6 Music Recommends Albums Of The Year 2018
What a year of music 2018 has been: Arctic Monkeys went sci-fi, psych inspired a whole new generation, jazz was more exciting than ever and across the board artists were releasing albums so good that we almost failed to notice that there wasn't a Glastonbury this year.
Well-established favourites like Low, Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks and Field Music returned in stunning form, while newer acts on the block, from The Orielles and She Drew The Gun to Let’s Eat Grandma, offered us fresh ways to fall in love with music.
We've seen acts spawning from other acts (Loma bringing together members of Shearwater and Cross Record, Gabe Gurnsey going solo from Factory Floor), while bands like IDLES have combatted political and personal turmoil with urgent musical response.
It's been tough to whittle it down to just 10 top releases, but here are the 6 Music Recommends Albums Of The Year for 2018. We asked our presenters, tallied their votes, and here's their top 10 list. Also, you can find out who made our DJs' lists of personal faves too.
10. She Drew The Gun - Revolution Of The Mind
The 2016 winners of Glastonbury's Emerging Talent contest, Liverpool four-piece She Drew The Gun follow a fine line of fellow cosmic Merseyside psych groups (from The Beatles to The Teardrop Explodes to The Coral), and also cite hometown heroes like The La's and The Lightning Seeds as influences. On Revolution of the Mind (produced by The Coral's own James Skelly), singer, songwriter and guitarist Louisa Roach and her band delve deep into wide-eyed psychedelia, infusing it with dubby spaces and jangling guitars.
I am a sucker for dirty, loud guitarsLiz Kershaw
But it's not simply an escapism trip. Roach's lyrics address important and timely topics - from feminism to food banks - and aim to inspire, in Roach's own words: "empowerment; resisting; arming yourself with knowledge; questioning the status quo, questioning your own state of mind and how it’s affected by the systems we live in". It makes for a rich lucid dream of personal anxieties and political anger, couched in some seriously compulsive songs.
Liz Kershaw: "I am a sucker for dirty, loud guitars, so it was gonna be a win-win situation even before I heard it. And it's just a great collection of pop songs: full volume, in the car, in the home, in the studios here, up to 11 with the walls wobbling. [It was] recorded at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool, so there’s an extra brownie point."
She Drew The Gun: "Wow, what an honour to make it into this list. Massive thank you to everyone at 6 Music. Nice one for supporting my little antidote to late capitalism; long live 6 Music."
9. The Orielles - Silver Dollar Moment
Halifax trio The Orielles may have formed after bonding over a shared love of 90s US bands like Sonic Youth and Pixies, but their debut Silver Dollar Moment is packed with rapturous moments that fans of UK acts from that decade - like Stereolab or Saint Etienne - will love too. There’s hints as well of early Stone Roses among the winning freakbeat jangle of I Only Bought It For The Bottle and the loungey The Sound of Liminal.
They have a special, unique perspective on the worldLauren Laverne
They bring a surreal touch to their transcendent indie-pop too, and you can partly attribute their sense of musical adventure to early work with Jez Kerr of A Certain Ratio, but moreover this trippy record is proof that they’ve forged their own deeply affecting sound.
Lauren Laverne: "I love that they're doing things that other people aren't. They try things that sound really fresh and different. Flanger on a guitar? Haven't heard one of those for about 20 years, but it sounds bloody good again. Their songwriting is sweet, funny and charming. They have a special, unique perspective on the world and I can’t wait to hear what they do next."
The Orielles: "We feel very blessed that Silver Dollar Moment has been chosen as one of 6 Music’s albums of the year. They have been continuously supportive over the past year, making SDM Album of the Day on release day, playlisting our singles and inviting us in for live sessions. Thank you guys, big love!"
8. Sons Of Kemet - Your Queen Is A Reptile
Jazz never went away, but it has definitely felt rejuvenated over the past few years, and Mercury Prize-nominated London quartet Sons of Kemet are one of the many UK acts propelling their latest wave. Their third album, the boldly titled Your Queen Is A Reptile, sees urgent polyrhythms and snaking melodies jostle with irresistible energy. Shabaka Hutchings's saxophone takes the lead narrative role, cool and smooth, jabbing and assertive, often countered by Theon Cross’s earthy tuba.
The record moves seamlessly through all manner of sounds, influences and beatsGideon Coe
Each track is named after a black female hero (with every title beginning My Queen Is...), and inspiration is drawn from figures ranging from Hutchings’s Barbadian great-grandmother Ada Eastman to American abolitionist Harriet Tubman. With help from slam poet Josh Idehen and jungle DJ Congo Natty, the dots between jazz, dub and, at times, hip hop are seamlessly joined. It's a frenetically joyous record that overflows with excellence.
Gideon Coe: "This record punctuated the show for many weeks either side of its release. I think we must have worked our way through most of it. Each tune is searingly good. The instrumentation may lead this to be classified as a jazz album and there are, of course, elements of that. However, such is the dexterity of the musicians involved that the record moves seamlessly through all manner of sounds, influences and beats. I felt sure they’d win the Mercury Prize this year, which shows what I know. No matter, they made one of the best records of the year. One that I’ll return to time and time again."
Sons Of Kemet's Shabaka Hutchings: "It’s great that our music is given this level of visibility and appreciation. The messages, sonic and otherwise, are just beginnings of conversations we hope can resonate throughout society with nuanced discourse."
7. BEAK> - >>>
Back in 2009, BEAK>'s eponymous first album offered a new lease of life to Portishead's sonic architect Geoff Barrow. "Music can be so tedious when it becomes a business, when you’re talking more about other stuff than doing the stuff you did to get you into music in the first place," he told the Guardian. "With BEAK>, I got back on the drums and felt like a 12-year-old, just smashing stuff."
The album is a sinewy masterpiece... I love their sense of mischiefMarc Riley
Almost a decade on, and BEAK>'s third album is a moody gem, full of treats like the darkly funky, sci-fi gleaming Allé Sauvage, the lurching folk-horror soundtrack of Abbots Leigh, and the driving, tense Brean Down, with its somewhat inaccurate refrain of "You don't like our music 'cause it ain't up on the radio."
Marc Riley: "I love their slightly sinister krautrock leanings and sense of mischief. The album is a sinewy masterpiece. When they came in to play a few songs from it on our show they brought with them (as usual) a light show and their own PA. They won’t wear headphones; they play in a mini gig style. We all laughed long and hard that night – particularly about the story of them performing to a massive festival crowd in Europe recently where the biggest cheers they got all night was after their rendition of Dire Straits' Sultans of Swing. A brilliant band. A brilliant album."
BEAK>: "We are thrilled and truly blessed at this acknowledgment of our art. Peace to every one of Earth's children."
6. Gabe Gurnsey - Physical
Physical, the debut solo album from Factory Floor man Gabe Gurnsey, sees him taking a markedly different path from that of his band’s hypnotically driving post-punk techno. Gurnsey says he wanted it to be a "real departure" and that he wished to "explore new avenues", a celebration of "euphoria and tension" that draws from "the two very connected basic primal instincts of sexual attraction and our instilled affinity with rhythm".
Emphatic, confident, menacing, yet really warm throughoutNemone
Released on Erol Alkan's Phantasy label (and mixed by the producer too), Physical follows the arc of a night out. It’s aptly hedonistic, with touches of disco and early house with the likes of You Can, which bypasses your brain and goes straight to your limbs. It also draws upon futuristic themes, looking at ideas of virtual reality: is this night out real or part of a VR world? And is the shedding of one's real self and adopting new personalities for a night a form of VR?
Nemone: "This record made my ears prick up as soon as I heard the opening bars, which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It feels like a coming-of-age: emphatic, confident, menacing, yet really warm throughout, and bringing synths to the fore in such a lovely way. It’s quite a seductive listen, and you feel drawn into what Gabe is saying. Despite wanting to explore the more celebratory sound of dance music, it was impossible to keep that kind of note of unease from creeping in and I think you can detect an air in the album – the synths and the sax, the kind of paranoia. It’s a brilliant record for this year taking in the socio-political landscape it was produced in. See if it transports you like it has me."
Gabe Gurnsey: "It's always a great feeling having such a positive reaction to something you've put so much of yourself into. I'm very happy everyone at 6 Music is enjoying Physical and a massive thanks for including me in the top albums of 2018. It's a real honour. Here's to 2019!"
5. Low - Double Negative
It’s always exciting when an established act stuns you with a new side to their music. From the moment Alan Sparhawk’s voice struggles its way through grating, digitally distorted noise on Quorum, a melody gentle and gorgeous flapping its new, damp wings, it’s clear that Low, after 25 years of establishing themselves as masters of soft slowcore indie ambience, have some big surprises in store. The band teamed up for the record with producer B.J. Burton, who had previously worked with rap acts like Eminem and Lizzo, and Sparhawk says he was interested to see where "a hip hop guy" could take their music.
Their music unfolds at a very measured, almost stately paceIggy Pop
There's also another sense of flux and change at play, with the album recorded during the US Presidential election and Donald Trump's first year in office. "I think our music a lot of the time struggles with [questions of] 'Who am I? What is truth? What is the correct path'," Sparhawk has said. Ultimately, Double Negative finds beauty and hope among anger and fractures, skilfully weaving modern, harsh sounds into a sound that is recognisably Low: sacred music for a very new age.
Iggy Pop: "What really gets to me about this band and the recordings they make is the incredible confidence with which they are able to let their music unfold at a very, very measured, almost stately pace, that’s really hard to do in music, and still maintain the vibe. When I’m listening to them, I always notice that there’s an incredible mood, but there’s nothing I can point to; there’s no trick, there’s no incredible virtuosity or obvious overdub to which you can attribute it, it’s just the whole is very fine... I’ve got to take my hat off to Low."
Low's Alan Sparhawk: "We’d like to give a warm thank you to 6 Music for choosing us as one of the best records of the year for our Double Negative. It was really fun to make, and really challenging, and it was kind of a surprise that people have embraced it so much."
4. Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Ever since being hailed as the scrappy saviours of indie back in 2005, Arctic Monkeys have taken gleeful pleasure in repeatedly dodging expectations. After all, their debut was called Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Each of their six studio albums to date have seen them take surprising and ambitious routes (the dusty desert rock of 2009's Humbug, the sharp, speaker-blowing arena-rock of AM in 2013) while still leading us back to what made us love them in the first place.
Brimming with ideas, wit and a hint of menaceStuart Maconie
Along the way, they've grown in ambition, and while Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino could be seen as stripping things back, it's also their most startling and unpredictable release yet. Finding himself stymied by the predictability of the guitar ("as a writing tool I knew where I was going to go with it when I picked it up and that was holding me back", he told 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq), Alex Turner wrote the majority of the record in his spare room in LA, on an upright piano.
Inspired by cult Italian director Federico Fellini's 1963 surrealist film 8½ and the 1975 Dion record Born to Be With You, the songs form a concept album about the exodus to a future moon colony. The story is told by a roguish, often absurd collection of characters, who take swipes at the present as they outline its future (as Turner croons on Batphone: "I launch my fragrance called Integrity / I sell the fact that I can’t be bought").
The music to match this strange sci-fi scenario was dreamt up in a Paris mansion: lush, louche, glitzy, with loungey soul and soft rock touches. "Maybe I just imagined it all," wonders Turner on One Point Perspective. Well, he did, of course, yet Arctic Monkeys have never felt more real.
Stuart Maconie: "Brimming with ideas, wit and a hint of menace, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is Arctic Monkeys' Diamond Dogs; Sheffield steel running through a sci-fi satire on politics, stardom and the modern craziness. Dark, smart, sexy and hugely accomplished, this is a masterpiece by the last great ambitious proletarian band of their kind."
3. Kamasi Washington - Heaven And Earth
Los Angeles sax man Kamasi Washington has worked with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Run The Jewels, but on his second solo album Heaven and Earth, it's his jazz wizardry and truly creative mind that emerges as the real star. "The world that my mind lives in, lives in my mind. This idea inspired me to make this album," Washington has explained of his record's genesis.
A wild journey into modern spiritual jazzMary Anne Hobbs
He elaborated: "We are simultaneously the creators of our personal universe and creations of our personal universe. The Earth side of this album represents the world as I see it outwardly, the world that I am a part of. The Heaven side of this album represents the world as I see it inwardly, the world that is a part of me. Who I am and the choices I make lie somewhere in between."
Where Washington's debut album, The Epic, explored the musical foundation of counterpoint, Heaven and Earth explored these binary forces, introverted and extroverted, as well as the material world and the inner. Musically, it took from retro cosmic soul with celestial strings, and fused it with a hard-bopping intensity.
"This album kind of goes on this journey for me that leads to... the idea that each of us has control over our universe, our world, and if we want the world to be a beautiful place, it’s only a matter of us all making our little worlds beautiful," Washington told Lauren Laverne. And what a beautiful universe he has offered up for us to explore on Heaven and Earth.
Mary Anne Hobbs: "Kamasi Washington is the man who led the way in terms of turning a whole new generation onto jazz. His album Heaven and Earth is a wild journey into the modern spiritual jazz sound, made with virtuoso band members that Kamasi has been playing with in Los Angeles since he was born. I invented a new word this year to describe the joy of his live show and everyone who's seen him play gets it, because once you’ve been 'Kamasi'd', you’ll never be the same again."
Kamasi Washington: "Such an honour to have my album Heaven and Earth included in 6 Music's Top 10 Albums Of The Year! I am in the company of great artists on this list and humbled by the honour!"
2. Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo
The sound of Texan trio Khruangbin is a truly global musical melting pot. They're named after the Thai word for "aeroplane", and their influences are rooted deeply in world music, paying particular homage to little-known obscure South-East Asian funk, Middle Eastern pop, the music of the Mediterranean funk, Jamaican reggae and Southern soul.
A beautifully-executed collection of soulful and somewhat funky psychedeliaDon Letts
There's a deeply personal aspect to Con Todo El Mundo too, with the album partly dedicated to bassist Laura Lee's Mexican-American grandfather, a formative influence on her ("He created his own world to live in. Khruangbin is the world we’ve created").
Along with being accomplished musicians, they're enthusiastic music fans as well, often sharing playlists of their inspirations with fans. It’s this wide-ranging musical hunger that produces delights as varied as the narcotically dreamy Cómo Te Querio and the snappy, funk-popping Evan Finds The Third Room. Throughout, Con Todo El Mundo works as a great source of musical discovery.
Don Letts: "Beneath their tongue-twisting moniker lays a beautifully-executed collection of what is essentially soulful and somewhat funky psychedelia. This trio’s genre-bending dubby delivery is designed for you to relax in a very horizontal way and is perfect for that headphone moment. To be honest, this album’s one of those rare things in the 21st century in that it really is a complete body of work and best enjoyed that way."
Khruangbin: "6 Music was the first radio station to show support to Khruangbin, and we are truly honoured to be included in the list of top albums of 2018. Thank you."
1. IDLES - Joy As An Act Of Resistance
There can only be one winner and IDLES' record is a worthy one at that. The Bristol band's second album (and second record to make a 6 Music Albums of the Year list), Joy As An Act Of Resistance takes all the rage, passion, joy and dark humour that often defines our modern times and sends it screaming back with 12 ferociously beautiful tracks.
It's a really powerful record, articulate but quite acerbic... with understanding and wit, fury and frustrationSteve Lamacq
While IDLES' debut, 2017's Brutalism, centred around the death of singer Joe Talbot’s mother, Joy As An Act of Resistance finds the frontman confronting another heartbreaking trauma – the stillbirth of his daughter. At times, it certainly sounds like a catharsis. "When you're sharing, channels do get opened and this album is about keeping those channels open and getting a result out of it," guitarist Mark Bowen explains.
The result is a raw and visceral record that still manages to be witty and profound, somehow finding a way to shine a positive light on the whole gamut of life. "Joy as an Act of Resistance is a parade," Talbot wrote in a press release announcing the record. "It is the parade of being carried through the grim dark. It is a parade of laughing at yourself. It is love. It is loving yourself."
The album's highlight is Danny Nedelko, named after a Ukrainian friend of the band and showing solidarity with the country's immigrant population. The track manages to reference both Pavement and Yoda and, like the album as a whole, is a real masterpiece.
Steve Lamacq: "To me, the IDLES album is what I want to remember from 2018. Not the general sense of malaise, the backbiting and the uncertainty that's characterised part of the year; that general sense of gloom. I don't want that from 2018. I want to come away with this more optimistic sense of love and community... It's a really powerful record, articulate but quite acerbic... [with] understanding and wit, fury and frustration. It's got so many things in it, but it's almost like they've taken all the darkness, turned it upside down and come out with this record that touches on so many things... It says to people, 'look, if you love yourself then it's a lot easier to make sense of the world and to love other people'. As a manifesto, that suggests that in this case at least, resistance maybe isn't futile."
IDLES: "Being included in the list is obviously humbling but more so the recognition from an institution that represents a huge portion of what we love in music: hard work and vibrancy towards new ideas and creative thinking. Thank you to all at 6 Music for helping us build our careers and our faith in the music industry."
6 Music presenters' favourite albums:
Each presenter will share an album they loved from 2018 daily between 1 and 21 December, with a different DJ taking over the Album Of The Day slot each day with their personal favourite record of the year.
Here's the full list of what each presenter chose and when you can hear that album:
- Mark Radcliffe: Loma – Loma (1 December)
- Gideon Coe: Erland Cooper – Solan Goose (2 December)
- Mary Anne Hobbs: Nils Frahm – All Melody (3 December)
- Iggy Pop: Low – Double Negative (4 December)
- Don Letts: Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo (5 December)
- Marc Riley: BC Camplight – Deportation Blues (6 December)
- Nemone: Gabe Gurnsey – Physical (7 December)
- Tom Ravenscroft: DJ Khalab – Black Noise 2024 (8 December)
- Tom Robinson: Field Music – Open Here (9 December)
- Guy Garvey: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food (10 December)
- Stuart Maconie: Gazelle Twin – Pastoral (11 December)
- Gilles Peterson: Sons Of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile (12 December)
- Liz Kershaw: She Drew The Gun – Revolution Of Mind (13 December)
- Shaun Keaveny: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard (14 December)
- Amy Lamé: Sink Ya Teeth - Sink Ya Teeth (15 December)
- Craig Charles: JP Bimeni & The Black Belts – Free Me (16 December)
- Steve Lamacq: IDLES - Joy As An Act Of Resistance (17 December)
- Huey Morgan: Children Of Zeus – Travel Light (18 December)
- Cerys Matthews: Blood Orange – Negro Swan (19 December)
- Chris Hawkins: Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears (20 December)
- Lauren Laverne: Marlowe – Marlowe (21 December)
6 Music Recommends Day will celebrate the year in music on Thursday 13 December, with our favourite music from 2018 playing all day along with presenters picking their most beloved tracks.