Monday, June 25, 2018

The Best Albums of 2018 (so far)

2018 has been a great year for music so far! Let's take a look at what Sarah, myself and 10 of our friends have selected as their favorites of the first 6 months of the year. As always, everyone handpicked a track from each album for you to enjoy in our Best Albums of 2018 (so far) Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

P.S. We do earn a commission if you purchase any of the music linked to Amazon in this post or throughout the blog.

Bret Helm
Life on this Planet | Audra

10. IAMX - Alive in New Light
09. Grouper - Grid of Points
08. James - Better Than That EP
07. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour
05. Moby - Everything Was Wrong, and Nothing Hurt
04. First Aid Kit - Ruins
03. Preoccupations - New Material
02. Hilary Woods - Colt
01. Wax Idols - Happy Ending

About My #1Musicians can work a lifetime and never achieve writing that one great song. Wax Idol's Hether Fortune & co. wrote 5 of them on Happy Ending. "Crashing," "Scream," "Belong," "Heaven Knows" and "Mausoleum" aren't just songs that you'll listen to for a few months this year; these are songs that you'll have playing in your car three years from now on a roadtrip with a friend, and they'll be like "Who is this???!!!" That's what I'm talking about. "Scream" - I have headphones on as I'm writing this, hitting rewind every time it ends. Go on and listen with me. At the 2:45 mark, doesn't that emotional outpouring of Dylan Thomas give you goosebumps? And those goosebumps hang on for a while with the subsequent guitar melody. Damn. Lyrically these songs are bleak - but the genius of soaring, catchy-as-hell melodies allow these songs to be incredibly accessible. Like this: "Time comes on like an avalanche / The ones we lose, you can’t get back / Most days go by without a snag  / ‘Til you’re standing in the hallway of your past  / With the ones you can’t get back" - from "Mausoleum." If you've never heard of Wax Idols then get ready to discover your favorite album of the year. Cheers.

Sarah Quarrie Helm
Life on this Planet

10. Amen Dunes - Freedom
09. Tracyanne & Danny - s/t
08. The Limiñanas - Shadow People
07. Preoccupations - New Material
06. Moby - Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt
05. Midas Fall - Evaporate
04. Hilary Woods - Colt
03. IAMX - Alive in New Light
02. Middle Kids - Lost Friends
01. First Aid Kit - Ruins

About My #1: Oddly enough, I got into indie folk / folk rock when I lived in NYC - prior to me living in Tennessee. The Civil Wars, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, The Head and the Heart and The Lone Bellow were making alt-Americana waves at the time. This style of music was typically not of interest to me but with life experience, tastes evolve. I learned that every country essentially has their own brand of folk music, and it was fascinating to me what was happening with this genre across the pond: London's Mumford & Sons, Reykjavík's Of Monsters and Men and Stockholm's First Aid Kit in particular. The Swedish Söderberg sisters are a sonic force. Their harmonies are pure chemistry that separate and unite, creating a fusion that perhaps can only be accomplished by siblings. Layers of choral empathy coordinate with melodic narratives bursting with emotion. If I had to choose one word to describe Ruins, it would be "beauty." This album is about a break-up, a common thread making this album their most accessible yet, but there is such beauty in the sadness. There is beauty in their kinship. There is beauty in the bittersweet journey from wallowing to strength. And that phrasing... I dare you to read along to the lyrics of "Distant Star" and not be impressed by how beautiful the words flow through that melody.

Sean Benham
Chicago, Illinois

10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food
09. Mario Neha - Free Birds Fly Highest
08. Lo Moon - s/t
07. LUMP - s/t
06. Nils Frahm - All Melody
05. Beach House - 7
04. Yo La Tengo - There's a Riot Going On
03. The Sea and Cake - Any Day
02. MGMT - Little Dark Age
01. Soccer Mommy - Clean

About My #1Sophia Allison’s Soccer Mommy official debut is dynamite! She reminds me of Liz Phair with a lot of raw talent, lyrics that dive into lost love and sadness from this Nashville 20-something indie rocker. She writes very catchy tunes but keeps the music thought-provoking and authentic. Lots of great hooks, strong choruses and wonderful guitar work. While there’s a lot to go against so early in the year on my list, Sophia just stands out as a great songwriter in the crowd. You can find her on and listen to the full album which is a nice option before purchasing! They are on tour now, so be sure to check them out.

Rob Clark
Rockford, Illinois

10. FRIGS - Basic Behaviour
09. Neko Case - Hell-On
08. Middle Kids - Lost Friends
07. Tracey Thorn - Record
06. Lo Moon - s/t
05. Frank Turner - Be More Kind
04. Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
03. Shame - Songs of Praise
02. Belly - DOVE
01. LOCKS - Skeletal Blues

About My #1: Gloriously acoustic murder ballads and death shanties from an English/Irish London-based four piece band likely as influenced by Tom Waits as Nick Cave. They had me under their spell with my first listen to the song, “Skin,” but every song on this album is a gothic-blues gem.

Keith Creighton
Seattle, Washington

10. Belly - DOVE
09. Thunderpussy - s/t
08. Manic Street Preachers - Resistance is Futile
07. Dream Wife - s/t
06. The Fratellis - In Your Own Sweet Time
05. Moby - Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt
04. Neko Case - Hell-On
03. Lily Allen - No Shame
02. Johnny Marr - Call the Comet
01. The Motels - The Last Beautiful Days

About My #1One of the greatest musical trends of the 2010s is the triumphant return to form comebacks of my favorite artists from the 1980s and 1990s. The Motels – my current #1 – joins the likes of Duran Duran, New Order, OMD, Blancmange, The Wild Swans, Modern English,  hell - even Right Said Fred and Animotion – in this category. While other acts take the nostalgia/library mining route - like this year’s underwhelming Poptone CD (live in-studio takes that don’t stray far from the Tones on Tail / Love and Rockets originals; 2014’s Stripped (Daniel Ash) attempted the same thing and was much more adventurous), Midge Ure and A Flock of Seagulls (orchestral re-workings) and Thomas Dolby, King and Bow Wow Wow (reissues) – The Motels stick the landing on with a new album that still hits the blissed out dark summer romance of their classics All Four One and Little Robbers. Do I win for best run-on sentence ever? As for the album, Martha Davis sounds not a day out of 1983 and yet the set fully works as an elegant modern pop album. Johnny Marr is also a notable release, just a week old, for this is the record that finally jettisons all of The Smiths' baggage and sets him off in a triumphant new direction. He’s always been a genius player, but now the singing and songwriting have caught up. This record fits nicely in playlists with Richard Hawley, classic Arctic Monkeys, Oasis and Manic Street Preachers – big songs, lots of muscle and heart. Let Moz stay in the forest and yell at trees, we don’t need him anymore. As for the year’s most spellbinding song: Lily Allen’s swoon-worthy “Higher” makes me weak in the knees. It will be interesting to see how the year-end list compares; Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Billy Joe Armstrong (as The Longshot) and We Are Scientists all delivered great albums. Meghan Trainor, Liz Phair, Ladytron, Paul McCartney, Blancmange, Catherine Pierce and more still have albums yet to drop.

Tim Brown
London, England

10. Superorganism - s/t
09. First Aid Kit - Ruins
08. Loma - s/t
07. Hinds - I Don't Run
06. Father John Misty - God's Favorite Customer
05. Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
04. Brothers Osborne - Port Saint Joe
03. George Ezra - Staying at Tamara's
02. Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
01. James Hunter Six - Whatever It Takes

About My #1To be honest, I’d never heard of the James Hunter Six until a couple of months ago. I was wandering through Rough Trade in Brick Lane, London just pondering what to spend my cash on, when I found myself captivated by the soulful album playing. I’m pretty up on my classic soul, but this was new to me. Turned out that wasn’t surprising, as the album was only a few weeks old. The mesmerising soulful tones were not as I’d thought: a black American soul singer from the sixties, but a middle aged white bloke from Essex. Bought it there and then - and in a very short time have fallen in love. 

John Magness
Uttoxeter, England

10. Gaz Coombes - World's Strongest Man
09. Johnny Marr - Call the Comet
08. Belly - DOVE
07. CHVRCHES - Love is Dead
06. Snow Patrol - Wildness
05. Kylie Minogue - Golden
04. Okkervil River - In the Rainbow Rain
03. Manic Street Preachers - Resistance is Futile
02. Blossoms - Cool Like You
01. Tracey Thorn - Record

About My #1It was pretty easy to select my #1 album released this year. I haven't listened to a lot of new albums this year, but my number 1 was eagerly awaited. Having been a long time Tracey Thorn fan, any new material is something we look forward to. I ordered the special edition on red vinyl direct from her website. I didn't notice that it included a draw with the opportunity to attend the album launch party. As it turned out, we won 2 tickets to attend the listening party in Vauxhall, London. This was hosted by Amy Lamé, who is a fairly well-known, UK-based, expat American. Just a great night out. I expect this album to be my #1 or thereabouts come the end of the year.

Jason Jones
Okinawa, Japan

10. Iceage - Beyondless
09. Dream Wife - s/t
08. Pat Moon - Romantic Era
07. Grouper - Grid of Points
06. Lykke Li - So Sad So Sexy
05. MGMT - Little Dark Age
04. Preoccupations - New Material
03. Hilary Woods - Colt
02. Beach House - 7
01. U.S. Girls - In a Poem Unlimited

About My #1Sometimes all it takes is listening to an album at just the right time. That is exactly what happened when I finally got around to hearing In a Poem Unlimited in its entirety. I was feeling a little down, and work wasn’t keeping me busy enough to distract my mind. I put this album on in my headphones, and by the end of it my mindset had totally changed. It was just such an enjoyable listening experience - so fresh and lively. The highlight, of course, is the vocal delivery of Meg Remy. She has a unique voice that reminds me of the girl groups of the 60s, but with a touch of weirdness that makes it all the more enjoyable. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one keeps its spot at the top for the end of year list!

Sierra Anna Jones
Okinawa, Japan

10. Melody's Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage
09. Soccer Mommy - Clean
08. Snail Mail - Lush
07. Hilary Woods - Colt
06. Pat Moon - Romantic Age
05. Grouper - Grid of Points
04. Soft Kill - Savior
03. Preoccupations - New Material
02. MGMT - Little Dark Age
01. Beach House - 7

About My #1As a long-time Beach House fan, 7 is the album I have always wanted them to make. While it is darker and more experimental than the duo’s previous output, it never sacrifices the band’s signature atmospheric sound. The departure from their typically laid-back song structures are evident right from the shoegaze opener “Dark Spring.” They  explore eerie ambient territory on “L’Inconnue” and “Black Car.” Victoria Legrand’s vocals and lyrics are even more captivating and heart-wrenching than ever, particularly on “Drunk In LA.” 7 combines Beach House’s trademark hushed melodies and ethereal tones with an ominous and moody approach. This mystically immersive sound reminds me why they are one of the best modern indie/dream pop acts around. 

Mike Keddy
Western Massachusetts

10. Mien - s/t
09. Pinkshinyultrablast - Miserable Miracles
08. Toshio Matsuura Group - Loveplaydance
07. Beach House - 7
06. Shopping - The Official Body
05. Sons of Kemet - Your Queen is a Reptile
04. Lowtide - Southern Mind
03. Preoccupations - New Material
02. Landing - Bells in New Towns
01. Khruangbin - Con Todo el Mundo

About My #1I knew pretty early on that Khruangbin’s sophomore album Con Todo el Mundo was in the running for one of my favorite albums of 2018. While this album was my introduction to the band, it feels like I’ve been listening to them for a very long time. Maybe that’s because I have spun this record an insane amount of times since its release. I had the pleasure of catching them live in Boston earlier in the year, and that pretty much cemented Con Todo el Mundo as my number 1 record of the year so far - and mostly likely for the entirety of 2018. This album gets my highest recommendation.

Jesse Deitermann
Phoenix, Arizona

10. Vansire - Angel Youth
09. Melody's Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage
08. Castlebeat - VHS
07. Editors - Violence
06. Belly - DOVE
05. Preoccupations - New Material
04. Snail Mail - Lush
03. Belle & Sebastian - How to Solve Our Human Problems
02. Beach House - 7
01. Tim Burgess - As I Was Now

About My #1I got into The Charlatans in '91, after I had heard "Then" and "The Only One I Know" on the radio. It was love at first sound which is probably why I relate to the early 90s so much with bands like Lush, Ride, Morrissey and Blur. Finally I had bands in my life that weren't only U2 and INXS. I never thought that I would still be listening to The Charlatans today. Tim Burgess (of The Charlatans) has released 4 solo albums - ranging from electronic to folk/country-tinged Gram Parsons-inspired tunes to As I Was Now, which is a Charlatans' album at heart. Every song on here is a fave. That brings me back to the 90s, when Ian McCulloch released a solo album reassuring me there will always be more... which is comforting.

Jaymz Todd
Phoenix, Arizona

10. Typhoon - Offerings
09. Tinashe - Joyride
08. The Sea and Cake - Any Day
07. Hookworms - Microshift
06. Kraus - Path
05. Leon Bridges - Good Thing
04. Wax Chattels - s/t
03. James - Better Than That EP
02. De Lux - More Disco Songs About Love
01. SSION - O

About My #1O, the official "Comeback" of SSION, deserves a ton of attention. I could seriously write so much. However, I believe three things need to be called out: 1. Watch the videos - "Comeback," "At Least the Sky is Blue" and "Heaven is My Thing Again" - and witness the genius of Cody Critcheloe and team; 2. Find the album. Listen at night, turn out the lights and just let the textures of the tunes dissolve into you; and 3. This one is more me-focused, but it’s seriously the first album I actually purchased as an MP3 (vinyl is currently on preorder 7/20) so I could burn to CD and get my fix at all the times I needed to holiday, celebrate and take take take me away. 

83 different albums appeared in this feature
Which ones made it onto the most lists?
Preoccupations (6), Beach House (5), Belly (4) and Hilary Woods (4)

If you're a vinyl enthusiast, check out our feature on the Spin Clean Vinyl Record Cleaning Machine (click image below)
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