Mid-Year Review: Our Top 10 Albums of 2018

Northern Transmissions Mid-Year Review: Our Top 10 Albums of 2018
Northern Transmissions Mid-Year Review

Only six months into the year, 2018 has already offered us as many gems as we often get spread across a whole year. As the worlds of hip hop, psych-rock, dance and art-pop (and Cornish pop for that matter) become blurred beyond definition, so too do their fandoms. We’ve gone through our 10 favourites from these first six months to showcase (in no particular order) the albums we love the most… so far.

 

Melody’s Echo Chamber ‘Bon Voyage’

Melody's Echo Chamber Bon Voyage Review For Northern Transmissions

Coming back after a six-year delay (mostly caused by recovery from an accident) it was unclear what we would get from Melody Prochet on her newest record. That said, across her sparing few tracks on the record, we get her classic psychedelia updated with surprising hip hop and amazing ambitious writing. Whether it’s the preppy sounds of songs like “Cross My Heart” or a mysterious voyage on something like “Desert Horse” the album brings so many different sounds its always surprising you in one way or another. With a lot of unexpected tones and even things that could very well be samples, “Shirim” even brings a strong funk energy that makes us want to listen back to the record.

Arctic Monkeys ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’

Arctic Monkeys 'Tranquillity Base Hotel &amp Casino;' review by Northern Transmissions

Unlike many of the albums on our list, this new record from the Arctic Monkeys took time to grow on us. Nevertheless the Station To Station-era Bowie sounds that Alex Turner embodies in this cosmic concept record are endlessly charming. Through charisma, truly memorable hooks and lyrics that tickle the ear or make you laugh (“What Do You Mean You’ve Never Seen Blade Runner”), Turner and crew create a suave new energy for themselves. Though it isn’t the snarky guitar rock they were making before, it stands tall on its own as a narrative as well as musically. From the glossy piano hooks and harmonies of “Star Treatment” to the epic grandeur of “American Sports” right through the braggadocios delivery of “Four Out Of Five” the first part of the album roars through as a dynamic medley. It’s the instantly iconic qualities and addictive lyrics that have really had this album appreciating for us with each listen.

U.S. Girls ‘In A Poem Unlimited’

Northern Transmissions' review of 'In A Poem Unlimited by U.S. Girls

Meg Remy’s music had always been boundary-pushing and intriguing, but In A Poem Unlimited found her art-pop as ambitious as it was intoxicating. Blending saxophones and strings in ways that would make Arcade Fire blush, the album is a sonic feast that constantly shifts how each core sound is represented. Remy’s honest lyricism goes from being refreshing to hilarious to sharp commentary across the album, and keeps the words just as fun as the music. A track like “Velvet 4 Sale” makes smoky club jazz aggressive, while “M.A.H” takes funky dance through social commentary and futuristic tones. “Rosebud” plays out like a noir-film on record, using its subdued delivery to hold its class. Even with the grooves and sound-scapes of songs like “Pearly Gates” and “Poem” its “Time” and its extended and frantic Talking Heads rush that makes the end of the record so dynamic and standout.

Soulwax ‘Essential’

Soulwax Essential Review For Northern Transmissions

Though there’s plenty of dance-fueled pop and pop-fueled electronic music these days, neither genre has particularly managed to capture what makes the other so great. Out of a seemingly spontaneous decision to write an album instead of creating DJ set, Soulwax’s Essential plays like their 2manydjs personas remixing their own core sounds. It works perfectly as well, as the Belgian duo take the word “Essential” and reflect on every end of their sound across the record, and make something that in itself is very necessary. By centering around making a set, the album runs amazingly seamlessly all the way through, while maintaining a distinct energy within each song. After a strong buildup from the start of the record, “Essential Four” is Soulwax’s percussive glory on full blast with every ounce of disco-era vocals shining through on the track. Much of the middle numbers explore the far ends of their electronics and weird vocal effects to great joy. Even the closing “Ten” through “Twelve” tracks have them expanding their sonic range beyond the hi-fi anyone could’ve imagined. At its core though, the album is one of the rare dance releases that could easily get most people moving from the time you put down the needle to when you lift it.

Kadhja Bonet ‘Childqueen’

Kadhja Bonet 'Childqueen' album review by Northern Transmissions

Recapturing the magic of 50’s pop with some of that Quincy Jones production mystique, Kadhja Bonet really outdid herself this year. Sharp and distinct, while retooling so many romantic old sounds, Childqueen sees Bonet making powerful R&B-soul that defies concepts of time. Lush string arrangements and masterful vocals (harmonies or not) fill the sound of the record with so many great melodies and chords that there’s a constant strength to any given song on the record. Bonet’s subversive use of contrasting grooves and sounds makes it always gripping and always her own, and never sinks into derivative feelings. Whether it’s the serene beauty of “Childqueen” or the worrying progressions of “Another Time Lover” Bonet wastes no time shifting gears or even avoiding cacophony. Even straightforward grooves like “Thoughts Around Tea” find her sprucing up what synths can bring to R&B while “Delphine” finds her taking her voice to its limits. This all comes together on the punchy funk  of “Mother Maybe” as she rides atypical melodies while hitting her vocal peaks on the record.

Sunflower Bean ‘Twentytwo In Blue’

Twentytwo in Blue by Sunflower Bean review by Northern Transmissions

With an already strong debut behind them, Sunflower Bean could’ve easily delivered something similar to their previous record, but they went the extra mile for this album. Mixing a Fleetwood Mac-like spirit with plenty of punk, desert mystique and youthful energy, Twentytwo In Blue is a varied but consistent album.  As Sunflower Bean reinvent themselves, they reinvent their influences for an album you’ll swear has been hidden in your record collection for years. While any one song could easily sink into the conventions and comforts of its particular genre, they constantly shake things up within every track. Even the pace of the album can take you by surprise as a doo-wop-like track is quickly replaced by metal fury. While hefty stomping tracks like “Burn It” and “Human For” find the band angry and taking it over the top, there’s also deeper introspective fun to be had. “I Was A Fool” is self-deprecating and catchy, “Twentytwo” is a lush tale on modern youth, and “Memoria” even tackles hopeful nostalgia in endlessly memorable choruses.

 

Janelle Monáe ‘Dirty Computer’

'Dirty Computer' by Janelle Monáe reviewed by Northern TransmissionsNo one has been quite as fearless as Janelle Monáe this year when it comes to lyrics that would be taboo or too much, despite being more representative of modern life. Monáe brings a mix of funk, R&B, hip hop and pop from across generations, and even brings the likes of Brian Wilson along for a very appropriate set of harmonies. Along with its amazing music, Monáe found time around her film roles to construct a whole sci-fi mini-film around it to match the futuristic aesthetic. Songs like “Screwed” and especially “Make Me Feel” revive the energy of Prince in wonderfully unique ways while giving pop to a new age that feels exciting. “Pynk” is a summer party hit, while simultaneously being one of the few commercial pop songs on the radio about vaginas. She and Pharrell take this one step further on the hypnotic beats and grooves of “I Got The Juice” where she gets even more in-your-face with her sexuality. While she also brings great moments through the rest of the album, even the retro-pop of “I Like That” is made strong and fun because of Monáe’s distinct personality.

Superorganism ‘Superorganism’

'Superorganism' by Superorganism

Superorganism’s debut record this year was one that really took listeners for a ride, and one that frankly caught me totally off-guard. From a pure production standpoint, there’s so many layers to every song that they feel as dense as a film or as if they were 3D. Through songs that are simply mesmerizing to hear, Superorganism’s collective also repeatedly manage to achieve the rare musical feat of making listeners laugh. While all this focus on sound, samples and production could be wasted, they also bring some of the most exciting writing this year melodically. Even their lyrics feel honest and refreshing, and their lyricist isn’t even 20 yet.  “It’s All Good” not only serves as a funny and powerful intro to the record, but hits you with so much intense production that you immediately realize what you’re getting into. “Everybody Wants To Be Famous” and “Something For Your M.I.N.D” take this through indie rock and boisterous pop in just as many crazy directions. With amazing grooves and a sound that bears that same youthful quirkiness that 90’s Nickelodeon programming had, you’ll be in love by the time “Night Time” takes you out on even more glossy harmonies.

Kali Uchis ‘Isolation

Northern Transmissions' review of 'Isolation' by Kali Uchis

Like many singers who move from features to their own full albums, expectations were high for Colombian/New York singer Kali Uchis, and unlike many others she stuck the landing. Fusing her Latin roots with bossa nova, pop, hip hop, psych rock and more genres than we can mention, the album not only has something for everyone, but has the style to convert you to the rest of the record. A wealth of talent including Jorja Smith, Kevin Parker, Bootsy Collins and Steve Lacy to name a few, all improve the album without every overshadowing Uchis. With so much constant change on the record, Isolation’s cohesion is in the sheer infectious qualities of its songs, almost all of which could be singles on their own. With Steve Lacy, “Just A Stranger” is a conversational track about money-worshiping lovers, with an amazing groove to back it up. “Tyrant” mixes a swinging beat with some dreamy vocals and some of the best lyrics on any record this year, and manage to fit Brigitte Bardot, El Chapo and Spanish rhymes all in the same verse. Even “Nuestro Planeta” has a cross-genre appeal, much like the smooth grooves of “After The Storm” that open into empowering pop and goofy raps.

Gwenno ‘Le Kov’

Northern Transmissions' review of 'Le Kov' by Gwenno

Though I’d been a fan of Welsh artist Gwenno’s previous work, I didn’t think I’d be boasting about an album written in a language I didn’t even know existed this year. The album’s Cornish lyrics are a treat for the few speakers out there and turn into haunting incantations for the rest of us. The album’s deep psychedelic sounds truly enhance this feeling, as the magical trip of the synths on something like “Hy a Skoellyas Lyf a Dhagrow” constantly feel like a dive to another world. Even as she explores synth pop and electronics on “Tir Ha Mor” and “Eus Keus?” there’s a constantly entrancing quality to the foreign vocals. Many other songs on the album dive through these sonic worlds and push at them from every direction with frantic energy and sounds that will both scare and excite. The discordant pop of “Daromres y’n Howl” is just as childish and fun as it memorable as well.  No matter how many times you hear this album, it will leave you as mystified as it does enamored.

 

 

Words by Owen Maxwell