I know nobody reads this bit, but I’ve really enjoyed a lot of music this year. I don’t get to listen for leisure quite as much as I used to, and only encountered many of the releases here because I had the chance to review or interview the artist (I’ve linked those in wherever applicable). The vast majority were for live music/ticket comparison website Stereoboard, where I’ve been scribbling for eight years now (!). However, this year I also had the privilege of writing long-form features for the likes of Vice, The Skinny and Clash (full porfolio here).
I won’t speculate too much on wider trends or anything like that — my list isn’t trying to cater to various scenes or reflect a readership because it’s just personal and unintentionally informed by various biases. I hope, though, there will be albums here that spark your interest. On reflection, I wish I’d taken more time to promote local stuff this year. Scotland Stand Up, the hip hop blog and podcast I’ve co-managed for the last few years, is on hiatus at the moment and evolving into something new. Regardless, I don’t think it would be fair to include too many guys from the scene because I’d be lying if I said I’d invested enough time (shout out to Bram Gieben who’s again stepped up to the plate).
Anyway, enough of that. You can read a longer reflection on my number one pick and why it meant a lot to me (clue: self love and subversion of toxic masculinity are key themes…) here. For the rest, I’ve tried to be as brief as possible. So, aye, dig in:
50. Another Sky — Forget Yourself (Alternative) Underground gem I discovered by accident. This is technically an EP, but had to include. Atmospheric rock tunes with ethereal vocals.
49. The Weeknd — My Dear Melancholy (R&B)
Much of this lyrically shallow and lacking in subtlety, but it makes up for it sonically. My favourite Weeknd project since his mixtape Trilogy.
48. Jamie Lenman — Live at St Pancras (Rock)
It’s my list so I’ll throw in a live album for good measure. The funniest, most charming guy in UK music — everything he does is gold.
47. Nas — Illmatic: Live From the Kennedy Centre (Hip Hop)
His new album was decent yet disappointing (see review). This orchestral arrangement of the greatest rap album of all time is more enjoyable.
46. Binker and Moses — Alive in the East (Jazz)
A live showcase of everything that makes Binker and Moses the most exciting new duo in jazz. Hugely energetic and accomplished, mixed perfectly.
45. Orphaned Land — Unsung Prophets… (Metal)
I’ve followed these guys since Mabool in 2004 — progressive folk metal with an emphasis on peace in Israel/Palestine. OTT and ridiculous, but I love it.
44. Boygenius — Boygenius (Alternative)
Pretty, introspective indie tunes from Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers. Too short to make it higher unfortunately. Wonderfully bittersweet.
43. Dead Can Dance — Dionysus (Ambient)
Not as good as their 2012 album ‘Anastasis’, but everyone should hear DCD — otherworldly music that sounds like nothing else.
42. Pusha T — Daytona (Hip Hop)
Pusha T’s best moment of 2018 was his thorough dissection of Drake in their running feud. This is a close second, solid and concise with strong verses.
41. Solareye — All These People Are Me (Hip Hop)
For all I cover and promote Scottish hip hop, local releases rarely make the top end of my lists. Solareye is the real deal, though. My interview linked.
40. Vince Staples — FM! (Hip Hop)
From review: “His gut instinct isn’t to romanticise the world he’s grown up in but accurately represent a community that’s had the spirit beat out of it.”
39. Anna von Hausswolff — Dead Magic (Ambient)
Grandiose and experimental in the vein of the aforementioned Dead Can Dance. Von Hauswolff’s vocals, though, are delivered with more passion.
38. Nothing — Dance on the Blacktop (Alternative)
Nothing aren’t groundbreaking — they rehash 00s Nu Gaze ala Amusement Parks on Fire or Silversun Pickups — but it’s a sound I adore.
37. Flatbush Zombies — Vacation in Hell (Hip Hop)
Angry, nihilistic rap and colourful beats. Too bloated to be considered their best project, but there are some absolute jams on here. Review linked.
36. Hammock — Universalis (Ambient)
Last.fm tells me I listened to these guys more than anyone else this year. Their newest project isn’t a stand-out for me yet but still stunning at points.
35. Dabbla — Death Moves (Hip Hop)
A martial arts-inspired romp showcasing London emcee Dabbla’s diverse array of skills, from double time grime to boom bap flows. Interview linked.
34. Delta Sleep — Ghost City (Rock)
Keeping the torch alive on UK shores for passionate, technically inventive math rock. My interview with them linked.
33. Oxygen Thief — Confusion Species (Rock)
Dissonant grunge with upbeat melodies and political lyrics — it’s a really simple formula but delivered immaculately. Interview linked.
32. Mick Jenkins — Pieces of a Man (Hip Hop)
From review linked: “[He] follows through on Heron’s thematic emphasis … and how he navigates that as a young black man in capitalist America.”
31. The Internet — Hive Mind (R&B)
Linked review: “their most fluid and coherent release … they’ve learned the value of hanging back and letting the lead protagonists do their thing.”
30. Brockhampton — Irridescence (Hip Hop)
My #1 last year. Not as exhilarating as their ‘Saturation’ trilogy, but the opening of a new chapter in the Texas collective’s sound. Review linked.
29. El Ten Eleven — Banker’s Hill (Post-Rock)
Extremely underrated and technical instrumental rock duo making the best music of their career nearly two decades after forming. Interview linked.
28. TesseracT — Sonder (Metal)
Broke tradition by not speaking to anyone from the band ahead of this one. The return of vocalist Dan Tompkins has been a gift.
27. Black Foxxes — Reidi (Rock)
I miss the likes of Reuben, Hundred Reasons and Hell is for Heroes, so these guys are a blast back to the glory days of UK alt rock.
26. TTNG — Animals Acoustic (Alternative)
A lot of folk were dead into Car Seat Headrest re-recording Twin Fantasy. I preferred TTNG doing a reinterpretation of this UK math rock classic.
25. Taken — With Regard To (Punk)
A worthy comeback from a little known band. Their EP ‘Between Two Unseens’ remains my favourite melodic hardcore release of all time.
24. God Is An Astronaut — Epitaph (Post-Rock)
Was really surprised by how much I liked this. A second wind for an Irish band whose dreamy post-rock sound had started to go stale.
23. Ocean Wisdom — Wizville (Hip Hop)
Longer than it needed to be. Nevertheless, Wisdom is one of the most outright gifted UK spitters of his generation. My interview linked.
22. Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth (Jazz)
I’m no jazz expert I’ll admit — so this might be an obvious choice — but fallen in love with this guy’s music since discovering him on Kendrick’s TPAB.
21. Hopesfall — Arbiter (Punk)
Return of a legendary US post-hardcore act. My interview (which cost me more than I got paid for it due to some phone contract confusion…) is linked.
20. Pijn — Loss (Post-Rock)
One of the most powerful projects I heard this year, this revolves entirely around the concept of loss. Intense, dark and beautiful. Interview linked.
19. Sectioned — Annihalated (Metal)
I’ve not listened to metal on a regular basis since I was a teenager, but this took me right back. Relentless and technical Converge-esque mathcore.
18. Deepchord — Immersions (Techno)
I’m not really up on what’s actually happening in modern techno or house (lol), but Deepchord’s stuff is always mindblowing.
17. Freddie Gibbs & Curren$y — Fetti (Hip Hop)
Bitesized collab which was way better than the two rappers’ respective solo efforts. I like Gibbs most with Madlib, but Alchemist isn’t a bad substitute.
16. Proc Fiskal — Insula (Grime)
A distinctly Scottish take on grime production with hyperactive loops and lush synths. Swear I can hear a bit of Aphex Twin in there as well.
15. Olafur Arnalds — re:member (Ambient)
His frequent collaborator Nils Frahm’s 2018 album might be more of a career defining work, but Arnalds is more consistent. The closing run is exhilarating.
14. Tangled Hair — We Do What We Can (Rock)
Midwest indie rock reimagined by an English band bursting with big ideas, beautiful hooks and imaginative guitar lines.
13. Young Fathers — Cocoa Sugar (Alternative)
I’ll admit it: the first Young Fathers record I’ve really enjoyed. For whatever reason, their scatterbrained approach finally resonates. Review linked.
12. Earl Sweatshirt — Some Rap Songs (Hip Hop)
Earl’s best full LP by far. He’s matured beyond measure, with a poetic and cryptic style that still resonates widely. Review linked.
11. Vennart — To Cure a Blizzard… (Alternative)
Fun fact: Biffy Clyro’s live guitarist is also one of the best songwriters this country has ever produced. Pop meets prog from ex-Oceansize frontman.
10. MewithoutYou — Untitled (Rock)
Gone off Brand New recently (for obvious reasons) but MewithoutYou deserve all their plaudits. Apocalyptic rock music. Review linked.
9. Kids See Ghosts — Kids See Ghosts (Hip Hop)
Kanye West remains an asshole, even if he has now renounced his Trump support. But this collaboration is undeniably brilliant. Review linked.
8. Beach House — 7 (Alternative)
From linked review: “‘7’ might be a slow burner, but it’s Beach House’s most adventurous and awe-inspiring album yet.” Haze-like sonics.
7. Nao — Saturn (R&B)
An extremely well-structured pop record brimming with poignant lyrics and solid hooks. She deserves to be massive. Review linked.
6. Noname — Room 25 (Hip Hop)
From linked review: “Maybe for Noname, tackling the systemic pressures imposed by a racist and hyper-capitalist system, self-love truly is a radical act.”
5. Saba — Care For Me (Hip Hop)
My favourite rap record this year and one that indicates the direction hip hop has gone in. Vulnerability and openness are no longer faux pas.
4. Against All Logic — 2012–2017 (House)
I listen to a lot of deep house when working, somewhat mindlessly, but this sample-heavy Nicholas Jaar project is too genius not to notice.
3. Black Peaks — All That Divides (Rock)
The best heavy band in the UK right now and they still have more in the tank. Ambitious, intelligent and genuinely progressive. Review linked.
2. Nils Frahm — All Melody (Ambient)
Must have listened to this about 100 times over the course of last Winter. Deep and impressionistic but with a beating pulse. Review linked.
1. Idles — Joy as an Act of Resistance (Punk)
I don’t care how on-the-nose it is — the most life-affirming punk I’ve ever listened to. Positive and emancipatory in sound and stance. Interview linked.