Drowned in Sound’s 15 Favourite Albums of 2018
Listmas is here again. We polled our staff. We made this list. We checked it more than twice.
Preamble by site founder Sean Adams
Charts, polls, and pretty much anything democratic is — as the troubling mess civilisation is in “rn” suggests — flawed in one way or another.
At least that’s what we usually say as a caveat, before bemoaning how reductive end of year lists about music can be. How no top-whatever list can truly map our hearts. That we wish we were better than this: turning music into a competition, but we haven’t found a mechanic that allows us to highlight and celebrate our favourites.
We also accept that our year-end list is often a great way to reach new readers.
We nod-along when people suggest it’d just be better if this was a personal list rather than the few records that 37 people agree on… like, my number 1, so sad so sexy by Lykke Li, didn’t get a single vote from anyone else so doesn’t feature below.
There’s also the existential question: is there really any point to publishing yet another Best of… list online? Yet here we are.
Then, beyond ‘why isn’t X in your list, you idiots’ we get into the more salient reactions online to listageddon: Isn’t there a chance that the best album of the year might come out in November when you’re voting or even in December? (Let’s not get into the fact journalists at monthly magazines vote in early October?!)
With estimates suggesting that over 100,000 records come out each year, how on earth can anyone listen to them all to give a definitive answer as to what the best album of the year is?!
That said, this is the 18th year we’ve published a Best Albums of the Year list (see all the old ones here), and perhaps the first time that the number one was quite so unanimous. It’s also the first time that to the fore of our list is a somewhat confounding record. It’s an album that seems to divide people people into “OMG, you have to hear this!!!” or “I don’t get it, what’s the fuss all about? Why does it sound so distorted?!”
Beyond our number one, the picture was not so clear. Our 37 contributors mentioned over 200 different albums, with the vast majority of those records not being mentioned by any other staff member. You can see all of the top 3s and honourable mentions from our team here.
Without further ado, here is 2018's list, which if nothing else, hopefully provides a new discovery or two for some of you. It is — in my humble opinion — a great snapshot of another great year to be a music fan.
📲 You can sample tracks from these albums on our Spotify playlist here.
MANIC STREET PREACHERS
Resistance Is Futile
#15 on our list is the thirteenth album by Wales’ finest. The trio’s mind-expanding, punk-kissed spirit is woven into the DNA of our website.
RIF is an album that glistens with “widescreen melancholia”. A record that’s less a return to form and more a triple-underlining of how for the past decade the Manics have been carving out the trenches and deep foundations for this exquisite palace of sound. The hooks are bigger than ever, and James Dean Bradfield’s deadly combination of being one of the greatest living guitarists, blessed with one of rock’s most angelic roars, really shines.
Whilst our reviewer Paul Brown may have been a little harsh in his 6/10 appraisal of the record (and what better way to underscore the varied opinions of the individuals involved in the site than it ending up in our best of the year list), he did mention various highlights of the record, including:
While James Dean Bradfield has never been shy of sharing vocal duties, his willingness to cede control of the mic has been even more pronounced in recent years, with duets cropping up more frequently than ever. The Anchoress joins a strong cast of collaborators on ‘Dylan and Caitlin’, and her inclusion is an inspired choice with her rich voice blending luxuriously with the sumptuous strings and the none-more-Manics refrain of “Together the tenderness cries”.
Resistance is Futile has a vitality, bite, and radiance that kept us coming back for more. Don’t believe us? Go turn up ‘International Blue’ and try naming another band who sound this fresh over 30 years since forming.
CAR SEAT HEADREST
At #14 on our list is the re-recorded version of Bandcamp king Will Toledo’s 2011 album.
Cady Siregar writes:
I once thought that Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest is what The Strokes would have eventually morphed into had they not plateaued after ‘Room On Fire’, but I take this back — as to say it is a massive disservice to Toledo. Toledo matches Barnett in songwriting skill, and his re-imagining of his earlier release Twin Fantasy is romantic, intoxicating and breathtaking, the poetry of an early first love set to distorted garage-pop riffs and his incredible crooning. It’s ‘Bodys’ that is the pinnacle of the record, and it’s the song that I feel like my entire life has somehow led up to. There is no return after ‘Bodys’ — or Car Seat Headrest, for that matter.
Robert Oliver concurs with Cady’s last point: It’s ‘Bodys’ that eventually stole the show, to the point where its endless emotional climaxes had me believing that I’d always had it in my life.
The Blue Hour
#13 might be unlucky for some but not for Brett Anderson and his band of black clad men.
Jimi Arudell explains that: The Blue Hour tells the story of the dark and littered spaces of the English countryside found just to the side of the motorway as seen through the eyes of a child. Themes of horror, heartbreak and alienation are explored through fourteen expansive songs which reflect a broken Britain struggling for identity and finding only more inner conflict.
Meanwhile Christopher McBride named the record his album of the year and wrote: It’s very rare that in a year where Suede releases an album that they don’t end up becoming my favourite of the year, and 2018 is no exception, with The Blue Hour seeing the band shift in an orchestral-rock direction, showing a side to the band that we haven’t really seen since their Dog Man Star days.
“Devonté Hynes and his clique help you embrace your feelings and remind you that you’re not alone,” so says DiS’ Mathys Rennela, and he wasn’t alone in his gushing about this extraordinary new album by the former-MySpace star (circa Test Icicles), whose career to date has involved everything from sitting on the cover of the NME under his Lightspeed Champion guise to writing and producing everyone from Kylie to Carly Rae Jepson via Sky Ferreira, Haim, and Blondie.
DiS’ Marc Burrows described Negro Swan as loneliness and rejection done as funk pop. He added that in its own way, it’s a very male album about traditional female emotions, nailed on to our time. Plus it has velcro-catchy, heart-stopping pop hooks.
Art Of Doubt
(Self-released via BMG Rights)
At #11 in our list is Canada’s finest. A band DiS loves so much that in what feels like another lifetime, we were their UK label.
Art of Doubt finds Emily Haines and her compadres staring into the void, and wondering why they can hear a synth party burbling from the abyss.
Whilst a trash fire burned around them and us, there’s a much needed sense of escape to the record. It’s by no means a thoughtless record, and the pondering the point of anything and everything repeatedly pours to the fore. In this poking and prodding, there’s a bruising that flickers in and out of focus.
That said, somehow, Metric have managed to side-step making an out of touch, out of time, hedonistic album, and instead found the hope and possibility that we all need, despite quite clearly feeling as angry and bemused as the rest of us. It’s this strength and grace that makes Art of Doubt one of the stand out albums of 2018. It’s a record people will look back on and wonder how they managed to find any unpopped kernels in a time when everyone else was crying into their popcorn.
Or as Christian Cottingham puts it: Across a dark year it’s been the heroin choruses and mirrorball shimmer of Metric’s seventh album that I’ve turned to over and over, and every single time ‘Now Or Never Now’ (see the video below) and ‘Underline The Black’ have me eyes-closed and dancing as if they’re closing a festival — which they absolutely should be, and how the hell this album didn’t get more notice I understand less than Trump.
(Specialist Subject Records)
At #10 we have an album that DiS’ Matthew Neale describes as:
One of the most gloriously irreverent guitar records in recent memory (“fuck Jeremy Clarkson and fuck you too” indeed).
It was Dave Beech’s album of the year, which he says:
You owe it to yourself to listen to Muncie Girls album and spend some time with one of the most acutely personal yet universally resonant records I’ve had the pleasure to review in a long time. Seriously.
In his review for our pals at DIY Magazine, Dave concluded:
Muncie Girls’ ability to discuss such topics unflinchingly and with effortless understanding is what makes ‘Fixed Ideals’ so irresistible. A record both charming and bold, the dichotomy of upbeat indie-pop and brutally honest lyricism only adds to its appeal.
At #9 we have the album with the best sleeve art of the year. You could just judge the record by its cover, but the music is even better than it suggests.
Our reviews editor, Andrzej Lukowski, described the Scottish trio’s third studio album as being a joyous “post-everything” album. Something which our reviewer Adam Turner-Heffer also noted in his 9/10 appraisal of the album, stating “truly, we are lucky to be in a time and space where Young Fathers fly in the face of their myriad genres — pop, indie, hip-hop, punk — and traverse them all elegantly.”
However, it’s Adam’s conclusion that hit the nail on the head:
Ultimately, Young Fathers continue to prove their worth as an outlier in UK art-pop. Their very specific melting pot of identities continue to be one of the most exciting things coming out of not only Scotland (which they very much are) but in the world, today, facing an increasingly divisive political sphere of which the band’s music is in constant conversation with. In essence, we need Young Fathers more than we actually deserve them.
Back in the DiS archive, we named Young Fathers debut Dead one of our debut albums 2014. We also spoke to the band in 2014 in what remains one of our favourite interviews we’ve published in recent times.
Love is Dead
At #8 we have another Scottish trio. Love is Dead celebrates the end of love with sizzling synths and at glitch in the corner of its eye.
When voting for this album, David Thomas wrote:
This album may be classed as more of the same, but it’s more of the damn good same, with a bit of a cynical look at life and a longing for love mixed in with a heavy helping of synth and 80’s beats. Live, this album is one of the most incredible and intoxicating experiences.
Love is Dead is a surprising and exhilarating listen. You probably won’t earn any cool points for screaming about the band’s third record but we’d rather be right than cool, anyway. There’s a maturity that you’d expect from an act who’ve spent the past 5 years honing their talents, and this triumphant body of work of testament to their continued desire to grow, and prove everyone who deemed them blog-hyped 5-minute-of-famers totally and utterly wrong.
At #7 is an album by a rock band from Exeter (that’s a small city in the South West of England) that scored a whopping 10/10 earlier this year.
We could probably republish Marc Burrows’ entire review, but here are a few choice bits from it:
It’s drama that places Exeter’s Black Foxxes in the very top drawer of current British rock bands. Reiði, their second album, contains more shiver-inducing, goosebump-raising thrills than most bands manage in an entire career. It harks back to the heart-on-the-sleeve Nineties alt-rock of Smashing Pumpkins, Jeff Buckley and early Radiohead, but with a nakedly emotive punch that is extremely 2018, and a knack for gulping pop choruses and distilled outsiderdom that is both timeless and entirely the band’s own.
Black Foxxes are a special band. The kind that deserves to have their logo written on pencil cases, and their posters blue-tacked to walls. The kind of band that turn every walk or drive they soundtrack into a cinematic masterpiece. The kind that make you cry. The kind that keep your heart beating. This is music for dark nights and bright mornings. Music for the cold, the lonely and the loved all at once. Music to wrap yourself in and make your own. It’s drama and joy and thrilling noise, and you need to hear it now.
At #6 it’s the majestic third album from the saviour of British rock (if you believe guitar music is dead, etc, etc). At least that’s how it feels, as her guitar howls and operatic voice quivers.
It’s a record that — as Eva Mackevic points out — tackles the eternal quest of finding oneself to the sound of roaring, Hendrix-like guitar riffs.
It’s an album that at times deals with the duality of anger and restraint. In places, the guitar strings may bend harder than the pronouns, but within that tension there’s a wonderful sense of patience and control. It’s the sort of considered rage that waits for the opportune moment to sink its teeth. Meanwhile, in Hunter’s gentler tracks, a light shower of ash washes over you.
It’s a soulful record that snakes and soars. And according to Jamie Lawlor it’s an album that “epitomises what it is to be free.”
OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
(Future Classic / Transgressive Records)
#5 on our list is a multi-media artist and producer who constructed an album of mind-altering sounds that according to Conrad Duncan “pushed pop to the limits of sweetness, brutality and just about everything in between.”
Russell Warfield describes OIL…as:
A debut album of incredible depth, range and maturity, celebrating the spectrum of gender identity at a timely moment for trans rights. It’s an absolute playground of electronics; hyper-stuffed with ideas, both musical and intellectual.
(Anti-Ghost Moon Ray)
#4 on our staff-voted list is quite an extraordinary album, and one which perhaps signifies how much impact pioneering spirits like Björk, Aphex, and Matthew Herbert have had on the music that we’ve loved this year.
Bekki Bemrose gave Pastoral the full 10/10 treatment in her review for DiS, and named it her album of 2018. In her notes with her top 3 list she writes:
On compiling my top three records it became apparent that each one is overwhelming in varying degrees and by disparate means (to me anyhow). But then, isn’t everything at the moment? Maybe in such circumstances, we need music to match that pitch. During times that seems to all intents and purposes beyond satire, Gazelle Twin proved that theory absolute tosh with the staggering work of art that is Pastoral…. All in all, it’s been a wonderfully odd pleasure to be overwhelmed by 2018's creations in contrast to oppressive forces elsewhere, be it in formidable, hilarious, heartbreaking, disturbing, soothing, or bewildering ways.
Meanwhile, Conor McCaffey described the record thus:
Gazelle Twin went full folk devil on Pastoral — adopting a court jester chav persona to channel the grotesque characters and ugly truths of a curtain-twitching, Daily Mail-poisoned Brexit Britain. Contorted, processed vocals and industrial electronics clash with medieval recorder and harpsichord, for a nightmare that even the tabloids couldn’t exaggerate.
Stream the album on Bandcamp here:
CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS
#3 on our list is Héloïse Letissier. David Edwards argues that the album proved conclusively that her 2016 debut was no happy accident, with a terrifically poised, intelligent and profoundly engaging second album.
Chris is the sound of an artist moving the chess pieces of pop music around in a way that few artists have managed over the last decade or so. Playing with female sexuality and gender politics with consummate ease and a deftness of touch, Chris was the thinking pop album of 2018 and marks Letissier out as a genuine pop star — and one that we desperately need to shine a light in these dark years.
David Thomas adds:
Christine continues to revolutionise and redefine pop with her sophomore album, involving her taking on the persona of pansexual playboy Chris. She brings a breath of fresh air to the industry and plays by her own rules. In a world where we’re continually told what to do and how to feel, we need to rebel like Chris.
Joy As An Act Of Resistance
IDLES’ second record was something of both a game-changer for the UK music scene and — says Matthew Slaughter — a life-changer for me personally. Not in many, many years has a “new” group spoken to (and for) me in such an emotive, connected way and not for a long time have I fallen so utterly in love with such a band and a truly triumphal, wondrous rock record.
This personal reaction is something that comes up time and time again with IDLES. The brute force of their music is matched only by its honesty and humanity. Or as Dom Gourlay succinctly puts it: If Idles debut made their intentions clear from the outset, the follow-up kicked down doors and broke foundations with it.
Marie Wood was one of may DiS writers who named Joy… her album of the year, and wrote:
‘Oh my boys, my boys’, was a phrase I’d exclaim as enthusiastically as Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, whenever I was extolling my love of IDLES this year. You see, IDLES are a band that make you feel like we’re all in this together, at a time when everything feels like it’s falling apart, and nothing showed that more than their sophomore album, Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
Rather than hiding from the post millennial malaise we find ourselves in, Joy As Act Of Resistance. took square aim at it. Few albums this year could attest to tackling head on topics as diverse as self-love, gender expectations, bereavement, vulnerability, immigration and toxic masculinity, and with the poetic precision and wit of front man Joe Talbot’s lyrics. Musically, the post punk of their debut Brutalism was given extra breadth and bite to perfectly mirror the themes at play. And, for the inversion of Katy Perry’s troubling ‘I Kissed A Girl’ lyric in ‘Samaritans’ alone, it has to be number one.
Our album of the year is not for the light of heart. It’s both beautiful and brutal. It’s really not an easy listen. It definitely isn’t something you will ‘get’ on first listen, but peel back the layers of distortion or let them wash over you, and Double Negative reveals itself to be a masterpiece.
The record is a sonic thrill. Put the record on headphones and it may feel like it’s playing inside your skull.
Here’s a taste of what our team had to say about the album:
Sean Adams: Double Negative is a deceptively apoplectic record that shares some DNA with Burial and the unrelenting tension of Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath. Throughout the record there’s the splendour of Mimi Parker’s voice floating above the unsettling menace of Alan Sparhawk delivering devastating lines like “it’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope.”
Andrzej Lukowski: Being surprised by a new artist is great and all but I don’t think anything can quite compare to being shocked to the core by somebody you thought you had a handle on years ago. I’ve kind of been more or less into Low for the best part of two decades and greatly admired them without ever really fully engaging. But from the first WTF second of ‘Quorum’ Double Negative floored me. At a time when it sincerely feels like the endgame of the human race is at least on the cards, Double Negative feels appropriate because it feels like an album that’s post-everything: post-rock, post-indie, post-dubstep, post-soul, post-whatever. Genres and ideas dissolve within its gravity, and emerge reformatted into pure light.
Bekki Bemrose: It’s rare for a band to turn out a record in their third decade that really knocks the wind out of you but that’s just what they did, gawd bless ’em.
Jasper Willems: In my opinion, Low created this year’s most arresting work. From the fractured ghost-in-the-machine lament of ‘Tempest’, the forbidding cavernous pulse of ‘Dancing And Blood’ (that video!) and of course, ‘Fly’ — which sounds like the chilling paralysis of a life slipping away — Double Negative reaches a dire otherworldliness I once deemed Low could only capture on stage.
You can read more praise for Double Negative from our team right here.
Drowned in Sound’s 15 Favourite Albums of 2018
1) LOW — Double Negative
2) IDLES — Joy As An Act Of Resistance
3) CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS — Chris
4) GAZELLE TWIN — Pastoral
5) SOPHIE — OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
6) ANNA CALVI — Hunter
7) BLACK FOXXES — Reiði
8) CHVRCHES — Love is Dead
9) YOUNG FATHERS — Cocoa Sugar
10) MUNCIE GIRLS — Fixed Ideals
11) METRIC — Art Of Doubt
12) BLOOD ORANGE — Negro Swan
13) SUEDE — The Blue Hour
14) CAR SEAT HEADREST — Twin Fantasy
15) MANIC STREET PREACHERS — Resistance Is Futile
Thank you for reading.
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