40. Gizmo Varillas – ‘Dreaming Of Better Days’
What We Said…
Living in today's world has proven very tough for musicians like Gizmo Varillas. His naturally upbeat attitude and hopeless romantic sense of nature seems at odds with the tension and disruption of today's political climate. But rather than try and ignore our current state of affairs, the Spanish frontman has taken it all on board and managed to create a full-length release that looks for the joy and ambition of our new world.
Following on from his brilliant debut album 'El Dorado' last year, the singer-songwriter has maintained a lot of that core sound of funk-filled guitars and an almost psychedelic production style. With soft yet sensual vocals, Gizmo delivers a record that begs to have a good time. While it may be through the guise of this unpredictable lens, he has managed to turn some of the world's biggest fears into a hopeful and sometimes joyous feeling of expectation.
This is by far the most uplifting record we have heard so far this year. There is a special talent about making feel-good music without it becoming cheesy, and Gizmo Varillas certainly has that gift. A wonderfully composed release that will serve as the soundtrack to many sunny days to come.
39. Lump - ‘Lump’
What We Said…
After releasing her brilliant sixth studio album 'Semper Femina' last year, Laura Marling has looked to be on the edge of a reinvention these last couple of years. And now teaming up with Tuung's Mike Lindsay to form the collaborative project LUMP, the pair seem comfortable in each other's presence as their unveil their self-titled debut album.
From the start, 'LUMP' likes to see itself as an eclectic affair. Rather than sticking religiously to the minimal, stripped-back format of most singer-songwriter projects, the duo have tapped into their mutually experimental nature and delivered something with a far more atmosphere than most, making for a genuinely intriguing release. Their use of ambient sound and mild electronics, alongside Marling's identifiably swooning vocals, has set a distinction between their familiar guises and what this new endeavour represents.
It seems that LUMP has been created as a way for both of them to really stretch themselves musically. While the record only manages seven tracks in length, the compact and brief nature of the album only adds to its power. Rather than whimper away, it stands tall and delivers a wonderfully powerful experience that suits the respective directions of these two to a tee.
38. Daniel Avery – ‘Song For Alpha’
What We Said…
Returning five years after the release of his incredible debut album 'Drone Logic', euphoric techno heavyweight Daniel Avery has reemerged to deliver his long-awaited follow-up 'Song For Alpha'. And unlike the majority of material on his first full-length, this sophomore outing sees him take on a more blissful angle this time around, opting for a more laid-back approach on every track.
When you first switched onto 'Drone Logic', you were met with this swelling and pounding beat that filled every fibre of your being. But 'Song For Alpha' likes to see itself as slipping under a warm blanket rather than an initial onslaught of power. The album begins with a selection of ethereal wonders before slowly turning up the gauge as it plays, resulting in this beautiful rising sound that moves and flows near perfectly.
It may seem like a far sight from his first outing but 'Song For Alpha' still manages to pack a punch when it needs to. Its positively engaged nature makes for an uplifting listen and confirms Avery as one of the best producers working today.
37. Soccer Mommy – ‘Clean’
What We Said…
Having spent her infancy among the swell of DIY / Bandcamp outfits that are constantly pushing out home recordings and demo work all over the internet, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Sophie Allison aka Soccer Mommy has become one of the very few to break away from the humdrum of lo-fi noise to release her first official studio album 'Clean', a record that beams with enormous potential right from the start.
Taking her cues from similar artists like Courtney Barnett and Dream Wife, Allison manages to rekindle that magical spark that can exist between singer and listener. She knows that her music has this warming intimacy about it, and therefore aims to strip back as much production as possible, leaving more room for us to absorb exactly what she is singing about and allow the emotions in her voice speak for themselves throughout.
While it is isn't one of those albums that likes to shout about itself too much, 'Clean' still manages to pack a serious punch to the soul at times. It may only be her first official LP but it plays with the experience of someone that has been doing this for years, making for a throughly enjoyable listen.
36. Villagers – ‘The Art Of Pretending To Swim’
What We Said…
Over the years, the Irish alt-folk outfit Villagers have been seen in many guises. Since the release of their heralded 2010 debut album 'Becoming A Jackal', the band have evolved from a traditional folk outfit into something with more depth and eccentricity about them. Now pretty much the one-man project of frontman Conor O'Brien, he has started to move away from the basic and simple sound of previous years as he adopts a more thorough production for the fourth full-length 'The Art Of Pretending To Swim'.
Villagers have always had this very intoxicating sound that forces you to listen as it plays, but on this new release, you can hear that a far crisper sound has been adopted. Rather than opt to follow the path they would have been expected to, the band have upped the pace of this record, leading to comparisons to Radiohead's 'In Rainbows'. A sharp turn away from the direction they were heading in, but one that seems to have revitalised them and sees them exploring new ideas and intentions with sheer gusto.
This certainly feels like a new beginning for Villagers. A strong yet diverse full-length that shows O'Brien at the peak of his creative spell, bringing a fresh perspective to their style and pulling it off with grace. By far one of the best records this band has ever released.
35. Years & Years – ‘Palo Santo’
What We Said…
When Years & Years released their brilliant debut album 'Communion' back in 2015, there was no doubt that this three-piece would become the next big name in pop. With stunning radio-friendly singles running throughout, the band firmly set themselves up to take over the world. But with three years away, frontman Olly Alexander has now become the figurehead of the group as they look to produce less throwaway anthems and more of the substantial, longer-laster pop records that we always knew they were capable of.
While 'Palo Santo' has far less of those standout hits, it manages to do what all good albums have, which is creating a solid flow of catchy hooks that work wonderfully well when played together. This new record manages to reinvigorate the traditional Years & Years sound and push it into new avenues that we haven't heard from them before. Rather than relying on the simple production methods that worked on their debut, this new material seems more well developed and shows that they have truly come into their own since their first full-length.
It's definitely more of a grower than 'Communion' that's for sure. But if you've been listening to the singles and haven't quite got into the new material yet, this album will give you a wonderful experience as it plays and reassure you that Years & Years are far from faltering at this stage.
34. Isaac Gracie – ‘Isaac Gracie’
What We Said…
We have been going on about Isaac Gracie's music for so long that it almost feels unsettling to realise that this is still only his debut album. Yet after years of releasing brilliantly proficient EPs and standalone singles, the time has obviously come to compile his best work to date into one full-length release. And while fans of his work may be a little disappointed to find little new material here, to those new to him, this is one hell of a treat.
Opening up with the single 'Terrified', a track that could have found its way onto Radiohead's 'OK Computer' in some alternate universe, the lowercase styled self-titled LP aims to reflect his own lo-fi and humble production. As it plays, we are mostly treated to a best-of series of his most incredible work so far in his career, but hearing it all in one place really gives the frontman the grandeur and heart-felt attention that we have all known is there from the very start.
'isaac gracie' is one of those rare folk albums that manages to skirt the line between a commercial sound and something with more ambition and passion. It is a truly brilliant experience from start to finish, and we can only hope that his next new release isn't too far away.
33. Aurora – ‘Infections Of A Different Kind – Step 1’
What We Said…
After releasing her spellbinding debut album 'All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend' back in 2016, Norwegian frontwoman AURORA has been one of the most progressive pop artists in the world ever since. Her unique blend of diverse production and strong understanding of future-pop aesthetic has allowed her to push every boundary when it comes to delivering anthemic and engaging music, and out of nowhere we have been treated to the first half of her second studio album 'Infections of A Different Kind - Step 1', an record that cements her as the global songstress that she is.
Coming in with just eight tracks to its name, 'Infections of A Different Kind - Step 1' instantly gets the ball rolling with the euphoric 'Queendom', released by the singer earlier in the year. From there, it is nothing but bold and uplifting compositions that aim to channel the sheer grandeur she showcased on her debut LP. While it may be intended to be just a taste of the full work, this new half-album still manages to pack one hell of a punch throughout as the frontwoman seems to take on the guise of an unstoppable juggernaut, delivering one captivating single after another.
2018 has certainly been the year of future-pop, with so many names in the scene producing quality far beyond what we could have hoped for, and AURORA takes her rightful place amongst those individuals on this return. And despite it only being one half of an unfinished project, it still excites even more as to what we can expect when we hear the other side of this collection.
32. Swearin’ – ‘Fall Into The Sun’
What We Said…
The last few years have been a turbulent time for Swearin'. While the band were riding high after the release of their 2013 album 'Surfing Strange', and subsequent work on Waxahatchee's second studio album 'Cerulean Salt', fractures began to appear in the group which lead to their break up in 2015. Frontwoman Allison Crutchfield embarked on a solo career shortly afterwards, which lead to her first full-length 'Tourist In This Town' early last year, but all the while, the fragmented pieces of their former band were beginning to fall back into place. So now as just a three-piece, Swearin' return with their most ambitious record to date, 'Fall Into The Sun'.
Still filled with all the same fuzzy and energetic guitars of their work to date, 'Fall Into The Sun' has this pulse of a band revitalised and more assured in their sound. The five-year break and total meltdown of the group clearly left the members in a vacuum of inspiration, which has now exploded onto their fourth full-length, giving passionate and determined performances in the process. While it may have the same cloaked vision of their last few albums, this time around it feels like a more organic collection. Never really faltering and delivering one stellar release after another.
It would be a bold statement to say that this is their best record to date, but from the initial listen, you can't help but feel that they have struck gold on this one. The last few years may have been a troublesome time for them, but to come out of it all with an LP this good makes you realise that in order to produce your best work, friction is an inevitable gasoline on the fires of inspiration.
31. Dan Owen – ‘Stay Awake With Me’
What We Said…
Over the last few years, the singer-songwriter guise has become one filled with contention and rolled-eyes. New artists are looking to break onto the scene with nothing more than a guitar and a sense of poetry in their prose, leaving the whole atmosphere around the genre feeling stale and over-exposed. But then artists like Dan Owen come along and add a much needed shot of adrenaline into the scene, not only standing out from his contemporaries, but also showing that the scene needn't be so drab all the time.
In the build up to this debut album, Owen was already being praised by a diverse array of media outputs, which may say something about his style and preferred audience. Ultimately, 'Stay Awake With Me' is one of those rare albums that attempts to please almost everyone and does a pretty incredible job in the process. Taking the dark and thunderous soul influences of Nathaniel Rateliff and repackaging them for a commercial audience, this debut album is filled with bold and anthemic ideas which present the frontman in a very impressive light.
With a gruff, crooning voice, Dan Owen has that perfect balance between an identifiable personality and competent songwriting. This new full-length may have a very broad appeal, but never feels like it is pandering to the listener, making it one of the few truly great singer-songwriter albums we have heard all year.