2018 has been an incredible year for albums. The year saw the strongest new acts in decades release their debuts, as well as a number of alternative legends returning to top form. The world of dance and electronica enjoyed a fine year too, with some classic records coming from artists new and old. Lovers of rock, pop, folk and soul all had plenty to enjoy this year, as reflected by our eclectic end-of-year list.
This list features the 50 best albums of 2018, chosen by XS Noize writers Mark Millar, Ben P Scott, Lori Gava, Sandra Blemster, Amanda Stock, and Daniel Lynch. Alongside our chosen #1 Album Of The Year are 49 other essential records from 2018, listed in no particular order. There is also a Best Of 2018 playlist, featuring 100 of the year's most essential tracks, picked by Ben P Scott. Links to album reviews/related articles can be found by clicking on the album titles...
#1 - Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile
After nearly four years away, the mighty Manic Street Preachers returned in 2018 with their 13th LP 'Resistance Is Futile'.
In fact, the Welsh legends returned stronger, wiser and more versatile than ever. Longterm fans like myself have stayed faithful to the band since they became massive in the 90s, but 'Resistance Is Futile' finally delivers that long-awaited "return to form" that the devoted have hoped for throughout the last decade or so. According to James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore: "The main themes of ‘Resistance is Futile’ are memory and loss; forgotten history; confused reality and art as a hiding place and inspiration. It’s obsessively melodic – in many ways referencing both the naive energy of ‘Generation Terrorists’ and the orchestral sweep of ‘Everything Must Go’." Big promises...
While every one of their albums have their moments, I would be rather in-denial to claim that the Manics have been operating at 100% over the last 20 years. While the 90s bought acclaim and huge commercial success, it was followed in the early 2000s with some relatively challenging records which signalled a desire to change direction. After the public didn't warm to 'Know Your Enemy' or the brilliant 'Lifeblood', the group made an attempt to revert back to their big, anthemic rock sound in the late 2000s. As the whole music world changed around them, 2010's "last shot at mass communication" 'Postcards From A Young Man' failed to produce the huge hit singles the band were hoping for. Defeated, they would reconvene to work on the low key 'Rewind The Film', which would address and mark the end of their youth, and the reinvigorating 'Futurology', where the Manics seemed to be rebuilding their sound and discovering new possibilities. In the years since that 2014 album, the group have marked the 20th anniversaries of 'The Holy Bible' and 'Everything Must Go'. When people are still listening to your music after 20 years, you reach a new status; that of a legend.
In 2017, Nicky Wire wasn't sure if they'd even finish another album, and it sounded like the group were struggling to match the quality of 'Futurology', let alone return with something truly magnificent. Some of us thought that the story was over, or maybe coming to an end. Wire must have been bluffing... Either that or an unexpected spark occurred: "After delay and difficulties getting started, the record has come together really quickly over the last few months through a surge of creativity and some old school hard work” the band said shortly before the LP's release. 'Resistance Is Futile' seems to be the beginning of a new era, and sees the band emerge from the other side of a long transitional period. Right from the first track, that air of confidence is back, along with the big choruses. But the sounds, rhythms and sideways departures of the last two albums are present too.
The opening 'People Give In' is an uplifting statement of defiance, breaking into a magnificently bright, anthemic chorus. Like every other song here, it's like something from a 'Greatest Hits' compilation. Buoyant and confident, the magnificent lead single 'International Blue' turns an ode to French artist Yves Klein into a European-flavoured drivetime rock classic, while the infectious 'Vivian' combines atmospheric splashes of musical colour with zippy guitar riffs. 'Distant Colours' is a perfect example of the "widescreen melancholia" that Wire refers to as being a feature of this album, and the Dylan Thomas-inspired tale of 'Dylan and Caitlin' is a sprightly number bearing more than a passing resemblance to Elton John and Kiki Dee's 70's hit 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' being played by Echo And The Bunnymen. It also offers another one of those Manics duets in the tradition of 'Little Baby Nothing' and 'Your Love Alone...', and completely trumps the former in terms of depth and quality, in part thanks to a fantastic guest appearance from The Anchoress (aka Catherine Anne Davies). 'Hold Me Like A Heaven' sparkles with subtle glacial beauty recalling that of 'Lifeblood' and 'Futurology', but marries the sound to a soaring chorus to deliver a poignant arms-in-the-air anthem, and recalling the intense power of their early work, 'Sequels Of Forgotten Wars' is a driving heatseeker of a track that delivers a classic Manics chorus.
In a review from earlier on in the year, Sandra Blemster wrote "I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Welsh boys this time around. Some people may have thought this was the final dance for them but Resistance Is Futile shows the Manic Street Preachers have still got a lot more to give." They have finally found the right balance of interesting sounds and solid songwriting. And although it sees the return of the prime quality Manics of old, lyrically and characteristically it's unmistakably 2018, addressing the madness of the present day and making sense of their place in a world that itself is impossible to make sense of. 'Resistance Is Futile' stands tall, an essential album that reminds us why the Manics have remained one of the UK's biggest rock bands for so long.
"Those who have kept the faith are rewarded here with one of Ashcroft’s most essential solo albums, a record that has much to offer for those with an ear for finely crafted guitar music. Middle of the road much of it may be, but it’s a musical zone where Richard Ashcroft thrives on doing what comes naturally. A return to form that has been due for a while."
Daniel Avery - Song For Alpha
"Excellent array of electronica from producer Daniel Avery. Tracks like the heavily percussive 'Diminuendo' re-enforced Avery's reputation for making great records."
"A release that burnishes their magnificent sonic legacy."
"Much of Wrong Creatures can easily be described as classic BRMC (B.R.M.C, Take Them On, On Your Own), albeit with less commentary about the US Government. Nonetheless, the hunger from their early years remains."
"Breaking State proves they are not just regurgitating Fall songs. Brix and co have come through some hard times, both professionally and personally but this sees them metamorphosis from the ashes and echoes of the Fall into something new and of their own. They’ve steered their own ship to provide a rocking, album full of defiance and emotional depth with flair and integrity."
"Chris is both an impressive and ambitious second album. As a huge fan of Chaleur Humaine, I was a little apprehensive but I needn’t have worried. Regardless of what guise she takes on Christine and The Queens defies definition – Christine and The Queens is a remarkable, unique talent."
"These songs undoubtedly will rocket in arenas and at festivals due to the fact that they are expansive anthems, infused with danceable electro goodness with Mayberry sounding more confident and commanding than ever before."
"An outstanding release that in inspired in it’s retranslating of the Echo and the Bunnymen canon. It is an excellent gateway into the discography of Echo and the Bunnymen for younger listeners and will provide endless interest for hardcore fans. The two new tracks are worthy to be placed with these long-standing classics. As anniversary/tribute releases go, Echo and the Bunnymen have successfully walked the tightrope between refreshing their classics and honouring them beautifully."
"A fierce, captivating, and empowering record from a band whose vitalising energy is thrillingly infectious. Fast, loud, adrenaline-fuelled noise is balanced perfectly with genuine, unbridled human emotion and vulnerability to evoke strength, energy and vitality across this awesome half hour. Developing their sound over the years together before recording their first album has paid off, resulting in an impressively accomplished debut. Packed full of raw, passionate music that excites the mind and arouses the soul, You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough brings a gut feeling like no other new band have delivered for years. 2018 is the time for Estrons."
Father John Misty - God's Favourite Customer
"The fourth studio album by American musician Josh Tillman under the stage name Father John Misty. The album was produced by Tillman himself and Jonathan Rado, alongside Trevor Spencer, Dave Cerminara, and Jonathan Wilson."
"Ms Welsh and Co. never disappoint. This is the latest stellar chapter in their revelatory works."
"A fine concept record from an illustrious group of musicians, and another one to add to Damon Albarn’s catalogue of marvellous albums. These weird, volatile times are producing some amazing music, and this is very likely to become the record that defines the upheaval of Brexit. Along with Blur's triumphant The Magic Whip, but operating around a completely different concept and musical dynamic, Merrie Land is this decade’s finest example of Albarn’s gift as a great songwriter, again reaffirming his status as one of the all-time great British musicians."
Paddy Hanna - Frankly, I Mutate
"Paddy Hanna has an authenticity other musicians strive towards for years. That realness, that melancholy, that dry sense of humour are all in abundance on this album."
Hawkwind - Road to Utopia
"For their 31st studio album, the band collaborated with songwriter and conductor Mike Batt to recreate a selection of Hawkwind songs with an extra, orchestral, ingredient..."
Jon Hopkins - Singularity
"Released earlier this year on Domino Records, the brilliant Singularity was the British electronic producer's fifth studio LP. As well as the mesmeric beauty of moments like 'Feel First Life', there's hard-hitting bass and cascading beats on a title track that builds brilliantly, while the epic, sizzling hot techno odyssey, 'Everything Connected' is the magnificent centrepiece. The record was inspired by the time Hopkins spent living in Los Angeles, practising meditation, and taking trips to the desert to find himself."
"Like a fine wine, Interpol keeps getting better as they mature."
"Living proof that a band’s best work isn’t always from their younger days, and that age means experience, not being past your peak. Somehow, James just keeps on hitting the targets and confounding expectations."
Jess Glynne - Always In Between
"The second studio album by Glynne, which made number one on the UK Albums Chart. It was her first studio album in three years since the release of her debut project in 2015."
Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake the Want Is
"Scintillating and continues to stun – 21st Century’s answer to Kate Bush"
The KVB - Only Now Forever
"Described as "darkwave" by some, and "psychedelic electronica" by others, to these ears, the London duo's music brings together the influences of Joy Division, OMD, the Jesus And Mary Chain, Neu! and the vast majority of the Mute Records back catalogue in a lysergic, dreamlike brew of shoegaze, Krautrock and techno pop. Sixth LP 'Only Now Forever' is their finest work yet. The breathtaking 'On My Skin' provide their most romantic moment yet, a tender, introspective synthpop classic which demonstrates their gift for melodies and atmosphere. The gorgeous, otherworldly 'Violet Noon' ventures down calming, ethereal avenues, glowing with a sad beauty as it slows down the pace. Its blissful, aeronautical properties are complimented wonderfully by its misty chords, demonstrating how the duo are really coming into their own. The shimmering euphoric surge of 'Into Life' is a wonder to behold, while 'Afterglow' delivers a deliriously dark helping of machine music."
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper - "A Star is Born" Original Soundtrack
"The soundtrack album to the 2018 musical film of the same name, performed by its stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper., who collaborated on the soundtrack album with an assortment of country musicians, including Lukas Nelson."
Ciaran Lavery - Sweet Decay
"Ciaran Lavery's second album is another step forward for the winner of the 2016 Northern Ireland Music Prize."
"Let’s Eat Grandma have managed something quite unique – a move towards a “poppier” sound without compromising on their musical depth and diversity. It’s an album that cements Let’s Eat Grandma as one of the most creative and exciting bands in the world right now. And they are both still just 19 years old."
"Carlisle four-piece The Lucid Dream suffered a cruel blow early last year in 2017 when all of their equipment was stolen following a gig in Paris. Some would’ve conceded defeat or had their momentum severely damaged during these difficult days for musicians, but instead, the band ploughed on, as their fanbase raised £10,000 to finance some new gear. The defiant group got to work on their fourth studio LP, still highly driven and prolific after delivering three albums in the previous four years. Taking in acid house, dub, psychedelia, techno and lots of other flavours into their melting pot of sound, the amount of different styles here is astonishing, and the way Emmerson’s band mix them all together is uniquely fascinating. Rebuilding their sound around the essence of their previous output, resilience, defiance, reinvention and momentum have produced one of 2018’s greatest records. The Lucid Dream have turned a major setback into a triumph."
Malojian - Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home
"Partly recorded in a lighthouse off the coast of Northern Ireland, this is the first album self-produced by Malojian (Stevie Scullion) and features guest appearances by Joey Waronker on drums (Beck; R.E.M.; Atoms For Peace...), Gerry Love on bass (Teenage Fanclub), Jon Thorne on double bass (Yorkston, Thorne and Khan; Lamb) and more..."
"When this legendary musician releases an album, it demands a celebration."
"The Quarry covers a lot of ground for a debut album and many will be hoping it will be the beginning of Mercy Union rather than the one-off product of two friends simply catching up."
"Monsters Exist is a dynamic piece of work, balanced between dark, heavy, dreamy, upbeat and euphoric moods, and full of tracks filled with hugely satisfying and proudly weird synth sounds. While it starts and ends without much clarity, everything in between shows the duo hitting with full force. The deluxe edition features a number of excellent tracks that would be more than worthy of inclusion on the main record and adds to a package that more than makes up for the duo's six-year absence. Strange, varied and admirably fresh, Monsters Exist is a great addition to the Orbital catalogue and one of the decade's best electronic albums."
"Palace Winter has made an album that, despite its dark themes about life and death combines lightness in sound hugging you with human honesty."
"For those looking for something off the beaten path that is completely engaging and otherworldly."
Shame - Songs Of Praise
"There's a stormy violence brewing on this superb debut album from Shame. From the intense, hard-hitting opener 'Dust On Trial' to the angry grooves of 'Friction', this is a hugely impressive LP from one of the finest bands this decade has produced."
Troye Sivan - Bloom
"Bloom is the second studio album by Australian singer and songwriter Troye Sivan, which followed up his 2015 debut studio album, Blue Neighbourhood, and features guest appearances from Gordi and Ariana Grande."
Skee Mask - Compro
"Munich producer Bryan Müller crafted one of the most essential electronic albums of 2018, the sprawling 'Compro'. Whether it's the tasty beats of 'Dial 274" or the spacious, atmospheric drum n bass flavours of 'Flyby VFR', there's much to enjoy here. Skee Mask's direction is described as "mostly rolling rhythms, combined with electronic soundscapes, always forcing to create a deep vibe."
"They still got it and prove it on this one, Simples Minds got mojo. Best tracks – Utopia and Sense of Discovery"
"An emotionally mature album full of haunting melodies interspersed with thumping electro beats and anthemic chimes that could take them to the next level and receive their badge of honour. They certainly deserve it."
"An album that succeeds in reminding everyone why they were never one hit wonders."
The Soft Moon - Criminal Remixed
"The incredible 'Criminal Remixed' album featured reworkings of songs by The Soft Moon. On London producer Ansome's remix of 'Burn', the heavy assault of slamming beats batter through violent blasts of bass, punctuated by spells of frenzied howls that emerge from the ether. An intense, thumping cybergoth-flavoured menace of a track, 'It Kills' does exactly what it says on the tin, and this reworking by German duo Rendered (Daniel Myer and Clément Perez) takes it up a notch."
"Like many of the other legendary indie bands who graced the 90s, Suede are right back on their very best form, making music that sounds and FEELS essential. It seems that Suede are on a roll; The Blue Hour is the best album of the trilogy, and Suede’s grandest, most epic record yet. Alternating solemn, graceful orchestral sounds with raw, swaggering rock n roll, bursting with terrific guitars, The Blue Hour shows Suede reaching upwards and outwards to create a work of magnificent, epic beauty."
"An album that reflects on the modern day issues of technology, drugs, politics and relationships with a beating millennial heart that is honest and hopeful for the future."
The Orb - No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds
"The ambitious, eclectic 'No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds' is the finest Orb record in many years, and sounds amazing on limited edition blue vinyl. Opener 'The End Of The End' finds their trademark ambient dub house sounds combining with enchanting soul-pop songwriting, with vocals from Emma Gillespie. Dub rhythms, house vibes, an infectious groove, ambient piano and samples aplenty all play a part in 'Pillow Fight @Shag Mountain', a wondrous slice of laid-back late-night euphoria. It is without a doubt, classic Orb. While much Orb material of recent years has been characterised by minimalism, their 15th studio album finds the electronic legends exploring a dynamic range of influences, moods and sonic possibilities. The record also sees the duo collaborating with a host of guests including Youth, Jah Wobble, Hollie Cook and Roger Eno."
The Preoccupations – New Material
"The little shoegaze band that could. Each of their releases is a display in excellence and perseverance in the face of unfair negative publicity. "
The Summer Kills - Last Night We Became Swans
"With a sonic foundation calling to mind Brian Eno, Steve Reich and Daniel Lanois commingling with the pop acumen of New Order, U2 or Interpol, The Summer Kills have delivered an utterly immersive, utterly ravishing album."
"The Vryll Society have their own take on krautrock and evocative, dreamlike vibes. Course of the Satellite contains authentic magical songs that are both poetic and mesmerising. An impressive first album that was worth the wait."
"Stability shows them to be a band with a message, one they aren’t going to let go unheard. The band effectively translate their energy as a live band into the record to make this record just as frantic, chaotic and brilliant as their live shows."
Ryan Vail - Distorted Shadows
" ‘Distorted Shadows’ is what it sounds like to be a creative person in 2018, surrounded by dread and chaos but determined to find meaning beyond it."
Villagers - The Art of Pretending To Swim
"Balanced with subtle aspects and lyrical themes that embrace existential fears and hopes in this desperate, technologically-centred dystopian age, The Art Of Pretending To Swim is the most brilliantly realised Villagers album to date."
"It's astonishing how Paul Weller carries on making classic album after classic album. His 14th solo LP 'True Meanings' is a majestic, varied yet focused record gleaming with mysterious, graceful beauty, every track reflecting a special warmth. Quite simply the best living songwriter on earth.
As well as laid back, soulful selections like 'Mayfly', there's wondrous acoustic tone-setter 'The Soul Seekers', a collaboration between Weller and Connor O’Brien of Villagers, and the stunning 'May Love Travel With You'. The introspective, autumnal record went to number 2 in the UK charts."
Wyvern Lingo - Wyvern Lingo
"Self-titled debut by the Irish band from Bray, Ireland in County Wicklow. Consisting of Caoimhe Barry, Karen Cowley and Saoirse Duane, the trio create an impressive sound."
"It might only be a soundtrack but what Yorke does in his spare time still outshines most of what other musical folks do for their day jobs."
PLAYLIST: The Best Of 2018 - 100 Essential Tracks