Although it’s been a year pock-marked with political and social uncertainty, that sense of upheaval and tension has resulted in some pretty fine art being produced in 2018. We can even measure that scientifically – we’ve awarded two perfect scores of 10/10 over the last 12 months, thereby doubling the total of full-mark scores over The Student Playlist’s four-year existence. The amount of albums in contention to be whittled down to an overall 50 was bigger than ever before, as well.
As a result, we didn’t find room for a quite a few big-name artists who dropped albums in 2018. Scottish indie-dance faves Django Django; German contemporary classical composer Nils Frahm; promising English debutants The Orielles; slate-grey Canadian post-punk revivalists Preoccupations; New York indie faves Sunflower Bean; the ever-consistent Unknown Mortal Orchestra and the returning Melody’s Echo Chamber… all were recipients of a Best New Music score this year but didn’t make the cut, so strong has the field been. We must also acknowledge that, in light of the serious allegations of abuse levelled against their lead singer MJ in October, the now-defunct Hookworms and their much-praised third album Microshift has been excluded from the list.
But as ever, The Student Playlist does not stand on ceremony or bow to big-name reputations. All of our past and present staff – nearly two dozen – had a voice in sorting out the order of the list, and all of us helped to put this feature together – what you are about to read is truly our collective voice.
Check out our Top 50 Albums of 2018 below!
Confessional bedroom indie met the billowing sonic expanses of shoegaze on Heavy Eyes, the debut album from Canadian trio Basement Revolver. At the centre of it all was vocalist Chrisy Hurn, whose plaintive and disarming coos laid out a personal and vulnerable collection of songs, as indicated by the young girl covering her eyes on the front cover. Original statements in indie-rock are increasingly difficult to make, but revisiting first principles often yields pleasing results. (Ed Biggs) (LISTEN)
One of the more unassuming releases of 2018, Boy Azooga’s debut 1, 2, Kung Fu! was as brilliant as it was understated. The gifted multi-instrumentalist Davey Newington and co. culminated one of the top indie debuts of the year that aspired to psychedelic and electronic tendencies most of all. The uplifting guitar riff on ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’ is arguably the catchiest of the year and ‘Taxi To Your Head’ had an unmistakable New Order-esque vibe at its core. The charming narrative about Newington’s dog on ‘Jerry’ was a delight, while ‘Hangover Square’, on the other hand, based on Patrick Hamilton’s novel of the same name, was more mysterious and nihilistic. Quite simply, an indie debut album at its finest! (Harry Beynon) (LISTEN)
A self-described collection of “weird little nightmare ballads” recorded in Bon Iver-like isolation, Age Of is as brilliantly confusing a morass of contradictions as anything else in Daniel Lopatin’s vast 0PN catalogue. Conventional structures rub up against drowsy song-sketches that prick the listener with anxiety; beauty contrasts with horror; light with dark; happiness with despair. Co-producer James Blake’s hallmarks are also in evidence with the quasi-commercial electronic ballad ‘Babylon’. Quite where Lopatin goes next is anyone’s guess, but it’s guaranteed to be interesting. (EB) (LISTEN)
One of the heaviest LPs that this publication has ever reviewed, Newcastle’s Pigs x7 released their sophomore effort King Of Cowards in October. It was a startling synthesis of doom metal and stoner rock, where every track seemed to be more earth-shaking than the next. ‘Shockmaster’ and ‘Thumbsucker’ brought the noisy and unshakeable thunder, while ‘GNT’ and ‘Cake Of Light’ generated the lightning with faster tempos and catchier guitar riffs. (HB) (LISTEN)
Having swiped at virtually the entire cultural landscape with Pure Comedy just 14 months before, Josh Tillman returned in 2018 with God’s Favourite Customer which was a continuation of his accustomed Elton John-inspired piano balladry and wild, provocative antics. This time, however, the Father John Misty character seemed to merged much more closer with that of Tillman himself, given the single ‘Mr. Tillman’ referenced the fact that he stayed in a hotel for two months where he recorded the album whilst supposedly going through a personal crisis at the same time. That emotional turmoil, vulnerability and heartbreak could be felt across the entire album but one couldn’t help but see God’s Favourite Customer as yet another comedic parody, especially on ‘Please Don’t Die’ with “All these pointless benders / With reptilian strangers / Oh my God, you’re so naïve”. Witty, emotionally brutal and entertaining all at once. (HB) (LISTEN)
A few years back, the identity of SOPHIE was one of smoke and mirrors, as nobody knew who this pop visionary looked like or came from. Having pulled up trees with her wildly textural, sample-packed 2015 compilation PRODUCT, the Scottish-born yet L.A.-based beast of pop production came back in 2018 with a darker, more menacing offering in the form of Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, an intriguing eclectic collection of delicious and eerie tracks that stretched far and wide both thematically and sonically. From the uncharacteristically organic shimmering piano ballad ‘It’s Okay To Cry’, to the glitchy, throbbing hyper-sexual ‘Ponyboy’ that feels as if somebody is hitting your skull with a metal pipe in a weirdly sensual fashion, SOPHIE manages to perfectly introduce any new listener to what her musical vision is all about in the two first tracks. Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides was nothing less than the future of pop, ridiculously creative in its usage of organic sounds in un-organic fashion, distorting everything that can be distorted in a confident, direct manner, resulting in one of the greatest electronica albums of the year. (Aiste Samuchovaite) (LISTEN)
Is Hunter the most defining record of 2018? Built upon a backdrop of transphobia and the continuing fight for non-binary gender equality, Anna Calvi’s third record is a magnificently powerful statement about power exerted through beauty. Built upon the trademark virtuoso guitar playing with which Calvi is synonymous, tracks like ‘As A Man’ and ‘Swimming Pool’ show an artist who has not missed a step in the five-year interim between projects. However, if a record could be defined by a single moment, Hunter is best encapsulated by the ferocious ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy’ a true triumph of pop-rock songwriting. As such, it felt like the record Calvi has always wanted to make. (John Tindale) (LISTEN)
The grandly-titled Transangelic Exodus marked a notable shift in Ezra Furman’s sound, retaining the dark and inward-looking themes of most of his work yet coating it in a new, more pop-orientated veneer. Single ‘Driving Down To L.A.’ glamourises the live-fast-die-young rock’n’roll death fantasy, evoking James Dean and Albert Camus, and made all the more unsettling by the woozy instrumentation. Both ‘Suck The Blood From My Wound’ and ‘Love You So Bad’ were both great examples of Furman’s erudite poeticisms. Managing both to be unpredictable yet dependably reliable, Transangelic Exodus was a classic snapshot of an artist in transition. (Louis Marlow) (LISTEN)
Eschewing the rough guitar tones from previous outing Sun Coming Down, Ought’s third album Room Inside The World became part of the recent resurgence of post-punk, taking cues from genre heavyweights like The Fall, Joy Division, Wire and The Cure and making them their own. The quartet’s approach to the instrumentation was positively minimalist and the lyrics captured the poetic and moodily atmospheric milieu innate to the post-punk genre. The shear energy of ‘Disaffectation’, the captivating synths of ‘Desire’ and the infectious basslines on ‘These 3 Things’ are only a handful of reasons why this album succeeded so handsomely. (HB) (LISTEN)
Exuding youth and soul like all good debut albums should, American outfit The Shacks have skilfully grafted and interpreted psychedelia from the ‘60s into the modern era. The shimmering chimes on Haze’s opening title track felt like the listener was being shrouded in a colourful and inescapable daze. But the beauty behind the album’s overwhelming charm and grace was its simplicity, with the tracks ‘Follow Me’ and ‘Cryin’’ being key examples. Influences ranged from Pink Floyd (‘Sleeping’) to The Beatles (‘Birds’) and Laura Nyro (‘Blue & Grey’ and ‘So Good’) but The Shacks had the natural ability to interweave their own unique, trademark sound into the heart of each track. (HB) (LISTEN)
Deciding to move his florid but comparatively conventional balladry into electronic territory, John Grant’s fourth album was essentially about all the peculiar ways in which people crave, attract, idealize and fuck up love while mending it all at the same time. Swaggering, sashaying and self-effacing tracks like ‘Preppy Boy’ and ‘Metamorphosis’ were the results. This new strategy may have produced more uneven outcomes than Grant’s finest solo works like Queen Of Denmark, but Love Is Magic definitely ranks as his most fascinating. (EB) (LISTEN)
As signalled by their patronage by X’s Exene Cervenka and Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson, Skating Polly proved with their fifth effort The Make It All Show that they really do get better with every album. Last year’s upgrade to a three-piece, with the addition of the step-siblings’ brother Kurtis Mayo on drums, has noticeably expanded their sound and enabled them to gather up ever more influences into their DIY sound, allowing for them to create what is arguably their best – and most definitely their loudest – album to date. (Jesse Casey) (LISTEN)
When they became the last-ever band to feature in NME’s much-mourned ‘Radar’ section, London noisemakers Goat Girl made their manifesto clear: “There’s social awareness and social commentary because of the crazy town we’re living in”. Their self-titled debut album bore that out – Goat Girl placed the seedier side of London life in its crosshairs, from tube creeps to city slickers, but their bilious portraits were bulked out with a refreshing approach to experimentation. Short song sketches like ‘Hank’s Theme’ and ‘Moonlit Monkey’ displayed the quartet’s sonic creativity alongside their jaunty, dark cow-punk sound, informed by the likes of The Gun Club, The Cramps and The Mekons. (LM) (LISTEN)
In the same year that we’ve been reminded of their legacy status with the 25th anniversary re-issue of their Britpop-inventing debut album, Suede are still committed to invention. Following on the heels of their acclaimed post-reunification records Bloodsports and Night Thoughts, The Blue Hour has left their former Britpop contemporaries lying in the dirt for good, as the group continued to expand the ambition of their artistry. Evidence of this came in the form of chilling, quasi-operatic moments like the opener ‘As One’, ‘Mistress’ and ‘All The Wild Places’ where Brett Anderson’s vocals sounded fresher than ever. But of course, Suede couldn’t resist ensconcing themselves in dazzling guitar melodies and orchestral grandiosity (‘Life Is Golden’ and ‘Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You’). Furthermore, they hadn’t been this lyrically dystopian since Dog Man Star where the moody, unhopeful atmosphere was thought-provoking on ‘Wastelands’ and ‘Beyond The Outskirts’ especially. (HB) (LISTEN)
When Clean was released under the guise of Soccer Mommy, Sophie Allison stepped in line with the likes of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski and Adult Mom to shatter stigmas and connect to audiences. Presented in such an easy-listening and comforting fashion, one that appears simple but is really difficult to imitate, stand-out tracks like ‘Your Dog’ and ‘Blossom (Wasting All My Time)’ touched on subjects such as weakness, self-destruction and heartache – and makes it all feel okay. (Rebecca Corbett) (LISTEN)
If only every band could be as committed to progress and self-discovery in the fourth decade of their existence as the Manics, now on their 13th album. Precision-targeted rock missiles like lead single ‘International Blue’ and the widescreen FM melancholia of ‘Distant Colours’ and ‘Hold Me Like A Heaven’ made for easy entry points, but among them was the electro-tinged futurism of ‘Sequels Of Forgotten Wars’ and the detailed duet ‘Dylan & Caitlin’ with The Anchoress. As a band that’s always tried to reconcile their opposing tendencies towards artiness and populism, Resistance Is Futile is arguably the most emotionally honest Manic Street Preachers album to date. (EB) (LISTEN)
An album sung entirely in Cornish doesn’t immediately suggest itself as one of the most accessible and enjoyable records of the year, but it’s testament to Gwenno Saunders’ immense talent that the language barrier really doesn’t matter at all. Outrageously overlooked for this year’s Mercury Prize (as an awful lot of independently released albums were…), Le Kov was a beguiling mixture of haunted krautrock, trance-inducing easy listening and cutting electronica. (EB) (LISTEN)
After their lethargic and disappointing debut a couple of years ago, Maribou State nailed what they had been after second time out. Inspired by touring in Morocco, Asia, and North America, Kingdoms In Colour is a figurative smorgasbord of consistently successful ideas. The simmering, travelogue electronics of Gold Panda and Bonobo’s most restful moments rub up against the lithe guitars of Local Natives to dazzling effect – the best being the Holly Walker team-up ‘Nervous Tics’. Proof that you can make a second first impression! (EB) (LISTEN)
Danish punks Iceage returned with album number four, picking up where their rich 2014 effort Plowing Into The Field Of Love left off. Beyondless was filled with unstoppable runaway tales pushed forward by stomping Americana filtered through their cold, peculiarly Scandinavian lens. Iceage have always excelled at bringing together noise, brotherhood and elegantly wasted beauty, but Beyondless felt like the fullest realisation of their aesthetic yet. Elias Bender Ronnenfeld’s vocals drunkenly stumbled through razor-sharp walls of sound, fleshed out in greater detail with some fresh brass and string textures. Sky Ferreira’s guest vocals on ‘Pain Killer’ were a highlight! (LM) (LISTEN)
The long-awaited debut album from this Melbourne quintet fulfilled all the expectations placed upon them since their energetic, bright blend of indie, rock and pop flooded new music radars back in 2016. Hope Downs was one of the most technically accomplished albums of the year, particularly the shimmering post-punk of ‘Talking Straight’ and the propulsive anxiety underpinning ‘Time In Common’. However, they didn’t sacrifice sensitivity or humanity in its pursuit – ‘The Hammer’ and ‘Mainland’ proved that indie-rock can still address political and social worries. (EB) (LISTEN)
Tags: 2018, albums, best albums, Ed Biggs, feature, The Top 50 Albums of 2018
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