2018 has reached its halfway point, rejoice! The peak of summer is nigh, and festival season is well underway, but which albums have really stood out and made a sonic impact? We’re lucky to have been blessed by some absolutely splendid albums from all across the musical spectrum, so today we take a look at the ten best records of 2018…so far. Click on each album title to read our initial thoughts and listen to each album.
What we said: “Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino may be an album which is largely centred on main man Alex Turner, but there’s enough remnants of Arctic Monkeys’ collective ongoing legacy to indicate that this is the sound of four Sheffield-via-Hollywood natives who have turned the page and kicked off a new chapter in their careers. It’s important to note, though, that 2013’s AM was a definite prerequisite for this album’s existence. If the band hadn’t undertaken the semi-bold move that they made five years ago, then the foundations for Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino may have remained just that: echoes within Turner’s mind, specifically echoes which would have never got him thinking about the possibility of taking the creative helm and changing his band’s course faster than a King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard release schedule. You could write whole essays on Turner’s lyricism anno 2018 – and people will – as he utilises tons of subtle metaphors to tell a gradually intensifying story over the course of eleven well-worn and intricately layered pieces of music. The layers may take a while to appear for some, but they are most definitely there, ready and waiting to be discovered. For those who were drawn into the world of Arctic Monkeys by means of AM‘s commercial amphitheater rock melodies and monochrome sheen, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino will definitely alienate more than it satisfies. There are very few discernible choruses or “key” tracks (i.e. lead singles) to be heard, but there’s nothing wrong with that in the slightest; Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino is an album best listened to as a cohesive whole. It’s a creative project which you need to absorb in order to understand, a gathering of sounds which echo every single fibre of Turner’s thought process. Some may suggest that the album was better off as an Alex Turner solo LP, yet they couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, it’s heavily influenced by the frontman’s presence, but this is how Arctic Monkeys have always been: a brilliant group of highly skilled musicians spearheaded by one mad scientist. Only this time round, the mad scientist has an adoration for Blade Runner, works on a Steinway and enjoys Mexican beers and cheap cigarettes whilst running a swanky hotel on the moon. If the sky isn’t the limit, then what is?”
What we said: “It’s hard to choose highlights from an album like this when there are so many. Almost Had To Start A Fight / In and Out Of Patience has a ridiculously satisfying stop / start approach, with the transition from the first half to the other being another reminder of their uncanny ability to sequence certain tracks to become greater than the sum of their parts. Extinction sounds like the sort of song The Strokes wish they could still write today, Freebird II arrives in perfect time for the summer while Tenderness plays the album out with a whimsical charm that sashays its way out of the door. The album’s full of gems, another highlight in their incredible back catalogue. The risk they’ve taken with recruiting Danger Mouse has paid off. He’s shown a clear understanding of the band’s charms and has found a way to subtly accentuate them. If there’s any justice in the world, then this will be the album that makes them a household name, but whether or not that actually happens only time will tell.”
What frontman Charlie Steen said on Songs of Praise’s songwriting: “We’ve been a band since we were seventeen, and we’re twenty now. Over the course of that time period, the amount of music, books and artistic outlets I’ve been exposed to has influenced how I write. It’s mainly social commentary, some of it’s political but the rest of it is very personal to myself. I got very good advice very early on, which was just to keep on writing and keep on reading. I have about six notebooks full of ideas, and hopefully I can expand on that. Everything has been written about before, and that’s sort of the challenge you have to overcome.”
What we said: “The subject of grief is relatively taboo in our society. We are expected to behave in certain ways, and to comply with a certain narrative when dealing with loss. There’s even a legal amount of leave that someone can have when getting over a government approved mourning. Much like how new parents say that anyone who has a child older than two cannot truly empathise with the difficulties of a new parent, the reflections on grief are too often looked at with a distance of retrospect. I don’t know how Phil found the strength to create these two albums in the aftermath of his wife’s death, but I think we are lucky to be privileged with its results. The journey through the positives, the negatives, the emotion and the numbness, all delivered through real time reflections is a document like no other. No-one should have to go through an experience like this, but it also shouldn’t be something that’s ignored or unspoken. These are things that could happen to anyone, and they’re the loneliest times in our life. The experiences may not be identical for everyone, but sharing in the moment can help. In the hands of anyone less capable, this project would have been a huge risk, but it’s a testament to Phil Elverum’s gift that he has created the perfect second part to this tragic masterpiece.”
What we said: “Make what you will of Whale City, but bear in mind that this is the kind of album which only a band like Warmdüscher could put out without sounding pretentious. Whale City is one of 2018’s most exciting records so far, and if the band make the most of the opportunities at their feet then don’t be too surprised when you find yourself spinning their wacky tunes on repeat.”
What we said: “On Technology, Don Broco have proven exactly why they’re considered one of Britain’s best bands by many a renowned critic. Although its fourteen-track running length could be considered by some as being a tad too long, it does allow the Bedford outfit to take the listener on a long-winded journey. Damiani’s lyrical content has only improved over time, with his personal insights on technological progression (or regression, however you wish to perceive it) and everyday observations really standing out. From the regret which greets him when spending time with unsavoury-yet-attractive types (Pretty) to recounting an emotional family story (Got to Be You), and via plenty of social media criticism (Technology & Stay Ignorant), Damiani has managed to exercise his creative skill sublimely and elevate it to the best possible level. The same goes for the rest of his band, whose own personal skills have definitely been put to the best possible use on Technology. Guitarist Si Delaney’s riffs hit harder than ever before, with the unrivalled Donnelly & Doyle rhythm section forming a solid backbone to proceedings. It may only be January, but don’t be surprised if Technology ends up topping year-end lists and elevating Don Broco to heights higher than anyone could have previously imagined.”
What Emily Turner said about the sampling process: “It’s mainly the world around us, but also the internet. We tend to try and take the whole world around us, quite literally. For example, our flat really sucks and the shower downstairs has a shit tap which creates a constant drip in our house. We thought it was super interesting, and as part of our experience in that house we decided to sample it. Also stuff like cars pulling up late at night, people getting out and talking loudly. Also birds chirping. We’d then look on the internet for stuff like rockets taking off and grand things like that before combining these different areas in our music. We take these things and put them in different contexts; for us, it’s a very visceral thing. The feeling that it gives us is ultimately what guides us. You’re dropping samples almost like some sort of collage, and then you send it to someone else who suggests you add something and chop another. It’s a very instantaneous process as well, which is how we approach sampling.”
What we said: “If Prequelle has made anything evident, then it’s that this is no longer the band who emerged on the doom-laden Opus Eponymous eight years ago. This is no longer the band who went through life shrouded in mystery (both on and offstage), and it most definitely isn’t the band that people envisioned it would become in this day and age. Forge’s meticulously crafted conceptual thread is still there, but everything else has changed. Ghost have – in the space of not even a decade – gone from an unassumingly creepy Swedish band to one of the biggest groups on the planet. Not that this should come as too much of a surprise, though; in fact, their rapid rise to prominence was inevitable from the moment the haunting Year Zero saw the light of day in 2013. Its accompanying album, the grisly Infestissumam, helped them reach higher heights in Europe, essentially elevating them to household name status within the heavy music community. That was the first major stepping stone for Tobias Forge’s project, eventually moving on to the majestic Meliora in 2015 and utilising that record as a means of conquering the final piece in the geographic puzzle: the United States. With America finally in the palm of Forge’s hands, Ghost moved on to Prequelle, an album which will undoubtedly send them into the largest stadiums, arenas and amphitheaters which this planet has to offer. The record is a grandiose mission statement from start to finish, taking on a grim concept and embedding it within the already expansive conceptual world of Ghost with little difficulty. There are highlights across the whole album, whether it be stadium-ready anthems (Rats, Dance Macabre, Witch Image), slow-burning epics (See the Light, Pro Memoria, Life Eternal), or bombastic, headbang worthy pit starters (Faith, Miasma). There is hardly a dull moment on Prequelle. Then again, there was hardly a dull moment during the Plague either. Where this leaves Cardinal Copia within the clergy remains to be seen, but if he continues to deliver music of this power then it shouldn’t be too long until he becomes a Papa.”
What we said: “On an album so accomplished and with a production style so distinct, it’s hard to pull individual highlights from its listing. It’s one of those albums where when you start playing it, you have to let it run through to the end. In addition to those divine lead tracks, there’s the infectious bassline of Time, the luscious 80s synths of Calling Paul The Suffering, which addresses McMahon’s deceased father directly, or the surf-folk of Believe. There isn’t a duff track on the album. The lyrics give something more to delve into with repeated listens, dealing with big issues from McMahon’s life. The title, Freedom, was an intentionally grand choice following the similarly bold Love, with McMahon using the album to deal with aspects of his personality that he wanted to exorcise. It’s a process of self-cleansing in order to leave behind a blank canvas upon which the perfect artist is established. A vacant mind. If you believe this to have been successful then this is just the start of the continued descent of Amen Dunes. Whether or not that’s possible remains to be seen, but in the process, McMahon has created his finest body of work to date, and a fitting tribute to his parents.”
What we said: “The Golden Age of Not Even Trying isn’t a concept album per se, however there are definitely moments throughout which sound and feel interconnected in a way which most alternative rock albums (to describe it loosely) don’t. Whether this is the result of accidental songwriting similarities or a deliberate attempt at interlinked conceptuality isn’t something we’re confident to admit, however what we can say with 100% confidence is that Dead! have come out and proved every single doubter wrong. They certainly haven’t cut corners or rushed things on The Golden Age of Not Even Trying, and this much is evident when listening back to it multiple times. It’s also evident when you look at the prolonged timeline they operated on when building up to its hotly-anticipated release (no less than five years after debut single Beautiful Broken Bones). All twelve songs locate the perfect balance between their raw beginnings and a relatively polished overall sound, and each moment on the record is filled to the brim with confidence and panache. As debut albums go, you could suggest that Dead! have a world-beater on their hands.”
In December we’ll be unveiling the Top 50 Best Albums of 2018.