A few days ago we reached Midsummer, the half-way point between our New Year hangover and the Clash Christmas party.
It's been an incredible six months, one dogged by controversy, surprise releases, unexpected collaborations, and the increased failure of 'genre' as a term to pigeonhole pretty much anything we enjoy covering.
2018 has been marked by some truly seminal releases, and we've gathered what we believe to be the 25 best of the year so far into this list.
Note: It's unnumbered... For our full, official verdict you're going to have to come back in December!
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Pusha T – Daytona
Like the Rolex from which it takes its name, ‘DAYTONA’ is primarily concerned with time and luxury. The three years it’s taken Pusha to deliver a twenty-one minute album is unaffordable to most rappers. By staying small, focussed and concise here, he makes the biggest statement of his solo career so far - going against the excess and all-you-can-eat approach that’s trapping the rest of the game is truly a stunt. Pusha T is timeless. - REVIEW
Rae Stremmurd – SR3MM
Inspired by OutKast’s 2003 album ‘Speakerboxxxx/ The Love Below’ Rae Sremmurd delivered an ambitious triple-disc set to introduce listeners to them as individuals, as well as combining to serve up a third helping of ’SremmLife’. Swae Lee’s solo disc ‘Swaecation’ is further proof of his stardom; a blend of irresistible pop and R&B that will have you singing your heart out. Meanwhile, Slim Jxmmi’s ‘Jxmtro’ is a swagged out Southern rap album with impeccable beat selection that cements him as an artist in his own right. - Grant Brydon
Leon Bridges – Good Thing
The deliberate advancement beyond the authentic vintage sound of his debut album, ‘Coming Home’, was bound to provoke mixed feelings, but any initial disappointment was quickly forgotten once the adventurous R&B of ‘Good Thing’ grabbed hold - the effervescent funk of ‘If It Feels Good (It Must Be)’, the shimmering ‘You Don’t Know’ and the charming ‘Beyond’ establishing Bridges as a progressive - not nostalgic - soul man for our times. - Simon Harper
The Carters - EVERYTHING IS LOVE
In conclusion to Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ and Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’, the superstar couple deliver the realities of marriage on their collaborative album ‘EVERYTHING IS LOVE’. On a surface level The Carter’s provide some great easy listening music for the Summer, but dig a little deeper and there are plenty of lessons to be learned here, particularly in its lyrically denser second half with standout cuts like ‘FRIENDS’ and ‘BLACK EFFECT’.
Kanye West - ye
With his eighth album ‘ye’, which captures Kanye during one of his most controversial periods, we get plenty more of this kind of writing. Thanks to the priming we’ve received from ‘The Life Of Pablo’, ‘ye’ is more enjoyable from first listen than its predecessor. This is the least reinvention that we’ve experienced between Kanye albums since ‘The College Dropout’ and ‘Late Registration’, and feels almost like an extension of something we’ve already grown to love. - REVIEW
Kamasi Washington – Heaven And Earth
‘Heaven and Earth’ is an album with soul jazz, spiritual jazz, jazz-funk, electro-soul and many more genre-busting approaches incorporated across 16 wondrous pieces, aspects of free rhythms nestling next to vintage seventies soul sounds, all evolved effortlessly for the 21st Century. - REVIEW
SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES
It seems that SOPHIE has taken on her most challenging project yet: her true self. And this theme permeates ‘OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES’, even if, musically, the rest of the album returns to the kind of tracks you’d expect if you’ve followed SOPHIE’s career up to this point. - REVIEW
Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
It’s unsurprising, then, that the band has doubled down on this approach with a sophomore that's Spanish-language title quite literally translates into ‘With All The World’. ‘Cómo Me Quieres’ takes the sonic palette of ‘Universe’, which largely refracted obscure Thai Funk influences through their recording barn in Texas, and expands it to take on musical influences from further afield. On this whistle-stop tour Khruangbin take on such diverse styles as Iranian Pop (on the spindly guitars of lead single ‘Maria También’), Cuban Soul (on the smooth-as-silk ‘August 10’) and classic East Coast hip-hop (on the Questlove-indebted ‘Shades Of Man’). - REVIEW
Kali Uchis – Isolation
Kali Uchis is a brand unto herself. In some ways her debut record is a natural progression from the imprint of her earlier material, but this is hi-definition, retro-futurism done right. Kali has created a lucid dreamscape where you can be whatever you want to be, self-venerated and free. ‘Isolation’ is an escapist escapade of the highest order. - REVIEW
DJ Koze – Knock Knock
Rightly celebrated German producer DJ Koze soars beyond his house influences on lucid, expansive new LP 'Knock Knock'; a bold and highly creative return, it plays with fresh influences to reinvigorate the sound he has rightly made his own.
Skee Mask – Compro
The producer's second full length under the Skee Mask name, 'Compro' builds on the stellar creative success of his debut to further a singular aesthetic, while continually reaching out to make fresh connection with club culture's more left field voices.
Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy
While there was a lot of pressure on Cardi B’s official debut album, thanks to the success of her history making breakthrough single ‘Bodak Yellow’, the Bronx native had no problem delivering. Cardi’s irresistible personality bleeds through her music, she proves to be impressively diverse and unafraid to push herself into new spaces musically. It’s unsurprising that ‘Invasion Of Privacy’ has spawned more hits - at time of writing this ‘I Like It’ is sitting at the top of the US Billboard Charts, despite two of its verses being delivered in Spanish. - Grant Brydon
Trouble – Edgewood
Atlanta rapper and mixtape veteran Trouble joined forces with Mike WiLL Made-It in March to deliver the hardest rap record of the year. ‘Edgewood’ sees Trouble delivering a lucid chronicle of his surroundings over spacious production from Mike WiLL that’s unlike anything else, and is likely to still sound brand new in a decade. The chemistry is reminiscent of The Neptunes’ work with The Clipse and cements Mike WiLL’s status as one of hip-hop’s production greats. - Grant Brydon
Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
On their anticipated collaborative LP, Kanye West and KiD CuDi tap into a childlike curiosity that allows them to dream big and create without boundaries. Mixtape-like in its approach, the experimental release fails to top their previous collaborative magic, but whenever it does come close - on tracks like ‘Reborn’ and the title-track - ‘Kids See Ghosts’ offers some of the highlights of Kanye West’s recent crusade. - Grant Brydon
Amen Dunes – Freedom
We’ve seen flashes of this maturity, of this aesthetic confidence before, but ‘Freedom’ is Amen Dunes undiluted, unleashed, a broad, ambitious work that undoubtedly ranks as his finest, most fully realised effort to date. - REVIEW
Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
After leaving jaws on the floor nationwide with ‘Blue Lights’ in 2016 at the age of just 18, the weight of expectation must have been heavy for Jorja Smith. In the two years since, she’s barely put a foot wrong; winning Brit Awards, selling out tours and covering magazines (including ours!) while the world waited for her debut. Musically, she’s drip fed just enough to keep us satiated while honing her first album. - REVIEW
Hookworms – Microshift
Some of Hookworms’ best work to date. The band’s krautrock roots also still remain. With ‘Static Resistance’, which bolsters a flamboyant and exuberant performance from MJ, the Herculean ‘Ullswater’ and the post-punk ‘Boxing Day’ all exhibit the outfit’s penchant for creating intricate and driving psych-rock. - REVIEW
We Out Here - V/A
Both historical document and statement of future intent, ‘We Out Here’ is a formidable introduction to the collaborative talent of artists like Nubya Garcia, Theon Cross, Moses Boyd and Joe Armon-Jones. With Hutchings as musical director, the album was recorded over three days in August 2017, mirroring the collaborative creativity of the aforementioned Blue Note and Impulse sessions. - REVIEW
Black Panther – The Album
Such is the weight of expectation on Kendrick as a solo artist, this project feels very liberating for the Compton rapper, as he can curate an album that isn’t expected to be particularly meaningful. That isn’t to say there aren’t layers and depth to this album, but it can be more easily digested than Lamar’s previous projects. Black Panther: The Album is an instantly enjoyable project that allows its featured artists to shine under the watchful eyes and ears of Kendrick Lamar. - REVIEW
Jack White – Boarding House Reach
‘Boarding House Reach’ is easily one of the most layered and compelling releases of 2018, which furthers White’s legacy as one of the few remaining mavericks in music. - REVIEW
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Shelving stadium-ready indie rock in favour of a sparkling vintage cosmic voyage, this record marks the Monkeys’ first step into a surrealist universe, away from the trademarkedly down-to-earth drunken and lust-fuelled tales we’re all so familiar with. While the previous, banger-crammed ‘AM’ album drew an obsession for sleazy melodies and doo-wop hooks in every nook and cranny, this piece could hardly be less interested in catchy pop bangers. Anyone hoping for a reprise of ‘AM’ or earlier exploits will risk feeling extremely short-changed. - REVIEW
James Bay – Electric Light
Hats off to James Bay. His 2015 debut, which went straight to number one, set expectations at an all-time high for the follow-up. ‘Electric Light’, however, seems to represent something else entirely. AlI over the place stylistically, Bay has weaved together a variety of extravagant differences. - REVIEW
Jon Hopkins - Singularity
Highlights ‘Emerald Rush’ and ‘Everything Connected’ are as lush as they promise, both ready for emotional unboxing in your choice of Boiler Room or bedroom. ‘C O S M’ is the first dramatic reduction in pace, but proves to be only temporary respite, as the album’s second half builds to a glorious finale. Hopkins remains in ascension, and no one is on his level right now. - REVIEW
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Like a magic eye puzzle falling into place, ‘I’m All Ears’ has only slightly shifted the band’s focus, but suddenly it all makes sense. ‘Hot Pink’ had signalled scuzzier intentions, but that track’s crushing drop transpires to be only one of many tricks up the Norfolk duo’s sleeves. Later singles ‘It’s Not Just Me’ and ‘Falling Into Me’ sound nothing short of invincible, the latter continually shapeshifting each time you think you’ve got it nailed down. - REVIEW
Sons Of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile
Recorded with his Sons of Kemet group, featuring the tuba of ‘We Out Here’’s Theon Cross and the double drums of Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford, Hutchings combines the lassitude of dub with a propulsive swing in putting forward his vision of ‘alternative queens’ to replace our own. - INTERVIEW
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