Livewire's Best Albums Of 2018
What a year 2018 has been for music. Everyone's saying it. With comeback albums from some of the biggest artists, new music smashing its way onto our charts, and fresh tracks from the bands who run the industry, this year has blown us away. Even so, as always we're here with our Review of 2018: first up is Livewire's best albums of the year.
Livewire's #1: Ariana Grande - Sweetener: This record is stuffed to the brim with sing-song R&B choruses, starlit features, and emotive lyrics. This album saw Ariana become the artist she was always supposed to be. With her personal life in the spotlight, Ariana keeps her cool through carefully crafted lyrics and experimental pop beats. The production by Pharrell is integral to the album’s cohesiveness: from his guest verse on the opening track to the subtle, retro hip hop tinges colouring the extent of the record, it’s an album that will probably go down as Ariana’s magnum opus. The guest features only add to the artistry of the record, instead of taking away from it: Nicki Minaj brings her no-nonsense style to 'the light is coming', which is wildly experimental for a mainstream pop album. Pharrell comes into his own on the album opener 'blazed', and rap legend Missy Elliott makes 'borderline' ooze retro vibes, and the song wouldn't sound out of place in a cool underground bar. For someone who started on the Disney Channel to shake her origins so well and make a name for herself because of her artistry, rather than reputation, is incredible. For these reasons, Ariana Grande's Sweetener is our album of the year, hands down. (Some words taken from Erin Bashford's review of the album below)
Jorja Smith - Lost & Found: Few artists blew us away on their debut album the way Jorja Smith did. After what seems like forever, the UK R&B sensation dropped the much anticipated Lost & Found and it is everything we could’ve asked for and more. Combining jazzy live production, mind-blowing vocals, brilliant songwriting and some fantastic concepts, Lost & Found sees Jorja Smith setting herself apart from the competition, proving that she is here for the long run. As soon as her stunning vocals enter the opening title track, ‘Lost & Found’, it’s clear that she has something special, and as the album goes on she proves this time and time again with her truly absurd vocal range. Now it’s clear that Jorja Smith has an incredible voice but what is really impressive with this album is the songwriting, as Smith manages to craft entire stories into short 4 minute bites, like on the sensational ‘Blue Lights’ which she uses to lament about the human experience of British crime, or the spoken-word ‘Lifeboats (Freestyle)’ in which Smith explores the class division in politics over a minimal beat courtesy of Tom Misch. The album jumps from some pop bangers like on the acclaimed ‘Teenage Fantasy’ to some absolute emotional gut-punches like on the closer ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’ without losing momentum, keeping you engaged right up until the end. At just over 45 minutes, Lost & Found doesn’t feel like a chore to listen to and instead sees one of the UK’s biggest rising stars carving her own lane in the R&B scene through a fantastic album that is sure to keep Jorja Smith in the ears of the public for some years to come.
Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino: The year is 2018 and Arctic Monkeys have made a return with their first release since 2013. A perhaps adventurous step for them and an alienating step to some of their audience. The trajectory of frontman Alex Turner was clear nonetheless, with inspirations from Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and Serge Gainsbourg slowly creeping in on the second The Last Shadow Puppets release, it would undoubtedly leak into work with the Arctic Monkeys. The retro space-themed lounge-y concept threads its way throughout the record- from start to finish a clear image is painted; the image of the very cosmic casino that Turner seems to obsess over, with album art, character concepts and aural effects all linking back to it. Slinky bass and a well-restrained drum beat characterize the rhythm section, while on the other hand Turner delivers breathy surrealism which evokes the intimate, wonderfully claustrophobic tones of Gainsbourg. The whole record wears its allegiances on its sleeve, but like all records by them, these allegiances are flattering, and in fact, they still manage to make it their own. Popularisation of soundscapes that can be unlistenable, or at the very least unpalatable to the masses, is one of the specialities of this band. With gems of lyrics such as ‘I just wanted to be one of the Strokes’, ‘What do you mean you haven’t seen Blade Runner?’, the record frequently elicits smiles in unusual ways. This altogether shows that contrary to some arguments, there hasn’t been too much change here--the only circumstantial change is surface, the identity of Arctic Monkeys is still ever-present. The delivery is just as conversational and adolescent as their debut and humour is as evident as ever. 'Four Out of Five', the lead single, slowly builds to a climax- accompanied by an ear worm of a chorus and a strolling rhythm. It is the most popular track and perhaps one of the most excellent releases by Arctic Monkeys to date. This contrasts quite strongly with 'She Looks Like Fun' which clashes and launches itself around the dynamic range, occasionally vocals interjecting with haunting-psychedelic chants. An honourable mention must be made for the closing track, a moving introspective ballad closing the album with a satisfaction not too uncommon in work by Turner. Crooning over building chords, 60s drum beats and a twee guitar solo, it takes you from an empty church hall, to a dusty saloon and all the way back to your teenage bedroom in a matter of minutes. The release is a cut above other releases by major artists this year, and something can certainly be said for the fact that Arctic Monkeys are still the driving force for British guitar music in the overground.
The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships: The 1975 are a band known for their catchy indie pop and cool, effortless aura. With their newest album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, they bring an entirely new sound and personality. The album jumps from electric, to jazz, to acoustic and R&B. With that much experimentation, it’d be easy for this album to lose track of itself. Miraculously, it flows from song to song, questioning the state of the world, and exploring some of the intricacies that come along with modern relationships, including the relationship between drugs and addicts. While some say it’s a sequel of sorts to OK Computer by Radiohead, this acidic, unique album exists in a league of its own, and brings a new face to a band that’s previously fallen into the background for being repetitive. With songs like 'It’s Not Living if It’s Not with You', we get a punchy pop tune that feels like it jumped straight out of an 80’s car radio. The album seems to carry that electric pop theme, but it’s much more refined and thought-out than much of the music we would’ve seen a couple of decades ago. There is no doubt that this album means a new era for the band, and we can only hope that it sticks around for a while.
George Ezra - Staying at Tamara's: George Ezra’s Staying at Tamara’s shows off everything we like about Ezra’s music. It’s upbeat, anecdotal, and charming. There is often an infectious happiness found in his music; even his more sombre sounding tunes like ‘The Beautiful Dream’ bleed warmth in every line. Two of the singles from the album, ‘Don’t Matter Now and ‘Shotgun’ are a pair of standouts from Ezra’s whole discography, with 'Shotgun' making you reminisce about a road trip you weren’t on, but somehow enjoyed nonetheless. ‘Don’t Matter Now’ is the perfect lazy day song, capturing the feeling of taking a day off for yourself in his unique folk-pop style. Non-single favourites include ‘Get Away’ and ‘Only a Human’. Ezra also collaborates with other folk favourites, First Aid Kit, on the track ‘Saviour’. Definitely an album of the year for us.
Perhaps the most surprising album of the year, mostly because I’d never listened to her before I stumbled across her debut LP on Spotify, Kali Uchis’ Isolation is my favourite release of 2018. The production shines, every song is bouncing with complex melodies and catchy hooks, and it fits together like a puzzle. There are elements of bossa nova, Latin roots, and R&B; the one part that stick out the most is how herself Kali is. The tracks are all hauntings of her past whilst being multifaceted pop hits, and it’s an album that is as deeply personal as it is accessible. With features from some of my other favourite artists, Damon Albarn, Jorja Smith, and Tyler, the Creator, to be specific, this is an album that will never, ever disappoint. Second is Livewire’s official Album of the Year, Ariana Grande’s Sweetener: this record, like Isolation, is stuffed to the brim with sing-song R&B choruses, starlit features, and emotive lyrics. This album saw Ariana, in my mind, become the artist she was always supposed to be. With her personal life in the spotlight, Ariana keeps her cool through carefully crafted lyrics and experimental pop beats. The production by Pharrell is integral to the album’s cohesiveness: from his guest verse on the opening track to the subtle, retro hip hop tinges colouring the extent of the record, it’s an album that will probably go down as Ariana’s magnum opus. Quite a pop list from me this year, Confidence Man’s debut album Confident Music For Confident People is the most outrageous compilation of music ever released. A bold statement, sure, but when you’ve listened to the record, not an untrue statement. Every track is a bubbling concoction of social ridicule, humour, and intense dance-pop. The quartet’s live performances are off the scale for entertainment, so definitely check them out on Youtube, or even better, irl. We’re taking the tone down for the next album, but not in terms of pace or energy. Songs of Praise, another debut album from South London band Shame, is so deserving of a place on this list. There’s a sense of care with its entire construction, and the way the band’s politics are woven in and out of every song is second to none. Like Confidence Man, there’s also subtle humour throughout, and their live performance is electric. I’ll say it now: the first half of Songs of Praise is a modern punk masterpiece. Speaking of masterpieces, the final album on this list is Be The Cowboy, by the very talented Mitski. This album is harrowing. Mitski’s vocals are possibly the most emotional and touching around today, and the way she carries the record through her poignant performance is astounding. Be The Cowboy is in no way short of catchy alt-rock bops, though, they’re all just served with a side of tears. What a phenomenal year 2018 was for music.
Starting off my list we have Pusha T with Daytona. With only seven tracks, the Kanye West produced album has shown the heights that minimalist rap music can reach with standout tracks like ‘If You Know You Know’ and ‘The Games We Play’. Following this at number four we have Halo Maud with Je Suis Une Île. This is a beautiful debut from the French artist mixing experimental pop with psychedelia which glides effortlessly between English and French throughout. My highlights from this album are ‘Wherever’ and ‘Fred’. Taking the third spot is Insecure Men with their self-titled debut album. It is unsurprising this London troupe ended up in my top five albums as the quality of musicians in The Windmill centred supergroup is unprecedented. In tracks like ‘Cliff Has Left The Building’ and ‘The Saddest Man In Penge’ lead singer Saul Adamczewski clever lyricism really shins through and blends perfectly with the psychedelic toy pop which underpins it. Following this we have Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker with her solo album abysskiss. Delicate and honest, this is wholly beautiful collection of songs. Having first come across the opening track ‘terminal paradise’ in a live video I knew this album was going to be something special. It is an album I can listen to endlessly (and have done since it’s release) as its elegant and airy acoustic songs seamlessly guide you to its end. ‘symbol’ and ‘from’ are high points for me in this. Finally, my number one album of the year is Nils Frahm with All Melody. Though being a fan of Nils Frahm’s previous works, All Melody passed me by on its initial release in January and my first listen was in the midst of attempting to do a recent formative. However, the album completely blew me away so unfortunately very little work was achieved that evening. When you listen to the album it's clear why, as tracks like ‘Sunson’ and ‘Momentum’ completely surround you in their minimalist yet deeply interesting layers. Though I discovered it late in the year I have not stopped revisiting it, would highly recommend it and Nils Frahm's other works to anyone.
2018 was the year of the 20-minute album, and the format has been expertly used by so many artists that it’s no surprise 3 of my 5 top albums are short, sharp experiences. The first is not however – Maxo Kream dropped Punken on January 12th, and I haven’t forgotten it 11 months later. Full of big trap bangers, expertly crafted rapping, and a surprising amount of emotion for a lifelong Houston Crip. Vince Staples’ FM! packages a fantastic concept into a sharp set of tracks, all interconnecting through radio station clips and sub 30 second tracks. Vince’s rapping is on point as always, and this is probably the first time I’ve ever loved a Tyga track – this album could definitely do with being longer. Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s KIDS SEE GHOSTS is the perfect length, however. All the tracks are so full of energy and passion from both artists, delivering perhaps their most intriguing and best performances in years. Just behind the top spot is Denzel Curry’s TA13OO, the latest release from the 23 year old Florida rapper who keeps going from strength to strength. He delivers perhaps the most energetic and hungry verses this year, with aggressive beats – but also delves into the more personal side of rap, and the balance is a joy to listen to. My album of the year, however, cannot be anything other than Pusha T’s DAYTONA. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an album this short deliver absolutely everything possible. Seven tracks and twenty minutes in length begs for this to be repeated over and over, and boy is that what has been happening all year. Got a short walk to campus? DAYTONA. Bus journey? DAYTONA. Any single short amount of time with no noise to fill silence? DAY-bloody-TONA. It became my default album for pretty much any time, any place, and for good reason. Each track has a masterfully crafted beat from Kanye West, with just the right amount of kick in the bass and energy in the synths. Pusha T is one of the most versatile and talented rappers at the moment, and DAYTONA goes to demonstrate it more than ever. His incredibly constructed diss in 'Infrared', the braggadocios 'What Would Meek Do?', the triumphant 'The Games We Play' – he flexes his bars like never before. The two features from Rick Ross and Kanye are nigh-on perfect for the tone of the tracks, and it all just combines into an album that I don’t think will leave my rotation for a long, long time.
I don’t think it would be too bold to say that 2018 has been one of the best years for hip-hop in recent memory, from Travis Scott’s long-awaited Astroworld to a Kendrick Lamar curated movie soundtrack, it has really been a special year for fans of modern hip-hop. Before I begin, some honourable mentions go out to Against All Logic’s fantastic 2012-2017 and Saba’s emotional Care for Me, who just missed out on the shortlist. Out of the 4 Kanye-produced albums of 2018, Pusha T’s Daytona was the only one to make it into my top albums out of sheer consistency as he boasts 7 tracks, 20+ minutes and not one dull moment. Pusha made it clear he didn’t have time for filler as every single song sees him coming through with brilliantly witty bars, top-tier wordplay and above all, a high concentration of his signature ‘Yeugh!’ adlib. While technically an EP, Kilo Kish's Mothe is another one of my favourite listens of the year as it easily one of the slickest and well produced projects I've heard in some time. Taking its psychedelic, synth-wave aesthetic very seriously, Mothe ranges from glistening ballads to absolute bangers as Kilo breaks down the boundaries of what it means to be a pop artist in 2018 and I am here for it. My next album is sure to be on a lot of lists this year and for good reason as Idles’ Joy as an Act of Resistance is punchy, politically charged and most importantly, loud. After their electric Brutalism last year, there was a significant buzz surrounding the Bristol-based punk 5-piece and it’s fair to say that Joy as an Act of Resistance certainly lives up to it, as the band freshen up their sound enough to sound new but still keep their classic hilarious songwriting and of course, the pounding drums. Another highly anticipated hip-hop release of the year came from Denzel Curry with TA13OO (Taboo) an incredible concept album that sees the Florida rapper delving deeper and deeper into his psyche with an album that is emotional, potent and above all else, absolutely banging. Opening with some lighter bops and slowly devolving into chaos, TA13OO has without a doubt some of the hardest hitting hip-hop I’ve heard this year as the final 3 tracks are guaranteed to blow out your headphones. And finally, my undisputed favourite album of the year is a surprise entry from Julian Casablancas project The Voidz and their fantastically weird Virtue, an album that transitions between all areas of psychedelic rock seamlessly in a way that shouldn’t be coherent at all but somehow executes all these separate ideas impeccably. From hard hitting grungy rock on tracks like ‘Black Hole’ to Talking Heads-esque new-wave bops in ‘All Wordz Are Made Up’, this album shows what genre-blending is capable of and is, in my eyes, pretty much perfect.
At number five on my list is Mac Miller’s fifth and final studio album, Swimming. Miller’s tragic death this year caused a lot more attention to be placed on his final studio album, however the project is not on my top five list solely as a tribute to the late rapper. Mac Miller showed growth from project to project over the eleven-year period he made music and Swimming demonstrated a new peak for Mac. In the ballad-like opening track ‘Come Back to Earth’, Miller states, “I was drowning but now I’m swimming”, as he discusses his hope for a sober future, which is particularly heartbreaking in hindsight. After the opening track, Miller takes the listeners on a journey of jazzy and funky beats and bass lines, with his classic quirky, yet emotional raps. Number four on my list had to be given to Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s collaborative project, KIDS SEE GHOSTS. The seven track project is expertly produced by Kanye himself, containing insane sampling on tracks such as ‘4th Dimension’ and ‘Cudi Montage’. The two flow off each other perfectly and the seven track album means that there is no filler tracks, with each song showing the listener the duo’s sheer talent. Kali Uchis’ first full-length album, Isolation takes number three on my list. The Colombian-American is creative, unique and catchy, with pop hits such as ‘Just a Stranger’ featuring Steve Lacy, flowing perfectly into slower tracks like ‘Flight 22’. The features and production on the project include the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Jorja Smith, Damon Albarn and Kevin Parker, on this expertly crafted pop album. Pusha T hadn’t really made much of an impact as a solo artist since he became president of Kanye West’s GOOD Music label in 2015, but 2018’s DAYTONA made up for that. The album came out as the first of Kanye West’s seven-track albums he produced over the summer and the instrumentals and beats are out of this world, and Pusha’s flow and delivery on tracks such as ‘If You Know, You Know’ is commanding. Rapper Saba burst onto the Chicago rap scene in 2016 with his debut album Bucket List Project. In the year after his debut release, Saba’s cousin and mentor was stabbed to death. 2018 saw the release of Saba’s sophomore studio album, Care for Me, a 10 track project maintaining the optimism and energy from his debut, but also expressing the grief and heartbreak felt by Saba. The penultimate track of the album 'PROM/KING' is a particular standout moment, in which Saba tells happy memories of his cousin’s life and discusses his tragic death. Despite the dark themes of the album, the rap project juxtaposes darker tracks with songs such as 'LOGOUT' (featuring Chance the Rapper), which discusses our modern obsession with social media.
People have been calling Denzel Curry underrated for years now, and his July release TA13OO has done a lot to put him on the pedestal he so rightly deserves to be on. The Floridian rapper jumps from the mellow introspective tones of ‘Clout Cobain’ to the unbridled raw hype of ‘Sumo’ with ease. 'Sumo' was the first single released from the album and I simply cannot be held responsible for my actions if I’m within 100 yards of it being played. I've never been a huge fan of Arctic Monkeys, and when they released Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino all I saw on social media was their fans absolutely digging into Sheffield’s finest, so I had to listen to see what all the hate was about. Alex Turner leads the band to a new psych-pop sound and I’m so glad he did it. The last minute of first single ‘Four Out Of Five’ alone should be enough to convince the long-time fans it’s one of the bands best albums to date, not to mention all the stunning tech-noir visuals they’ve put out to accompany the album. Dev Hynes seems to succeed in everything he does and his latest Blood Orange project Negro Swan was no exception. From the slow building melancholic funk opening of 'Orlando’ to the more drum heavy tracks like ‘Out of Your League’ with The Internet’s Steve Lacy on bass. This atmospheric neo-soul album shows the world the immense talents that Hynes has to offer, not that anyone was ever in doubt. The number 2 spot goes to one of the most unique and refreshing glam rock bands right now, The Lemon Twigs. I saw them in Glasgow last year and didn’t think they could get any better, I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. With new album Go to School the D'Addario brothers provide a surreal journey and an album in the truest sense, a rock opera following the life of a monkey called Shane gives The Lemon Twigs the perfect platform to show everyone how madly talented they are. The album might not have the instant hits that ‘Do Hollywood’ had back in 2016, but as a full project it’s tough to beat. Milo (aka Rory Ferreira) described his new project as “a contemporary rhythm and poetry album made by someone who loves the form and enjoys creating what they want to hear in the world” for the last few years I’ve seen Milo do exactly that with almost every project he’s been involved in. Honestly, I’m just an unapologetic and unrelenting Milo fan. And since its September release, budding ornithologists grow weary of tired analogies has been on an essentially permanent shuffle for me. The way the rapsmith jumps from stripped back drum machine to smooth jazz piano over the 15 tracks is like no other album this year, all while interspersing smooth samples of other poets , I can’t imagine ever getting bored with the latest of Milo’s successes.
The Carters’ Everything is Love kicks off my albums of the year list. The heavily rumoured album was finally dropped unexpectedly at the end of their On the Run II show in London, and subsequently became the perfect summer soundtrack. It has everything from heavy hip-hop beats on tracks such as ‘Apesh*t’, to the mellow, laidback ‘Lovehappy’ and ‘Summer, as well as Beyoncé rapping, and some politics thrown in for good measure (‘Blakc Effect’) - what more could you possibly want? Second on my list is the self-titled Kids See Ghosts, the joint venture between Kanye West and Kid Cudi, and one of 5 albums Kanye produced as part of his Wyoming Sessions this summer. It’s a short album, only 7 songs, but manages to pack a massive punch, with grandiose production, expertly chopped-up samples, and elements of rock rap that separates it from other albums out now. What really elevates it, however, are West and Cudi’s abilities to skilfully switch between rock rap and frank, honest discussions of mental health issues. The result is an eerie and unsettling but rewarding listen. Ye, Kanye West’s eighth album, is third on my albums of the year list. Although parts of the album feel less finished, with loose ends dangling, it gave a much-needed insight into the chaotic mind of West and his apparent struggle with Bi-Polar disorder (the album art reads: ‘I hate being Bi-Polar, it’s awesome’). Ye is an unapologetically Kanye album, which leaves you wanting just a little bit more. Nevertheless, it gave us some bangers, in the form of ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Yikes’ and ‘No Mistakes’, along the way. Pusha T’s album DAYTONA is next on my list. It’s another of the Wyoming Session albums produced by West, which is undoubtedly apparent, thanks to the excellent beats and sample-heavy tracks, some of which leave listeners slightly disconcerted. It’s very slick, and the production is stark, to let Pusha shine, through intricate storytelling of his lifestyles, past and present, in his trademark smooth flow. Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer is the fifth album on my albums of the year list. Monáe’s album is perfect pop with catchy melodies, beautiful lyrics and striking visuals. Whilst considered pop, Dirty Computer also has elements of funk, hip-hop, soul, R&B and more, and is a vehicle for important issues such as feminism, politics, sexuality, race and power structures. It’s not only a great album, it’s also an important one.
Being a big fan of chill out music and duets, First Aid Kit ticks all the boxes. Ruins in particular is brilliant, as both the lyrics and melody come together to form a calming and whimsical collection of songs that are meaningful and heartfelt. ‘Rebel Heart’ kicks off this album with upbeat country passion but also leads into more sultry and sad tunes such as ‘Fireworks and ‘Ruins’. A perfect album for a rainy day indoors! Indie music has had a particularly good year and this debut album by The Academics is a brilliant example. Both indie-pop and upbeat it’s a great album for long car journeys. Songs like ‘Bear Claws’ and ‘Girlfriends’ are charming in their unique metaphors, and I particularly loved the bands’ creative use of the Facebook video loop to create a music video for ‘Bear Claws’ (seriously, check it out). As a long time fan of Tom Odell, Jubilee Road was an exciting milestone in the year for me and this album is gorgeous. Odell’s continued use of melodic piano and soulful lyrics really makes for an uplifting album. His mastery in lyricism is evident and Jubilee Road particularly calls for praise as he paints a beautifully sad picture of modern London. Lemon Boy by Cavetown is a very relaxing listen, but still the best of his albums so far. Starting off with an uplifting message within ‘Lemon Boy’ and transitioning to the slower and heavier songs such as ‘Fool’ Cavetown uses the ukulele as a basis instrument for all of the songs and yet each one sounds unique. As with all the other albums I’ve mentioned, the lyrics in this album are beautiful and deep and it is the perfect album after a stressful day or when you’re trying to get some work done. Since 2006 when ‘Chelsea Dagger’ came out, I’ve adored The Fratellis and this album, unlike some of their other preceding ones, is brilliant. A mix of popular sound and good old indie guitar makes for a really upbeat and fun listening experience. ‘Stand Up Tragedy’ and ‘Star-crossed Losers’ make particularly brilliant tunes for any kind of weather and mood and are reminiscent of 2012-based indie tunes. Good lyrics, great melodies and great fun, this album is everything I wanted it to be.
I personally hadn’t listened to much of Mac Miller’s discography before his untimely death late this summer. Upon hearing the tragic news, I got listening to his latest album, Swimming, and boy am I glad I did. This 13-track journey weaves through the tangles of Mac’s mind, outlining the struggles of self-acceptance and identity. The neo-soul foundation splashed with watery synths and gentle orchestral rises, presents one of the most vulnerable and authentic bodies of work I’ve ever heard. The Brooklyn rap trio Flatbush Zombies have certainly cemented themselves into the elites of the hip hop scene with the release of their second studio album, Vacation In Hell, earlier this year. From first seeing the vibrant artwork, I had a feeling this album would be on rotation for a long, long time. Spanning 19 tracks, this album is filled to the brim with bouncy 808s and infectiously catchy hooks. Denzel Curry’s latest album, TA1300, was a mood-piece of brilliance which deserves everyone’s attention. Split into three section: the light, the gray, and the dark side, TA1300 transports you into the deepest parts of Denzel’s psyche. Although Denzel Curry made his name within the ‘Soundcloud rap’ class, this album certainly separated him from the rest of the pack. The world’s hardest working boyband were back at it again this year with their highly anticipated album Iridescence. Following the boyband’s turbulent start of the year, Iridescence was a sonic departure from the group’s previous Saturation trilogy. Incorporating woozy pitch shifting vocals and industrial pumping basslines, the group’s 4th studio album showed off some of their most intense sections, alongside their most heartfelt and vulnerable moments. IDLES were the band which made me excited about guitar music again. Without the use of any hyperbole, I genuinely believe they are one of the most important British punk bands to ever exist. Their second studio album Joy Is An Act of Persistence, comes in hard with politically charged motives in which their passion feels almost tangible. The combination of growling vocals and unrelenting riffs fuel a cathartic experience in which revolutionary platitudes are engraved in every track.
Mitski is well known for her ability to write sad tunes and set it to a smooth guitar riff. But with Be the Cowboy, her third studio album, we see her biggest and most dazzling vocal yet--even in the album’s quietest moments. Her lyrics shine through more than ever, with the song 'Nobody' standing out among the rest. From nostalgic, to sad, to thoughtful, Mitski has delivered once again. A relative newcomer to the indie scene, Lindsey Jordan, otherwise known as Snail Mail, has a voice and lyrics much beyond her years. Her first full length album, Lush, shows off her maturity and viability as a musician. Her easy-listening guitar is led with a strong, urgent vocal that begs you to understand her and her plights. With tracks such as 'Heat Wave' and 'Pristine', Jordan shows that she’s indeed a force to be reckoned with. Lucy Dacus is undeniably something of a poster child for the indie music world right now, and that’s for good reason. On her newest album, Historian, Dacus seems to sing right from her mouth directly into the heart, with poetic lyrics and haunting vocals. This album has a way of seeming very personal in a way most artists can’t accomplish. Even on the album’s most upbeat moments, she finds a way to insert emotion in a way that’s hard to miss. The 1975 are no doubt an eclectic pop band, with their major key guitar chords and punchy, raspy vocals by band frontman Matty Healy. However, their newest album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, highlights an electric, beat-heavy side of pop that we seldom hear on the radio. Each track brings something different to the table, all with the glitter and fervour of something straight out of the 1980’s, but with a unique enough twist that it leaves you wanting more. For many listeners, the combination of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus into a band is something of a dream. Luckily for them, this became a reality with the release of boygenius, a brainchild of the trio in the form of an EP. With Baker playing many of the instruments, and an even distribution of vocals between the three of them, they manage to weave a collection of songs that stand out from their own individual discographies, but manage to scratch every itch of listeners of all three of them. The songs are simple, but varied, and the strong guitar riffs with raw harmonies managed to create my favorite album of 2018.
It was an immense struggle to come up with such a list considering the vast swathes of excellent material to choose from, but I believe I have selected some good ‘uns. The first of my top 2018 albums is Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along. Now, indie rock isn’t something I usually listen to, save for some classics, but this album is full to the brim with exceptional vocals (from Frances Quinlan), melodies, and musicianship. It’s both joyous and melancholy as well as completely infectious. Highlights are ‘The Fox in Motion’ and ‘How Simple’. Next up is the brilliant Time ‘n’ Place by Kero Kero Bonito, which marks a bit of departure from their dominantly electronic sound with the inclusion of some real instruments. Even so, their sweet vocals and melodies remain, Sarah Perry’s soft voice fitting in perfectly. There is exceptional production from Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled as always, mixing up noise music, rock and pop in a creative and original way. A highlight is ‘Time Today’. Thirdly, we have Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES, for whom I tried to get tickets for in the LCR next year. Alas, I was unsuccessful, but I still have this work of art to appreciate. After coming through with their tremendous debut, Brutalism, last year, they have come through with something which is ultimately more powerful, more politicised, and more measured. I love my post-punk, and I’d say this is some of the best we have. It is surprisingly accessible with its melodies, so I wouldn’t fail to recommend it to others. Highlights are ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ and ‘Colossus’. The album I’ve placed as my second favourite of the year is Veteran by JPEGMAFIA. Blimey, what a hip-hop album this is! It isn’t hip-hop as we know it; it is incredibly noisy in parts, and always experimental. Produced entirely by JPEG himself, the entire soundscape is unique, with cut up vocal samples used to dizzying effect in ‘Real Nega’, and glitchy, clicky sounds in ‘Thug Tears’. JPEG’s rapping is worth mentioning as well-–it manages to be both high-pitched and threatening, and his flows are fantastic too. I can’t do it justice within this short space, so I recommend a listen. At the top of my list is 2012 – 2017 by A.A.L. (Against All Logic). Not everyone may agree, but I personally can’t stop listening to it. Against All Logic is the lesser known moniker of the electronic musician and composer Nicolas Jaar, and what he has come out with here is a masterpiece of sample-based dance music. Every song on here is ridiculously well produced, managing to be infectious and utterly hypnotic, with the samples utilised to perfection. This is dance done tastefully, in a way that has Nicolas Jaar’s sound all over it. I should also say that it’s best listened to on vinyl in order to properly experience the bass. All in all, I would recommend this album as well as the work he has done under his own name. Highlights are ‘Now U Got Me Hooked’ and ‘I Never Dream’.
You can listen to Livewire's Albums of The Year 2018 Playlist below: