Queens, IDLES and a Cherry on Top
IN THIS PHOTO: Héloïse Letissier, A.K.A. Christine and the Queens/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The Best Albums of 2018
A lot of others are putting together…
IN THIS PHOTO: IDLES/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
their lists of the year’s best albums and there has been some stiff competition this year. I have been thinking about the best records from 2018 and, in no particular order, have assembled the very finest. From the incendiary and extraordinary sophomore album from IDLES to Anna Calvi’s remarkable Hunter; it has been a wonderful year for music that has seen some of the decade’s finest emerge. Have a look at the rundown and selection of this year’s finest discs and I hope you agree with (at least) some of the choices. It is very clear that 2018 has been a wonderful and varied...
IN THIS PHOTO: Neneh Cherry/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
TIME for music!
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Release Date: 27th April, 2018
Labels: Wondaland/Bad Boy/Atlantic
“Although Monáe sings that she won’t “spell it out for ya,” the multi-hyphenate artist came out as pansexual in a recent Rolling Stone interview—or, as she put it, “a free-ass motherfucker.” That revelation signifies the next step in her evolution, as an artist and an individual. Technically speaking, Dirty Computer is a wonder, deft and cohesive in its blending of genres, but Monáe’s declaration—really, a call to action—lends the album a sense of urgency. On Dirty Computer, the erstwhile Electric Lady loses the metal and circuitry, but none of her power or artistry, cementing her status alongside Prince in the hall of hyper-talented, gender-fluid icons who love and promote blackness” – The AV Club
Standout Track: Crazy, Classic, Life
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Release Date: 30th March, 2018
Label: MCA Nashville
“Everything clicks perfectly, but the writing has an effortless air; it never sounds as if it’s trying too hard to make a commercial impact, it never cloys, and the influences never swallow the character of the artist who made it. In recent years, there have been plenty of artists who’ve clumsily tried to graft the sound of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on to their own. On Lonely Weekend, possibly the best track here, Musgraves succeeds in capturing some of that album’s dreamy atmosphere without giving the impression that she’s striving to sound like Fleetwood Mac. It’s an album that imagines a world in which its author is the mainstream, rather than an influential outlier. It says something about its quality that, by the time it’s finished, that doesn’t seem a fanciful notion at all” – The Guardian
Standout Track: High Horse
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Release Date: 11th May, 2018
“The Sheffield band’s journey has now taken them from “chip-shop rock’n’roll”, in Turner’s own words, to their very own ‘Pet Sounds’: the threads have been dangling for years, but Turner’s finally tied them together in a rather magnificent bow. Depending on where you’re sitting, this album will likely either be a bitter disappointment or a glorious step forward. But to where, exactly?
The album’s title is a fitting one: this record feels a lot like gazing into the night sky. At first it’s completely overwhelming – you’ll be trying to connect the scattered dots on this initially impenetrable listen, and maybe even despairing when it doesn’t all come together. But when the constellations show through, you’ll realise that it’s a product of searingly intelligent design” – NME
Standout Track: Four Out of Five
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Release Date: 18th May, 2018
Label: Milk!/Mom + Pop/Marathon Artists
“The source of Barnett’s frustration is a moving target though – and she is both fuelled and exhausted by it. Need a Little Time, whose melody is at once bright and flat, feels like a conversation with herself: “You seem to have the weight of the world upon your bony shoulders.” The peppy isolationist anthem City Looks Pretty is conflicted too, dabbling in optimism and nihilism, succumbing to neither: “Sometimes I get sad / It’s not all that bad / One day, maybe never / I’ll come around.”
As much as finding a neat conclusion might lighten that mental load, Barnett has none to offer here. All she can do is show her workings, but leave the problems unanswered” – The Guardian
Standout Track: Charity
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Release Date: 18th May, 2018
Label: Milk!/Mom + Pop/Marathon Artists
“‘Violence’ is the first standout, a mazy, bassy call to arms. Like many of Parquet Courts’ best songs, it functions as an alarm clock, a cattle prod. “Violence is daily life,” they chant, Savage considering the “pornographic spectacle of black death” that is the human condition. But the frontman is there for the listener too, offering us his hand as he spits, “Savage is my name because Savage is how I feel… My name belongs to us all… My name is a threat”.
This band have long articulated the inertia of acclimatising to adult life, and ‘In And Out Of Patience’ – a classic Parquet number – does so almost flippantly. “I’m neither here nor there,” muses Savage. It’s there again on the breakneck ‘Extinction’, Savage poking fun at his daily existence (“I’m trying not to turn into a psychopath”) over impatient guitars” – NME
Standout Track: Freebird II
Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer
Release Date: 1st June, 2018
Labels: Sub Pop/Bella Union
“God's Favorite Customer is littered with asides and in-jokes, peaking with the winking self-parody of "Mr. Tillman" and bottoming on "The Palace," where Tillman offers the revelation "Last night I wrote a poem/Man, I must've been in the poem zone." As Tillman's voice is pushed to the front of the mix -- there's no hiding from the many words of this singer/songwriter -- it's difficult to avoid his lyrics, which will either play as devilishly clever or solipsistic slop depending on your perspective. Then again, that double edge is also by design: Father John Misty means to provoke and soothe in equal measure, which is precisely what he does on God's Favorite Customer” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Mr. Tillman
Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
Release Date: 8th June, 2018
“Any artist of note will tell you they’re influenced by all kinds of different musical genres, and Jorja Smith is no exception. On ‘Lost & Found’, the hook on ‘Teenage Fantasy’ is straight out of an early ‘00s R&B cut. Jazz exerts a force right from the album’s title track (and indeed throughout) and, needless to say, Dizzee Rascal interpolation ‘Blue Lights’ nods to her affinity with rap, a discipline in which she regrettably dabbles on freestyle ‘Lifeboats’. The moments at which Smith manages to distill any of these genres into something entirely her own are truly special.
It’s the first full length album from a young creative brimming with ideas and promise. While ‘Lost & Found’ doesn’t feel like Jorja Smith’s magnum opus, it’s a brilliant first draft” – CLASH
Standout Track: Blue Lights
Anna Calvi – Hunter
Release Date: 31st August, 2018
“Like gender, the record also examines sexuality. Calvi has flirted with a queer point of view before, as on "I'll Be Your Man" from her 2011 debut. But Hunter is the record which fundamentally lives and breathes queerness, a record where on "Chains" she suggests, "I'll be the boy, you be the girl/I'll be the girl you be the boy." Unlike earlier efforts, this feels less like theater for theater's sake, and ultimately, unbridled and infinitely real. On "Wish," for instance, she's never sounded so liberated, and that lack of constraint bleeds into her guitar playing, hinting at a newfound joy amid the curious majesty of her music.
Hunter is the record where, more than any other, Calvi's talents have fully crystallized. The true character of her music has been unleashed and will likely see all those PJ Harvey comparisons finally fade, eclipsed by the radiance of this tough yet open-hearted work” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Hunter
Neneh Cherry – Broken Politics
Release Date: 19th October, 2018
Label: Smalltown Supersound
“Now the multi-faceted agent of cool is back with a fifth solo album, ‘Broken Politics’. It’s ostensibly more restrained than preceding ‘Blank Project’ from 2014 yet holds a subtle potency. Continuing the artist’s collaboration with Four Tet, and longtime writing partner Cameron McVey, its stripped back sonics zero in on Cherry’s beautifully clear, distinctive vocals that slip periodically into spoken word as they wrap around rich and poignant lyrics.
Her social commentary emerges from a deeply personal perspective, at no point despondent but often melancholic and at times defiantly direct. ‘Fallen Leaves’ pleads: “Just because I’m down/Don’t step all over me.” Trip-hoppy, dub-backed ‘Kong’ protests the refugee crisis, while sinister-edged single ‘Shotgun Shack’ takes on gun violence.
A slow burn of an album, ‘Broken Politics’ artfully cuts through a turbulent, noisy world” – CLASH
Standout Track: Shot Gun Shack
IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance.
Release Date: 31st August, 2018
“Everything about ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ is just so perfectly realised. The band began to write the album immediately after they finished work on ‘Brutalism’ – and it shows. The songs feel lived in, the record’s overarching message – that of the necessity of unity, positivity and loving yourself – so empowering that it almost amounts to an entire worldview. It’s even more powerful for the fact that Talbot worked on the album in the midst of massive personal trauma. This is a proper classic punk album, one that people will turn to in times of need, one whose authors are unembarrassed about still believing that art can manifest positive change. As Talbot roars on ‘I’m Scum’: “This snowflake’s an avalanche” – NME
Standout Track: Samaritans
SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
Release Date: 15th June, 2018
Labels: MSMSMSM/Future Classic/Transgressive
“But where once those tracks were tinny, here they have become steroidally imposing, gilded with distortion and industrial heft. Based around catchy chants, perfect for skipping rope games conducted by dominatrices, Ponyboy, Faceshoppingand the Aladdin-quoting Whole New World/Pretend World are dazzlingly brash and butch. Pretending is less successful – a stately bit of Tim Hecker-ish ambient, where her very particular sonics get lost in reverb – but it leads into the album’s biggest pop moment, Immaterial, where all the latent J-pop vibes get brought to the fore in a high-speed pachinko cacophony.
Despite software advances, so many electronic producers are content to lapse into nostalgia or a safe, compromised emotional range; Sophie has crafted a genuinely original sound and uses it to visit extremes of terror, sadness and pleasure” – The Guardian
Standout Track: Faceshopping
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Release Date: 4th May, 2018
“In terms of Hopkins’ career trajectory, this isn’t quite as good as his last album, 2013’s Immunity, which was something of a breakthrough for the Englishman, but it does feel like the continuum. Like Immunity, it’s beautiful and it’s heartbreaking – as attractive as a sunrise peaking out over an doomed industrial zone. There’s humanity in desolation. Hopkins knows it to be true. That’s why we desperately need him out here” – The Irish Times
Standout Track: Echo Dissolve
Eleanor Friedberger – Rebound
Release Date: 4th May, 2018
Label: Frenchkiss Records
“For so many people, the 2016 election activated a sense of uncertainty or inspired aimless wandering. There’s something closer to home happening to Friedberger on Rebound, though. On “Everything” she sings of a coveted romance, “a man in Greece, a girlfriend in Italy.” “Are We Good?” gives her an approximation of what that relationship might be like: “I proposed to a woman for a man last night.” But the experience is remote and dissatisfying. Friedberger isn’t exactly part of the action. While it continues her project of self-investigation, Rebound does not quite feature the Eleanor Friedberger we’ve come to know from her first three albums. It’s as though part of her has receded from view, as she tries to figure out—as we all do, all the time—what happens next” – Pitchfork
Standout Track: Everything
Shame – Songs of Praise
Release Date: 12th January, 2018
Label: Dead Oceans
“First impressions and preconceptions do few bands many favours, but Shame seem to have had to work hard to shelve such opinions on ‘Songs Of Praise’. The power and ferocity with which they do so across the album - as well as its rollocking instrumentation and clear social conscience - makes it a triumph.
“In a time of such injustice, how can you not want to be heard?” Charlie offers in ‘Friction’, before he launches himself into a roaring chorus, and on ‘Songs Of Praise’, Shame shout louder than anyone else at the moment, and make a claim to become Britain’s best new band” – DIY
Standout Track: Concrete
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Release Date: 29th June, 2018
Label: Transgressive Records
“Like a magic eye puzzle falling into place, ‘I’m All Ears’ has only slightly shifted the band’s focus, but suddenly it all makes sense. ‘Hot Pink’ had signalled scuzzier intentions, but that track’s crushing drop transpires to be only one of many tricks up the Norfolk duo’s sleeves. Later singles ‘It’s Not Just Me’ and ‘Falling Into Me’ sound nothing short of invincible, the latter continually shapeshifting each time you think you’ve got it nailed down.
But if they’ve perfected the modern pop template associated with acts like SOPHIE (on production duties here) - and they have - it’s somehow not the most impressive element of the record. The second half of the album includes a pair of breathtaking epics, ‘Cool & Collected’ and ‘Donnie Darko’, that showcase a songwriting maturity well beyond their 18 and 19 years. Somehow it all fits. Let’s Eat Grandma, it turns out, are nobody but themselves” – CLASH
Standout Track: Hot Pink
Robyn – Honey
Release Date: 26th October, 2018
“Perhaps as a tribute to her connection with Falk, Robyn made Honey with other close friends. Along with Klas Åhlund, her collaborator since the Robyn days, the album features lush, expressionistic tracks produced by Kindness' Adam Bainbridge ("Send to Robin Immediately") and Mr. Tophat ("Beach 2K20"). However, her main creative partner is Metronomy's Joseph Mount, who contributed to over half the album and brings a crisp synth-pop edge to "Ever Again," which finds a stronger, wiser Robyn promising herself to never be this devastated again. The eight years between Body Talk and this album would be a lifetime for almost any artist, and several lifetimes for a female pop star, whose career longevity isn't usually measured in decades. However, Robyn continues to make the trends instead of following them, and with Honey, she enters her forties with some of her most emotionally satisfying and musically innovative music” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Honey
Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
Release Date: 9th March, 2018
Label: Ninja Turtle
“Cocoa Sugar bursts with the weird warmth of an ice burn, a sizzling stew of Tricky-covers-the-Fall garage rap. Each song is nasty, brutish and short, bristling with imagination. Wow shackles its motorik angst to a dead-eyed drawl, seasoned with abattoir squeals. In My View is a slugabed’s vision of anthemic pop, while Toy is the most conventionally vicious rap here, every word a wound. The trio reckon this is their most “linear” album, which seems a stretch. It feels just as estranged of pop’s traditional structures and strictures as they’ve always been. It feels exhilarating; it feels like freedom” – The Observer
Standout Track: In My View
Christine and the Queens – Chris
Release Date: 21st September, 2018
Label: Because Music
“You don’t need to see her dancing to work out that Letissier is a fan of Michael Jackson – but you also catch an occasional echo of Scritti Politti’s pillowy white funk, not least on opener Comme Si, and, on Feel So Good, the clank and grind of both Jam and Lewis’s work on Janet Jackson’s 1986 album Control and the Art of Noise’s sample-mad dance music. She just writes fantastic songs: the melody of 5 Dollars is perfe ctly poised between sweetness and melancholy; What’s-Her-Face frames a lyric about self-loathing with an ominous cloud of electronics; Damn (What Must a Woman Do?) conjures a crowded dancefloor at 4am so effectively you can virtually feel the perspiration dripping from the ceiling. It is an album about pop music as much as any of the other topics it addresses. Or rather, about a belief in pop music as something more than ephemeral – as a vehicle for ideas, a space in which you can transform yourself – in an era when pop is supposed to have lost its longstanding hold over its audience, when it’s not supposed to amount to much more than a pleasant soundtrack or minor distraction. Get it right, Chris implies, and it can still be powerful” – The Guardian
Standout Track: Feel so good
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Release Date: 5th April, 2018
“The Latin trap "I Like It," with Bad Bunny and J Balvin, is a notable highlight, a potential chart-buster in waiting. Surprisingly, Invasion is not just sneering street bangers about her "money moves." Bittersweet infidelity dirge "Be Careful" finds Cardi yearning for a solid relationship with a real man, not an unfaithful one (all signs point to Offset). On "Ring," a smooth R&B jam that features Kehlani, Cardi is vulnerable, revealing a well of pain beneath her tough-as-nails facade. "Thru Your Phone" is unflinching and relatable, wherein Cardi burns with vengeance as she poisons her cheating man with bleach in his cereal and a good old-fashioned stabbing. It's cartoonish but real, a confession of thoughts that are all too familiar to the scorned. This balance between over-the-top party starters and thoughtful reflection makes Invasion of Privacy an impressive debut for a rising star who can back up her outspokenness with raw talent” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Bodak Yellow
Boy Azooga – 1,2, Kung Fu!
Release Date: 8th June, 2018
“The sense that Newington has poured everything into this significant debut ensures an emotional resonance at the heart of songs like ‘Waitin’, with the spiralling repetition of its weary chorus set to cause all kinds of borderline obscene tingles within festival-goers over the coming months.
The love for his craft that Newington clearly possesses is writ large across these eleven songs and the bloated Sabbath crescendo of closer ‘Sitting On The First Rock From The Sun’ is a bizarrely fitting finale. It feels like a release, entirely lacking cynicism, simply the right thing for that moment in the song. It’s a philosophy that Boy Azooga lives by on ‘1, 2 Kung Fu’ to often giddying effect” – CLASH
Standout Track: Loner Boogie