20 – Prodigy, No Tourists

The musical equivalent of washing down three espressos with a giant can of V, No Tourists gets you fully charged up and ready to take on all comers while also leaving you on a slightly twitchy edge. Here, the Prodigy play in tension and release keeping their songs tightly wound and straining for the drop. Tunes rise and rise constantly against a bedlam of slamming beats, synths that buzz like aggro mosquitoes, massive basslines and vocals –both sampled and actual – that sneer punkish catchphrases. An exercise in frenetic energy, it could all get a bit much if it wasn't tempered with a winking humour and the smarts to be filled with catchy hooks and memorably great songs. Also features the absolute best 'F**k You!' of 2018.
- Karl Puschmann

19 – The Breeders, All Nerve

The Breeders have got some nerve alright. 25 years after dissolving in a drunken, drugged up mess they reform return with a killer album that picks up right where grunge left off. I mean, you never bet against Kim Deal, the woman's a gawddamn musical treasure, but any reunion has the potential for embarrassment. *cough* Smashing Pumpkins *cough* Not so here. All Nerve is typically idiosyncratic, full of earworm hooks and musical explorations that finds new ground within the loudQuietloud template.
It's so good you'll be digging out the old flannel shirt from the wardrobe and polishing up your Doc's before the first song finishes.
- Karl Puschmann

Album covers of some of the best albums of 2018. Photo / Supplied
Album covers of some of the best albums of 2018. Photo / Supplied

18 – Pacific Heights, A Lost Light

A moody and reflective listen, the album's tasteful beats, rolling basslines and electronic soundscapes wash out of your speakers to drown the room in its thick, all-encompassing atmosphere. Driven by the year's bleakest concept – a young man dies searching for a better life for his family across the sea – the record's crystalline production painted in lush, rich soundscapes and presented a truly cinematic experience. Like the ocean itself, the music ebbs and flows, its beats and sounds, both organic and electronic, and roster of guest vocalists all fading in and out to deliver moments of elegant driving beats, breakbeat chaos and delicate beauty. A heavy yet thoroughly rewarding album.

- Karl Puschmann

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17 – Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel

Where Courtney Barnett's debut album was a burst of scattered energy, Tell Me How You Really Feel is a much more internal album, leaning further into Barnett's own worried mind and mostly abandoning her tendency to write rollicking narratives about other people. Taking on anxiety, relationship roadblocks and the #metoo movement (a Margaret Atwood quote becomes a chorus on Nameless, Faceless), TMHYRF is a grungey, cathartic rock record with a purpose. Her lackadaisical charm and comedic timing remains, but this time she's really looking her listeners in the eye, asking them to pay close attention.
- George Fenwick

16 – Santigold, I Don't Want: The Gold Fire Sessions

Hands up if you'd forgotten about Santigold, giving up after her disappointing last album 99c, and dismissing her as a cut-price M.I.A? Santi White didn't care, quietly sneaking out I Don't Want: The Gold Fire Sessions with such little fanfare, many still don't know it exists. It deserves much better: the album plays as one long summer mixtape, one smeared in sunscreen as it dishes out thumping dancehall, dub and reggae stunners, and delivering standouts like Run the Road and I Don't Want. You can almost see Diplo dancing in his togs by the pool, but you just know he's a little jealous Major Lazer didn't make this one.
- Chris Schulz

15 – Christine and the Queens, Chris

On Chris, France's Heloise Letissier – aka Christine and the Queens – reveals an enigmatic new persona to the world. Tired of the stifling expectations of women in music, Letissier's sophomore record is a portrait of a woman celebrating her queerness, womanhood and physicality across bright, futuristic pop songs; whatever she might have been holding back on her debut Chaleur Humaine is unleashed in full here. As a producer, songwriter and singer, Letissier's talents are unstoppable, from the bulletproof banger Doesn't Matter to the weightless Goya Soda. With sublime harmonies and demanding beats, Chris is a pop record infused with exhilarating purpose.
- George Fenwick

14 - Delaney Davidson, Shining Day

Shining Day is lit up by pitch black humour and incredible songwriting. Lyttelton's grizzled folkie Delaney Davidson has made a clattering, distorted, ramshackle and quite brilliant record that segues effortlessly from indie-pop hits to nightmarish carnival tunes to grungy blues stompers. It sounds a bit like Tom Waits making his own White Album really. And you can't get much higher praise than that.
But the album's real showstopper is the title track, a heartfelt, delicate love song . If there was any justice in the world this touching, beautiful song would already be considered a modern classic.
- Karl Puschmann

13 – Soccer Mommy, Clean

On Soccer Mommy (aka Sophie Allison)'s debut, 'Clean' is less a descriptor and more a wish that young adult life wasn't so messy – because Allison's brilliant pop-rock songs have too much dirt under their nails to be described as clean. One of her greatest talents is describing people and relationships with a monstrous eye – a corrosive lover becomes a bloodthirsty wolf, while a local "cool" girl becomes a sort of Jennifer's Body-style man-eating demon. But there's also a touching, triumphant vulnerability to Allison's song-writing – while baring her insecurities, she also weaponises them; forges them into her own protective armour.
- George Fenwick

12 – Kids See Ghosts, self-titled

What an awkward and astonishing time rap fans had across May and June when Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions came out. The staggered release of five Kanye-produced albums by five artists in five weeks saw Pusha T's astonishing Daytona suck up attention thanks to his embarrassing dismantling of Drake. But, six months on, the real standout is Kids See Ghosts, Kid Cudi and Kanye's joint effort that combined so many crazed elements - A flute on Fire! Big band gospel on 4th Dimension! A big band rock out on Freeee! - we're still dissecting them all. If only one Wyoming album stands the test of time, it's this one. More please.
- Chris Schulz

11 – Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer

Janelle Monae gave us 2018's best concept album, with Dirty Computer playing out as a series of clips that felt like someone let her take over direction of Black Mirror. Almost instantly, the tracks from this album became straight-up anthems for fans; Pynk became a feminist anthem, Make Me Feel become a queer anthem, Django Jane and I Got the Juice became anthems for people of colour and Screwed became an anthem for those who are simply young and trying to have fun. Monae sang about the black experience, womanhood and patriarchy, sex and sexuality, youth and freedom, and she did it with style.
- Siena Yates

10 – Brockhampton, Iridescence

It's a rare event that a hyped rap band debuts an album in New Zealand first. That's what happened when "boy band" Brockhampton took over the Logan Campbell Centre, playing Iridescence in full to a worldwide livestream just hours after its release. It was an incendiery performance, the album's harsh, clipped beats and bruising rhymes causing a moshpit throughout the show. The most telling sign were the fans in the upper decks, hands on hearts, singing along to every word, despite the album only being released earlier in the day. They're already this good, but it feels like they've only just started.
- Chris Schulz

9 – Mitski, Be the Cowboy

Mitski's knack for beautiful storytelling ascends to another level entirely on her fifth album, Be the Cowboy. Whether she's meeting an ex at Blue Diner or trying (and failing) to end a casual sex arrangement, her delivery hits right in the gut, revealing to us those aches of desperation and loneliness that we'd prefer to ignore. Sonically, it's the most surprising offering from the singer-songwriter, bouncing from distorted guitar to wacky disco-pop in just the first two songs. Lyrically, Mitski makes loneliness sound cinematic, and it's a pleasure to get swept up in the melodrama.
- George Fenwick

8 – Robyn, Honey

Some of the best albums of 2018. Photos / Supplied
Some of the best albums of 2018. Photos / Supplied

We waited eight long years, and boy did Robyn deliver. Honey is a sweet, glittery, euphoric break-up album, an entire world in which loss and heartbreak becomes electricity to get you on the dancefloor. Opening with sorrow and ending with happiness, Honey's nine tracks are decorated with padded beats and futuristic synths, letting the emotion come to life in Robyn's lyrical details. When in the last song she insists she's "never gonna be broken hearted, ever again," she knows it's ironic – but all she needs, and all we need, is that pure, hopeful feeling.
- George Fenwick

7 – Tami Neilson, Sassafrass

This has been such a political year it has been hard for most artists to ignore - that's why Tami Neilson didn't bother. She leaned right into it, put her own spin on it and delivered Sassafrass - a riotously colourful, upbeat and sassy take on the patriarchy, #MeToo and #TimesUp. She tackles motherhood, double standards, pay equity, sexuality, and even takes on Harvey Weinstein, as well as Trump's infamous instruction to "grab 'em by the p**sy". And she does it all while sounding incredible; her powerful, rich vocals booming out across 11 tracks which are entirely, unapologetically Neilson.
- Siena Yates

6 – Black Panther OST

It's not often a movie soundtrack makes anyone's best of the year list, but the Black Panther OST was a whole new beast. It wasn't so much a soundtrack, as it was a Kendrick Lamar album masquerading as one. The rap superstar curated the entire OST, bringing on some of the hottest names in music to create all new, original tracks for the film which, even out of context, still stand up impressively well on their own. There's balladry, hip hop bangers and the thoughtful poetry we've come to expect from Lamar, all woven together by African-inspired production elements and ideas of race, ancestry, history and identity.

- Siena Yates

5 – UMO, Sex and Food

UMO roared back onto the scene atop the gas guzzling, V8 power riffing of lead single American Guilt. It's fair to say this caused some confusion. Their previous record Multi-Love had taken over the d-floor with its sleek, disco stained indie-funk. This, well… this was bogan music.
It was also a masterful troll from UMO's main man Ruban Nielson, a sort of perverse, hard rockin' prank. It's true that Sex & Food marinates in a classic rock influence but American Guilt is the boiling point, the rest of the album bubbles away on a low simmer of mouldy funk and 70s dad rock.
• Karl Puschmann

4 – Ariana Grande, Sweetener

Who would've guessed that a pop album was what 2018 needed? Ariana called her album Sweetener but probably didn't realise that was what it would be for the rest of us. It's an album full of love, light and hope which, even though it addresses things like anxiety, heartbreak and the tragedy of the Manchester bombing, also provides methods of coping, support and the promise that it will get better. Not only that but it's just fun to listen to; Ariana's unparalleled, sugary vocals, Pharrell's upbeat production and a whole lot of confidence and good vibes makes for one of the most addictive releases of the year.

- Siena Yates

3 – Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

If it weren't for the excellent talent pouring out of New Zealand this year, Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy would've easily taken the top spot for 2018. The New York rapper has dominated not just the hip hop scene, but the music world in general. Her unique vocal style, razor sharp one-liners, and honest, raw lyricism set her apart instantly as she rapped about everything from her new-found fame and riches to her life stripping for cash. TimeOut called it "the best hip hop debut of the decade" - it's also the best hip hop album of the year by a long shot.
- Siena Yates

2 – The Beths, Future Me Hates Me

It's cliché to say a band is making rock music sound new again, but The Beths deserve the praise. Their debut record Future Me Hates Me serves up a delicious buffet of hooks, infused with a summery ease and joyful energy. Singer Elizabeth Stokes is an out-of-this-world songwriter; her lyrics have a humorous, 'why are you like this!' quality that speaks to anyone who's ever felt insecure (everyone?). But she doesn't diminish the challenge of fumbling through life and love with an overbearing sense of self-doubt, and to that end, Future Me Hates Me offers listeners a safe place to have their anxieties recognised, but most importantly, de-escalated.
- George Fenwick

1 – Marlon Williams, Make Way for Love

For once there was no argument necessary for the top spot - it's belonged to Marlon Williams since his hit album Make Way For Love released all the way back in February. TimeOut gave it a five-star review calling it a "sonically beautiful and lyrically affecting" exploration of "the bittersweet nature of love and the truly terrible nature of heartbreak". It has well and truly stood the test of time, and remains a spectacular showcase of Williams' artistry, having won him multiple awards this year, including best solo artist, album of the year and the APRA Silver Scroll.
- Siena Yates