Best Albums of 2018 - Editor's Picks
hmv.com Editor James Forryan picks his rundown of the best albums of 2018...
10. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Janelle Monae's third album probably would have made it into my top ten on the strength of the 'Pynk' video alone, which is, along with Childish Gambino's 'This is America', one of the most striking videos any artist has released in 2018. Fortunately I don't need to justify its inclusion on that basis because the rest of the album is also excellent, especially the Prince-channelling 'Make Me Feel', which I've absolutely played to death this year.
9. Blood Orange – Negro Swan
The first time I became aware of Dev Hynes was back in the mid 2000s when he was a member short-lived dance-rock outfit Test Icicles, which I still regard as one of the best band names I've ever heard. Their music, however, never really grabbed me and, to be honest, I felt just as ambivalent about Lightspeed Champion, Hynes' first solo project after the band's demise. It's probably because of this that I hadn't really paid much attention to the work he's been doing in recent years under his Blood Orange moniker, but in the weeks that followed the release of the third Blood Orange album in August I kept hearing good things about Negro Swan and decided to give it a proper listen.
Stylistically, this and his two previous Blood Orange albums are a world away from his earlier output and Negro Swan feels like the destination point of a creative journey Hynes has been making under his new alias. I've since gone back and listened to both Cupid Deluxe and Freetown Sound, both of which have some great moments, but his latest album feels much more accomplished as a body of work and I keep going back to it again and again, finding new gems each time.
8. Marlowe – Marlowe
Mello Music Group
On the face of things, 2018 has been a pretty big year for hip-hop, with new albums from Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Drake all arriving in the last 12 months, not to mention Travis Scott's long-awaited Astroworld finally being unveiled after years of speculation. But if, like me, you're a hip-hop fan who grew up during rap's 'golden age' and you're looking for an antidote to the slow trap beats and autotuned vocals that have become ubiquitous features of the genre over the last few years, there hasn't been a whole lot to get excited about.
One notable exception, however, has been the eponymous debut album from Marlowe, a duo comprising Seattle-born producer L’Orange and North Carolina rapper Solemn Brigham. Their eponymous debut LP has that old school vibe without sounding like a throwback and it's been a joy to listen to ever since it arrived in October.
7. Bodega – Endless Scroll
What's Your Rupture?
Of all the albums on this list, the debut LP from New York art punks Bodega is arguably the most underrated in terms of the amount of attention it has gotten from the music press and mainstream radio, but it's easily one of the albums I've listened to most this year and fully deserves to be recognised as one of 2018's best.
Occupying a space somewhere in between LCD Soundsystem and the lo-fi stylings of bands like Pavement, Bodega's album is packed full of minimalist arrangements, shouty, whip-smart lyrics and surprisingly infectious hooks, making Endless Scroll one of my favourite debut albums from this year.
6. Kamasi Washington – Heaven & Earth
It isn't often these days that jazz artists cross over into the mainstream, but as a session musician who has played on albums by everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Ryan Adams, Kamasi Washington is a uniquely flexible musician who has somehow managed to transcend the world of jazz and create albums under his own name which, while definitely still classifiable as jazz, also have a much broader appeal.
I hesitate to use the phrase 'jazz odyssey' to describe Washington's second full-length offering because of the Spinal Tap imagery it conjures, but Heaven and Earth really is an epic journey that pushes jazz into new territory in the way nobody has really done since the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Even if jazz isn't usually your thing, this is well worth investigating for those who haven't already.
5. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
For more than 15 years now, Jon Hopkins has been making some of the most cerebral electronic music around, not to mention his fantastic work on soundtracks for films such as Gareth Edwards' 2010 movie Monsters. With his last album, 2013's Immunity, Hopkins seemed to have hit a high point by creating an album of electronic music which had a real sense of humanity to it, so I was very keen to see what its follow-up had in store.
Although the textures are very different, Singularity has that same sense of emotional resonance that made Immunity so great. Much like Daniel Avery's latest offering, this a record which deserves to be played from start to finish, as I have done many, many times already this year.
4. Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Just a year after the release of their 2017 debut Brutalism, which marked Bristol band Idles out as one of the year's most exciting emerging bands, this year they returned with a follow-up even better than their debut outing. As anyone who witnessed their brilliantly chaotic performance on Later with Jools Holland earlier this year will know, Idles and their music brim with a furious energy that few other bands can match.
It's not just the glorious noise they make that makes them so appealing; their lyrics in songs like 'Samaritans' and 'I'm Scum' are addressing a range of societal ills with a level of brutal honesty that makes them one of the most vital voices in the UK's musical landscape right now. I can't wait to hear what they do next.
3. Parquet Courts – Wide Awaaaake!
Parquet Courts are one of those bands that I've been vaguely aware of for a while now, but never really took the time to listen to properly, for whatever reason. That all changed when I heard 'Total Football' for the first time earlier this year and decided to investigate further. I'm really glad I did, because Wide Awaaaake! is amongst the best records I've heard from a guitar band in ages.
Much more eclectic than I'd imagined, the album squeezes in all sorts of styles, from the stuttering punk riffs of 'Almost Had to Start a Fight' to the danceable funk of the album's title track, and plenty more besides. Producer Brian 'Danger Mouse' Burton has really gotten the best out of them here if he ends up producing their next album I'll be very keen to hear it.
2. Christine and the Queens – Chris
When I first heard Chaleur Humaine, the debut album from Christine and the Queens, it was around 2016 and I wasn't really sure what to make of it. The original French-language version had already been knocking around for a couple of years by that point and the later English version went through a somewhat messy release rollout, arriving in America and then the UK in fits and starts. Even then, aside from a couple of tracks on her debut which slowly grew on me, I hadn't imagined her as an artist who would find it easy to score mainstream success.
But then I heard 'Girlfriend', the first single from her second full-length effort Chris, and if there's been a more perfectly crafted pop song released this year, I haven't heard it. It's not a one-off, either; the new album unashamedly wears its 80s pop influences on its figurative sleeve, but it's also much more muscular and more immediately accessible offering than her debut. Combine this with all the interesting things she's been doing to challenge gender stereotypes in both her lyrics and her videos, and suddenly Héloïse Letissier, to use her real name, starts to look like one of the most unique artists we've seen making pop music in a long time.
1. Daniel Avery – Song for Alpha
It was shortly after this website relaunched at the tail end of 2013 that we first decided to make an annual list of our own personal favourites from the previous 12 months, and I duly rounded up 10 of the albums I'd listened to more than any other that year and published the resulting article in December 2013. A couple of days later, a friend introduced me Drone Logic, the debut LP from DJ/producer Daniel Avery which had quietly arrived a few weeks earlier, and I immediately regretted leaving it out of my Top 10.
The long-awaited follow-up to Avery's debut album finally arrived this year in the form of Song for Alpha, and it did not disappoint. A very different beast from its predecessor in terms of its sonic palette, Song For Alpha is a pulsating, constantly evolving journey of an album that you can really get lost in, as I have been doing since it joined my vinyl collection earlier this year. Of all the albums I've loved over the the course of 2018, this is the one I've listened to more than any other.