Here we go! After nearly three years of good intentions, and broken promises to myself, I’m finally writing a list of my favourite albums. I’ll be honest that as time has passed, I’ve listened to less music over these years and been truly blown away by even fewer. I really struggled to even find 2 or 3 albums from 2018 that I could imagine listening to in the future. So, instead of a numbered list from 2018, 17 and 16 here is a selection of albums from the past three years that has actually caught my attention. But before I even start there is something that really affected my listening habits in 2018. Podcasts!
I had always dismissed them as boring and never given them a chance but by some stroke of luck I came across Reply All and it made me realise everything I was missing. Before you start checking out the music I recommend, add Reply All to your list, it’s a podcast about the internet all the weird, funny, sad and mindblowing things that pass through the world wide web. It’s on almost every podcast app and even their website, so if you’re interested, try out:
Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
My most listened album of 2018 was released in 2017 (I’m always behind the times these days).
Phoebe Bridgers has a lot audibly in common with Julian Baker and Noah Gunderson and that’s a massive plus point for me. Her songs are mostly quiet, guitar led songs about relationships, break ups and life in general. It also brings to mind Jacob Golden, a seriously underrated singer songwriter i loved in the mid 2000’s and even Conor Oberst in places.
She recently released an EP with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus under the name Boygenius, go check that too!
Best Song: Motion Sickness
Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Taking some influence from his buddy Donny Trumpet’s Album Surf (where he is a part of The Social Experiment backing group), Chance exemplifies feel good, gospel tinged hip-hop. In my opinion, even two years after this record he’s criminally underrated. I’m sure guesting on DJ Khaled songs raises his profile but his best work is on his own tracks. You can see why Kanye has used him to help write songs and why he is such a well loved character in the hip hop scene. Featuring ‘Same drugs’ is the sole sad song (and coincidentally my favourite) on this album and the layers of vocals from chance to the backing singers really brings the feelings. Oh and it’s not actually about drugs, listen out for the Peter Pan references.
Best Song: Same Drugs
Trash Boat – Nothing I Write You Can Change What You’ve Been Through
I first saw these guys supporting Roam in a tiny room in Hafenklang, Hamburg, and to be honest, they blew all other bands off the stage, Lead singer Tobi was throwing himself into the small crowd from the very beginning. The intimate show could easily have been in a huge “O2” sized venue from the way the band played and the energy was infectious. Then 6 months later, this album reared its head and I was honestly blown away; the production was phenomenal, the songs flowed freely into each other without sounding too samey and the lyricism really shone through. I’m patiently waiting to see what these guys do next. (Update since I wrote this, they released another album, it was ok, but listen to this one instead 🙂 )
Best Song: Tring Quarry
The Hotelier – Goodness
Following up one of the most critically acclaimed and surprising underground hits of 2015 was no mean feat. But The Hotelier, formed of Christian , Chris, Sam and Ben managed to pull it off and push their music in an intriguing and satisfying evolution. Unafraid to try new things and push the boundaries. This album has spoken word pieces, 7 minute long songs and dramatically minimalist ballads to lost grandparents. I wasn’t expecting them to move in a more arty direction but I am definitely pleased they did, it’s not the simplest of listens and at times takes some concentration but it really is worth the effort.
Best Song: Piano Player
The Dirty Nil – Higher Power
These guys sideswiped me. Thanks to one of the many algorithmic Spotify recommendation playlists, No Weaknesses came in and battered my eardrums on an early morning commute to work and definitely woke me up. Rushing guitars and pummelling drum beats push the music in the direction of Jawbreaker, The Bronx and Quicksand and the snotty punkish sounding lyrics give them a real cutting edge.
Best Song: No Weaknesses
Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
After ruling my 2015, I had high hopes for the next album from these guys and I was actually slightly disappointed. On their first album, they had mastered the honest, heart-on-your-sleeve punk. Their sound was Jawbreaker, The Replacements, The Psychadelic Furs and nothing really progressed, but I still love them. Not long after this album, half the band left, they had equipment stolen and lead singer Alex James played a tour on his own. The singles off the album are great but many of the other tracks just merge together and the choruses fail to shine. I’m hoping after his foray into acoustic recordings with Quiet Slang that Alex and what’s left of Beach Slang get themselves together and really challenge themselves because I know they have another album of raucus sing-along songs in them.
Best Song: Punks in a Disco Bar
Blink 182 – California
I didn’t think it would work, replacing the snotty, barely tuneful yet completely iconic voice of Tom Delonge with the smooth tones of Alkaline Trio front man Matt Skiba, but it really did. Blink came back more mature sounding, while still keeping their childish side on a few of the tracks, the lead single Bored to Death felt like a big stadium filler that the Blink of old loved to write. Mark and Matt complement each other well, and it sounds like they really enjoyed writing the album together. Matt was probably scared to piss off the hardcore fans of old and sometimes comes across a little restrained so I hope that if they record another album he can let some of his own gothic tinged songwriting shine through.
Best Song: She’s Outta her Mind
Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Never did I think I would listen to a double disc soundtrack to a Broadway musical all the way through, and then listen to it again, and again and again. But I did. If you haven’t heard of it by now you’ve probably been living under a soundproof rock, but even if you have I cannot recommend this R&B/Hip Hop/Latin/Gospel musical about the life of “Founding Father” Alexander Hamilton enough. The hype around it is justified, and Lin Manuel Miranda has an knack for writing catchy ear worms that straddle several of the mentioned genres. We actually went down to London to see the show live and it’s as good a show as I’ve ever seen!
Best Song: Wait For It
Ducking Punches – Dance Before You Sleep
Another discovery thanks to the magical Spotify algorithms. Originally the solo acoustic project of guitarist and vocalist Dan Allen, Ducking Punches are now a punk / folk / rock quintet surrounded a revolving cast of live musicians. Folky, Punky in the mould of Frank Turner this collection of songs about real life problems, the loss of close friends has many sing along choruses that I hope to one day sing at a show.
Best Songs: Big Brown Pills From Lynn
The Bronx – V
Best Song: Sore Throat
Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle and Turn out the Lights
When I started writing this list, Julien Baker only had one album to her name….Now she has two and both are excellent. Sprained Ankle is what got me into her and while I guess it could be said there’s not a whole lot of variation to the songs, mostly just voice, guitar or piano, the actual songwriting is out of this world and truly amazing from someone so young. Go home, the last song on the album is one of my favourite sad songs to listen to that doesn’t actually make me feel sad.
Follow up album Turn out the Lights adds more layers to her sound and really shows her development, It also seems to convey that she’s experienced her fair share of heartbreak from the venom displayed in a few of the songs here.
Best Song: Go Home
This was an absolute sleeper for me. Luckily, I made up for lost time and listened to it non-stop. It’s honestly almost indescribable, a glitchy, electronic soul record that only is really tied to Justin Vernon’s earlier work by his incomparable falsetto voice. The closest comparison I could think of was Radiohead’s In Rainbows or Amnesiac. Nevertheless, it’s brilliant! Go and pop in/on some headphones and listen now.
Best Song: 715 – Creeks
Frank Ocean – Blonde
A lot of people were waiting what felt like a long time for this album, and while it is by no means disappointing, I don’t think it was what most people were expecting. It’s comprised of mostly bare bones songs, formed from keyboards, guitars, beats and Frank’s vocals. On many of the tracks his voice is pitch shifted and along with the floaty backing tracks it gives the whole album a hazy, lazy afternoon sound which can almost pass you by if you’re not listening carefully. Funnily the most attention grabbing track: Solo (Reprise) doesn’t even feature Frank’s vocals but Andre3000 (from Outkast) spitting fire and (maybe) dissing Drake’s lack of songwriting skills in the process.
Best Song: Solo (Reprise)
The Augustines – This is your Life
Sadly, The Augustines are no more. But this album is a good send off, maintaining their sing along rock and roll vibe from previous albums, adding some more electronic drum and keyboard layers to the mix gives the music an early Killers feeling (which isn’t actually a bad thing). Bill McCarthy’s lyrics are written with Stadiums in mind and while The Augustines never reached those dizzy heights and while I never saw them live as a full band (I did see Bill perform solo and that was an experience in itself) I’m sure they graced many a room with their fans singing the choruses back to them.
Best Song: Are we Alive
Brockhampton – Saturation 1, 2 & 3
Three albums in one year is pretty impressive from this “boyband”. Actually ,they’re an eclectic rap crew, featuring gay, straight, black and white performers and they have steadily progressed with each album they released. Saturation I reminded me a lot of the old OFWGFTA albums, lots of good individual tracks but no real flow between them. There are a lot of different voices and I’m never really sure which ones I’m listening too.
II is equally polished and the rappers become more recognisable, some of the backing tracks have a real 90’s feel to them but the lyrics are a lot more varied than the average gangster rap, being gay is a big deal (in a good way) for these guys. II comes across more driven and aggressive than the first instalment and that’s a good thing.
III is my favourite album of the trilogy. The group sound the most in sync, they flow in and out of each others verses and the track list really feels more like it was the work of a collective. The energy is high and the rapping is high quality.
Best Song: Sweet
Kendrick Lamar – Damn
Every album Kendrick releases is an improvement on the previous one. Damn has been written and produced to feature absolutely no filler. Just angry, political and intelligent raps from a guy who spans the gamut of pop, hip hop and backpack rap with tracks for almost any listener of a certain age. It’s so well put together that the story that runs from start to finish was able to be released as a special edition which plays in reverse and it managed to not only be comprehensible but a whole new way of looking at each track. It still blows me away how popular he’s become, the backing music is still often heavily influenced by jazz and is layered thick with odd beats and tunes but for me it’s an unbelievably brilliant album.
Best Song: Humble
The Menzingers – After the Party
Rented World, The Menzingers’ previous album and the first released since I became fairly obsessed with them was actually slightly disappointing, it was good, but just didn’t have the poppy choruses that On the Impossible Past pulled me in.
But I’m glad to say that After the Party filled all The Menzingers shaped holes that needed filling. The whole album is themed around growing up. As Greg and the rest of the band have been out on tour, their family and friends have gotten older, had kids and settled down. A lot of the album is about reminiscing to the good times when they were young. I get the impression that the hangovers hit harder now and the guys are getting a little tired of the constant touring life. But this discontentment leads to some great songs. I think a few of the tracks could be a bit heavier or punchier as they definitely could easily make it onto some college rock radio stations, but I love them and I love the album.
Best Song: Bad Catholics
This album sounds like The National actually had a bit of fun recording it, it’s a little looser and sounds almost rough around the edges which is something I never expected from them.
Also something to note if you’re new to The National, or even a fan…listen to the drums, they’re so good, such a powerful driving force behind all the songs you really have to spend one whole listen just following the off-kilter time signatures and subtle fills.
Best Song: The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
Some other albums to check out that I was too lazy to write about.
Stormzy – Gang Signs & PrayersThe king of UK rap and Grime released a cracking pop/rap/rnb record in 2017 on his way to super stardom, truly deserved.
Beginner – Advanced Chemistry
Arguably Hamburg’s greatest rap crew and one of the old school came back with a rip roaring.
Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love will Bury it
One of my few favourites from 2018, noisy, heavy, loud, quiet, superbly produced Math Metal from these Sheffield lot. Mental and sublime.
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Hipster-Metal, Black-indie, whatever their music is called, it’s brilliant, adventurous and something a bit different. I was a huge fan of Sunbather but not so much of New Bermuda, this is a step in the right direction.