The 18 best albums of 2018 so far - as recommended by 6 Music
By Paul Stokes, 16 July 2018
Forget the World Cup, the battle to be on 6 Music Recommends' Albums Of The Year list is even more fierce. To mark passing the halfway point of 2018, we're taking a look at which records might make the cut at the end of the year, as part of our celebration of the best new music since January.
To take stock of where we are, here are 18 favourites from the first half 2018, in no particular order - all the albums released between January and June.
How many are on your list, and how many will still make the cut by the end of the year?
First Aid Kit – Ruins
Touring and recording constantly since releasing their debut EP in 2008, sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg needed a break by April 2016 to let life catch up with them.
Experience – for good or for ill – has given Ruins its vivid colours of heartbreak and hope
And it is those experiences – for good or for ill – that have given their fourth album Ruins its vivid colours of heartbreak and hope.
Recorded in the sunshine of Los Angeles, with help from the likes of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Laura Veirs, First Aid Kit's fourth record proves darkly personal at times, although there's optimism flowering in these elegant Ruins.
Nils Frahm – All Melody
For his seventh album Nils Frahm didn’t just build sounds and melodies, he built a brand new studio in Berlin too.
All Melody was imagined to be so many things over timeNils Frahm
While it helped hone his DIY skills, the space's true worth has been to give the neo-classical composer more room (both artistically and physically) than ever before, allowing him to really experiment before committing All Melody to tape.
"All Melody was imagined to be so many things over time," Frahm has said, "but never exactly what I planned it to be."
Vivid and intense, All Melody is a spectrum-spanning experience that proves to be Frahm's most ambitious work yet.
Various - Black Panther OST
Superhero film soundtracks aren't normally this innovative – but then again, they aren’t often curated by one of the most cutting edge artists in the world.
Strong, proud, yet suitably dramatic
Asked to contribute tracks for one of Marvel's more uncompromising pictures, Kendrick Lamar went beyond the brief, both complimenting and rivalling the original score with his own tracks, enlisting Vince Staples, ScHoolboy Q, The Weeknd and more to contribute too.
Strong, proud, yet suitably dramatic, Black Panther pounces both as a soundtrack and an artistic work in its own right.
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Trouble up north? Stories of solo albums, no lead singles and new haircuts swirled around before the arrival of Arctic Monkeys' eighth album, but rumours of their creative demise proved premature (and highly unlikely any time soon).
Turner’s lyrics boast sci-fi tinges and a Fellini-esque ability to write about the creation of the art itself
Ramping up the melodic palate Alex Turner explored in his 2011 Submarine soundtrack with a wider group of musicians – including Cam Avery of Tame Impala, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino embraces broader horizons musically, while Turner’s lyrics boast sci-fi tinges and a Fellini-esque ability to write about the creation of the art itself while remaining credibly universal.
It means that, for those checking in to Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a five-star stay is assured.
Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer
Scarred by heartbreak, tortured by hope, Josh Tillman and the Father John Misty crooner persona he has steadily fashioned have taken a step closer together with their moving and raw fourth album.
Josh Tillman and his Father John Misty persona take a step closer together
Of course it's not devoid of a few jokes – it couldn’t be Father John without some comic nods – but with those wry eyes full of tears, plus a swelling, often unashamedly old school instrumentation.
God’s Favourite Customer - Tillman's fourth album under the moniker and follow-up to 2017's Pure Comedy - reveals that there's a real heart beating beneath the layers of irony that lacquered his previous records.
Gwenno – Le Kov
Luis Fonsi's Despacito may be musical Marmite, but it's undoubtedly an encouraging sign of things to come as streaming breaks down global boundaries around language and music. And Gwenno’s work with one of the under-appreciated tongues right under our noses proves equally timely.
The bright psychedelic swells that underpin Le Kov are as vivid as its Cornish lyrics
Though raised in Wales, Gwenno Saunders' bilingual parents ensured she grew up speaking Cornish as well as Cymraeg, and on her second album, Le Kov, she utilises that skill brilliantly, partly as a reaction to government cuts to funds promoting the West Country language.
Of course, one of the other languages in which Saunders excels is melody, and the bright psychedelic swells that underpin Le Kov prove as vivid and intriguing as its sharp Cornish syllables.
Kamasi Washington – Heaven And Earth
It's a jazz rite of passage that any would-be player needs to earn their "chops". However, while L.A. born Kamasi Washington has undoubtedly put the time in, his musical apprenticeship is far from traditional with everyone from Ryan Adams to Kendrick Lamar calling on his brass work.
Washington's albums have rebooted jazz while respecting the strongest elements of the genre’s DNA
It’s not surprising then that his own albums have sought to reboot jazz traditions while respecting the strongest elements of the genre’s DNA.
His sixth solo album continues the upgrade, with its contrasting Heaven and Earth sides boasting a sweeping ambition that, while rooted in jazz's foundations, attempts to forge its own, distinct future.
Shame – Songs Of Praise
Emerging from the same surroundings – and, in fact, pub – in South London as Fat White Family, Shame possess the same charge and serrating energy that has typified their local scene, along with a healthy deployment of humour and satire.
Songs Of Praise is a maelstrom of failed relationships, self-doubt and questionable ambition
However, where their contemporaries have opted for surrealism or social observation, this Steve Lamacq-endorsed outfit have turned their cynicism on themselves.
Their debut, Songs Of Praise, is a maelstrom of failed relationships, self-doubt and questionable ambition, one likely to resonate with its listeners' own insecurities.
Angry and abrasive on the outside, Shame have an endearingly soft centre. Praise be!
Tune-Yards – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life
Drawing on Haitian and Kenyan musical traditions, and the beats she’s mastered while DJing, Tune-Yards' fourth album is her most upbeat and open collection of music to date. Yet chiselled into the lyrics of Merrill Garbus' work with long-time collaborator Nate Brenner is a wary, angry sadness.
Tune-Yards' lyrical and sonic cocktails will stimulate your mind
While the music may feel immediate and inviting, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life delves into weighty issues of identity, cultural appropriation and guilt, creating songs that demand further digestion and thought.
Tune-Yards entertains, but her lyrical and sonic cocktails ensure she stimulates your mind too.
Superorganism – Superorganism
Online forums are a decent way to share music fandom around the world, but they've never really created a decent, globe-spanning band... till now.
Superorganism's musical mass delivers a mind-expanding mix of ideas, cultures and vocals
After "geeking out" together online about their favourite tunes, the members of eight-piece Superorganism travelled from America, New Zealand and South Korea and assembled in an unassuming terraced house in East London to make music together.
It might seem a head-spinning membership, but this musical mass delivers an equally mind-expanding mix of ideas, cultures and vocals on their electronically-tinged, self-titled debut.
Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
The third album from the Edinburgh trio sees them honing their experimentation into their sleekest delivery yet, while adding big, overarching lyrical concepts.
A bittersweet blast of accessible musical textures and sharp words
The results, like the title, Cocoa Sugar, are a bittersweet blast of accessible musical textures and sharp words as they consider what it is to be an outsider.
The three-piece have lost none of their edge with this smoother approach, though. In fact, a more direct delivery means Young Fathers' essence – both musically and lyrically – comes to the fore more vividly than ever on the album.
Baloji – 137 Avenue Kaniama
Born in the Congo and raised in Belgium, rapper Baloji occupies a unique perch from which to take stock of both African and European life and culture.
Rapper Baloji occupies a unique perch from which to take stock of both Africa and Europe
Musically, this means 137 Avenue Kaniama is brought to life with a mix of Afrobeats, 808s and synths, while lyrically he provides perspectives from each continent.
With experience as a filmmaker to call on, the songs on Baloji's second album paint vivid, truly global pictures as he juxtaposes migrants and smartphone junkies, estranged families and new communities, while bringing each track to life with its own evocative and compelling mini soundtrack.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food
Having previously recorded much of his work in a basement studio, Ruban Nielson’s sessions for Unknown Mortal Orchestra's latest album were almost a world tour in themselves.
Sessions for Unknown Mortal Orchestra's latest album were almost a world tour in themselves
Though partly made in familiar, subterranean surroundings at his current home in Portland, Sex & Food was also fashioned in Mexico City, Seoul, Hanoi and Reykjavik, as well as Neilson’s native Auckland.
Whether it's down to the glamorous locations or travel between sessions, UMO’s fourth record smoulders with a fiery expansiveness that mixes pockets of atmospheric space with an austere, yet tuneful lustre.
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Having successfully merged the emotion of his classical compositional background with the energy of the modern dancefloor on 2013’s Immunity, Jon Hopkins is busy expanding the boundaries of his freshly created musical universe.
A treasure trove that merges cerebral patterns and hip-moving beats
Adding further depth and shade to the sonic spaces he created previously, Hopkins' assured approach on Singularity allows him to play with his musical arsenal – atmospheres, pianos and pulsing rhythms – to create a treasure trove that merges cerebral patterns and hip-moving beats.
Singularity, the album's title-track, is a six minute-plus charged and ringing odyssey, and a must-listen.
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Barnett’s charm is that she can turn her personal neuroses into open, accessible pop
With much changing for the singer-songwriter during that period, the confessional nature of Barnett’s songs ensures that Tell Me How You Really Feel is a different beast from its predecessor.
Not only is there a guest appearance from The Breeders' Deal sisters on several tracks, but Barnett adopts a slightly more sober tone as she candidly examines what it is like to be a lyricist from whom much is expected.
However as with her debut, 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett’s charm is that she can turn her personal neuroses into open, accessible pop. While her second album might have darker hues, its tracks are still warmly inviting.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
Having turned heads with their stand out French Press EP at the end of 2017, Aussie outfit Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have rapidly consolidated their international breakthrough, releasing their debut LP in the first half of 2018.
A bright collection of instantly addictive, jangle-led pop
As plucky as that extended EP, Hope Downs is bright collection of instantly addictive, jangle-led pop, though it is brimming with enough ideas and taut melodies to suggest that the Melbourne five-piece are not just mining indie’s sparkling past, but also forging an intriguing and innovative future for it too.
Dream Wife – Dream Wife
Boasting a hard resilience and a minty fresh approach, it is entirely appropriate that Dream Wife hail from Brighton, the home of rock (not that kind).
Brash, vivid, uncompromising and articulate
Although initially forming for a Spinal Tap-esque rockumentary intended as part of an art project one of the trio was making while studying at the seaside city’s university, there’s nothing frivolous about the trio’s music.
Brash, vivid, uncompromising and articulate, Dream Wife’s self-titled debut is a energetic mix of real emotion, clever ideas and passionate punk.
Gaz Coombes – World’s Strongest Man
While 2012’s Here Come The Bombs was a noble experiment (yielding some great moments), it wasn’t until 2015’s Matador that Gaz Coombes (whose sideburns alone were identifiable as the spirit of Supergrass) truly found a sonic framework to house his distinctive vocals outside of the 'Grass.
Gaz heads into enjoyably uncharted territory as he flexes his musical muscles
With those dark, hypnotic and enveloping melodies in place, his third solo effort, World’s Strongest Man, blossoms with confidence.
Inspired by Grayson Perry’s book The Descent Of Man into questioning masculinity – his own and that of others – Coombes has not only found a subject for serious lyrical meditation, but one that takes him into enjoyably uncharted territory as he flexes his musical muscles.