At least the music was good though. So let's focus on that and just get on with the albums of the year. We asked the JFC music writers what their top five records of 2018 were. Here's what they said:
5. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me
I’d never heard of this New Zealand band before 2018 but their debut album is one I keep coming back to. Filled with plenty of catchy hooks and angsty lyrics, it’s hard to not get caught up in the energy of this album. Songs like Little Death and Not Running are personal highlights and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Wolf Alice album. It’s the ‘singing into your hairbrush’ album of the year that proves that guitar pop is still alive and kicking.
4. Maribou State – Kingdoms in Colour
On their latest release Maribou State returned sounding confident and ambitious. It’s a kaleidoscope of a record that meshes colourful and unique global influences with their trademark electronic pop. Two songs feature Holly Walker, a frequent collaborator, whose vocals continue to compliment Maribou State’s sound perfectly. Elsewhere vocals are cut and distorted expertly, in particular Feel Good stands out as a beautiful example of how minimal vocals can be used to great effect. All of the songs are instantly enjoyable and while it might not be hugely innovative, it’s just really fun to listen to.
3. Robyn – Honey
On her first album in eight years, Robyn finally seems to be shaking off the ‘guilty pleasure’ label she’s sometimes unfairly branded with. From the first track Missing U it’s clear that we are in for an emotional journey as she winds her tender heartbreak lyrics around a pulsing beat. Each song builds upon the last with beautiful pacing until we reach the chilled climax of Ever Again as the perfect closer. In a time where the charts are saturated with disposable pop, Robyn reminds us of how effective this genre can be when done right.
2. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
Young Fathers somehow made their most accessible yet most experimental album to date with Cocoa Sugar. It took me a while to get into many of these songs; however, with repeated listens the odd quirks and sound effects pierce through and hook you into coming back again and again. Young Fathers are undoubtedly one of the most innovative bands around right now and Cocoa Sugar encapsulates that excitement perfectly. Also the artwork is killer!
1. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
At this point Jon Hopkins could probably release an album of him breathing heavily into a microphone for 45 minutes and it would still top my albums list. Coming anywhere close to 2013’s Immunity was always a steep ask but on his newest release he has managed to create his most coherent album yet. Listening to Singularity is a totally immersive experience which demands your full attention and rewards you with every listen. After numerous listens I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of this album and finding time to listen to it in its entirety still fills me with excitement.
5. Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar
Okay so I'm from Edinburgh, I live in Leith, I just have to pick this album. But it stands up and Young Fathers deliver another energetic album full of captivating drum beats and mesmerising vocal harmonies, which possess me on every listen as my body spasms to the beat while I dance down Leith walk. Their punk rock energy and soulful hooks shine through particularly well on songs such as Border Girl and Wow while their lead single In My View shows a more poppy side to the trio and I wish them nothing but more mainstream success.
4. Ocean Wisdom - Wizville
High Focus artist Ocean Wisdom was just bound for success, with his effortless flow and charming swagger his songs are so enjoyable to listen to. His lyrics come across as thoughtful and the rhyming schemes he puts to work are constantly changing, keeping the songs exciting and hypnotic. Songs like I ain't Eaten build so much tension and leaves you full of air ready to pop until the song explodes with energy. Ocean is the light, he is the bridge we needed, to connect UK underground hip hop to Grime and American hip hop and is doing it in style on this album with help from legendary acts such as Dizzee Rascal and Method Man.
3. Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)
Will Toledo returns with an album from the past. Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror) was originally released in 2011 on bandcamp and played a major role in the band’s initial success. Here it’s reworked and released through Matador Records as Twin Fantasy (Face to Face). Much more polished and precise, Will Toledo is able to engulf you within his stories and emotions through 13 minute epics like Beach-Life-in-Death to one minute snapshots. There are so many intimate moments on this album fuelled by youth, love and sexual confusion but it also proves to be more dancey than Teens of Denial, with songs such as Bodys which crescendos into a chaotic soup of guitars and synths bleeding into each other which sounds magnificent.
2. Brockhampton - Iridescence
The best boy band since One Direction come through with their first major label release hot off the tails of the Saturation series. With so much talent in one group they bring an energy unmatched by any other act i have seen and this album showcases their ability to switch from hip hop bangers such as Where the Cash at to heart wrenching songs like San Marcos, an acoustic guitar driven ballad with Bearface and Russell Boring stealing the show with their intimate verses. One of my favourite things to happen in music for a long time and i look forward to seeing what moves they make in 2019.
1. Denzel Curry - TA13OO
This album has everything for me. First of all Denzel’s flow is crazy and his execution is so emotionally charged it’s intimidating at times. Secondly he crafts his own unique sound and then blends it together, from the 90's hip hop edge on Black Balloons to the best example of a metal influence being used in hip hop i have ever seen. Far from the years of nu-metal, Black Metal terrorist blends the two sounds into a raw industrial noise which gets me charged up on every listen. There is not a bad song on the album and they all deliver a refreshing sound capturing Zeltron (his alter ego) and Curry's personality through a trip into their mind.
5. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
The Edinburgh-based trio tend to take dead aim at any easy classification or definition. Their music plays out the uneasiness with the assumed order of life that is felt in every lyric. But mostly, Young Fathers make massive records, with Cocoa Sugar brimming with energy, and lines that will spend days running at breakneck speed round your head. Lord beautifully mixes gospel with various genres. The deep synth and incessant rhythm of Toy, however, make it the stand-out song on the record, for me, full of everything that makes them the group they are.
4. Editors – Violence
It may seem strange to admit in this list, but this is far from a perfect album. There are definite highs and lows. But there are three tracks which comfortably qualify the whole as one of the year’s best. Hallelujah (So Low) starts slow, with the expected mix of guitar and synth that has made Editors famous. But when the riff finally kicks, it blows away just about all past efforts. The title track is pleasingly reminiscent of the band’s early tracks, while Magazine is haunting and infectious; quite simply it is an all-round belter.
3. Enrico Sanguiliano – Biomorph
If you are looking for the record that has done the most to shape a genre in 2018, you won’t be far off with Biomorph’s impact on techno. It is a blissful, crafted mixture of beautiful ambient electronica and ear-shattering drops. The first few tracks slowly weave through different atmospheres before Generative Model kicks things up a gear. Swooshing synths and punishing basslines characterise most of the record, reaching its peak with Symbiosis. Several of the tracks have become absolute staples at techno festivals, and big-name DJs have introduced the Italian’s beats to fans around the globe.
2. Rüfüs du Sol – Solace
While the Australian trio found major success with 2015’s Bloom, this album sees them really come into their own. There is a real mix of moods and sounds, often found lacking on electronic records. Things kick off with Treat You Better, which is, all in all, a sweet love song. No Place has had the most success as a single, charting in the US as well as domestically. But the darkness and vocal hooks on Underwater and Lost in My Mind mark these two as the album’s most interesting points. The trio backed up the record with a rip-roaring world tour.
1. Chvrches – Love is Dead
“We don’t play many slow songs, they bum people out… we just play sad songs in an upbeat way” – singer Lauren Mayberry pretty much summed up the appeal of Chvrches’ brand of electro-pop during their latest tour. The songs have genuine depth and thoughtful lyrics, but always wrapped up in pretty rhythmic paper and shiny chorus bows. Love is Dead may even rival the heights of the band’s previous album (Every Open Eye) for delivering tune after tune, each in turn bringing a grin to your face and making you get up and dance. Just try Miracle and thank me later.
5. Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar
The pride of Edinburgh. A second Mercury award, another SAY award, and still the first group I put on whenever someone looks at me like “Scottish hip hop” is an oxymoron. Young Fathers have been heaped in praise for Cocoa Sugar, and with good reason too. Eclectic, danceable and intelligent as ever, Young Fathers build on everything they’re loved for - their originality, pounding electronic beats, lyrical prowess and the energy that makes them one of the best live acts in the world. See In My View, Tremolo, Holy Ghost and Wow.
4. Benjamin Folke Thomas - Modern Man
I first saw Swede Benjamin Folke Thomas supporting the wonderful John Murry at Sneaky Pete’s. He played a great opening set, and Stuff of Dreams stuck with me, an 80s-style folk-pop song, fit with incredibly catchy, singalong melody, and wonderful, surreal lyrics about the artist having a fictional meeting with actor Paul Newman while playing 9-ball pool in his local bar. It’s a fantastic song, so I was eagerly awaiting the release of Modern Man, and it didn’t disappoint. One Day is songwriting brilliance - “I’ll become right wing / forget about the poverty and the troubles I’ve been in” - Dead Horizon shows a core of rock, Lily Like a Gunslinger a murder ballad about a woman shooting her husband dead inspired by considerations of male privilege. Nature of Ways feels, lyrically in particular, incredibly Cohen. This is an intelligent, listenable and incredibly fun record.
3. Malcolm Middleton - Bananas
There’s a funny picture of a bunch of bananas on the front cover of Bananas. That’s fun, isn’t it? Well, the lead single is called Love is a Momentary Lapse in Self-Loathing. So yeah, it’s still pretty peak Malcolm Middleton. The former-Arab Strap man follows a deeply depressive, theme on Bananas. There’s lots of black wit. Love is a Momentary Lapse in Self-Loathing features the line “fuck off with your happiness”. Man Up, Man Down is self-explanatory. Opener Gut Feeling brutally relatable for many. The melodies meanwhile are largely the opposite. Upbeat guitars and drums on Buzz Lightyear Helmet are reflective of the unique sound; distinctive, catchy, listenable and relistenable, and with fascinating subject matter.
2. Kanye West - ye
Ugh. Look, I don’t want Kanye West to be in the top albums list any more than you do. This year more than ever it’s been particularly hard to deny the guy is a dickhead. But ye is an incredible album. I Thought About Killing You is one of the most startling, attention-grabbing, remarkable opening tracks to an album I can recall. One of those you pop in your headphones, then end up having to stop while walking down the street because you need to concentrate on listening. It’s a stunning piece of spoken word writing and performance, and an unusual, fascinating exploration of mental health, perception and expectation. Yikes is a high energy call back to some of the best of Life of Pablo. Wouldn’t Leave is a jaw-dropping listen on numerous level. Only seven tracks, yes, but it’s hard to flaw them.
1. Karine Polwart with Steven Polwart & Inge Thomas - Laws of Motion
One of the most beautiful records to come out of Scotland in recent memory, I first heard Laws of Motion on Roddy Hart’s brilliant BBC Scotland radio show. I Burn But I Am Not Consumed played - a spoken word song about the Scottish history of the Trump family, written from the perspective of the rock of the Isle of Lewis left me absolutely stunned. If you use Trump as subject matter, you better be original, and you better be good, and that song is one of the most unique and remarkable of the year. The rest of the record is just as engaging, moving, and intrinsically Scottish. Start to finish, there’s not a bad song on it.