In comparison to previous years, picking a record which has truly stood out head and shoulders above the rest has become seemingly tougher once again. The amount of artists who really upped their game over the course of 2018 has increased tenfold, with smaller, lesser known artists certainly faring better than the established greats who failed to impress despite their hardest efforts (we’re not naming any names, Kanye). Taking into account the surge in prominence which streaming platforms have feasted upon in recent years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the amount of accessible music correlates strongly with the qualitative increase many artists have taken responsibility for. Today, 5 December 2018, is the day that we reflect on the ten best collections of music to grace speakers, stages and our own minds throughout the last 338 days. Let’s go.
10 U.S. GIRLS – IN A POEM UNLIMITED
In at 10 is this sublime piece of work by Meghan Remy, also known as U.S. Girls. After spending more than a decade somewhat under the radar and wholly underrated, Remy returned with a momentously captivating mission statement this February: In a Poem Unlimited. Although it isn’t Remy’s most experimental collection of music to date (her seventh full release, at that), it does serve as an indicator of her multi-faceted skillset, one which spans multiple instruments and sonic disciplines. Over the course of eleven songs and 37 minutes, Remy takes the listener on a colourful journey which touches upon frazzled RnB (Velvet 4 Sale), disco-infused pop (M.A.H.), and warped indie jazz (Pearly Gates).”I still do what I want, and I do what I like” she sings on the bouncy Incidental Boogie, and it’s unlikely that anyone will argue against her doing it incredibly well. The album is a near faultless exercise in blending Remy’s most experimental capabilities with her most radio friendly and, dare we say, poppy, and she executes it with little difficulty and maximal impact.
9 ZEAL & ARDOR – STRANGER FRUIT
Earlier this year, when Zeal & Ardor performed the first of two shows at Eurosonic Festival, we praised Manuel Gagneux’s blend of blues and black metal highly. Together with a tight live band, Gagneux “demonstrated exactly why the hype factor surrounding Zeal & Ardor’s music is so high“. It’s been eleven months since the Swiss-American band ravaged Groningen, and not much has changed. Third album Stranger Fruits came out right ahead of a packed festival season, picking up where 2016’s Devil is Fine left off with its slick mixture of downtrodden blues, ferocious black metal and the occasional hint of shoegaze. Lead single Gravedigger’s Chant may sound like the safest track on the record, but once you delve deeper into Stranger Fruit’s sixteen tracks you’ll discover an album which is near-perfect in every sense. From spine tingling choir vocals (Servants) and blood curdling screams (Fire of Motion) to effects-laden guitar soundscapes (Waste) and a sense of gnarly swagger (You Ain’t Coming Back), Stranger Fruits is Manuel Gagneux’s most successful attempt at a magnum opus thus far. There’s a long road ahead for him and his band, but if they stick to this path then it’s sure to be something beyond special.
8 PARKWAY DRIVE – REVERENCE
By now, you’ve surely heard the age old complaint from any forward thinking band’s diehard fans: “why did you change your sound?” No matter how successful you are, and no matter how many risks you take, there’s always going to be someone out there who isn’t quite satisfied. Parkway Drive are one of the many bands who had to face up to a small cluster of naive diehards unable to process change, and in doing so they produced what may well be their most impactful record to date: Reverence. Reverence is the kind of album any hardworking rock band wishes they had made, possessing all the hallmarks of a modern day classic. Whether it be Wishing Wells‘ subtle build-up and subsequent explosion, The Void‘s riff eruptions or In Blood‘s stadium-ready chorus, Reverence had something for (nearly) everyone. This is as close as Parkway Drive are ever going to get in creating a solid 10, and it’s hard to imagine if (and how) they’ll ever be able to top it.
7 VIAGRA BOYS – STREET WORMS
What a name, huh? Aside from having their name altered in press emails and making sure that people feel uneasy when mentioning them, Stockholm’s Viagra Boys do make some absolutely incredible music. The name, just as its origin suggests, is more than a slice of enticing bait. That’s because there aren’t many bands out there right now who are able to replicate the pure madness Viagra Boys demonstrate on their batshit debut, Street Worms. Over the course of nine borderline mental songs, Viagra Boys allow the listener to bathe in what sounds like the musical version of a dive bar orgy. Opener Down in the Basement instantly sets the tone, maintaining pace as frontman Sebastian Murphy wails and splutters his way through proceedings. Sports, on the other hand, reigns things in ever so slightly as Murphy loses his mind over different sports and other facets of human enjoyment. It isn’t until the ballistic Shrimp Shack, though, that Street Worms hits peak madness (“I’m surfing with your mom in the dirt“) and Viagra Boys really come into their own. Not that this is a hard breakthrough to spot, however, as Street Worms is one hell of a trip from start to finish. If the record doesn’t leave you wondering what the hell you just listened to, then you’re doing it wrong.
6 ARCTIC MONKEYS – TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL + CASINO
“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes, now look at the mess you’ve made me make” sings Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner on Star Treatment, the famed introduction to new album Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino. As musical departures go, this is by far the most drastic sonic switch a modern day rock band has made since Radiohead’s Kid A U-turn back in 2000. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, though, as otherwise it wouldn’t be ranking so high in this list. Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino is the album Arctic Monkeys needed to make, and as an entire collection of music it also serves as their most cohesive and sonically intricate. It’s a slick, 70s-leaning collection of dreamy bedroom pop lathered in more sonic grandeur than every Beach Boys album combined. From lustful opener Star Treatment and the one-two of One Point Perspective and American Sports to standout track Four Out Of Five and emotionally pertinent finale The Ultracheese, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino is hands down the best collection of music produced by Alex Turner and consorts. That ‘classic’ old school Arctic Monkeys sound which diehard fans grew up with and learnt to love is well and truly gone, having been replaced by something which is as good, if not better than anything which came before it. Here’s to an exciting future.
5 PARQUET COURTS – WIDE AWAKE!
What do you get when you mix four quirky New Yorkers with superstar producer Danger Mouse? That’s right, a career-defining classic. Parquet Courts‘ Wide Awake! is that classic, and it’s not hard to hear why. By working with Danger Mouse, Parquet Courts have knocked down an internal fourth wall and explored the outermost depths of their creativity, resulting in 38 minutes of pure enigmatic bliss. Opener Total Football sets the bar high as A Savage and co. flitter between their trademark sarcasm-rooted garage indie and hints of both reggae and funk, hitting the sweet spot in every regard. Lead single Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience sounds like two sides of the same coin, with title track Wide Awake switching currencies on what is by far Parquet Courts’ most diverse records to date. Danger Mouse has brought out the best in Parquet Courts, and now it’s time for these four zany New Yorkers to bring out the best in you as they inevitably succeed in grabbing your attention and not letting go until album finale Tenderness fades into a premature silence.
4 SNAIL MAIL – LUSH
We’re not going to beat about the bush here: Snail Mail is one of the best (if not, the best) singer songwriters to emerge in the last twelve months. The Lindsey Jordan-helmed project sprung out of seemingly nowhere in 2016 on the youthful Habit, an EP which put her on the map and earned her a deal with the renowned Matador Records (also home to Julien Baker, who topped our Album of the Year list in 2017). A lot has happened in the two years since Habit surfaced, culminating in the absolutely wonderful debut album, Lush. It’s a defining slice of heartfelt, jangly indie which is constructed around Jordan’s internal musings and a twinkling mix of lilting guitars and subtle full-band backing. From a wistful intro and early single Pristine to the beautiful Stick and album highlight Deep Sea, Lush is a raw journey which is best listened to in one sitting, with tissues at the ready. Although there is nothing to connect the individual songs musically or conceptually, Lush is still comprised of ten tracks which sit so well as a cohesive collection of music that it’s hard to shift your focus away from it. It’s an album which opens up a door into Jordan’s mind, picking out her deepest and most emotional thoughts and laying them bare. It may only be the beginning for Lindsey Jordan, but it’s safe to say that there most definitely won’t be an end in sight for quite some time to come.
3 IDLES – JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE
Ah yes, the famous second album syndrome. Most bands will tell you that capitalising on the success of a critically acclaimed debut album may be the end of you, but not IDLES. Debut album Brutalism had barely been out a few months before the first murmurings of a second album manifested themselves, indicating that Joe Talbot and co. would show no signs of slowing down. Joy As An Act of Resistance is the result of continuous writing and recording both on and off the road, and the result is nothing short of sublime. There aren’t many bands around right now who are able to capture a raw, ferocious and unabashed outlook on modern British society quite like IDLES do, something largely down to frontman Joe Talbot’s impeccable lyricism. His snarky outlook on life injects a new dimension into songs which are already larger than life. Opener Colossus builds up ever so slowly, eventually exploding like a WW2 grenade. It raises the bar incredibly high as Talbot sings of putting “homophobes in coffins” whilst comparing himself to retired wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin. Never Fight A Man With A Perm is a vivid insight into Talbot’s rowdy teenage experiences, namedropping Michael Keaton and infamous reality show Love Island in the process as the record maintains a strong peak. Album highlight Danny Nedelko is a raucous and brash celebration of immigrants, whereas Samaritans and Television tackle the tough concepts of male emotion and self-love in ways only Talbot knows how (“I kissed a boy and I liked it”). From start to finish, Joy As An Act of Resistance is an absolutely spectacular record which ought to go down as one of the best (if not the best) punk albums of the last eighteen years. Don’t expect IDLES to slow down any time soon, because that’s the total opposite of what this absolute battering ram of a band are hardwired to do. They mean business.
2 ARCHITECTS – HOLY HELL
Grief is a concept made up of so many intertwining elements, and it is by far one of the toughest things any human being will ever learn to grasp in a lifetime. It affects us all, and no two people will ever deal with it in the same way. From acceptance and mourning all the way through to the inevitably emotional act of moving on, grief is never easy. On Holy Hell, Architects deal with the 2016 death of guitarist Tom Searle in moving and spine-tingling fashion. This collection of eleven songs is comprised largely of Searle’s unfinished demos, ranging from discarded riffs and sonic ambience to fully-fledged songs and lyrical passages. Together with new guitarist Josh Middleton, the remaining members of Architects (in particular drummer and Tom’s brother, Dan Searle) put together an album which is without a shadow of a doubt the most powerful and emotive collection of music they’ll ever share with the world. Over the course of eleven hard-hitting and technically intricate songs, frontman Sam Carter and co. managed to carve out a true masterpiece filled to the brim with Tom Searle’s lasting influence. Album opener Death Is Not Defeat sets the tone instantly, taking the listener on a ruthless journey whilst bombarding them with gut-wrenchingly emotive vocals, crushing riffs and pounding rhythms. There is not one moment on Holy Hell where Architects reign it in; in fact, the album only hits harder as it progresses. Mortal After All is a visceral missive, with Damnation adding grandeur in its use of programmed strings. The one-two of Royal Beggars and Modern Misery makes for a massive highpoint, with The Seventh Circle turning things up a few notches and allowing Architects to quite literally unleash their inner beasts. The wonderful thing about Holy Hell is that there are essentially no words which could come out of these fingers to describe its sheer power whilst doing the music justice. The album tackles and overcomes every single facet of grief processed by the band (frontman Carter, drummer Dan Searle, guitarists Adam Christianson and Josh Middleton, and bassist Ali Dean) with such intricacy on both a musical and personal level that it’s impossible to pass meaningful criticism. You have to take Holy Hell for what it is: an album which will go down as the jewel in Architects’ crown; their undoubted magnum opus.
1 SHAME – SONGS OF PRAISE
We’re incredibly thrilled to announce that London’s Shame have taken this year’s Album of the Year crown for their unbelievable debut album, Songs of Praise. It’s an album born out of the deepest, darkest depths of South London’s gnarly undergrowth; a disasterland of sorts where all the misfits magically fit in and make for a cultural landscape which is as terrifying as it is welcoming. You’ll be hard-pushed to find an album which is as raucous, intense and brooding as Songs of Praise is, and that’s because it’s a collection of music which comes from the heart and soul of those living within the worlds they describe oh so intricately. Frontman Charlie Steen is the modern day equivalent of a mentally deranged mad professor, his grimacing tone an overpowering force underpinned by gritty guitar lines, clattering percussion and an overwhelming sense of defiance in the face of societal adversity. Album opener Dust on Trial sets the tone from the moment Eddie Green’s first guitar strums enter the frame, operating on a darker, post punk-infused wavelength which culminates in Steen wailing helplessly as everything crashes and burns around him. “Just one step closer to me” he murmurs, his intensity increasing exponentially before he well and truly loses it. It doesn’t take long for the album to hit its peak, with the one-two of high octane single Concrete and anthemic One Rizla accompanying Dust on Trial in presenting listeners with the best opening salvo on any album released this year. In fact, this early peak is reached time and time again on every single song.
The Lick‘s haunting undertones (spearheaded by a walking bass line) serve as the perfect accompaniment to Steen’s menacing tone as his raspy voice makes that one burning request: “bathe me in blood, and call it a christening”. He asks it like he means it, which is the scariest part of the entire affair. Tasteless and the fierce Donk inject pace back into proceedings, with the latter fizzling out and fading straight into one of Songs of Praise’s utmost highlights: Gold Hole. Gold Hole is one of the oldest Shame tracks in existence, having been given a slight makeover for the album without losing any of its grisly brazenness. Just as on The Lick, Steen slots into the role of a deranged storyteller, this time detailing a story of illicit debauchery while referencing female genitalia and Louis Vuitton. It serves as a focal point on the record, making way for a sublime closing trio which showcases three different sides to Shame’s non-dimensional and hyperactive post punk: Friction (“the upbeat and vaguely groovy one”), Lampoon (“the brute one”) and Angie (“the slow-burning epic”). Angie is the perfect curtain call, putting Steen on a pedestal of fragility as he sings of innocence, love and hopelessness. It doesn’t take awfully long for the song to pick up some pace, coming to a close by means of an almost arena-worthy chant about finding your happy place. Something which, despite all of Songs of Praise’s grimness, Shame have managed to do. The brilliant thing about this album is that each song possesses a certain (lyrical) quality which doesn’t leave the confines of your skull for days on end. We could sit here and rattle off all of Steen’s noteworthy lyrics one by one, but there’s no use: we’d be here forever. And it’s not like we even need to explain why Steen is a fantastic lyricist; all you need to do is give Songs of Praise a spin and hear it for yourself. Songs of Praise’s title may be lifted from a hymn-filled BBC show about faith and inspiration, but there is absolutely nothing holy about Songs of Praise. “And that’s how it ends…”
Listen to songs from the entire All Things Loud Album of the Year Top 50 below.