Favourite Albums of 2018, #5 to #1

Note: Not recommending individual songs here – every song on these albums is worth your time

#5. 7, Beach House

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There are few bands capable of making music as richly textured as Beach House. With 7, they craft a work of dark brilliance, with their signature swirling guitars, densely textured vocals and haunting atmospherics. There’s a bite to their sound that defies the melancholy of past work, surging forward. Beach House have always made memorable, lush music – and this record suffuses it with a shade of inky black that shines.

#4. DiCaprio 2, J.I.D

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J.I.D is an MC in the truest sense. His lithe, sharp delivery, strong mic presence and descriptive – if not picturesque – lyrics. The comparisons to Kendrick are inevitable – his wordplay and punchlines are stellar, but they’re second to his powerful recollections of his past, laden with violence and survival, and thoughtful examinations of his present. J.I.D said his intent with DiCaprio 2 was to make a movie, something cinematic – it’s evident that he succeeds several times over.

#3. Swimming, Mac Miller

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What can you say about this album now, when its wounded but hopeful heart is the last remnant of Mac’s legacy? It’s still difficult to talk about this album without remembering that this was Mac at his most mature, taking his pain in his stride while acknowledging it all the same. Swimming is the closest that he came to dispelling his demons before they took him – and that note of optimism is the most important one he could’ve left us with.

#2. Sweet Decay, Ciaran Lavery

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Ciaran Lavery is hurting – and he isn’t afraid to wear his bleeding heart on his sleeve. The songs on Sweet Decay drip with memory and sorrow, the heft of these motions made stronger by the impassioned grit in his voice. Every emotion is felt, not just sung. Be it the difficulty of distance or the nakedness that accompanies love, Ciaran captures it all with heartfelt words. This is a record that will resonate and ripple through many parts of one’s life, and reveal shades of it that you didn’t even know existed.

#1. Kids See Ghosts, Kids See Ghosts

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If the beauty in struggle was to be encapsulated in an album, Kids See Ghosts is what it would sound like. Recalling the tumult of their lives, Kanye and Cudi could’ve easily given in to their blackest tendencies – but they choose to see the rainbow-tinted light. Tackling their failings, their successes, their struggles with mental health and everything in between over a short-as-can-be runtime, brevity is the name of the game. This masterpiece of sound, with psychedelic, trap, rock and soul influences in underpinned by a love for the music that they create, and use to express themselves. Kids See Ghosts achieves a level of cohesion that can only be engineered by Kanye, and then colours it with the expansive palette of Cudi. Their vocals, their lyrics, and most of all, the production is impeccable – and through the ego of knowing what they’ve accomplished, Ye and Cudi hand us their hard-won beacon, and tell us, go. Be reborn. What a canvas to draw resurrection on.

 

 

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2018, #5 to #1

Favourite Albums of 2018, #10 to #6

#10. No News is Good News, Phonte

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Phonte makes grown man hip-hop. There is no embellishment here, no grandiose tales, only the clear-eyed gaze of a rapper assured in his skills trained on living through the extraordinary ups and downs of a regular life. Imparting streams of wisdom on fatherhood, marriage, death and even leading a healthy lifestyle from the viewpoint of a middle-aged Black man, Phonte is one of the rare MCs who can hold our attention with razor-sharp rhymes on what would could be mundane topics in the words of others. A round of applause for an artist who continues to quietly be one of the greatest to ever get on the mic.

Listen to: So Help Me God, Such is Life

#9. God’s Favorite Customer, Father John Misty

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It’s Father John Misty – weird, beautiful music that plumbs the depths of his ego for humanity, an exhibition of hard-won empathy. The album’s runtime, the shortest of all his records, runs through a litany of his trademark nihilism, shot through with the faint hope for the better parts of life. FJM makes music for those of us just dumb enough to fly, and we’re all a little better off for it.

Listen to: Please Don’t Die, God’s Favorite Customer

#8. Ancient Transition, Beta Radio

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An album as gorgeous as this is a rare treasure. Taking form over layers of ethereal texture, Beta Radio brings together ochre instrumentation and sage vocals to narrate simple living, the joys of actualization in the midst of expansive country homes. Ancient Transition is ample evidence that the way to creating mesmerizing art is to take the time to live life in its purest, barest beauty. Let the sounds of dawn reach you through the fronds of morning mist.

Listen to: Bees & Swans, Realistic City Living

#7. DAYTONA, Pusha T

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Pusha T is the rapper’s rapper. Hardcore, pure-cut hip hop sears every rough corner of this exercise in minimal space, and maximum abrasion. Push’s themes of coke & luxury raps are well-worn, but it’s exhilarating as ever to listen to him bend words and phrases at will, deftly landing punchlines in his sneering, hyperconfident vocals. The imagery is unparalleled and the mood an industrial churn. Once you’re in its grasp, Daytona refuses to let go.

#6. Double Negative, Low

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Can you tease melody out of noise? Peace out of chaos? Double Negative seeks answers to these questions in layers of pulsating, charged notes, like static on your eardrum. There is a stark beauty to it, with thick walls of sound towering over the subtler moments. Even the relief comes in on an icy breeze. An exploration of the absolute limits to which music can be pushed, this album could not have been created by anyone other than Low.

Listen to: Dancing and Blood, Disarray

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2018, #10 to #6

Favourite Albums of 2018, #15 to #11

#15. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Arctic Monkeys

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I’ll admit it – I didn’t quite get into this album when it first came out. But with time, when I immersed myself in its space, its operatic ambition and its Bowiesque music, I was hooked. Alex Turner can really sell the eccentricity, leaning on the mic with his leather jacket on, cigarette and a glass of whisky in hand while soaring through the cosmos, all while ruminating on the existential ridiculousness we all find ourselves entangled in everyday. Strap yourself in, and let this cosmic aural journey take you over.

Listen to: Star Treatment, Four Out of Five

#14. abysskiss, Adrianne Lenkerabysskiss.jpg

Adrianne Lanker’s deceptively tender voice anchors much melancholy, tender reeds simultaneously weighed down by and free of death, self-harm and loss. An intimate, straightforward musical presentation, abysskiss is all about giving into the deepest recesses of your hurt, and finding some solace in knowing that you are not alone in your strife. Sometimes, that knowledge is all you need.

Listen to: terminal paradise, what can you say

#13. Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt

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What a weird fucking album. What a wonderful fucking album. Earl’s rhymes are as sharp as ever, but his words carry more weight, his accelerated coming-of-age and the recent death of his father fracturing his soul and revealing his depths. Choosing such a pockmarked, garish soundscape for these words only goes to amplify his chaos, while seemingly burying any sense of comfortable musicality. This is Earl’s zenith so far; but it’s clear he’s got a lot more artistry to draw on.

Listen to: Nowhere2go, The Bends

#12. Con Todo El Mundo, Khruangbin

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This deliberately paced, sprawling record is a testament to how much you can achieve with pure instruments and a lot of imagination. Khruangbin’s low-key funk, invoking a blend of oriental and desert rock styles, slithers into your ear with stealth, yet adamance. An album to lounge in, Con Todo El Mundo defies the limitations of instrumental music to form a gently shifting sand dune of sound that indulges its influences while shaping a personality all its own.

Listen to: Como Me Quieres, Como Te Quiero

#11. Trench, Twenty One Pilots

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By far, one of the catchiest, best mainstream albums of the year, Trench is everything pop-rock should be. It’s thoughtful but not pretentious, knows its audience but never insults their intelligence, and is packed full of impeccable production and clean vocals. Whether you buy into its conceptuality or not, the album’s full of meticulously crafted songs with meaningful content that should make any listener sit up and listen, and then just enjoy.

Listen to: Morph, Bandito

 

Favourite Albums of 2018, #15 to #11

Favourite Albums of 2018: #20 to #16

#20. Whack World, Tierra Whack

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15 minutes, 15 tracks. Who knew you could pack so much wonderful weirdness into a minute of music? Tierra offers colourful glimpses of her world, which looks a lot like ours, with all the confusion of coming of age in our times, and some quirky positivity added in to buoy our view. But this isn’t a gimmick album – Tierra’s inventiveness, in the breezy way she presents resonant themes, is one that’s sorely needed in a musical landscape that’s often accused of stagnant unoriginality. We’re all better off for it.

Watch/listen to the whole thing. It’s worth 15 minutes of your time.

#19. Delta, Mumford and Sons

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Ah, the critic’s favourite punching bag – and one of my personal favourite bands. Mumford and Sons have been making earnest music for a while now, and I have found myself in several of their songs. Delta might not make it to the end-of-year lists, but it’s a gorgeously crafted collection of songs that elevate Marcus Mumford’s rousing vocals to their emotional zenith, with a soundscape that moves with glacial grace. Music only needs to reach the listener’s heart and stir something in it – nevermind Pitchfork’s diatribes.

Listen to: Woman, Rose of Sharon

#18. Freedom, Amen Dunes

Favourite Albums of 2018: #20 to #16

Favourite Albums of 2018 – #30 to #26

2018 has been a personal roller coaster, often going at breakneck speeds. In such times, music has continued to be one of the most important ways I slow down and remind myself of the anchors I care about – and the lenses through which I viewed the wider world. These are the albums that etched themselves in my ear, my heart and my mind.

#30. Championships, Meek Mill

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Meek Mill deserves every accolade he gets this year. A symbol of weathered triumph in a country that’s stacked against people of colour, Meek digs into the depths of his struggle, every ounce of pain evident in his impassioned vocals, every moment of redemption bursting in the more upbeat tracks. Championships strikes the balance between socially conscious and personally joyful music in a way that signifies the mantle Meek has clearly fought to take on.

Listen to: Oodles O’Noodles Babies, Uptown Vibes ft. Fabolous and Anuel AA

Continue reading “Favourite Albums of 2018 – #30 to #26”

Favourite Albums of 2018 – #30 to #26

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #5 to #1

Note: No song recommendations for each album here. Delve into each of the albums in their entirety – they’re worth it

#5. 4:44, Jay-Z

The barebones cover art of 4:44 is symbolic. Jay-Z strips down his grandeur, his mythical image, to share thoughts and emotions he admits to having kept buried himself. This album is perhaps Jay’s most “Shawn Carter” album – it’s confessional, introspective and contemplative all at once. Think the emotional wallop of Song Cry expanded to album-length. Jay’s rawest moments come when reflecting on his infidelity, apologizing to Beyonce with a vulnerability he’s never dared to show before. He reflects on his legacy, as a rapper, a businessman and a father honestly – rather than expanding his mythos, he deconstructs and examines it. It’s almost ironic then, that he’s at his most confident lyrically here that he’s been in a long time. He isn’t trying hard with his punchlines or technicality, but he deftly presents his troubles and victories with plenty of quotables along the way. The decision to pair with No I.D throughout the album clearly paid off too, with a sonic cohesiveness that many of his previous works lacked. 4:44, then, is grown-man rap, and one of Jay-Z’s best albums – and perhaps, the only true Shawn Carter album we have.

#4. A Crow Looked at Me, Mount Eerie

How does one talk about death – more specifically, the death of the dearly beloved? Artists across time and mediums have tried to translate the devastating finality of death into their creations, to varying degrees of success. Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum plays his hand by turning the all-encompassing grief of his wife, Geneviève Castrée’s death into “barely music,” as he puts it himself. Throughout the length of the album, it feels like Elverum is simply unraveling his knotted heart into words, with startlingly frank descriptions of the time before, around and after Castrée’s death. There is no convoluted attempt at philosophical musings or poeticisms, simply the reality of Elverum’s life let loose over sparse, intimate instrumentation. A Crow Looked at Me is a painful, utterly sad album – every listen nudges you to cry – but that’s what death is. There is no resolution; just a lingering image of his dead wife burned into Phil Elverum’s soul, and now, ours.

#3. Sleep Well Beast, The National

The National are the classical indie band, using traditional instruments to effect a certain maturity to their sound, while singing about the everyday lives of everyday people simply living and loving. What differentiates them, then, is that there is none of the pretentiousness attached to most bands in this niche. Sleep Now Beast is a gorgeous, glacial album that brings the heft that every new National record brings, musically and emotionally. Matt Berninger’s rich baritone wades through the swamp of life, and endures. That is the leitmotif of this album – endurance. The album rarely soars, rather seeking to persist. It does not vault over obstacles, so much as wear them down. The production is rousing, if not anthemic. It lays out a bed of sound that’s comfortably gentle enough to couch your tired heart, but acknowledges that resting alone is not enough to move through life. Sleep Now Beast is an important record – in the chaos of our world it, it implores one to take stock of what we have, and what we must not lose. And that is all it takes to live.

#2. DAMN., Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is one the greatest MCs to ever grace the mic. End of. DAMN. is a meticulously crafted, stunningly written album that cements Kendrick as a musician who uses his skills not merely as a destination in itself, but as a vehicle to his message. This is his leanest, most accessible album, and it shows within every track itself. His rhymes are razor-sharp, condensing weighty ideas and philosophies into one-liners and tight metaphors, but equally adept at expansive, descriptive storytelling. Each song is a concept in itself, with appropriately moody production, delivering thought-provoking lyrics and quotables, often separated by a mere bar or two. He can go from the aggressive, barbed rapping of DNA. to the sensuality of LOVE. without ever compromising his lyrical dexterity. Kendrick is a purposeful, thoughtful rapper who can reel in the listener with deceptively simple ‘hooks’ and then confront them with the true depth of his music. This is best exemplified by album closer DUCKWORTH., one of Kendrick’s finest instances of storytelling, culminating in a disorienting, yet perfectly sensible twist that connects his music and his life in a utterly believable way. Saying he lives to make music, or that his music shapes his life would both be falsely reductive – for Kendrick Lamar, his music is his life. 

#1. Melodrama, Lorde

Melodrama is an album that is very difficult to describe objectively – it is a distillation of millennial heartbreak and recuperation lifted to celestial heights by one of the finest pop stars of this generation. Lorde couches the travails of a 20-year old in love in luxuriant sound, turning the ephemeral cascade of emotions that we attempt to deal with through the processes of love into tangible, memorable lyrics. Her synthesia shapes the album, infusing the music with a nocturnal quality that nevertheless glimmers under rave lights. Amidst spilt drinks, clothes quickly shed and shattered hearts, Lorde finds reasons to stay defiant, pick up her pieces and cruise down the highway without a care in the world. It’s a message that resonates in the depths of the young soul, from where we have shut out the light. Even as we overthink our punctuation use, we find a way to love till our breathing stops. It would be foolish to not drown in Lorde’s delicately emotive voice, and reminisce about the foolishness, the joys and the resilience of young love. It’s a beautiful thing, and no one captures it quite as beautifully as Lorde does.

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #5 to #1

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #10 to #6

#10. Nü Religion: Hyena, THEY.

The wave of alternative, trap-influenced R&B/melodic rap swept over music in the form of a few stars who molded the subgenre and brought it into the mainstream – The Weeknd and Bryson Tiller are a few names that come to mind. But they quickly shed their provocateur images for mainstream-friendly, sleek pop. This is where vocalist-producer duo THEY comes in – adding a layer of grit to the established tropes of the music by incorporating punk influences, gnarly instrumentation and sexy/snarling vocals.  The production, courtesy Dante Jones, strikes an exciting balance between delicate R&B, bass-heavy trap and guitar-driven rock, while vocalist Drew Jones floats over the beats flawlessly, confident and earnest in turns, with a gravelly tint to his voice complementing the soundscape, all brought together with flawless mixes. It makes sense, then, that THEY call their music Grunge&B. Nu Religion is an exciting, creatively inspired album that is extremely catchy and memorable – whether you’re riding down city streets or have your headphones blasting the music in your ears, this is an essentially 2017 record.

Listen to: Motley Crew, Say When, Dante’s Creek

#9. Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples

Vince Staples occupies a strange space that is quintessentially his – an ubertalented MC with scathing commentary on race, politics and society whose view of pop culture is decidedly millennial. Speaking on everything from love to celebrity culture to racial issues, Vince barrels through his incisive commentary with succinct, sharp lyricism. It makes sense that the beats he chooses share the chaos of the world he describes – glitchy electronica with a hip-hop bent that draws from 80s dance music just as much as it looks to Afrofuturism (as Vince has half-jokingly alluded to it). After the operatic Summertime ’06, Big Fish Theory is a disarmingly sleek 36 minutes of incredible music that hits you with the force of a tsunami and leaves you gasping underwater, but the whirlpool that Vince creates here makes you want to go under again as soon as you resurface.

Listen to: Love Can Be…, Party People, Rain Come Down

#8. Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker

This album broke my heart. And I am thankful for it. Trying to explain exactly why the meditations on depression, loneliness and crises of faith (in god, oneself and others) that comprise this album is so powerful, so achingly beautiful despite how bleak it might sound is pointless. All you should do is press play, and allow Julien Baker’s breathtaking voice reach into your ribcage and deliver her heartrending music straight to your waiting soul.

Listen to: Appointments (also one of the best music videos of the year), Sour Breath 

#7. Run The Jewels 3, Run the Jewels

I know, RTJ 3 technically came out in 2016. But it came out late enough in the year, and was fucking brilliant, so it deserves inclusion in this list. RTJ keep up their unmatched chemistry throughout the length of probably their most ‘polished’ album yet – Killer Mike and El-P trade bars with remarkable ease, all while providing the music for the revolution. Anthems that call for the destruction of ‘the masters,’ ruminative tracks that take stock of personal and social losses, and braggadocio that uses the disarray of the world as punchlines; they all ring in our ears with some of El-Producto’s best production and solid lyrical concepts. It’s tempting to give in to the misery of the world we live in (even the fierce MCs acknowledge the weight of what they see and experience on the brilliant 2100), but music like RTJ’s provide the much-needed kicks to our collective asses to actually go do something about this shit.

Listen to: 2100 feat. BOOTS, Hey Kids(Bumaye) feat. Danny Brown, A Report to Shareholders/Kill Your Masters

#6. 4Eva is a Mighty Long Time, Big K.R.I.T

Finally, finally. This is the studio album KRIT fans had been waiting for since 2010. 4eva is a Mighty Long Time is a double album that actually works, and KRIT brings his A-game to every aspect of this record. The first half shows off his Big KRIT persona, with the trunk-rattling Southern aggro-rap. He sounds his most confident here, claiming his place among the greats, brandishing lyrical weaponry using effortlessly paced flows. The beats bang, and you can feel his resentment at not being taken seriously all these years turned into seething purpose. This aggression is balanced on the second half, the Justin Scott side that deals with industry struggles and personal demons over soulful production. KRIT trades braggadocio for introspection, employing his underrated lyrical talents to paint a picture of a conflicted man dealing with the consequences of his artistry. The instrumentation reflects the jazzy rap stylings that have found their place in hip-hop. The balance is something few musicians can achieve – the album’s entire length has serious replay value, and for one its size, it never lets up or gets repetitive. 4eva is a Mighty Long Time indeed, but with this record, Big KRIT proves that he deserves to be remembered as such, as one of the finest MCs ever.

Listen to: Big KRIT, Big Bank, Mixed Messages, Drinking Sessions 

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #10 to #6