The best albums of 2024 so far

Estimated read time 14 min read

Bring Me the Horizon – Post Human: Nex Gen

Being called “overproduced” is generally a criticism but BMTH make it a virtue on this ridiculously high-intensity album. The glitched-up production reflects a fiendishly intricate digital world, while frontman Oli Sykes’ emotions are more histrionic – and affecting – than ever. At a time when so many bands are content with tinkering at the edges of what’s been done before, it’s bracing to hear BMTH be so relentlessly ambitious and fused to the present moment. Read the full review. Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Charli XCX – Brat

In a Swift-driven era of pop stars filling their songs with specific references from their own lives, none was balder than Charli on Brat: pondering motherhood, reliving romantic trips in Italy and paying homage to late collaborator Sophie all with head-turning candour (though we’re still not 100% on which frenemy Girl, So Confusing is about). It’s also a celebration of that most patronised and vilified figure in culture, the party girl, of which she is very much one – and sure enough, the beats are as relentless as the best nights out. Read the full review. BBT

Chief Keef – Almighty So 2

Known for his pioneering influence on Chicago drill, Chief Keef leans into his production skills to create an atmospheric modern rap album. It’s abundant in booming 808 bass lines, snappy snares and punchy bars – but it excels in honesty, personal growth and social commentary. We hear Keef reminisce on his journey so far and criticise the racial politics of the rap industry, adding comic asides in the skits. Aneesa Ahmed

Rachel Chinouriri – What a Devastating Turn of Events

After years of battling stereotypes as a Black indie artist, and facing internal label issues, Chinouriri has proven wrong those who miscategorised her as an R&B singer, with a debut album laden with riffs and emotionally earnest lyrics. The highs and lows of life and love are explored as glinting guitar reverb and fun synth melodies dance in the background. AA

Cindy Lee – Diamond Jubilee

“Sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard, and everything I’ve ever loved,” reads one of the YouTube comments, which gets it just right: this two-hour masterpiece is a genuinely transportive experience, carrying you off to a dream-version of 20th-century pop from doo-wop to garage rock, soul and teenybopping jive, all constructed by one Patrick Flegel. (That YouTube vid is the only way to stream it – you’re better off downloading the high-quality files and making a donation.) BBT

Dehd – Poetry

The US trio are one of those bands who make the hard stuff of songwriting sound so easy: perfect melodies appear again and again like flowers sprouting instantly from the earth. As ever they’re clearly inspired by 60s pop and garage rock, and have a streak of gum-chewing slackerdom that’s offset by eagerness and romance, like a jaded wedding band who can’t help but fall in love with their material each time. Read the full review. BBT

DJ Anderson do Paraiso – Queridão

Brazil’s baile funk scene is probably best known in the UK from its championing by Diplo and MIA about 20 years ago, but it is currently as exciting as it’s ever been – in fact, it’s arguably the most bold and progressive dance music being made anywhere. This dark and dramatic LP is testament to that: a track might be made from just a trombone, a rap and an occasional touch of percussion, but it will still have a huge, cinematic atmosphere. BBT

Billie Eilish – Hit Me Hard and Soft

Denied the No 1 spot in the US thanks to Taylor Swift, by astonishing coincidence, releasing seven new versions of her latest album in the same week, Hit Me Hard and Soft is a triumph nonetheless: deep, strange and haunting, it wrongfoots the listener with softness before unveiling a creepier, darker tone. Read the full review. Alexis Petridis

The Last Dinner Party.View image in fullscreen

The Last Dinner Party – Prelude to Ecstasy

You can see why the Last Dinner Party attracted so much attention so quickly: behind the dressing-up box crinolines and the hype lurks a plethora of fantastic sparky – and indeed Sparks-y – songs, filled with hooks, unlikely musical shifts, wilfully OTT lyrics and solos that announce Emily Roberts as a true guitar heroine. Read the full review. AP

The Lemon Twigs – A Dream Is All We Know

Few bands are less shy about revealing the contents of their record collections to listeners – references to Big Star, the Beach Boys, baroque and bubblegum pop abound – but the songwriting is so fabulous, the harmonies so soaring, that the results transcend pastiche: it is 21st-century sunshine pop. AP

Beth Gibbons – Lives Outgrown

The welcome return of Portishead’s vocalist, with an album that doesn’t really sound like anything else: rumbling, snare-free drumming, left-field string arrangements, folky guitars. The songs are wearily affecting ruminations on the darker side of middle age: friends and relations dying, the spectre of your own mortality. It’s simultaneously bleak and enthralling. Read the full review. AP

Ben Frost – Scope Neglect

The Iceland-via-Australia composer keeps the ponderous or cloyingly sentimental feel that plenty of other electronic composition has well at bay with an inspired timbral choice here: gnarly prog-metal guitar. Huge downstrokes and chugging riffs are swept out of standard time and up into a low-visibility blizzard of chaotic sound. Read the full review. BBT

Future Islands – People Who Aren’t There Anymore

They may have had their breakthrough with Seasons (Waiting on You) a decade ago, but Future Islands are making their best music now, and this moving album continues strongly from excellent predecessor As Long As You Are. It was written amid a breakup for frontman Samuel T Herring, and while the band are as good as ever at their most celebrated mode of fist-pumping synth-pop, the ballads are even better: yearning and devastated, with Herring turning over dark pearls of hard-won wisdom in his hands. Read the full review. BBT

Brittany Howard – What Now

Blessed with the power to tell stories through a multitude of genres, Brittany Howard, who rose to prominence as Alabama Shakes’ frontwoman, incorporates hearty soul and gleeful funk, plus elements of disco and retro pop on her second solo album. Each track works in isolation, but when pulled together this album feels like a book you can’t put down. Read the full review. AA

Jawnino – 40

Gifted with an unpretentious stream-of-consciousness style, the south London MC has a wonderfully unbounded approach to production that seems to mirror life and music in the capital, night-driving from clattering breakbeat (Lost My Brain) to neo G-funk (Short Stories), symphonic trap (Westfield), soft grime (265) and a Streets-worthy British classic in It’s Cold Out. BBT

Knocked Loose – You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To

Hardcore punk doesn’t get much more hardcore than the hellacious noise whipped up by the Kentucky five-piece on this landmark for the genre. There are high-speed headbangers but also remarkable range here, from reggaeton breakdowns to blackgaze ballads; frontman Bryan Garris yelps like a man running from an evil ghost barefoot across a field of Lego. Read the full review. BBT

Kiran Leonard – Real Home

Leonard rather pre-empted a swathe of other, more successful British artists playing his kind of theatrical chamber-pop (Black Country, New Road; Caroline; Blue Bendy, etc), and the timbre and direction of his voice, flitting from perch to perch, remains unforgettably gorgeous. Real Home is one of his most easily lovable LPs, full of beautiful string arrangements and stirring dynamics, but there’s nothing ordinary about the directions his songs take. BBT

Mdou Moctar.View image in fullscreen

Mdou Moctar – Funeral for Justice

Funeral for Justice is Moctar’s most expressly political album to date: moreover, its anger fuels its sound. Moctar said he wanted his guitar to resemble an ambulance siren or a cry for help: certainly, he and his band have never sounded quite this lithe, sinewy or explosive before. The end result may be the rock album of the year. Read the full review. AP

Nia Archives – Silence Is Loud

Fuelled by slamming breakbeats and carried by emotional honesty, this album feels like a wondrous splicing of Goldie’s punchy production and Amy Winehouse’s sombre singing. Silence Is Loud honours the original nuttahs of the past while appealing to new audiences by putting a pop twist on jungle, cementing the 24-year-old as a pioneering, oddly singular figure in today’s dance music. Read the full review. AA

Fabiana Palladino – Fabiana Palladino

Somewhere between seven and 13 years in the making, but as coolly assured a debut as 2024 is likely to produce, Palladino’s eponymous album is an object lesson in the value of taking your time. Everything about its 21st-century take on 80s pop just works perfectly; every one of its 10 songs is fantastic. Read the full review. AP

Shabaka – Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace

A startling left-turn from a central figure in the new wave of British jazz that sees him abandoning the “big, loud, shiny” saxophone for flutes, particularly the Japanese shakuhachi, and occasionally clarinet. Complete with a guest appearance by fellow flute-pivoter André 3000, the results are gorgeous, impressionistic and mesmerising. Read the full review. AP

Sheer Mag – Playing Favorites

Sheer Mag’s third album – and their first for Jack White’s Third Man label – began life as a disco-fuelled EP before diversifying into the territory of “straight up rock bangers”: the result is fierce, raw, angry, politically committed and euphoric, decorated with the raucous, soulful rasp of vocalist Tina Halladay. A noisy joy from start to finish. Read the full review. AP

The Smile – Wall of Eyes

Too good to be labelled a side project, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood and jazz-rooted drummer Tom Skinner sound curiously at ease on Wall of Eyes, beneath the usual veil of disquiet and gloom: it contains some of the most inventive and thrilling music its members have made, but always feels purposeful, never like it’s trying too hard. Read the full review. AP

Wadada Leo Smith and Amina Claudine Myers – Central Park’s Mosaics of Reservoir, Lake, Paths and Gardens

An elegy to the verdant rectangle hemmed in by the high-rise mayhem of Manhattan, this is full of playing so poignant that it’ll make your chest ache. Smith’s piercing yet tender trumpet tone remains inimitably his, while Myers sensitively counterpoints him with sober chords and sudden wing-flurries of melody. Read the full review. BBT

Astrid Sonne – Great Doubt

Fans of Julia Holter, Hype Williams and Tirzah should flock to the Danish musician’s third album, a little archipelago of songs barely connected to pop’s mainland. There are trip-hop beats, almost absurd in their heaviness, but also ethereally beatless ballads, and ersatz digital instruments as well as clearly organic counterpoints. Sonne’s luminous vocal melodies, delivered in a calm, guileless voice, tie it all together. Read the full review. BBT

Still House Plants – If I Don’t Make It, I Love U

Guitar, drums and vocals is one of the most standard setups in rock but the UK trio find so much new to say with it (though there are certainly echoes of the beauty and rhythmic invention of Chicago’s 1990s underground scene, from Tortoise to Gastr del Sol). Even when playing in a jazz-inflected, relatively free-form way, there are huge head-nodding grooves here, and singer Jess Hickie-Kallenbach’s vibrato-buffeted style is gripping. Read the full review. BBT

St Vincent.View image in fullscreen

St Vincent – All Born Screaming

Annie Clark described All Born Screaming’s contents as “a pummelling”, inspired by the music of her teens, including Nine Inch Nails and Tori Amos. There’s definitely grunge in the mix, too, along with soft rock, electro-funk and reggae – but the adjective fits its restless, jolting sound. It all coheres into uniformly fantastic songs. Read the full review. AP

Thou – Umbilical

The Louisiana band sit in a dank mire somewhere in the misty edgelands of doom, hardcore punk, grunge, classic rock and sludge metal, and give Umbilical everything they’ve got as they gather themselves and roar towards the mainstream. There’s riff after riff that could blow a house down and you fairly stagger under the weight of the massed noise – but some of the choruses could even be arena-worthy were they not screamed by a man possessed. Read the full review. BBT

Tyla – Tyla

The South African 22-year-old showed that she was so much more than her TikTok hit Water, delivering a startlingly accomplished debut that was that rare thing: a pop album with no skips. Wrapped in a gorgeously light and gossamer grade of African dance production, Tyla’s voice is similarly ethereal as she sings a series of perfect earworms – but she’s also hard and stern when needed. BBT

Vegyn – The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

London-based producer and sometime Frank Ocean collaborator Joseph Thornalley has cultivated an air of low-profile mystery that seems to pervade his latest album, which sways unpredictably through drum’n’bass, R&B, house and breakbeat-fuelled pop, maintaining a lovely, misty, reflective ambience throughout. Read the full review. AP

Kamasi Washington – Fearless Movement

An hour and a half long – short for him – Kamasi Washington’s third album is arrestingly kaleidoscopic: George Clinton next to Ethiopian Orthodox prayers, funk rhythms alongside the crepuscular bliss of André 3000 collaboration Dream State, fiery post-bop and nimble fusion next to rapping. Read the full review. AP

Waxahatchee – Tigers Blood

Katie Crutchfield’s previous album Saint Cloud was a masterpiece and the follow-up is, too, as she continues to hash out a kind of equilibrium for herself. “I move awkwardly at the speed of light”, she admits, “an outlaw in the court of strong opinions” who “shirks every rule of thumb” – qualities that are as much good as bad, or perhaps neither. Crutchfield gets at the mess of human life as well as any songwriter has, and with such wonderful melodies. Read the full review. BBT

Tierra Whack – World Wide Whack

“Microsoft, imma excel,” Whack raps in lead single Chanel Pit, and the album is full of these playful, ultra-quotable nuggets as she confidently hops between rap, funk, R&B and glistening dance-pop. Yet amid the fun Whack offers moments of bald vulnerability and despair – leavened, or perhaps deepened, with humour at its most dark and wry. Read the full review. AA

Charlotte Day Wilson – Cyan Blue

An enchanting collection of songs that stirs alt-R&B, acoustic singer-songwriter stylings and lo-fi experimentation together into music that’s subdued, strange and sparkling, often all at once, as on the woozy but moving I Don’t Love You. Cyan Blue is an album to immerse yourself in. AP

The five best classical albums of 2024 so far, by Andrew Clements

Yunchan Lim.View image in fullscreen

Yunchan Lim – Chopin: Études Op 10 & Op 25

The first studio recording by the winner of the 2022 Van Cliburn competition marks the most thrilling pianistic debut of the last decade. Lim’s playing combines effortless virtuosity with a still-developing musical imagination. All his ideas may not come off, but when they do the results are startling. Read the full review.

Bavarian RSO/Rattle – Mahler: Symphony No 6

Taken from Simon Rattle’s first concerts as chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony orchestra last September, this searing, superbly played account of Mahler’s most classically proportioned symphony is heart-wrenchingly tragic, and a wonderful affirmation of the partnership that Rattle has already forged with his new band.

Hallé/Elder – Elgar: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2

Outstanding Elgar performances have characterised Mark Elder’s 24 years as the Hallé’s music director, and as he steps down from his role in Manchester these concert recordings, the First Symphony from 2021 and the Second from 2018, encapsulate his achievement there and the superb orchestra he is leaving behind. Read the full review.

Superbly performed … Christophe Rousset.View image in fullscreen

Les Talens Lyriques/Rousset – Louise Bertin: Fausto

Another fascinating rediscovery from the Bru Zane label, superbly performed and meticulously documented. Louise Bertin was a contemporary and friend of Berlioz; her 1831 take on Goethe’s Faust is sung in Italian, but looks much more towards German composers, especially Beethoven and Weber, for its models. Read the full review.

Leonidas Kavakos/Yo-Yo Ma/Emanuel Ax – Beethoven for Three

Beethoven’s Archduke Trio is paired with an arrangement for piano trio of his Fourth Symphony on this latest collaboration between these three great instrumentalists. As in all the best chamber music partnerships there’s never a sense of one player trying to upstage the others; they all listen intently, exchanging ideas in perfect accord.


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