We are proud to present our Top 20 Albums from this year.
If you missed them, check them out below!
Moon Duo – Stars are the Light (Sacred Bones)
Stars Are the Light, the luminous seventh album by the American psych explorers Moon Duo, marks a progression into significantly new territory. From a preoccupation with the transcendental and occult that informed Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada’s guitar-driven psych rock, and reached its apotheosis in the acclaimed Occult Architecture diptych, Stars Are the Light sees the band synthesize the abstract and metaphysical with the embodied and terrestrial.
Says Yamada: “We have changed, the nature of our collaboration has changed, the world has changed, and we wanted the new music to reflect that.”
Diiv – Deceiver (Captured Tracks)
Rebirth takes place when everything falls apart. DIIV—Zachary Cole Smith [lead vocals, guitar], Andrew Bailey [guitar], Colin Caulfield [vocals, bass], and Ben Newman [drums]—craft the soundtrack to personal resurrection under the heavy weight of metallic catharsis upheld by robust guitars and vocal tension that almost snaps, but never quite…
The same could be said of the journey these four musicians underwent to get to their third full-length album, Deceiver. Out of lies, fractured friendships, and broken promises, clarity would be found.
“I’ve known everyone in the band for ten years plus separately and together as DIIV for at least the past five years,” says Cole. “On Deceiver, I’m talking about working for the relationships in my life, repairing them, and accepting responsibility for the places I’ve failed them. I had to re-approach the band. It wasn’t restarting from a clean slate, but it was a new beginning. It took time—as it did with everybody else in my life—but we all grew together and learned how to communicate and collaborate.”
A whirlwind brought DIIV there.
Girl Ray – Girl (Moshi Moshi)
High quality, timeless pop songs weren’t always created in offices by handfuls of writers and marketing teams and then farmed out to the highest bidding singers. Once upon a time they were written and recorded by artists – George Michael, Prince or Kate Bush for example – who wanted to use the universal, happy medium of pop music to put across joyous, accessible messages of love, friendship and life to the world.
And that’s what Girl Ray have done. They’ve done far more than just “go pop.” To have the confidence to totally change one’s creative output is something so few artists manage, but they’ve nailed it.
Back in 2017, the band Girl Ray released Earl Grey: a debut album of expertly-crafted, sweet, hummable songs about longing, friendship, self doubt and contemplation. It was a success. “With Girl Ray, we knew we had found something special,” says Stephen Bass who signed the band in 2016.
“With this new set of songs they have been brave enough to completely change their sound rather than playing it safe yet still remain unmistakably themselves,” says Stephen. “A bold move perhaps, but a sign of that desire to push themselves that only the best artists have.”
Jay Som – Anak Ko (Lucky Number)
Melina Duterte is a master of voice: Hers are dream pop songs that hint at a universe of her own creation. Recording as Jay Som since 2015, Duterte’s world of shy, swirling intimacies always contains a disarming ease, a sky-bent sparkle and a grounding indie-rock humility. In an era of burnout, the title track of her 2017 breakout, Everybody Works, remains a balm and an anthem.
The title, Anak Ko, means “my child” in Tagalog, one of the native dialects in the Philippines. It was inspired by an unassuming text message from Duterte’s mother, who has always addressed her as such: Hi anak ko, I love you anak ko. “It’s an endearing thing to say, it feels comfortable,” Duterte reflects, likening the process of creating and releasing an album, too, to “birthing a child.” That sense of care charges Anak Ko, as does another concept Duterte has found herself circling back to: the importance of patience and kindness.
“In order to change, you’ve got to make so many mistakes,” Duterte says, reflecting on her recent growth as an artist with a zen-like calm. “What’s helped me is forcing myself to be even more peaceful and kind with myself and others. You can get so caught up in attention, and the monetary value of being a musician, that you can forget to be humble. You can learn more from humility than the flashy stuff. I want kindness in my life. Kindness is the most important thing for this job, and empathy.”
Sleeper – The Modern Age (Gorsky Records)
The band spent summer 2018 recording The Modern Age with their long time producer, Stephen Street – a relationship that clicked into place again right away. They tracked live at Metway studios in their adopted city of Brighton, before decamping to Street’s studio in West London to add the finishing touches.
The Modern Age is the outward looking sound of a band revitalized and refreshed. Covering subjects from motherhood and social media to personal loss and, inevitably, relationships. The Modern Age retains Sleeper’s classic pop sensibilities with a shiny, new, contemporary feel.
“We had no plan to get back together. Sometimes life throws you a massive curve ball. You end up jumping off the cliff, just to see what it feels like.”: Singer, Louise Wener
Anna Meredith – Fibs (Moshi Moshi)
FIBS is no “Varmints Part 2” — the retreading of old ground, or even a smooth progression from one project to another, just isn’t Meredith’s style. Instead, if anything, it’s “Varmints 2.0”, an overhauled and updated version of the composer’s soundworld, involving, in places, a literal retooling that has seen Meredith chuck out her old MIDI patches and combine her unique compositional voice with brand-new instruments, both acoustic and electronic, and a writing process that’s more intense than she’s ever known. Despite Meredith’s background and skills these tracks are no academic exercise, the world of FIBS is at both overwhelming and intimate, a journey of intense energy and joyful irreverence.
FIBS, says Meredith, are “lies — but nice friendly lies, little stories and constructions and daydreams and narratives that you make for yourself or you tell yourself”. Entirely internally generated and perfectly balanced, they can be a source of comfort and excitement, intrigue and endless entertainment. The eleven fibs contained on Anna Meredith’s second record will do all that, and more besides.
Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love (Sacred Bones)
At first listen, The Practice of Love, Jenny Hval’s seventh full-length album, unspools with an almost deceptive ease. Across eight tracks, filled with arpeggiated synth washes and the kind of lilting beats that might have drifted, loose and unmoored, from some forgotten mid-’90s trance single, The Practice of Love feels, first and foremost, compellingly humane. Given the horror and viscera of her previous album, 2016’s Blood Bitch, The Practice of Love is almost subversive in its gentleness—a deep dive into what it means to grow older, to question one’s relationship to the earth and one’s self, and to hold a magnifying glass over the notion of what intimacy can mean. As Hval describes it, the album charts its own particular geography, a landscape in which multiple voices engage and disperse, and the question of connectedness—or lack thereof—hangs suspended in the architecture of every song. It is an album about “seeing things from above—almost like looking straight down into the ground, all of these vibrant forest landscapes, the type of nature where you might find a porn magazine at a certain place in the woods and everyone would know where it was, but even that would just become rotting paper, eventually melting into the ground.”
It’s a crazy ambition, perhaps, to think that something as simple as a pop song can manage, over the course of two or three minutes, to chisel away at some extant human truth. Still, it’s hard to listen to the songs on The Practice of Love and not feel as if you are listening in on a private conversation, an examination that is, for lack of a better word, truly intimate. Tucked between the beats and washy synths, the record spills over with slippery truths about what it is to be a human being trying to move through the world and the ways—both expected and unexpected—we relate to each other. “Outside again, the chaos / and I wonder what is lost,” Hval sings on “Ordinary,” the album’s closing track, “We don’t always get to choose / when we are close / and when we are not.”
Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs (City Slang)
For her third album Quiet Signs, Jessica Pratt offers up nine spare, beautiful & mysterious songs that feel like the culmination of her work to date. “Fare Thee Well” and “Poly Blue” retain glimmers of On Your Own Love Again’s hazy day spells, but delicate arrangements for piano, flute, organ and strings instill a lush, chamber pop vim. The record’s B-side, meanwhile, glows with an arresting late-night clarity; the first single, “This Time Around,” pairs the Los Angeles artist’s intimate vulnerability with a newfound resolve. Ultimately, this confidence is what sets Quiet Signs apart from Pratt’s previous work, the journey of an artist stepping out of the darkened wings to take her place as one of this generation’s preeminent songwriters.
Edwyn Collins – Badbea (AED)
The past 15 years of Edwyn Collins’ life have been dramatic to say the least. Plunged down into the depths with his health, the Scottish songwriter – together with his indefatigable partner Grace Maxwell – has battled back, regaining independence of mind, body, and music.
‘Badbea’ is a key part in Edwyn Collins’ remarkable solo career, one that has defied critics and doctors to wilfully do its own thing. A rich, vastly creative experience, it’s a further sign that Edwyn’s work remains something to treasure.
– Robin Murray, Clash Magazine Review
The Wildhearts – Renaissance Men (Graphite)
The first full length album from The Wildhearts in 10 years!
Creatively brilliant, The Wildhearts play a distinctive fusion of hard rock, perfectly complimented by contemporary melodies. With a career spanning nearly 30 years The Wildhearts helped change the landscape of British rock through the 90’s, and to this day they haven’t shown any sign of slowing down.
International Teachers of Pop – International Teachers of Pop (Desolate Spools)
When times are hard for Britain, Sheffield produces brilliant electronic pop groups. The Human League in the 80s, Moloko in the early 90s… and now International Teachers of Pop, arriving ready for Brexit with a dazzling debut album and tour.
ITOP are Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer (of Moonlandingz and the Eccentronic Research Council), plus singer Leonore Wheatley, whose vocals give the music an iciness redolent of Ladytron. The album was written on analogue synthesisers and dusty drum machines, but the band have a shiny, contemporary vision.
B Boys – Dudu (Captured Tracks)
New York’s B Boys (Andrew Kerr, Brendon Avalos, Britton Walker) find inspiration in the chaos that surrounds them: the aggressive attitude and sonic lawlessness of the city they live, work, and breathe in every day. Their raw, yet meticulous style is characterized by rhythmic complexity, commanding riffs, and introspective lyrics that are as playful and self-aware as they are cutting.
Swindle – No More Normal (Brownwood)
Bridging distinct but closely connected music scenes can open new possibilities. On ‘No More Normal’, Swindle confidently grasps the different sides to the UK music scene. Boasting roots in the boundary-pushing world of Grime & Dubstep, this album marks the next step in the London-raised producer’s expanded vision for his music. It fuses different disciplines together in new and electrifying ways. He connects a group of peers sharing creative common ground, one that centres around the fertile space between UK Jazz, Grime and Hip Hop. The results span from lush, strings-laden soul to voicebox-heavy p-funk – often in the course of one song. “It’s a class photo of 2018,” he says. “I need everyone in this picture.” It incorporates an all-star cast of MC’s in Kojey Radical, Ghetts, D Double E and P Money, to instrumentalists Yussef Dayes, Nubya Garcia, Riot Jazz, and singers such as Etta Bond, Eva Lazarus, Daley and Kiko Bun.
Blanck Mass – Animated Violence Mild (Sacred Bones)
“In this post-industrial, post-enlightenment religion of ourselves, we have manifested a serpent of consumerism which now coils back upon us. It seduces us with our own bait as we betray the better instincts of our nature and the future of our own world. We throw ourselves out of our own garden. We poison ourselves to the edges of an endless sleep.
Animated Violence Mild was written throughout 2018, at Blanck Mass’ studio outside of Edinburgh. These eight tracks are the diary of a year of work steeped in honing craft, self-discovery, and grief – the latter of which reared its head at the final hurdle of producing this record and created a whole separate narrative: grief, both for what I have lost personally, but also in a global sense, for what we as a species have lost and handed over to our blood-sucking counterpart, consumerism, only to be ravaged by it.
Calexico and Iron & Wine – Years to Burn (City Slang)
Calexico and Iron & Wine first made an artistic connection with In the Reins, the 2005 EP that brought Sam Beam, Joey Burns and John Convertino together. The acclaimed collaboration introduced both acts to wider audiences and broadened Beam’s artistic horizons, but it was the shared experience of touring together in the tradition of Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue” that cemented their bond. Their metaphorical roads diverged in the years that followed, but they kept in touch and cross-pollinated where they could. But although they often talked about rekindling their collaboration in the studio and on the stage, it wasn’t until last year that their schedules aligned.
Rose Elinor Dougall – A New illusion (Vermillion)
A New Illusion, the third solo album by Rose Elinor Dougall, is a record teeming with life, verve, and great warmth
A New Illusion is the third solo album by Rose Dougall. Though the key influences that spring to mind – Buffy Sainte-Marie and Jean-Claude Vannier, assorted half-forgotten late 60s psych bands and bead-wearing Laurel Canyon weirdies, the English pop baroque once hymned by Bob Stanley, the pre-/post-millennial indie-post-rock of Broadcast, Stereolab, and the Sundays – remain much in place; compared to its gleaming, technicolour predecessor it is at once more intimate and more expansive, bigger and broader both in sonic palette and in heart.
– The Quietus Feature
Crumb – Jinx (Crumb Records)
The New York City psych-rock quartet’s debut full-length beckons the listener with dreamy keyboards, twinkling guitar, and a recognizable buzz of stoic anxiety.
Crumb have a knack for entrancing the listener, only to then displace them with airy, twinkling release. Flashes of silence—abruptly muted guitar strums, complete rests—and Ramani’s penchant for spell-like repetition can warp time, one hallucinatory spiral suddenly interrupted by another, more promising one. The album’s hypnotic quality grows ever more romantic and tense with repeat listens, a prescient-feeling experience that matches a zeitgeist: strung-out maintaining in the face of impending doom. “This city is dense/And it makes me tense/And it makes me tense/And it never ends/And it never ends,” Ramani sings, her voice recessed by a gauzy filter, on “And It Never Ends.” How do we get off the eye-glazing treadmill of the day-to-day? In lieu of tidy answers, Jinx offers a sympathetic fellow witness to the mystery.
– Ann-Derrick Gaillot, Pitchfork Review
Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage – Bad Wiring (Moshi Moshi)
The world’s favorite underground indie-rock songwriter, Jeffrey Lewis is back!
Bad Wiring was recorded and produced in Nashville by Roger Moutenot, the man responsible for producing all of the classic Yo La Tengo albums. Moutenot, who also worked on Lou Reed’s “Magic and Loss” album, and Sleater Kinney’s “Hot Rock” album was definitely the right man to capture these twelve new Lewis songs in the studio. As Lewis explains, “As an experience of working with a producer, it was a dream come true. I obviously worship a number of the records Roger had produced in the past, so I specifically sought him out. The fact that he’s in Nashville was just accidental, we would have traveled to record with him anywhere. Now when people hear we made our album in Nashville, everybody’s like, oh, I guess this is your country album…”
With the endlessly creative musical variety on display from Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage, and Lewis’s writing as sharp as ever, “Bad Wiring” could be the greatest album of Jeffrey’s 18-year career.
Stephen Mallinder – Um Dada (Dais)
Stephen Mallinder, co-founder and frontman of the iconic Cabaret Voltaire, has returned with his first solo album in over 35 years: Um Dada. Laced with leftfield house and cut-up sound collages, Um Dada is a melding of energies that are an exercise in simplicity and motion. Sincere, playful realism that beckons your body to move, always reminding you to never take yourself too seriously without forfeiting your agency.
Blood Red Shoes – Get Tragic (Jazzlife)
After a decade together, the Brighton duo experienced an altogether different consequence of pushing themselves too hard, with their friendship suffering the harsh reality of relentless touring. As they tell The Skinny, Get Tragic – their forthcoming fifth album – documents the fallout since fans last saw them and the subsequent comedy of errors post-reconciliation.
Get Tragic is an honest, therapeutic account of the duo’s individual thoughts and feelings on past events. Moreover, it is a tongue-in-cheek acceptance of their personal drama between albums, set to a suitably mature sound. “I looked at our behaviour and we’d turned into a total joke,” explains Ansell. “It was this absolutely fucking clichéd tragedy thing to do when you have a meltdown and we started thinking it was funny. We needed to make this record. It was the only way to move forward – to accept ourselves and kind of laugh at it.”
-Stuart Holmes, The Skinny Feature