Albums of the Year: Number 20 to 11

Continuing our top 30 albums of 2018 countdown, and we start with some cheating – two joint 20s! I only discovered the Muncie Girls excellent album last week, so had to fit it in somewhere...


Joint 20.  Fixed Ideals    Muncie Girls
A late discovery, one I only heard during December, but its very enjoyable, energetic pop/punk but with subtle touches in terms of music and lyrics. Female fronted, so the obvious comparison is early Paramore, but actually there is more depth and subtlety here than that might suggest. This should perhaps be a bit higher in my list – as I say, I have only come to it recently.

Joint 20.   Cusp    Alela Diane
Oregano based singer-songwriter Diane has a beautiful, folky voice and on Cusp she sings about motherhood – the album title comes from her own near death experience during that process. It’s pretty dreamy and laid-back in terms of sound, lots of nice piano and acoustic guitar, but with often powerful lyrics. This is one of the stand-out tracks, but if you like this, you will enjoy the album.

19.   Dreamland    Audio Tonic
Declaring an interest – this Reading-based reggae / ska band now contains two of a friend of mine’s four sons. But it is really good stuff if you like that genre, original strong songs and playing and a great vibe. Hoping to see them live sometime, I imagine they would provide a great night out and the excuse for some serious Dad-dancing!

18.  Build a Tower    Slow Readers Club
The Mancunian’s rhythmic rock with driving guitars and keyboards is taking them from cult to mainstream attention, and this, their third album, hit the top 20. Joy Division and Interpol are influences, but the tunes are arguably stronger than most from those two bands, and the passionate, charismatic lead singer Aaron Starkie makes them a great live band too.

17.  May Your Kindness Remain    Courtney Marie Andrews
After her 2017 breakthrough album, a rapid follow up with more of a gospel / blues feel on some songs, along with the purer country style. Andrews’ beautiful voice works perfectly across those different styles and songs like the title track and this one (see video) sound like classics already. She’s spellbinding live too.

16.  Red    Hannah Trigwell
Yorkshire lass Trigwell became a star in some far-eastern countries through her cover versions on YouTube but this is her first album of mainly self-penned songs. The lyrics suggest she’s been through some heartache, while the songs range from an almost Kate Rusby folky feel to much more modern electronic dance-pop; she may need to focus more on a particular style if she wants to move to the next level of success, but her excellent voice provides the consistency. She deserves to be big here as well as in Korea… Another artist we very much enjoyed live this year too.

15.  The Magic Gang    The Magic Gang
Not the best year for British indie, but this was a very accomplished debut from the Magic Gang. The Brighton boys are influenced more by the Beatles and Beach boys than Oasis, and what is clear is that there's a lot more they can do in terms of songwriting and musical talent. Most of the songs are upbeat, very catchy indie-pop-rock, with great four part harmonies, but with this track they showed their undoubted potential for something a bit deeper.  Another very strong live band too.

14.  High as Hope    Florence and the Machine
The most restrained album yet from the magical Florence, which means she dials back the vocal power and emotion to about 9.5.  A couple of more thoughtful tracks do indicate a certain maturing, and make it a more balanced album than her last - but really, she has quite a back catalogue now, and she's one of the very best British artists of the last 10 years or so. This track is just gorgeous.

13.  No Place Is Home    Welshly Arms
The great thing about Reading Festival is you see bands you would never otherwise come across and get knocked out by them. Welshly Arms are from Ohio and their passionate blues-rock blends heritage influences like Free and early Kings of Leon with more than a touch of gospel from two great backing vocalists. But they also have a knack for more contemporary keyboard-driven huge Imagine Dragons style pop anthems like this.

12.  Palo Santo    Years and Years
Olly Alexander is a star, a good old-fashioned star, and this second album launched the band into the highest levels of critical and fan approbation. That’s because of their ability to write seemingly simple songs like this – you may not even like it on first hearing, but I guaraantee it will get into your head and stay there - this will still be played in 50 years' time. Brilliant (in both senses) electro dance-pop with a beating, emotional heart.

11.  Isaac Gracie   Isaac Gracie
Gracie’s debut album was not the quiet, introspective "shy boy in the bedroom with guitar" album I’d expected based on his early tracks. It has some very upbeat songs, sounding as much Petty as Buckley, and this really stamped his presence on a crowded market of young-ish UK male singer-songwriters (Sheeran, Howard, Ezra, Odell etc). This is a great song, building from a low-key start into a real anthem.


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