The Year in Review: Top 10 Albums of 2018
Whilst naturally this time of year is all about John Lewis and drinking as much as possible, for us the end of the year is also a time to reflect on some of the year’s ‘best of’s. So with 2019 just around the corner, we take a look back at year’s best music with our top 10 favourite records of 2018!
10) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Standout Track: Nobody
“Be the cowboy you wish to see in the world” is hardly going to be Apple’s new slogan in 2019 but it is the inspiration behind Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki’s Be the Cowboy. Famously private, this is Mitski’s fifth record and while we’d suggest it doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of 2016’s Puberty 2, it’s still without question one of the most fulfilling pop records of the year. Be the Cowboy may sound vibrant and irreverent on first listen, but this is a truly devastating record which hones in on Mitski’s loneliness and worries through characters moulded from her own characteristics. Despite its silk-like vocals and soundscapes, Be the Cowboy is unpredictable – something very few pop records can claim.
9) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Genre: Art Pop
Standout Track: Make Me Feel
Having taken a break to pursue an already successful acting career, Janelle Monáe returned this year with her third full length album, Dirty Computer. Fusing tropes of rap, soul, pop, R&B, space-rock and electro, Dirty Computer is as hard to nail down sonically as Monáe’s hyper-talents are. It’s awash with hooks and melodies that will stick with you for days, as well as virtuoso song writing that naturally draws comparisons to the likes of Prince and Outkast – the standout ‘Make Me Feel’ could easily have appeared on 1999, for example. It’s far-reaching and her most ambitious project to date, with Monáe exploring everything from mortality and political concepts, to her own race and sexuality. But despite its grand ideas, in essence, Dirty Computer is a letter of love and hope to anyone who feels like ‘the other’.
8) Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
Standout Track: In My View
Often experimental but always so very them, head to a Young Fathers gig and you’ll see probably one of the most diverse crowds anywhere in the country. Their very specific melting pot of influences draws attention from Rap lovers to Electro heads alike. But while their third record Cocoa Sugar is undoubtedly Young Fathers’ most accessible record to date – and almost certainly their most ‘pop-y’ – the band haven’t compromised on their experimentation in pursuit of mainstream success. Cocao Sugar manages to do the rarest of things by challenging its audience with surreal imagery and cutting rap monologues, but still offering boy band-esque singalong choruses. The record is more restrained than 2015’s White Men Are Black Men Too but it’s still outside the box and maintains Young Fathers’ status as one of the most original groups the UK has produced in years.
7) Robyn – Honey
Standout Track: Missing U
The eight years between Body Talk and Honey were quickly forgotten when opening (and standout) track Missing U hits its empowering chorus. Robyn is something of an anomaly in a notoriously unforgiving music industry; she’s 39 years old, female, Scandinavian and takes years to write a record. Robyn creates trends instead of following them, and with Honey, she enters middleagehood with some of her most emotionally resonating tracks to date. This complex break-up album takes listeners on a voyage from heartbreak to love reborn, reminding us that this is what makes an authentic pop record. Human emotion will always engage and Honey once again proves that Robyn is lightyears ahead of her imitators.
6) Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Genre: Indie Rock
Standout Track: Four Stars Out of Five
Inspired by cult Italian director Federico Fellini’s 1963 surrealist film 8½ and by the 1975 Dion record Born to Be With You, Arctic Monkey’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was never going to be for the purists. That’s the way Alex Turner and co. would have it. Coming off the mammoth commercial and critical success of AM, their sixth record comes in the form of a sci-fi concept album about a hotel on the moon. It’s completely absurd and packed full of vivid characters brought to life by Turner’s wit and craftsmanship. Part lounge pop, part space pop, part glam rock, part jazz, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is clearly Arctic Monkey’s strangest record to date but it’s also their most intriguing. People may not be chucking their beers up to it but we’ll bet they’re sitting by the fire with it for years to come.
5) Beach House – 7
Genre: Dream Pop
Standout Track: Dive
For Beach House’s aptly titled seventh album 7, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally dialled up the hooks while retaining the Baltimore group’s unique ASMR tones. Endlessly enterprising, 7 lives up to the hype and then some with seemingly oxymoronic qualities; it’s gigantic yet intimate, grandiose yet relatable, new yet quintessential. There’s not a weak track on this heavy and immersive record and for us 7 is Beach House’s masterpiece.
4) Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
Standout Track: Street Fighter Mas
LA saxophonist Kamasi Washington may have worked with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Run The Jewels, but with his second solo album, Washington heads back to his jazz roots with a mammoth piece of work. Heaven and Earth is shorter than his three-hour debut Epic, but in many ways it’s more monumental than its predecessor with 16 tracks split into a two-part concept record: the first reflecting the world as it is, the second depicting Washington’s optimistic vision of what it should be. It’s an extraordinary piece of work that once again confirms Washington’s jazz wizardry that’s both authentic and accessible to the Street Fighter masses.
3) Shame – Songs of Praise
Standout Track: One Rizla
It seems like an age ago Shame released their debut record Songs of Praise. And while the South Londoner five-piece’s post-punk sound is undoubtedly indebted to the likes of The Fall – both lyrically and musically – Songs of Praise packs enough aggression and self-awareness for it to be entirely of its own worth. Charlie Steen’s arresting vocals and lyrics are full of dirt and bodily fluids but are far too incisive and intelligent to make Shame’s tracks just more indie-disco filler. Simply put, Songs of Praise is one of the most daring (and often funniest) British guitar albums in years and cements Shame’s place at the top table as one of the country’s best new bands.
2) Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Genre: Indie Rock
Standout Track: Freebird II
The sixth album from the NYC group Parquet Courts is the culmination of a band’s dedication to pushing themselves, both sonically and socio-politically. Wide Awake! is the group’s most diverse record to date musically, sitting samba-like pop floorfillers like Wide Awake alongside aggressive post-punk anthems such as Violence. But it’s also their most emotionally diverse record too – it’s angrier than usual. But despite the total meltdown, Wide Awake! reminds us to dance and laugh through the tears. Parquet Courts are, and have long been, one of the most interesting indie acts around. And if you ever needed confirmation, Wide Awake! should be it.
1) Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Standout Track: Danny Nedelko
“Love yourself.” That’s the humble yet prophetic message delivered by Idles in their second record Joy as an Act of Resistance. It’s a simple idea that underpins this modern punk masterpiece but something worth repeating again and again in these tumultuous times – especially if you’ve got as much rage, passion, pain and joy as Idles do. The album’s highlight is Danny Nedelko, a solidarity anthem for the country’s immigration population named after a Ukrainian friend of the band. Joy as an Act of Resistance is the record that will define 2018. And while it does focus on the socio-political state of the UK – as well as the stillbirth of frontman Joe Talbot’s daughter – it’s cathartic, incredibly funny and a timely reminder that music matters. For that, we thank you, Idles.
What’s your favourite album of 2018? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation over on Twitter!