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The List: Stereoboard's Best Albums Of 2018

Monday, 17 December 2018 Written by Stereoboard


So, there's another one ready for the history books. This year has been a weird, often depressing ride, but the tunes have been great. So we have that at least. Scroll down for the albums we believe deserve mention as the best of the year, from across the genre spectrum. Hopefully you'll find a few gems you don't know among the ones you think should be recognised. Thanks for reading, we'll see you next year.



There's a sense of triumph when Noname declares “you really thought a bitch can't rap, huh?” on Self, the opening track of her sophomore effort 'Room 25'. It's not only a justified jab at the patriarchal hip-hop industry but also a tongue-in-cheek swipe at her younger self. The Chicago rapper wrestles with the gnawing self-doubt she feels has been imposed on her by a racist and profit-driven system. She subverts that by concluding “all I am is love”. Factor in her superb rapping ability and creative beat selection and you have an album absolutely brimming with life and energy. // Jonathan Rimmer

Listen: Blaxploitation



Having left Fifth Harmony to the kind of fanatical heartbreak last seen at Princess Diana’s funeral, the Cuban-born Cabello presented a debut album of pared back Latin pop with top class arrangements and simple, emotionally undemanding vocals. She is an extremely nimble pop singer with great skill and clearly her producers, led by Frank Dukes, have recognised her knack for living in the upper range. Combined with deep bassy beats, and catchy guitar licks covering the mid-range, it made for compelling bow. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Never Be The Same



Did the Beatles ever go from buzzsaw death metal to goth rock? No? Posers. Sweden’s Tribulation have undergone a massive transformation since their 2004 inception, and ‘Down Below’ is the culmination of that process. It’s Watain covering the Cure, Dissection trying to write a Sisters of Mercy song. Everything about ‘Down Below’ is so romantically melancholy, whether that is the drudgery of Here Be Dragons, the death metal rumble of Lacrimosa, or the guttural cries of ‘DOWN BELOOOOOW!’ on the sort-of title-track, Subterranea. This is Tribulation’s crowning achievement and its second track, Nightbound, is the best song they’ve ever written. // Alec Chillingworth

Listen: The Lament



We already knew that Ariana Grande was as a ‘Dangerous Woman’ thanks to her 2016 album, but ‘Sweetener’ further reinforced it. The vocalist is a triple threat: she’s got the pipes, knows what to do with them—when to belt it out and pull it back—and she makes bold song choices, showing she’s happy to stray away from cookie cutter pop. Grande’s also always ready with a quick clapback online and willing to jump to the defence of fellow female artists when faced with misogyny. That’s cool. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Breathin



Say what you want about Josh Tillman, you can’t deny that he possesses an extraordinary knack for producing sharp, sublimely crafted alt-ballads. On ‘God’s Favorite Customer’ Tillman dispensed with the grandiose musings of ‘Pure Comedy’ and instead reverted to the simpler but no less impactful style of his earlier work. The end result was some of his best stuff as Father John Misty to date. // Liam Turner

Listen: Mr. Tillman



This year Olly Alexander made his bow as a bona fide pop star. ‘Palo Santo’ was a loud and proud statement of intent that seamlessly moved across sub-genres and time periods. There was the dark and sexy Sanctify,  inspired by Britney Spears’ Slave 4 U, or You’re Over Me’—the musical equivalent of bursting bubblegum with bitter words. The album saw Alexander wear his heart on one sleeve and his gay identity on the other as the mainstream charts became a platform for the representation of a broader spectrum. // Jennifer Geddes

Listen: All For You



On one of the year’s most frequently fascinating records, Hop Along served up a jigsaw puzzle of textures, melodies, weird guitar lines, sweeping string arrangements and indelible lyrics. ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’, though, also worked on those primal levels that draw us to pop music: its songs were frequently gorgeous and always beautifully presented. In Frances Quinlan, meanwhile, Hop Along have indie-rock’s finest vocalist and someone who could silence a room arguing about which Philadelphia band is the best. // Huw Baines

Listen: Somewhere A Judge



What do you get when you cross the musical talents of Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner? Big Red Machine: a project that lands at the intersection of the folk-electro-experimentalism of Bon Iver and the National’s guitar ingenuity. Deep beats and electronic textures fill the space around Dessner’s sparse guitars, while gospel choirs sing harmoniously behind both Vernon’s hip-hop-derived delivery, and the magnetism of his soft falsetto. Despite surfacing this year from the collaborative PEOPLE festival, ‘Big Red Machine is eerily familiar—Hymnostic and People Lullaby feel like moments unearthed from old memories, while the quality of songs like Lyla and I Won’t Run From It will be remarked upon for years to come. // Helen Payne

Listen: Hymnostic



Kali Uchis may well possess one of the keenest new intellects in pop. Her debut album, ‘Isolation’, was a smorgasbord of chart joy, combining funk and soul revivalism, synth-pop and Latin tropicana with a impressive cogency and verve. One reason for that success was the strength and versatility of her vocals, which were put to fabulous use on an a bewitching variety of collaborations. Among others on ‘Isolation’ we met Tyler, The Creator, Bootsy Collins, Jorja Smith, Damon Albarn and Colombian reggaeton superstar Reykon. A hugely impressive album that has humour and lightness alongside lairy chutzpah. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Just a Stranger



Following up one of the 21st century’s most critically acclaimed metal albums was always going to be a ballache, but Poland’s Behemoth pulled it off with minimal bruising. ‘I Loved You At Your Darkest’, their 11th full-length, doesn’t reach the heights of ‘The Satanist’ because it doesn’t try to–instead, the band stretch into areas unconquered, like Swans-esque post-rock on Havohej Pantocrator and We Are The Next 1,000 Years, and the gothic, crooned ballad Bartzabel. But still, at its core, this is a white-hot barrage of blackened death metal, affording Behemoth a vibrancy to still match Poland’s junior extreme metal exports, Batushka and Mgla. // Alec Chillingworth

Listen: Bartzabel



Low have never been seen as a conventional band but ‘Double Negative’ went much further than they’ve ever been before. From opener Quorum’s static fuzz a scene of wondrous but clouded splendour is crafted, often as if the band is helplessly struggling to convey messages through a shroud of mysterious interference from various mediums. As the magical experience unfolds, Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk inject beauty into the experimental, post-apocalyptic confusion with their trademark vocal harmonies on stunning moments such as Fly, Always Trying To Work It Out and Always Up. ‘Double Negative’ isn’t just an album. It’s a modern day miracle. // Graeme Marsh

Listen: Rome (Always in the Dark)



Putting even the finest of wines to shame, Joe Bonamassa just gets better with age. Yet it wasn't the New Yorker’s dazzling guitar heroics that stole the show this time. No sir. On his third consecutive record of all original material, Smokin’ Joe’s top-drawer songwriting takes centre stage as he confronts a series of bruising mid-life issues over a canvas of cinematically vivid styles and textures. Confidently pinballing between scorching rockabilly, gothic country, clanging jazz, soaring blues, epic rock and much more, Bonamassa’s all-round game was faultless on a sprawling masterwork that screams ‘artistic purple patch’ from every sweet note. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: King Bee Shakedown



John Grant has a voice that sounds like someone doing an impression of a cooler than cool electro-pop star, except he is that cooler than cool electro-pop star. ‘Love is Magic’ is the full package—intricate, considered electronic sounds and lyrical swagger. In one breath he’ll have you laughing, the next in shock at what you’ve heard. Grant is brilliantly crude and we love him for it. As he says on Smug Cunt: “These panties ain’t gonna wet themselves.” We’re glad he’s here for us. // Laura Johnson

Listen: He's Got His Mother's Hips



‘Skulls Example’ showed that Katy Davidson was right to wake the little-known Dear Nora moniker from indefinite slumber. Juxtaposing the beauty of the American west coast with the state of the modern technological landscape, Davidson’s fourth full-length album represented their most compelling and musically accomplished offering yet. The prospect of future Dear Nora material has never been more tantalising. // Liam Turner

Listen: Skulls Example



Strange and dangerous is the new normal, and Turnstile’s ‘Time & Space’ is the soundtrack. Frontman Brendan Yates shouts and stomps his way through tracks like a teenager who’s just been grounded, but this LP also takes inspiration from their dad’s record collection. Bomb and Disco are soft jazz interludes, High Pressure mixes Elton John-style piano bashing with straight up hair metal riffs and legend has it every time you play Big Smile, ZZ Top’s beards grow longer. The hardcore band even worked with Diplo, though sadly that wasn’t the weirdest thing to happen this year. // Jennifer Geddes

Listen: Real Thing



Despite the bulletproof quality of their back catalogue, Restorations have been something of a fringe concern among the denim-clad rock revival hordes. As with many of the best exponents of this loose movement, they’re punk-adjacent (and from Philadelphia) and on ‘LP5000’ they delivered their strongest work yet. Emotionally literate, anthemic without trying too hard and littered with memorable riffs and melodies, this is a grand statement made with care and no undue fuss. // Huw Baines

Listen: The Red Door



Get some really nice headphones for this. A collaboration between Cross Record’s Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski and Jonathan Meiburg from Shearwater, ‘Loma’ is a refreshing exploration of growth and personal development made with echoing melodies, experimental percussion, subtle beats and electronic motifs that blend to create a whole world of sounds you didn’t realise you needed. Its charm lies in the balance between Cross’s delicate vocal melodies and Duszynski’s flawless production—a heartbreaking mirror image of their marriage, which fell apart during the making of the album. // Helen Payne

Listen: Black Willow



Continuing their amazing transformation from alternative-pop master craftsmen to cinematic soundscape perfectionists, ‘The Blue Hour’ saw Suede take the unforeseen success of 2016’s ‘Night Thoughts’ as inspiration for more of the same. A compelling, heartfelt story dramatically unravelled here, underpinned by their uncanny knack for creating huge anthemic melodies via sweeping synths and strings. Dotted with typically hard-hitting, soaring singles boasting monster choruses, the narrative bridges the gap between music and film in a majestic hybrid of the two. Suede no longer simply make music, they make thematic experiences. // Graeme Marsh

Listen: Life is Golden



The Baltimore duo's '7' title isn't lazily chosen, even if all it appears to signify is the point they've reached in their career. Beach House aren't looking to reinvent the wheel or make a huge artistic statement–they already set a template other nu-gaze acts would follow about five albums ago. Instead, the challenge was in perfecting what's already almost there: developing new textures through double tracking, introducing keys to a greater degree, and telling a story with subtle dynamic shifts. In that sense, their seventh effort isn't a revolutionary moment but a tightening up of what got them here, and when you're the best in the business there's nothing wrong with that. // Jonathan Rimmer

Listen: Lemon Glow



In a trap environment where quantity is often more important than quality, a triple album could well mean two hours of abject tedium. Not so in the case of Atalanta superstars Rae Sremmurd, whose monster ‘SR3MM’ record was a catalogue of impressively consistent tracks that demonstrated noteworthy musical development from ‘Sremmlife 2’. They managed to broaden their catalogue well, with the first disc, ‘SR3MM’, offering a quintessential Rae Sremmurd sound, while ‘Swaecation’ and ‘Jxmtro’ are essentially solo records from Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi. This format offered more room for individual experimentation and, though the album has many of the signature trappings of the genre (greed, vanity and gratuitous profanity), they have cemented themselves as one of the top acts in the field. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Guatemala



Black metal and the blues. Maybe it seemed like a gimmick on the one-man band’s debut proper, ‘Devil Is Fine’, but round two saw that concept solidify. ‘Stranger Fruit’ is a narratively dense journey of burning bridges, drifting and the devil, with Manuel Gagneux’s soulful melodies juxtaposed with his satanic squeals. Musically, this is less of a hodgepodge than its predecessor, flitting from bluegrass to second-wave Norwegian black metal to newly introduced industrial chuggery in the most perversely natural fashion. Yeah, this isn’t a gimmick. Zeal & Ardor’s here to stay. // Alec Chillingworth

Listen: Gravedigger's Chant



Pop has become a dirty word. Jake Shears goes a long way in showing why that shouldn’t be the case, and how to do it properly. Whether he’s fusing chart tropes with classic rock ‘n’ roll, as he does on Big Bushy Mustache, with funk, on S.O.B., or country on Sad Song Backwards there are a couple of things that are consistent throughout: his sharp-witted lyrics and ability to make even the gloomiest of subject matter a singalong opportunity. Whether you want to reach for your dancing shoes or the tissues, Shears has a song for you. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Creep City



After releasing two acclaimed EPs, Rolling Blackouts finally made good on their first full-length LP, delivering on all expectations and then some. Featuring lushly layered instrumentation and an effortless sense of melody that harked back to the best guitar bands of the ‘60s, the Melbourne five-piece produced one of the most compelling debuts of 2018, affording a vertiginous high that’s hard to come down from. // Liam Turner

Listen: Talking Straight



Power-pop had a moment this year, and Bad Moves were right at the tip of the spear. The songwriting on ‘Tell No One’ is really first-rate: melodically complex, witty and delivered with a sort of buzzsaw precision. With four-part harmonies secreted about the place and a social conscience stitched throughout, David Combs, Emma Cleveland, Katie Park and Daoud Tyler-Ameen delivered a collection to rival the best work of their former tourmates Martha, which is the highest of compliments.  // Huw Baines

Listen: Spirit FM



Might Kamasi Washington’s latest record be even more colossal than his debut, ‘The Epic’? Possibly. A double album that isn’t afraid to go off on huge tangents, ‘Heaven and Earth’  is divided into sides loosely based on the concepts of a human driven ‘Earth’, and a spiritual ‘Heaven’—although some of the wild jazz fusion moments that occur on either side of the record could never be described as human. With exhausting electric piano solos, breathtakingly fast saxophone and injections of other-worldly beauty throughout and almost all tracks significantly exceeding the eight minute mark, this feverish, euphoric jazz album is to be filed among the greats. // Helen Payne

Listen: Street Fighter Mas



Winner of best album at this year’s CMAs, ‘Golden Hour’ is a forward-thinking stunner that incorporates ambient pop, simmering Americana, dreamy balladry and even Bee Gees disco without burying Kacey’s Nashville roots. Bursting with joy as a result of her current marital bliss, it’s a thematically watertight affair that explores the pleasures, pains, fears and fantasy of love, femininity and family with a candour that’s as endearing and heart-warming as its positive sentiments are refreshing. No, ‘Golden Hour’ isn’t traditional country, but when the music’s this strong–and definitely not a sellout–pedantic attempts at categorisation are unnecessary. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: High Horse



“Knock me down nine times but I get up 10, bitch!” Nothing is going to stop Cardi B. She’s sharp-tongued, sincere and delivers things with a sort of beautiful vehemence that slices like a hot knife through butter. Whether she’s spitting bars or addressing haters with a series of cutting Instagram videos, she dominates. With Chance The Rapper, Kehlani and SZA stopping by to lend a hand, ‘Invasion of Privacy’ had every base covered. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Bodak Yellow



Following up ‘Puberty 2’—which had the potential long shadow of a career-defining album—was a fiendishly difficult task, but one that Mitski approached with a theatrical flourish. ‘Be The Cowboy’ is an effervescent, flamboyantly exciting, meticulous pop record that drives home its creator’s sense of craft and underlines her once-in-a-generation voice. Skipping from the sweeping grandeur of Geyser to the off-Broadway bop of Nobody, the LP’s singles suggested a stylistic treasure trove to be discovered, and Mitski delivered. // Huw Baines

Listen: Geyser



Historically, Jon Hopkins has been the kind of musician you come across at a festival and choose to avoid based on his tedious audience of hallucinating electro snobs. No more. ‘Singularity’ stacked up as an intense opus of incredible innovation and intellect that deserves to take its place in the top canon of recent electronica, alongside Jamie xx’s ‘In Colour’ and Bonobo’s ‘Migration’. It’s as a set of musical concepts that the album differentiated itself from Hopkins’ other work. The record is designed to mirror a psychedelic experience—a basic structure that he came up with 15 years ago—but which he only now felt ready to tackle. Those electro-snobs may be onto something after all. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Singularity



“The first time I tasted someone else’s spit, I had a coughing fit.” Dacus’s opening lines are soft, witty and meaningful. She starts as she means to go on, dotting ‘Historian’ with heartfelt anecdotes from her life, dealing with themes of death, relationship breakdowns, self crises, and the erosion of belief systems. It’s heavy going, but hope is Dacus’s true north. All the emotion and power in her voice is directed at the future and the accompanying hindsight: “In five years I hope the songs feel like covers, dedicated to new lovers.” // Helen Payne

Listen: Addictions



Explosively confirming his place at the helm of hip-hop at its most controversial and provocative, Pusha T’s ‘Daytona’ landed three years post his ‘King Push’ and served as an aggressive, seven track call to arms. Recruiting Kanye West as producer and with Rick Ross stopping by on Hard Piano, Pusha took aim at the lack of authenticity diluting his genre, summoning dark moods and instrumentals to tear down his contemporaries and challenge listeners. Pusha’s ability to disregard the impact his sensationalist content causes, with meteor-like effect, makes the passion and lyrical prowess really resonate. This is the album of Pusha’s career, an honest and reflective account of hip-hop’s ferocious climate. ‘Daytona’ will remain great for years to come. // Milly McMahon

Listen: If You Know You Know



Another of 2018’s power-pop triumphs. Auckland songwriter Elizabeth Stokes assembled a crack team of musicians for ‘Future Me Hates Me’ with one goal: deliver all the hits, all the time. Taking up the baton from their excellent ‘Warm Blood’ EP, this debut album was a winning fusion of musical chops and stunning writing, with its insistence on packaging everything in four part harmony just part of the fun. Blemish-free, bittersweet pop songs. // Huw Baines

Listen: Future Me Hates Me



“I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream,” Monáe sings on Crazy, Classic, Life.  She has the ability to deliver candid social commentary and poignant political statements through beautiful experimental pop and funk. Monáe has fine-tuned the art of juxtaposing meaningful, and sometimes pointed, lyrics with singalong and dance-inducing tracks. The record draws on a plethora of influences, from rap to rock and R&B. It, like Monáe herself, is the complete package. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Crazy, Classic, Life



On their 21st full length album, John Dwyer’s constantly evolving gang served up a psych-rock record of head-banging machismo, again employing the dual drumming unit of Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon. With the Doors as a generic touchpoint, ‘Smote Reverser’ was a record of fabulous band-craft that felt extemporised despite intricate stylings and ornate rhythmic switches. Whatever the exact alchemy, it is up there with the group’s best work, and the recordings of prog jams such as Last Peace and Anthemic Aggressor must have felt like bonafide trance-inducing happenings. The live show needs to be seen—this is what the Grateful Dead are supposed to sound like. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Smote Reverser



We’ve been hurt before by collaborations that look good on paper, but Boygenius were never going to do us like that. Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus have all released fabulous records in the last 18 months and came together here to craft six immaculate songs that swayed between haunting and celebratory. Their voices, similar enough to work together, different enough to stand out, have rarely sounded better and their cheeky nod to Crosby, Stills & Nash on the album sleeve didn’t really feel like much of a stretch by the time the first song faded. // Huw Baines

Listen: Me & My Dog



Mike Lindsay, known for his work in folktronica band Tunng and experimental pop duo Throws, undertook a new project this year that, for all its far-fetched aspirations, works brilliantly. A cyclical record made up of droning synths, each song is played in the same key for full fluidity between tracks. After meeting at a Neil Young concert, Lindsay enlisted folk hero Laura Marling on ethereal vocal duty to create a record that’s serene and inviting, yet simultaneously dramatic and fierce. Also, they’re a must see live. // Helen Payne

Listen: Curse of the Contemporary



Rolo Tomassi have always been difficult to pigeonhole, and therein lies their charm. But on ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’ they took things to a whole new level. This was Rolo Tomassi 2.0. The Hollow Hour is a seven and a half minute illustration of their new form, showcasing Eva Spence’s vocal acrobatics, ricocheting between guttural screams and gentle singing, over a force majeure instrumental of frantic guitars and a driving rhythm section that draws inspiration from mathcore and jazz. It’s wild. It’s brilliant. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Balancing in the Dark



Loud, obnoxious, snotty, melodic...all the best bits of rock ‘n’ roll. The second LP from Dundas, Ontario’s finest found them hurtling along the highways of North America with a glint in their eye and a fiery death on the horizon, with each stop resulting in another gritty, punk-infused rager. On songs like Bathed In Light we saw their hooky side, while meaty riff-fests such as Pain of Infinity allowed Luke Bentham full licence to dish out shit-eating guitar lines while blotting out the sun with a bubblegum balloon. So much fun. So. Much. Fun. // Huw Baines

Listen: That's What Heaven Feels Like



Cartoonish and contradictory they may be, but Swedish metallers Ghost have an amazingly refreshing sound. Embracing the occult through pop-rock, synthfests, sax and flute solos might not be what you expect at a glance but their love for the macabre, satanic schtick and sense of theatre is what really drives their appeal among metal fans. Add to that their knack of crafting inescapably catchy songs, it comes as no real surprise to find them reaching wider audiences with this year’s scintillating fourth album. Here they blew the creative doors off through some of the catchiest riffs and sharpest hooks band mastermind Tobias Forge has written yet. You needn't look any further than tracks such as Rats and Dance Macabre to think that 'Prequelle' could be labelled as their 'Black Album'. // Jon Stickler

Listen: Dance Macabre



When Rae Morris released her debut album in 2015, we were all talking about Drake’s dancing in the Hotline Bling video, we all thought Jon Snow was dead and Donald Trump becoming President of the United States was a joke. Three years later the world is a different place, and Rae Morris is a different artist. Her second album, ‘Someone Out There’ dumped the ostentatiousness classical-crossover production in favour of the off-kilter melodies of Atletico (The Only One), the intimacy of Do It and the vivid imagery of Dancing With Character. The album’s quiet strength was like peppermint tea in a world gone hyper on double espressos. // Jennifer Geddes

Listen: Do It



The Australian trio obliterated all preconceptions attributed to the ‘difficult second album’ with ‘How To Socialise & Make Friends’ and truly came into their own. The record found them channelling sincere frustration and rage into poised, well rounded indie-punk tracks with far-reaching messages that in our current social climate are not only apt but vital. The Opener addressed gender imbalances on live line ups, while The Face of God tackled the issue of assault and its aftermath. “Just get it all out, put it in a song,” sings Georgia Maq on Anna. They did, and the result is deeply affecting album. // Laura Johnson

Listen: The Opener



The UK is overflowing with vital, genre-defying heavy bands of late. Employed To Serve, Venom Prison, Svalbard and more have all given boring music a kick in the arse, and Conjurer joined that pantheon with their debut album, ‘Mire’. Rooted in sludge, the Rugby four-piece threw everything into a blender, pitting grindcore against post-metal, black metal against hardcore. The result? One of the year’s most consistent genre mash-ups, and the hardest song of 2018 thanks to Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash–it somehow balances Cult of Luna and Belphegor on the same razor-thin pedestal. As if this is just their debut. // Alec Chillingworth

Listen: Choke



Post-punk is having a moment, and whereas Ought’s earlier albums would’ve slotted nicely into that, 2018’s ‘Room Inside The World’ prefers not to hide inside those confines. Tim Darcy’s voice, as idiosyncratic as ever, plays with themes that have always rung true to the band—identity, connections, and their place in the world—but does so with a more mature edge that only time, and two prior albums of experience, can gift. Synthesisers, drum machines and even a 70-piece choir bring Ought up to a whole new level that transcends their earlier work. // Helen Payne

Listen: Desire



It’s always a bonus when a band has multiple songwriters and you can’t decide which one you prefer. ‘We’re Not Talking’ found the Goon Sax pushing themselves further in search of wonky pop perfection, with James Harrison, Louis Forster and Riley Jones cajoling some wonderful performances from each other. Incorporating strings, a winding seam of percussion and tiered harmonies, this was the sound of a band testing the water to see where it might take them. It’ll be fascinating to see what’s coming around the bend in the river. // Huw Baines

Listen: Make Time 4 Love



Over the years, a kind of intellectual snobbery has emerged around Paul McCartney that seems to want to belittle his youthful desire to keep making music. ‘Egypt Station’ is an album happy in its naïveté, and owns it through the sheer quality of the songs. Its orchestration, arrangements and melody writing are all immaculate. The production is varied but consistent and the fundamental messaging of songs with titles like People Want Peace, Hand in Hand and Happy With You remains as relevant now as it was during the Vietnam War. Of course there is schmaltz in there. What the hell did you expect? // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Come On To Me



‘C’est La Vie’ arrived five years after ‘Muchacho’ and showed that plenty has changed in the world of Phosphorescent. It’s a gorgeous, understated paean to growing up, finding someone who works in harness with you and starting a family that must also be viewed through the prism of a beardy dude building a studio from scratch. It’s one part Paul Simon, one part War on Drugs and 100% Matthew Houck, who appears to be enjoying some late afternoon sun. The melodies here are gilt-edged, while the polyrhythmic New Birth in New England is home to one of those glorious lyrics that feels tossed off but is in fact fathoms deep. // Huw Baines

Listen: New Birth In New England



Robyn’s long-awaited comeback album, ‘Honey’, was full of throbbing power and tight aggression. It’s there on the title track, and it's there on the superb throwback Between the Lines. Combined with her immaculate vibrato-free voice and the nebulous synths, the result is a record that shimmers, both in its pulsing club-ready tidiness and some AAA songwriting. It is a peek into pop Valhalla—a land of golden citadels and crisp, cold air. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Honey



The Bristol-based post-punks have had a hell of a year and it’s due to their second LP catapulting them to a new level of consciousness, which in this time of political uncertainty resonates more deeply than ever. Toxic masculinity, death and xenophobia are just a few of the issues they take aim at, while polishing those rough edges. Still, a few splinters remain and there’s no getting away from the fact that part of Idles’ charm lies in the feeling things could fall apart at any moment. They’re able to tap into the beauty of chaos. // Laura Johnson

Listen: GREAT



After arriving, screaming and biting, with ‘, Dies’, Gouge Away had to make a few decisions. They could double down on the ferocious hardcore that made their name, or shake things up early to keep us guessing. Alongside producer Jeremy Bolm and mixer Jack Shirley, both deities in modern hardcore, they opted for the latter and turned in a grinding, difficult record that reinforced existing strengths (Christina Michelle’s feral vocals) and uncovered a few new moves (particularly a filthy, noise-rock bass sound). Monstrous. // Huw Baines

Listen: Ghost



Cocoa. Sugar. Black. White. Young Fathers’ third album sketches polarity in a more nuanced way than its predecessors, and in doing so, is their most accessible. Lead single In My View is a stubborn pop earworm that won’t quit, while Holy Ghost is a lovable, goofy track with discordant snippets of synths. Toy is agitated and addictive. The album features squeals, screams, raps and drawls, and thanks to the contrasting textures and intense production, seems physically incapable of misplacing our attention. // Helen Payne

Listen: Toy



‘Look Now’, Elvis Costello’s first solo album in eight years, was an excellent outing for the veteran songwriter that demonstrated his distinctive talent for writing complex narratives full of emotional jeopardy and black humour. It was also music that was keen to please, and while it got a little close to Steely Dan-style yacht rock (Under Lime and Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter, for example), this is a musical group with enough self awareness to maintain a degree of edge. Listen out for Steve Nieve’s distinctively tacky organ sound, which occasionally shows up. It sounds as incongruously crap/compelling today as it did on early work like Watching the Detectives and Pump It Up. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Don't Look Now



‘Sister Cities’ felt like a big moment for a band who’ve made a habit of ensuring each of their records contains at least one big moment. Driven by Dan Campbell’s fabulous, compassionate writing, the record took the Philly pop-punks into uncharted territory as they eschewed quick fix choruses in favour of an overall slow burn. Looking outward while trying (and often failing) to find a connection across oceans, from cramped vans and through the glare of computer monitors, ‘Sister Cities’ felt deeply human at a time when we could all do with a shot of brotherly love. // Huw Baines

Listen: Sister Cities



It’s been 23 years since Sweden’s At The Gates delivered ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’, AKA ‘the modern metalcore band's cheat-sheet’. After a break-up, reformation and comeback album, ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ crushes any notion of nostalgia. They still kick out those twin-lead riffs like nobody’s business, but they’re now pulling incomplete ideas from the vaults and doing them justice in the modern era, giving songs like The Mirror Black a sense of orchestral menace that would’ve just seemed a bit daft in their wiry, low-budget days. It’s been nearly three decades, but At The Gates are still pushing the envelope. // Alec Chillingworth

Listen: To Drink From The Night Itself



In a year when Lynyrd Skynyrd completed their American farewell tour, it’s fitting the torchbearers of modern southern rock emerged with this stylistically restless beauty. Melodically radiant anthemics brushed shoulders with combustible rock ‘n’ roll, good ol’ boy country, swampy grunge, hollering gospel and explosive bluegrass as Blackberry Smoke unleashed a spirited live sound that was guaranteed to get boots stompin’ and hearts-a-melting. If ‘Find A Light’ isn’t the quintet’s best offering, it’s certainly their most personal, consistent and a damn near perfect encapsulation of how they always keep things fresh, familiar and completely free of artifice. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: I'll Keep Ramblin' feat. Robert Randolph



Toggling between richly anthemic road songs, chilling dystopian scenes and a bone-deep sense of cool, Ezra Furman kept the engine running here after ‘Perpetual Motion People’ pointed the way. Fusing a loose concept with a diverse slate of sounds—from Springsteen-indebted rockers through industrial torch songs—Furman slipped easily into narrative mode and found an arch, vivid storytelling voice to examine themes that bled from this queer outlaw saga into our broken down reality. // Huw Baines

Listen: Suck The Blood From My Wound



Twenty-four years have passed since Clutch released their debut album, ‘Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes, and Undeniable Truths’, and yet their bluesy, boozy funk and stoner rock know-how still shows no signs of losing its potency. Their 12th full length has all the trademarks we expect from the poster boys for gritty guitar licks and quirky lyrics but also shows them exploring new rhythms and tones, even introducing a brass section on one of the record's highlights In Walks Barbarella. Further evidence of Clutch’s unerring ability to keep delivering the goods. // Jon Stickler

Listen: In Walks Barbarella



Gwenno Saunders, singing entirely in Cornish, asks the real questions we want answered. As well as important things like the isolation and identity of Cornwall and the exploration of dying languages, Eus Keus?, a fun art-pop masterpiece and height of the album’s euphoric grandeur, addresses what’s really on everyone’s mind: “Is there cheese?”. Go all in and learn a new language, dip into a phrasebook or commit to getting lost in the deliciously psychedelic haze—all good options. // Helen Payne

Listen: Le Kov



Remember that great Daria quote? “Are you alternative?” “Alternative to what?” Estrons are Daria in this scenario. They’re not pushing against anything, they’re standing on their own and enjoying dipping into numerous influences, ranging from rock to pop, to create an eclectic and fearless debut. Vocalist Tali Källström described the record as “a snapshot in time”, wanting to give nods to their career thus far—with the inclusion of Make A Man, Drop and Aliens—while showcasing new material that’s representative of their development and current state of mind. Mission accomplished. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Lilac



So many words have been written about what Deafheaven are (stick post- in front of a genre seems to be the answer) that we often forget to simply sit back and let their music wash over us. Taking more cues from Kerry McCoy’s classic rock-influenced guitar lines, ‘Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’ is at turns their most accessible and ambitious record. Its songs are like a long exhalation of ideas, which are allowed time to percolate out in the world. There’s a moment roughly halfway through Honeycomb where McCoy’s sweeping solos are answered by George Clarke’s guttural howl—it feels like everything we’ve ever wanted from Deafheaven made real. // Huw Baines

Listen: Honeycomb



Fans who weren’t aware Myles Kennedy possessed this kind of expansive skillset might have been surprised by the Alter Bridge frontman’s debut solo record. Taking a predominantly acoustic, singer-songwriter approach that owed a huge debt to ‘Led Zeppelin III’, the multi-instrumentalist dug deep into his childhood bereavement to craft this artistic tour de force. Employing folk, blues, countrified rock ‘n’ roll and the odd jazzy flourish, it’s a stirring, subtly melodic and thought-provoking listen that, far from being an exercise in misery, is an inspiring piece of spiritual and emotional catharsis. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: Year of the Tiger



Parquet Courts’ sixth LP is rooted in punk, rock and funk. Oh, and lots of fun. By placing the bass higher in the mix than the guitars, and opting to have lyrics delivered mostly in rattling shouts from Andrew Savage and Austin Brown, they manage to create a punk album that you can dance to in the finest tradition of the ‘80s. Mardi Gras Beads also takes in expansive ‘60s psych while Normalisation touches on that decade’s classic guitar tones. The title track will be a wedding party playlist essential in no time. Maybe. // Helen Payne

Listen: Wide Awake



No click track. No filler. Judas Priest are nearly 50 years into their career and ‘Firepower’, their 18th album, easily ranks within their top five. Pulling from the ‘Painkiller’ and ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ playbooks, Priest are a vintage heavy metal band pumping out music that holds its own today. The Glenn Tipton/Richie Faulkner guitar partnership’s reached its apex here, while Rob Halford’s packing those piercing shrieks, slinky lows and, on Sea of Red, genuine emotion. Clocking in at an hour long, ‘Firepower’ zips by, with No Surrender standing out as an anthem to hang with the Priest classics. // Alec Chillingworth

Listen: No Surrender



It took the pop rebel four years to follow up opinion splitter ‘Sheezus’, but Allen didn’t squander the time, she honed her craft. She’s never had a problem dropping controversial bombs in the form of four-minute bangers that turn social commentary and self-deprecation into singalongs, but ‘No Shame’ is a refreshing change of pace. Though still packing a lyrical punch, it finds her more understated when delving into deeply personal topics, including her children and past relationships. She lets us know we don’t always have to shout to be heard. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Lost My Mind



Music with the personality of beige wallpaper is regularly trumpeted as being exciting, so what word would you use to describe Marissa Paternoster? A furious blend of shred-guitar hero, wily storyteller and powerhouse vocalist, on ‘All At Once’ she used a bigger canvas than usual to paint a masterpiece. Melodic to a fault and shot through with fuzzed out leads to set synapses flaring, here Screaming Females (completed by bassist King Mike Abbate and drummer Jarrett Dougherty) took their boisterous power-trio approach to its logical conclusion and turned in a collection of songs that were loud, uncompromising and perfectly formed. // Huw Baines

Listen: I'll Make You Sorry



While Paul Simon may not be as prolific as Bob Dylan (38 solo albums) or Van Morrison (39), he might beat both artists in terms of consistent quality. His 14th solo release is a superb, terse reworking of 10 (potentially) overlooked songs from his catalogue, which calls upon various musical grandees in a marvellous late afternoon assembly of rich, easy-ish listening. Simon may be retiring from touring, but let us all hope his music making is far from finished. He’s still learning and improving. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: In The Blue Light



What makes music beautiful? Is it the timbre, delicacy of composition, song arrangement or all of the above? Nils Frahm's 'All Melody' isn't life-affirming, scream from the top of a mountain beauty; it's meditative, close-your-eyes, use your imagination and bask in the warm glow beauty. Frahm's skill as a composer isn't just in his use of melody but what he does in the space around it. Balancing Berlin-inspired electronics with a capella harmonies and majestic live instrumentation, he creates stirring, motif-led soundscapes that become more addictive with every listen. Some prefer the analogue elements, others the digital, but it's the combination that make this so compelling. // Jonathan Rimmer

Listen: My Friend the Forest



The second coming of Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock’s power-pop group yielded a near flawless set of songs that sat on the fence between happy and sad. Driven by the classicist in Farren, ‘Love in the Time of E-Mail’ chooses melody first and builds from there, with stacks of weird synths and the usual bucketload of fuzz chucked in for good measure. It also helps that you can almost feel how much fun the pair of them had putting this together in Rosenstock’s apartment. // Huw Baines

Listen: Freakin' U Out



Troye Sivan signalled a fresh perspective for pop music this year. Totally uncontrived and open, Troye is the chart-topping sensation who also set a precedent for dynamic, intelligent songwriting. In line with the sounds of the 1975 and Years & Years, integrity, poeticism and freedom bounce optimistically from track to track on ‘Bloom’ and the entire aesthetic for this coming of age album is poignantly autobiographical. Typified by innocence and heartwarming hope, where Troye’s contemporaries may remember their sexual encounters through more gratuitous lyrical arrangements, his ability to speak on his most treasured and intimate experiences feels spine-tingling. // Milly McMahon

Listen: Dance To This ft. Ariana Grande



It’s been a big couple of years for Jeff Rosenstock, and ‘Post-’ was a cherry on top of the cake (making the Antarctigo Vespucci LP on this list a gluttonous second dessert or something?). Home to some of his boldest ideas and a sense of melodic swagger, these songs pushed the former Bomb The Music Industry! mastermind ever closer towards that rich seam of Springsteen-derived anthemia that began cropping up on ‘Worry’. One of the most exciting songwriters in punk appears to be entering his imperial phase. // Huw Baines

Listen: All This Useless Energy



After a couple of emotionally intense, darker and heavier albums, Black Stone Cherry thankfully decided to have fun again on a superbly produced record that unapologetically tips its hat to the band’s musical heroes (Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers) and finds them settling into a brilliant new groove. Stamping their own soulful character, and plenty of fizzing ideas, onto a barrage of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll and rousing southern anthems that are jam-packed with monster hooks, meaty riffs and swaggering rhythms, ‘Family Tree’ should serve as the Kentucky foursome’s sonic blueprint from now on. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: Carry Me On Down The Road

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