2018 has been an incredible year for music. Here are our picks for the 30 best albums of 2018.
30. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Kings of New York cool Parquet Courts return with their most cohesive, downright loveable record yet. Tossing aside the slight sniffiness that hampered some of their earlier material, the four-piece strip things back to basics, producing a series of songs that scream pure joy. Highlight: ‘Wide Awake’
29. Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy
And so it came to pass that 2018 would be forever remembered as the year that Cardi B, one-time Love And Hip Hop reality star, came to dominate the cultural conversation. With Invasion Of Privacy, a searing statement of intent, the vicious rapper has proven that she isn’t some one-hit wonder, getting by merely on a wave of headlines and controversy: she’s the real fucking deal. Long may she reign. Highlight: ‘Money Bag’
28. Left At London – Transgender Street Legend, Vol. 1
Running a mere four songs long, Transgender Street Legend, Vol. 1 is a remarkable record from a bold new voice, mixing sultry, multi-layered R’nB with heartfelt confessions of loss and recovery. It is the kind of thing ready to consume your waking hours; a mighty, big-hearted work of art from an artist destined for the greatest things. Highlight: ‘I Split My Ribs Open’
27. Robyn – Honey
It’s Robyn. ‘Nuff said. Highlight: ‘Honey’
26. Laura Jean – Devotion
Trading in the intimate folk pop of her past, with Devotion Laura Jean goes big, exploding her talents onto the grandest scale of her career to date. Songs tackle love, loss, and learning in a way so fresh it’s as though no songwriter has ever trod this territory before. Exemplary. Highlight: ‘Girls On The TV’
25. Anna Calvi – Hunter
Once upon a time, ‘fun’ seemed like the least appropriate word imaginable to describe the music of Anna Calvi – the guitar maverick’s early works are sludgey, impossible things, reeking of sulfur. But Hunter is a different beast entirely, a genre and gender-blending masterwork that tackles the stuffiness of binaries in all of their forms. Highlight: ‘Alpha’
24. Mitski – Be The Cowboy
Each of Be The Cowboy’s 14 tracks contain more nuance, emotional complexity, and intelligence than most of the indie rock records released this year. They are mini-movies; layered tales of love lost and of resistance gained. How much richer we are for having Mitski in our lives. Highlight: ‘Nobody’
23. Little Ugly Girls – Little Ugly Girls
From our review: “Few acts of recent years have exhibited such a commendable command of chaos; just as the chanted choruses, and dirty spears of feedback seem about to overwhelm, the band pull back from the precipice.” Highlight: ‘Baggage’
22. Gaye Su Akyol – Istikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir
Ever imagined what the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell To Earth might sound like if the film’s titular alien crash landed in Turkey and not the American desert? The answer: Istikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir, a psychedelic/folk rock masterpiece from Turkish up-and-comer Gaye Su Akyol. It’ll melt your head off. Highlight: ‘Laziko’
21. Death Grips – Year Of The Snitch
On Year Of The Snitch, Death Grips have finally embraced the meme; their music has never been this big, this bold, or this rampantly tongue-in-cheek. It’s a self-portrait from a band that have always flirted, despite their great, dark horror, with kitsch; full of strange, twisted lyrics that read like knock knock jokes, and guest appearances from artists as varied as noise god Lucas Abela to the director of Shrek (seriously). The kind of album that must be heard to be believed. Highlight: ‘Black Paint’
20. Sarah Mary Chadwick – Sugar Still Melts In The Rain
An old English teacher of mine once said that a great poem is one that holds you to a memory and then nails you there. She could have just as easily been talking about the songs on Sarah Mary Chadwick’s extraordinary new record, Sugar Still Melts In The Rain, piano-led ballads that feel intimately part of you from the very first listen. Highlight: ‘Flow Over Me’
19. Cash Savage And The Last Drinks – Good Citizens
For Cash Savage, one of Australia’s most important cultural voices, being a “good citizen” doesn’t mean keeping your head down and your trap shut – it’s about practicing resistance; about holding governments about accountable; about shutting the fuckers down when they so desperately need to be shut down. To that end, Good Citizens is a fiery statement of rebellion, a record born out of adversity but not bowed by it, filled with wheezy violins, and urgent, desperate choruses. Long live Cash Savage. Highlight: ‘Pack Animals’
18. Peter Bibby – Grand Champion
Like a still life portrait of a goon sack, an overflowing ashtray, and a half eaten Chiko roll, Peter Bibby’s Grand Champion paints the ephemera of our everyday lives in bold, brilliant colours. It’s an ugly thing, full of self-hatred and disgust, that somehow breaks out here and there in brief flashes of hope. We might like to pretend that the prosaic Paul Kelly comes closest to capturing our national voice, but if anybody sums us up as the confused, red wine-loving people we are, it’s Bibby. Highlight: ‘Work For Arseholes”
17. Rabbit Island – Deep In The Big
“For me, music happens just when it wants to,” Amber Fresh, the musician behind the Rabbit Island moniker told the BRAG earlier this year. “Making songs really just happens whenever what’s going on in life and the planets align to pull a song out of the ether.” That’s not humility talking either – Deep In The Big, the latest Rabbit Island record, is so beautiful and ephemeral as to feel untouched by human hand. It’s like a thing that fell from the sky, fully formed, just for you. And all that it asks is for you to listen. Highlight: ‘Deep In The Big
16. Lucy Dacus – Historian
Lucy Dacus’ Historian might well be the most beautiful record that opens with its narrator swallowing a wet lump of spit. An earthy, unabashedly honest portrait of romance in all its warty forms, it’s also Dacus’ most sonically cohesive effort to date. Despite how ugly the thing gets, Dacus keeps it buoyed with her light, almost pop-influenced touch, crafting choruses as delicate as wire sculptures. Highlight: ‘Night Shift’
15. Phantastic Ferniture – Phantastic Ferniture
From our review: “Here’s a thing: we tend to overvalue singularity in music. Records don’t have to be thesis statements; sometimes, they can draw a wonky line instead of a straight one. Case in point being Phantastic Ferniture’s aces debut record, a collection of songs that flirt with the raucous and the melancholy in equal measure.” Highlight: ‘Gap Year’
14. The Breeders – All Nerve
What a title. After all, All Nerve is so distinctly Breeders-esque that it feels spat out of a Deal sisters name generator. For decades now, the band have crafted impeccable, criminally underrated indie pop songs that shake like a crust punk after too many double blacks; with this, their first record in ten years, they double down on that antic energy, producing tightly-spun contemporary classic after another. Let’s just hope we’re not waiting another decade for the next one. Highlight: ‘Wait In The Car’
13. Noname – Room 25
Noname is an island unto herself, crafting wormy, jazz-inspired ballads that feel like a mash-up of Vincent Van Gogh and Morse code. More melancholy than her debut mixtape Telefone, Room 25 is at once recognisably American, punched through with stories of adversity and triumph, and yet utterly universal: the kind of record that makes immediate sense to everyone, everywhere. Highlight: ‘Blaxploitation’
12. Rico Nasty – Nasty
Taking trap-influenced rap to its natural endpoint, Nasty feels like a cyanide-laced pint of Kool Aid crashing through a brick wall. A mere 21-years old, Rico Nasty has more grit and fire than rappers three times her age: her songs are as abrupt and unforgettable as a half brick to the head. “Bitch I’m nasty,” she gloats on the album opener. You believe her. Highlight: ‘Ice Cream’
11. Surfbort – Friendship Music
Throw some Ramones, some Jesus Lizard, a dash of Swami John Reis, two packets of Lucky Strikes, and half a pint of White Lightning into a blender and you’d get something like Surfbort’s fascinating debut record, Friendship Music. Something like, but not exactly, cause in truth Friendship Music is the freshest thing the American punk movement has spawned in at least a decade or two. It’s this fiery, putrid thing; a detuned, delirious work of outsider art. Surfbort forever. Highlight: ‘Slushy’
10. Rebel Yell – Hired Muscle
Listening to Hired Muscle, the extraordinary new record from longtime synth magician Rebel Yell, is a little like being dragged across ten miles of concrete. It’s industrial in the truest sense of the word; a grimy, stridently modern collection of songs that push the form without ever pushing the listener away.
Choruses loop like chanted curses; the instrumentation has a teeth-grinding immediacy to it; and the whole thing feels forever one moment away from total collapse. But there, presiding over the rubble of it all is Rebel Yell itself, controlling the chaos with the attention and nuance of a true master. You’ve never heard anything like it. Highlight: ‘Toxic’
9. Boygenius – Boygenius
Supergroups are frequently worth so much less than the sum of their parts. More often than not, they’re messy, ego-driven affairs, about as cohesive as a soundtrack album: a cacophony of discordant voices and styles. Not so with Boygenius, the debut EP from Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus. The three sonic auteurs prove committed and caring collaborators, eager to take the backseat for one another when necessary. As a result, stand-out tracks like ‘Me And My Dog’ aren’t just solo tracks beefed out with impressive backing vocals; they’re the result of three minds, impossibly entwined. Highlight: ‘Me And My Dog’
8. Jaala – Joonya Spirit
From our review: “A bundle of corrugated iron, it owes more to the work of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis than it does the indie rock touchstones that get trotted out ad nauseum these days. ‘Horn’ is wormy and imprecise; ‘Frogs Tears’ is all unsettled, overcaffeinated beauty. ‘Gwynne’ flirts with the kind of unhinged intensity that defines the best work of Spencer Krug. It’s a masterpiece.” Highlight: ‘Frog Tears’
7. Evelyn Ida Morris – Evelyn Ida Morris
From our review: “Best known as the musician behind the Pikelet moniker, Morris writes songs that are as hard to pin down as fog; piano-based heartbreakers that resist easy interpretation. ‘Freckles’, the record closer, is one of the most beautiful songs of the year so far, but it’s not worth pulling apart favourites from the record; Evelyn Ida Morris is a complete, fully-formed beast. There are only a few more impressive albums released this year.” Highlight: ‘Freckles’
6. Idles – Joy As An Act Of Resistance
Remember when, shortly after the election of Donald Trump, Amanda Palmer promised us all that no matter how bad things might get, at least there’d be a new energised wave of punk to make us all feel better? Yeah, what horseshit that turned out to be. Trump hasn’t helped punk, he’s hindered it, inspiring waves of insufferably dull punks dribbling nonsense manifestos better suited for viral Facebook posts.
At least that wave of neutered art school graduates spouting janky poetry about tearing down the wall has taught us the value of real punks – bands like Idles. Joy As An Act Of Resistance squints sideways at the political malaise of our time without ever getting bogged down in specifics, and, as its excellent title implies, it also boasts the distinction of being fun. This is a collection of sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking ditties that take aim at the broadest targets: fear, pain, and paranoia. Oh, and men with perms. Can’t forget about those bastards. Highlight: ‘Danny Nedelko’
5. Cyanide Thornton – Cyanide Thornton
Cyanide Thornton takes the recognisable and turns it inside out, transforming moments of intimacy and power into great, six-minute behemoths. It’s a distinct, fiery thing, a personal statement writ in letters so big as to be accessible to all, and filled with lyrics so essential every single one feels custom-designed to be your next tattoo. It is, simply put, one of those records ready to change your life. Seek it out. Highlight: ‘Violin Song’
4. Mod Con – Modern Convenience
From our review: “It’s a musical tirade that has more clear-eyed intensity in its opener, ‘Scorpio’, than most post-punk albums of late have over their entire running time. Lead singer Erica Dunn pushes her voice till it breaks, chord structures get built up only to crumble. The whole thing has the feel of a bad acid trip, or a day of lay-offs at a business in trouble.” Highlight: ‘Kidney Auction Blues’
3. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
From our review: “It’s a darker album than her debut, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit; an unsparing, dense thing. On ‘Nameless Faceless’ she addresses murder, trolls, and assault. On ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’, she howls back at the haters, her voice run through ten miles of barbed wire. The world is troubled, and Barnett knows it; the Sunday morning panic attack that ‘Avant Gardener’ pivoted on is a once a day rather than a once a week affair now, and the whole world seems to be going through it.
But Barnett’s most unique skill has always been her precision, and while trawling through all that bad psychic territory, she picks out her mission statement: the world is shit, people can be cruel, but still, despite all the odds, goodness persists. Her friends are “sweet relief”; even when people do nothing, she thinks they’re doing fine; and though she gets sad, as on ‘City Looks Pretty’ she can pull it together.
That, ultimately, is what is left in the wake of closer ‘Sunday Roast’; Barnett’s deep, warmly-felt connection with people, and all the things they are capable of. Time may well reveal it to be not just her masterpiece. Highlight: ‘Sunday Roast’
2. Dilly Dally – Heaven
From our review: “Heaven, Dilly Dally’s return has been draped in themes of death and rebirth; of what happens after you get yourself on the right track. In the video for lead single, ‘I Feel Free’, lead singer Katie Monks digs up the bodies of her dead bandmates. Intercut is something resembling Heaven; a white room, filled to the brim with light, the band moving through it like oil blossoming in water.
When you’re growing up, you think that the most punk rock thing you can be is dangerous, and angry, and fucked up. Then, slowly, you learn the truth – that kindness, and strength, and resilience have a crackling energy all of their own. That the really brave thing to be in an ugly, difficult world is the opposite. ‘I Feel Free’ is the sound of a band that have that all figured out. It’s the sound of a band renewed.” Highlight: ‘Marijuana’
1. Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death In Meatspace
From our review: “A burnt-out car of a record, the thing is a bundle of rusted sharp edges all loaded with tetanus. Fans of frontman Gareth Liddiard’s other band The Drones will recognise the busted-out poetry that made that group one of the most important in Australia. But this isn’t just Drones mk 2. It’s stranger – lumpier – than the work of that band, a freewheeling, unfettered record that incorporates elements of hip hop, post-punk, death metal, and more.
The apocalypse hangs heavy over the thing, but it’s more John Waters than it is Lars Von Trier. Liddiard can’t help himself; even when Rome is burning to the ground, he’s gotta fucking dance. Tracks like ‘Antimatter Animals’ are among the most mischievously entertaining he’s ever written. “Your politics ain’t nothing but a fond fuck you,” he hisses across that track; later, on the extraordinary ‘The Future Of History’ he warns against IBM and the cruel disdain of history.
‘Meatspace’ is what silicone valley bros dismissively call the real world, and A Laughing Death shares that same detached attitude towards people and the irrational things they do. Both ‘Rubber Bullies’ and ‘Chameleon Paint’ are about online gangs of roving tone warriors looking to bully fellow left-wingers. ‘A Laughing Death In Meatspace’ is about illness and mortality. Even the record’s gentle, surf-rock indebted instrumental track, is called ‘Shellfish Toxin’.
It’s as much an anthropological study as it is an album; a huddle of sad humans dissected in the middle and arranged in tanks of formaldehyde like a Hirst.” Highlight: ‘Antimatter Animals’