My Top 10 Albums of 2018
2018 has been a really good year for me and when I look back over the last 12 months, I have a lot of really good music to remember it by too. From getting to tick one of my all-time favourite bands off my ‘must see live’ bucket list (Slowdive!!!) to making wonderful discoveries and listening to amazing new album releases, this year truly brought about some of my most cherished music memories. I do have to admit that I think I enjoyed last year’s albums just that little bit more than 2018’s, but nevertheless, music is always a constant highlight in my life. With an eclectic mix ranging from R&B, indie rock, synthpop, dance and dream pop, here is my countdown of the top 10 albums I’ve listened to this year.
10. Lykke Li - so sad so sexy
In the four years since the release of Lykke Li’s previous album, I Never Learn, the Swedish singer-songwriter has lost her mother, become one herself and relocated to LA with her partner, music producer Jeff Bhasker. Now back with her fourth album, she’s still singing about heartbreak as she’s always done, though this time around, delves into the genres of R&B and hip hop. I have to admit, I was initially disappointed by her departure from the dreamy indie pop sound of her first three records (her latest work sounds more radio-friendly in comparison) but the more I listened to so sad, so sexy, the more it grew on me. It’s dark, yet dancey and it’s certainly super catchy. If this were released three or four years ago, I probably wouldn’t have liked this album at all, but R&B and hip hop have grown on me a lot in recent years (thanks to Childish Gambino!) and this is a solid record that I can definitely stand by.
9. Wet - Still Run
My introduction to Wet was through the song, Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl, from 2013’s self-titled EP. A breakout hit and arguably still their most popular song to date, the New York two-piece released their first full-length album, Don’t You, in 2016 and now they’re back two years later with their second entitled Still Run. The latest record is about love and loss - themes that are common throughout all of their work - and it’s very much a breakup album with lead singer Kelly Zutrau reflecting on past conflict with her bandmates. Asserting that she needed more credit than she was given in their music, it resulted in the departure of one band member and the romantic breakup with the other, though fortunately, her and latter still remain musical partners. Having obviously been through a little bit of a rough patch, it did lead to a pretty amazing album and although I kind of miss the ethereal synths and R&B influences from their previous work, Kelly Zutrau’s soft, yet powerful voice is enough to take it through.
8. Still Corners - Slow Air
My mind immediately went to David Lynch upon my first listen of Still Corners’ latest release. In fact, the London dream pop duo have even sited the filmmaker as one of their influences and when I think of Lynch’s work such as Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, Slow Air is exactly what I imagine them to sound like. Does that make sense?! I guess what I’m trying to say is that this album could soundtrack a Lynch film and it definitely wouldn’t be out of place. The band’s fifth studio record, I know I’m not alone when I say that Slow Air conjures up imagery of a lone car driving aimlessly along a desert highway and this is exactly what the music video for Black Lagoon portrays too. In terms of sound, they’re less about the synths and more about the psychedelic rock in this album, which I have to say, does kind of disappoint me a little (I am all about the synths!), but it’s still present in some tracks, including the stellar The Photograph, easily one of my favourite songs of the year. Although I wouldn’t necessarily say Still Corners have evolved for the better, I’m still very much into their dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes and Tessa Murray’s airy voice remains as hauntingly beautiful as ever.
7. Sunflower Bean - Twentytwo in Blue
Sunflower Bean are a trio of 22 year-olds from New York City and their aptly-titled sophomore album, Twentytwo in Blue, is very much a coming-of-age story. Written during the first years of their twenties as well as the first year of the Trump presidency, it’s an album about the troubling times in one’s life both personally and politically. From the dreamy and introspective I Was a Fool (my favourite track and one said to be inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams) and Memoria to the soaring punk-like anthems such as Crisis Fest and Human For (I can totally imagine these tracks in an indie coming-of-age movie!), it’s ‘70s glam rock meets dream pop, so you’re really getting the best of both worlds here. Although quite a few of my favourite bands take inspiration from ‘70s rock, I do have to say that it’s the dreamy stuff that gets me every time and I Was a Fool is the track I’ve been going back to throughout the whole year. Twentytwo in Blue is heartfelt and deep, yet also rebellious, confident and fun, and shows just how much Sunflower Bean have grown up.
6. City Calm Down - Echoes in Blue
Of all places to discover new cool music, I discovered City Calm Down while living on the east coast and wandering around Emporium Melbourne (a luxury shopping mall). I suppose that isn’t too surprising though. I mean, Melbourne is the coolest city I know. Anyway, Pavement came on over the sound system and I was immediately drawn to those deep, moody vocals and lush, soaring synths. After Shazaming that one song, I ended up listening to their entire discography and three years since then, City Calm Down are now back with their second album, Echoes in Blue. Dealing with the mundane, but universal everyday struggles of modern life, it’s a melancholic album about how busy and stressful our worlds can be and how this can take its toll and negatively impact our lives and even our relationships. Their sound is similar to legendary veterans such as Joy Division (lead singer Jack Bourke’s voice reminds me so much of Ian Curtis), New Order and The Cure, as well as more current bands like Interpol and Foals (they even did an amazing cover of Spanish Sahara), so it’s no surprise as to why I love this four-piece Melbourne band so much. I’m really excited to see what’s in-store for them next because I think they’re definitely one of the most exciting bands in Australian music right now.
5. Wild Nothing - Indigo
It’s no secret how much I love my ‘80s music, so when I discover current music with an ‘80s-inspired sound (or in my case with Wild Nothing, when my sister recommends them to me), I am all over it. Hailing from Blacksburg, Virginia, Wild Nothing is the solo project of Jack Tatum (though he is joined by a band when performing live) and in his fourth full-length album, Indigo, he takes a more slick and polished approach to anything else he’s ever done before. Where previous albums Gemini and Nocturne were lo-fi in sound and Life of Pause, hi-fi, Indigo is almost like the best of both worlds; musically, it’s hi-fi, but it still has that magic and intimacy present in more lo-fi sounds. With atmospheric synths, shimmering guitars and jazzy saxophones, it’s basically everything I love in music and perfectly captures those familiar sounds from the ‘80s, while still providing something modern and fresh to the dream pop genre. I love that Wild Nothing and I share the same appreciation for the ‘80s and to me, Indigo is a beautiful homage to the decade.
4. CHVRCHES - Love Is Dead
Love Is Dead is CHVRCHES third full-length album and with such a pessimistic title, the Scottish band deal with some pretty heavy material in this record. Tackling issues such as religion, Grenfell Tower, the European refugee crisis, as well as the Trump presidency, they definitely don’t shy away when it comes to discussing politics and social issues; outspoken front woman, Lauren Mayberry, is known for her stance against gender inequality in the music industry, and Love Is Dead is very much a political statement that’s powerful, assertive and downright kick-arse. Despite the disheartening subject matter, the Glasgow trio still deliver their usual fun electro pop and their bold, sweeping synths sound more ‘80s-inspired than ever, which obviously, I absolutely love. In saying all this, I have to admit that this isn’t my favourite album from the Scottish band (it gets a little bit mainstream at times, and lacks the charm of predecessors, The Bones of What You Believe and Every Open Eye), but even my least favourite work from them is still bloody damn good.
3. Let’s Eat Grandma - I’m All Ears
Let’s Eat Grandma are Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, two 19 year-olds from Norwich in the UK. Having known each other since they were four years old, they were a mere 16 when they released their first album, I, Gemini, and now they’re back and a lot more grown up in their sophomore album, I’m All Ears. From friendships and relationships to mental health, gender stereotypes and finding one’s self, the album deals with both the weird and wonderful of being a teenager and their sound is surreal, fun, experimental pop. In some ways, it’s electronic music like I’ve never heard before, but then there are all these elements that remind me of other bands I love; their childlike vocals are similar to that of CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry (in fact, they’re even supporting them on their UK tour), Falling Into Me reminds me of Bear in Heaven, I Will Be Waiting of The Horrors (The Horrors’ Faris Badwan even helped produce Hot Pink) and Donnie Darko of LCD Soundsystem. There’s so much going on, yet the album comes together so harmoniously and you wouldn’t think this is only their second album; these extremely talented young women sound like they’re light years ahead in their musical career. I don’t get as much time to discover a lot of new music nowadays, but from what I have, Let’s Eat Grandma are by far this year’s favourite and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.
2. Robyn - Honey
It’s kind of crazy to think that Robyn has been around for almost 25 years. She had a brief stint as a teen pop sensation in the ‘90s with Show Me Love (an absolute banger, by the way), rejected said commercialism to start her own record label, Konichiwa Records, and in 2010, released the critically acclaimed album, Body Talk. Since then, she’s collaborated with many artists (including one of my all-time favourite bands, Röyksopp) and brought out a few different EPs, but it’s taken her a whole eight years to release a follow-up full-length solo album. The Swedish singer has been through a great deal though and her absence is completely understandable; she lost a longtime friend and creative partner to cancer, experienced a breakup (though they’ve now reconciled) and she’s also been to therapy. Honey is the result of this personal loss and heartbreak, and through clubby disco house beats, she shares with us the comfort she has found in music and on the dancefloor. A little more soft and delicate than previous albums, I didn’t expect Honey to make it so high up in my top 10, but I was listening to it on my way to work one day and just all of sudden thought, “Fuck, this album is so good”. I think the more you listen to it, the deeper connected you feel, and it’s clear that Robyn has poured her heart and soul into this record. It’s raw, emotional and vulnerable, and to me, it’s heartfelt dance pop at its best. 100% worth the wait.
1. Beach House - 7
Beach House have established themselves as one of the most prominent bands in the dream pop genre and on their seventh record, the aptly-titled, 7, the Baltimore duo continue to create those lush, otherworldly soundscapes I’ve come to love so dearly. Where they’ve often been criticised for their albums all sounding the same, I’ve always perceived this as consistency (I’m usually left disappointed when my favourite bands dramatically change things up), though they do push the boundaries more than ever in 7 and I’d say this is probably their most experimental work to date. Darker and moodier than the previous six albums, it’s not a complete departure from what they’ve done in the past, but it’s different enough to stand out, and still feel comforting and familiar all at the same time. To me, the true mark of any great band. With Victoria Legrand’s haunting, airy vocals and those dreamily hazy synths, it’s the perfect album for getting lost in your own world to and one where there’s not a single song you’d press skip on. It’s impressive that seven albums in, Beach House have still managed to keep things fresh, exciting and innovative, and to me, this band are yet to do any wrong. I’ll be seeing them live for the third time at Perth International Arts Festival in February and I absolutely cannot wait!
Ben Browning - Even Though, Blood Orange - Negro Swan, Florence and the Machine - High as Hope, Troye Sivan - Bloom, Yumi Zouma - EP III
What music did you enjoy in 2018?