With 2018 drawing to a close, the Mixdown team decided to look back on the best releases from a monumental year in music. Our writers took the time to narrow down their top five albums of the year, and after much deliberation, we’ve ended up with one seriously impressive playlist to farewell 2018.
Name: David James Young
1. The Presets Hi Viz
Forget what they say about old dogs and new tricks; on their fourth album, The Presets radically and boldly reinvented themselves for a 2018 audience. Ten years on from their breakthrough album, Apocalypso, the duo are still finding innovative ways to take on Australian dance music – from the sweater underground nightclubs to the open-air festivals and back again.
Recommended track: ‘Feel Alone’
2. Pianos Become the Teeth Wait for Love
After their unexpected sonic departure in 2014's Keep You, the Baltimore natives ventured even further down the rabbit hole for album number four. Wait for Love is a shimmering, brightly-burning ode that gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to matters of the heart. Performed with the utmost of conviction, this feels less post-hardcore and more proto-Pianos.
Recommended track: ‘Love on Repeat’
3. Mitski Be the Cowboy
While most of the world was focused on a certain other cowboy this year, it was indie darling Mitski that ended up ruling the range with her uniquely-devastating fifth LP. Ranging from guttural baritone guitar to poppy piano, Mitski leaves no stone unturned across this vast, ambitious collection. A rare album in which there's something new to discover every listen.
Recommended track: ‘Nobody’
4. Courtney Barnett Tell Me How You Really Feel
Courtney Barnett sounded like she was struggling with fame before she'd even hit the big time – and it hit hard. Her second solo album has her thinking out loud the same way her debut did, albeit in a less whimsical and more introspective sense. There's righteous anger, there's sombre reflection and there's plenty of exceptional guitar work to boot.
Recommended track: ‘I'm Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch’
5. Deafheaven Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Ordinary is the farthest-reaching Deafheaven LP to date, spanning a myriad of genres and stylistic approaches – sometimes all within the same song. The world's most divisive black metal band weren't exactly about to uncross the arms of any traditionalists with their fourth album – so why not make an album that would piss them off even further? Fuck 'em.
Recommended track: ‘Honeycomb’
Name: Nicholas Simonsen
1. Rolo Tomassi Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It
This one completely floored me. It’s this wonderfully chaotic, vulnerable, frenetic and ethereal musical journey that has to be listened from start to finish every time. Whilst I have enjoyed previous Rolo Tomassi records, this was the one that showed me just how good of a band they truly are. It’s just perfect.
Recommended track: ‘Alma Mater’
2. Coheed And Cambria The Unheavenly Creatures
New Coheed time is always a very exciting time. There aren’t many bands these days that could come out with a 15-track, 79-minute, concept-driven, prog-rock opera record and have it be captivating the whole way through. I still can’t get enough.
Recommended track: ‘Love Protocol’
3. Thrice Palms
Thrice are a very special band in that they manage to evolve and expand their sound with every release, yet they still always manage to sound like Thrice. Dustin Kensrue’s voice has aged like a very fine wine, and this record is a prime example of how a band should develop their sound without turning their back on previous releases.
Recommended track: ‘Just Breathe’
4. Silent Planet When The End Began
Immense, dark and thought provoking; with this record, I found that Silent Planet had hit their stride and really found their sound. When The End Began has the perfect blend of technicality, melody, eerie atmosphere and crushing ferocity.
Recommended track: ‘Visible Unseen’
5. Justin Courtney Pierre In The Drink
I was a very sad man when Motion City Soundtrack called it a day. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long until frontman Justin Pierre returned with some new music. In The Drink still has the same charm and character you’d expect from Motion City Soundtrack; however, it’s just a little more raw and unrefined here.
Recommended track: ‘Sooner’
Name: Will Brewster
1. Jon Hopkins Singularity
I never would have expected Singularity to wedge itself in my head as hard as it did, but hey, there’s nothing like a good surprise, is there? Jon Hopkins is obviously an electronic mastermind, but the way he combines acidic bassy slappers with the most beautiful ambient textures still baffles me. The syncopated rhythms of ‘Neon Drum Circle’ and the pulsating, jittery chord progression of ‘Emerald Rush’ and ‘COSM’ are marvels in their own right, but nothing comes close to the production of the future-techno belter ‘Everything Connected’ – ten minutes of pure electronic bliss? Yes please.
Recommended track: ‘Everything Connected’
2. Pusha T DAYTONA
I’m so glad that everyone got around DAYTONA as hard as they did this year. It truly is a masterclass in hip-hop minimalism, with Pusha-T’s status as a veteran rapper enshrined through slippery wordplay and endless double entendres about the trappings of elegance over a sly 22 minutes. Although the album’s sole producer, the enigmatic Kanye West, continues to grow more and more problematic each year, you really can’t refute his production genius across the album, and his chemistry with Push is undeniable.
Recommended track: ‘The Games We Play’
3. Kali Uchis Isolation
Isolation is the perfect pop album for 2018. Sonically diverse, lyrically charismatic, and weirdly apocalyptic, Kali Uchis’ major label debut positions the Colombian-American singer to be a driving musical force for an age void of genre. While Isolation’s tracklist doubles as a who’s who in contemporary music, with feature spots from Tyler, The Creator, Steve Lacy, Thundercat, Tame Impala and Jorja Smith, the real highlights of the album come from the voice of Uchis herself, combining flourishes of funk and soul with a steezy RnB and reggaeton persona to create one of 2018’s most memorable, boundary-hopping pop projects.
Recommended track: ‘Flight 22’
4. Mac Miller Swimming
The biggest lowlight of 2018 was by far Mac’s untimely passing – especially a month after releasing his strongest album to date, and just weeks away from heading on tour. So heartbreaking. Swimming really holds testament to Miller’s unbridled creative spirit, fusing elements of modern hip-hop with organic instrumentation and his signature wonky vocal cadence. While most of the album’s highlights come through Mac’s own introspective ruminations, watch out for cameo appearances from Thundercat on ‘What’s The Use?’, John Mayer on ‘Small Worlds’ and Jon Brion, whose lush arrangements on ‘2009’ and ‘Ladders’ take you to a whole other place. RIP Mac.
Recommended track: ‘Ladders’
5. SABA CARE FOR ME
While he’s undoubtedly overshadowed by the mainstream appeal of his contemporaries Chance the Rapper and Noname, Chicago MC Saba is certainly one to keep an eye on for fans of lyrically dense experimental hip-hop. CARE FOR ME sees Saba flex his machine gun flows over ten mutations of trap, jazz and neo-soul, and centres around the MC’s inner turmoil as he struggles to come to terms with fame while his friends and relative continue to suffer from the rampant gang violence plaguing his hometown. If you enjoyed To Pimp a Butterfly, you’ll lap this one up.
Recommended track: ‘Prom / King’
Name: Eddy Lim
1. Boygenius boygenius
Remember how Marvel claimed Avengers: Infinity War was the most ambitious crossover event ever? Boygenius, a supergroup comprised of three indie powerhouses – Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus – begs to differ. The strength of the band lies in their unique chemistry; each member’s differing songwriting styles are accentuated, yet their contrast manifests in unity rather than dissonance. With cascades of spine-tingling harmonies and varied instrumentation, the EP conceals a delicate microcosm of indie-rock encapsulated in just six tracks. While painfully short, the record’s length belies its range of depth, acuity and ingenuity.
Recommended track: ‘Salt In The Wound’
2. Noname Room 25
Chicago poet and rapper Noname’s debut album, Room 25, is one for all the senses. Following her critically acclaimed 2016 mixtape Telefone, Room 25 not only affirms her talent as an astute wordsmith, but further builds upon and hones her unique strengths. One of these in particular is Noname’s hypnotic, nonchalant delivery, which radiates with sage-like wisdoms and sharply-barbed observations on society. It’s this alluring mix of rap, spoken word and honeyed vocals that constitutes her most defining trait, both separating and elevating her from the pack.
Recommended track: ‘Don’t Forget About Me’
3. Hop Along Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Hop Along’s remarkable growth throughout the years has been nothing but positive. The Philadelphia band’s third full-length effort takes the listener through danceable realms of indie-rock and pop, facilitated by tessellating instrumental arrangements and excellent songwriting. All this is made possible by frontwoman Frances Quinlan’s idiosyncratic vocals, which effortlessly morph from a sweet murmur to a ragged half-scream in the blink of an eye. Quinlan’s motley of stories and vivid imagery is superbly phrased and wonderfully delivered, fleshing out a brilliant album from the first track to the last.
Recommended track: ‘Somewhere A Judge’
4. Khruangbin Con Todo El Mundo
Khruangbin’s musical influence spans numerous continents around the world, and their latest album, Con Todo El Mundo, is no different. Their band is aptly named – Khruangbin means ‘engine fly’ or ‘airplane’ when directly translated from Thai, and matches their goal to take the listener around the globe in the span of just ten tracks. Their genre-bending, globe-trotting music takes influence from Thai funk, American hip-hop, Iranian pop, Jamaican reggae, and much more. Expect dizzying, chorus-drenched guitar work, with thumping bass lines and undeniably funky breakbeats.
Recommended track: ‘Como Me Quieres’
5. Haley Heynderickx I Need To Start A Garden
It took a grand total of ten seconds of listening for me to realise that there was something undeniably special about Haley Heynderickx. Under a gentle façade of beautifully composed folk-rock, Heynderickx combines deeply introspective lyrics with splashes of wry humour to reflect upon moments of her past and present. Like the titular garden she speaks of, the short eight-track LP is carefully pruned and structured, allowing each track to bear its own distinctive fruit. There’s a diverse range of emotions to experience from this record, all firmly cementing Heynderickx’s aptitude as an exceptional songwriter and artist.
Recommended track: ‘No Face’
Name: Lewis Noke Edwards
1. Watain Trident Wolf Eclipse
Watain are an enigma in the fact that they’re a full-time touring band that somehow remains inherently underground and accepted by their peers. Black metal is notoriously exclusive, but Watain’s Trident Wolf Eclipse balances raw energy with monstrous production, with well-written songs that have become the band’s trademark.
Recommended track: ‘Nuclear Alchemy’
2. Architects Holy Hell
If any band has ever embodied a phoenix, it’s Architects. Enduring what will hopefully be their most tumultuous year in their careers, Architects emerged with Holy Hell, a massive tribute to the late Tom Searle. Every riff on the song ‘Holy Hell’ is anthemic, encouraging the world to rally with Architects and follow them into the future.
Recommended track: ‘Holy Hell’
3. Hate Eternal Upon Desolate Sands
Hate Eternal, and frontman Erik Rutan (ex-Morbid Angel, owner/producer at Mana Studios) have been a staple of death metal since its inception. Upon Desolate Sands is a continuous barrage of brutality, speed and technique and should be appreciated even if only for the performances. For fans of: having your face melted.
Recommended track: ‘Nothingness of Being’
4. James Bay Electric Light
I’m a fan of anything that producer Paul Epworth touches, and this album is no exception. James Bay rose to popularity in 2014 with ‘Hold Back the River’ and in 2015 with ‘Let It Go’, both from the album Chaos and the Calm. Electric Light is a return to form for Bay, establishing his boppy brand of blues-inspired pop as his own. This album is vaguely Bruce Springsteen-esque, quietly inspired by Tom Petty, and inherently James Bay.
Recommended track: ‘Just For Tonight’
5. Tribulation Down Below
Released early in 2018 after playing Dark Mofo in 2016, Tribulation bring their own brand of blackened rock on Down Below. It’s an initially confusing fusion of rock, glam, hair metal, blues and pop with black metal. I don’t know how, but it works. Not only does it work, but it presents convincing ‘60s/’70s-style rock beneath vocalist Johannes Andersson’s screeching black metal-style vocals.
Recommended track: ‘Cries From the Underworld’
Name: Josh Martin
1. Earl Sweatshirt Some Rap Songs
Twenty-four-year-old MC Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, better known as Earl Sweatshirt, suffered the hardest year of his life in 2018. His grief-warped psyche shot lightning through his 2018 comeback Some Rap Songs, but it wasn’t confessional in the traditional sense. The 15-song, 24-minute avant-jazz-hop odyssey has no edges, offering a frameless window into Sweatshirt’s subconscious. Vocal samples are mutilated and stretched into looped effusions of pain where structure is absent and staccato wordplay is filtered through analogue radio lethargy. Sweatshirt might be “stuck in Trumpland, watching subtlety decay”, but this record is defiantly apolitical and one of the decade’s best personal statements.
Recommended track: ‘Peanut’
2. Janelle Monae Dirty Computer
Janelle Monae is a popstar in limbo; hugely famous, without commercial radio play. On Dirty Computer, Monae relishes her lack of industry-imposed Puritanism by weaving a technicolour celebration of pansexuality and racial liberation through a lush, hip-hop/funk/trap/disco hybrid Prince would have been in awe of. The record offers plenty of pop-firsts – a rap beatdown of the patriarchy on ‘Django Jane’, an auto-tuned Brian Wilson on the title track, and a feminist retelling of the original sin on ‘Crazy Classic Life’.
Recommended track: ‘Django Jane’
3. Mitski Be The Cowboy
Mitski’s songs might superficially sound like romantic odes, but the Japanese-American songwriter is merely using love as an emotive lubricant for a kaleidoscopic series of musings. Her fifth album Be The Cowboy took her bubblegum melodies to a level of near perfection, using an astonishing lyrical economy – ‘Me and My Husband’ wraps an unhappy marriage in just three vivid lines. Disco, grunge and melodrama soften the LP’s seemingly insurmountable emotion with consummate talent.
Recommended track: ‘Me and My Husband’
4. MGMT Little Dark Age
MGMT have a famously backward career trajectory, as their early hits left them scrambling to re-establish themselves as the psychedelic acolytes they always intended to be. Little Dark Age showed the duo finding salvation in synth-pop, combining their cheesiest tendencies with icy-goth ambience. Frontman Andrew VanWyngarden’s lyricism spins sardonic commentary on modern life malaise with a droll existentialism, rebuking mindless phone thumbing and the pressure to work out, all while pondering our place in the void. ‘When You Die’, ‘Me and Michael’ and the title track are blustering electro-pop glued together with a dramatic irony only MGMT could make so danceable.
Recommended track: ‘When You Die’
5. Yves Tumor Safe in the Hands of Love
Yves Tumor, otherwise known as Sean Bowie, has been a victim of the vague connotations of “experimental” in the music press. The umbrella term is even more fundamentally uninformative as “electronic” is, though it makes a little more sense upon listening to his third record Safe in the Hands of Love. Politics and paranoia spurt out in fractured bursts, cataloguing ecstasy, despair, and seduction through their beguiling instrumental packaging. The collection is an inexplicable, intuitive web of plunderphonics, noise, dream-pop, sinister R&B and field recording; a complete aural immersion.
Recommended track: ‘Licking an Orchid’
Name: Jessica Over
1. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Hope Downs
There’s something inherently special about listening to a record that is instantly and inexplicably associated with a setting. In that vein, Hope Downs is the epitome of an Australian summer. It’s an album that begs to be listened to on a road trip when the grass is yellow and the tar is melting, offering a breezy soundtrack to a scorching season. The instrumental offerings are perfectly complementary without being overbearing, the vocals just the right kind of easygoing vibe to match each melody, and the ensuing effect is a record that plays like a summer’s day from start to finish. Talk about a strong debut.
Recommended track: 'Cappuccino City'
2. Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Tranquility Base could very well be the most divisive record of 2018. It’s the product of a four-year wait, marks the sixth studio album in a sixteen-year career, and deviates so drastically from the Arctic Monkeys we’ve come to know that you’d be forgiven for wondering what exactly Alex Turner was thinking. The real beauty of this album, however, lies in its ability to function on multiple levels: as an unexpected addition to an acclaimed catalogue, a lesson in pushing the boundaries of what’s expected from music industry veterans, and as the most sophisticated advancement of muzak yet. It might not grasp you on the first listen, but Tranquility ages gracefully with time. It’s unique, innovative, and entirely unlike anything we’ve heard from the Arctic Monkeys before. It was a gamble, and it’s paid off in spades.
Recommended track: 'Four Out Of Five'
3. DMA’s For Now
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think DMA’s were writing their records on an English street corner during the height of ‘90s Brit-pop. It’s not a persona many Australian bands could pull off, but this trio nails it. Their music pays homage to an era yet bursts with originality, resulting in a catalogue that is remarkably consistent in its fluidity, purpose and thematic content. For Now presents DMA’s as a band refining their sound to a fine art. It’s a record that prides itself on being cohesive, and the result is a 12-song tracklist where nothing feels out of place.
Recommended track: 'Time & Money'
4. Khruangbin Con Todo El Mundo
This is a band that is destined for great things. Khruangbin have more than delivered on Con Todo El Mundo, fusing psychedelic instrumentation with inoffensive melodies to accurately capture those wistful vibes of the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is an album you can play on repeat and not tire of, a feat that isn’t easy to achieve. Drawing influences from all over the globe, Con Todo El Mundo is an exercise in broadening your horizons and a sophomore record that is not to be overlooked.
Recommended track: 'Rules'
5. Beach House 7
Dream pop might just be one of the most accurately-named genres in music history. Beach House are purveyors of this fine art and their latest studio album 7 seemingly sets out to define the genre in no uncertain terms. The songs flow smoothly, playing with dynamics and instrumentation to achieve an effortless dream-like soundscape. It’s the kind of music you can listen to both actively and passively, with a memorable effect that will resonate in either scenario. It’s hard not to love an album that doesn’t demand your attention, but simply draws you in with the most subtle utterances and quiet persistence possible.
Recommended track: 'Dark Spring'
Name: Matt Doria
1. Courtney Barnett Tell Me How You Really Feel
Where its predecessor shined with a palpable buoyancy and cloudy-minded introspection that warped the world’s oddities through circus mirrors, Barnett’s second solo LP is darker, more acerbic and puts forth a battered protagonist who has truly seen some shit over the past three years. With Barnett’s (and her band’s) signature exuberant, off-the-wall musicality at play, she hooks you in with her dry, stark and bitter musings, but keeps you onboard with a swathe of unashamedly groovy guitars and intensely catchy vocal hooks. ‘Sunday Roast’ is also crushingly adorable, and easily the best closing track on any album of the 2010s thus far. The moment I first heard that payoff roll in, my arms were pasted all over with goosebumps.
Recommended track: ‘Need A Little Time’
2. The Wonder Years Sister Cities
A decade in the making, the former pop-punk heroes have reached a pivotal moment on their timeline with album number six. It’s a rollercoaster ride through love, loss, pain and passion, told through the frame of sonder-heavy off-days on a two-year world tour. Musically, the meticulous, labyrinthine post-hardcore structures are something The Wonder Years have been inching towards since the turn of the decade; they cut deep with searing basslines and twinkling atmospherics, and beg for replays ad nauseam. Lyrically, Dan “Soupy” Campbell pours his heart out with such visceral fervor and honesty that it begs the question: If this is what made the record, how fucked are the journal entries he had to hold back on?
Recommended track: ‘We Look Like Lightning’
3. Twenty One Pilots Trench
Self-produced and recorded largely in isolation, Trench is the duo’s most ambitious and artistic effort yet. It almost rebels against the radio-friendliness of 2015’s Blurryface, with experimental twinges of indie, Britpop, funk, underground hip-hop and electro-rock all fusing with TØP’s traditionally left-field pop inclinations – yet somehow, it’s also their most consistent sounding album. On its softer moments, there’s a piano-driven solemnity that hasn’t been present since TØP’s 2009 self-titled debut, which fuses effortlessly with the quirky, ultra-layered soundscapes that frontman Tyler Joseph has made a name for building in recent years. It’s the booming, bass guitar-lathered dancefloor gems that stand out most, though.
Recommended track: ‘My Blood’
4. Brockhampton Iridescence
Despite a chaotic first half of 2018 that saw them scrap three whole albums, Brockhampton still managed to defy expectations with their impossibly sharp, destructively dynamic major label debut. The 50-minute runtime flashes by in a haze of mosh-ready bass beats, soul-caressing strings and some of the most polarising verses in modern rap history. And though the 14-member outfit has shown a work ethic that mere mortals could never match, Iridescence is distinctly human in its lyrical honesty and artistic provocation. The simple thought that its follow-up (due 2019) could take the band even further is stupidly exciting.
Recommended track: ‘Weight’
5. Pagan Black Wash
2018 was a great year for Australian heavy music in general, but if there’s one band that usurped their peers with powerful performances, massive dedication and generation-defining riffs, it’s the blackened disco-punks in Pagan. Nikki Brumen’s gruff and gravelly bellows are searing, sour and surprisingly vulnerable, strewn mercilessly over a cataclysm of roaring guitars and ruinous snare abuse. It’s full of authentic punk-leaning hardcore payoffs, but the band never take themselves too seriously either, favouring huge, sticky melodies that wouldn’t feel out of place in pop and thrashy beatdown sections that feel like a hat-tip towards nu-metal, without ever veering on cringey. Plus, anyone that’s seen Pagan live will vouch for the album’s wonderful translation to the stage. Bellissimo!
Recommended track: ‘Silver’
Missed out on our Best of 2017? Catch up here.