• By: Owen Maxwell

Best albums of 2018

Genre goes through phases and in 2018, we saw the borders between these categories all but go away. As we go through our favourite albums from across the year, we're highlighting artists that made us fall in love with music again while innovating in one way or another.

10. Papercuts – Parallel Universe Blues (San Francisco, CA)

Jason Quever's latest outing as Papercuts is a lush wander through the sounds and pop sensibilities of the Velvet Underground, but with all the marvellous production the last few decades have brought to rock. This record breathes with a vintage air and deeply emotional pop hooks, letting songs like "Laughing Man" and "Clean Living" get stuck in your head effortlessly. Even the slower jams like "Sing To Me Candy" have their own glowing energy that pulls you into its chorus-heavy world. It's the constant addictive song-crafting between the atmosphere and melodies that made it hard to put this record down, even so late into the year. 

9. Guerilla Toss – Twisted Crystal (New York)

Quirky when done right can give you some truly memorable music, and Guerilla Toss's dash of funk just seals it as great dance music. The dense productions of sound like "Magic Is Easy" and "Green Apple" easily blow your mind with textures and techniques that have a distinctly visual feeling to them. There's also a childlike to vocal deliveries on "Come Up With Me" that have you singing along with a sense of fun, and "Come Up With Me" is so joyous you'll want to learn everything. Even without Kassie Carlson's usual screaming energy, there's a much more distinct focus on tone here to keep something like "Retreat" a deep dive regardless. Nothing this year allows you to dance or really intently listen quite as well as Guerilla Toss. 

8. Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo in Blue (New York)

If you've worn out the grooves on your copy of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Sunflower Bean gave us the sequel we weren't expecting. Melding influences into something fresh and important to our current political climate, the band is able to bring new life to familiar tones with the same heartache but a new voice to lead the charge. Songs like "Twentytwo" and "Crisis Fest" echo the ideals of Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks, while touching on the horrors of the new generation, and boy do these songs sound crisp and memorable. Sunflower Bean also whip out their older punk sensibilities on tracks like the fiery "Human For" and "Burn It" in case you need a good thrasher to lose it to. The brilliance of modern pop and nostalgia is at its sharpest on tracks like "Memoria" where there's such a shine to the guitars that you melt on every lyric. With a whole whack of great retro sounds in the second-half of the record too, this is an album that just sets a great tone for any day.

7. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (England)

There's no question the Arctic Monkeys took a hard left turn from guitar rock this year, but if you love David Bowie's soul era like I do, this album was an unexpected gem. As Alex Turner turned to the keyboards for lunar concept album, there's a lounge cool to "Star Treatment" that the band simply never would've achieved before. The hooks are just as sharp however, and with lyrics like "What do you mean you never seen Blade Runner?," (by far my go-to line of the year) Turner is just as obtuse and fun as ever. In fact the entire first half of this album runs together so amazingly that you'll be caught up in the triumphant chords and storytelling of "American Sports" before you even realize a song has passed. The title track and "Four Out Of Five" have even sharper sounds, as Turner pulls you deeper into his records world and introduces listeners to the various craters of the moon with intoxicating music. Though one could certainly argue the first half of the record makes up for a much less distinct second-half, you'll want to cry out as Turner screams "I've Still Got Pictures Of Friends On The Wall" to close out the album on the penetrating "Ultracheese."

6. MØ – Forever Neverland (Denmark)

After the four year wait from MØ's (Karen Andersen) last full-length, I was pleasantly surprised to see her fully embracing her pop side for a party album that is still weird enough to stand out. There's theatrical moments like "Purple Like The Summer Rain" and even overtly dramatic piano songs like "Mercy." Though these could easily be cliché, there's an honest pain and sense of yearning behind the songs that make them just work. Andersen kicks out with deep bass and endless hooks on "Way Down" and obtuse rhythms that never seem to stop on the addictive "Nostalgia." She delivers her most mainstream moments in "Blur" and "Sun In Our Eyes" but cranks the melodies up to 11 to make them so overtly fun that it's hard for anyone to turn their nose up at them. Even a collaboration with Charli XCX sees MØ getting extra abrasive, as the pop justifies the weird grime she injects into the mix. For a dance record that really goes out there, this record is a powerful listen.

5. U.S. Girls – In A Poem Unlimited (Toronto)

Meg Remy held nothing back on the latest U.S. Girls release, as she crafted an album around her personal story and amazingly brass-heavy funk-rock. Bringing in tones of Talking Heads and frantic Lynchian ideas, this album feels as smoky and club-like as it can be abrasive. Though this taken to a grandeur on the punchy riffs on "Velvet 4 Sale" and "Rage Of Plastics" Remy never relents from putting a venom in her lyricism that is empowering and necessary right now. Remy's delivery brings a unique charm to the record as well, making the grooves of songs like "Mad As Hell" even more exciting, and twisting the song into something that's equally fun and strangely surreal. Just as she hits a cartoon romanticism on "Rosebude" the album is shrieking in feedback on "Incidental Boogie" and hitting its most cutting wails on "L-Over." It's the light hip hop tones of "Pearly Gates" and the non-stop improvisational rush of final tracks like "Time" that leave me breathless on every listen.

4. Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen (Los Angeles, California)

No album had a sense of serene majesty quite like Kadhja Bonet, and her elegant voice just makes this album soar again and again. An explorative writing style that blends Stevie Wonder-like funk, old orchestral scoring, R&B and just weird art-pop had this album as a sonic wonder that sounds like it's from a past that never happened. You're pulled through handfuls of genres, instruments and even languages on "Procession," and then led through romantic swirls of harmony on "Childqueen," with bells and strings in full swing. Even as it seems like you're sinking into a more predictable route on "Another Time Lover" the bass turns morose, the synths growl and electronics trickle through the background. This whole intro comes to sharp, timeless pop head on "Thoughts Around Tea" keeping things simple but powerfully iconic. The empowering pop shoots out of "Mother Maybe" as a feisty soul track slowly evolves into a dynamic power-ballad that you'll never forget. Seriously, there's just so much going on in this record that even without the amazing song writing you'd be mesmerized in some way.

3. Anderson .Paak – Oxnard

Anderson .Paak has been winning over listeners with his unique take on hip hop and explosive live performances, and now he has an album that feels from top-to-bottom exactly like you feel seeing him on a stage. Amazingly Bonet even makes a guest appearance as the magical voice that starts the album before hip hop and vintage jazz become one throughout this record. With funk already in full swing, "Tints" sees .Paak possessed with a Michael Jackson-style swagger excitingly and letting Kendrick Lamar loose to tear the house down. The album breaks away from all its amazing guests in the middle, where the sinister political riffing of "6 Summers" leaves you blown away. .Paak achieves the rare perfect track on "Mansa Musa" with fat synth bass tones, and ecstatic horn riffs that set up his amazing chorus hooks that have screaming again, and somehow Dr. Dre and Cocoa Sarai seamlessly fit into the track. Even Pusha T, Snoop Dogg and J. Cole achieve their highest performances in years before the album closes on the in-your-face delivery of "Left To Right"

2. Kali Uchis – Isolation (New York/Colombia)

Much like .Paak's record, Kali Uchis showed not only a melting pot of genre's and concepts, but creators that made something beautiful that we really just couldn't put down. You're pulled through rhythmic reggae, R&B, hip hop, funk, rock, Gorillaz-like pop and even bossa nova without feeling disjointed in the slightest. After its moody intro, Uchis delivers fiery lines about bad love on "Just A Stranger" with the magical talent of Steve Lacy giving some fun production to the track. With some vintage pop crooning between other tracks, "Your Teeth In My Neck" hits with a sense of realistic modern romance and intimacy that few artists are able to tackle, and one of the sharpest xylophone lines in years. "Tyrant" comes out with all these amazing-sounding lines bouncing between English and Spanish while rhyming easily, and lines like "Word on the street you got hoes, I disappear like El Chapo," and "All we ever do is French like Brigitte Bardot" will never leave your head. There's no dud amongst the long playlist, with Latin-pop kicking hard on "Nuestro Planeta," Tame Impala's tones bringing colour ot "Tomorrow" and the mix of funk, Tyler, The Creator's rap and Kali's empowering stories culminating in a triumphant hit.

1. Superorganism – Superorganism (U.K.//Various Countries)

The first time I heard Superorganism's new album, I truly thought I was hearing an album from the future. Between all their DIY sampling and producing (which means more people are fine-tuning everything) the band truly shows the power of what an art collective can bring to music when they're all working as one…well superorganism. As you come into the album through "It's All Good" you're listening to something so visual and textured, if you close your eyes, you can forget this is only music. The ecstatic lo-fi of "Everybody Wants To Be Famous" hits your ears with a Nickelodeon weirdness and explosive choruses that have so many details you're constantly picking out something new. With artists from the U.K., Oceania, South Korea and a Japanese teenager (their intensely wise lead vocalist) they feel like some sort of fairytale, and believe me, seeing them live only shocks you more (since yes this music does work live somehow). There's an overpowering groove to both vocals and bass on tracks like "SPRORGNSM" that transforms into euphoric party-pop through the band's wacky editing. Even their sassy entries like "The Prawn Song" just feel so different that the simple funk works. As they send things off in the sprawling dark wonder of "Night Time" there's so many pop possibilities for this group that I'm eagerly awaiting on every new release they have.