Music @ The Digital Fix choose our nine favourite albums of 2018
So this year at The Digital Fix we’ve decided to steer clear of the well worth path of drawing up a list of the “best” albums of 2018. If you’re looking to that then The Guardian has a decent mainstream-y list and The Quietus has a more eclectic set of names. We’re just sticking to what we like, our favourites. So they might not be "the best" but these albums have made us feel something this year, whether that’s joy, sadness, or just plain happiness at singing some songs or tapping our feet. Here our self-styled three wise men tell you what they think.
You’ll find many of my favourite albums on my separate Campfire Tales year-end list (Ed - coming soon), but these are some of the non-roots records that had me humming along, or singing loudly in the car.
It was a close run thing, choosing from my guitar album shortlist; the debut from Snail Mail was very close, but ultimately it couldn’t have been anyone other than Courtney Barnett. That woman can wield a guitar like no-ones business. Along with the terrific Tell Me How You Really Feel was her supporting tour, where, showing huge bravura, she played the album in full just a couple of weeks after releasing it. With songs that sound like the melodic romp of ‘City Looks Pretty’, the punk stylings of ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’, general indie strumming of ‘Crippling Self Doubt And A General Lack Of Confidence’, and the laid-back closer ‘Sunday Roast, all perched atop a set of the best lyrics you’ll hear this year, well, it’s some album. And whether you’re looking for a new guitar hero, or someone to help you understand life, Barnett is someone you need to hear.
In the pop arena the big hitters have been out in force this year, especially the like of Arianna Grande (pretty good), Clean Bandit (not my thing), and the return of Chvrches (very close to being my pick, live ‘Graffiti’). But it’s a debut that’s piqued my interest this year, from nowhere really. Bishop Briggs’ Church Of Scars is what this list is all about. It’s not filled with anything groundbreaking, meaningful, or off the wall, it’s just filled with bloody awesome tunes. Lead track 'River' is a banger with an earworm of a chorus, 'Wild Horses' has a dancehall feel, and close 'Hi-Lo (Hollow)' is a lush four minutes.
There's an argument my final choice should be in my column, but Kacey Musgraves thrid album breaks any genre boundaries. Right from the beautiful opener 'Slow Burn' which sets the tone for Musgraves own style of lyric and living, to closer 'Rainbow', a longtime crowd favourite, this is a triumph of songwriting and delivery. It's a confident record, with the Electric Light Orchestra-esque 'Oh, What A World', written on acid 70-second ode to her mum, 'Mother', and disco-dancing 'High Horse' all great tunes that hold great lyrics. And that's without mentioning the double-header lead tracks: the word-play wonder 'Space Cowboy' and loved-up singalong 'Butterflies'. And I want to mention 'Velvet Elvis' and 'Happy & Sad' but I'm running out of words. That's how good Golden Hour is. Almost perfect.
2018 has been a year that has seen a resurgence in really good, unique pop. Picking some of my albums of the year really has been a challenge as there have been loads to choose from but I think these final choices really stand out...
First up is Emily Burns stunning debut, Seven Scenes From The Same Summer - it's somewhere between the length of an EP and a full album but the seven tracks here are all top drawer stuff. Emily has been around for a couple of years but this debut release showcases a brilliant songwriting talent and an inventive instrumental and vocalist. With a couple of appearances on the Radio 1 playlist, I am already excited to see what she has in store for 2019.
Another newcomer to get a massive thumbs up is Emma Blackery who released Villains back in August. It's another inventive release that sees Blackery forging new ground in pop with her music swaying between the swoon of Lana Del Rey and the joyous, barbed pop of Taylor Swift. Blackery could be better than either of them and with her album closing on the high of the truly anthemic 'Burn the Witch' there's good reason to believe that the best is yet to come.
My final pick is on the darker end of the spectrum - the brilliant Brace for Impact from one of our favourite west-country independent artists, She Makes War. A stomping album that is full of passion, Brace for Impact is possibly Laura Kidd's best ever work - it's brimming with ideas and has been crafted to perfection all on a shoestring budget that makes most artists look lazy.
Reverence by Parkway Drive
An album like this puts not only the artist but also the listener through the emotional wringer. A collection of songs so soaked in emotions you would think the band, and especially singer Winston McCall, would get some sort of therapy from it. Reverence has everything that music as angry as this should have, from lush orchestral strings on ‘Chronos’, blinding riffs and the one-two knockout punch of ‘Cemetery Bloom’ folding into ‘The Void’ (which has the catchiest riff of 2018 by far). In 2019 Parkway Drive step up and headline arenas across the UK for the first time but certainly not the last. Catch them on this album cycle or miss them at your peril.
Prequelle by Ghost
Drenched in corpse paint and flanked by Nameless Ghouls, Cardinal Copia (and his many faces) have produced one of the best, if not one of the most musically diverse albums to grace the metal and rock charts. What album soaked in riffs and corpse paint can also include, and fundamentally get away with, a saxophone solo at the peak of middle track ‘Miasma’? You’d be right in thinking none if you hadn’t listened to this album but Prequelle does just that. The album as a whole is a polished bastion to rock and metal and proves that the band with nameless, faceless members can rise to the top and one day headline the festivals across the UK. Watch this space, all hail Ghost!
Young & Dangerous by The Struts
The Derbyshire based band have gone from strength to strength in recent years, with a strong debut album and now continuing with that trend on their sophomore album Young & Dangerous the band have solidified their brand and the world has embraced them. Crossing over with pop diva Kesha on single ‘Body Talks’ proves they have crossover appeal as well, being main support to the gigantic Foo Fighters on their US trek also helped. Luke Spiller has the touch of the Freddie Mercury’s about him with his dandy-esque stage moves and wardrobe. If The Struts hold fast, bigger things await.