The 20 best albums of 2018 so far
It’s become tradition for us to take stock at this time of year. To look back at all the great music of the past six months and remind ourselves that, no matter how trying the year might have been, at least we’ve had a good soundtrack to get us through.
Most of the names on here are familiar, though some are not. There are a couple of albums that are impossibly unique, and some that don’t traverse too far from the tried and true direction of an artist’s previous work.
Each record has something truly extraordinary about it, though. Something that takes it beyond being just a ‘good record’. Something that made our blood rush a little quicker the first time we heard it, or that revealed itself to us on our 15th listen, coming on like some kind of aural epiphany.
This list isn't ranked. We'll do that at the end of the year. We truly believe each of these records deserves your attention in equal measure right now, and come December we can quarrel about which records made the biggest impact.
Reading the following list, it’s hard to imagine any of these records not making it through to the list of the best albums of the year. And maybe they will all make it. But some probably won’t. That’s the glorious thing about music, you never know when something incredible is going to come along and make you forget about every beautiful thing you once loved.
Here’s to another six months of brilliant albums.
MOD CON – Modern Convenience
Modern Convenience is an album that I don’t just want to listen to, I kind of want to live in it. Because it sounds like MOD CON are having a hell of a lot of fun: the songs, the way they play their instruments, it all gives this album a real element of fearlessness.
There’s something incredibly compelling about this setup. There’s space and every instrument gets to shine. Those steely basslines, the fervent guitar licks, and immediate drum fills are only topped by Erica Dunn’s vocals, like the sweetest of cherries on top of a very delicious sundae.
Modern Convenience feels fresh and surprising and delivers one hell of a punch while doing it. This was my introduction to MOD CON; I adore this album and can’t wait for the next. – Liza Harvey
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Yes, this is Janelle Monáe’s most personal work. A work of emotional, spiritual and sexual directness. But it’s not just for her. By weaving her frustrations, desires, convictions and self-doubts into a musical landscape that’s both enticing and inventive, you are drawn into the conversation with her and ultimately, with yourself.
Prince’s influence is present throughout this record, but so too was Janelle guided by wisdom from another mentor, Stevie Wonder, in ‘Stevie’s Dream’. ‘Don’t let your expressions even of anger be confused or misconstrued. Turn them into words of expression that can be understood by using words of love.’ – Caz Tran
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Subtle sidesteps take Wide Awake! from being just another great Parquet Courts album to something that pushes the band to new heights.
There are shades of 90s New York City funk/rock/hip hop in tracks like ‘Normalization’ and ‘Violence’. Cinematic soul abounds in ‘Back To Earth’. Classic rock courses through ‘Freebird II’ and ‘Mardi Gras Beads’. While its early 2000s dance-punk influence makes the title track a dancefloor burner.
But if you just want the Parquet Courts of old, don’t despair. Tracks like ‘Total Football’, ‘Almost Had To Start A Fight / In And Out Of Patience’, ‘NYC Observation’ and ‘Extinction’ would’ve worked on previous records, and probably would’ve been standouts.
Another triumph from one of the world’s best indie rock bands right now. – Dan Condon
Space Invadas – Wild World
This Space Invadas record hums with an electric energy, the product of the playful chemistry between two longtime collaborators: beatmaker Katalyst and crooner Steve Spacek. Spacek has stumbled upon a secret in recent years; when you’re making stuff, it’s best not to overthink it. Work quickly and from the heart because the first idea you have is usually the best.
Easy to say when you’ve been at it for a long time, but that’s the reward for years of creative experimentation. Just make the thing, then leave it alone. If you labour too hard, chances are you’ll see diminishing returns. His immediacy brings the album to life, and Katalyst holds it down while moving through his beatmaking playbook - with particular attention this time to paying homage to the vocal-flips and sonic habits of late J Dilla, whose influence looms large on many of the album’s most loose-jointed rhythms. – Tim Shiel
U.S. Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
Something tells me U.S. Girls (American-Canadian artist Meg Remy) prefers 'fame’ in lower case. Musically, album number six is her most versatile, accessible and fun. Driving funk, fearless disco and five variations of pop come together with confidence and clever production. Fun (in a wickedly adult sense) skronky sax and sleazy wah wah come on slow, like a detached, desperate striptease. Or fast, like a ‘70s cop chase.
While it won’t suit everyone, I love Remy’s expressive, slightly whiny, vibrato heavy style. Lyrically, she tackles dark subject matters centred around abuse: domestic (‘Incidental Boogie’), political (‘M.A.H.’) and environmental (‘Rage Of Plastics’). Most won’t reveal themselves on first or even second listen.
Without the budgets and brand power of her pop contemporaries, U.S. Girls is an intriguing project that deserves to fly above the radar. – Dorothy Markek
Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer
The past two Father John Misty albums, Pure Comedy and I Love You, Honeybear, had such epic ambition. They were bold and twisted, full of imposing, convoluted melodies and grand, self-mythologising statements. And they worked, almost a little too well. Trouble is, Josh Tillman was getting completely consumed by the monster of his own creation. He placed his music on such a lofty pedestal, his songs lost a sense of the personal.
Just in time, God’s Favourite Customer lets me reach out and touch this great songwriter again. ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All’ is so immediate. ‘Please Don’t Die’ is so present and disarmingly insecure. Just as I was worried Father John Misty would completely lock us out of the sermon, he’s delivered an album which points us straight to the pew in the front row. – Henry Wagons
Gurrumul – Djarimirri
Gurrumul’s posthumous record hits you right in the feels. The combination of the late singer’s golden voice with orchestral music is simply breathtaking. The ambitious project took four years to make and features some of Australia’s finest classical musicians, who apparently struggled with the complexity of some of Gurrumul’s arrangements.
Released at the same time as a documentary film about Gurrumul, this album takes you gently by the hand and invites you into one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures. Just like Gurrumul, it offers playfulness (‘Djolin (Musical Instrument)’), sadness, (‘Marrayarr (Flag)’), and, above all, hope, (‘Gäliku (Flag)’). A parting gift from a rare musical talent; listen to it on a long drive through a glorious Australian landscape. – Gab Burke
Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
As a long-time fan of Oneohtrix Point Never, I was disheartened that his last album Garden Of Delete was so difficult to love. It was a bloody-minded record, daring us to enjoy a dense, arhythmical odyssey, all the while knowing that it was essentially impenetrable.
Thankfully, the follow-up is almost a complete U-turn, rippling with beautiful broken vocoder pop, lush electronics and a starring role for the harpsichord. It’s as bold as it is unorthodox, a breath-taking revision of electronic music and modern composition.
It proves that true originality and innovation need not repel, but can instead deliver a warm embrace, and reassure us that this Age Of… whatever is going to work out just fine. – Stu Buchanan
Mia Dyson – If I Said Only So Far I Take It Back
If I Said Only So Far I Take It Back may not easily roll off your tongue, but the songs within are arguably Mia Dyson’s catchiest and most memorable.
It’s a record about progress and taking risks. The vocals are often gentler, but the choruses big and rewarding. Mia eases up on the gritty guitars, using them sparingly and for more dazzling effect. The vibe is soulful, without being soul; 80s classic-rock radio feels like a clearer touchpoint. Writing with husband and poet Karl Linder yields some of her most compelling lyrics ever.
They explore self-doubt, the need to feel comfortable with failures and successes, and embracing the unknown. To quote the record’s powerful opening cut, there’s no end to being scared. But being vulnerable doesn’t make you weak. Take a risk. Failing isn’t a waste of time. Don’t be a fool. Be scared. And be free. – Ryan Egan
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
English electronic producer Jon Hopkins makes epic, immersive albums of wonky techno woven with blissfully quiet moments of melodic introspection. Singularity, like his 2013 break through LP Immunity, is best listened to from start to finish. It’s the perfect soundtrack for stargazing or long road trips as Hopkins brilliantly knits gorgeous piano tinkling, ambient synth washes and dance floor bangers.
Lead singles ‘Emerald Rush’ and ‘Everything Connected’ bring on an ecstatic high, while ‘Echo Dissolve’ and ‘Feel First Life’ capture stillness and peace in his first collaboration with a choir. Singularity is a meditation on our interconnectedness as humans in a fractured world. We all began in a moment of mystery with The Big Bang and Singularity feels both of this world and deeply spiritual at the same time. – Karen Leng
The Breeders – All Nerve
A splash of ‘90s alt rock grunge comes crashing through the Double J airwaves. I sit at my desk contemplating: ‘Good Morning!’ ‘Meow, meow, meow’
It’s 2018. Music doesn’t sound like this anymore. Raw, real and ragged! Like a band in a garage belting out tunes. The old school way.
The Breeders are back! Back together like it’s 1993. Kim, Kelley, Josephine and Jim have just delivered the glorious ‘All Nerve’, their first offering in a decade. And this is the first single ‘Wait In The Car’.
All Nerve is light, dark and mystifying, loaded with obscure lyrics that read like beat poetry. Classic sounding Breeders guitars, bass and drums saturate 11 tracks of pretty/dirty grunge greatness. It’s totally been worth the wait. – Phil McKellar
Marlon Williams – Make Way for Love
‘What’s Chasing You’ drew me into Make Way For Love, shining a light on what we are all running from and running towards – our demons and love.
You can feel Marlon Williams wrote this album after a break up, the intimate lyrics reflect this as Marlon says he ‘gives shape to the struggle’.
Although the album is melancholy, the featuring of ex-partner Aldous Harding on ‘Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore’ makes you believe there is still hope everything is going to be alright. – Wendy Saunders
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
As despondent, pensive guitars give way to Courtney Barnett’s opening line on ‘Hopefulessness’, ‘You know what they say, no one’s born to hate, we learn it somewhere along the way, take your broken heart, turn it into art’, I know I’m hooked.
A sweet tune like ‘Need A Little Time’ feels like a long overdue sigh, ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ is an angry stomp, while you’ll get a chuckle from ‘Help Your Self’s’ clever line ‘You found inner peace, in the inner north east’.
It’s an album of intriguing introspection and scenarios that had me absorbed for what wasn’t said as much as what was. It left me with a sure sense of the grace and strength of Courtney Barnett in the face of all that she really feels. – Caz Tran
Gabriella Cohen – Pink Is The Colour Of Unconditional Love
Gabriella Cohen is some kind of time lord. She's created a wormhole between the sensibility of great 60s pop and the echoes that bounce off the concrete floor of modern day Australian garages.
The jangle of her guitar remains upfront, with an almost unaffected rhythmic drive, while her knack for a bold lyric ushers you through her ventures through love, loss and the trials of the music biz.
A brave time signature choice proves effortless and natural in ‘Mercy’, while ‘I Feel So Lonely’ sounds like it could have been dragged straight from a Motown hit factory. Gabriella Cohen is a songwriter still exploring the throw of her talent and already hitting her full stride. I’m excited that she has so much left in the tank. – Henry Wagons
Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
Young Fathers make music that’s concise but not empty. It’s urgent but considered. It’s noisy but crystal clear in its integrity and sense of intent. To be honest, they are a band that largely defies any kind of reductive “it’s this but it’s also that” cliche, but I guess what I’m getting at is that I love music that has the courage to try and be more than one thing at a time.
Young Fathers exist to compel the rest of us to make music that is bold and strange in its ambition, but remains open, decipherable. They make adventurous decisions, but the door is always open; this isn’t ‘difficult’ music, it doesn’t necessarily require ‘unpacking’. Take the time to dig in however, and you’ll be rewarded. – Tim Shiel
First Aid Kit – Ruins
A good heartbreak record is a powerful thing. It will somehow speak to us in ways that the most well-meaning sympathies from the closest of friends cannot.
This year, Swedish sisters First Aid Kit delivered Ruins, a work of such sadness and beauty that you almost want to have your world fall apart so you can feel even closer to it. Despondence abounds in every note of this record. It’s not cheery by any means. But its sadness is delivered with taste and intelligence.
Ruins is straight from the heart, from the perspective of two women finding their way in the world and working through the absolute worst parts of it, when you feel like your heart has turned black and you’ll never shake the sadness. – Dan Condon
DJ Koze – Knock Knock
What do you get when you take unbeatable instinct for groove and melody and place it in the hands of one of the most delightful oddballs in music today? Well, Knock Knock by DJ Koze is what you get.
It’s a veritable rabbit hole of classic disco and soul, forward thinking electronica, folk and spoken word, delivered with a kind of charmingly wry German deadpan that you can’t help but smile at. It’s not often I find myself truly surprised by music but, listening through Knock Knock, I genuinely never knew where it was going from one track to the next.
We’re only half way through 2018 but it’s going to take something special to beat this one for me. – Stephen Goodhew
Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death In Meatspace
As a massive fan of The Drones I was always going to be keen to take in Tropical Fuck Storm’s debut album. I thought I was going to listen to it as an extension of The Drones’ work. What I wasn’t prepared for was how I would go on to listen to this with a completely new energy and perspective, identifying and appreciating the input of each band member.
There is a searing urgency to A Laughing Death In Meatspace. Probably because it was written and recorded in a mere seven months. Filled with the sort of acerbic wit only Gareth Liddiard can muster, this is the most essential, moody, pulverising, funny, off-key, venomous Antipodean post punk album of the year. – Gemma Pike
Beach House – 7
Given this is Beach House’s first record in a decade without producer Chris Choady onboard, one might imagine 7 to be something of a departure. The truth is, it’s not a huge leap for the Baltimore duo, but thanks to the sheer quality of its songs, it feels like a progression nonetheless.
Tracks like ‘Girl Of The Year’ and ‘Lemon Glow’ stand up as some of the best songs the duo have given us across their 12-year career. More esoteric moments like the pulsing, semi-choral ‘L’Inconnue’ and stunning, seven-minute long ‘Last Ride’, see the band continue to push themselves into interesting new territories in terms of sounds and arrangements.
Beach House have offered us another dense, bleak pop record, ready for you to sink your teeth into. – Dan Condon
Middle Kids – Lost Friends
Is it possible for Middle Kids to write anything but a great song? Their solid debut album Lost Friends suggests not.
The Sydney trio had me hooked after their first single ‘Edge Of Town’ was released two years ago, and every track they’ve released since has proved they’re destined for big things. Each song on the album stands up brilliantly in isolation; 12 sonic treats full of slow-building intensity, soaring choruses, and Hannah Joy’s strong, honest vocals.
They’re the type of indie-rock jams that instantly feel familiar, intended for winding down the windows on road trips and belting out at the top of your lungs.
triple j called ‘Lost Friends’ one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2018 - and, oh boy, has it lived up to the hype. – Luanne Shneier