The supergroup that no-one knew we needed until they emerged in all of their resplendent beauty, the trio of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Pheobe Bridgers produced something nothing short of spellbinding on their BoyGenius EP. A million miles removed from the pomp and circumstance that normally comes as a prerequisite of such meetings of the minds, their serendipitous decision to immerse themselves in the studio unleashed an untapped beauty that only the three of them could conjure up. Ushered in by the emotionally fraught ‘Bite The Hand’ that explores heartbreak from a distinct and fresh perspective, its all too fleeting six track run-time delivers compositions that seem as though they could become bonafide folk standards in the year to come such as ‘Me & My Dog’, ‘Souvenir’ and the momentous sound of ‘Stay Down.’ Whilst each of their careers are blossoming in their own right, there’s nothing to say that they couldn’t parlay this successful experiment into a fruitful side project and become the modern-day CSNY.
As much of a respite from the tumultuous world around us as it is a reaction to it, Parquet Courts’ sixth album Wide Awake! reinforced their reputation as one the world’s most important bands. Bringing in Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton as producer, the record is easily their most expansive to date, infusing their taut and verbose rock’n’roll with rollicking funk, squalling punk, sixties pop and woozy psychedelia. And while the spirit of protest has always flirted on the edges of their music, Wide Awake! brings it to the centre; not without losing their sense of humour though. In the end they’ve produced some of the fiercest and most fun songs from their catalogue to date.
Clear-eyed and courageous, 18 year old Lindsay Jordan released one of the most emotionally resonant albums of the year in Lush. Documenting the trials and tribulations of confronting adulthood, she sings about heartbreak, intense friendships and unrequited love with raw candour and lyrical flair. And while her angst is backed by her crystalline guitar playing and contemporary slacker indie sound, its Jordan’s vocals that often throw the emotional sucker punch. It’s impossible not to be struck by the almost pained vulnerability in her delivery as she glides through the ever-changing feelings and experiences of growing up.
Perhaps the best way to describe Goat Girl’s music is through the title of their Pixies-esque single ‘Country Sleaze’. Eerily sinister yet utterly exhilarating, the band’s self-titled debut takes aim at everything from public transport, sexual harassment, the Tories and the DUP. The sound of a disaffected youth, the four-piece deliver 19 sharply satirical, wildly entertaining tracks full of fuzzy guitars, hypnotic rhythms and lyrical punches. It’s angry yet good-humoured; scrappy and unpredictable; most importantly though, it’s a record that is unmistakably alive.
2017 saw Kali Uchis feature on collaborations with Tyler the Creator, Snoop Dogg and Gorillaz among others, but it was through the release of her long awaited debut album earlier this year that we really saw her flourish. A fascinating and vibrant LP, it blends genres, languages and soundscapes to great effect; bolstered by its ethereal production and the addition of a number of guest stars including none other than Damon Albarn, Kevin Parker, Tyler the Creator and Jorja Smith. Not one of them outshines Uchis though whose dreamy vocals and unflinching charisma cast a spell over the LP; it’s a pleasure to hear dip in and out of various genres and absolutely own each and every track.
Insecure Men’s self-titled debut arrived this year after a difficult few years for Saul Adamczewski; the former Fat White Family guitarist had been asked to leave the outfit after a period of erratic behaviour and increasing drug dependence. Joining forces with longtime friend and stabilising influence Ben Romans-Hopcraft, also known as frontman of Childhood, the pair created the slacker supergroup Insecure Men and produced one of the most intriguing records of the year. Bringing together a wealth of ideas and influences, the band’s debut record delivers “pretty pop music with a dark underbelly”. Lyrically, the duo don’t avoid sensitive matters and the unpalatable is never far away; but instead they deliver it against a compelling blend of warm exotica and lounging pop.
Norwich duo Let’s Eat Grandma took massive strides this year with the release of their second album ‘I’m All Ears’. Trading in the weird, eerie and playful insularity of their debut for big, bold, intense pop music, the duo have produced an album that feels more cohesive and purposeful.. Harnessing their experimental tendencies to create a bold, futuristic sound, I’m All Ears delivers everything from gentle synth-pop to glittery cosmic sounds to glitchy electronica.
Following in the footsteps of a great line of Australian jangle-pop bands such as The Go-Betweens, Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever delivered a wonderful debut in ‘Hope Downs’. An album made for lazy days and long summer nights, it combines wistful melancholy and breezy pop to great effect; intricate yet carefree, reflective but joyous, the band may not be driven by innovation but they’ve carved out their own identity and it makes for a charming, infectious listen.
Packed with sugary melodies and vibrant energy, Silver Dollar Moment is a jangling journey through diverse musical styles and varied influences; an album that surprises you with each twist, turn and shift in sound. Warmly familiar and dreamily nostalgic yet fresh, playful and utterly vital, it is nothing short of an absolute triumph from the Halifax outfit.
Topping off a triumphant year which has seen her tour the length and breadth of the UK, playing some of the country’s biggest festivals and most revered venues, LUCIA’s eagerly anticipated second EP Cheap Talk arrived last month. A formidable follow-up to its predecessor Best Boy, the progress that has been made over the past 18 months is plain for all to see on this four track-release; an EP bursting with classic bubblegum pop choruses, gritty grungy swagger and widescreen ambition. Brilliantly exemplified by the critically acclaimed ‘Summertime’, her bewitching sound is more streamlined and effective than ever before thanks to producers Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele) and Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire, Florence). However, it’s the EP’s infectious title track that has us hooked from the very outset with its singalong choruses and cool swagger.
Slaves’ third album in as many year Acts Of Fear and Love saw them bring a more dynamic element to their sound without losing sight of their roots. Undoubtedly their most accomplished record to date, it effectively took their acerbic classic punk sound into more tender, melodic and anthemic territories; most evident on album highlight ‘Photo Opportunity’.
Following a relentless few years and a prolific period of single and EP releases, The Magic Gang’s long-awaited debut album lived up to all expectations when it was finally unveiled this year. Featuring a mix of new tracks and established favourites, their self-titled debut brims with heartfelt choruses and instantly addictive melodies. They may wear their influences on their sleeves, but the band sound bigger than ever; warmly familiar with just enough surprises, the result is a timeless record that is guaranteed to lift your mood
Charismatic bandleader Shabaka Hutchings drives Sons Of Kemet’s third record Your Queen Is A Reptile at a relentless pace. Crucially arriving at a time when politics and social movements are on everyone’s lips, the outfit’s message is rooted in the struggle of immigrants in the UK; and so the queens of this album are all legendary black women, celebrated against glorious jazz music. Backed by two drummers, tuba and saxophone, Your Queen is a Reptile is a wonderful jazz record; rich in texture, crescendoing climaxes, deft interplay and driven by a thrilling sense of urgency.
The genre-defying Lylo unveiled their fresh, bold and colourful second album Post Era to critical acclaim this year. A band who have made their name by experimenting and refashioning the sounds of the past with a contemporary flare, the Glasgow outfit produced seven meticulously crafted tracks rich in texture and giddy with influences. Instantly enjoyable, Post Era blossoms with hazy guitars, swooning saxophone, warm synths and winding song structures and it’s an utter triumph from start to finish.
No matter what the leading paradigm in music falls towards, the unmistakable power of funk & soul simply refuses to wane and can be harnessed by those brave few torchbearers that cajole the genre into the modern age in riveting ways. Comprised of 13 acerbic and inventive tracks that bristle with vitality, Syd, Matt Martians and co truly surpassed all expectations on ‘Hive Mind’ with a record that took you from the sweat-drenched dancefloors of LA to the inner recesses of their psyches.
Confidence Man’s debut album Confident Music For Confident People arrived earlier this year, every bit as gloriously otherworldly as hoped. Harking back to the golden age of Detroit house and Italodisco in its surrealism, the elusive Australian four piece pick up where the joyousness of 90’s big beat left off and they’re a welcome addition to an industry where painstaking self-preservation reigns supreme. With an astounding live show to match, Confidence Man are arguably one of the most vital and exciting outfits in the world right now.
Scott and Grant Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit joined forces with Justin and James Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories respectively to create Mastersystem earlier this year; and the scuzzy side-project quickly unveiled their first album Dance Music amid a lot of excitement. A grungy throwback to the music of their youth, Dance Music may wear its 90s alt-rock influences on its sleeve but it’s a record carved with love and precision; bold, carefree and gripping from start to finish.
The follow-up to Courtney Barnett’s widely acclaimed debut album of 2015 found the Australian singer-songwriter in darker and more melancholic territory. The change in vibe leads to some of her most personal and reflective material to date like ‘Need A Little Time’ and ‘City Looks Pretty’ while Barnett’s insecurities rear their head on ‘Crippling Self Doubt And A General Lack Of Self Confidence’. And while her astute observations are still present, they are more direct this time around; she’s never been more angry than on ‘Im Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ and ‘Nameless, Faceless’, the latter of which she tirades against modern misogyny. More than anything, the album has reinforced her status as a relatable indie-rock idol; her songwriting is more emotionally muscular but she’s still able to make well-worn themes feel fresh and universal.
A lot has happened since Dream Wife began life as a performance art project at the University of Brighton. Thrust into the limelight thanks to a relentless touring schedule aswell as an endless stream of support from blogs, notable magazines and tastemakers, the three-piece more than lived up to expectations when they finally unveiled their long-awaited debut album at the start of the year; a record bursting with sharp melodic punk tunes, endless charisma and fuelled by a fierce, fiery attitude. Backed by a powerful message of female empowerment, they’re a band who don’t just talk the talk though; they wield their message powerfully through catchy, upbeat punk rock, all while creating a safe space for their fans at their renowned live shows.
Our favourite off-kilter hero Kurt Vile delivered an expansive odyssey this year in Bottle It In. Delivered in typically leisurely fashion, the troubadour’s seventh album is one to savour; full of drawling verses, meandering guitar solos and his distinctive stoner poetry.
The biggest rock band in the world made their long awaited return this year with the weird and wonderful Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. A record that has divided even their most devoted of fans, Arctic Monkeys’ sixth album saw them swap the carnivorous riffs and piledriving anthems of AM for suave lunar vibes and an absurdist trip to space. An utterly bemusing yet fascinating listen, the record can perhaps be described as the band’s boldest step yet. Composed initially on a piano by Alex Turner, its leisurely pace and lack of big choruses are a far cry from anything we’ve heard before from the band; instead most of its tracks are occupied by Turner’s delectable croon as well as some of his most dense and self-aware lyrics to date. Sprinkled with vintage 70s sounds, experimental synths and irresistible basslines, what at first feels like an impenetrable listen will become hugely rewarding to those who dive deep inside.
A bastion of creativity that arguably revolutionised dance as we know it alongside the PC Music collective, the Glasgow native has proven she remains at the forefront of its abrasive and infectiously sweet realm all at once with the captivating sounds of Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. Saccharine yet demented, her first full-length record is the sound of unsheathed creativity that isn’t bound by any pigeonholes or a fickle audience. When SOPHIE moves, culture has dutifully moved with her and that is attested to by the fact that an album that contains tracks as wonderfully unparalleled as ‘Faceshopping’ and ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ has found itself in contention for a Grammy this year.
With its odes to UK garage, Siri-narrated stories, Britpop singalongs, heroin love songs, neo-gospel tunes and sentimental jazzy inflections, it seems nigh on impossible that The 1975’s third album should work. Even more ambitious and experimental than its hugely popular predecessor, A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships does exactly as it suggests; full of grand themes and big proclamations, Matt Healy and co cut through the noise of modern life with a coherent pop album that may not provide all the answers but it’s as restlessly imaginative as it is hook-filled.
Following the massive success of her debut album Chaleur Humaine, the UK’s biggest selling debut of 2016, Heloise Letissier returned this year with an even more ambitious, confident and brilliantly intelligent LP. Assuming a new masculine and muscular alter-ego called Chris, the French singer reintroduced herself with the outstanding ‘Girlfriend’, arguably one of the best pop songs of 2018. A track which sets the tone for the LP, Letissier uses Chris to explore sexual fluidity, lust, mental health and female empowerment among other topics to the tune of dynamic, 80s indebted funky pop. An artist who refuses to conform to any expectations, her creative evolution and chameleon-like abilities recall the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince; and while she has a lot to say on Chris, it’s her nuanced songwriting and inventive arrangements that also come to the fore.
The culmination of years of toil, personal strife and steadfast musical reinvention, 2018 will always be heralded as the year that Mitski finally reached her staggering potential. Comprised of menacing, self-effacing synth pop, luscious siren songs and formidable indie rock that captures every side of her introspective and fragmented mind, the Japanese-American artist’s cult following had all of their unflinching loyalty rewarded on Be The Cowboy and then some. Five albums may be an arduous length of time to ply your trade as a songwriter before striking the zeitgeist gold mine, but few records hit more impactfully than the album that boasted the maniacal obsession of ‘Why Didn’t You Stop Me’, the sardonic sneer of ‘Me & My Husband’ and the paradoxically lively ‘Nobody’ to name just a few standouts.
Kilmarnock trio Fatherson returned this year with their finest record to date in Sum Of All Your Parts. Taking their soaring, emotive brand of indie-rock to a new level, the album was produced by Claudius Mittendorfer (Muse, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys) and recorded totally live; lending a raw intensity and newfound depth to their sound. Demonstrating their knack of combining poignant and cathartic lyrics with spiky, anthemic choruses, its highlights include the brooding, heart-swelling opener ‘The Rain’ and rousing singles ‘Making Waves’ and ‘Charm School’. With an ability to convey intense emotions that are often difficult to articulate, Ross Leighton’s powerful vocals continue to stand out; but it’s Fatherson’s overwhelming sincerity and consistent songwriting that will see them get bigger and bigger.
Janelle Monae staked her claim as one of 2018’s most vital popstars with the release of Dirty Computer earlier this year: a record brimming with exquisite collaborations and empowering tunes. A celebration of self-love as well as a battle cry against the bewildering world we find ourselves in today, Dirty Computer promotes personal, musical, sexual and political freedom against a backdrop of glossy, funk-laden pop. The influence of Prince may be clear throughout but Dirty Computer is very much steered by Monae’s distinctly unique vision. Artful, ambitious, joyous and truly inspiring, she carries the Purple One’s baton into a new world and creates a pop masterpiece in the process.
Despite arriving at the very start of the year, Shame’s rollicking debut ‘Songs of Praise’ still stands as one of the most invigorating and compelling albums of 2018. A record that is every bit as visceral and intense as the band’s renowned live shows, it courses with venom and dark sarcasm from start to finish; channelled through the supreme showmanship of frontman Charlie Steen who howls and smarms his way through the record against a backdrop of abrasive guitars and rampaging rhythms. Full of hard-hitting, socio-political lyrics and anthems that bury deep into your soul, Songs of Praise is a bold and unflinching manifesto from a vital band who have captured the minds of a new generation.
Young Fathers have continuously shocked and amazed since they first emerged a decade ago; never more so however than with the release of their third LP Cocoa Sugar earlier this year. Perhaps the outfit’s most streamlined and accessible record to date, this outstanding record isn’t any less unique, inventive or genre-curious in execution. In fact, the trio continue to push boundaries and estrange themselves from pop’s traditional structures on Cocoa Sugar in a way that is utterly boundless and liberating. Consumed with rage, Young Fathers are the riled oddballs on the hunt for change; and they channel this through an indefinable clatter of rhythms, dense electronic beats, an onslaught of industrial synths and warped pop melodies. Featuring huge tracks like ‘In My View’, ‘Toy’ and ‘Wow’, Cocoa Sugar sees the trio strike the perfect balance between artistic progression and a newfound ability to reach out to a more mainstream audience. As the deserved winners of this year’s SAY Award, Young Fathers are at the peak of their powers and they are undoubtedly one of the most innovative and singular outfits in the world right now.
Few acts have left the same indelible mark on 2018 as Bristol punks IDLES. Known for their ferocious live shows, the band’s second album Joy As An Act of Resistance cemented their status as one of the most vital acts in the UK right now. Railing against everything from toxic masculinity to nationalism to consumerism, the band produced 11 tracks of cathartic rage rooted in their own personal experiences, pairing their brutal, blistering punk with a powerfully unifying message. Driven by a desire for empathy and self-care, it’s one of the most intelligent, punchy and deeply compelling guitar-based albums to come out of the UK in some time.