Cambridge Audio's Best Albums Of 2018
Here are the team at CA HQ picking their favourite albums of the year.
2018 has been a pretty busy one for us at Cambridge Audio. The arrival of our best sounding hi-fi to date the Edge series, our dip back into vinyl with the Solo and Duo phono stages and have you even seen how many playlists we’ve curated?! Of course, we’ve always made time for new music releases. That’s a given! We asked the team to pick their stand out album of the year, so as usual, prepare for an eclectic mix.
The album sees the band known for their satanic church theatrics take more of a mainstream approach to their music than their previous albums. There are still elements of their slightly harder metal roots in songs like "Faith", but the majority of the album has a softer tone with tracks like "Rats" and "Dance Macabre" having choruses that are designed to have the crowds at the live shows singing and dancing along and with influences from classic rock to disco. This new sound fits the band really well, and I can see them continuing this route with future projects. Other tracks worth mentioning are the instrumental "Misama" with the most unexpected sax solo I've heard in many years and (on the extended version) and a great cover of The Pet Shop Boy's 'It's A Sin'. Sam Meredith, Engineering.
We’ve already touched on this album previously in one of our monthly music roundups, so let’s keep this short and sweet. Opting for a grander and epic sound, it took ex-Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla taking on a producing role to give the St Louis lads the nudge to take a gamble with their third album. "Epic" might seem cliché but it’s hard to describe using any other words. There are lots of ideas at play throughout the album (fierce energy in ‘Gameshark’, daring experimentation in ‘Heartbeats’ and beautiful vocal work in ‘Nearer My God’) and they all work superbly. In turn, it’s certainly helping bring the image of modern indie/emo to the forefront without the sometimes embarrassing baggage. This could easily be their masterpiece. Liam Ruane, Marketing.
Her first LP in five years features members of Atoms for Peace, Xiu Xiu, Warpaint, and The Last Shadow Puppets. The lead single is aptly titled “Comeback Kid”. Although originally written as a piano ballad, the track is a thumping rocker. Previous albums relied heavily on the guitar, but with her upcoming album, Van Etten includes more new instruments. A press statement points to new sounds of “piano keys that churn, deep drones, distinctive sharp drums. There are dark intense synths, a propulsive organ, a distorted harmonium.” Regardless we have rocked this on the Edge system in our Chicago office quite a few times. Gregg Chopper, Director of the Americas.
I really enjoyed their first album, Chaleur Humaine, and had it on constant repeat in the car, so buying this album was a foregone conclusion that didn’t disappoint.
A mix of trendy Euro-beats and compelling lyrics in both French and English that challenge historic boundaries of culture and sexuality. Chris is infectious and continues to make me tap my toes. I’m happy they included a disc for each language in this case, as I inadvertently bought the French-only version of the last album (!) Pete Dixon, Sales.
I’ve grown up with ex-Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes. I used to bounce around to “Caught by the Fuzz” at the local indie disco on a Sunday night, and their music was a constant feature of my late teens and early twenties. 25 years later, World’s Strongest Man is the sound of Coombes all grown up. A thoughtful and melodic reflection on toxic masculinity about as far removed from his summer anthems of yesteryear as I am from a desire to go clubbing on a school night. And that’s a really good thing. Whilst many of his contemporaries from that time period have either vanished completely, outstayed their welcome or made a comeback entirely buried in nostalgia, Gaz Coombes has evolved, grown and managed to stay relevant. Tony Stott, Product Training.
The 1975's style has only gotten more consistent and interesting with every release, and this outing is their strongest by far. The first track, the ever-changing "The 1975", sets the tone of the album and never lets go. From catchy, "TOOTIMEetc…", to dark, "The Man Who Married a Robot/ Love Theme", to serene, "Surrounded by Heads and Bodies", The 1975’s new record captures everything that made them great before, improves on it, and offers a wholly different experience than any of their previous work. A must listen for 2018. Joseph Buechel, Customer Support.
After being a Spotify Spotlight Artist of 2016, 250 million streams and the fantastic debut Platinum album Bitter Pill. James faced the perilous “difficult second album”. Could he continue the fast-paced rise to the success he was on? Only Ticket Home strikes all the right chords you want to find. The James signature ballad is perfectly present in “Always”, but it is the fresher up-tempo tracks that steal the album. James obviously has one eye on the 2019 festival season stand out track “Hearts on Fire” sure to have the summer crowds jumping. Overall, this is a superb follow-up, and the name Gavin James is only going to grow in strength over the next year. Patrick Durham, Sales.
It has been fourteen years of anxious rumours and waiting, but all of that was worth it. A Perfect Circle's new album delivered everything that I was waiting and more. It has that unquestionable sound of their early work, yet their new sounds brings much more maturity. "So Long", "And Thanks For All The Fish", and "Disillusioned" are just few tracks perfectly reflect everything I love about them. It might take several listens to properly digest their message and intention, but I promise you it is worth it! Povilas Uogintas, Web.
Honourable Mentions: TeseracT – Sonder
I wouldn’t refer to Call the Comet so much as Johnny Marr’s third solo album, but rather as the latest entry in an extensive list of projects throughout his highly eclectic career. This album feels, in a way, like a concept album that is trying hard not to be one, where ideas of an alternative society and otherworldly places get intertwined alongside Marr’s riffs. A few nods to his past projects and collaborations are evident if you are familiar with his work. The first single ’Hi Hello’ immediately evokes (consciously or unconsciously) The Smiths, while ‘Walk Into The Sea’ borrows some of its dramatic minimalism from the works of Hans Zimmer. One of my favourite tracks -also released as a single- is ‘Spiral Cities’, where Marr showcases his ability to craft melodies and riffs. Despite lacking the lyrical potency of some of his back catalogue, this album provides a sonic experience that perfectly encapsulates the Marr sound, which is –by the way- much more than just jingle and jangle! Luis Bernardo, Engineering.
Honourable Mentions: Pringe - Piano & A Microphone 1983, St Vincent - MassEducation
One of the most impressive shows of heavenly guitar riffs and syncopated beats, Polyphia mastered their sound on New Levels New Devils. The album’s mix of traditionally metal-style drums and fun beats create an edge all its own with “O.D.” as the second track. Even with thrashy sounds, you’ll want to dance and nod your head through each track’s drums, guitar, and electronics. “G.O.A.T.” creepily (read: awesomely) finalizes the album experience with an angelic send-off. Give the album your open ears, and you will be blown away by this band’s artistry and collective amount of talent, sweat, and tears put into this masterpiece. Genevieve Mitchell, E-Commerce.
We need a hero for these troubled times, and what more could one want than a small beetle with a devotion to the postal service? Not only is Yoku's Island Express one of the best games of 2018, but it comes with a wonderful soundtrack. Just like the game, it's a mixture of different genres that shouldn't work together, but do - moving from breezy, tropical vibes to electronic riffs with detours via bebop and chiptunes. Any soundtrack that includes ocarina, electric guitar, Tuvan throat singing, two trombones and a recitation of the DNA of yeast has got to be worth a look.
All this is topped off with a ridiculously catchy main theme, which buries its way into your head, making a sunny little enclave that causes you to smile every time you think of it. Simply joyous. Now everyone, after me: Hey-a, Yoku Taidua... Jonathan Miles, Engineering.
To say UK artist/producer Paul Frankland, aka Woob, has been prolific over the last decade is something of an understatement – the 15 albums released since 2010 serve to prove that. This surge in output means fans of his ambient cyberpunk have (almost!) forgiven him the 15-year gap between 1995’s ‘Woob2’ and 2010’s ‘Repurpose’.
For ‘Tokyo Substrate Paradox’, his 18th album overall (not including his work as Journeyman, or Max & Harvey), he’s done something that’s either 1) genius, or 2) a little bit of self-indulgent tomfuckery – I tend to think it’s the former, but I can see how some might think otherwise. After all, ripping your own 2017 limited vinyl-only release, remixing some of the tracks from the ripped files, then repackaging the whole thing as a digital-only release might sound a bit pretentious. That said, this is the same guy who’s dropped vinyl that is meant to be spun at both 44 and 331/3 RPM and, via a slew of innovative limited editions, arguably leads the way when it comes to non-traditional media releases, so if he wants to mess with convention, why not?
As for the music on the album? Imagine you’re stood in a 1980’s video game arcade, Akira flickers in your peripheral vision on a wall of dusty CRT’s, Vangelis & John Carpenter play over the PA. Galaga beckons. This is synth-wave at its very best. Mark Whiteman, Marketing
Soccer Mommy – Clean
Sometimes I hear a song or an album and it strikes a chord because it sounds timeless and classic; sometimes I hear something and it draws me in because it embodies the time and place in which it was made. For me, Soccer Mommy’s Clean feels like distilled 2018. Part of that is definitely because I discovered them after the video for ‘Cool’ popped up on YouTube (thanks YouTube algorithm). Mostly, however, it’s the way that Sophie Allison writes gorgeous, vulnerable love songs while also telling you she doesn’t want to be your fucking dog. For a young band with a decidedly chill, slacker-rock sound, the production and lyricism on Clean is quite mature (to my ears, at least), and I’m eager to hear what they do next. Kiel Nowakowski, Customer Support.
Having been in different bands for most of my teenage and adult life, writing music for a small “fan base” (mainly made up of family members and friends), you always feel pangs of jealousy when someone younger than you signs with a renowned record label. When that same person goes on to release a critically acclaimed debut album, you want to break down and cry. But that is exactly what Lindsey Jordan, as Snail Mail, has done with her album Lush. The album shifts between despair and enlightenment with a throwback to 90s indie rock. "Heat Wave" is one of the standout tracks, beginning as a soft ballad before blooming into shoegaze rock with wild fuzzy guitars. All tracks on the album talk about both the confusion and triumphs of youth; however, Jordan is able to deliver this with confidence and grace far beyond her years. Nathan Hynes, Customer Support.
Playboi Carti's Die Lit is a hypnotic trap-rap album that sparks intense mosh pits and puts punk energy in the spotlight. Carti and his native producer Pi'erre Bourne are a perfect pair. Bourne sews dense, multi-layered beats that are truly thinking-man's music (if you sit down with some headphones and digest everything without distraction), using ethereal synths, glitchy electronics, and bass that rumbles your ribs. Carti does his part with his adrenaline-loaded rapping and hooks that consistently become earworms. Playboi Carti often says the same phrases and ad-libs in his songs, but they help listeners construct a clearer idea of Carti's life and the lust and thrill that comes along with it. If you're interested in Carti's music, don't concentrate on the lyrics and absorb the environment and vibe that define Die Lit. Sam Willett, Marketing.
Any albums we missed? What was your favorite record this year? Make sure you let us know in the comments below!