It’s unusual, at the start of lists such as this one, to comment upon the quantity of great music which has been released, as if there’s an exact number of good albums which can be objectively quantified. However, whilst respectfully raising a glass to those who think that little of worth has been released since Peter Gabriel went solo… 2018 has been one hell of a year for music. You could argue that there were no all-time-greats in the vein of Skeleton Tree or To Pimp A Butterfly this time around, but there has instead been an astounding deluge of diverse, idiosyncratic and powerful music released within the last twelve months. Start listening to records halfway up this list, and you’ll find music great enough to fit snuggly aside those we chose as our top ten. This list instead is a celebration then, of new sounds and ideas which still cast long shadows, while major releases from once-dominant names like Drake and Niki Minaj flew by without a splash.
2018 was a year when new zeitgeists emerged, or were set in stone. Underground hip-hop locked into a new, chopped-and-screwed groove with the abrasive and glitchy beats of Earl Sweatshirt, Shirt and JPEGMAFIA, while mainstream hip-hop from the likes of Kids See Ghosts and Travis Scott radiated exciting, psychedelic palettes. After years of threatening, jazz has found a new voice and new ringleaders in the form of Kamasi Washington, Idris Ackamoor, Moses Boyd and Sons of Kemet; finally knocking the genre out of a decades-old naval-gazing slumber and revitalising it as something as electric and exciting as ever.
It’s a cliche to even remark upon: but politically, this year has seemed rough. In the wake of a rupturing 2016, old institutions and untoppleable powers continue to exist in turmoil, and the future remains shapeless and unpredictable. A new political edge within music was forseen, but often inaccurately as the foot-stomping, beatnik protest songs of old. Many of today’s talents are much smarter than that, and musicians like SOPHIE, IDLES, Janelle Monae and Gazelle Twin offer their politics through pop and electronic music, capturing many of todays sentiments and putting them inside the music, rather than offering diatribes and false solutions atop it. On the other end of the spectrum, joyous pop music from Troy Sivane, MGMT and Kali Uchis has kept us dancing, reminding of us all the joy which can be found even within a climate which can feel increasingly hostile and remote.
This list was compiled by two music fans with nothing better to do, based only the albums they heard this year, featuring bias and ignorance of critical consensus. It is instead based solely on the music which impacted us, and which we enjoyed and listened to the most. From top to bottom, we consider all of these albums to be produced by incredibly talented individuals whose music this year will provide pleasure and inspiration for many more to come.
100. A Whole F****ng Lifetime Of This – American Pleasure Club
99. Lala Belu – Hailu Mergia
98. Age Of – Oneohtrix Never
97. K.O.D. – J. Cole
96. Solo Piano III – Chilly Gonzalez
95. Sweetener – Ariana Grande
94. Mogic – Hen Ogledd
93. Geography – Tom Misch
92. Hereditary OST – Colin Stetson
91. I’m All Ears – Lets Eat Grandma
90. Broken Politics – Neneh Cherry
89. Mother – Xylouris White
88. Dead Magic – Anna Von Hausswolff
87. Look Now – Elvis Costello
86. Keep That Same Energy – Teyana Taylor
85. A Love Letter To You 3 – Trippy Redd
84. >>> – Beak
83. Childqueen – Kadhja Bonet
82. Paraffin – Armand Hammer
81. Think: Peace – Clarence Clarity
80. Safe In The Hands Of Love – Yves Tumour
79. American Utopia – David Byrne
78. Bon Voyage – Melody’s Echo Chamber
77. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine
76. Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves
75. AbyssKiss – Adrianne Lenker
74. Knock Knock – DJ Koze
73. Whack World – Tierra Whack
72. Cantos – Okonkolo
71. Pure Beauty – Shirt
70. Time – Louis Cole
69. Calm-ish – Callum Martin-Moore
68. Song For Alpha – Daniel Avery
67. Year Of The Snitch – Death Grips
66. Freedom – Amen Dunes
65. From Gas To Solid/You Are My Friend – Soap&Skin
64. CARE FOR ME – Saba
63. ye – Kanye West
62. Devotion – Tirzah
61. High As Hope – Florence & The Machine
60. Bloom – Troye Sivan
59. Ephorize – Cupcakke
58. Astroworld – Travis Scott
57. Lower East Street Part 3 – Onyx Collective
56. Honey – Robyn
55. Suspiria OST – Thom Yorke
54. Make Way For Love – Marlon Williams
53. White Bronco – Action Bronson
52. For My Crimes – Marissa Nadler
51. Oxnard – Anderson .Paak
50. An Angel Fell – Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids
49. soil – serpentwithfeet
48. FM! – Vince Staples
47. Aviary – Julia Holter
46. MITH – Lonnie Holley
45. Skylight – Pinegrove
44. Mark Kozelek – Mark Kozelek
43. MassEducation – St. Vincent
42. Negative Capability – Marianne Faithfull
41. Wide Awake!! – Parquet Courts
40. IRIDESCENCE – BROCKHAMPTON
39. TA1300 – Denzel Curry
38. Musas Vol. 2 – Los Macorinos & Natalia Lafourcade
37. A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships – The 1975
36. Chris – Christine & The Queens
35. Now Only – Mount Eerie
34. 7 – Beach House
33. Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae
32. Orpheus v. The Sirens – Hermet & The Recluse
31. Boarding House Reach – Jack White
30. Displaced Diaspora – Moses Boyd
29. Fetti – Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y & Alchemist
28. Beyondless – Iceage
27. Heaven & Earth – Kamasi Washington
26. You Won’t Get What You Want – Daughters
25. This Is My Dinner – Sun Kil Moon
In the wake of the 2014 classic Benji, professional contrarian Mark Kozelek has taken Sun Kil Moon in an ever-more abstract and vagrant direction. On This Is My Dinner, impossibly, lyrics get even more self-referential, and stomp all over the fourth wall. On the track ‘Copenhagen’, the song ends because Kozelek was writing its words on a plane, and a stewardess instructed him to close his laptop for landing. Such moments attract attention in discussions of Sun Kil Moon’s latest work, but truly they are just extensions of the poignant transparency of Kozelek’s songwriting. A loose tour around the cities of Scandinavia, This Is My Dinner is a truly unique collection of stories which stubbornly find beauty and pathos and melancholy in the resolutely everyday. The band’s beautiful guitar work, and the odd uptempo freakout where Kozelek decries Steely Dan and declares his love for Queen, don’t hurt either…
“I said, “Look, there are three things I do
I play music and fuck and I watch boxing matches
To do what I do for a living, baby, other passions would be called distractions’”
24. DiCaprio 2 – J.I.D.
This bright-eyed MC from Atlanta has been causing a stir in the hip-hop community, thanks to a taught, crunching, swift rapping style earning him complimentary, and derisive, comparisons to Kendrick Lamar. With his raspy voice and scrupulous lyricism, for years J.I.D. has demonstrated a captivating creative flair that has so far lacked focus and direction. With the guidance of the late Mac Miller and J. Cole (who signed J.I.D. to his label ‘Dreamville Records’), Dicaprio 2 is a diverse album in both its sonic aesthetic and lyrical content spanning topics from gender politics, drugs and gang violence. Simply put, this album has the year’s hardest hitting beats and contains exceptional rapping with a flow indicative of an immense talent. Bombastic and somehow introspective, Dicaprio 2 is a cohesive album which unites gorgeous melodies with cataclysmic beats to announce J.I.D. as one of the decade’s most exciting new talents.
“Mind blurred, need to lay off the drugs
Yeah God, they ain’t prayin’ enough
Niggas dyin’, we ain’t sayin’ enough
Cops fire, stockpiling rottweiler
Tell my little niggas lay off the stuff”
23. DAYTONA – Pusha T
“It was written like Nas but it came from Quentin”. Words uttered by Pusha T on Daytona’s closing track ‘Infrared’, taking yet another swipe at long-time nemesis Drake in an attempt to end a bitter feud that can be traced back to 2011 and with Cash Money records as far back as 2003. Pusha T’s hard-hitting bars undermine the confidence of an increasingly mediocre star, and provide commentary on a cloud hanging over the hip-hop industry. In an era of ghost-writing and excessive branding, Pusha T stands above a saturation of superficial drivel to deliver a concise and impactful project blessed with the superb production talents of Kanye West. This project was the first of GOOD music’s 2018 releases to turn heads and for all the right reasons; for its mere 21:08 runtime has rejuvenated Pusha’s career and delivered his most consistent project to date; a classic rap record which cannot be missed.
“Let’s cram numbers, easily
The only rapper sold more dope than me was Eazy-E
How could you ever right these wrongs
When you don’t even write your songs?”
22. Negro Swan – Blood Orange
“No one wants to be the odd one out at times
No one wants to be the negro swan”
21. Pastoral – Gazelle Twin
Gazelle Twin’s Pastoral is perfect: from the parody of the poe-faced Deutsche Grammophon label which adorns the album’s cover to the disembodied voices which schizophrenically haunt Elizabeth Bernholz’s brittle break beats, chanting UKIP-ian buzzwords on a loop: it’s a record for right now. Whether it will work as well in five years time, once the divisions of Brexit have either healed or entrenched, remains to be seen, but in the midst of parliamentary breakdown, Pastoral is pitch-perfect parody. Unlike the Blake-ian green fields pictured on the LP’s cover – evoking a Britain now lost to many – this is a deeply inhuman work. It’s instruments are entirely synthesised and cold, it’s lyrics are spat out through an impenetrable filter and repeated frenetically as if they were born out of sequenced code. Few responses to the disturbing divisions which now lie at the heart of British society have been better, regardless of your view on the vote which caused them. Pastoral pours it all into this auditory horror movie: where the destitute “eat from bins outside supermarkets” and the British isle is a lonely, authoritarian cell. Bernholz’s distortion of traditional landscapes, William Blake’s poetry and traditional folk songs answer cultural sentimentalism and proclaims that, like it or not, there may be no going back from here…
“Much better in my day
Much better in my day
Much better in my day
Oh the good old golden days”
20. El Mal Querer – Rosalia
A year on from the release of her beautifully wrought flamenco-folk record Los Angeles, Rosalia broke by merging those sounds with the zeitgeist of a 2018 pop record, and did it without losing any of the flavour of the music’s traditional heritage. With the assistance of producer El Guincho, Rosalia incorporates her powerful voice into dubs, sample loops and the Roland SP-404, to create music which exists in the same sonic territory of Charlie XCX and Foxes, whilst fore-fronting the sweet melodies and rhythmic flair which has propelled hispanic pop to the forefront of popular culture this year and the last. Rosalia is one of the freshest voices in pop music today, and between El Mal Querer and Los Angeles she has proven that she truly can do it all.
19. In A Poem Unlimited – U.S. Girls
A glittering psychedelic pop album crafted and perfected by American-Canadian musician, writer, singer and producer Meghan Remy. In A Poem Unlimited is a versatile album rich in luscious melodies, soothing vocals, avant-garde soundscapes and a sense of mystique. The record is a shining example of how experimental music can maintain a level of cohesiveness which demands repeat listens to appreciate its diversity in genres, ranging from synth pop, krautrock and even R&B. It has taken well over a decade for Remy to receive the attention she deserves as an innovative & talented musician, but In A Poem Unlimited has finally put her on the map and shown how one of the year’s best alternative albums can stand shoulder to shoulder with any pop-superstars most captivating hits.
“Life made no sense without a beating, you see?
And life was just too quiet
Without no one screaming at me
And then the incidental boogie
Grabbed a hold of me”
18. Con Todo El Mundo – Khruangbin
A three-piece band of guitar, drums and bass, Khruangbin has caught the attention of rock legends such as Iggy Pop and rightfully so. This delightful trio infuses indie rock, hip-hop, psychedelia and funk with Thai, Spanish and Middle Eastern embellishments to make mostly instrumental albums of the highest calibre. But the most surprising fact about this up-and-coming band… they’re from Houston Texas? You can imagine my confusion when listening to their latest record Con Todo El Mundo, a Spanish flavoured-LP rich in masterful guitar play, slick grooves and funky baselines. As an instrumental album, it could be easily dismissed as ‘coffee shop music’, but make no mistake, this album is a record showcasing musicians at the peak of their talents and is a wonderful reminder that sometimes less is more. Repeat listens are a must to appreciate the intricacies behind Laura Lee’s (Bass), Mark Speers (Guitar) & Donald Johnson’s (drums) songcrafting. Very few three-pieces can effortlessly produce records which are as fascinating, sensual & diverse as this. This is a band to watch, and as far as their live shows? Go see them, their psychedelic disco inspired sets bring further colour to a kaleidoscopic album.
17. A Laughing Death In Meatspace – Tropical Fuck Storm
Made up of members of The Drones, High Tension and Palm Springs and often referred to as an Aussie supergroup: Tropical Fuck Storm approach rock music as delicately as they name their shit. A Laughing Death In Meatspace is as thunderous as its album cover would suggest, scorching through a breathless 45 minutes with dense guitars, thumping drum beats and monster grooves with an agitating ferocity. It’s little wonder: the band was conceived in five weeks, a self-imposed restriction instigated by announcing their first shows before they’re written any music. Indeed the album sounds like it was made in a pressure cooker, but its bite doesn’t make it unapproachable – almost every song features impossibly sticky melodies, and high-energy deliveries. But what seals the deal are the lyrics frontman Gareth Liddiard crams into these ragers: on ‘Soft Power’ he mocks the egos of button-wielding world leaders, and on ‘The Future of History’ narrates the story of Kasparov v. Deep Blue, somehow cramming the software code of the winning computer into an ear-worm chorus for the song. A Laughing Death In Meatspace shames many rock records this year, retaining a political bite without softening its musical fury.
“Kasparov saw our fate and cried out in despair
“We are commanded by the monsters we have brought to bear!
And nobody does the dishes, the turkeys vote for Christmas
Gaslighted by the telephone that put Steve Jobs in business
And no one in the future plays chess, or cares!””
=16. Lamp Lit Prose – Dirty Projectors
=16. Joy As An Act Of Resistance – IDLES
Look, it’s nothing new to get exciting about punk rock – it was a collective phase which swept adolescent Britain for three years in the late 1970s and dozens of bands yearly have tried to capture the fury and the spittle ever since. Frontman Joe Talbot hates being called a punk (of course) and indeed Bristol band IDLES are a lot more versatile than many of the bands who made the genre’s name; opening with the slow-burning and massive ‘Colossus’, and featuring as many thrilling choruses as a great Chic album. But it’s just so nice to hear the sounds of punk deployed so well. And those old-school thrills are the thrills of their watertight second LP: witty, implacable, topical and frantic. City-boy takedown ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ opens with a drumbeat so hard you can feel the sweat on the back of your neck, and ‘I’m Scum’ is a proud working class rager. IDLES is a band of modern concerns though: Talbot isn’t ashamed of his political leanings, proclaiming that “this snowflake is an avalanche” and decrying bloke-culture on ‘Samaritans’ with a vitriol you’d love to see commentators on r/Donald taking him to task on. It’s an accessible album though, with a rage contorted in ways which are almost sweet, Joe screaming “if someone talked to you/the way you do to you/I’d put their teeth through” on self-love anthem ‘Television’. However two tracks earlier you can find him snarling “I fucking love you… look at the card I brought/it says I love you”, so you can never been quite sure where you stand. Sorry Joe, but that’s pretty punk to me.
“I don’t care about the next James Bond
He kills for country, queen and god
We don’t need another murderous toff
I’m just wondering where the high street’s gone”
15. Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweatshirt
There is little which better defines the creative output of Earl Sweatshirt than the three years he left fans waiting for this 25 minute album, featuring 13 verses – sometimes audible, and sometimes not. One artistic comparison to be made is to the music of the man who appeared at number 25 on our list: Mark Kozelek. Not in style or genre (and certainly not in prolificness), but for their ethos of introversion as radical statement. Much has been written about Earl’s bars on this record, and rightly so, but truly the beats are as significant; mostly produced by Earl himself. They’re less bangers than sonic collages, built on unpolished loops, pocked with loose spaces and overwhelming even his voice in the mix – having heard Some Rap Songs, it’s hard to imagine that a record made in the wake of the death of his father and uncle could sound like anything else. Like Death Grips before him, Earl uses the sonic palette to paint a picture of his mental state, meaning fewer verses don’t equate to scant insight. The sharp piano keys of ‘The Mint’ and the sample of Soul Superiors’ ‘Trust Me Baby’ at the close of ‘Ontheway!’, where the vocals are submerged in the wake of Earl’s proclamation that “my mood really swinging, I peruse like a native would do”. He spits eloquently about depression and his father’s death on ‘Peanut’, but it’s hard to argue that these bars are any less consequential than the overlaying of his mother’s commencement speech with his father’s poetry on ‘Playing Possum’ before it, or the cathartic smoothness of ‘Riot!’ which rides the album out straight after. Some Rap Songs may be brief, but by brining you so close to the artist who made it, it’s certainly unique.
“Flushin’ through the pain, depression, this is not a phase, ayy
Picking out his grave, couldn’t help but feel out of place
Try and catch some rays: death, it has the sour taste
Bless my pops, we sent him off and not a hour late
Still in shock and now my heart out somewhere on the range”
14. Isolation – Kali Uchis
“Everything is just wonderful
Here in my dreams
Here in my dreams
Every day is a holiday
When you’re living inside your dreams
Why would anyone stay awake
After being so sound asleep?
Everything is just wonderful in my dreams”
13. C’Est La Vie – Phosphorescent
“C’est la vie she says but I don’t know what she means
I say “Love, easy, hey come to me”
C’est la vie she says but I don’t know what that means
I say alright, well: C’est la vie”
12. Little Dark Age – MGMT
Not bad for an band which, five years ago, declared “we can’t write pop songs”. In a way, MGMT still can’t – Little Dark Age is a far cry from the first pumping anthems which appeared on Oracular Spectacular almost 15 years ago – instead it exists on the periphery of twee, sucking love hearts with Ariel Pink. Like Pink though, the duo behind MGMT deploy on the album the exact kind of sweet choruses and sticky melodies which makes up the biggest pop hits – from the emo thrills of the title track to the layered synths gushing in the backdrop of ‘Me & Michael’. What really seals the deal is the little oddities which make you question whether all of this is one giant, ironic gag: from chanting “go fuck yourself” over the gentle mandolin of ‘When you Die’ or the sweetly sung techno-nihilism of ‘Time Spent Looking At My Phone’. Little Dark Age feels like a novelty in these moments, but it is infact one of the sweetest pleasures of the year.
“I try to pull the curtains back
Turn you off but can’t detach
When all I want and all I know
Is time spent looking at my phone”
11.Piano & A Microphone, 1983 – Prince
It’s not conventional to place a live album from 1983 in your list of the best albums of 2018, but here we are. The thing is… This record is a marvel. And I’m not even that big a Prince fan. On his studio releases, some of his talents were masked in dated production and arena-rock cheese, but Piano & A Microphone hones in on his talent as a performer, player and songwriter, and the roots of his gigantic stardom are laid bare. Using nothing but the two instruments which make up the LP’s name, Prince absolutely enraptures here, from the drugged-out Tom Wait’s-worship of ‘Cold Coffee & Cocaine’ to the beatboxing which emerges on ‘International Lover’, he’s little short of a one-man band. It also features enough oddities to please die-hards, such as a cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’ and an early version of ‘Purple Rain’. The nine songs evoke the late 1960’s piano-led soul which served as inspiration for the star, and yet songs like ’17 Days’ are so propulsive, and his performance of them so magnetic, they hold the exact same foot-tapping, head-bopping power of any of his stadium filling classics.
“I want to to call you everyday
And beg you to be near me
But I know your head is underwater
I doubt that you could hear me”
10.Room 25 – Noname
Fatimah Nyeema Warner, now known simply as Noname, emerged as one of the year’s most exciting talents upon the release of her stellar debut LP Room 25. Starting her early years as an ambitious young MC and slam poet who went on to collaborate with young local talents at the time Chance the Rapper, Saba and Mick Jenkins. Being in the proximity of such prominent acts did not deter Noname from aspiring to do more than providing feature verses on touchstone albums such as Acid Rap, The Water(s) and Surf. Two years prior to this debut album she had released a fantastic mixtape, Telefone, and established herself as an artistic prospect. Room 25 is the culmination of years of crafting and improving her unique lyrical style, combined with the organic well-honed production provided by Phoelix. Within a month Noname had conceived the groundwork of Room 25, drawing inspiration from experiences she had in the previous two years. During that time, she had lost her virginity and spent much of her time in LA with underground comics. This has resulted in the addition of witty satire interlaced amongst soulful jazz instrumentals, and an underlying sexuality absent from her previous project which Warner herself described as ‘PG’.
“Maybe I’m a hypocrite, maybe I’m hypochondriac
I’m struggling to simmer down, maybe I’m an insomni-black
Bad sleep triggered by bad government
Write a think piece in the rap song, the new age covenant”
9.Veteran – JPEGMAFIA
This is one of the wildest pieces of music released this year. Absolutely neurotic and schizophrenic, Veteran is a joyride through JPEGMAFIA (Barrington Hendricks)’s imagination. Produced almost entirely by Hendricks, each of its 19 songs feature more sonic switch-ups than most entire albums, contorting alarm bells and the human voice into twisted loops and banger beats. It’s hard to believe it took 15 years or so for the internet to spit out it’s perfect MC. Hendricks’ spits out so many contrarian, headline-grabbing bars that the only thing more disorientating than the beats is trying to work out which of his claims to take seriously. Is he for real when he calls himself “the yung alt-right menance” and names a song ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies’ or ‘Panic Emoji’…? Hendricks’ energy and wit hold this disorientating project together, alongside the fact that when he wants to play the game, he can. The amazing ‘Baby I’m Bleeding’ opens with him forming a loop which gets caught in his software and blares out unrelentingly – we hear him swearing his disdain until eventually he decides to just spit anyway, and the song morphs into one of the hardest of the year.
“Fuck a Johnny Rotten, I want Lil B,
Fuck you niggas talking, this a killing spree,
Pull up on a cracker bumping Lil Peep,
Got my reparations, bought some jewellery”
8. Double Negative – Low
Few bands underwent as radical a sonic transformation in 2018 as Minnesotan slow-core band Low, whose twelfth album saw their guitars and country twang submerged in a bath of autotune, drones and distortion. The merging of indie-music with thick electronic instrumentation is hardly new: from progenitor Laurie Anderson, through My Bloody Valentine and propelled forward by Bon Iver on 22, A Million (with which Double Negative shares a producer, BJ Burton). However, few transformations have been as startling and complete as this, 25 years into a band’s career. The LP opens with the leaden ‘Quorum’ and it’s blasted edges bleed reverberate throughout. Songs like ‘Always Trying To Work It Out’ could have seen other fates as transcendent anthems, but here they remain tethered to a depressive fog. Apparently the band thought the sound appropriate to our current climate: Double Negative is a political album, but one which endeavours to capture the feeling of democracies become plutocracies and free speech repressed, than offer condemnation or proselytise revolution. As Alan Sparhawk sings on the stunning ‘Dancing & Fire’; “this isn’t the end, just the end of hope”. Predictably, there is no redemptive resolution: this is a record with eyes to the floor and shoulders slumped, and is massive enough to drain the energy from a room. It’s this commitment to one singular vision which makes Double Negative so impactful, and unforgiving.
“Before it falls into total disarray
You’ll have to learn to live a different way
Too late to look back on apocryphal verse
And to be something beyond kinder than words”
7. Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides – SOPHIE
From the garish, maximalist pop of her early career, featuring insights which ran as deep as ‘lemonade, l-l-lemonade!’, Scottish producer SOPHIE has crafted a state-of-the nation record for the entirety of the western world. Fittingly, it contorts the sound of early 2000s pop and EDM, two of the century’s most garish and commercially-expedient scenes, into maximalist club bangers, ridden with eroticism and neuroses about the body, gender and commercialism. By perfectly synthesising the sounds of past party hits and saturating them to an intolerable degree, SOPHIE embodies an ethos which questions the ideals of the society in which it exists, by turning our favourite things against us. On ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ she teases one of her trademark bangers, only to drive the sound into the dirt across the course of ten minutes. It’s not a bleak record however; it makes the commodification of culture sound giddily fun, and even, on the gorgeous ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’, euphoric.
“My face is the front of shop
My face is the real shop front
My shop is the face I front
I’m real when I shop my face”
6. God’s Favourite Customer – Father John Misty
It’s true: Josh Tillman hardly innovated on this one. From familiar White Album-guitar tones and gently tapped percussion, Father John follows up his 2017 opus Pure Comedy with yet more vaudeville pop and strummed acoustic guitar. As with that record however, the joy of Father John Misty remains in the beauty of his writing, his original perspective and a voice blessed by the Gods themselves. From the cocaine-fuelled spirals of ‘Mr. Tillman’ to the devastating ‘Please Don’t Die’ – where he sings from the perspective of his wife, pleading for him not to end it all in some far-off hotel room – the sarcasm and rosy lens of I Love You, Honeybear are stripped bare. It is clear that much of the pretence is gone, and that we are receiving a broadcast from the brink. Each song stands up firmly on strengths of their own, from the beautiful addition of Weyes Blood on the title track, to The Songwriter, where Tillman flagellates himself by asking his wife aloud “what would it sound like if you were the songwriter?” It’s hard to believe that the song has never been written before. As always, God’s Favourite Customer maps a veiled arc across its runtime, and on his fourth album Tillman deploys a theme writ large in the worship songs which defined his youth: that of the redemption story. It may sound sonically like business as usual, but for Father John Misty that just means another stunning record from one of the best songwriters of this decade.
“What would it sound like if you were the songwriter
And you did your living around me?
Would you undress me repeatedly in public
To show how very noble and naked you can be?”
5. AAL 2012-2017 – Against All Logic
4. Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino – Arctic Monkeys
I’ve never really been one to appreciate the Arctic Monkeys. This once-little band from Sheffield has brought vigour and excitement to the world of rock in a time where the genre has suffered an identity crisis in the midst of mainstream hip-hop: a British treasure whose music has endeared fans around the globe. However, I haven’t felt that Alex Turner was truly expressing his creative talents and exploring sonic territories entirely unique from earlier acts such as The Strokes, Queens of Stone Age and Spoon. But with the Monkey’s latest release, Turner and co. have crafted a sublime and intricate album inspired by the likes of The Beach Boys, Leonard Cohen and, of course, David Bowie; combining space pop, glam rock and psychedelia. Turner sings of a fictional resort residing on the moon, channelling the political turmoil engulfing our current era and dreaming of a consumerist, hyperrealist, future. All of this comes wrapped in unorthodox verse structures and simply stunning chord progressions, most of which were concocted on a Steinway Vertegrand piano in Turner’s LA home, after experiencing a bout of writer’s block. Combined with cosmic sonic nuances, similar to French classics such as Air’s Moon Safari, Turner has crafted an excellent concept album which is more rewarding upon every listen.
“I just wanted to be one of those ghosts
You thought that you could forget
And then I haunt you via the rear view mirror
On a long drive from the back seat
But it’s alright ’cause you love me
And you recognize that it ain’t how it should be
Your eyes are heavy and the weather’s getting ugly
So pull over, I know the place”
3.Singularity – Jon Hopkins
It’s hard to describe the charm of music whose finest trait is capturing emotions it would take ten thousand words to enunciate, without using one of them. Jon Hopkin’s latest LP operates in such a way, and stands unique amongst the wave of indelible IDM musicians working this decade, several of whom are included elsewhere on this list. Unlike much which makes their music great, Hopkins completely rejects pernickety craftsmanship and intellectual landscaping, and instead shoots from the heart. His music pulses and throbs with the spontaneity of a living organism, and isn’t resistant to the breaches and imperfections of the outside world. Songs on Singularity such as ‘Emerald Rush’ and ‘Everything Connected’ surge forward with infectious propulsion, simultaneously providing some of the hardest break-beats of 2018 and a linear spine to disrupt and shake apart, like thoughts running across a restless mind. Unlike its comparatively brooding predecessor Immunity, Singularity is inspired by the cycle of a psychedelic experience, and new songs like ‘Feel First Life’ lean into the ambient in a way which beautifully offsets the power of some of the denser cuts here. True to Jon Hopkin’s work so far, Singularity feels less like it was written, and more like it was born.
2.Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
“I don’t feel pain anymore
Guess what, baby? I feel free”
1.Your Queen Is A Reptile – Sons Of Kemet
The third album from this London four-piece is, first and foremost, some of the most compelling and distinct jazz music released anywhere this century. It’s often easy to forget that they’re just four players, consisting only of tuba, clarinet, saxophone and drums… half the time, the band sounds like a whole damn carnival. Each song seems to be drawn from a distinct part of the world: from the dub squelches of ‘My Queen Is Mamie Phipps Clark’ to the sub-bass creep of ‘My Queen Is Anna Julia Cooper’. It’s more raucous moments seem indebted to the D&B scene which has emerged since jazz last held the zeitgeist in England’s capital city; the thrilling ‘My Queen Is Harriet Tubman’ recreates with tuba the drum patterns which have filled clubs for decades. This is a record which is distinctly modern, with a startlingly strong sense of place. The opening and closing tracks even nod their heads towards grime, thanks to appearances from MC Congo Natty and performance poet Josh Idehen, whose fiery verses provide the only verbal confirmation of the politics which you can sense scorching through their music.
Even without lyrics however, this music comes with a concept executed with rare clarity and purpose. The title of the album dismisses the monarch who supposedly reigns over these Londoners, and each song name begins ‘My Queen Is…’: naming a series of nine inspirational, but far less praised, women in her place. It’s an example of a political album being done absolutely right: choosing not to eulogise, but instead to revive forgotten histories. Just reading the Wikipedia entries for the names which appear across the track-list counters the education many of us received in our school classrooms: referencing South African activist Albertina Sisulu and modern heroine Doreen Lawrence OBE to name just two. With this simple idea, Sons Of Kemet have given us the kind of political statement which comes through the medium of jazz once in a generation, in the vein of Fela Kuti and Nina Simone before them.
This record’s very existence is a rebuttal on various levels. It rebukes the colonialist mentality which has found mainstream footing again in the wave of populism which continues to rock the liberal status quo in the west, and the system of aristocracy which never went away. But also, musically, it provides an answer to those who’ve said that jazz was dead: it’s rarely sounded more alive than this.
“Brush aside all notions of justice
Make good the engine for vengeance
To be surrounded by strangers
United in a wordless statement
It is frightening having this much presence
To belong to something bigger than a Jobcentre queue
See the world from a not-so-desperate point of view”
List compiled by Liam Inscoe – Jones & Hassan Qadir.