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Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Top 50 Albums of 2018


The Top 50 Albums of 2018
So here it is. The end of yet another session. The process was long but the ride was worth it, because we did it for the thrills. We both hit some really good spots, I thought. I am satisfied. I roll over. You light a cigarette. I don’t smoke anymore, which is probably for the best. I need to catch my breath. Was it good for you? Don’t answer that. It was good for me, and that's all I care about. I like that thing you did with your mouth at the end, that was sweet.

Guess how many times I’ve written one of these articles? Ok, I’ll tell you. This is my ninth time, can you believe it? And not a year goes by where I don’t offer a quick mumble of thanks to the energies that be, grateful for such a perfect number. What a magical sprinkle of fate it was that I started this project from the start. 2010! The first year of the decade! So lucky. That very fact alone feels important. Important enough to see this commitment through, anyway. Fighting against my endless frustrations and knotty shoulders each year end. But look us now! So close to the finish line that I can smell the 2010's paint job. One more year to go. Jesus, take the wheel. Get behind me, Satan, and push.

2018 was a strange one. As the months rolled on by, I would never say that I was particularly excited by anything the audio artform presented to me. It kinda just ambled onward with a slight wave, and I nodded my head politely. The peaks didn’t seem all that peaky to me, and any high moments were anything but frequent. However, when I recently sat down to form a singular cohesive unit of high-quality potentials to write this very article with, my head was suddenly overcome by lightness. Truth be told, never in my nine years of stock-taking has a list shuffled in line so effortlessly. There were no imaginary arguments. There wasn’t even a conversation. My thought process was hardly activated as these records slid into one another, clearing their rows like a perfect Tetris score, doing all the heavy lifting for me. And now, as I lean back to admire this collection who eagerly accumulated before me, I genuinely feel like this is the strongest top 50 I’ve ever put to paper. Potentially my favourite ever! If not in regards to full-on face-punches, then at very least in terms of an overall army. So consistent. So sturdy. So painless. I’m an old man now, so the stress-free execution was massively appreciated. Thanks, Music!

Congratulations on reading this far, I wouldn't have. Moving on to formalities: if this is your first time here, hi! You’re in for such a treat, take it from me. However, there are some terms and conditions we need to go over first, simply to ensure that you have the safest ride possible. It's for you! Heck, even if you’ve been Jareducated before, this would be the ideal time to refresh your memory cogs, as there will be a test at the end. Close your eyes and count to four:

1. I listened to 410 albums this year, each one at least three times in total. This is below my usual number, but it’s certainly not the smallest ever, and it’s still a satisfactory amount by anyone's standard. Enough to put me in this self-proclaimed position of authority, anyway. How many did you listen to? Regardless, such an exhaustive journey does mean that I've probably heard your favourite album this year. If you cannot find it on the list below, I urge to you hesitate before you crease wrinkles into your face. Rather, take a quick look over this insanely extensive spreadsheet I made. Here, you will find a record of each of those 410 albums, along with some rough notes revealing my thoughts per every listen. This should help clear up any questions as to why my personal tongue did not run gently upon yours.

2. The 2018 cut-off point was the 12th of December 2018. No albums released after this date even existed on my radar. I hate this part of the process, believe me, but it’s for my own preservation, otherwise I would surely die. Plenty of publications released their lists over a month before mine, so get mad at them before you get mad at me. They actually make money doing this too. I lose money.

3. As always, my selection process was less to do with talent or originality or reputation. Instead, it’s all about my memory. Certain records are fucking amazing but they simply don't stick once the hypothetical vinyl stops spinning. Those types are generally omitted. Meanwhile, other records claw at your tinnitus and give you headaches which last a lifetime. That is a far more fascinating sentence to me. If you disagree, then tough mammaries, but what I can suggest is that you look at my God playlist here on Spotify. Order it by date added, and you will find plenty of 2018 representatives to fuel your juices. If this is too messy, I can also offer a more exclusive Best Songs of 2018 playlist for a more potent cup of kool-aid. I’m working very hard for your satisfaction here, fucking love me already.

4. Finally, I have a band named Sectlinefor. We released our sophomore record this year, titled Don’t Make This About You. Obviously, this is the actual Album of the Year, but they tell me that I can‘t say that, so I won’t. However, I am super proud of this project and I urge you to listen to it yourself. It's all I ask, and in return, I give you everything.

That’s it! Except for one tiny little last thing... I am (probably) retiring. This will (probably) be the last of these lists I ever make. Next year I have something much more special planned, and after that, I am taking my life back, thanks. I have forgotten what it’s like to listen to music for pleasure. I would like to remember that. But, let it be known, that the last nine years have been a trip, for realsies. Hindsight will only ever say good things. Cheers to everyone for the hits. It really does mean a lot.

Ok, fuck, you ready, already? Then bow your head, genuflect, let's reflect.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 51. Ezra Furman - Transangelic Exodus

51. Ezra Furman - Transangelic Exodus

Indie Rock
February 9
Spotify


Ezra has claimed and renovated his own unique real estate upon this crowded musical land, and he has done so with the most detectable of influences imaginable. It goes like this: take a completely ordinary pop album with all the hooks and cheeky winks included, and then shove a fistful of heartland dirt directly into its mouth. Now sodomise the result with noisy distortions and messy electronics until its anger crumbles into a defenceless fear. With us so far? Good. Now glam up its face with a dramatic splash of colourful makeup, and then there it is! Transangelic Exodus, in all of its awkward glory, one lo-fi nostalgic piece of unpolished art rock, strung together by the private narratives of an offbeat weirdo who wants to tell you a story about a homosexual love affair between a couple running from the law... or something? At least that’s what Pitchfork said anyway. Anyway! Among other such critique circles, there have been some inaccurate front-loading accusations, but regardless of your taste, this is still a record which will linger long after the fact, always somewhere on your mind like a pair of stranger’s eyes staring you down in the rearview mirror. Wait, this isn’t my car?


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 50. Caroline Rose - Loner

50. Caroline Rose - Loner

Indie Pop Rock
February 23
Spotify


Caroline Rose’s career started with some deep-rooted country/folk sounds, which is what makes Loner's radical diversion away from her already respected reputation all that more surprising. Why now did this artist opt to turn her back on her former fanbase and explore this overly-saturated indie world instead? Well, I dunno. That said, I am happy to make up a story, if you'd like? Basically, I reckon Caroline Rose noted a gap (or perhaps, a flaw?) in this genre’s modern genetics and decided to tear it wide open by taking a satirical piss all across the stage, acting like some spoilt disinterested art student who has a forte for wit but couldn’t care less if she passes the grade or not. Of course, she does pass the grade, top of her class, by building a shimmeringly pessimistic personality around herself out of cutie synth lines and diverse pop winks which will stick to your day like a wet gummy bear left in the sun. But is this a fully-committed spoof album intended to expose indie pop rock for the present-day snobbery it has been reduced to? Or am I over-analysing it? The verdict is still out there. However, her talent alone is enough to never take any subsequent albums in this vein seriously ever again, because parody or not, she does it better.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 49. Clarence Clarity - Think: Peace

49. Clarence Clarity - Think: Peace

Alternative R&B Glitch Pop
October 4
Spotify


When a legitimately unique style has been discovered, it’s so rare that it catches us reviewers in a very vulnerable place, scrambling around unarmed without the appropriate stock words to honour it with. But here’s mine anyway: Think: Peace is an eccentric blend of restless pop and defective R&B, overstuffed and threatening to burst out of its colourful stitches while layering its chunky cream on so excessively that it’s impossible for your senses to penetrate it. And you lose the battle. But do not feel bad, for how could one prepare oneself for such a tricky defeat? Attacked by something once so familiar except molested and warped until your recognisable friend is now someone you don’t even know anymore. Why did Clarence Clarity do this? Why take standard cringy commercial synth songs and then infect them with ADHD like this? They change their mind too often now. They pull me in so many random directions that I become dizzy and have to sit down, wondering how something so dissociated could possibly be so captivating at the same time. Which makes one realise that perhaps it is here that we truly are. The quintessential representation of our 2018 musical landscape, where the current popular radio vibes get burnt by the trippy computer electro headfucks, until I cough up smoke and ask out loud: is this the most abnormally normal thing I've ever heard? Or perhaps the other way around? It's wrong either way.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 48. Kimbra - Primal Heart

48. Kimbra - Primal Heart

Electro Art Synthpop
April 20
Spotify


Despite the glaring commercial potential of Kimbra’s sound and her bankable name as someone you used to know, Primal Heart is a pop pearl so overlooked that everyone should be ashamed of themselves. This record's own particular brand of glint comes primarily from Kimbra’s knack for doing her own thing without daring to venture too far out of the profit margins, playing by all the radio rules as she swims the complete circumference of the mainstream, then ultimately crossing the finish line with a résumé which boasts a full suite of the requested criteria. Her formulaic hooks are simplistic enough to become instant sing-a-longs, the crisp production is on the forefront of modern sharpness (whilst still harking back to yesteryear’s spirit), and her driven vocals explore an extended area of stylistic ground, intriguing you with a brand new flavour and arousing a different area of your tongue per each song, per each listen. Admittedly, I could never call this the most consistent LP of the year, but within its genre weight group, Primal Heart is as satisfying as they come. Represent!


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 47. Lupe Fiasco - Drogas Wave

47. Lupe Fiasco - Drogas Wave

Conscious Hip Hop
September 21
Spotify


Bless Lupe and his unstable catalogue which bounces up and down like a rollercoaster, soaring into the clouds then nose-diving towards the ground repeatedly, yet somehow never permanently slipping off of the rails. And here we go again, yet another grand upsurge with Drogas Wave, where his polished production plays within latin grooves and poppy charms to deliver a loose concept about a slavery ship which sinks, forcing the slaves to adapt to life underwater. Different! Sadly, any chance of a hip hop classic is ruined due to its 1h38m runtime, slowly swelling from its own clogged up ego until the (surprisingly!) consistent quality isn’t even enough to keep our heads above water. But what it lacks in self-control, it excels through Lupe’s own mouth, further proof that Fiasco is still a literary craftsman from the tallest of divisions, all too often overlooked as one of the most gifted MCs in the game. He flows fast and he rhymes his extensive vocabulary in inventive ways, but he never neglects a coherent message in favour of some flexfest, and he never follows the oft-embarrassing trends of today’s more popular rap scenes. I think he’s so great, anyway. And this is one of his best. Everyone says so.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 46. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - Dirt

46. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - Dirt

Progressive Rock
March 23
Spotify


The origins story behind Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s third album Dirt is a tale dotted with interpersonal strife and broken promises. Primarily conceived as a “soundtrack for an unreleased Haudenosaunee and Buddhist-themed anime,” the cancelled visual aspect means a support beam was kicked out from beneath the full picture, never to be experienced as the complete art piece it was intended to be. Perhaps due to this (or perhaps not), founding member/lead vocalist, Ruby Kato Attwood quit the band, swiftly replaced by Joanna Delos Reyes, while another guitarist was swapped out and a new bassist was introduced too. This would surely erode at any secure rapport they may have once had, meaning an undeveloped chemistry rushed to harmonise before Dirt was kicked out of the building. Somewhere along this precarious storyline, many fans turned their backs, some dismissing the album as a missed opportunity while other typing fingers weren’t quite as polite. But for me, this overlooked record speaks on a proficiently versatile level, somehow constructing a densely epic tower using soft textures, then standing at the top of a hybrid piece of musical architecture, head in clouds, dreaming of a J-poppier day. Basically, it’s like ABBA made a progressive rock record, and that’s something I can get behind.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 45. Ought - Room Inside the World

45. Ought - Room Inside the World

Post-Punk
February 16
Spotify


Ought released a new album and fans were not happy. People called it harmlessly boring as they rightfully pointed out a distinct lack of the primary draws the band once had. Where’s the aggression? The quirk? The surprise hooks? The fun? It had all been sucked right out, leaving behind nothing but the bones of a standard post-punk outfit, aloof and hollowed into an unrecognisable statue of their former selves. And, hey, I get it. I miss those factors too. But once I knew what to expect, it was much easier to settle into what they have done. And what they have done, is replace the anxious neurosis of past songs with a much deeper depression here. Life became serious, the emotional turmoil grew up into something real, and these glooms simply took less of an effort to compartmentalise, neatly brushed into this uncomplicated package. Looking at it from this perspective, the directional shift away from trademarks and towards more sophisticated songwriting was just about the most daring move Ought could have ever made, and in a weird counterintuitive way, an argument could be proposed for this as their most exciting album yet. Because Room Inside the World is the first genuine indication that they’re not a band satisfied to stand still anymore. Perhaps they never were.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 44. Ariana Grande - Sweetener

44. Ariana Grande - Sweetener

Contemporary R&B Electropop
August 17
Spotify


In a year where pop music has appeared to find some extra leverage, Sweetener stands up particularly straight like the queen chess piece, riding the wave up towards the top centre. How Ariana provides such a glorious cherry is via her insistence of slightly altering her sound per each release, following her own vision which is forever glancing a few degrees off to the side. And by utilising this continuously evolving approach, she holds her step right up next to the popular kids—at times, even to her own detriment. Make no mistake, the formula is still very much obeyed, bouncing between light party dance routines and sleepy ballads, featuring a guestlist which could not be any more obvious if it tried (Pharrell Williams’ tight production tricks abundantly included). And yet, the end result doesn’t fall off the conveyor belt as your average easy-to-swallow candy album, thanks to Ariana’s fresh flair which naturally flows through each song, emphasised by her clean untouched vocals, layered upon itself in excess until the adorably imaginative hooks rightfully become enchanting hit songs for miles and miles. If you want a decent soul fluffing session, then Grande is your girl, bearing one of the greatest commercial pop records of the decade, for the second time in a row.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 43. Conjurer - Mire

43. Conjurer - Mire

Sludge Metal
March 9
Spotify


When I think of the name "Conjurer", I get visions of a cloaked force "conjuring" up a nice hot batch of stew for all of us to sit down and enjoy together as a family. Said stew is made out of sludge, obviously. It’s definitely not straying too far from the sludge recipe book either. Take a look, everything is in there. The guitar fingers are flashing their proficiency beneath the displeased growls of upset, then the mix is beaten to shit by full-force drum patterns until everything is nice and thick and black. Slosh in a few brief melodic splatters, a pinch (or two) of post-hardcore influences and then serve steaming with so many chunky pieces of meat thrown in there that the other ingredients can be difficult to locate at the best times. Nice, right? That is until someone smashes their portion into your face and it scorches your skin and you are squirming in agony but it still tastes amazing so you just sit there and take it like the little bitch you are. Anyways, that’s Mire for you. It's Conjurer’s debut record too. An album worth remembering from a band worth keeping an eye on for sure.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 42. Amnesia Scanner - Another Life

42. Amnesia Scanner - Another Life

Electro-Industrial Deconstructed Club
September 7
Spotify


When Arca laid his Xen egg in 2014, I (like many) viewed it as a potential new branch in the experimental electronic scene, eager to see which way this sound would unfold. Unfortunately for me, the man’s career went in a slightly different direction than anticipated, and I (unlike many) was severely disappointed by his subsequent endeavours. Thankfully, I need not be disappointed no more, for Amnesia Scanner have arrived, nurturing that very same Xen egg, except marching it towards the more grating dance music that I had been salivating for all this time. And while their characteristics may have been shamelessly inherited from other artistic minds, these hands certainly possess the adequate amount of skill required to grab you by the scruff of the neck and then run with you through walls, overburdening your senses with a clusterfuckery of digital mess, inhospitable enough to aggravate some personal concern, yet so much fun that you would hate to leave the party before it's done. What's more, this isn’t some technological spazz out just for the sake of it either, as Amnesia Scanner prove their weight with some legitimately impressive mechanical sound design, carving out their own slot on the motherboard then shoving themselves face-first into it, determined to short-circuit themselves out with the best of them. It’s also funny how they’ve initial-tagged each of their songs, lol.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 41. Lily Allen - No Shame

41. Lily Allen - No Shame

Contemporary R&B Electropop
June 8
Spotify


Lily’s previous record (2014’s Sheezus) was, by all accounts, not great. Perhaps it wasn’t the disastrous train-wreck that so many have christened it, but a misguided stumble all the same, which plenty of fans took to mark the beginning of the end. What a genuine thrill is it, then, to listen to the inspirational sound of someone finding their artistic self again, as Allen quickly steals the spiciest of flavours from the electropop and dancehall worlds, then relaxes them until her clever vocal melodies are comfortable enough to speak their autobiographical tales void of apology or embarrassment. And No Shame respects its title claim completely. It openly deals with the burden of fame, the onslaught of negative press, her broken home, her well-publicised drug romance, and her general struggle to simply be a better person, then blending these personal pains into a danceable yet cheerless art which makes me smile (while I do hope she is doing ok). Is it uncool to praise Lily Allen these days? I don’t care. Because when each and every song hooks their target like a unified collection of determined reawakenings, then I must do my part to celebrate an achievement which easily rivals her best work.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 40. The Caretaker - Everywhere at the End of Time - Stage 4

40. The Caretaker - Everywhere at the End of Time - Stage 4

Dark Ambient Sound Collage Turntable Noise
April 5
Youtube


In 2016, James Leyland Kirby embarked on his most ambitious project yet: a six-part audio series attempting to portray the progressive deterioration of a dementia patient's mind. Known as Everywhere at the End of Time, the journey started out safe enough, with Kirby’s signature dusty 1930s ballroom sound, more haunted than anything senile. But per each release, the harmony crumbled and lost its form while samples from previous records were revisited, except this round, they were more warped and confused, emphasising the heartbreaking fading of familiarity experienced by those plagued by this devastating memory disorder. And now, as we pass the halfway point with this album, the surreal atmospheres have truly suffocated the dance into the distance as nostalgic melodies only faintly scratch at the door, leaving nothing but a disorientating mess of unsettling sadness behind. Considering this album is almost 90 minutes of very little, it can become a struggle to endure where perhaps the concept itself outweighs the execution. However, as part of the series, it is arguably the most interesting (and disturbing!) offering yet, especially when Stage 5 came out a few months later with nothing left to hold on to whatsoever except for an incomprehensible fuzzy blur. Guessing Stage 6 will be a record of an impenetrable hiss, then?


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 39. Mitski - Be the Cowboy

39. Mitski - Be the Cowboy

Indie Art Rock Pop
August 17
Spotify


Mitski is playing a dangerous game here. Sure, she’s unique, but it’s a formulated uniqueness where her chamber sound is intentionally herded between lo-fi fences (despite a blatantly larger production budget) and her remarkably short songs try their best to break hearts in the fastest timeframe possible. The lady is still bleak and she wants you to know. Her thoughts are still complicated. Her refined maturity is still not enough to rationalise this dull longing which exhausts her mood. And it’s within these familiar subtleties that Be the Cowboy is just a little bit difficult, only slightly strange, and utterly impossible to read. Yeah, the tracks may be short, but they are also so densely packed with delicious details that they achieve more than most songs double their length manage to do, perfect for today’s attention-deficient consumerism world. Yeah, she offers her downcast contemplations too readily, but there is some snide humour beneath her words, albeit so deadpan that it’s not easy to detect at first. And how her vocal melodies move so independently of the music? The best of 2018 (see Old Friend specifically, Christ, I'm in love). Personally, I find her somewhat overrated in her brilliance, but she is brilliant, her accolades are not just luck, and Pitchfork have already stamped this as the Album of the Year, so...


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 38. Marie Davidson - Working Class Woman

38. Marie Davidson - Working Class Woman

Minimal Synth Tech House
October 5
Spotify


The greatest trick Marie Davidson ever pulled was perfecting the sneaky art of luring a listener’s concentration straight into the palm of her hand. The stereotypical repetition technique of her chosen field is still a fundamental ingredient, but it’s the perpetual drip-feeding of smaller obscure details which is her true trap, each moment building upon the last, ultimately rolling a bigger and bigger entity as it goes along. A praiseworthy portion of this procedure comes from the computerised uneasiness which she has programmed into our speakers, but her scary instrumentals would not be enough to find themselves on this list alone. Rather, it’s her impassive spoken word vocals which bluntly taunt and motivate Working Class Woman into the mischievously fascinating project that it has turned out to be. Her unique accent (I mean, nobody talks like that), her strong pronunciation, and her cynical humour all conspire to arrogantly stamp her own brand of personality throughout the product until it would be impossible to be duplicated by anyone because it’s so uniquely... Marie. It's not a perfect album due to reasons of front-loading, but then again, I’ve read reviews which state the exact opposite, so what is life anyway?


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 37. Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E.

37. Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E.

Contemporary R&B Neo-Soul
June 23
Spotify


To be a member of Kanye’s 2018 Wyoming Sessions (five albums released in five weeks) was, evidently, a blessing and a curse. Teyana’s name was undeniably the least notable on the invitation list and she was lucky to be included on the promo train, especially because Kanye’s trademark soul-heavy sampling proved to be the perfect urban complement to her sensual vocal lines, arriving as the most frustratingly underrated piece of the puzzle. The true curse, however, came with West’s ambitious schedule. The producer spread himself too thin over the course of these projects, and while each offering is impressively different, all of their playtimes were simply too short. In certain cases, this approach worked wonders for a filler-less product, but K.T.S.E.’s 22 minutes of glory feels like a tragically unrealised masterstroke, merely a taster, withdrawing before our hungry beaks got their satisfactory fix. Reportedly, there were sample clearance issues which prevented some additional songs from being included, which makes one question what could have been? Still, she achieved what no one else in the Wyoming crew managed to do. She beat Kanye. Case studies: Mr West easily defeated Nas on Nas’ own album, while Pusha and Yeezy were evenly matched on Daytona. But here, Teyana was the star of the show, pushing Kanye back to where he belongs: behind her voice, behind the desk, anywhere but making a solo album. He didn't do that so well this year.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 36. Tribulation - Down Below

36. Tribulation - Down Below

Gothic Heavy Metal
January 26
Spotify


While the black growls guide our quest with a primal determination and the adequate drumming keeps everyone afloat, the true focal point of Tribulation’s leadership comes from their carefully crafted guitar offerings. Their riffs stand tall, not for reasons of disproportionate volumes or pretentious solo doodlings, but by contrarily withdrawing into the darkness, diligently using their style as a contribution, never calling attention to themselves while dabbling in the murkiest of melodics far from any of the soft safety nets below. And it’s this observant discipline that provides Tribulation with the ever-elusive gift of insight, working together as a self-aware unit to compose morbidly catchy songs—some of which may not be the most instantaneously memorable pieces in the land, granted, but certainly a solid collection which are best enjoyed in this very moment right now. And, really, what other moments are there? Armed with this intense calibre of work ethic, there’s no reason as to why Tribulation shouldn’t become a very high reaching metal outfit at their eventual apex, with Down Below merely remembered as yet another one of their steps upward. DON'T WANNA JINX IT THOUGH.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 35. MGMT - Little Dark Age

35. MGMT - Little Dark Age

Neo-Psychedelia Synthpop
February 9
Spotify


Only now, four albums later, can we finally analyse MGMT’s full catalogue as a unit where each cog works to build a strong case for their creators’ true set of musical skills. The excessively syrupy MGMT origins threw a very dangerous first dart, one which stuck dead-centre in the commercial world, propelling their stardom to such dizzying heights that their very core integrity was under threat. This forced MGMT’s hand into deeper realms of progressive psychedelia, which surprisingly, completely worked too! Radio was shunned! They became an artistic conversation! The quirky duo were finally earning the scholar respect they deserved! And then... it all went wrong. Their third record fell face-first into the strange mud, and I wondered: was this a warning sign? Had the band lost their pulse? Perhaps their previous accomplishments were merely good fortune and they actually suck? Evidently, not true! Rather, the band were determined to push themselves, and without that one small misjudged experiment, MGMT may have never arrived where they are right here on Little Dark Age, back in a more natural habitat, where the twisted peculiarities enhance rather than dominate the lighthearted retro poppiness, sounding as good as (or even better than) ever before. If MGMT keeps this up, then they could actually be cemented as members of the big league. And I mean the big league. I legitimately believe that they have higher odds than anyone else at the moment.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 34. Machine Girl - The Ugly Art

34. Machine Girl - The Ugly Art

Digital Hardcore
October 12
Spotify


The Ugly Art is so far in your face that it has become your face. It crams you into a little claustrophobic box and forces the lid closed on top, void of any breathing holes. Then it shakes you at high speeds beneath a strobe light, shouting stressful commands at you, demanding that you dance because it’s fucking party time now. Make no mistake, such an excessively irresponsible assault of anarchic stimulation will not be for everyone, and in fact, I’d even advise against in certain cases (for example, those of you who are pregnant or have pre-existing heart conditions). However, if you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast and slept well the night before, then you may really appreciate how this album maintains such an intense velocity without running out of steam, frequently leaping into the air with spikes of delight, perpetually racing forwards, then eventually coming to an end where the silence following is as overwhelming as the album itself. Whatever you may think about the amateur production value, you’ll forget it soon enough as this album frizzles your brain with an overload of colourful ideas until you find yourself nodding in agreement that the new punk is made on a computer.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 33. Imperial Triumphant - Vile Luxury

33. Imperial Triumphant - Vile Luxury

Avant-Garde Black Metal
July 13
Spotify


Vile Luxury is the sound of qualified muso students going out of their way to compose a 56-minute mess of relentless metal which is as jarringly heavy as it is unpredictably unstable. The disorienting time signatures and curious addition of blaring trumpets weave a certain freeform jazz element through the map, which is then brutally raped by guitars so weighty and drumming so irrationally outstanding that the savagery of the vocals are beaten down, buried beneath turbulence as an inferior priority. The giant scary monster may very well be demolishing the world in its path with eyes fixated to its target, but it is too falling to pieces, plummeting into the murky mess of low-end production far below the swamps of itself. Such a description alone may depict an unlistenable wankery which would surely asphyxiate most listeners to death, and this is true. However, where Imperial Triumphant lack any digestible appeal, they succeed in creating a distinct benchmark which we can now use to differentiate between genuine avant-garde metal and those other generic “experimental metal” bands who are merely genre-splicing. If you like your brainfuckary to be exhaustingly complicated, then take one of these and call me when you’re mourning.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 32. Princess Chelsea - The Loneliest Girl

32. Princess Chelsea - The Loneliest Girl

Chamber Pop
September 7
Spotify


They say “don’t judge an album by its cover,” and yet here we are. Strange but true, the very reason as to why you have (probably) never heard or even heard of this album is because my introduction was by complete chance (or “fate”, some may say). There I was, scrolling through a list of latest releases when this image quietly lept out and made direct contact with me. It told me to listen and so what else could I do? I listened. And, thankfully, what I found was everything the artwork has promised me: cutesie vocals swaying within a slow romantic flavour of classic old-school vibes, something like Lana Del Rey except with less dramatic showmanship and more synthetic nursery rhyme qualities served with a dribble of obligatory sadness on the side. But beneath all of this harmless prettiness, there was an even larger dose of depression to the spiritless dissociation of her delivery, and beneath even that, a dark trouble which was pushed down down down like a forced smile on a photograph. Hey, why are your eyes like that? Either way, I became convinced she wrote this record exclusively for me and I feel an excessively time-consuming obsession coming on.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 31. Black Dresses - WASTEISOLATION

31. Black Dresses - WASTEISOLATION

Post-Industrial Noise Pop
April 13
Spotify


A quick clicky-click around the internets and it’s fascinating to read how WASTEISOLATION has polarised the very few critics who have heard it so dramatically. Why is that, exactly? Is it because you guys feel uncomfortable or something? But what’s so uncomfortable about a pair of trans women dealing with their existential problems? Hiding behind a tormented sense of humour? In pain but smiling? Having fun within their fears? Whimpering and screeching over grinding industrial drum patterns which clip to such distorted levels that everything else gets obliterated to the back of the mix? An amateur bedroom recording trapped in the corner? A sexy type of agony? A dangerous sort of pop? A timid gender identity crisis turned into a noisy murder? Wait, now that I’ve written all of this down, it does actually sound a bit scary. I guess it makes some sense as to why certain people are struggling to get through this. Which is great news! Because it means more Black Dresses for me. I was never one for comfort anyway. It makes you lazy.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: **. Denzel Curry - Ta13oo

30. Denzel Curry - Ta13oo

Southern Trap Rap Hip Hop
July 27
Spotify


As someone who’s been following Denzel’s career since the artist was 18 (which was only five years ago, btw), I think I may have noticed something that others are overlooking. It’s that Denzel had a plan all along. Starting out as a Soundcloud emcee, Curry was quick to earn his reputation as a talented southern urban player with a knack for aggressive shouty assaults and a quirky experimental whackness, all of which lifted him above the norm, because he was anything but normal. But as each step provided new ears to climb into, Denzel’s direction intentionally transitioned, so cautiously that many didn’t even catch the gradual incorporation of shameless commercialism until trap and pop reached the forefront of his work. If he had started his catalogue with Ta13oo (a 43-minute triple album, by the way), would it have succeeded? Who’s to say? However, once he’d acquired enough clout behind his name for it to become its own currency, his skill transferred smoothly into this realm of higher profit, and it worked perfectly. More and more people are starting to take notice, and considering the fast pacing of his uprising, it’s only a matter of moments before Curry’s underground bubblings froth over into the mainstream league. And, you know what? He totally deserves it. He produces better quality trap rap than anyone in the world. Anyone.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 29. møl - Jord

29. møl - Jord

Blackgaze
April 13
Spotify


You’ve got to feel sorry for blackgaze. Not only does it wear one of the most misfortunate genre names on the whole musical spectrum, but it also finds itself in a difficult spot, one where metalheads have recoiled from the style for reason of “impurity” while critics yawn at the saturated market which drowns within its own regurgitations. What’s more, Deafheaven have already cast an ungodly shadow across the land, sucking the plasma from any group who even attempts to step out into the light, these inescapable comparisons sticking to our current topic anywhere you look. Well, allow me to reinforce that bubble and inform you that, no, møl are not the new saviours. The criteria has been etched into these guys and they hold firmly to the stone, meaning: if you're an enemy of blackgaze, then Jord won’t change your mind. However... I love blackgaze. Its very existence is a contradiction which møl have honoured perfectly; the light, the dark, the delicate ghostliness, the belligerent attack, the sharp agility, the tamed ferocity, and the optimistic spiritualism which has been hand-delivered by the devil himself. And why do we keep trying to reinvent the flame anyway? Such actions can be so exhausting and often without fruit. Rather, after a long day, familiarity is what we call home.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 28. serpentwithfeet - soil

28. serpentwithfeet - soil

Alternative R&B Art Pop
June 8
Spotify


Soil is the audio equivalent of an LGBT man seeking his true self in terms of romantics, sexuality, and spirituality, casually taking steps deeper into his core to collect new evidence, then presenting it to whoever will listen. His overall adventure is a gentle sway within the confines of the R&B spectrum, yet still lightly brushing some unique corners: one equal part catchy and one equal part creative (art pop, duh) trapped within the dark chambers of his gospel soul. I have read several critical assessments which whine about some lack of variation, but as I sit in the middle of this expansive production, listening to vocal harmonies which join hands and circle around me, I cannot locate these places where such complaints can grow. In fact, I often wait patiently, eager to point my fingers towards the exact moment where this album takes a misstep and disrupts my whole experience, but it never comes. Instead, here is a 39-minute debut which slides down the centrefold of my brain and sticks as a reminder which reads "keep a fixed eye on this artist". Because, as engaging as Soil may be, it still feels like serpentwithfeet is not done cooking. Perhaps he hasn’t even started.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 27. Pusha T - Daytona

27. Pusha T - Daytona

Hardcore Southern Hip Hop
May 25
Spotify


Daytona is the same old Pusha, which is fucking rad. Because while the rapper remains stuck in his boastful flows and somewhat standard vocal tones, he makes up for it with a disinterested attitude of level-headed lyrical attacks, teaching all of us how to flaunt a full row of sharp teeth without feeling the need to bark. But to truly appreciate Daytona as the 2018 hip hop treasure that it is, one needs to focus on Kanye West himself for a little bit. Yeezy produced five albums in quick succession this year (May - June, the Wyoming Sessions), and this record was not only the first but also his most impressive. The beats are covered with dirt but are never muffled, punctuated only by the bare essentials and then dominated with hard samples which never crack a smile or even close their eyes. And it is here that two games touch at their peak forte, wrapped in an $85,000 licensed image of Whitney Houston's crack bathroom, sold as a 21-minute product which abandons you far too soon, beaten and begging for more. Hell, this record even went on to provoke this year’s biggest rap beef story, namely Pusha T vs. Drake, of which King Push effortlessly won too.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 26. Dotstokyo ・・・・・・・・・ - 「 」

26. ・・・・・・・・・ - 「 」

J-Pop, Shoegaze
January 12
Youtube


Talk about stumbling at the first hurdle, all of the names and titles associated with this project have already made our lives impossible. Their moniker is unpronounceable (although I hear people referring to them as “Dotstokyo”, whether that's official or not) while the album itself isn’t actually called anything whatsoever, the 「 」 working as a mere placeholder because nobody had any idea what else to do. These contrived stunts are the outfit’s biggest downfall, disguising them deep beneath any reasonable searchable Google terms and rendering them almost invisible as if some self-sabotaging display of artistic taunting. It’s such a shame really, because this debut is an exciting snack which so many people would enjoy if they could only read the menu. The theory that shoegaze goes with anything is tested here by layering on that dreamy peanut butter thick, then creating a gloopy paste by adding the cutesy high-pitched catchiness of J-Pop jam, spilling over the crust and causing a mess everywhere, provoking your glucose glands to shoot through the ceiling until you feel woozy. For many, it’s this clotted genre amalgamation coupled with the aforementioned naming nonsense which makes for an easy wet gimmick to renounce, but personally, this is my kinda silly sandwich!


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 25. Camila Cabello - Camila

25. Camila Cabello - Camila

Contemporary R&B Pop
January 12
Spotify


As a key member of the famed X Factor group Fifth Harmony, Camila Cabello received all of the industry training she needed before making an educated and important decision for the future of her professional career. She had learned the finer arts of the craft and then slowly built enough confidence to slash those binds and take flight, all grown up and exploring the world on her own terms. And what she ultimately found, was a tropical party, buzzing from midtempo Latin dance flavours and computed movements which resided in the hips and the brain in comparable measurements. It is an exercise dedicated to the pop formula, hitting the hooky centre so directly that many idiotic critics struggled to appreciate it within the surrounding commercial world and they foolishly dismissed it as yet another easy-stick spoon feeding. But what those misfortunate individuals failed to appreciate was a specific confessional glow, a vulnerable voice driven by a vision so headstrong that Camila reportedly rejected tracks from Charli XCX, Ed Sheeran, and Sia for this record—a ballsy move for a first album, by anyone’s standards. It’s no wonder, then, that people have dropped terms like “NSYNC” and “Destiny’s Child” when discussing Camila in context of solo careers which escaped their group cocoons, because I doubt she'll ever be looking back after this.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 24. Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs

24. Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs

Experimental Abstract Hip Hop
November 30
Spotify


Without listening to the music, Some Rap Songs seems like some thrown together project consisting of nothing but a series of afterthoughts. That lazy title? The blurry artwork? The 15-song 24-minute runtime? Surely nothing good can come of this. But after just one listen, all of this apprehension suddenly evaporates and these factors make complete sense. This is not a lazy album, per se. Rather, it is a drained look into Earl’s thoughts, sinking deep into his brain both lyrically and musically, and believe me, it’s confusing in there! His mostly self-produced beats are like snippets of glitchy dreams, corrupted and jumbled and disorientating, which provide the bafflingly dark base required for Earl to continue his album-by-album mission of trawling further into more avant-garde forms of the genre. As always, his rhyming flow is flawless, unafraid to point out his problems but done in such a sleepy manner that it’s his emotional detachment which ultimately becomes the most upsetting component of his work. Simply put, enjoyment isn’t what this album is made for and you will never fully understand it on the first spin. You have to want to love this record and dedicate the necessary time in order to do so. But if you're willing, then you may find yourself rewarded with the most interesting hip hop record of 2018, as well as Earl’s most impressive offering yet. Odd Future who?


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 23. Zeal and Ardor - Stranger Fruit

23. Zeal and Ardor - Stranger Fruit

Spiritual Avant-Garde Black 'n' Roll Metal
June 8
Spotify


Stranger Fruit is an occultish ceremony which doesn’t just summon the spirits, it fiercely demands their participation by applying the blackest of blues to the most blasphemous of gospels, forced upwards from the crevices of a soul possessed by enough heaviness to reach the very bottom. And it is down here that Zeal and Ardor have somehow unlocked a powerful hybrid of metal that cannot be compared to anything in history, somehow discovering a brand new magic in our tired age without leaning on experiments just for experimental sake. Instead, they have bound familiar genres together which surprisingly blend without any resistance, spawning a sound with a recognisable face even though you know that you have never ever been here before. It would almost be safer to ignore this effort under some “gimmick” umbrella, perhaps just another amalgamated mixup attempting to invoke Satan (which some have said). But you cannot truly do so, for their undeniable freshness is still not prioritised over the pure strength of their songwriting abilities, a deal which is as catchy as it is eerily haunting, unafraid to try anything and very difficult to fault. What’s more, I think they’re still growing. Whatever, this is my kinda church, sign me up.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 22. Jorja Smith - Lost & Found

22. Jorja Smith - Lost & Found

Contemporary Neo-Soul R&B
June 8
Spotify


As contemporary R&B continuous its march forward as the decade’s most consistently compelling genre, it’s worth asking: is Jorja Smith the flag bearer for the style in 2018? And the answer is, yes. She is. Having rapidly built a name for herself over the last two years (working with Drake and Stormzy, for example) her first album comes out with such a self-assured strength that the debut factor is difficult to comprehend. She is in no desperate rush to convince you of anything, as she prefers to spend her stage time in a relaxed state of contemplation, a trip-hoppy version of a poppy-soul, sedated somewhere between where Winehouse left off and where Sia still might be on a good day. And that’s a sound for everyone. Some critics have denounced the downtempo production and safe deliveries as an eventual drag, but this conclusion indicates nothing more than a lack of insight to me. The leisurely pace was a calculated move! It’s designed to give the deserved space to a primarily vocal record, one where Jorja can flaunt her irresistible voice without any obstacles, weaving it whichever way she wants and dripping a trail of hook temptations until you fall into the honey pot. Ah yes, this one’s just right.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 21. Jon Hopkins - Singularity

21. Jon Hopkins - Singularity

Micro Tech House
May 4
Spotify


Singularity has only one downfall. It’s a typical Hopkins record. Which makes me wonder: is this the sound of an artist who has discovered his craft, now simply honing it into perfection? Or is this the understandable case of someone feeling the immense pressure of following up an instant classic? I mean, five years have passed since the flawless Immunity came out. That doesn’t look good for such a lack of progression, right? And yet... this is still the exact electronic record the world needs right now. That precise digital sharpness which spikes through the spellbinding plains of lush spaciousness in order to capture that exact pre-excitement emotion you feel just before you’re about to explode, without ever quite getting there. And that’s where Hopkins’ genius lies. He knows how to feed you without ever filling you up, while slowly retracting himself into himself, knowing full well that you will follow. Typical or not, there’s no record like a Hopkins record. No one does it quite like he does it. And we don’t deserve him. Perhaps I wanted something more here, and I stand by my lack of enthusiasm, but you’d have to be an ungrateful snob to call this a disappointment. It’s still pretty much a perfect electronic record, once again.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 20. Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace

20. Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace

Art Punk Blues Noise Rock
May 4
Spotify


I only have one question: why, oh why, was this not released under The Drones band moniker??? It’s a fair query, due to 50% of Tropical Fuck Storm (Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin) standing as the same core members of the aforementioned Aussie soldiers, while the album itself is not some stylistic reinvention for either of them. In fact, A Laughing Death in Meatspace kind of sounds like the best parts of The Drones, extracted and exaggerated, perhaps less dramatic but with more gravel, nightmarishly scary in a very very real way, and about as humorous as a nervous laugh could possibly be. I guess that’s what makes both of these bands so similarly dangerous. They attack from a place of desperate panic, fiercely focused upon your throat with tears of suffering in their own eyes, hurting themselves far worse than they could ever hurt anyone else. And then as quick as they strike, they cower to the corner, blood on their hands, looking around in a neurotic confusion, completely unhinged and ugly. Certainly, it’s not an easy experience. Not a nice feeling at all. But what it is, is one of the best Drones records they’ve ever made. Except it’s not a Drones record. Which only upsets me more.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 19. Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

19. Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

Post-Metal Blackgaze
July 13
Spotify


Deafheaven are not playing it safe anymore. I mean, they never were, but this is surely the absolute limits of where uplifting sounds of joy can still claw onto the hands of darkness before completely straying from the devil’s light. They have snipped the tips off of their spikes and provided a much softer fall into a dreamier realm of heavenly euphoria, which could be misconstrued as some cowardice strategy to widen the accessibility gate. In truth, however, this is the bravest risk of their career thus far. For you see, Deafheaven are in a unique position. One where the “purists” are already committed to their scorn, leaving the band with very little to lose in the metal scene itself. And while the more insecure of artists may spend their entire careers attempting to earn a certain return, Deafheaven have intentionally pushed the abandonment even further away, by seeking a gentler essence to their signature sound and then delivering it with a power so unmistakably their own that nobody else could do it justice. Admittedly, this is not their crowning achievement, but it is their boldest, as well as yet another piece of a perfect discography from one of the greatest bands on the planet. What’s next, fellas?


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 18. Neko Case - Hell-On

18. Neko Case - Hell-On

Indie Alt-Country Pop
June 1
Spotify


Holy smokes! Geddit? The artwork! Ha! But I also exclaim that expression in its traditionally intended definition too, once again dazed by Neko Case and yet another album in her soaring discography fortress. Maybe you don’t know her, maybe you do (and if you do, you do!), but the fact remains that Neko is an underrated artist who delivers the goods time and time again, seemingly unfazed by the lack of public worship which she has rightfully earned by now. Hell-On is a prime example of criminal under-adoration, as per usual twisting her own brand of complex pop eeriness to achieve a deliciously ominous mood, one that so many artists attempt but simply aren’t talented enough to execute in any satisfactory manner. It’s rich yet digestible, sad yet witty, light yet not boring, detailed yet spacious, and so soft yet completely bulletproof. What’s more, the breathable production is an essential component which allows the restless arrangements to effortlessly turn toward any direction they wish to imagine, with Neko’s exceptional lyrical ability riding on top of the meandering currents wearing a half smile and holding a pen to cross off every single request along the way, check check check check check.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 17. A.A.L. (Against All Logic) - 2012 - 2017

17. A.A.L. (Against All Logic) - 2012 - 2017

Deep House
February 17
Spotify


Whether using his real name, this name, or as part of the Darkside duo, Nicolas Jaar has already carved himself deep into the legendary mountain of this decade’s strongest electronic scenery. In fact, each of his four associated full-lengths have hit my end of year top 50, with Against All Logic ranking as no exception, wearing its sexy nostalgic club trip proudly while dancing into my adoration with its eyes closed. Which is funny, because 2012 - 2017 reads like an atrocious idea on paper. A collection of unreleased material? Running for over an hour? Dropped without any announcement? Why? Don’t ask questions. Just listen. Because what we have here is a compatible assemblage of like-minded sounds, locking into that old school groove complete with all your basic housewarming needs, including central heating. Unfortunately, along with these sounds I also hear certain house music veterans using the word “generic” on their complaint cards, and maybe it is? But for us casual dabblers, this is just the type of funky repetition we require to set up a place to stay, with my only personal gripe being that Jaar didn’t use his real name on the project. He’s better than anyone, so why confuse the issue?


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 16. Funeral Mist - Hekatomb

16. Funeral Mist - Hekatomb

Black Metal
June 15
Spotify


Quick Funeral Mist history lesson: this Swedish black metal band formed in 1993 and quickly rose up the vine as the country’s most influential and important act that the underground has ever offered its disciples. Just kidding! In actual fact, it took this group 10 years before they even released their debut studio full-length, and in their 25 years of existence, they have only released three albums in total, Hekatomb being the third. However, that thing I said earlier on about their importance? That's not too far off, as each of these records have justified their waiting time due to the downpour of praise from fans who salivate over the pure blackness of what Funeral Mist know how to provide, featuring no decorative additions or style bending, rather a simple onslaught of blast beats, creatively speedy riffs, and demonic vocals which are surprisingly easy to comprehend. In a genre with very restrictive characteristics of violent tantrums and Satanic pleading, it’s unfathomably impressive how this band manages to tick all of the boxes until they tear through the paper, stepping sideways out of line to distinguish themselves from the herd without breaking any of the commandments. Hence why Hekatomb is probably the most exciting black metal album I’ve heard this decade. That's right, I said it.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 15. Marianne Faithfull - Negative Capability

15. Marianne Faithfull - Negative Capability

Chamber Folk Pop
November 1
Spotify


As Marianne has passed the 70-year milestone, it gives me immense pleasure to hold this record so high above my head, not only as a definitive masterpiece in her extensive catalogue, but also as a prime example of how to embrace your age respectfully. Do you know what I mean when I say it's difficult to feel too much compassion for a 20-year-old whining about the agonising depths of loneliness? There will always be a slight condescending smirk on my face, questioning their life experience to make such a dramatic claim. But when an exhausted senior citizen has been worn down by decades of sorrow and now spends her time staring down the loom of death as it gradually approaches... well, then you have to listen. Because they know. And that’s Negative Capability’s primary secret weapon. It’s that it aches in its own solitary, that timeless torture of yearning for companionship, crying from a tired heart which has nothing left to give. And that is fucking devastating. How can I help, Marianne? Negative Capability’s secondary secret weapon was the drafting of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis to help out, and their influence is so strong all over this album that it strangely feels like a long-lost Bad Seeds record itself, which is fucking awesome. Colour me inspired, in ways which extend far beyond the music.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 14. Robyn - Honey

14. Robyn - Honey

Electro Dance-Pop
October 26
Spotify


Eight years is a long time to wait for an album, but if this is what comes out the other side, then so be it! Robyn has deservedly acquired the reputation as a popstar who dares to evolve further than her rivals, but with Honey, the mid-tempo housey club vibe admittedly took a few spins for me to find my space within. However, once I shook hands with the relaxed grooves and engrossingly luscious production, I came to understand that Robyn has created a very personal heartbreak record here without disrupting that delicious centre of optimistic euphoria. She’s adopted a vibrant nostalgic trip then made it wholly her own by futurising the retro, utilising a synthy sound by name but far from anything synthetic via its emotional warmth. And not a moment of time is wasted, as each flawless song appears to improve on the last one until you reach the final three tracks, which are, in my opinion, the current apex of this artist’s entire career. The simple fact of the matter is that Robyn doesn’t make bad songs. She never has. And when the world ends, we may remember her as the true unsung queen of the contemporary electropop scene.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 13. SOPHIE - Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides

13. SOPHIE - Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides

Deconstructed Club Bubblegum Bass
June 15
Spotify


If Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides isn’t the music of the future, then it is, at very least, the music of this exact point in time right now. Meet transgender Scottish woman Sophie with her debut album, and much like the elegant androgynous creepy alienesque imagery on the cover, the sounds found within might be a little overwhelming for some of you, as they squash your brain between tender strokes of ambient love and dancey turbulence of industrial abrasions (none of which sounds remotely reminiscent of anything else ever, by the way). This is a different sort of pop music. Difficult pop, if you will. Extreme pop. Like pop died and Sophie was responsible for its death by pushing the poor genre too far forward and then sideways and then all over the place until it glitched and made a noise, a bit wonky but still somewhat functional, slap on some nail polish and plug it into the power supply, it’ll run. Truthfully, it’s records like this one which restores my faith in critical opinion, and in a world where LGBT art is gaining some serious momentum, Sophie is currently leading the race in my opinion.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 12. Félix Blume - Death in Haiti: Funeral Brass Bands & Sounds from Port au Prince

12. Félix Blume - Death in Haiti: Funeral Brass Bands & Sounds from Port au Prince

Jazz Brass Band Field Recordings
January 26
Spotify


In this late stage of our creative exploration, it’s forgivable to think that you’ve already located the boundaries which surround the extent your own personal disturbances. That is until something like Death in Haiti comes along and genuinely invigorates a trauma you weren't even aware existed. Field recordings are, by very genre definition, the practice of stealing an atmosphere’s sounds and then slapping your name upon them, but nothing is as dishonourable as what Félix Blume has done here. Reportedly with permission, he captured something I’d never really contemplated: the strange juxtaposition of funeral ceremonies (more specifically, those of a traditional Haiti nature), where the optimism of a happy brass band attempts to lift away the screams of pure grief, momentarily drowning out the pain of loss beneath a bouncy little melody, which doesn't feel like something we have the right to hear. It’s eavesdropping on a personal moment, shamelessly exploiting someone’s anguish, and for what? Entertainment? Art? It’s sick. But it’s also the realest, rawest, most intense album my ears have ever endured. Certainly, there’s a moral dilemma here, and the execution required no intellect nor talent on Félix Blume's part, but I cannot deny its place on this list as a powerful idea which couldn't possibly be more captivating or excruciatingly agonising to listen to. In case my words aren't clear, please allow me to state this one more time to ensure you fully comprehend what I'm saying here: under certain criteria, this is the greatest album I have ever heard in my life.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 11. Turnstile - Time & Space

11. Turnstile - Time & Space

New York Post-Hardcore
February 23
Spotify


When observing this final product in your hand, Turnstile’s sophomore album may seem shamelessly typical and about as conventionally hardcore as conventional hardcore gets, almost to the point of satire. The anthemic shouts are tireless, bulging out from an intrusive frenzy of chaotic clamour blowing your cheeks backwards as you find yourself calculating where to have your next fist fight. However, once you truly delve in and give this record a decent smack, it becomes obvious that any familiarity of New York hardcore generics have been cleverly decorated by the sneeriest of tricks, disguising the devil beneath the minute details once again. Primary props must be gifted to Turnstile’s fearless focus on catchy bounces and danceable pop attitudes throughout every single one of these humorous tributes, holding tight onto your attention with cheeky hand claps, brief piano bangs, and nostalgic surf harmonies until the 25 minutes have run dry, leaving a wet forehead behind. But while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the standard aggressions of hardcore philosophies are still very serious, never jeopardising their live realness until you can just about smell the fucking show. And it smells dangerous. Don’t even try to listen to this quietly, it won’t work that way.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 10. Nils Frahm - All Melody

10. Nils Frahm - All Melody

Post-Electronic Minimalism
January 26
Spotify


Nils Frahm’s busy fingers have long been celebrated as a unique asset to the modern classical/atmospheric electronic scene, with each release gently tapping a new collection of shoulders until the faces turn around and sit down, listening, increasing the numbers. But regardless of former acquaintances, All Melody is still a highly approved place to start. Its precise detailing is so cautiously delicate that you may get lost within a tender moment privately shared between just the two of you. The aura is slow to make its move but is forever adjusting, weaving technical textures around you, taking care of you, hiding you beneath the dark. And yet while these haunting ambiences threaten to sedate you into an early extinction, your heartbeat remains consistent, lovingly prodded by rhythmic pitter-patterns which nurture dependable repetitions to focus on and to follow, directing a challenging path away from genre trademarks without disrupting the listener's tranquillity. It's a long ride for sure (74 minutes) but it carries you all the way, never dropping you, never dipping in quality, and only occasionally leaning down towards you to stroke your face, as a reminder that this is all for you.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 09. Rosalía - El Mal Querer

09. Rosalía - El Mal Querer

Flamenco Nuevo Art Pop
November 2
Spotify


It takes roughly 12 seconds of playtime before my heart flutters open and invites this album right in, pricking at my immediate attention and earning my full dedication until the final track turns the lights off, no interruptions. According to all reports, there is some intricate concept stringing this delicious 30-minute adventure together, telling the story of a toxic relationship based on the classic authorless Occitan novel named Romance of Flamenca. Unfortunately, as I don’t speak Spanish, this assumedly important pull ingredient is tragically lost on me. But even in my absence of understanding, there is no factor strong enough to muffle Rosalía’s creative originality which radiates outward, presenting a celestial image of a truly exceptional modern artist, just as the artwork would suggest. She has presented a pop record bursting with curiosity, poking around at the arty surfaces of R&B whilst still soaking rich in its own traditional flavours (not to mention that it features some the best handclapping you’re likely to hear this decade). Embark on a few independent searches around the googles and you will find yourself overwhelmed by this album’s hype, to which I gleefully report that the hype is absolutely right. Get involved.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 08. Rolo Tomassi - Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It

08. Rolo Tomassi - Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It

Post-Mathcore
March 2
Spotify


I can’t explain the joy that this album brings me. It’s the sound of a band who have been missioning forward for so many years, but only now have finally reached the target that they were always trying to get to. It's the music they were destined to make. And it's the potential that I did not even know they had. Truthfully, Rolo were never a band that I associated with magnificence, rather a reliable friend who made enjoyable records which I didn’t think about all too often. But on Time Will Die, something else has happened. This is not them as you know them. It’s a deliberate move away from the motions without abandoning their signatures, everything so refined and expertly sequenced, never rushed, methodically paced, building and building and building and building until it's built and it's big. There’s a rare harmony living in these songs, a scarcely found place comfortably slipped between heavenly atmospherics and screamy post-rocks, chained to a core centre but wandering far out, daydreaming into space but ready to kick your nose in at a moment’s notice. It’s strange to say, but this album kinda puts their whole discography into a higher perspective. One where you realise that Rolo Tomassi have climbed an apex of what is otherwise still a relatively flawless career. And I couldn’t be prouder of them.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 07. Idles - Joy as an Act of Resistance.

07. Idles - Joy as an Act of Resistance.

Post-Punk Hardcore
August 31
Spotify


“This snowflake's an avalanche,” Talbot growls on the biting track called I’m Scum, and I couldn’t summarise Idles’ ideals any better than that. It’s a loud testament that vulnerability does not necessarily equate to a timorous demeanour. A sharp wit can still cut you and my leftie hand can still smash your teeth out. Unbelievable but true, it was only one year ago that this band’s debut charged through the barrier and they have been a snarky whirlwind of arty politics ever since, scooping up an army of angry followers behind them, all of us grateful for this singular voice which could articulate our foaming outrage without losing the necessary festive bounce. And it is here, on Joy, that Idles have cemented themselves as the most important punk band in the UK right now. They educate you on emotional terms. They inspire you to attack out of love, fighting the true enemy with tears in your eyes. The advice is clear and simple: stop giving a fuck about anything except the things that really matter. Like toxic masculinity. And immigration laws. And fucking Brexit. Who could ever guide us through this mess? Idles, obviously! And in that way, this band have achieved something so special and so specific that it could only exist today, right now. And they’re the only ones doing it too.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 06. Rival Consoles - Persona

06. Rival Consoles - Persona

IDM Microhouse
April 13
Spotify


By analysing the artwork and the title, it’s fair to assume that this record was inspired by the 1966 film of the same name, and that’s where the fun begins! Said cinematic classic deals with themes of duality and identity confusion, and when Rival Consoles’ throbbing rhythms and warped yet subdued ambiences curl around you, this connection makes a lot more sense, as you find yourself questioning where this music ends and where your mind begins. The detailed technos take control, swaying your body however they see fit while the ever-expansive atmospheres breathe around you, rewarding your dopamine sacks with deeper levels of liquid per every visit, assisting the familiarisation of being completely absorbed into an external entity, accepting yourself as part of something much greater. If we step back and observe this decade’s musical map together, it becomes impossible to ignore how the electronic vein has suddenly pulsated into a much louder life in later years, with these computerised emotions frequently sounding more genuine than any standard human equivalents, Persona spiking upwards as an absolute peak of this concept. I feel terrible to say this, but in 2018, Rival Consoles beat Jon Hopkins at the very game Jon invented.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 05. Low - Double Negative

05. Low - Double Negative

Ambient Glitch Noise Pop
September 12
Spotify


With a 25-year career to their name, Low have long since earned their slowcore royalty status, paving a lengthy 12-album path behind them with hardly a crack or imbalance in sight. Which is what makes Double Negative all the more special, leaping forward as their most exciting and daring venture yet. Interestingly enough, their signature drawn-out softness is as unhurried as ever, and your standard Low affair is most definitely all here, somewhere. It’s just, this time, it’s all been run through a defective machine, fiddled with by problematic textures of digital static until it stresses out and malfunctions, scrambling to decode its own message as the trademark Low beauty desperately struggles to shine through any distorted fracture it can find. And it’s within these disconcerting contrasts that the parallels between human emotions and computer glitches suddenly become very comparable, which makes me wonder... are they respectively the same thing? Many critics allude to this concept by mentioning Bon Iver's 2016 album 22, A Million in the same conversation, which is an obvious observation to me. Others prefer to reference Kid A which is one of the greatest badges of honour you could wish for. But what Low have done here is wholly their own, a feat of glitch-pop itself, which is as proficient at reprogramming your brain as it is slowly forcing sad tar throughout your pulmonary artery.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 04. Iceage - Beyondless

04. Iceage - Beyondless

Post-Art Punk
May 4
Spotify


Maybe Iceage knew what they were doing from the very beginning, but only with Beyondless, does it seem like they have been calculating each of their stages well in advance. This record (like each of their three previous records) is a determined step in a very noticeable direction. The lawless cowboy attitude is still here, but his bluesy drunkard strut has been underlined, more “punk” in spirit rather than "punk" in genre, preferring jangling guitars and jazzy mockery to clutter around the message this time around. Which does mean a certain trademark filth has been wiped clean, but make no mistake, it takes much bigger balls to produce an album so commercially viable in comparison to their harsher roots, and even more importantly... do you think Iceage actually care what anyone thinks? I fucking doubt it, as their dismissive despondence is at an all-time high, undoubtedly crafting several of their greatest songs ever written without even hinting any pride about it. And that’s what matters. It’s that they’ve been charging with easily one of the most thrilling discographies of the decade, knocking everything down without even noticing them, which gives me this anxious feeling that one day the history books will turn around and face this band as one of the greatest that we had. Because who is actually the competition here?


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 03. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour

03. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour

Country Pop
March 30
Spotify


I was looking over my radar results, and it would appear that Kacey Musgraves has been holding the flashlight for contemporary country since 2013’s Same Trailer Different Park, correct? And yet it is only now, in our Golden Hour, that we may very well be witnessing her crowning achievement. Recently married, this is Musgraves’ love record, casually inviting you into her dreamy world of genuine sweetness and fluffy optimism, floating on heart-shaped clouds while singing every song with a smile on her face. Such a heartfelt affection may lend itself closer to the pop fashion rather than any previous country grit but said progression expands her pallet so naturally that it feels like the most logical step forward for the artist, gently filling in the spaces using her lush greenery without uprooting all of her source soil just yet. And, thankfully, some things will never change, as Kacey’s primary strength still comes from her instinctive ability to nurture her songs, giving them the time they need to breathe and grow until each one is fully developed and standing up on their own two feet. It’s a gorgeous thing to witness. Personally, when I think of defining 2018 albums, this is often the first one that comes to mind. I think that’s the case for everyone.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 02. Kathryn Joseph - From When I Wake the Want Is

02. Kathryn Joseph - From When I Wake the Want Is

Progressive Folk Art Pop
August 10
Spotify


I’ve never made a musical comparison that I didn’t regret at a later date. However, the names which prick at my familiarity glands during this record’s runtime deserve to be made public, as they are of a quality most artists would only ever dream of a mention with. Praise be to the following spirits I envision... Kate Bush. Joanna Newsom. And a tiny slice of Regina Spektor. They provide the witchy quivers which twist between inventive peculiarities, then are wet heavy by the sparseness of Julien Baker’s melancholy coupled with the artiness of Radiohead’s more emotionally draining of offerings. And from there, I'm not really sure how to praise it any higher. I don't think ever complimented anything quite as shamelessly as that before either, so please forgive me. But it does feel like this record finally found the evasive location where just enough quirk can endlessly fascinate without jeopardizing any of the creepy bleakness, which to me is an amazing thought. What’s more, this album is a feat in sequencing perfection, cautiously taking a few songs to properly introduce itself, and then slowly flattening you out, persistently slaughtering you from the inside, until it reaches its conclusion as one of 2018’s only true masterpieces.


The Top 50 Albums of 2018: 01. Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want

01. Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want

Industrial Noise Rock
October 29
Spotify


I remember Daughters way back in 2003 when their signature move was spazzy vocals splattered all over intense one-minute mathy riffs, a style which was as invigorating as it was equally forgettable. Who would have thought that, 15 years later (eight after their previous record), I’d be analysing Daughters with my big boy critic voice? But, holy fucking shit, have you heard this album? It’s the ugliest of nightmares, agitated by such an apathetic hatred that I am legitimately terrified of the fucking thing. This is an emotional washing machine endlessly stuck on the threatening setting just before a panic attack, all the while something is watching you go, crouching with its humourless eyes, taunting your highest defences until you have whittled yourself down to a twig. You want to act your age without losing your bite? You want to push the boundaries of art without succumbing to gimmicks? Here you go, fucking Daughters just rewrote the manual. But... really? Album of the year? Oh fuck, yes! Unquestionably so. But... album of the decade? There is most definitely a conversation there. But... best album ever made? Don’t be ridiculous. However, when I listen to it, it does sound like it’s literally choking everything else to death with its own shit.


Conclusion

I'm so over writing conclusions for these annual offerings, especially because we're so close to the decade's closing statement. Why waste the good words before the big showdown?

What I will say, however, is that 2018 was the year that LGBT electro-industrial stuff really began to make some proper noise, which I guess is the reflection of our political times exactly. By admiring the likes of Black Dresses, Sophie, Lotic, Woman Inside, Eartheater etc, it's inspiring to hear a force exist which simply would not have had the platform 10 years ago. That said, the general dancey IDM-y scene of 2018 was so strong anyway, that perhaps this uprising has less to do with any sexual community and rather just people getting good at computers. Also, pop found a particularly interesting depth of maturity this year, but that's enough from me today. Chat soon!


Want 50 More?

Sure, I have that for you.


Hall of Fame (2010 - 2018)

Take any artist who has appeared on any of my nine lists more than once. Take their top two album's positions as a number. Add those numbers together. Divide that result by two. That is their Hall of Fame score. Obviously, the lower the number, the more impressive they have been. Using that formula, here are the top 20 artists of the decade, according to me:

01. Kendrick Lamar (2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city #01; 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly #01)
02. Frank Ocean (2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra #27 [not counted]; 2012’s Channel Orange #03; 2016’s Blonde #04)
03. Iceage (2014’s Plowing Into the Field of Love #04; 2018’s Beyondless #04)
04. James Blake (2011’s James Blake #01; 2013’s Overgrown #09; 2016’s The Colour in Anything #23 [not counted])
05. Kacey Musgraves (2013's Same Trailer Different Park #8; 2018's Golden Hour #3)
06. Sufjan Stevens (2010's The Age of Adz #07; 2015's Carrie & Lowell #05)
07. Benjamin Clementine (2015's At Least for Now #13; 2017's I Tell a Fly #02)
08. Grimes (2012's Visions #02; 2015's Art Angels #14)
09. Joanna Newsom (2010's Have One on Me #15; 2015's Divers #03)
10. The Caretaker (2011’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World #04; 2012’s Patience (after Sebald) #15; 2018's Everywhere at the End of Time - Stage 4 #40 [not counted])
11. Kanye West (2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy #25 [not counted]; 2011’s Watch The Throne (with Jay-Z) #19; 2013’s Yeezus #01)
12. Beyoncé (2013’s Beyoncé #01; 2016’s Lemonade #19)
13. Bon Iver (2011's Bon Iver, Bon Iver #7; 2016's 22, A Million #13)
14. Björk (2011's Biophilia #18; 2015's Vulnicura #2)
15. La Dispute (2011's Wildlife #09; 2014's Rooms of the House #12)
16. Nigel Cicierega (2016's Spirit Phone #15 [as Lemon Demon]; 2017's Mouth Moods #06)
17. Nick Cave (2010’s Grinderman 2 #22 [as part of Grinderman]; 2013’s Push the Sky Away #28 [not counted]; 2016’s Skeleton Tree #3)
18. Deafheaven (2015's New Bermuda #6; 2018's Ordinary Corrupt Human Love #19)
19. Deftones (2010’s Diamond Eyes #10; 2012’s Koi No Yokan #16; 2016’s Gore #22 [not counted])
20. Chelsea Wolfe (2011's Apokalypsis #32 [not counted]; 2015's Abyss #15; 2017's Hiss Spun #11)

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