December is a time for reflection, to look back and weigh in on those stand-out moments from the year that was. You’ll see a plethora of “Best Of 2018” lists across the web but right here at HeadStuff Music we want to focus on our favourites; Music we loved in 2018. Musical moments that meant a lot to us. Music that surprised us. Music that kept us coming back for more. I wrangled up some friends in the world of Irish music to shed some light on their favourite tune, album and gig of 2018. (Plus a playlist of all of our favourite tracks down the bottom.)
Gavin Elsted (Super Extra Bonus Party / 045 Recordings)
Tune of 2018: ‘Wide Awake’ by Parquet Courts
I’m a sucker for a cowbell. I had heard loads about Parquet Courts and hadn’t ever really listened to them so when I saw they were releasing a new record with this as the lead single, I thought I’d give it a whirl. A really simple, straightforward dance jam with slinky guitars and shouty vocals. How can you lose? It’s the perfect gateway tune into PC because I loved that tune so much that I checked out the rest of the record and it’s definitely up there in my albums of the year.
Album of 2018: Daytona by Pusha T
Anyone who knows me will probably be surprised by this but I’m very particular about my hip hop and this ticks a lot of the same boxes that my favourite hip hop album of all time (Madvillainy by Madvillain, absolute masterpiece) does. I have Peadar from Silverbacks to thank for introducing me to King Push at Forbidden Fruit and his enthusiasm for his music encouraged me to check him out. When ‘If You Know You Know’ hits you know you’re in for something special. The rest of the short record flows nicely and is perfect for both couch and club. Total winner.
Gig of 2018: The Redneck Manifesto @ Vicar Street
Sneaking this one in because I had been looking forward to it since it was announced and it did not disappoint. I’m convinced that The How may just topple I Am Brazil as my favourite TRM record and a gig made up of the best cuts from it was always going to be special. Pepper in a few deep cuts from the past 20 (!) years, including Road Relish cut ‘in Hindsight’ and a rasping version of ‘Sweet Pot’ and you’ve got a victory lap that a band that good deserve. Long live TRM.
Honourable Mentions: David Byrne @ 3Arena, James Holden and the Animal Spirits @ The Sugar Club.
Rachel Lyons (Pillow Queens)
Tune of 2018: ‘Bite The Hand’ by boygenius
Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, known collectively as boygenius, released their self-titled EP just last month. ‘Bite The Hand’, it’s opening track is gloriously melancholic. I was so excited when I first heard these ladies had joined forces, being a big fan of them all individually. It’s a Lucy Dacus song with Julien Baker’s lead guitar and Phoebe Bridgers’ harmonies – what more could you want?!
Album of 2018: Clean by Soccer Mommy
Anyone that knows me well knows that I haven’t stopped playing this album since discovering it last spring. The recent resurgence of bedroom pop is one that I have welcomed with open arms and this album is the cream of the crop in my opinion. Her lyrics are cutting and relatable, her melodies bittersweet, her guitar progressions and riffs will stick with you for days.
Gig of 2018: Saint Sister @ The Olympia
So beautiful I cried three times. From the moment the gals walked onstage I was mesmerised. Having released their debut album The Shape of Silence the week previous, it was my first time hearing the songs, I had so quickly become attached to, live. At one stage they spoke about how Dublin is their hometown (musically) and I’m so proud to be able to claim them as our own.
Honourable Mentions: Alanis Morissette @ The Iveagh Gardens, Lankum @ Body&Soul, every time I’ve seen PowPig play live (Pillow Queens are their biggest fans)
Tune of 2018: ‘Samson and Goliath’ by Dani
Dani is a friend of mine and a really talented songwriter and musician. I picked this as my favourite for two reasons – partly because hearing it always takes me back to our touring adventures together, but mostly because it’s really bloody good. I think it really showcases her intricate guitar work and the hypnotic atmosphere she always conjures up with her songs.
Album of 2018: Thought You Knew by Snowpoet
I stumbled upon a song called ‘Always’ by Snowpoet last year and was immediately enthralled by it, so I was delighted to hear they had a new album coming out in 2018. Laura Kinsella’s voice is beautifully addictive, and their music perfectly treads the line between delicate and experimental. Gorgeous.
Gig of 2018: Skylarks Music Club
The most fun I had at a gig this year was one I helped organise – is that cheating? It was part of a new venture called Skylarks Music Club and we had three artists I absolutely love on the bill – Cathy Davey, Ross Breen and Farah Elle – as well as Square Pegs stepping in as our house band. It happened in a little old nun’s chapel in Naas Arts & Culture Centre which is as lovely a venue as you’ll find anywhere in the country. The atmosphere was great and the whole night was just such a treat.
Honourable Mentions: Willy Mason and his whopper band @ Navan Folk Club, Lisa Hannigan @ Leap Castle, The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir @ The National Concert Hall
Tune of 2018: ‘Bubblegum’ by Omaloma
Welsh artist Omaloma aka George Amor (Serol Serol & Sen Segur) has carved out special space on the musical landscape with a series of blissful, spacey psych-pop singles; ‘Ha Ha Haf’, ‘Aros O Gwmpas’ and ‘Eniwe’ in recent years.
This year, Omaloma added ‘Bubblegum’ to this burgeoning list of stellar singles. A first on vinyl, released as a 7″ single, ‘Bubblegum’ is utterly divine and marks the pinnacle of the project thus far. Sung in English and Welsh, ‘Bubblegum’ is a four-minute sojourn to a spellbinding interstellar paradise. It coolly swaggers as it moves on by, leaving us in a dream-like state, with an alluring blend of slinky, synth-pop with psych brush strokes, woozy synth lines and Amor’s soft, soothing bilingual vocals. Instantly lovable, it breezes gracefully by with a seductive soulful underbelly and charm to woo you. Tune in to ‘Bubblegum’ below, you’ll be headed straight for repeated listens.
Album of 2018: Sunday Best by Martha Ffion
March 2018 saw Irish-born, Glasgow-based singer-songwriter, Martha Ffion release her long-awaited debut LP Sunday Best; and it was most certainly worth the wait.
Sunday Best is full of gleaming guitar-pop, wistful-ballads, swooning sixties inspired indie-pop and touches of folk & country; with Ffion’s staggeringly beautiful honeyed vocals bringing this detailed lyrical vision to life. There are sometimes stark differences lyrical content and soft-centred balladry and lush instrumentation as the complexities of life are laid out with a personal honesty, warmth and often times a sharp tongue. Insightful, personal and bittersweet, all with an underlying sense of hope bubbling away.
A marvellous debut that flourishes with an underlying sense of hope bubbling away beneath candid and bittersweet lyrics and of course, swooning sounds.
Gig of 2018: Jinx Lennon @ JuneFest
My gig going activities have been severely curtailed over the past 18 months or so by an aversion to flashing lights; meaning, I’ve not ventured to too many shows in 2018, and those which I have, I’ve to selective about. That being said, there have been some great nights in there but the standout was Jinx Lennon in Newbridge for JuneFest.
Now, I will come clean; the show was a collaboration between my good pal Stephen Connelly (aka Broken Home) and I, but normally being involved in organising a show has one major a drawback; it is harder to enjoy because you’re busy working (and worried about numbers & money). And that night in balmy June, Jinx was on another level. The crowd, and room, was filled a positive vibe and energy. It is hard to explain how, when or why a show clicks like this but when it occurs, it is a special moment in time. A phenomenal night from a unique talent and a certified national treasure, to be exact.
Influenced by post punk and hip hop, Jinx is the embodiment of what a modern folk singer should be. Whether it’s played on a one string guitar or sampled disco beat, raw garage noise and blues, his are songs of raw truths that kick back against the humdrum of modern life. His way with words and delivery is unique and his live shows are an exceptional experience.
Paddy O’Leary (HeadStuff)
Tune of 2018: ‘Why Her Not Me’ by Grace Carter
When my better half got me tickets for Grace Carter in The Sugar Club I had no idea who she was. Her debut EP, Why Her Not Me, has been in my heavy rotation ever since. Carter wears her insecurities and hardships on her sleeve throughout the record as she lays gorgeous heartbreaking vocals over delicate piano and sumptuous 808s. ‘Silhouette’, ‘Saving Grace’ and ‘Silence’ could all have easily taken the mantle but after the live performance of ‘Why Her Not Me’ in The Sugar Club the choice became somewhat easier. The track deals with her father leaving her family, seemingly unable or unwilling to raise a family only for Carter to find out that he raised another thereafter. The hurt is palpable. On that memorable night in Dublin, Carter struggled through the lyrics. Tears filled her eyes. And mine.
Honourable Mentions: ‘If You Know You Know’ by Pusha T, ‘Ghost Town’ by Kanye West, ‘Blue Lights’ by Jorja Smith, ‘Dunkirk’ by Silverbacks, ‘I Like It’ by Cardi B, ‘God is a woman’ by Ariana Grande, ’N.E.O’ by Chai
Album of 2018: Kids See Ghosts by Kids See Ghosts
Although Pusha T’s Daytona is arguably the best album that came out of Kanye’s Wyoming sessions, Ye’s collaboration with Kid Cudi, the eponymous Kids See Ghosts, is the album that I kept coming back to over and over. Kanye lets Cudi shine here and he has never sounded better. Never shying away from the much publicised darker days of both artists, Kids See Ghosts is a seven track stomper of creativity and empowered lyrics.
Although the album includes incredible guest features from Pusha T and Yasiin Bey, it is the unwavering chemistry between Kanye and Cudi that makes this album a winner. Here’s hoping that they don’t leave it at that and we get another Kids See Ghosts release in the future. When ‘Feel The Love’ kicks off with that Pusha T verse and Kanye’s CLACK-GAT-GAT-GAT hits, you know you are in for something special.
Gig of 2018: Chai (Supporting Superorganism) @ The Academy
My pick for gig of the year was not the greatest gig I was at this year in any way to be honest, but throughout a heavy year of live music a beacon of pure light shone through from the unlikeliest of places; a supporting act. A spare ticket found its way to me for Superorganism playing the Academy and with nothing better to do on an October evening I wondered down on my lonesome to check them out. Superorganism were perfectly fine but they were blown away on the night by a band I had never heard of before, their supporting act, Chai.
Chai are a 4-piece all-female Japanese band who ooze energy. They took me by complete surprise and grabbed the attention of the entire crowd who uniformly danced and tried to sing along as they confidently swung through tracks from their 2018 album PINK as well as covers of Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ and The Ting Ting’s ‘Great DJ’. Off-beat pop, heavy guitar riffs, funktastic bass, matching outfits and synchronised dance routines; Chai had it all and NEED to come back as soon as possible.
Honourable Mentions: Vulfpeck @ Olympia, BROCKHAMPTON @ The Helix, Kelela @ All Together Now, Mogwai @ All Together Now, Grace Jones @ Trinity, Grace Carter @ The Sugar Club
Anna Jacob (Naughty Party)
Tune of 2018: ‘Make Me Feel’ by Janelle Monae
If we have to live in a world without Prince, at least we should get a few more decades out of Janelle Monae, if we look after her. I’ve been a Janelle fan FROM DAY ONE. I’ve always been puzzled as to why she hadn’t made more of a splash until now. The Archandroid is defo in my top 3 albums of the decade. Finally, it feels like the world is cottoning on to her deadliness. I kind of miss her wearing sharp suits all the time though. Not that she doesn’t look amazing in drapy diamante bikinis, but I thought the suits were very cool. This tune just has everything. I’m clicking my fingers and doing a lame little dance in my seat just thinking about it.
Album of 2018: Heterogaster by Mesadorm
I’ll be honest, I’m not really an ‘album guy’ I know it’s a terrible crime, but I generally skip to the songs I like with no respect to the structure or craft of the album format. I’ve chosen Heterogaster by Mesadorm because it’s the album I’ve been skipping the least songs on this year. ‘Easy’ and ‘Colour and Sound’ are the two I go back to again and again. The production is inventive in keeping the listener guessing and the musicianship is top notch. Daisy Palmer might be the best drummer working in the UK right now and I love hearing her delighting in juicy fills on ‘Colour and Sound’. ‘Easy’ is the kind of tune I can’t listen to the whole way through without welling up. The video is gorgeous too.
Gig of 2018: IDLES @ Button Factory
I had been pretty certain that the genre: ‘sweaty men with guitars and drums’ was dead, and then I went to an IDLES gig. Bloody hell. No tricks, no bells or whistles, just some dudes playing their instruments with gusto, sing-shouting and sweating. I’ve not been so inspired after a gig in years. What a flippin’ relief to hear a band talk about love, grief and politics boldly, simply and honestly. This is what music is for, right? Also, if you’d told me a year ago I’d enjoy a punk cover of ‘Cry To Me’ I’d have laughed at you. They also went to some effort to return a handbag and scarf to a lady who got on the stage and crowd surfed. It was a very sweet moment. Absolute gents.
Honourable mentions: The Redneck Manifesto @ Whelan’s, Wiki @ The Workman’s Club, Hvmmingbyrd @ Woodlands Stage, Body & Soul Festival
Mark Conroy (HeadStuff)
Tune of 2018: ‘Falling Into Me’ by Let’s Eat Grandma
Snail Mail, Sigrid, Ariana Grande; 2018 really was the year in which young female prodigies tipped the balance of critical attention towards a demographic of artists often maligned as inessential and shallow. The best of this lot might just be London synth-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma, whose combined years of 38 is the same age of the artist who made this contributor’s album of the year.
‘Falling Into Me’ is the showstopper from the excellent sophomore effort I’m all Ears. The track charges like a technicolour locomotive powered by thunderous electro-beats, crepuscular guitar sounds, spindly piano-key playing and a sax line to die for. “You’ve got this”, we hear repeated as a mantra throughout. As if they, or us, were ever in doubt.
Album of 2018: Freedom by Amen Dunes
Damon McMahon’s breakout album under the Amen Dunes moniker is a sweeping statement of mystical folk rock. Partly made to reckon with a terminally-ill mother’s impending mortality, Freedom is a sumptuous dive into the slipstream of McMachon’s memories as hospital room musings, childhood play and teenage abandon appear to blur into one another. The result is elusive but euphoric. The rock is like a formless dream, but his idiosyncratic warble is what grounds us to his reality. We don’t always know what he’s singing about but the we’re never in doubt as to why he’s singing it. There’s pain here and he’s given us stunning sounds to make sense of it.
Gig of 2018: Kojaque @ Electric Picnic
Wordsmith extraordinaire and Dublin rapper Kojaque strutted onto the stage at Electric Picnic liked he knew something we didn’t: his own star power. By the end of the set we’d all be obliged to agree. Arguably the rapper’s biggest gig since releasing his excellent debut Mixtape/EP Deli Daydreams, Kojaque rose to the occasion and then some.
Honourable Mentions: Kendrick Lamar @ 3 Arena, St. Vincent @ Electric Picninc, Car Seat Headrest
@ The Olympia Theatre
And there you have it. Here be the playlist of our favourite tunes from 2018. Enjoy and have a great 2019 full of musical delights!