So here it is, Merry Countdowns; everybody’s having fun. Before we look to the future (see: Jan issue) let us relive team Bristol in Stereo’s twenty favourite albums of 2018, in textbook Buzzfeed numerical form. “Number seven blew my mind.” It did, actually.
20 // Denzel Curry
Florida rapper Denzel Curry has always known how to piece together a banger. His aggressive, barked flows, coupled with bass-heavy trap beats have never failed to raise listeners’ blood pressure, but on TA13OO, Curry manages to create a brilliantly cohesive project that channels his wild energy.
The album – split into three acts – is a slow descent into madness, each track increasing in energy, while Curry spits his most direct and cutting lines to date. But at the same time, Curry lays himself bare, confessing his struggles with mental illness to display a fragility that balances out his more unhinged performances towards the tailend of the record. A versatile and technically-impressive rapper, TA13OO finds Denzel Curry speeding forward in a lane of his own making. Christian Northwood
19 // Lucy Dacus
It’s hard to admit it, but you probably wouldn’t be reading this if Lucy Dacus‘ fantastic album hadn’t crossed my path at the right moment this year. Dark were my days before hearing ‘Night Shift’, a guide to getting over a past relationship with your head held high. In the throws of a mission of self-care, learning to love and understanding what goes on around you, Historian takes you on a fantastic trip of wisdom, joie de vivre, loss and acceptance.
Dacus teaches us that time is both precious and ephemeral, and delivers it with rare kindness and her trademark tongue-in-cheek humour. Her album is a simple, step-by-step kit for well-being, provided by one of the most talented artists of the decade. Lor Nov
18 // Ezra Furman
Ezra Furman crams the turbulence, pain and beauty of queer reality into a fanciful road trip pop album. Their dramatic exile with an angel lover serves as a magical parable of marginalisation, breaking the norm with theatrical anthems of dark, dizzying splendour.
From the heat of tribal drumming, defiant trumpets rise above an uncompromising society in ‘No Place’; while steady monologues like ‘Compulsive Liar’ show a tragic insight into a life lived in secrecy. Curated with the sounds of old movie clips, a nostalgic world is reimagined with added thrusts of rebellion, fervent openings of closet doors, and tender first kisses in parents’ basements. Far beyond Pride, this is an exalting album – tormented but with moments of brave, relinquishing joy. Megan India McGurk
17 // D Double E
Newham Generals member, D Double E finally gifted us his debut solo record, Jackuum, this year. Boasting features from both established and emerging artists alike, the list includes Wiley, Skepta and AJ Tracey, serving perfectly as a nod to grime’s past, present and future. And considering Double’s long-standing contributions to the scene, there was really no-one better to do just that.
Swindle is among those with production credits, his track ‘Back Then’ detailing Double’s long career and in turn highlighting the criminality of this album’s timing. That said, the 20-track offering is itself a unique product of all that time and experience, making the long-awaited debut something truly special. Beth Sheldrick
16 // Emma Ruth Rundle
On Dark Horses
LA singer, Emma Ruth Rundle seems to have reached new peaks by riding On Dark Horses, seeing her way to beauty through pain. Mixing broad genres with ease as she does is stunning. From the indie-black-metal ‘Apathy On The Indiana Border’ to the scenic dark-folk ‘Fever Dreams’, an all the while accessible record unravels a myriad of shades and moods.
Rundle’s unique writing style can be overwhelming, grabbing us right by the throat as on the deeply-tormented ‘Control’ or the titular ‘Dark Horse’, both covering her abusive father and troubled childhood. The grip loosens as the album goes on, finally letting go with ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’, an ode to ending eras. One of the most precious albums of 2018. Lor Nov
15 // Chaouche
Night Time Stories
Bristol’s own Aisha Chaouche and her spellbinding debut, Safe, were such a dark horse that, upon listening, we immediately hooked her for our June cover. Hearing her recant – and ultimately come to terms with – troubling past experiences, it’s impossible not to be drawn into her world in the realest of ways.
Opener ‘My Friend’ mourns the loss of a close friendship. Elsewhere, Chaouche details the trials of a childhood in which she felt isolated and agressed towards. But whatever the pain expressed within the album’s twelve tracks, Aisha’s voice attaches both a beauty and realism that only she can, making every jab truly sting – and every moment of resolution a palpable gasp of air. A truly flooring album. Loki Lillistone
14 // Noname
Chicago’s finest tops her debut on the stunning Room 25, a vital and soothing album for the times we live in. Everything about this album is bigger than her debut; her voice is more confident, with the beats lusher and more complex. Her voice is still as soothing and husky, but with newfound bite, epitomised on ‘Self’, which finds her asking, with an almost audible eye-roll, “you still think a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?”
It’s a record that blurs the line between the personal and political, turning from the intense ‘Blaxploitation’ to the tear-jerking ‘Don’t Forget About Me’ with ease. There are few rappers that conjure such intense and beautiful emotions so readily, but Noname proves, yet again, that she is one of a kind. Christian Northwood
13 // Iceage
Iceage were barely out of their teens when they first arrived to punch us square in the gut with their utterly caustic debut album in 2011. Seven years on, the Danish band perhaps hit us the hardest they ever have with Beyondless. A truly definitive progression, the record displays the band at their grandest, wringing themselves for every drip of unhinged passion to the point of exasperation.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt finds his demonic, romantic and emotional peak, immersed in a resonating orchestra of euphoric brass and uncompromisingly-vitriolic musicianship. It may be their most accessible work yet, and that’s quite remarkable for a record that’s steeped in the darkest details of modern love and living. It just shows how powerful a group they’ve become. Ross Jones
12 // Half Waif
Having come to know Nandi Rose Plunkett through her work with BiS faves, Pinegrove, wrapping my ears around Half Waif’s breakthrough album, Lavender, was like inheriting a house and then finding treasure in the back garden.
Worlds away from alt-country, Plunkett’s solo work is one of spluttering synths, ping-ponging percussion and soaring vocals. Written in the back of a weary, inter-metropolis tour bus, but constructed amid the natural beauty of Upstate New York, Lavender reconciles the same touches of dystopian apathy and sprawling splendour. But that’s not to say this album is one of mere atmospherics. Every track has claws, along with a swirly, Kate Bush-y quality that lends a sense of freedom to both structure and melody – exuding a confidence that most breakthroughs lack. Loki Lillistone
11 // Trust Fund
Bringing the Backline
Trust Fund’s honest, witty and one-of-a-kind lyricism has always had a special place in our hearts, but Bringing the Backline is not quite the usual collection of tales about falling in and out of love that we’ve come to expect. It is instead, a dissection of his relationship with music itself – and considering this is to be the last Trust Fund album, a break-up note of sorts.
The album finds Trust Fund exhausted and overwhelmed by his artform and life as a musician, whilst simultaneously being underscored by some of his most experimental and impressive production to date. Despite its weariness, Bringing the Backline doesn’t feel like an end, rather a bright new chapter. RIP Trust Fund, long live Trust Fund. Christian Northwood
10 // Parquet Courts
This album shouldn’t really work. There should be no way that Parquet Courts could have got away with mixing their usual stoner/punk-rock schtick with funk, p-funk, a song called ‘Freebird II’ and a cowbell, PLUS grabbed super-producer Danger Mouse to hash it all together. But somehow, against all odds and sense, this album more than just works, being perhaps the most vital – yet most accessible – album from the band to date.
It’s an album that can swing from the frothing attack of ‘Violence’ to irresistible party anthem, ‘Wide Awake’, all while coated in Danger Mouse’s signature sheen. It’s confident, caustic and joyful in equal measure, and a step forward in every direction for the band. Christian Northwood
09 // Serpentwithfeet
Coming out of nowhere to coin symphonic R’n’B with the amazing ‘Four Ethers’, Serpentwithfeet immediately made it onto our Ones to Watch for 2017. Fast-forward a year or so, Josiah Wise has delivered a debut full-length that’s more contained than previous work, while more confident and wholly breathtaking.
Sparse arrangements give way to vocals that tread a careful line between soulfulness and virtuosity. Lyrics flit between literal notes on heartbreak and intense, abstract imagery that woos and troubles in equal measure. ‘Soil’ pulls into the fold those who found Serpentwithfeet’s early tracks too intense for their regular rotation, only to wryly lead them to the avant-garde heart that beats at the core of everything Wise does. Loki Lillistone
08 // Fenne Lily
Bristol’s Fenne Lily has been both a benefactor and victim of hype since day one. When your first ever song becomes a surprise Spotify hit, it can leave you with a lot of pressure on your shoulders. Luckily her debut this year delivered on all previous promises, with her wistful vocals and careful arrangements building a home for candid stories of youth not going to plan. The love lost bites, the body image aches and new ground shakes beneath your feet.
On Hold showed us just how deep the well of Fenne’s songwriting goes. Every track is special, with ‘For A While’, ‘Three Oh Nine’ and the titular ‘On Hold’ arguably eclipsing her ‘Top To Toe’ breakthrough and signalling a future for Fenne that knows no bounds. Loki Lillistone
07 // U.S. Girls
In a Poem Unlimited
In a realm of possible outcomes from her music and artistry, rest assured that Meg Remy will neither settle for comfortable nor easy. On her sixth and most pop-friendly album, the Toronto-based musician reclaims female empowerment and socially-aware militancy by layering what seem at first to be lighthearted, fun, sing-a-long pop songs with dense, sometimes violent, messages of political and social outrage.
What In A Poem Unlimited gives away in cacophony, by merging elements of experimental electronica, jazz and funk into genre dyssynchrony, it gains in theatre, concept and execution. For each U.S. Girls album, a new narrative emerges and new barriers are conquered, and for this one, going pop was the result of an experiment that worked out triumphantly in her favour. Francisco Gonçalves Silva
06 // Let’s Eat Grandma
I’m All Ears
Mystical, brazen, ethereal, empowering. These are just a few words that come to mind when attempting to define the majestic breadth of I’m All Ears, the magnificent second album from Let’s Eat Grandma. Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton created the modern-day equivalent of a conceptual prog record, in the ever-morphing context of immediate pop music. In doing so, they transcended any sense of genre in the name of forthright human emotion.
The duo dexterously confront the anxieties of hyper-modern constructs and distil it all into eclectic and highly-infectious hits. ‘Hot Pink’ masterfully pulls the rug from under masculinity’s possessiveness with a big, authorising middle finger amidst a bout of industrialism. ‘Falling Into Me’ shows how sharp and punctuating you can make a six-minute single about letting go of your deep-seated insecurities and obtaining control. Elsewhere, ‘Ava’ is the understated yet utterly heart-rending coming of age moment for the duo, showing the complications of life that from as early as your late teens.
Through all the album – and life’s – irrevocable tension and misgivings, the pair’s incomparable togetherness forms the unflinching feeling of hope through empathy. The ten-minute ‘Donnie Darko’ embraces the childlike aspect of their partnership and sneers at those who were pig-nosed enough to consider the pair manufactured, a so-called ploy to monetise “kooky princesses”. With I’m All Ears, they’ve proven themselves to be the absolute antithesis. Ross Jones
05 // Young Fathers
If DEAD was a statement of angst and intention and White Men are Black Men Too was a flirtation with white noise and compressed beats, then Cocoa Sugar is clarity, warmth and tenderness.
Their third effort’s strength lies in the stripping back of abstraction to reveal the raw, naked elements within. Young Fathers‘ pulling powers are thus amplified to full effect here, with the lens sharply focused on their eclectic leaning towards the noisy, a tasteful reverence of groove and a generous lash of the dramatic.
Cocoa Sugar is, however, Young Fathers’ leanest record, further exposing passion as the vocals take centre stage for the entire journey, bringing new life to their warm, gospel-esque melodic sensibilities and their oblique lyricism. Lawottim Anywar
04 // Shame
Songs of Praise
You could hear a collective, “Oh, bollocks” back in January when Shame released Songs of Praise. It was the sound of other bands realising how high the bar had been set and ruefully acknowledging that one spot in the Album of the Year top ten had just been taken. The album brings the sound of unbridled youth, heading for early adulthood. It’s as grossly teenage (secretions galore) as it is knowingly old and wise.
‘The Lick’ is like an Alan Bennett monologue, scripted by Irvine Welsh. ‘Dust on Trial’ and ‘Concrete’ simmer and bristle. The anthemic ‘One Rizla’, written when they were sixteen and seventeen, provides the high point of a towering creation, all led by the compellingly, unnerving, shameless Clockwork Orange suavity of Charlie Steen. Jon Kean
03 // SOPHIE
Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
People talk about the future of music a lot. Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides is probably not a doorway into the future exactly, but it is sure as hell a doorway into a future – and quite honestly it’s the one we should all be allowed to live in.
SOPHIE’s debut album was never going to be done by halves, yet she was still able to shock when it was revealed that the first single was not the clattering, gritty hyper-pop of her previous output, but was instead ‘It’s Ok to Cry’, a glittering self-care anthem that let us hear and see SOPHIE properly for the first time. Also the album’s opener, the track implores you to open up and let your emotions run wild, before SOPHIE takes your hand and plunges you into the sexy, industrial smack of ‘Ponyboy’.
From there on in, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is a patchwork of sounds and feelings, switching moods on a knife’s edge, taking you from basements to clouds, from the beautiful yearnings of ‘Infatuations’ to the euphoric ‘Immaterial’. It’s an album that never lets up, sonically pushing every element to its limit while – through SOPHIE’s often-warped but always-beautiful voice – keeping a beating human heart at its core. It’s aggressive yet playful, raw yet polished, and the sound of a future we don’t deserve, but we can all dream of anyway. Christian Northwood
02 // Our Girl
Soph Nathan has clearly got this music malarkey sussed. With The Big Moon, she played an integral part in one of the albums of last year. If you’ve seen them live, you’d know that Soph’s role is ‘integral’ in a quietly intense and focused manner. Forming Our Girl, a three-piece with close friends Lauren Tyler and Josh Wilson, threw Soph to the fore, both in terms of songwriting and singing. For that, we can be eternally grateful.
Stranger Today, their debut album, explores devotion across a spectrum of emotions, from “I like living in your world” to “You make my head hurt.” The title track gives you an immediate example of how they can lurch from twee-pop to grunge, from giddy to gritty in a matter of seconds. Face-melter, ‘Josephine’ is explosive and abrasive, yet ‘Heat’ ought to give you a few Jeff Buckley chills. There are some formidable, sustained distorted walls of sound, like on album closer, ‘Boring’ – akin to My Bloody Valentine or early, pre-prog Radiohead.
What’s in a name? Seems like there’s quite a lot in theirs. As a phrase, ‘Our Girl’ sounds either friendly or familial. And this album captures the essence of both realms. You can choose your friends. You can’t choose your relatives. Love can be all you need or love can tear us apart, again. If you’re still a stranger to this band or their album, then right now’s the time to choose Our Girl. Jon Kean
01 // IDLES
Joy As An Act Of Resistance
It would easy for a Bristol magazine to get over-excited about a Bristol band. The widespread, joyous appreciation that IDLES have received in 2018 is such that there’s no way anyone can level accusations of regional bias in lauding them as victors in our annual list of best albums. Having achieved second place in 2017, there was no Pulitzer-Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar type to edge them off the top spot this time.
When John Lydon sang “Anger is an energy” on Public Image Ltd’s ‘Rise’, he unwittingly captured the seething, glaring, teeth-baring rage of Joe Talbot as this band’s figurehead. Anyone who’s ever sung along to the refrain of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ and found it deeply satisfying was (again, without knowing) just getting ready for the advent of IDLES. Plenty of punks have snarled, spat and sought to ‘smash the state’. IDLES’ awareness that the world needs dismantling, but then carefully reconstructing, one act of thoughtful kindness at a time, has rightly set them apart.
The ominous opening bars of ‘Colossus’ ought to make you want to triple-lock your front door and hide behind the sofa, but the compelling compassion in the lyrics – “They laugh at me when I run,/ I waste away for fun./ I am my father’s son./ His shadow weighs a tonne” – make you immediately open your heart, mind and figurative front door to let this album in. This is punk that sings, “I wanna be vulnerable” rather than “I wanna be anarchy.” Acknowledging and addressing the grotesque, toxic “mask of masculinity” in tracks like ‘Samaritans’ feels socially necessary and emotionally cathartic. First-world small-mindedness stands no chance against IDLES’ onslaught in Brexit-inspired ‘Great’ and ‘Danny Nedelko’.
They have such range, from the heart-rending tenderness of ‘June’, including Hemingway’s “Baby shoes for sale, never worn” to the streetsmart, wisecracking “You look like a Topshop tyrant./ Even your haircut’s violent,” on ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’. Whether lary or literary, this album has been irresistible in 2018. Jon Kean
See IDLES’ recent KEXP session here: