As The Cranberries famously titled their debut album: “everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?” Half the year has officially gone by, which means that all Internet pop culture websites must stop and take stock of the year in media in various list forms. Well, we here at Set the Tape are nothing if not committed to being an Internet pop culture website, so that’s precisely what we are doing over the course of this week – and also I specifically love organising things and making lists, so this is a win in multiple respects for some of us. We’re going to look over the best TV to air in the past six months, count down the Top 15 films of the year so far, and cast our eyes ahead to those pieces of media in the second half of 2018 that have most stoked our anticipatory fires.
Today, however, we turn our ears towards the Music that has moved us so. At the end of last year, I ran a site-wide poll to put together a collective list of our Top 20 Albums of 2017, only to discover that very few of us shared similar albums (or even tastes in music) across individual lists. It led to a nicely varied final result but was a system that would likely have caused some amount of barely-overlapping chaos were it to be used for a mid-year report such as this. So, instead, we’ve done something different. Our writers were invited to share their favourite album of 2018 so far, their favourite individual song of 2018 so far, and either a record or artist from this year that they feel deserves more of a spotlight.
The results, I feel, better reflect the extremely personal way that music can move us, allowing you to get a better sense of our individual tastes, and perhaps our recommendations can turn you on to something you may otherwise have missed out on. Like when a friend shoves a record in your face that you’ve never heard of and insists “you HAVE to check this out!” 2018 has seen no shortage of excellent music already, and I know many of us wish we had the time and space to write about even more than those included in this article, so savour these and share your favourites that we may have missed out on in the comments! The best may even be yet to come.
Album: Shinedown – ATTENTION ATTENTION!
2015’s Threat to Survival was a fun tonal departure for Shinedown from the heavy rock tunes that they made their name with. After a year of touring the world supporting Iron Maiden, the Jacksonville quartet return with what lead vocalist Brent Smith describes as a story told across the album’s 14 songs. Telling the tale of a mentally low and emotionally drained man dragging himself up from his own ashes, ATTENTION ATTENTION’s heavier tone is equal parts fresh and a return to Shinedown’s roots.
Song: Five Finger Death Punch – “Blue on Black”
The greatest form of flattery? FFDP’s recent evolution from a thrash metal to melodic has revealed a talent for cover versions. This year, the song guaranteed to have me singing at the top of my lungs is a belter of a cover of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Blue on Black”.
Hidden Gem: Bad Wolves – Disobey
The term “super group” tends to get thrown around a lot in the rock and metal world. This year saw what should be the next big one release their debut album. Consisting of former members from DevilDriver, Vimic, Bury Your Dead and God Forbid – with vocals from Divine Heresy’s Tommy Vext – Bad Wolves found their way to the headlines in the most unfortunate of circumstances when Cranberries vocalist Dolores O’Riordan sadly passed away on the day she was to put her voice to the band’s cover of “Zombie”. Disobey is a debut album that does much more than simply “here we are”. It’s a multi-layered demonstration of the band’s skills and Vext’s abilities across a wide vocal spectrum rooted in some of the most melodic metal you will hear this year. An out-of-nowhere album that has seldom been switched off since it’s release.
Album: Half Man Half Biscuit – Nobody Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut
Show me a year where a HMHB album came out and it wasn’t the greatest musical release of that 12 months and I’ll show you a liar – or somebody who hasn’t heard of the niche-rock British band. Nigel Blackwell is the greatest lyricist of his generation when it comes to wry observations and poetic genius. Although somewhat surprisingly, for the first time since Achtung Bono, it actually feels like the tunes were written before the words so the album has a punchy pub-rock vibe. Besides, who else can get a packed academy crowd chanting “get your hedge cut, get your fucking hedge cut” than HMHB?
Song: Half Man Half Biscuit – “Harsh Times in Umberstone Covert”
“Sour faced she picked out the gherkins, saw Christ in Dorothy Perkins.” “Jean Greenhowe shall grant us a pardon, we’ll eat Battenberg and stare at the garden.” I could go on quoting lyrics, but I won’t. There are a few proper ‘old school’ style HMHB songs on this album that I would be happy to pick, but this is probably the pick of the bunch. Humorous and clever lyrics and get-out-of-your-chair and jump-around-to riffs combine to make potentially the most HMHBy HMHB song since “Joy Division Oven Gloves”.
Hidden Gem: Our Girl
Slightly cheating as their album isn’t due out until 17 August, but the tracks already available make it a must-purchase release. Lead singer-songwriter ‘Soph’ (from The Big Moon) performs some eminently likeable indie rock songs about love, life and all that other stuff. The three-piece band have a slight shoe-gazing feel to them but the raw simplicity is what makes them attractive.
Album: Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
Chain gang blues and slave chants filtered through a satanic black metal mindset. Hugely varied and each track a proper killer. The self-titled release last year was great, but this is a massive progression.
Song: Zeal & Ardor – “Gravedigger’s Chant”
First track proper on Strange Fruit and a statement of intent. Melodic, haunting, gorgeous and threatening.
Hidden Gem: Will Haven – Muerte
Veteran California progressive hardcore crew still making expansive, scarily heavy soundscapes after twenty two years. Contemporaries of the Deftones and should have garnered a healthy chunk of their audience. A cult band that should be scratching at the mainstream door.
Album: Happy Accidents – Everything But The Here and Now
Sophomore album from Happy Accidents sees them mature and fill out their sound and scope as drummer Phoebe Cross shares lead vocals with Rich Mandell. It gives songs a more varied arena to explore, and leaves things a lot more level in terms of temperament. It means that the out-the-gate banger that is “Wait It Out” is complemented by the lovingly introspective “Text Me When You’re Home”. Highly relatable lyrics in a catchy indie-pop package from a band that should be a lot bigger than they are.
Song: Bloods – “Feelings”
Catchy happy-sad songs are my kryptonite. “Feelings” is this in a nutshell, with what appears to be upbeat, feeling downbeat, only to actually be upbeat again. A song about learning to be happy about a new relationship and getting over an ex with my favourite chorus this year.
Hidden Gem: Daphne & Celeste – Daphne & Celeste Save The World
Yes. Them of the bottling-at-Reading fame come back after eighteen years with a new album that no-one expected. Produced by electronic artist Max Tundra, D&C have managed to deliver an album that is not only interesting musically, but touches on all manner of topics whilst managing to stay self-aware about themselves and their own celebrity status. You can argue that they’re guest vocalists on the long awaited new album from Tundra himself, which is an admission made by Celeste herself. The music and lyrical content (that Tundra has sole writing credit for) complements both voices though, and it brings with it a self-aware wry humour and wit throughout.
Album: Confidence Man – Confident Music for Confident People
I was planning on picking this for my Hidden Gem on account of so few people knowing this Australian Dance-Pop project, but the more I thought back on 2018 so far, the more I realised that there was no other album I’d listened to more and enjoyed as thoroughly as this one. Confidence Man live at the intersection of The B-52s, Junior Senior, and Le Tigre (with splashes of Yello and Screamadelica-era Primal Scream), crafting irresistibly fun Pop gems with a wicked sense of humour and hooks for days. More fulfilling and deeper albums have come out this year, but they haven’t stuck with me like this one has.
Song: Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
Early in June, everybody tripped over themselves to offer up their hottest takes about Rita Ora’s wannabe bisexual empowerment anthem, “Girls”, as if R&B goddess Janelle Monáe hadn’t already delivered an infinitely better version back in February. One heavily-indebted to Prince yet bursting with Black female energy all of its own. And, y’know, is also an actual fucking bop.
Hidden Gem: U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
As a regular unregistered lurker around the Stereogum comment sections, my first exposure to the fifth full-length by Meg Remy was rather the same as many others on those boards: an ever-growing chorus of “OH MY GOD, YOU HAVE GOT TO HEAR THIS RECORD!” And, in fact, you do indeed have to hear this record. In a Poem Unlimited is absolutely fantastic, a focussed trojan horse of sophisticated and often glittery Pop melodies – the 70s Bond theme overture of “Velvet 4 Sale,” the ABBA-reminiscent “M.A.H.,” the Goldfrapp-invoking “Incidental Boogie,” the superb Remain in Light take-off “Time” – hiding impassioned and furious lyrics about the mountain of shit and (at-times physical) abuse women have to deal with in 2018 in plain sight. It’s an outstanding piece of work, one whose sheer quality is currently 2018’s worst-kept secret, so allow me to join that chorus: “OH MY GOD, YOU HAVE GOT TO HEAR THIS RECORD!”
Album: Judas Priest – Firepower
After being in the business for so long and becoming one of Heavy Metal’s most loved, respected and influential bands, you’d be forgiven for thinking Judas Priest’s best days were behind them. But since recruiting guitarist Richie Faulkner for 2014’s awesome Redeemer of Souls, they clearly have a new lease of life and Firepower shows that more than ever with big riffs, shredding solos and anthemic epics led by enigmatic vocalist Rob Halford who proves yet again why he’s known by many as “The Metal God”. Probably their best album in 25 years.
Song: Judas Priest – “Lone Wolf”
Tucked away at the end of Firepower, its penultimate track isn’t the typical Fast-Picking Riff/Halford Scream/Crashing Drums combo or the catchy riff ala “Living After Midnight” that might be more familiar to Priest fans. Instead, “Lone Wolf” starts with some low key picking then the standard crashing of drums before exploding into a massive, doomy, Black Sabbath-style riff that raises eyebrows in the best possible way and brings a metal face to the most sceptical of metal fan. A head-nod provoking verse with Rob Halford’s powerful vocals throughout dragging you through on a tide of awesome metal but it’s Richie Faulkner’s guitar that owns “Lone Wolf” and proves Judas Priest have plenty left in the tank yet. For a band that nearly gave it all up some years back, this is a scarily exciting prospect.
Hidden Gem: Orange Goblin – The Wolf Bites Back
It might seem strange in this modern age to be plugging a band that are over 20 years old but Orange Goblin have played every toilet venue in the UK and Europe during that time – I’ve had friends see them in social clubs and community centres! They finally got some attention in 2012 for the brilliant A Eulogy for the Damned and have been steadily gaining worldwide popularity since then. This is well deserved as their brand of Black Sabbath/70s Hard Rock/Metal influenced tunes are a joy to listen to. Big riffs and powerhouse vocals lead the way. Joe Hoare must be one of the most underrated guitarists in Metal and the band one of the most consistent, especially as far as British Metal goes. New album, The Wolf Bites Back proves this even further with an added Motörhead influence to their sound. Great stuff.
Got a favourite song, album or underrated band from the year so far? Let us know in the comments!