenter rich melodies. I’d strayed from Beach House since Depression Cherry and 7 was a like welcoming embrace back into their dreamy world.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by:Young Fathers, Mitski, U.S Girls, Dream Wife, Shame.
1) Anna Calvi Hunter
2) John Coltrane Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album
3) Father John Misty God’s Favourite Customer
In a way, my favourite records this year don’t feel like they were released in 2018 at all. And sure, that might quite literally be the case with the “message in a bottle” that is Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once, but this notion also encompasses the comforting and conventionally folky God’s Favourite Customer and the soulful, classically rock ’n’ roll Hunter—all three records take a trip down memory lane in one way or another. For Father John Misty, it’s the age-old kinship with heartbreak, melancholy and the unpredictable nature of love, whilst Anna Calvi tackles the eternal quest of finding oneself to the sound of roaring, Hendrix-like guitar riffs. And, finally, John Coltrane seals it all with his improv-heavy sax solos and sizzling drums on the previously unheard tracks from the exquisite Lost Album of 1963. A year of timeless staples that I’ll keep coming back to again and again.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Jaye Jayle, Cardi B, Kamasi Washington, Blood Orange and Gazelle Twin.
1) Flasher Constant Image
2) Caroline Rose Loner
3) Apostille Choose Life
While I’m inclined to agree with Jasper’s opening sentence, my 2018 demanded a much more hectic soundtrack. I came into the year frozen by a burning secret; I’m looking at these last few months with a torch in hand, ready to burn bridges as I descend into the cruel dark night. In between, I’ve seen the inside of an ambulance, waited for hours to reclaim my own car, stared at emerald shards on the pavement, plotted a contingency plan for a pregnant co-worker, drove pans of food in big white vans, and took in a baker with a depressive streak. The light shines from the end of the tunnel now, but I can’t tell you how many times my nerves have shorted out, useless and twitchy, with no time to recover before another shock tests the system. That may be why I’ve gravitated toward these three. Flasher has been a perpetual fount of strength and kinetic energy - quite literally, given that I’ve seen them four (4!) times this year alone - which will never exhaust itself in my car radio. Caroline Rose has been the best gal pal for the road, a seasoned troubador with no end of gags to keep me in good spirits. And Apostille has been a spinning mirror, a flashing reflection of the quiet paranoia I’ve buried deeper and deeper under my cool crimson veneer. Like I said, everything’s fine now. But whenever the tremors nearly ripped me apart, music always kept me level.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Ezra Furman, The Royal They, Trust Fund, Ultra Beauty, Benin City.
1) Black Foxxes Reiði
2) Idles Joy As An Act of Resistance
3) Blood Orange Negro Swan
Black Foxxes are drama and stomach plunging guitars, Idles are a distillations of 2018’s emotional journey and Blood Orange is loneliness and rejection done as funk pop. All three are, in their own way very male albums about traditional female emotions, nailed on to our time. And crucially, all three know how to write velcro-catchy, heart-stopping pop hooks.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Manic Street Preachers, She Makes War, Brix and the Extricated, Suede, The Spook School
1) SOPHIE OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
2) Unknown Mortal Orchestra Sex and Food
3) Father John Misty God’s Favourite Customer
There was no question about my number one pick this year. SOPHIE has produced a debut album of incredible depth, range and maturity, celebrating the spectrum of gender identity at a timely moment for trans rights. It’s an absolute playground of electronics; hyper-stuffed with ideas, both musical and intellectual. Coming a close second is Unknown Mortal Orchestra with their latest stellar offering; another album alive to the playful possibilities of sound. I think they may be my favourite rock band. Finally, Father John Misty bucks the trend of my short list by presenting something a little more pared back than he is known for - a succinct collection of earnest songs which I keep going back to.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: How To Dress Well, Gwenno, Adrianne Lenker, DRINKS, Mary Halvorson
1) Christine and The Queens Chris
2) CHVRCHES Love is Dead
3) The Wombats Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
Christine continues to revolutionise and redefine pop with her sophomore album, involving her taking on the persona of pansexual playboy Chris. She brings a breath of fresh air to the industry and plays by her own rules. In a world where we’re continually told what to do and how to feel, we need to rebel like Chris. CHVRCHES album may be classed as more of the same, but it’s more of the damn good same, with a bit of a cynical look at life and a longing for love mixed in with a heavy helping of synth and 80’s beats. Live, this album is one of the most incredible and intoxicating experiences. The Wombats return to their roots with the latest album, a true indie trip through the life of a human being struggling to exist in 2018, with the most vivid lyrics and the most depressing of tones. It contains a solid amount of ‘sad bangers’, which seems to be the theme of some of 2018’s biggest tracks.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Charlie Barnes, Black Honey, Panic! At The Disco, MNEK, Florence and the Machine
1) Troye Sivan Bloom
2) Tierra Whack Whack World
3) Low Double Negative .
Why ‘Bloom’ isn’t on more end of year lists, I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s one of those things, and in about 18 months or so, you’ll see loads of Quietus writers proudly declaring that it’s ‘pop that dares to be different’ or something. In any case, Bloom is a beautiful, soulful record full of meaty pop hooks and Sivan’s breathless voice, slowly melting over each track. Tierra Whack, meanwhile, made a 15 minute album that’s also 15 tracks long. A pretty bold experiment, which the accompanying video (or short film if you prefer) extends and amplifies. The fact she’s decided to attempt to edit and trim each track to fit the record’s concept should be applauded, but the fact she’s managed to make it a highly enjoyable experience deserves nothing but outright praise. And yeah, that Low record was good wasn’t it? I’m sure everyone from DiS has mentioned it in their individual write-ups, but I couldn’t not put it in here. It’s a beautiful and brutal listen.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Dean McPhee’s ‘Four Stones’, Kelly Moran’s ‘Ultraviolet’, Pijn’s ‘Loss’, DJ Richard’s ‘Dies Iræ Xerox’ and Denzel Curry’s ‘Taboo’
1) Muncie Girls Fixed Ideals
2) Black Foxxes Reiði
3) The Spook School Could It Be Different?
Honestly, aside from the top spot, there could have been any one of a handful of records in my top three, there’s been such a huge amount of fantastic albums released this year. And while each record might differ in its aesthetic, most seem to share a narrative that’s become ever more salient as the year has progressed: one of mental health, of social injustices and twenty-something anxieties. Whether this is because I’m (and indeed my generation) is suffering from a serious case of arrested development, or whether it’s a direct reflection of the social climate we’re currently in, hell it might even be because I’m an ex-emo kid that quite shook off the shackles of subculture, I’m not sure. What I do know however, is that you owe it to yourself to listen to Muncie Girls album and spend some time with one of the most acutely personal yet universally resonant records I’ve had the pleasure to review in a long time. Seriously.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Dashboard Confessional - Crooked Shadows Swearin’ - Fall Into the Sun Culture Abuse - Bay Dream wojtek the bear - A Talent for Being Unreasonable Lemuria - Recreational Hate
1) Jeff Rosenstock POST-
2) Abi Wade Beautifully Astray
3) Onyx Collective Lower East Suite (Part 3)
Jeff Rosenstock is one of those musicians who lives and breathes punk. While his music might not be capital P punk, his music is filled with that glorious DIY ethos that makes the genre to invigorating and exciting. POST- is his fourth solo album and shows a progression musically. Keyboards feature more heavily than on previous outings and the way ‘USA’ skews and turns throughout its seven and a half minute duration shows he’s comfortable trying something new and sticking with it. Lyrically POST- is filled with the visceral anger of the last American election and heartfelt simplicity of missing someone while sitting on a train. Abi Wade’s debut album fulfils all the promise of her early singles and glorious live shows. Beautiful Astray sits in a Venn Diagram between classical, electronica, pop and the avant-garde, but instead of sounding like a garbled dirge, it flows flawlessly and its highs are some of 2018’s finest. Onyx Collective have been redefining what jazz in 2018 can and is. Their album Lower East Suite (Part 3) is another love letter the New York, but the songs are more focused and have a bite to them. The idea of gentrification looms large in the recording as they lost their original practice space because of a redevelopment. This is an album that would suit proper jazz heads, or someone dipping their toe into the genre.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: of Arrowe Hill-Domestic Espionage, Adam Stafford-Fire Behind the Curtain, Anenon-Tongue, Josh T. Pearson-The Straight Hits, Lotic-Power
1) Fucked Up Dose Your Dreams
2) Typhoon Offerings
3) Self Defense Family Have You Considered Punk Music?
This year, these three records stood out head and shoulders above everything else, so this was relatively easy for me to choose. They also stood to define three significant periods of my 2018: Typhoon’s Offerings, released in January, defined the first few months, Self Defense Family’s Have You Considered Punk Music?, released in June, was the soundtrack to my summer, while Fucked Up’s Dose Your Dreams released on my 30th birthday in October, closed out the year. More difficult was putting these three records into order, given I love them all equally, but in the end, Fucked Up won it out for the sheer scope and ambition of their fifth full-length record, a genuine surprise return to form from one of my favourite acts (who I never should had doubted). Typhoon, however, had the most emotional resonance for me. It is a desperately tough album to listen to at times, but much like The Antlers’ Hospice or Sufjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell before them, there is an undeniable, shimmery beauty to be found in the misery. A new band to me - who I found from a recommendation on DiS’s forums, no less - Typhoon’s dark masterpiece has got me through 2018’s lowest ebbs, and I thank them for it. Finally, Self Defense Family, much like Fucked Up, stunned me by upping their already incredibly high anti yet again, they just seem to get better and better with every record. Their eschewing of distorted guitars combined with frontman Patrick Kinlon’s much improved vocals and endlessly fascinating lyrics (see also Drug Church’s Cheer) means there is a real crossover appeal to SDF now, and slowly it seems, more and more are catching on to their cult.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar, Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss, IDLES - Joy As An Act of Resistance, Nils Frahm - All Melody, Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!
Matthew Slaughter (Michael James Hall)
1) IDLES Joy As An Act Of Resistance
2) Shame Songs Of Praise
3) Amyl & The Sniffers Big Attraction & Giddy Up
Idles’ second record was something of both a game-changer for the UK music scene and a life-changer for me personally. Not in many, many years has a “new” group spoken to (and for) me in such an emotive, connected way and not for a long time have I fallen so utterly in love with such a band and a truly triumphal, wondrous rock record. Shame’s ascent has been a delight - brimming with youth, anger, smarts and kindness they are what an arena rock band should aspire to in this day and age. The Sniffers are just the most enjoyable, charming pub-rock punk-pop band around - even with those mullets, they absolutely fill the airwaves with righteous, drunken happiness.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by Superchunk, Mt Eerie, Fightmilk, Fresh, Quiet Slang.
1) Marlon Williams Make Way for Love
2) Low Double Negative
3) Hookworms Microshift
In a year of great releases brimming with energy, and even with Low releasing their incredible mood piece of our times, I couldn’t go past Marlon Williams and his spellbinding album of love and loss for the number one spot - if only for the love and dedication to the classic art of songwriting it espouses. What a voice the man has, completely captivating and managing to sound like a hundred timeless voices while being utterly unique, it was a record that could so easily have descended into pastiche but came through with grace in its beautiful sincerity. Low, of course, had to be there. A complete realisation of their sound - so dense but so fragile, their remarkable ability to create immense emotional weight through restraint and the spaces between the sounds just devastating throughout. While I felt Hookworms stood apart in what was a pretty good year for guitar music, as they managed to show what subtle and meticulously arranged songcraft and clever use of a range of instrumentation can do to elevate pretty straightforward rock anthems. Those guys clearly love their songs and it was a record that truly soared as a result. I was a bit deflated that I couldn’t squeeze any of the truly excellent ambient and neo-classical releases this year into the top three, but see the further recommendations below for a taste of some truly beautiful and immersive stuff.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Dedekind Cut, Ben Howard, Nils Frahm, Gruff Rhys, William Basinski & Lawrence English
Pieter J Macmillan
1) Low Double Negative
2) Let’s Eat Grandma I’m All Ears
3) Hermit and The Recluse Orpheus vs. The Sirens
It seems almost unfair that a band who have been going as long as Low still have the power to amaze and surprise to this extent. Double Negative is album of the year because it combines their trademark beauty with blown out fuzz but in such a way that they complement each other perfectly. Let’s Eat Grandma and Hermit and the Recluse have both created ambitious albums full of surprises: the former covers an enormous range of styles, sounds and themes and the latter focuses on turning Greek mythology into an understated hip-hop epic.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Papa M, Loma, Svalbard, Tropical Fuck Storm and The Beths
1) Let's Eat Grandma I'm All Ears
2) Muncie Girls Fixed Ideals
3) Beach House 7
In the year that we all took the plunge and devoted our lives to anxiety forever, music that offered both compassion and escape seemed more vital than ever. Let's Eat Grandma utilised the SOPHIE production team to create something wild and beautiful that could have feasibly dented a future chart show, and Muncie Girls made one of the most gloriously irreverent guitar records in recent memory (“fuck Jeremy Clarkson and fuck you too” indeed). Elsewhere, Beach House somehow produced their masterpiece in a career of perfect records. In one of those blessed years where everyone picked different albums, the real winner is music. Just kidding! It's Let’s Eat Grandma.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Janelle Monae, Deafheaven, Anna Calvi, Half Waif, Julia Holter
1) LOW Double Negative
2) Tirzah Devotion
3) Yves Tumor Safe in the hands of love
It’s very rare that there is an album of such unprecedented clout that the majority will stand by it until the year is out. That’s the beauty of LOW’s Double Negative, an album that bleakly paints the mood of out time, while using a sonic paintbrush that features sombre-sounding guitars and percussion, with futuristic, electronic effects. It’s also heartwarming to see a band grow and mature into the wonder they are today, with Double Negative paying infinite dividends to the band member’s collective efforts. It’s an album that will sit with you for a lifetime, its melancholic tapestry of wistfulness and sadness leaving a long-lasting impression on you for years to come.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by The Armed, Daughters, Ben Vince, Beak, Lucrecia Dalt, Nu Guinea
1) Suede The Blue Hour
2) Confidence Man Confident Music For Confident People
3) Ciara O’Neill Arrow
It’s very rare that in a year where Suede releases an album that they don’t end up becoming my favourite of the year, and 2018 is no exception, with The Blue Hour seeing the band shift in an orchestral-rock direction, showing a side to the band that we haven’t really seen since their Dog Man Star days. Confidence Man delivered an impressive debut record, one that is both an unashamedly pop album whilst still incorporating elements of 80s and 90s alternative music, and the only album that I’ve heard this year that has left me with an enormous, goofy grin on my face every time I hear it. Finally Arrow , the sophomore album from Portadown singer/songwriter Ciara O’Neill is a folk album with a dark pulsating heart, yet one that leaves you with a profound sense of the beauty of the world thanks to Ciara’s stunning and affecting vocals. It is the only album of the year that has reduced me to tears, and if an album can provoke those emotions in me, then it’s a real winner.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Eels, The Wood Burning Savages, George Ezra, The Hector Collectors, Ciaran Lavery
1) Car Seat Headrest Twin Fantasy
2) Rolo Tomassi Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It
3) Tropical Fuck Storm A Laughing Death in Meatspace
Truth be told, I was only made aware of Twin Fantasy by accident. I was lying on my girlfriend’s bed in her university halls when Spotify threw on ‘Cute Thing’ as part of her recommended playlist. At the time I knew nothing of how the record came to be, nor the journey it had been on from beginning to completion, but ‘Cute Thing’ perked my interest. It’s ‘Bodys’, though, that eventually stole the show, to the point where its endless emotional climaxes had me believing that I’d always had it in my life. And that’s how the record has come to feel to me overall: like an old friend that’s actually always been there, even when it hasn’t. As for Rolo Tomassi, it’s been wonderful to see them arrive at this point after adoring them for so many years. Their gigantic, ambitious closers from previous records have now spread throughout the entire tracklist on Time Will Die… and developed their sound so gracefully. Having spoken to Eva Spence herself when I saw them on tour in April, she’s noticed a sudden expansion of the audiences they’re playing to. Long may it continue. Where Tropical Fuck Storm are concerned, I fell for The Drones’ Feelin’ Kinda Free just as A Laughing Death in Meatspace came into my life. They’re probably the best ‘weird as fuck’ rock band out there right now, and their palpable discontent and bitterness for authority figures shines through in every gnarly guitar tone they unleash, reflecting how we should probably be feeling in the current political climate.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Conjurer (Mire), flirting. (This Would Be Funny if it Were Happening to Anyone but Me), Romeo Taylor (The Quest for Gold), ,
1) The Necks Body
2) Low Double Negative
3) Szun Waves New Hymn to Freedom
2018 has been the year that has finally confirmed to me that I have lost the enthusiasm for endlessly consuming new music that has shaped the last decade of my life. For that reason my 2018 picks are, simply put, those select few new albums I have found myself repeatedly going back to over the course of the year. I must also exclude this year’s releases from Julia Holter and Autechre, on the basis that I haven’t had time to get my head around them properly yet, and I will also leave out the beautiful new Grouper record for its brevity.Low’s Double Negative has barely left my ears since I picked my copy up from Jumbo Records on release day, which is rare indeed for me nowadays. Still it is Body, the thrilling twentieth (!) release by Australian legends The Necks, that has given me the most joy overall this year. Szun Waves floored me with their astonishingly great second album. Of my additional recommendations I must give a special shout-out to Leeds’ finest, Hawthonn, and to Jon Hassell, who might have delivered the greatest album of his long and storied career.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: The Body, Jon Hassell, Hawthonn, Skee Mask, and U.S. Girls.
1) Wye Oak The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
2) Foxing Nearer My God
3) The 1975 A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
All three of these records have the same two throughlines; thematically, they deal with discomfort about the present and anxiety about the future and musically, they’re thrillingly diverse. The 1975 are inescapable at the time of writing but how often do a band so given to pretension and lofty ideas deliver on all their bold proclamations quite as spectacularly as they have done with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships? Matty Healy has always come across as somebody with an answer for everything and on this evidence, he actually might have, from gun violence to the ceaseless political noise to, most crucially, the many nuances of modern communication. Set against a kaleidoscopic sonic backdrop that finds room for everything from synthpop and Soundcloud rap to neo-jazz and stadium rock, this is a symphony in post-millennial tension.
There are myriad points of comparison for August’s third full-length from Foxing but the record it put me most in mind of is the one that topped this website’s poll four years ago, The Twilight Sad’s Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. That was the last time I’d heard a band operating so fiercely off of instinct, and reacting so vitally against a sense of it being now or never. The St. Louis five-piece had already found themselves up against plenty over the past few years - van crashes, onstage injuries, gear robberies to the tune of $30,000 - and yet it was self-doubt that looked likeliest to wreck their trajectory as they geared up to record Nearer My God, as if they they’d surveyed the stunning breadth and wild ambition of the group of songs they’d written and didn’t know if they were capable of pulling them off. Chris Walla, once of Death Cab for Cutie, arrived less to produce the album than to hammer home to the band that this was it - commit this potential masterpiece to tape, or die wondering. They rose to the challenge, as demonstrated by the unbearably spiky tension of opener ‘Grand Paradise’, the absurd theatrics of ‘Lich Prince’ and the operatically intense paean to departed friends that is ‘Five Cups’. This is an indie rock maelstrom, an album without frontiers that should serve as the bar that any five guys with guitars should be aiming to reach when they start playing together from here on in.
Better even than that, though, was Wye Oak’s latest. There are only a handful of bands on the planet with a fanbase that can genuinely claim they don’t know what to expect from one album to the next, but like Rolo Tomassi, who’s March LP Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It would’ve been fourth on this list had it stretched that far, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have worn the look of a group locked in an arms race with their own back catalogue ever since 2011, when they left the scrappy noise rock of If Children and The Knot behind to craft one of the most searingly atmospheric indie rock full-lengths of the decade, Civilian. Since then, they’ve constantly confounded, from the dramatic left turn of 2014’s synth-dominated Shriek to the surprise drop in 2016 of Tween, an odds-and-ends collection that was better than most out-and-out studio efforts released that year. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, like A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships and Nearer My God, is aggressively committed to the razing of genre boundaries but ultimately wears that approach more subtly, with more nuance, and in a manner that has turned out an enthrallingly complex set of songs. There’s room for everything we’ve loved about them in the past, from Wasner’s freewheeling guitar work and gut-punch baselines to Stack’s master-of-all-trades work on the percussive, programming and production fronts, resulting in an album that feels uncategorisably handsome in musical terms. Add to that some of Wasner’s sharpest lyrical work, as she grapples with everything from millennial guilt to the information paradox to existential dread, and you have the best record of 2018, one that speaks more sharply to the tumult of the last two years than any other.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Lonnie Holley, Rolo Tomassi, Mastersystem, Richard Swift, Swearin’
1) Metric Art Of Doubt
2) Mogwai Kin
3) TVAM Psychic Data
Across a dark year it’s been the heroin choruses and mirrorball shimmer of Metric’s seventh album that I’ve turned to over and over, and every single time ‘Now Or Never Now’ and ‘Underline The Black’ have me eyes-closed and dancing as if they’re closing a festival - which they absolutely should be, and how the hell this album didn’t get more notice I understand less than Trump. Same with Mogwai: sure, we all know the formula by now, but the ebb and caustic flow is still disarming in its scorched-earth beauty. TVAM have been autumn’s obsession, a hypnosis of malarial loops and half-heard whispers, at once filmic and kinda nightmarish but utterly compelling throughout.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Rival Consoles, Fröst, Delta Sleep, Thom Yorke, Big Red Machine
1) Chromeo Head Over Heels
2) 30 Miles Short Tales For Braves
3) Young Galaxy Down Time
A year in which committing to regularly committing time to listen to new music has been tricky, so releases that have hit from the off have taken most of my headspace. The resilient brilliance of Chromeo in their immovable funk (if anything more distilled than ever) has been endlessly joyous, while 30 Miles and Young Galaxy have both gracefully combined despair and elation. 30 Miles somehow twisted their skatepunk-pawing scratches through the spaciousness of post-rock and the whimsey of the Cure, while Young Galaxy continue to change the world for a lucky few one release at a time, this time with down-tempo electronics glitching cinematically under Catherine McCandless’ radical candour.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Low, Gwenno, Mount Eerie, Yo La Tengo, Tony Molina
1) Gazelle Twin – Pastoral
2) Daughters You Won’t Get What You Want
3) JPEGMAFIA Veteran
At this stage we’re all bored to death of talking about 2018 being a general shitshow worldwide, but at least we had a few suitably venomous records to see us over the line. Gazelle Twin went full folk devil on Pastoral – adopting a court jester chav persona to channel the grotesque characters and ugly truths of a curtain-twitching, Daily Mail-poisoned Brexit Britain. Contorted, processed vocals and industrial electronics clash with medieval recorder and harpsichord, for a nightmare that even the tabloids couldn’t exaggerate. This year also saw the return of hardcore/noise reprobates Daughters for their first album since 2010. You’re wincing every few seconds on this record, from the whiplash headbutt percussion to the back alley arm-scratching vocal tics of Alexis Marshall. It’s intense – go for a shower after listening. Meanwhile, MC and producer JPEGMAFIA makes an art out of wrong-footing you. From looping Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s croaky breath-holding ‘Goin’ Down’ intro, to calling one track ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait Til Morrissey Dies’, his abstract and abrasive beats are full of hooks that aren’t quite right, and his sarcastic bars are a sneaky elbow in the side when you’re not looking.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Objekt, Low, M.Geddes Gengras, Marie Davidson, Johnny Jewel
1) Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides - SOPHIE
2) Cocoa Sugar - Young Fathers
3) Honey - Robyn
2018 was one of those odd years that refused to offer a definitive album. While many artists tried, there was no DAMN. or Lemonade dominating the conversation, nor a Yeezus demanding comment. But in their absence, a host of surprising records filled the gap. For me, the three best releases all self-identified as pop music, but sounded far removed from Top 40 radio. Robyn made an old-fashioned record that paid attention to flow and meticulously-crafted soundscapes. Young Fathers found the sweet spot between accessibility and raw unmannered energy they’ve chased since their debut. And SOPHIE’s mind-altering sounds pushed pop to the limits of sweetness, brutality and just about everything in between. All three exemplified the idea of pop as art and pop music unlike anything that’s come before them.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Christine and the Queens, Pusha T, US Girls, Neneh Cherry, Idles
1) Manic Street Preachers Resistance Is Futile
2) IDLES Joy As An Act Of Resistance
3) Suede The Blue Hour
Given the recent years of bold musical experimentation by Manic Street Preachers, I was worried that their next LP would be a regressive slide towards their MOR stadium sound to try in a bid to please the casual listener and not piss off their hardcore fans. What we got with Resistance Is Futile was a distinctly original record which built upon their recent forays into krautrock and somehow synthesized it with their unique knack for producing huge anthems inspired by art, politics and melancholy. Rather than play it safe, the Blackwood boys bravely struck out in new directions and created an album completely on their own terms and have not sounded so vital for many years. Last year, IDLES began to demand attention with their rowdy yet politically astute debut album Brutalism. Whereas lesser bands would have crumbled under the intense public glare or dine out on the roaring success of their first full-length for much longer, the Bristolian post punks returned to the studio almost immediately to produce Joy As An Act Of Resistance. Capturing the raucous energy of the anarchic gigs, their second album is all the more impressive as it shows a real development in terms of skill and sound that has come during the months of relentless touring. While Suede have never been a stranger to pretension, no-one could have expected that they would ever stray into the realms of a ‘concept album’. The Blue Hour tells the story of the dark and littered spaces of the English countryside found just to the side of the motorway as seen through the eyes of a child. Themes of horror, heartbreak and alienation are explored through fourteen expansive songs which reflect a broken Britain struggling for identity and finding only more inner conflict.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Anna Calvi; ‘Hunter’, TVAM; ‘Psychic Data’, mastersystem; ‘Dance Music’, Dream Wife; ‘Dream Wife’, Rolo Tomassi, ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’.
1) Kids See Ghosts Kids See Ghosts
2) Anna Calvi Hunter
3) Jack White Boarding House Reach
It’s a time for punk—no, not the same distorted down-picks that have stereotyped the movement for decades. Punk, as the clichés espouse, is a philosophical approach, and as such it must always shift to adapt to its environment. Punk is not the Blink-182-raised appropriators of trap culture, endorsing the very opioids that zombified the populace in the first place, nor the latest pigeon-toed indie affectations named after woodland animals. Punk is Jack White rapping absurdities over chopped breakbeats and clavinet solos; Anna Calvi bending guitar strings and gender at once, roaring with the energy of Patti Smith and the MC5 combined; Kanye West screaming “BRRAKAGAGAKK!” to the rapturous snare stutters while Pusha T fires lyrics to make the rap game’s King Xerxes bleed. Punk can even be a Black rapper in a MAGA hat, not as support for Trump’s pernicious policies but as a Warholian juxtaposition to expose of the foaming American political divide that has failed on both ends of its binary. It’s the atomic mentor-protegé fusion between West and Kid Cudi for Kids See Ghosts, with its mental health mantras and art-rock wallops, seven songs long amidst a PR nightmare, because they’re done caring what you think. Three albums that, epitomize what it is to be free.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Pusha T, Teyana Taylor, Nas, Armand Hammer, Roc Marciano
1) Eartheater IRISIRI
2) Yves Tumor Safe In The Hands of Love
3) serpentwithfeet soil
Each year my Spotify “Best of the year” playlist grows bigger and more disorderly, but as usual, only a handful of records manage to stick around on and offline, bringing some order to the chaos. In a way, each of my three picks has something to say about the power of metamorphosis. With IRISIRI, her first for PAN, the exquisite Eartheater ventured into a noisier and much more fragmented space to stage her surrealist visions, without completely losing touch with her folksier side. It is a compelling monument to fluidity and overstimulation as potential sources of beauty. As an OS recites in the last track, you simply “can’t compute her”. Yves Tumor signed to Warp, of all labels, to resuscitate the ghost of indie-rock, drenching some of its signature sounds and signifiers in noise, drone and doom. An essay on self-care and desperation as a moment of learning, Safe In The Hands of Love became the missing link between my old love for the early Smog and my thirst for contemporary electronic music of the industrial-ist kind. Part ventriloquist, part RNB diva, in the devastating soil serpentwithfeet transmutes pain and heartbreak in solace, teaching us a thing or two about how important it is to mourn before you take your next, transformative step.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: CECILIA, BbyMutha, SOPHIE, Marie Davidson, JPEGMAFIA
1) Christine and the Queens Chris
2) Low Double Negative
3) Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: Robyn - Honey, Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour, Suede - The Blue Hour , Sons of Kemet - Your Queen is a Reptile , Brigid Mae Power - The Two Words
1) Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour
2) Low Double Negative
3) Christine and the Queens Chris
It’s an absolute cigarette paper between the first two, and I’ll probably change my mind by the time I finish this paragraph. But Kacey Musgraves’ beautiful technicolour album was the perfect tonic to a world that continued to fall apart around us in the last twelve months. In a year with so much sorry, misery and lack of reason to be hopeful for the future, her album burst forth with simple, elegant, funny and touching tales to remind you of the importance of loving the world and yourself, caring for those around you and remembering the wonder that exists in the small things. From meditations on the world to kitch Elvis wall adornments, to the knockout beauty of the closing ‘Rainbow’ - a song that actually caused me to pull over off the road because the ludicrous flow of tears streaming from my eyes - it is a glorious record of optimism and sheer heart. It was exactly the album I needed in a year where so many other things constantly sought to break your heart and spirit. And for that, it deserves the top spot.
On the other side of the coin, Low’s extraordinary twelfth album reverberated for exactly the opposite reason. Portentous, dark, brooding and as slow-moving as a groaning flow of lava across the scorched land, Double Negative is a stunning piece of work - an orchestra of dark beauty and shimmering atmospherics. The two albums are almost diametrically opposed, yet both resonate profoundly and beautifully as equal and opposite forces.
Finally, Héloïse Letissier proved conclusively that her 2016 debut was no happy accident, with a terrifically poised, intelligent and profoundly engaging second album. Chris is the sound of an artist moving the chess pieces of pop music around in a way that few artists have managed over the last decade or so. Playing with female sexuality and gender politics with consummate ease and a deftness of touch, Chris was the thinking pop album of 2018 and marks Letissier out as a genuine pop star - and one that we desperately need to shine a light in these dark years.
5 other 2018 releases I’d recommend you investigate are by: The Good, The Bad and the Queen Merrie Land Fucked Up Dose Your Dreams Spiritualized And Nothing Hurt Neneh Cherry Broken Politics Janelle Monae Dirty Computer