Alt-J – Reduxer

You may not immediately think hip-hop when you think of Alt-J, but in truth the influences have always been there. The band themselves have been open in their love of the genre, and the clever intricacy of beats and rhythms across their career have always leant themselves to the dance floor. Reduxer takes it one step further, a complete reimagining of last year’s Relaxer, the band working with a host of hip-hop stars and producers to produce something truly remarkable and surprising. No mere retread, this doesn’t involve the lazy adding of a club beat or just dragging tracks out to an interminable length. Instead, it is a wholly different beast.

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The Joy Formidable – AAARTH

The first album to be released on their own Seradom label, AAARTH finds The Joy Formidable at their most comfortable. Their newfound freedom has clearly benefited them on a creative level. The Welsh group’s fourth record places them at the forefront of aggressive, yet still intelligent sounding, guitar-based music, as they manage to evolve with each release and explore new territory. Undoubtedly their finest record since their debut, The Big Roar, AAARTH is a sonic assortment of interesting lyrics, psych instrumentation, crushing riffs and intense rhythms, the title referring to ‘arth’ the welsh word for bear.

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Christine and the Queens – Chris

‘Unique’ is an oft-overused piece of hyperbole in the music world. However, if anyone is, it is Héloïse Letissier. Announcing herself to the world as Christine and the Queens with 2014’s Chaleur Humaine, her strand of intelligent pop music wow’ed both the critical and commercial world. Taking her time with a follow-up, she now returns with Chris, named after her new alter-ego. After briefly working with Damon Albarn and Mark Ronson, Letissier herself took sole control of the production (no mean feat in a heavily male-oriented business). In doing so, she has doubled down on everything that made her debut so great, and advances into new levels.

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The Blinders – Columbia

The world is a mess. Media deciding on our behalf what is and what isn’t ‘fake news’. Front page headlines screaming ‘Crush The Saboteurs’. Your every move online tracked and marketed by faceless corporations. As reality creeps ever nearer to the plot of George Orwell’s classic 1984, a few dissenting voices are beginning to be heard. Jockeying for position now are Manchester-via-Doncaster’s The Blinders, whose debut, Columbia, arrives with perfect timing. Loosely based on that influential novel, it uses it as a springboard into a suitably paranoid world.

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Paul Weller – True Meanings

After his recent psychedelic noise explorations, Paul Weller has returned to a more acoustic and gentle style on True Meanings, his 14th solo studio album. While there is little here to raise the pulse, instead what he has produced is a record that is perhaps his most cohesive and consistent in recent years. With a host of guest stars dropping in (many whose influence is not immediately apparent), it is a piece of work to soothe souls and cool minds as we head out of that never-ending, hot summer.

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Gazelle Twin – Pastoral

The EU Referendum, and its noxious aftermath, is STILL the big news of the day, as the countdown to the UK’s exit from the EU continues, people of all political persuasions (and even those who swear non-allegiance) in conversation about it all. What a Pandora’s box! While it could be argued that tensions were always simmering beneath the surface of the supposedly liberal, tolerant, and welcoming British veneer, they were just that. Since then, tensions have been ratcheted up, perhaps close to the point of boiling over, which is what some are predicting in the not-too-distant future, largely dependent upon whether or not a ‘deal’ is struck between the EU and the UK, and how that situation ends up exasperating the current austere socio-economic landscape.

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Villagers – The Art of Pretending to Swim

Villagers’ arrival on the scene back in 2010 came at a fortuitous time. While acoustic-based music was doing well in the charts (with the likes of Mumford and Sons and Ed Sheeran dismantling them for their own pleasure), the Irish band rode the wave and came out with a Mercury Prize nomination and a whole load of excitable new fans. Those fans have stayed, showcased by their upcoming sold-out show at The Old Market, but the music has certainly changed. If the likes of Becoming a Jackal and {Awayland} were their commercial successes, The Art of Pretending to Swim is their Sgt Pepper or Pet Sounds. Experimental and whimsical, with enough to anchor it down in the here and the now, it’s an absolute triumph of an album.

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Suede – The Blue Hour

The Blue Hour is every bit as cold and earthy as its name suggests. It’s an album filled with ideas of dead birds and decay. The sound of old stone filled with weeds and rusted fences. This is pretty familiar territory for Suede by this point. This is one of the few comebacks done without any sense of throwback and, more importantly, from a band with many more good ideas to get out. Where so many bands fall victim to going backwards on an everlasting victory lap, Suede showed no intention of retracing old ground again. They wanted to push themselves further forward.

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Brockhampton – Iridescence

For a band as prolific as BROCKHAMPTON have been, 2018 has been a quiet year for the “World’s best boy band”. Sure, they finally came over to Europe and absolutely killed it, including heroic sets at Reading and Leeds Festival and two sold-out shows at London’s KOKO. Sure, they dropped some of their finest singles to date in the form of ‘1997 DIANA’, ‘1998 TRUMAN, and ‘1999 WILDFIRE’, but after a 2017 that saw them release three albums, it was always going to be difficult to top that. BROCKHAMPTON, however, have been breaking perceptions since their inception.

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Dilly Dally – Heaven

“It’s been tough getting to this point, but through those grey clouds we were able to find strength in our music and create something pure”, stated Dilly Dally on the release of their second record, Heaven. So it was, with various factors creating a three year gap between first and second records. In fact, it was the success of their debut album Sore, which sent them nationwide and earned them plaudits from the likes of The Guardian and NME, which almost broke the band. Straining their friendships and mental health, it was very nearly the end of the Toronto band. Nevertheless, they’ve finally arrived with their second record and it’s absolutely brilliant. Keeping the feistiness of Sore, with a newfound resilience and sense of hope, Heaven could be better than its predecessor.

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