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In a year that saw music tastes diversify and mixtapes continue to get more eclectic, so were our contributor’s favourite albums more varied than ever. Catch all our writers’ individual top records in the X-Press Writers’ Poll in a couple of weeks, where you’ll come across near misses from Let’s Eat Grandma, Camp Cope and Marie Davidson. But a combined voice speaks loudest, so here are the LPs adjudged the X-Press Top 20 Albums for 2018.

20. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

The prolific Will Toledo re-recorded his obscure 2011 album Twin Fantasy and gave the people (and record label Matador) what they wanted. This February release is classic Car Seat Headrest, with Toledo pulling musical genres and his own life apart with a wry smile.

19. Cat Power – Wanderer

Chan Marshall returned after a six-year break with a collection of stripped-back songs that hearken back to The Covers Record. The heartache and longing in Marshall’s voice are still there, but there’s a maturity here as well. Woman with Lana Del Rey was the first single, but original tracks such as You Get, Black and Nothing Really Matters are the new classics, as is Rihanna cover Stay. Her Valentine’s Day show for PIAF is a must-see for those wishing to experience “the Billie Holiday of her generation” in person.

18. Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want

Anyone missing the rantings of Michael Gira while Swans decide what they’ll do next needs look no further than Daughters’ fourth album. Themselves on the comeback trail after eight years in the wilderness, You Won’t Get What You Want belies its title to give us something we need. Brutal, extreme and very, very noisy, it expands on Daughters’ early grindcore template with two songs even exceeding seven minutes. Art rock at its most sonically intense.

17. Tiny Little Houses – Idiot Proverbs

A rebellious debut LP filled with relatable anthems for millennials, Idiot Proverbs soundtracks the transition from teenagers running amok to adults not giving a fuck. Embedded within a mix of grungy-indie-garage beats, lyrics are meaningful and to-the-point, an unflinching portrayal of Gen Y’s frustrations with the world around them and problems they face. More than just doom and gloom from an entitled generation, lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek vocals release the tension and exemplify Tiny Little Houses’ carefree attitude.

16. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

Rolling Blackouts CF brought guitar pop back in a big way for 2018 with this sun-kissed slice of indie Australiana. The Melbourne five-piece have talent well beyond their years – it takes a master touch to make jangle pop sound so effortless when it’s this meticulously composed. And they wield their pens as mightily as their guitars – dig deeper into these lyrics and you’ll see it’s not all sun, sand and smiles. A perfect debut LP.

15. Czarface & MF Doom – Czarface Meets Metal Face

With trap beats and mumble rappers reaching saturation point in 2018, a return to old school hip hop was always on the cards. Enter Czarface Meets Metal Face – the collab between Czarface (Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck and 7L & Esoteric) with MF Doom – a nod to the glory days of late 80s/early 90s underground rap. The boom-bap production is slick, working around the thick grooved samples, to provide space for both Deck and Doom to showcase their vocal dexterity. A serious party album full of ripe bangers and a timeless piece of gold level hip hop.

14. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

Janelle Monae is a treasure. Not many artists can do fringe-pop as good as her whilst simultaneously reaching pop star status and alt-acclaim. On Dirty Computer, she exercises the diversity of her skills and styles through electronica, grime, art pop, synth pop and hip hop whilst always staying true to her funk, soul and R&B roots. From the dirty protest track Django Jane to the insatiable Prince-indebted ear worm Make Me Feel there is something for everyone.

13. Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg

The Super Furry Animals frontman’s fifth solo album is a melodic, orchestral beauty that appears bright and cheery on the outside – 10 tracks of mellow sounding upbeat pop that could have been made in 60s France. But upon closer inspection, Babelsberg reveals itself to be a cleverly written and deftly executed set concerning itself with serious humanitarian issues. Classy and grandiose without ever veering into the overblown, Babelsberg makes for pleasurable easy listening that flexes the brain whilst soothing the soul at the same time.

12. The Good, The Bad and The Queen – Merrie Land

Whether working with Blur, Gorillaz or another side project, Damon Albarn’s always been interested in thematic presentation. As an elder statesman he’s matured, become darker, wisened and bitter – far removed from the jubilant Britpop of Parklife. 12 years on from their debut, this adventurous supergroup (featuring Paul Simonon of The Clash on bass, Afro-beat drumming legend Tony Allen, guitarist Simon Tong of The Verve and long-time Bowie producer Tony Visconti) has delivered a grandiose Brexit-era concept album of brilliant lyricism and melancholic, carnivalesque sounds – complete with a creepy puppet theme.

11. U.S. Girls – In A Poem Unlimited

In A Poem Unlimited is an album of glorious, inventive feminist art pop which plunders genres from across jazz, soul, disco and funk to create a sound for a reimagined present. An American exile living in Toronto, Meg Remy’s brash vocal stylings borrow from Madonna while her political lyrics cover topics from male violence to revered Presidents. It’s just 37 minutes long and perfectly assembled. Clever, serious, knowing shit.

10. Shame – Songs Of Praise

Bratty South London five-piece Shame’s debut is playful, aggressive and irresistible. Barely out of their teens, it’s brimming with adolescent fervour and melds disparate influences in ways only millennials can, sounding like Joy Division might have if they grew up listening to Blur. No one realised post-punk could be this fun.

9. Peter Bibby – Grand Champion

In a climate of studious musicians and woke lyricists, local troubadour Peter Bibby stands out like a dunny in the desert. Bibby’s lyrics are rollicking tales full of observational witticisms that oft border on the obnoxious, but this only serves to infuse  his second long-player, Grand Champion, with a unique and rugged charm. Showing no signs of sophomore blues, Bibby furthers his musical palette by delving deeper into alt-country and folk, while maintaining his off-the-cuff personality as the central focus.

8. Snail Mail – Lush

Many of the most exciting young artists at the moment are young women. At 19 years of age, Maryland wunderkind Lindsay Jordan is no exception. The debut album from her band Snail Mail is steeped in the decade in which she was born, with her candid lyrics setting her up as the Liz Phair of the #metoo generation. Humble guitar tones and an ear for a hook, make Lush one of the must have records of the year.

7. Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands Of Love

Now signed to Warp Records and living in Europe, US artist Yves Tumor released this dizzying collage of harsh electronic soundscapes and spaced-out androgynous dream pop in late September. Some will hear echoes of late 80s experimental London duo AR Kane or the darker, druggier moments of Massive Attack in their prime. Most will recognise one of the most critical leftfield releases of the year from a major new artistic voice.

6. Mitski – Be The Cowboy

Meticulously crafted across 14 tracks in 32 minutes, Mitski’s fifth album resembles a Beatles record in its perfect construction. If the dearth of guitars in favour of lush synths at first caught us off guard, we were brought around nearly as quickly by the way Mitski  Miyawaki’s lyrics and melodies came together with forward thinking production. There’s nothing as immediate as 2016’s Your Best American Girl, but standouts Geyser, A Pearl, Lonesome LoveMe & My Husband and Two Slow Dancers consistently make up for it.

5. Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death In Meatspace

The debut album from The Drones side project Tropical Fuck Storm [best band name ever], was always going to be, err, different. A Laughing Death In Meatspace merges Gareth Liddiard’s distinctive wailing with chaotic psych rock, disjointed synths and some creepy choral backing vocals. Throwing a punch at modern society and delivered with a distinct Australian twang, the album harkens back to a 1970s Ozploitation era, full of desolation and anger. Just watch that bizarre film clip to You Let My Tyres Down. It’s weird shit man, and it works.

4. Beach House – 7

Beach House’s dreamy music is characterised by the melancholic voice and keys of Victoria Legrand, punctuated by the precise, melodic guitar riffs of Andy Scally. 7 is the prolific duo’s seventh album (surprise) and one of their best, marking a distinct attempt to branch out, utilising heavier drums and a different producer, while maintaining their trademark sound. How they create diversity with limited ingredients is part of their secret magic.

3. Idles – Joy As An Act of Resistance

In a year riddled with outstanding punk releases, Idles staked their claim with arguably the best of the lot. Equal parts unbridled fury and acerbic wit, Joy As An Act of Resistance pairs scathing socio-political criticism with refreshingly life-affirming sentiment. The lyrics wouldn’t hit nearly as hard if it weren’t for Idles’ sonic weapons – a blistering guitar sound and an ear for some seriously catchy hooks.

2. Julia Holter – Aviary

On Julia Holter’s most boundary pushing and conceptual record to date, every crevice is thought through to perfection. Even the album name Aviary perfectly portrays some of the albums themes; freedom with boundaries; a happy prison. The album is hard to pin down, with elements of classical, industrial, electronica and art rock but at its core it’s always experimental, with Holter pulling off the sounds, delivery and grandiosity with aplomb. On Aviary, Holter flexes female diversity in music and makes a record that is both extremely giving and otherworldly, with specks of sadness, anger but ultimately hope.

1. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!

One of the beauties (and hypocrisies) of post-punk is that it takes punk irreverence and treats it with schmick commercial production. Results can range from downright criminal to pure ecstasy. When renowned producer Danger Mouse was set loose on Parquet Courts’ latest album it could well have gone either way. Fortunately, Wide Awake! is a crisp and infectious indie-party-album-with-heart. The feel good album we needed in 2018.

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