This week, we’ve been taking a look at the albums that have properly made their mark this year; yesterday, we took on releases from Australian artists that struck a chord as the strongest albums of 2018 so far, and today, we look to the international players.
From Zeal & Ardour‘s Stranger Fruit to the vibrant and powerful Janelle Monáe with Dirty Computer, sink into the below and revisit some of these excellent records or perhaps, find some new ones!
#20. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
Kicking off our list with some hard and fast black metal, the sophomore album from Zeal & Ardor has come to us in the form of Stranger Fruit – a wild cacophony of sonic influences that range from the guttural to the viciously corrupting. It’s an assault to the aural sense but in the best way possible; Manuel Gagneux works excellently with vocalists Denis Wagner and Marc Obrist, while Tiziano Volante, Mia Rafaela Dieu and Marco von Allmen hold things down impressively on guitar, bass and drums respectively.
An album that is strong with arrangement skill and dynamic writing, Stranger Fruit served as a great entry point for us to the work of Zeal & Ardor; we’re properly onboard.
19. Brandi Carlile – By the Way, I Forgive You
The sixth LP from Brandi Carlile is one of the best Americana records of the year, and sees the acclaimed singer/songwriter reach new musical heights.
From the stunning (not to mention epic) single “The Joke” through to the heartfelt “The Mother” (a song about her daughter), every moment of the ten tracks are to be savoured – and played loud as she takes her listeners on a stellar journey.
18. Typhoon – Offerings
The Portland group gambled that a lengthy, big concept record would resonate with fans and they haven’t come up short.
It’s triumphant, epic and cinematic in a way that would do Hans Zimmer proud, while it showcases how much the group has developed as songwriters. The band’s fourth album creeped in just a couple of weeks into the new year and definitely worthy of your attention.
17. Superorganism – Self-Titled
The debut album from the UK collective is an excellent snapshot of a band not even at their peak. Between the eight members has come a record full of expertly crafted DIY pop, with flair in the production that has made Superorganism land so well within the embraces of tastemakers and the more underground sectors of the online music sphere alike.
Airy and ambient in places, wild and gleeful in others, Superorganism brings to mind early Friendly Fires and MGMT – a bright moment for the indie pop movement of the early 2000s but make no mistake, Superorganism are very much making music for a hungry 2018 audience.
16. Florence + The Machine – High As Hope
High As Hope is Florence at her most intimate on record, embracing the darkness with the light that was waiting to welcome her, as she navigated some pretty heavy emotional personal territory as Lungs propelled her into the arms of worldwide fame. As “Hunger” ramps up in energy though, Florence comes to life within this album anthem; second chances wait for everyone and they’re ready to be grabbed when we are.
The melodramatic energy that drenched previous Florence + The Machine releases (particularly How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful) has prominence, instead, Florence uses that weapon of a voice as a battle cry for openness, honesty and the newfound optimism that can accompany becoming comfortable with getting older and wiser, for the majority of the album. A less is more approach was key with High As Hope and the result is incredibly rewarding.
15. Jeff Rosenstock – POST
After the sprawling ambition of 2016’s WORRY. Jeff Rosenstock has pulled back slightly to create his strongest collection of songs to date. Though lyrically depressed at the current political climate, the songs themselves are as upbeat as usual to show that action now is more critical than ever.
The album is bookended by two sprawling classics in “USA” and “Let Them Win”, the first creating an explosive intro that puts to rest any doubts about what to come and the latter showing a greater restraint than Jeff has ever shown in the past to create something worthy of its rallying message. As a surprise release just after the year began, it’s going to take a lot for anything else to top it.
14. Ezra Furman – Transangelic Exodus
As a follow up to 2015’s Perpetual Motion People, the latest release from Furman is nuanced, accomplished and more than strong enough to take on the mantle as a defining release from the artist. Transangelic Exodus, Furman presents an exquisite album powered by imagery the likes of David Lynch would churn out with ease, retro guitars that pang with evocative tones, and irresistible vocals that can turn any newcomer into an instant fan.
Furman is a wickedly clever songwriter, his chops well on show with this record; the way he weaves throughout allegory and urgent, plain-stated references to the struggles of his community and the wider LGBTQI+ American community at that, is stunning and at times, Transangelic Exodus can feel like a bit of an overwhelming listen. There’s a lot going on, but best believe it’s worth time set aside to immerse yourself in.
13. Nils Frahm – All Melody
Beautifully crafted, as one would expect from Nils Frahm, All Melody is delivered with dreamlike quality that takes a while to sink in, but that’s the best way to absorb this music. Give it due time to work its way into your soul.
Rich in melody, sonic texture and depth, All Melody is expansive, with each track given ample opportunity to breathe and flow into the next. Synths, horns and piano are married together with ease, and while as a whole, the record is one of Frahm’s more ambitious efforts, it definitely lands as one of his best releases yet. Proof of his multi-faceted musical talent, Frahm shines in facing challenges of bringing his ideas to life in combining the acoustic with electric – our picks would be “Sunson”, “#2” and “My Friend the Forest”.
12. Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
Able to navigate between the worlds of pop and R&B with skill, English singer Jorja Smith has emerged at the same time as Kali Uchis, Teyana Tayor, Jazmine Sullivan and other powerful and intoxicating female voices are being embraced, turning the genre on its head. Smith’s presence in amongst these artists is a strong one and with her debut album Lost & Found, she expresses herself even stronger.
Striding out confidently with this record, Smith cleverly avoids the usual cliches of broken down relationships and infidelities, instead turning her creative focus to the complexities of finding her own way, connecting with her passion and desires and taking command of her natural talent. Smith proves she’s a formidable performer with “Lost & Found”, “Blue Lights” and “Teenage Fantasy”, and is quick to meet the expectation of the listener and the hype that surrounded her early features and single drops.
11. J COLE – KOD
Not only addressing addiction through many different perspectives, Cole seems more committed to lyricism and preserving hip hop’s artistic integrity than ever. KOD has solidified him as an emcee well on his way to “top 10 of all time” discussions and done so with impeccable balance, deftly balancing an accessible, radio-friendly sound with deep, thoughtful and articulate pieces evoking real emotion, defined by genuine concern, respect and wisdom.
10. Tiny Little Houses – Idiot Proverbs
When listening to the album from front-to-back, I couldn’t help but feel as though the album is an increasingly grounded release from an increasingly grounded band. Just from the album title alone, you sense that it could all be a little tongue-in-cheek, or something so incredibly self-conscious it leaves you almost concerned for the well being of the band as they sing and play their way through ten tracks of melancholic indie-rock. Whatever it is, Tiny Little Houses have it down pat and should continue channelling what they’ve tapped into.
Idiot Proverbs is an album that is just rewards for those who have followed the band from its earliest stages. More importantly though, it’s an album that has set the stage for the band to truly grow into an act that will thrive in the industry; if that’s what the band wants to do.
09. Beach House – 7
Beach House’s 7 is a great return to form – fittingly their seventh studio album, the May release from the dream pop aficionados went slightly darker than the material found on their B-sides & Rarities record. Victoria Legrand is captivating as ever, though on 7, it’s brilliant to see Alex Scally emerge into a more prominent vocal space – the duo have an excellent dynamic that is given the proper room to flourish on record here.
The second half of the record stands out as some of Beach House’s more experimental music in recent releases, though from front to back, the album never falters in its musical richness and depth. Strong songwriting meets excellent execution – what we have loved about Beach House from Day One.
08. Soccer Mommy – Clean
Soon to be out in Australia for Splendour in the Grass, Soccer Mommy’s debut album Clean is heartbreaking, demanding, brilliantly catchy and captivating – all wrapped up into one. The way Sophie Allison writes is with a perspective of an older soul, the 20 year old has significant talent that we see properly shine on “Your Dog” and “Scorpio Rising”, in particular.
Much like Julien Baker and Bully‘s Alicia Bognanno, Soccer Mommy is definitely up there as one this generation’s finest young musicians and songwriters, navigating the development of her ever-growing musicianship with confidence – the results are definitely obvious with Clean.
07. Jay Rock – Redemption
Another high point in TDE’s rapidly expanding legacy, Jay Rock’s new one is a swift, confident and expressive release from one of the label’s heaviest hitters. Sticking to the gritty, moody street level where his art thrives, Rock takes on many forms through Redemption but one thing that remains consistent is his penchant for cautionary storytelling raps.
Throw that in with some excellent, grimy production and you’ve got his finest work to date.
06. Ben Howard – Noonday Dream
A long awaited release from Howard, Noonday Dream is simply stunning. As his third studio release, Noonday Dream builds with drama, experimentation and gorgeous instrumentation. We originally thought I Forget Where We Were would be nigh impossible for Howard to top, but man, he came through with a record that has tied his early influences in with new ambition and approach – the end result is an absolute dream of an album.
Exploring new emotional territory, Howard creates a musical space beckoning the listener to throw themselves into, to let the music wash over. If you haven’t listened to Noonday Dream yet, this one for your week, right here.
05. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
Father John Misty has become a master of the love-hate relationship with many music fans, particularly the friends of mine who tussle between adoring his witticisms and narratives he constructs on record, and bristling against notable public appearances that landed Josh Tillman in the press off the back of 2015’s I Love You Honeybear. Still, there’s a pull, an intrigue surrounding his music that we can’t shake and this proved to be true again with God’s Favourite Customer.
Smoky and bitter like the best late night whiskey, God’s Favourite Customer takes things back to basics and showcases Father John Misty’s talent as a songwriter, straight up. A window into the mind of a frantic creative; in some ways, this album feels like the comedown to the highs of I Love You Honeybear. It’s worth the trip.
04. Shame – Songs of Praise
Songs of Praise is gritty, dirty and a down right task to listen to. But it’s bloody rewarding. The English band have released an album that holds nothing back as their DIY pub rock sound brings a traditionally old school sound into the 21st century. As a bonus, they’re bloody great live too. “Dust On Trial” is a key moment on and album that could prove to be either the beginning of something really great, or the peak of something that could just as easily implode tomorrow. And that’s the good thing about Shame; you genuinely have no idea what they could deliver next.
03. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Hopkins has always been somewhat of a wizard at conjuring electronica that not only stirs emotionally, but makes the listener delve into figuring out just how this brain has figured out a way to bring these ideas to life. Album #5 landed this year in the form of Singularity: blissful, dosed with enough psych touches to bring it into a new light for Hopkins, without sacrificing any of the original essence that made his previous releases so damn captivating.
Tracks like “Echo Dissolve” and “Feel First Life” are hypnotic, while “Luminous Beings” is the crowning moment of Singularity‘s complex mastery.
02. Kid Cudi x Kanye West – Kids See Ghosts
Kanye and Cudi have always shared a certain chemistry, so their choice to expand and explore the way they complement each other, over seven tracks of vast and experimental production, unsurprisingly worked like a charm. From the uncompromising confidence of punkish anthem “Freeee” to the soul-cleanse of “Reborn”, Kids See Ghosts is a winner.
This record has been a long time coming and listening to it the whole way through, we’re left wondering ‘Where has this album been?’. Together, Kanye and Cudi explore soundscapes familiar and also new; the way they bring their influences together in chopping up and experimenting with sounds is excellent and as part of Kanye’s recent album roll out, Kids See Ghosts is definitely a stand out.
01. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Janelle Monáe has always been an innovator, and Dirty Computer is the most natural progression of her career as an artist to date. She is the embodiment of a trailblazer and a rule breaker on this record – Monáe brings the damn reckoning with confident and brilliant songwriting on Dirty Computer and of course, people were going to stand up to attention.
The soundscapes established on this record are lush, for one, between the excellently produced beats, through to the glimmer of the synthwork and then, of course, the biting rhymes Monáe brings to the fore. This is a woman refusing to be silenced, owning her ‘otherness’ in all its vibrancy and glory – the music matches up beautifully. Listening to The ArchAndroid and flowing into Dirty Computer, the journey is awesome; the pieces of the puzzle Monáe is assembling is a technicolour, futuristic, optimistic one. We revel in its hedonism, embrace the pop that is carried so well amongst R&B and hip hop sensibilities Monáe has long been known for, and thrive as she does within this realm of sonic texture.
Definitely set a high bar for releases to come.
Additional words by Chris Singh, Dylan Marshall, Larry Heath and Steven Morgan.