This year, alongside all of the traditional end-of-year lists, I decided to host something a little different: a Battle of the Bloggers. It’s a group feature with ten musically-inclined folks (not technically all bloggers; some are musicians or record labels) who decided to defend their number one album of the year against everyone else’s, and everyone who participated is someone whose writing or music I admire deeply. Make sure to click on their names for their Twitter handles or, if applicable, the name of their publication to read more of their incredible work!
The goal of this feature was for those participating to convince readers that their top record of 2018 deserves to be the best overall; at the end of the post, comment which was your favorite! That said, read on and let the showdown begin!
Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
Matt Larsen, Solid Muse
Having moved to London at 18 to pursue music, talented Walsall-born artist Jorja Smith attracted much industry attention in 2016 with her racism-challenging debut single “Blue Lights”. She has built to her vulnerable, yet strong and accomplished debut LP, Lost & Found, ever since.
The album feels like you’re right there with her in the studio as she sings; you can feel the emotion in every lyric. The titular track perfectly introduces her style and soulful voice, followed by the irresistible “Teenage Fantasy”, which will have you humming along with recordings from when 16-year old Smith wrote the song. While there’s a lot of talk of love and its troubles on the album, Smith also explores beyond romantic love: in “Goodbyes”, written to a lost one, she offers a gorgeous melody on teary lyrics: “‘Cause you’re never coming back down/You belong to the stars in the clouds”. On “Lifeboats”, she breaks from singing in favour of a freestyle rap about compassion. Smith’s captivating voice commands the spotlight on the album and is supported by brilliant instrumentation and production. Jorja Smith’s debut LP is supremely human, an honest reflection of the soul, and one of the best albums of this year.
Michael Flynn – Pretend Like
Savannah Davanzo, The Music Mermaid
For singer-songwriter Michael Flynn, a Charleston music staple for nearly two decades, love is best told with gut-punching profundity packaged prettily with synth and strings. Earlier this year, he released his latest solo effort, Pretend Like, with nine dizzying tracks in which Flynn fights to get real about love and life in all its supreme tragedy, matter-of-factly contemplating lines like “You never know how the dark gets in you/Years later, you’re still shoveling out the smoke.”
Flynn travels the gamut of both genre and emotion, seamlessly trailing breadcrumbs in his wake so we can follow without listing on winds kicked up by grandiose swells or desperate harmonies. From the plink of keys on “Get Old” to steady percussive slaps on “You Leave An Echo” to the searing string crescendo of “Great Gasp”, Pretend Like is touched by dazzling moments but treated with a thoughtfulness that guides Flynn’s musical prowess in which he extracts the things we hide deep in our souls and makes them palatable again. It’s a feat untouched by most others, yet Michael Flynn does it with humility over and over again. Because of this, Pretend Like is my album of the year.
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
I’m All Ears is the second studio album from Norwich-based duo Let’s Eat Grandma, formed of childhood friends Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth. The record is largely split into two halves, with the first section of the album consisting of a bouncy, synth-heavy and superbly produced punk-pop tracks, on which one can clearly hear the influence of fantastically creative producers SOPHIE, Faris Badwan and David Wrench. Whilst these tracks are excellent, provide great single material, and contain arguably the best track on the album (the SOPHIE-produced “It’s Not Just Me”), the latter half of the album takes a twist into the realm of epic, and is really what makes this album completely superb. Containing two 9 minute-plus dramatic, creative masterpieces, as well as the mysterious “Ava”, this section of the album will really transport the listener to another place through a combination of utterly unique sound, rising drama and raw, powerful emotion. To conclude, the two very different faces of I’m All Ears fuse together to create an outstanding record that really is a must-listen, and will treat the listener to quite the musical experience!
Trash Boat – Crown Shyness
Crown Shyness by English punk band Trash Boat may not be an immediate choice. It may not even be a contender for a top ten spot. But it is a record that is cathartic and rich in melody. Trash Boat’s music is layered and diverse, and the act are on a mission to challenge the status quo and to cut away the sinew of imitation.
Throughout the record, punk riffs hit every waking moment. Those searing guitar parts are simple but monumentally infectious. From start to finish, it is a record of such sincerity. The band doesn’t care about accolades; they want to empower, and with Crown Shyness, they do. The cut-throat “Old Soul” masterfully arrests the heart and is unapologetic. Alongside these blistering tracks, there is a song of despair: the title song momentarily pushes the listener into a common state of feeling connected to sounds and words that resonate.
Over the course of Crown Shyness, intelligent wordplay and imagery take listeners on a sorrowful journey. Trash Boat seamlessly write songs about lovers cascading into the gutter, but they’re talented enough to make it interesting. Overall, Crown Shyness is a great record and is my album of the year.
Blossoms – Cool Like You
Dale, Peanut Mixtape
There are many great albums of 2018, but none are quite so great as Cool Like You, which is the stepping stone for Blossoms to have transcended the indie label and push up into the area that The 1975 had previously been occupying. The album takes heavy influence from 80’s pop while the band take influence from 90’s era Britpop for their own image.
Cool Like You is Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not for the kids that have grown up in a postmodern world, they’re giving teenagers their New Order/Oasis/Arctic Monkeys moment. This is the album that will see Blossoms take off. Long gone are the shy lads in flared jeans talking about how much they love Stockport, and Cool Like You is the cause of that. Tom Ogden, with his heart upon his sleeve, has lead the band into superstardom. Blossoms and Cool Like You deserve to be crowned the Album of the Year because they’ve given young people the massive indie band they deserve to lead them through their youth.
Donna Missal – This Time
Aaron Mannari, Lemonade Magazine
2018 has been one of the best for music in recent years. Numerous albums were up for discussion, including Amy Shark‘s Love Monster, Bishop Briggs‘s Church of Scars and Jacob Banks‘s Village, to name a few. But there was one album that absolutely stood out as the best and that’s This Time from 28-year old New Jersey singer-songwriter Donna Missal.
This Time is an absolute gem. Whatever you are looking for in an album, Donna Missal provides it. She is a generational vocal powerhouse with premiere songwriting and lyrics. Her ability to take elements of old school R&B and flesh out arrangements with soul and rock elements while maintaining an elegant, modern twist is impeccable. Need some social justice in your music? Check out “Girl”. Going through a rough breakup? Listen to “Skyline” or “Keep Lyin'”. Need a cruising track with your love? Spin “Thrills” and “Jupiter”.
If you are looking for something a little more technical, then check out the production and the mixing on tracks like “Driving” or the title track, though honestly, the are no missteps on the album. This Time is brilliant and should be at the top of everyone’s Album of the Year lists.
Tasha – Alone at Last
Charley James (Twitter)
Tasha’s Alone at Last, released in October, is a spiritual listen. The Chicago singer/songwriter/poet/activist makes clear that certain things in this world are sacred; things such as joy, rest, and love. Tasha asserts that for those marginalized by society, kindness with oneself is political by nature. She has been at the forefront of working to create meaningful change in her community, too. A dollar from each purchase of Alone at Last goes to No Cop Academy, devoted to redirecting funding of a new police academy in Chicago toward youth and community programs.
The album itself is rooted in modern experiences while still maintaining a strong acknowledgement of history. The lyrics of the project are written deliberately, and the often sparse arrangements make it clear that not much is needed to make impactful art. The project is an immensely beautiful breath of fresh air serving as a force for good, not only through the tangible impact of Tasha’s activism but also through the much-needed reminders within her music that there is still something to celebrate. Alone at Last is gentle and strong. It is kind and unapologetic. It is exactly the album the world needed in 2018.
A little over a year ago, Lo Moon won me over opening up a Phoenix show. In some ways, they’re an antithesis to Phoenix, making them sort of an antihero in that context. Their slow burner, sensual tunes form a marked contrast to Phoenix’s shimmering alt-pop anthems. This album is an unlikely album of the year, but it wins this year for me because of it’s replayability. There is simply no other record that came out this year where I can come to any song on the album on shuffle and I’ll gain a quiet enjoyment each time. In fact, I was able to test this just now; I’m currently sitting on a plane, post-sunset back to Ohio. “Camouflage” came up on shuffle just now, and despite me not being able to recall how the song felt right away, my bet paid off. Songs like “Wonderful Life” fit on both a study and a dance playlist, which is hard to do.
Arrested Youth – Fear
Sila, Gig Music Discoveries
Most of the time the best albums come as the debut. Arrested Youth’s Fear is one of them. Since hearing “Mirrors”, he made me want more songs like this. It’s not wrong to compare him to other emerging hip-hop artists like Khalid and YUNGBLUD. He enhances the list of young musicians talk about real issues other than love and heartbreak.
All songs are perfect narrative of what happens to us nowadays, such as taking more selfies than enjoying surroundings, staring more at your phone and computer than real people, fake happiness, working harder and barely sleeping just to buy more things or travel more, but also the fact that young adults end up either being corporate robots or broke rebels saying they are chasing some random dream.
With the novelty of everything from topics to beats, I am sure this is the best album of the year – or at least one of the best ones.
Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
Adam Reeve, Sounds Good
After seven years away from the scene, Daughters returned this year with something that not only reminded us of their sound but also brought forth that they’re never going to leave us alone. You Won’t Get What You Want is a record that doesn’t care to make you feel good; it’s determined to get into the mind and warp it in a way that won’t be the same once it’s done with it.
Throwing aside their tradition of keeping things concise, Daughters instead opted to bring a new sound which converted their previously hasty material into drawn-out expeditions that drone into the night. Frantic guitars combine with battered drum patterns to construct a record that’s an absolute behemoth and downright terrifying.
Make sure you check out each of these lovely folks’s work, and for those who run music publications, check out their full end-of-year lists on their websites and social media. Indientry’s official end-of-year list is coming in one week, on December 30 – and an explanation as to why it’s so late!
Comment your favorite album below and let me know whether or not you enjoyed this style of feature!