FEATURE: Snap, Crackle and (Some Great) Pop: The Best Pop, Alternative-Pop and R&B Albums of 2018




Snap, Crackle and (Some Great) Pop


PHOTO CREDIT: @jsharp9066  

The Best Pop, Alternative-Pop and R&B Albums of 2018


THIS will be the last of my genre-specific pieces...


but there will be other rundowns that celebrate the best of 2018. I am not done shining a light on the good and exceptional from this year but, when it comes to genres; let’s end with the very best Pop, Alternative-Pop and R&B albums from 2018. It has been a busy year and one stuffed with adventure, innovation and delight! I have combined some truly great and popular albums that have stuck in the critical mindset and impressed listeners. Here is a selection of brilliant records that, once more, prove what a great year...

 IN THIS PHOTO: The 1975/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

WE have had for music.  



Let’s Eat GrandmaI’m All Ears


Date of Release: 29th June, 2018

Label: Transgressive Records

Producers: David Wrench/SOPHIE/Faris Badwan


I’m All Ears (otherwise produced by David Wrench) translates LEG’s weirdness into proper pop: amid interludes of purring cats and trilling ringtones, their songs are mini odysseys that intertwine rave-y euphoria and menace. With its battering chorus, Falling Into Me is as galvanising as its determined lyrics. They do softness, too: It’s Not Just Me, the other Sophie and Badwan track, is dreamy and unsettling, while the rainfall on Ava makes the piano ballad even more wrenching.

LEG’s lyrics, far from their debut’s fairytale nonsense, have become uncanny and piercing, which is enhanced by their muscular vocal melodrama. There’s a brilliant line on Snakes and Ladders that confronts gender’s power imbalance and the false salve of consumerism: “How do you feel so respected, majestic? ’Cause I’m objecting to things I go off and buy into, selecting the pails I’ll be pouring your tears into.” Cool and Collected perfectly distills the desperation of social awkwardness: “I still blur in the haze that you cut straight through.” While missed connections litter the album – missed calls, disembodied names on screens – I’m All Ears is about abandoning fear and leaping boldly towards desire. It is remarkable” – The Guardian

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/5Bnhkya5cGltQFTrnC0grx?si=OIbRaj1YSluXKwJvhaXjpA

Standout Tracks: Falling Into Me/The Cat’s Pyjamas/Ava

Finest Cut: Hot Pink

Kimbra - Primal Heart

Date of Release: 20th April, 2018

Label: Warner Bros.

Producers: Various


Still, Primal Heart takes listeners on a smoother journey than The Golden Echo's wild ride, and if some of these tracks are a little more straightforward, they're also great showcases for Kimbra's soul-baring. Her writing feels more personal than ever as she tackles getting older, wiser, and stronger on songs that range from "Lightyears"' soaring exuberance to the defiance of "Everybody Knows." The album's ballads are some of Kimbra's most compelling yet, whether it's "Version of Me"'s torchy drama or the late-night searching of "Real Life," which features some of the most evocative processed vocals since Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek." A consistently winning album, Primal Heart finds Kimbra hitting the sweet spot between imagination and accessibility -- if her nods to the mainstream get more ears pointed her way, so much the better” – AllMusic

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/4pj0BkJ7u39i009oqe8V79?si=7P8dozXGTP-RP-N9PuekgQ

Standout Tracks: Top of the World/Like They Do on TV/Version of Me

Finest Cut: Everybody Knows                              

Camila CabelloCamila


Date of Release: 12th January, 2018

Labels: Epic/Syco

Producers: Various


Perhaps emboldened by Havana’s vast success, Cabello has developed a habit of carrying on as if her debut album is a starkly uncompromising personal statement, free from the kind of pressures that were brought to bear on Fifth Harmony’s output. That lays it on a bit thick. Cabello gets a writing credit on every song – a rare occurrence with her old outfit – but Camila is clearly a pop album made in the traditional way, by committee, with one gimlet eye always fixed on commerce. The supporting cast features everyone from Ed Sheeran collaborator Amy Wadge to Ryan Tedder, and there’s something very telling about the ruthlessness with which a succession of songs that failed to shift sufficient units as singles were expunged from the final tracklisting.

It doesn’t matter. Camila is one of those moments where the committee approach strikes gold: smart enough to avoid smoothing out the quirks and slavishly chasing trends, it’s a product of the pop factory that doesn’t sound run-of-the-mill” – The Guardian

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/2vD3zSQr8hNlg0obNel4TE?si=r6GCZBdWQmWRfyf0C29tCg

Standout Tracks: Never Be the Same/Consequences/In the Dark

Finest Cut: Havana

Kylie MinogueGolden

Date of Release: 6th April, 2018

Labels: BMG/Liberator

Producers: Various


Radio On is a ballad about coping with heartache by listening to the radio, while the album’s final track – Music’s Too Sad Without You, a duet with Jack Savoretti– also touches on the importance of music as a place marker in life. Both tracks are downbeat and show a rare weakness, as her voice lacks the depth to carry them off with any great impact. Sad Kylie is much more effective when she’s dusting herself down and dancing her cares away.

Just in case you weren’t sure who you were listening to, Raining Glitter is not only in the running for the campest song title of all time award, but also a career defining key change – it’s THE sound of Kylie. But on the whole her vocals are relaxed and she sounds at ease, at home. This is pop for the whole family. She’s done a Take That; created a grown-up, Radio 2-playlist, guitar-driven, dance-flecked album with a warm glow.

Golden stands alongside her classic records; in a world of disposable music, Kylie’s return is welcome and shows how slick, smart pop music should be done” – musicOMH

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/5vroCXY4FWNiIAovi5KsQB?si=M0RcihLiRVGCvDMQgTVcVA

Standout Tracks: Stop Me from Falling/Radio On/Every Little Part of Me

Finest Cut: Dancing                  

Tove StyrkeSway


Date of Release: 4th May, 2018

Label: RCA

Producers: John Alexis/Joe Janiak/Elof Loelv/Gustaf Nyström


Equally at home on a made-for-radio chorus (dancehall infused ‘Say My Name’) as on the vocoder manipulated vocals of ‘I Lied’, you’re left with no doubt that Styrke’s is an force to be reckoned with. And then there’s ‘Mistakes’, the glorious musical equivalent of getting butterflies in your stomach. Shimmering, percussive production is punctuated by Styrke’s robotic vocals boldly declaring its mischievous chorus: “You make me wanna make mistakes.” It’s pure pop perfection.

Clocking in at just 26 minutes, ‘Sway’ is a succinct but comprehensive statement from Styrke – one that demands attention and declares her as a musical tour-de-force. The release of this album comes in between a string of dates with industry darling Lorde and this month’s shows with pop behemoth Katy Perry. Although Styrke is supporting them now, ‘Sway’ proves it won’t be long until she’s standing shoulder to shoulder with them” – NME

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/3fSRbKgYW6kcR1ZFMaaNV4?si=_7ht9UyUR0S1xIeqArLUMw

Standout Tracks: Sway/Mistakes/Vibe 

Finest Cut: Say My Name                                              

The Lemon TwigsGo to School

Date of Release: 24th August, 2018

Label: 4AD


Like all the best concept albums, however, we leave Shane in a good place, alone but at peace, accepting that love within oneself is more important than love from others. There are questions – why did the most popular girl in school sleep with a chimpanzee? How did Shane not realise he wasn’t human? Just how does he like his breakfast bananas prepared? – but overall, Go To School is a blast, a joyous, ridiculous journey that treads a perfect line between silly, funny and heart-breaking.

After closer “If You Give Enough”, one gets the impression that, ultimately, the D’Addarios do care about their poor protagonist, this pure chimp corrupted by human civilisation. What’s more amazing, as the spotlight fades out on Shane, alone in his tree like some anthropoid Buddha, is the fact that now we do, too” – Uncut

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/5c42OLUNIZldeqhSSOER8d?si=ufCRg5YxT7OWRJbCCFvMow

Standout Tracks: Never in My Arms, Always in My Heart/The Bully/Go to School

Finest Cut: The Fire                                                                           

Years & YearsPalo Santo

Date of Release: 6th July, 2018

Label: Polydor

Producers: Various


However, what ‘Palo Santo’ has that ‘Communion’ lacked is an inventive ballad. ‘Hypnotised’, a delicate and unworldly highlight, and ‘Lucky Escape’, a palpable moment of agony and anguish, are elevated because of their intricate production (they also boast the best vocal performances from Alexander’s career).

The title track, though, is where Olly’s sermon is delivered. Here melancholia and desire battle with volatility, a hazardous tug-of-war where sexual fulfilment conflicts with loneliness and morality. The base piano is joined by skittish beats and lashings of falsetto, giving the song sweaty urgency.

In a thrilling conclusion, ‘Up In Flames’ sees Olly in unmarked territory as he grieves his relationship with his estranged father over Greg Kurstin’s ominous production and pacey beats. It’s a candid end to an overwhelmingly intimate record that makes you wonder just what Years & Years could be capable of next” – DIY

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/2CccDD18ZzCqRXkiMrhfoW?si=HfzVaQyAQQK7ctUg3wh-gA

Standout Tracks: All for You/Preacher/Palo Santo

Finest Cut: Sanctify                                                                          

Tracey ThornRecord

Date of Release: 2nd March, 2018

Label: Merge Records

Producer: Ewan Pearson


Such intuitive common sense is writ large throughout Record, which mixes tight-fitting production (by longtime collaborator Ewan Pearson) with superlative signature vocals and guest appearances by Corinne Bailey Rae, Warpaint rhythm section musicians Stella Mozgawa (drums) and Jenny Lee Lindberg (bass), and UK singer/songwriter Shura.

One-word titles imply focus rather than lack of thought, and from opening electro-pop tune Queen (“Here I go again, down that road again”) to closing Kraftwerk-referencing Dancefloor (“Where did we begin, back in the days we lived inside each other’s skin”) via the punkish Babies (“Every morning of the month you push a little tablet through the foil/ cleverest of all inventions, better than a condom or a coil/ ’cos I didn’t want my babies until I wanted babies”), and self-referencing Air (“Too tall, all wrong, deep voice, headstrong”), Thorn digs deep yet carefully, avoiding traps rather than setting them. With such insight and pop nous, Record comes across as the very, very best of Tracy Thorn: a charming, challenging mix of reflection and reaction with added beats” – The Irish Times

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/4rb4OC3d46iZld05PU927t?si=Q870bNLKRuW5f9FY_hWzew

Standout Tracks: Queen/Babies/Dancefloor 

Finest Cut: Sister        

Ariana Grande - Sweetener


Date of Release: 17th August, 2018

Label: Republic

Producers: Various


Songs are arranged as call and response, with Grande taking both parts, multi-tracked voices flowing in gossamer light harmonies. A short interlude, named in honour of her comedian fiancé Pete Davidson, is utterly gorgeous, a sweet nothing dissolving into blissful oohs. On closing track Get Well Soon she sounds like a one-woman doo-wop combo.

With such stellar writer-producers at the controls, the quality of the songs is high, although there are moments when they might be trying too hard to demonstrate that the teen queen is all grown up now.

Dropping an f-bomb into Better Off seems gratuitous among the gentle hugging and kissing. Abrasive guest rappers Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliott sound like they dialled in clichéd verses for a pay cheque. But as modern, branded, blockbuster pop albums go, Sweetener is a delightful confection” – The Telegraph

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/3tx8gQqWbGwqIGZHqDNrGe?si=4cB7VMyET7KMeiSNsjXYww

Standout Tracks: God Is a Woman/sweetener/no tears left to cry

Finest Cut: the light is coming



Date of Release: 26th October, 2018

Labels: Konichwa/Interscope

Producers: Joseph Mount/Mr. Tophat/Adam Bainbridge/Robyn/Klas Åhlund


She delivers her own style of sexual healing on the masterful title track, describing it as something nourishing beyond mere pleasure. "Baby Forgive Me" is both soft and daring; though she risks it all by asking to be taken back, she asks so sweetly that it's almost impossible to say no. Perhaps as a tribute to her connection with FalkRobyn made Honey with other close friends. Along with Klas Åhlund, her collaborator since the Robyn days, the album features lush, expressionistic tracks produced by KindnessAdam 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

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/0CQ68SLY0B5e6L1rn8jfkc?si=huVfcJ-MTty6Q9qptmp4pQ

Standout Tracks: Baby Forgive Me/Honey/Between the Lines

Finest Cut: Missing U

The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships            

Date of Release: 30th November, 2018

Labels: Dirty Hit/Polydor

Producers: George Daniel/Matthew Healy


Perhaps the biggest surprise comes in the form of ‘Mine’, a Cole Porter-influenced jazz number that evokes golden era Hollywood, Disney soundtracks and finger-clicking crooners while reflecting wryly on modern life (“I fight crime online sometimes / I write rhymes I hide behind,”), a jarring dissonance that feels like hearing a song you’ve known your whole life for the very first time.

‘Mine’ is a breathtaking piece of work, and one of many here that proves that The 1975’s core songwriting team of Matty Healy and George Daniel are not just the most accomplished and creative duo working in pop right now but the closest thing we have to a present-day Lennon and McCartney, a pair whose golden touch makes them near-enough unassailable. Clever and profound, funny and light, serious and heartbreaking, painfully modern and classic-sounding all at the same time, ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’ is a game-changing album, one that challenges The 1975’s peers – if, indeed, there are any – to raise their game” – NME

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/6PWXKiakqhI17mTYM4y6oY?si=aUXC_HQSTpWNIX59rySZaw

Standout Tracks: TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME/Love It If We Made It/Mine 

Finest Cut: Sincerity Is Scary

Rita OraPhoenix 


Date of Release: 23rd November, 2018

Label: Atlantic UK

Producers: Various


Between these already established tracks, the newer material slots in well. “Let You Love Me” is frank and affecting in its exploration of emotional barriers – “I wish that I could let you love me/ Say what’s the matter with me?” – but you don’t need to engage in its emotional crisis to appreciate this mid-tempo bop. “New Look” is catchy too, despite a beat that sounds like it’s being played on a radio with intermittent signal.

There are a few low points: “Keep Talking”, even with left-field pop connoisseur Julia Michaels on board, is frustratingly plodding, while “Summer Love” builds threateningly towards a clumsy drop. For the most part, though, Phoenix is worth the wait – whether you were doing so with indifference or bated breath” – The Independent

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/6Vn8F3hERVHYYz5RfKmsAN?si=0zFrZY67QiSLbQ3DlfgASQ

Standout Tracks: New Look/Your Song/First Time High

Finest Cut: Let Me Love You

Mariah CareyCaution 

Date of Release: 16th November, 2018

Label: Epic

Producers: Various


With production from Blood Orange on Giving Me Life, it is hardly surprising that this is the defining and most eclectic moment on the album. With echoes of The Roof and The Beautiful Ones from the iconic Butterfly album, the chorus is an immediate classic and the breakdown towards the end of the song is a stunning showcase of that vocal range against a backdrop of electric guitars.

The album closes with the slow burning and vintage Mariah ballad Portrait. We find her at her most ethereal and reflective, and the narrative focuses on the relationship Carey has with herself. The glorious vocals towards the end are truly magnificent and the track is a fitting and definitive end to such a cathartic and phenomenal album.

The message from Carey here is clear. You can come into her life, but make it count and do not throw caution to the wind. This is why her lambs are never silent in their perpetual adoration. Sublime” – musicOMH

Stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/64zK6tmksJw9gNZR0L4DVx?si=7UIZVnS0R9iJasjOiC0Z7w

Standout Tracks: Caution/8th Grade/Portrait

Finest Cut: With You