2018 has been a huge year for music. All sorts of artists, whether returning to the limelight after years of irrelevance, or becoming an overnight success, have contributed to the great range of pop music this year. People like Ariana Grande have shaped recent music, dominating the charts with iconic songs like ‘God is a Woman’ and ‘No Tears Left to Cry’. It is also impossible not to mention the tragic losses this year, and the new music from Mac Miller and XXXTENTACION have not only served as one last tribute to their legacy but also have unfortunately revealed a darker side of the music industry. Some surprising returns have included that of Eminem whose comeback was as controversial as ever. However, apart from the famous names constantly alluded to in the news and whose music seems to blast through radios or be stuck in your head on constant loop, there are also a number of incredible albums pushed away from commercial limelight. So here are my top ten albums (in no particular order) which perhaps weren’t as commercially successful but were still incredible and deserve much more recognition.
1. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino- Arctic Monkeys
(Best track: Four Out of Five)
Most people have definitely heard of the Arctic Monkeys and, after years of silence they have returned with a glossy new album: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Creating an album as iconic as their previous one (AM, released in 2013) was a difficult feat but they have managed it by completely turning their sound around. This fascinating concept album transports us so a science fiction world, imagining a luxurious resort on the moon while also satirising and raising important political themes. On it you can hear a variety of genres and influences, and it takes a completely new turn to their previous more rock inspired tunes. This new album takes inspiration from the 80s Bowie-esque glam pop and space rock, and its heavy distorted guitar riffs have been replaced by more jazzy, piano chords. Listening to it is a truly surreal experience and really does transport you to an entirely different world.
2. Bad Contestant- Matt Maltese
(Best track: As the World Caves In)
Labelling his music as ‘Brexit Pop’ Matt Maltese has debuted his music career with a stunning new album only few could achieve. His glossy crooners voice creates a jarring contrast with the cynical and sardonic lyrics of his songs which talk about the growingly concerning state of the world and the ridiculous, narcissistic nature of modern pop culture. The album is riddled with unique, often unconventional moments that make you laugh at the complete tongue-in-cheek portrayal of millennial life, yet at the same time containing extremely moving and sincere songs. ‘As The Word Caves In’ is an incredibly original song which depicts an imagined love affair between Donald Trump and Teresa May, describing how they watch the world around them implode, atom bombs falling around them as they lie in each other arms. It would be completely comical if the more metaphorical political message behind it wasn’t so frightening, but either way, if that bizarre scenario does not peak your curiosity enough to convince you to listen to this album I don’t know what will.
3. Nation of Two- Vance Joy
(Best Track: Saturday Sun)
This is one of the more touching albums of the year, focusing on the highs and lows of a romantic relationship. The songs aren’t particularly deep or philosophical, and many mirror the style of songwriting Vance Joy used in his previous album, but they are still extremely catchy and fun, creating perfect anthems and summer singalongs.
4. Palo Santo- Years & Years
(Best Track: If You’re Over Me)
In this new synth and poppy album, Years & Years transport us to a new, imagined dystopia where artificial intelligence has emotions as well as full control over humans, while also exploring the links between religion and celebrity culture in songs such as ‘Sanctify’. Despite this seemingly dark and scary technology-ruling society created, the music is very upbeat and electronic, with catchy tunes and deep baselines, and once you listen to the single ‘If You’re Over Me’ you will not be able to get it out of your mind. Frontman of the band and LGBT icon Olly Alexander also depicts a new, completely fluid and abstract interpretation of gender and sexuality, as he imagines what role they would play in a world dominated by artificial intelligence. This complex and intricate imagined world, mixed with the upbeat music has created a very memorable and successful concept album.
5. Staying at Tamara’s- George Ezra
(Best track: Hold My Girl)
Known mainly by his song ‘Budapest’ from his previous album, George Ezra has made a spectacular return with the most feel-good album of the year. The single ‘Shotgun’ has been named ‘Song of the Summer’ and that is exactly the feeling that this album evokes, one of escapism and dreaming. It provides a heartwarming distraction from the current state of the world. All the songs are optimistic and carefree, full of energetic guitar riffs and danceable harmonies, and will instantly put you in a good mood when you listen to them.
6. Lost & Found- Jorja Smith
(Best Track: Blue Lights)
Jorja Smith’s can only be described as mellow R&B, something to listen to in any situation, whether that is on a stormy Sunday night or when out with friends. Lost & Found mixes moody, politically charged songs with much more upbeat tracks, exploring the popular themes such as love and heartbreak in a thick British accent. However, her songs also deal with issues closer to her heart and the black community, such as police brutality, especially in the song ‘Blue Lights’ (referring to the lights on police cars) and poverty, which is powerfully encompassed in her freestyle spoken verses of the song ‘Lifeboats’. All in all this album marks a growing change in the new pop scene, and a growth in more mellow and soulful music just like Jorja Smith’s whose songs share very similar aspects to Amy Winehouse’s.
7. Bloom- Troye Sivan
(Best Track: Animals)
Although this isn’t his first album, it is the first time Australian singer Troye Sivan has been commercially recognised in the music industry and pop culture. At only 23 he has shocked the world with his talent, and the brilliant collaborations with huge artists such as Ariana Grande on tracks like ‘Dance to This’. Sivan successfully mixes very danceable and catchy tunes with much deeper and vulnerable ones that talk about his journey towards acceptance. Not only is this a wonderful pop album, but it also serves as a beacon of hope, acceptance and inclusivity for LGBT people who never previously felt identified or represented in the pop scene.
8. Nina Cried Power- Hozier
(Best Track: Nina Cried Power)
For Hozier, Nina Cried Power is not only a protest song, but also a “thank-you-note” to all the artists who influenced his music and spent their lives advocating and fighting for equality, whether that be civil rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights etc. Despite only being four songs long, Hozier manages to combine empowering and dynamic songs with beautiful, acoustic love songs whose soft guitar riffs perfectly show his Irish roots such as ‘Shrike’, and evokes a deep mournful and mellow feeling in much more blues centred songs like ‘NFWMB’. An overall wonderful EP and completely redefining the concept of modern music while still staying true to the very traditional roots of music.
9. Egypt Station-Paul McCartney
(Best Track: I Don’t Know)
Released only a few months back, this is McCartney’s 17th album and it is a perfect example of how truly versatile and talented he is as a musician, as he has managed to make a new, innovative album adapted and targeted to the present day pop scene but at the same time retaining many of the characteristics of the songs he wrote back in the 60s with the Beatles. This album has a perfect mixture of catchy, uplifting, energetic songs such as ‘Come On To Me’ and slower, melancholic and darker songs like ‘I Don’t Know’. Few artists have managed to stay in the limelight as long as McCartney and fewer still have managed to consistently release great albums which are so attuned to the context of music of the time while also staying true to their roots, but McCartney has certainly achieved this balance.
10. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships- The 1975
(Best Track: Love It If We Made It)
This album has been the one I was looking forward to the most and its release mere weeks ago has not failed to impress. The 1975’s concepts and ideas in this album are as pretentious as the title suggests but even still, it manages to create an incredible contrast between very purposeful synthetic and artificial sounding songs with stripped back, acoustic and extremely vulnerable ones like ‘Be My Mistake’. This juxtaposition effectively explores the concept of modern love and relationships in our new world dominated by technology and at a time where meaningful connections have been lost as a result. Every song is very insightful and ones like ‘Love It If We Made It’ and ‘Sincerity is Scary’ present such a profound and truthful depiction of the society we live in. An overall very innovative and original album, exploring as many themes as they do genres, and presenting an deeply accurate depiction of modernity and the emotions we experience in this new age of technological development.
Sofia C, Year 12