End of the year music round-up alert!

Yes, it’s that time of year when we reflect on the best music we heard all year and assess which releases will have some longeviety in our collections and will still be getting plays in months and years to come.

We won’t be ranking our fave music of the year as ranking art inevitably reduces it, and is symptomatic of a culture that tells us to seek and to measure value in quantity, not quality, popularity rather than creativity or talent. Also, the relative value of music can’t really be assessed in a simple list of who’s best anyway. It’s like, as the expression goes, comparing apples and oranges – who is better, Madlib or Mad Professor, 4Hero or FourTet? Can you put them in order of ‘best-ness’? And on what criteria? Maybe such a judgement can’t be made, and instead the binary approach is the problem. Perhaps one producer isn’t ‘better’ than the other, perhaps they are different, with differing strengths and skills. Not everything in life can be simply compared and evaluated like this; life, and music are both too subtle, rich and complex for such a base analysis.

So instead we’re just going to talk about some really, really good music that was released this year, some of which you might not have heard. This is our list so we can be as preachy as we want, and so we thoroughly recommend that you ensure some money goes to the artists you love – either via Bandcamp, Juno, Beatport or Traxsource or if you’re not a buyer, then through your chosen streaming platform – because for 99% of the music making population, making brilliant music is a very poor way to make a good living. All the best for 2019, and here’s some marvellous music in the meantime!

Here’s the full playlist on Spotify:

Our favourite music of 2018 :o)

Both Daniel Avery’s and Leon Vynehall’s album releases this year were beautiful, in quite different ways. Avery’s ‘Song For Alpha’ is pristine, moody and cold to the touch, whilst Vynehall’s ‘Nothing Is Still’ is melancholy, atmospheric and emotive whilst simultaneously restrained. It’s definitely one of my musical highlights this year.


Other stand-out albums this year included DJ Koze’s excellent ‘Knock Knock’, 16 tracks of hazy, fuzzy-edged samples and unselfconscious beats, with some memorable melodic moments, a frankly brilliant Roisin Murphy collab and of course the rather big ‘Pick Up’

https://open.spotify.com/track/5YzBL3vkQnp3JbeDRRSbSQ?si=agEu9fh6SleLKa6cS_hf3Q

The ‘Negro Swan’ long player from Blood Orange was a lush delight too. Based around an entirely different production style from Koze’s slightly wobbly collages, ‘Negro Swan’ was clean, crisp and shiny, confident and languid. It’s a rich, almost florid album, full of overly sweet harmonies, space-age beats, contemporary synths and sentimental retro references.

The Crooked Man album ‘Crooked House’ was really good this year too, a vocal house affair with a pleasingly original production on each track. Highly recommend. Likewise the Mildlife album ‘Phase’ – although it was a very different animal to Crooked Man’s updating of the vocal house template. Mildlife’s ‘Phase’ features 6 sprawling cosmic-jazz-disco tracks that contain so much quality musicianship and tasty production that they just keep on giving on repeated listens. ‘Nuova Napoli’ from Nu Guinea was another 2018 album release on the space-disco tip, packed full of wiggly synths and again, with some serious instrumental chops. Both of these albums were stand out for their musicianship and complete refusal to make any concessions to fashion or trend. Just top quality.

Other album mentions have to go to Joe Armon-Jones’ jazz odyssey ‘Starting Today’, featuring 6 long, spread-out funky celestial jazz journeys – yeah, you either love or hate this kind of thing – me, I love it, and this is another album that I’ll be returning to in the coming months. Martyn’s dreamy yet harsh ‘Voids’ is an entirely different kettle of synths. It’s dark, oppressive, sometimes it thinks it’s all cool, detached Berlin Techno, then the next moment it’s all Croydon Garage, great bit of hybrid action. Holly Cook’s sprightly ‘Vessel Of Love’ is an album of contemporary reggae songs and is well worth checking out. And in an entirely different style, the tiny wibbles twitches and snippets that make up Proc Fiskai’s ‘Insula’ add up to a very satisfying bleep-fest.

When it comes to singles, there were a bunch of big bashing piano tunes that I was keen on this year, including Marquis Hawke’s ‘We Should Be Free’ and Gerd Janson & Shan’s remix of Special Request’s ‘Brainstorm’, both unashamedly retro-flavoured, but a flavour that’s irresistible. And songs too, with words and melodies, what’s not to like.

Speaking of songs, on the more mid-tempo tip, oh my God the Crooked Man brooding re-rub of Amy Douglas’s ‘Never Saw It Coming’ is a contender for banger of the year, were I the ranking type.

Likewise, Chaka Khan’s ‘Sugar’ was a monster this year, seriously good quality dance floor tackle. Other decent songs this year included national treasure Roisin Murphy’s ‘Plaything’ which really should have been much bigger than it was.

Fouk’s remix of Nachtbraker’s Hamdi’s is a stone-cold dancefloor winner, a category that Ron Basejam’s ‘After The Rain’ EP also falls into. Jimpster’s ‘Burning Up’ from early in the year is well worth a mention, way tougher than his usual fare, it’s a tune for which the term ‘in your face’ was invented. A huge, unavoidable bassline/stab, heavy duty beats and a sneaky vocal sample, together with his production nouse make ‘Burning Up’ one of the years strongest house tracks. Jimpster also turned in a heavy duty re-rub of Bawrut’s ‘More Cowbell’ featuring, perhaps predictably, more cowbell.

The FourTet remix of Bicep’s ‘Opal’ is absolutely superb, it’s probably been on loads of adverts now, but if you’ve not yet heard it, it really is very pretty. As a remix it’s successful as it gets right to the very heart of the original and simply rinses out the strongest musical idea over the course of 8, blissful minutes.

I really loved the Eris Drew / Octo Octa Devotion EP, it’s a splendid bit of old school updating, as is a lot of their recorded output. On a similar breakbeat/rave tip, ‘Limewire’ from Brame & Hamo and some stuff from Ross From Friends this year trod that nostalgia/contemporary line carefully. You wouldn’t want to hear a DJ set just made up of these kinds of 90s referencing tunes, but they definitely have their place and when done as superbly as here, then it would be a crime not to play them.

There were many more honourable mentions, contenders and players this year, this is just a taste of some of the more memorable music that really did it for me in 2018. A very big thank you to all the artists, producers, musicians, songwriters and DJs who are still turning out quality music despite working within an industry that sometimes seems to want artists to starve to death.

If you hear anything on the list you like, you can always check out an artist’s Bandcamp, Juno, Beatport or Traxsource page, and support them with actual, real money! Happy 2019 to one and all! xx