An albums girl living in a playlist world, I listened to more records this year in comparison to the last few years. I also spent more time discussing music (with a bunch of like-minded reprobates over Whatsapp) than I’d ever done before. It was the year that classical crossover and millennial power pop stood out for me. If they keep making music this good I’ll gladly hand over the keys to our Young Overlords. Also, the mish-mashing of everything from genres to grammar just worked. Janelle Monáe combined Vaginas, Sci-Fi and Prince in a landmark R&B infused pop-operatic statement. Let’s Eat Grandma mashed up everything from the Oxford Comma to Pink Floyd-meets-the-Spice Girls. In terms of things being turned upside down, thank goodness for music, because the world is a mess.
There was so much of it this year that I’ve made a Top 20 list to avoid leaving out some of the incredible new releases. My yearly playlist is at 60 tracks vs the recommended 30 (my own rule, I get to break it), which makes just under four and a half hours of this year’s personal musical highlights available on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and other platforms:
And that brings me to the Top 20 Records of 2018 list:
1. Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m all Ears
I never thought my record of the year would be made by teenagers. Time and again I returned to this duo’s brave pop experimentation, which takes inspiration from the listener’s expectation of what two nineteen-year-old girls can do, and smashes it. The rapturous highs and lows of this album range from confrontational to vulnerable, all while defying genres. From start to finish it’s bold and adventurous. I’m all Ears is an extraordinary record that doesn’t sound like anything else out there.
2. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Dirty Computer is a spectacular, honest body of work that dares to occupy all positions – playful and provocative, pansexual, powerful, and iconic. In a time so clouded with double meanings, Monáe’s fearless conviction is a beacon. Nevermind smashing the patriarchy, this is a black woman calling bullshit and taking the power back while she’s dancing.
3. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
An unapologetically positive record, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is the antidote to Brexit and Baby Boomers. It flies high in the in the face of the depressing current political landscape, equipped with sparkling crisp lyrics and buzzing beats throughout. It’s got something for everyone and is an optimistic testament to new beginnings.
4. Niklas Paschburg – Oceanic
Paschburg’s debut is a gentle record that is as much of a slow burn as an ambient meditation. It occupies an interesting space in the growing classical crossover genre, with more pop influences in the instrumental song structures than his peers. It’s the most beautiful record I’ve heard all year.
5. Hookworms – Microshift
Microshift is a constantly moving, driving and pushing electro-psych masterpiece. The dynamic record captures an urgent tone while floating synths alongside unexpected time signatures, bursts of noise and declarative pop hooks. At times it feels like it could go anywhere, but with intense focus. A pinnacle of art-rock.
6. Anna Calvi – Hunter
On this gloriously badass record, Anna Calvi slams the notion that strength is masculine. It’s classy, fierce rock that is wildly ambitious and delivers with dreamy cinematic abandon. She sensualises and reframes predation in a manner that is liberating for women. A tour de force.
7. Boy Azooga – 1, 2, Kung Fu!
An explosive album that rolls in and chews on, serving a taste of inspiration from just about every genre. It’s a garage-rock disco slacker soul record that feels like an adventure, discovering new sounds and depths with childlike wonder in every listen.
8. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
Experimental indie at its core, this is a challenging and rewarding record. From speed-rapping to krautrock, the combination of alternative ideas with sharp and focused songwriting from the Edinburgh trio has an unsettling yet shimmering effect. Groundbreaking, dark hip-hop infused pop that speaks to the times.
9. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine
A collaboration between Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner sounds like a dream come true, and indeed this is an album to get lost into. Along with a host of guests, they create soundscapes that feel ethereal and warm while experimenting with odd time signatures, instrumental effects and choral melodies. It’s a minimalistic and introspective record that is experienced rather than consumed.
10. Preoccupations – New Material
Post-punk has never been this trippy, even though Preoccupations are a band comfortable in the bleak shadows. This is a gritty and euphoric record that marches forward relentlessly, hitting the listener with changes in pace, noise and bright production.
11. Caroline Rose – Loner
A buzzing glitter party of a record that bubbles with wit, multi-instrumentalist Rose switches gears between considered and trashy with the catchiest of melodies. From pop synths to surf-rock guitar riffs, it’s adventurous and carefree. Caroline Rose is wild and this is the most fun album on this list.
12. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
Will Toledo aka guitar genius of this century redid a previous (2011) release with a full band and better budget, and it’s bliss. The queer powerhouse nails awkward angst with killer riffs and deft songwriting about depression, meditation and coming of age. It’s lo-fi and slick, with layered guitars and muddy production in all the right places.
13. Lucy Dacus – Historian
Lucy Dacus is a classy lyricist and master of the slow guitar buildup. On Historian she’s both serious and subtle, ruminating on the relationships that form our stories. A pensive and mature slow burn of an album that washes over you with Dacus’ effortless vocals and intoxicating melodies.
14. Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
A yearning, dream-pop album that buzzes with guitars and engulfs the listener in synths. Wye Oak have written laid-back folk earworms as well as the most cathartic guitar solo of the year on “Lifer.” A self-conscious record that dazzles.
15. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In
Bottle It In is this generation’s warm hug of Americana. Vile’s thoughts and loose guitar tumble from the mundane to melancholic, always with a smile. Comfortable stoner rock at it’s most emotional.
16. Bill Ryder-Jones – Yawn
This record is the beautiful sound of surrender. Indie and lo-fi, the earnest singer-songwriterness is met with wailing guitars and Ryder-Jones effortless vocals. A touching personal album that permeates sadness and bares our defeated human conditions.
17. Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds
A sprawling, ambitious collection of influences with imagery that would be well suited to a soundtrack. Between Wilson’s pop melodies, the synths and glowing production it’s a generous rock record and a thoroughly enjoyable listen.
18. Haley Heynderickx – I Need to Start a Garden
From the spelling of her name to the stream-of-consciousness lyrics, this is a quirky AF album and an incredible debut. Heynderickx’ goes from finger picking to full-on Nirvana grunge, accompanied by a trombone. Vulnerable, wise and playful indie-folk, It’s jammed with earworms and lyrical gems like “she’ll never get to eat you like your heart’s a pomegranate.”
19. MØ – Forever Neverland
A masterpiece of electro-pop with a layer of strawberry lip gloss, Forever Neverland is a confident banger of a record from a blossoming artist. It’s a treat that mainstream pop is this indie because I’m all about that lo-fi bass.
20. Ovlov – TRU
An energetic and distorted collection of bubblegum hooks, this juggernaut punk rock record has a rainbow heart and majestic shredding guitars that make my ears rejoice.
Other stand out albums of the year that would have been a top-30ish include Son Lux, Low, Rhye, Soccer Mommy, Gaz Coombes, Villagers, Amen Dunes, Blood Orange, Mitski, Oh Sees, Miya Folick, Kacey Musgraves, Olafur Arnalds and Middle Kids.
Merry Christmas, happy birthday (to me) and have a great new year friendly people of the Internet. At last, 2018 is almost done.