We’re half way through 2018. I know, we can’t quite believe it either. A hell of a lot has happened in the last six months, not least the release of a host of brilliant, game-changing new albums, from debuts that solidified the buzz around new bands, to elder statesmen making the best records of their careers. We’re sure there’s plenty, plenty more ace LPs to come from the rest of 2018 - Christine, Marina, IDLES, Slaves; we’re looking at you - but for now, enjoy our rundown of the 15 best records we’ve been gifted with so far this year. There’s some real beauties.
Shame - Songs Of Praise
Across their first two(ish) years as a band, Shame carved out a reputation as one of the fieriest live bands in the capital, but it wasn’t until their debut album - released back in January - that the promise was solidified on tape. As we wrote in our five star review of ‘Songs Of Praise’, the London five-piece’s first effort was (and remains) “a vicious, sarcastic barrage, [that] makes their claim to be Britain’s best new band.” A world tour across the next six months has seen the band take up that mantle and make it firmly theirs: everywhere they tread, they’ve incited nothing less than pandemonium, becoming a vital band for a new generation. (Will Richards)
Matt Maltese - Bad Contestant
Across the past 18 months or so, Matt Maltese has become one of Britain’s most exciting new singer-songwriters, a saucy warbler of the highest calibre. All expectations were blown out of the water with debut album ‘Bad Contestant’ though. As we wrote in our review - which we gave all five stars, FYI - the album is full of “dazzling, idiosyncratic brilliance”, helmed by the brilliantly tongue-in-cheek title track, tales of romantic woe on superbly catchy highlight ‘Guilty’, and the still-excellent oldie ‘As The World Caves In’. As debut albums go, ‘Bad Contestant’ marks Matt Maltese out as one of the most special new talents we have. (Will Richards)
Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!
After taking a slightly more melancholic turn on 2016’s ‘Human Performance’, Parquet Courts were back with a hell of a bang on ‘Wide Awake!’ - I mean come on, the oft-labelled ‘slacker rockers’ released an album with an exclamation mark in the title! From the furious, hardcore-influenced ‘Violence’ to the untamed joy of the record’s carnival-like title track, Parquet Courts have made their greatest statement yet - no mean feat to achieve on album six. Fun, important, socially conscious and wonderfully catchy, it’s a record for the ages, and sees Parquet Courts never having been more vital. (Will Richards)
The Magic Gang - The Magic Gang
The Magic Gang’s debut album has been a long time coming. Nearly four years after their conception, and on the back of sold out UK tours and hype-building EPs, the record at once cemented their promise and also pointed towards an even brighter future. Packing plenty of golden oldies (‘All This Way’, ‘Jasmine’ et al) and a whole range of newer cuts that hint at a future of significantly wider scope, it does everything a debut record should. Bassist Gus Taylor takes lead vocals for the first time for the gorgeous, delicate ‘Take Care’, while ‘Caroline’ immediately joins the band’s arsenal of friends-on-shoulders bangers, and ‘I’ll Show You’ is a Kris Smith-led slow-burning anthem. Four years ‘til a debut album? Worth every second. (Will Richards)
Demob Happy - Holy Doom
There’s stepping up a level on album two after a promising debut, or there’s ‘Doing A Demob’ (we’ve coined the term just now, ok). On ‘Holy Doom’, the trio turned everything that made debut album ‘Dream Soda’ a superb debut and turned it up to 11; the riffs were filthier, the hooks even more appetising, the drums packing an even mightier punch. Shedding any unnecessary weight, the band have become a lean, mean riffing machine, and fit wonderfully in their new skin. (Will Richards)
Goat Girl - Goat Girl
As we wrote in our five-star review of the album, Goat Girl’s swirling, majestic mess of a debut record is “ambitious and uncompromising, as gutsy and self-assured as they come”. The South London four-piece had shown significant promise ever since their debut singles, but their ability to weave a creepy, fascinating story could only be shown across a full-length, and they proceeded to do it wonderfully on ‘Goat Girl’. Singles ‘The Man’ and ‘Cracker Drool’ fit snugly in between winding tangents of wiry interludes, and its an album in the truest sense: one to sit down and digest in one big gulp. (Will Richards)
Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer
‘Dirty Computer’ marks a seamless transition into the stratosphere of pop for Janelle Monáe. Accompanied by an ‘emotion picture’ of the same name, which depicts a surveillance state where queer people and people of colour are captured and have their memories deleted in order to make their brains ‘clean’, ‘Dirty Computer’ paints a widescreen, visually-stunning world intentionally meant to parallel our own.
Musically, it’s also an album as much about sex as it is about power and the two often intertwine, as the double meaning of album track ‘Screwed’ shows. ‘Pynk’ (featuring Grimes) and ‘Make Me Feel’ are jubilant celebrations of sexuality, whereas on ‘Django Jane’, Janelle showcases her slick skills as a rapper in an ode to black female power. Back for a full-length that’s more relevant and stronger than ever, Janelle Monae’s ‘Dirty Computer’ succeeds as an album that manages to tackle politics without ever killing the party. (Rachel Finn)
Sunflower Bean - Twentytwo In Blue
Beneath a glossy rock surface, Sunflower Bean’s ‘Twentytwo In Blue’ examines modern anxieties and the experience of being thrown into adulthood in a time of political upheaval.
It’s hardly a unique experience in history, yet despite the album’s semi-vintage feels and twangy 70s glam riffs, it feels like a record for right now. On the title track, the band are contemplating the strange sense of independence, freedom and responsibility that comes with finally being all grown up (“Independent, that’s how you view yourself now that you’re twentytwo…”) and on the next they’re singing a rallying chorus of protest on ‘Crisis Fest’ (“2017 we know, reality’s one big sick show, every day’s a crisis fest”).
Swaying between jubilant rock songs, call-to-arms protest songs and contemplative slower cuts, it’s a record with stronger direction than the band’s 2016 debut ‘Human Ceremony’ and, with it, marks them out as one of the most exciting and relevant young rock bands of the past few years. (Rachel Finn)
Dream Wife - Dream Wife
We’d been waiting for Dream Wife’s debut album - released back in January - for what felt like our whole lives. It was never really in doubt that it’d be a bloody brilliant first statement when it arrived, though: Rakel, Bella and Alice’s first full-length distilled everything that makes them such an exciting prospect, teaming old favourites with softer newer cuts that pushed them forward in new, unexpected ways, and reaffirmed our belief that they’re a truly special bunch. What more can you ask for from a debut? (Will Richards)
Chvrches - Love Is Dead
When Chvrches first emerged in 2012, their sound was something that sounded refreshingly new. Building on the foundations laid by their previous two full-length albums - 2013’s ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’ and 2015’s ‘Every Open Eye’ - for their third album ‘Love is Dead’, the Glasgow synth-pop trio have debuted a collection of tracks that sound bigger and brighter than before. Pushing the band’s sound into new unchartered territories with an album that sounds celebratory whilst managing to turn its scope to the new realm of the political, six years after debut single ‘The Mother We Share’, it seems like Chvrches are stronger than ever. (Rachel Finn)
Rae Morris - Someone Out There
When Rae Morris returned with aptly titled new single ‘Reborn’ mid-way through last year, we were all a little taken aback. Trading the largely singer-songwritery tropes of her debut album ‘Unguarded’ for a sleek pop sheen and an anthem the size of a skyscraper, it pointed to an extremely exciting second age for the Blackpool native. The resulting album - February’s ‘Someone Out There’ - blew expectations out of the water even further. Helmed by ‘Reborn’ and lead single ‘Do It’, an absurdly catchy, understated bop, the album - a chronicling of a blossoming relationship - repositioned Rae Morris as a pop powerhouse, and comes as one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. (Will Richards)
Iceage - Beyondless
Iceage’s progression across their first four albums has been a delight to watch. Evolving from scrappy, angry punks into majestic, horn-flecked rockstars, all without losing a drop of their originality and firepower, it all came to a head on this year’s ‘Beyondless’. “On ‘Plead The Fifth’, [Elias Bender Rønnenfelt] sings with Gallagher-esque swagger of exorcising himself,” we wrote in our review of the album, “while on the blustery chaos of the title track he sings “I was going to stray / To the banquets and boondocks” while his bandmates command a storm around him. If straying always leads to things as great as this, Iceage should continue veering from the path.” A brilliantly considered next step from a band who’ve always hinted at truly great things, ‘Beyondless’ marked Iceage out as truly special. (Will Richards)
Hookworms - Microshift
‘Negative Space’ - the opening track from Hookworms’ third album ‘Microshift’ - remains one of the best songs of the year, a relentless hammerblow that channelled LCD Soundsystem in its propulsive, dance-rock hybrid, and thrust the Leeds krautrockers into a whole new world. It’s backed up brilliantly on the rest of ‘Microshift’, with the band’s sunniest melodies yet teamed with lyrics of heartache and struggle. It further pushes the band into their status as one of the country’s most-loved cult bands, and opens the door significantly regarding where they can go next. (Will Richards)
Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Oh, Arctic Monkeys. What would we do without you. It’s fair to say quite a few eyebrows were raised when Alex Turner and co returned in June with a lounge-y concept album that tackles, um, the gentrification of the moon. A good dig into the lunar-based madness, some utterly bizarre but fantastic tv performances and an electrifying return to the stage later, though, and the new age of the Sheffield rascals - albeit still worlds away from the crunchy, arena-ready rock of 2013’s ‘AM’ - begins to make a lot more sense. From truly absurd lyrics about how much he loves martial arts and, well, the moon’s sideboob, to comments on social media and modern life, it’s done what every great record should: it divides opinion, and in being so divisive, it’s risen Arctic Monkeys’ star even further, and we love them for it. (Will Richards)
Soccer Mommy - Clean
On her debut collection, uh, ‘Collection’, Sophie Allison - aka Soccer Mommy - introduced herself as one of the most affecting new voices in indie rock. Debut album ‘Clean’ - released back in March - just furthered this promise. Helmed by first single ‘Your Dog’, the singer proved herself able to create immovable emotion over soft but affecting instrumentation. Opener ‘Still Clean’ is a crushing highlight, but it’s ‘Scorpio Rising’, the record’s intense centrepiece, that really sees her shine, a slow-building cut that leads to a cacophonous conclusion. With plenty more surely still in her locker, Soccer Mommy is on the way to become MVP. (Will Richards)