music review

Higher Plain Music’s Top 30 Albums of 2018

The top 30 albums of 2018 according to HPM

This year for Higher Plain Music saw tons of great albums all release at the same time at different points of the year – particularly right at the very end of it! As always EP’s and singles are not included in the list (Joanna Glaza, Delhia De France), nor are remasters (Kate Bush – I haven’t bought them yet anyway) and this year also soundtracks too (Stardew Valley Piano Collections tops that list). I noticed that this year I had a clear top seven albums and then about 35 more albums that all could have easily had a slot in the top 30. Some of these albums I discovered only in the last two weeks so I may have left a few off as I haven’t had the time to marinate them yet. So without further ado – my top 30 albums of 2018! I hope you discover something new.

30 – OddZoo – Future Flesh

French indie noise rock band OddZoo created a cracking album with Future Flesh. It’s aggressive sirens, brass synths and darkwave vocals that remind me of Marc Almond and Seeming’s love child make for pulse raising anthems for the jaded. An exceptional debut album (formally known as Trumps).

29 – The Wheel Workers – Post-Truth

Always balancing quirky rowdy rock and a few weird and wonderful hillbilly undercurrents, Post Truth is an excellent uprising album full of clever lyrics, psychedelic synths and anthems to protest to. It’s the perfect sister to their previous album Citizen which read as a cautionary tale – Post Truth is about the fall out of that tale taking place.

28 – CADE – CADE

The whispery folk tones of CADE and her debut album are lush and soothing but not without a strong layer of witchy undercurrent. It’s understated brilliance is in how lightly every instrument is played, the guitar, the brushed percussion and CADE’s utterly silky smooth voice. This is a gem I found right at the end of 2018 and so I know it will only improve with age.

27 – Manu Delago – Parasol Peak

Hang drum composer Manu Delago took a troupe up into the Alps to record music live whilst they journeyed to the summit and back again. The result is a fascinating recording of a travelling band with the icy and windy world around them as they channel all the emotion and energy it takes to climb into sound. Available alongside this is a 30 minute documentary too.

26 – Phil France – Circle

From the first bleeps to the last piano chord, Phil France takes circular patterns and spacious synths and weaves a timeless sci-fi soundtrack. Evoking 2001 Space Odyssey, Philip Glass and new age music but always staying on his own space journey – Circle is an imaginative and deceptively complex album.

25 – Lissom – Lissom

Lissom is an album of pure fragile beauty. A collaboration between French pianist and composer Julian Marchal and British songwriter Ed Tullet – it brings both their strengths together and doubles their reward. This is the perfect album to feel melancholy too yet come away hopeful from. Understated perfection.

24 – Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses

Dark, gothic rock is Emma’s happy place. Her music always has a slow dirge march to its beat but the guitars are often smashing away twice the speed underneath to create a buzzing anger that matches her rousing vocals perfectly. On this her fourth studio album, she continues to perfect her style with impressive results. Dark is best.

23 – Marcus Warner – 39 Seconds

In the absence this year of Christopher Tin to give me a cinematic global orchestration album, Marcus Warner filled the gap with his stunning collection of world electronica ’39 Seconds’. Each song tackles a different part of the world and takes the classical form and transforms it into something you could dance to, chill out to or wage an impressive war to. I only discovered the album a few weeks ago but it has blown me away. I wish I’d known about it on release day – phenominal.

22 – Tash Sultana – Flow State

From bedroom guitar looper to finally releasing her debut album, Flow State has been many years in the making and it sounds assured, complex, layered and a firm statement of intent. It’s breezy summer vibes cover the deep lyrics and sheer craftsmanship of the guitar playing. Closing track ‘Blackbird’ stuns me upon every listen and ‘Harvest Love’ is one of the greatest love songs penned this generation.

21 – Max LL – Golestan

Guitarist and composer Max LL released EP Civilization to warm us up for Golestan but it didn’t come close. The experience of the Canadian’s time spent in Iran is fused into a spellbinding display of cinematic movements that are fuelled by passion. Each track feels steeped in emotion and history as different guitars and instruments are pulled forward to provide cultural or historical tangents. Golestan is full of lingering love for the past and a wish for the future.

20 – Broken Baby – Broken Baby

Creating effortlessly cool grungy indie pop rock, Broken Baby’s album is crammed full of catchy tracks that remark on modern day grinds. From leeching men to political unrest to the race for winning at social media and fuelling the need for attention, the album doesn’t miss a beat. An indie pop-rock masterclass.

19 – Raoul Vignal – Oak Leaf

Whilst not quite as immediate as his debut last year, Oak Leaf sees Raoul Vignal expanding his musical palette whilst maintaining one of the most soothing voices in the music business. His brand of French folk is something that eats away at you and you don’t realise how great it is until your ten listens in and then realise your ten listens in!

18 – My Brightest Diamond – A Million And One

I have no idea how I missed this release initially but Shara kept this album quiet! It’s a really mixed up album that’s got one foot into the electronica dance rock scene and then another in mid-tempo mood pieces. For a musician that usually puts together perfectly sculpted albums this feels like a collection of outtakes from all her previous eras. The result is a collection of excellent tracks that stand alone better than flowing together. Still great.

17 – Gazelle Twin – Pastoral

Pastoral is vicious. It attacks. Gazelle Twin is so good at presenting a mood or feeling in a haunting or alien way and her take on the decline of England is utterly fantastic. From the telling broken lyrics, the distorted flutes and the machine drones and industrial electronica smashes – I feel like I’ve been thrown around a washing machine of propaganda and came out the other side smelling of distrust and fear.

16 – Dead Can Dance – Dionysus

More a Brendan Perry album with Lisa Gerrard as guest than Dead Can Dance, this short but beautiful album suffers from being two tracks long so you have to experience it in its long form and that’s meant I’ve just spent less time with it. The duo has lost none of their craft or charm in painting lush soundscapes of sounds and time periods you never knew you wanted to immerse yourself in. Next time can we have tracks instead of acts please? Especially when sections of it are released with stunning music videos like below.

15 – GoGo Penguin – A Humdrum Star

This jazz trio continue to astound me with their skills, songwriting craft and ability to push out the boundaries of what a jazz trio can put together. A Humdrum Star is possibly their most complex and least accessible album to date and it took me a few listens to really pick up the momentum and cadence of it as a whole. Once it clicked though, I was away in instrumental heaven enjoying each and every note of the starline. Not one sounds humdrum to me.

14 – We Are Temporary – Embers

Dark wave synth goth We Are Temporary returned with a stonking second album that’s full of glorious melodies and riffs paired with utterly depressing and miserable lyrics and feelings. It’s like attending a rave in slow motion and it’s superb. No-one else quite goes for the jugular in every single word in a vocal performance quite like We Are Temporary and you can’t help but follow him.

13 – Chances – Traveler

Chances wear their heritage on their sleeves. French-Canadian but with plenty of Middle East and Eastern tweaks to their indie pop – their debut album Traveler was unlike anything else I heard this year. The key to Chances is that they make really catchy tunes but layer all their vocals together like they are a travelling vocal accepella call and response unit. To demonstrate it I’ve chosen a live take of a track to explain it best. Easily my favourite new band discovery of 2018.

12 – Heinali – Iridescent

Modulated synth pioneer Heinali created one of the most mesmerising tracks I’ve ever heard with ‘Rainbow Unfolding’. His trademark distorted synths that somehow seem to fall between notes and chords and bend into things you’ve never really heard before continue to wow and astound me. It’s certainly not for everyone but there’s something in Heinali’s work that always makes me feel emotional and Iridescent is a perfect example of why.

11 – Lydmor – I Thought I’d Tell You Our Story

Denmark indie pop mixed with Chinese song structures and club afterglow makes Lydmor’s second album ‘I Thought I’d Tell You Our Story’ a phenomenal body of work. It’s catchy hooks, heavy beats and stories of burnout, excess, isolation and feeling lost from home whilst appreciating the foreign world around you all merge together to create a unique album that I often have on repeat. ‘Claudia’ is one of the best stories of empowerment in a brothel committed to music.

10 – Tunng – Songs You Make At Night

My favourite album from British electro-folk band Tunng to date. This album is all about the gentleness of night time, the rest of sleep and also the confusing mash up of weirdness in dreams. There’s some really clever production here that makes each song feel alive and unique whilst still being pillowy too. Full of character and charm, you can play this at any time of day.

09 – Tune-Yards – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life

Transitioning full from bedroom ukelele pop to indie pop gem, Tune-Yards’ 4th album is their most political and whilst I may disagree with some of the points of view they have, the tracks themselves are groovy, catchy, full of life and full of layers and sounds you don’t realise are there until many listens in. It sounds so deceptively simple on the surface, with childish lyrics and silliness abound but there’s so much to discover – a real burner.

08 Utada Hikaru – Hatsukoi

After a somewhat subdued return with her previous album, Hatsukoi is the adult Utada Hikaru album I was hoping for. Taking her live band sound and adding subtle cinematic orchestrations to her songs elevated the album which could have felt a bit ballad heavy into something bombastic, full of life and emotionally charged. This is Hikki’s cinematic album (since most of them are movie tie-in tracks) and Yuunagi is one of the saddest pop songs I’ve had the privilege to listen to.

07 – Mesadorm – Heterogaster

A super group of sorts, Mesadorm are so difficult to categorise because each song is led by different members and what they want to do with it. The result is a tour de force of indie pop, bluesy ballads, gospel tinged tearjerkers, evil synth rock and some utterly sublime songwriting. Measdorm are one of a kind and I cannot wait to see where all this creativity sparks off to in the future.

06 – Mitski – Be The Cowboy

Malaysian Mitski pairs up her ethereal pristine voice with some of the best pop rock tracks that rarely go over the two and half minute mark I’ve ever heard. Be The Cowboy is the definition of a lean meat album. Not one second is wasted and Mitski refuses to tread old ground as no two songs sound vaguely the same. Diverse, immediate, direct and euphoric – I wanna be the bloody Cowboy now!

05 – Rosemary and Garlic – Rosemary and Garlic

The duo which sadly became just a singleton by the end of the year (although very much keeping the same name and tone), Rosemary and Garlic’s debut album is my safe space in 2018. It’s lush and hopeful melodies, graceful beauty and ever fresh sounding optimism made me smile in times of struggle. Everything feels so bright and open eyed even when the song is sad. Comfort for the ear and the soul.

04 – The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices and Lisa Gerrard – BooChemish

This album utterly blows me away upon every listen. The merger of Lisa Gerrard’s otherworldly voice and siren calls alongside the ancient blood of the Bulgarian Voices is like the powerhouse of all things ancient. They don’t disappoint either. Across the album (and the live tracks on the bonus edition) there are so many different ways to evoke a demon, a spirit, an emotion or just feel something different. I can’t explain it in words but this type of singing rouses me from the inside out and sends chills down my spine. Electrifying from start to end.

03 – Bryde – Like An Island

Taking on her own solo career from the Welsh duo Paper Aeroplanes, Bryde see’s Sarah change gears from pop-folk to full on rock. Her riffs and vocals are suited to creating powerhouse anthems. It’s been a long time since a woman just bangs out straight forward smasher after smasher but Bryde does all that and more. How she isn’t a household name yet I’ve no idea but we can share this best kept secret in British rock between us… for now.

02 – Kathryn Joseph – From When I Wake The Want Is

Blessed with a distinctive voice that makes every moan and growl feel like a personal attack and the ability to create infectious piano melodies, Kathryn Joseph’s second album is sublime. It took me a while though. The beauty of this album is in its ambience detail – there’s a home-brew warmth to it all which is helpful given how dark and twisted most of the lyrics and subject matters are. Nothing is off the table, Kathryn’s penchant for repetition makes each track feel like it’s grinding up on you like a leech and you can feel every slither of pain. Scotland’s finest.

01 – Ionnalee – Everything Afraid to be Forgotten

Nothing about this album will be forgotten as Ionnalee (Iamamiwhoami) creates electronica perfection with an album full of belters, bangers, dark grooves, quirky lyrics and the very best of Nordic pop sensibilities. Each track is a smash hit in waiting and when seen live, or with all the weird and wonderful promo videos, is completed as a piece of art-pop that will go down in history as one of my most favourite albums not just of the year, or the decade, but frankly of all time. This is the Lady of Art-Pop I want – the rest are just imitators.

If you like what I do, and would like to help me make better and more content then please consider supporting me via Patreon. Thank you.

Let me know your favourite albums of 2018 below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: