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: #25 to #21

#25. Redemption, Jay Rock

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From the most battle-hardened rapper from TDE, this triumphant record is a refined collection of songs that display Jay Rock’s storytelling and imagery-laden lyricism, with better production and more focus than he’s had on previous albums. If you were looking for hardcore West Coast hip-hop, there were few albums in 2018 that could sate your palette better than Redemption.

Listen to: The Bloodiest, OSOM ft. J. Cole

#24. ye, Kanye West

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2018 has been the hardest year to be a Kanye fan thus far – a lot of his words remain indefensible. But through the chaos, his music retains a strange clarity. There is the occasional trademark Ye smirk aimed at the reactions to his antics, but this is an unflinchingly inward-looking album, at times more biting than some of his better efforts. It’s clear that the point Kanye makes throughout the (extremely short) runtime of ye is that this is a platform to declutter, to work through his mental health issues, however messily. It’s not the perfect way, or even advisable – but it is very much Kanye, for better or worse.

Listen to: I Thought About Killing You, Ghost Town

#23. TA13OO, Denzel Curry

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Denzel Curry is one of the most technically skilled rappers around right now, but on TA13OO he uses his gift on the mic to create a well-crafted conceptual album with darkness as the leitmotif. Its three acts tackle the corrupting effects of his environments, fame and betrayal over atmospheric production that accentuate Denzel’s acrobatic flow. At a time where hip-hop is grappling with its less-glamorous side in complicated ways, this album stands as an uncompromising, incisive effort that proves you can tackle heavy themes with deft technicality. Looking at you, Eminem.

Listen to: Cash Maniac ft. Nyyerja, Clout Cobain

#22. i am > i was, 21 Savage

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This was a surprise. I wasn’t checking for 21 Savage, but he really caught my ear with his impeccable verses on Metro Boomin’s album (10 Freaky Girls is straight fire) and Pay You Back off Meek Mill’s album. When i am > i was dropped, the buzz around it convinced me to check it out – and what I heard was one of the best-constructed rap albums in 2018, with 21 oozing charisma on some of the tightest production of the year. Delivering a more mature, technically evolved persona, 21 deftly sketches the darkness and extravagance with a menacing mic presence. He sounds like he’s got a gun to your back, whispering threats in your ear one moment, and wilding out on stage the next. The title of this album is truly befitting 21 Savage’s journey – and an exciting sign of what’s to come.

Listen to: out for the night, letter 2 my momma

#21. East Atlanta Love Letter, 6lack

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6lack could’ve satisfied himself with being one of the many vying for The Weeknd’s alt-R&B throne, but East Atlanta Love Letter cements his place as a standout artist in his own right. Blending hip hop and trap sensibilities with velveteen vocals (and just a hint of gruff), 6lack creates a moody record that, while contemplating standard R&B tropes of love and lust, is extremely memorable, full of earworms. It’s also consistent, with great sequencing and a sleek run, all together making for a 6lack record that’s truly his.

Listen to: Pretty Little Fears ft. J. Cole, Nonchalant

Favourite Albums of 2018: #25 to #21

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

A Tale of Two Double Albums: Migos Does Wrong what Big K.R.I.T did Right

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Migos were everywhere in 2017 – the slew of dizzyingly successful singles off Culture, the album itself, and the innumerable guest features and collab albums ensured the trio were never out of sight (and earshot). The three Migos were music, a cultural moment in themselves.

In the midst of the Atlantans’ reign, a fellow Southern MC quietly dropped one of the best albums of the year – a double album, no less. Big KRIT (née Justin Scott) had been staying lowkey for too long, but when he resurfaced with 4Eva is a Mighty Long Time, it was evident that the wait was worth it.

Each of the two sides on 4eva… serves a definite purpose. The Big KRIT side showing off his lyrical acrobatics over deep-fried trunk-rattling production. The songs here are tight and incisive, delivering braggadocio and barbs with a technical finesse that shows off KRIT’s hunger for greatness.  The Justin Scott side is where the MC gets personal. The beats are more soulful and expansive, which allows Scott to ruminate over his struggles and insecurities and quietly celebrate his personal joys.

The entirety of 4eva… runs to 18 tracks, and nearly an hour and a half. Even the greatest of artists can – and have – put out lackluster albums when they try to indulge their maximal tendencies (looking at you, Lulu). Fortunately, KRIT doesn’t fall into this trap, instead revitalizing himself and delivering a body of music that does not stutter, or stumble over itself. There are few indulgences, keeping the sonics stylistically diverse and the songs themselves lean. KRIT has also inculcated a great ear for melody, which he uses to great effect in his singing as well as in the arrangements on the longer tracks. Round this off with a carefully curated set of guests, many of them frequent collaborators with whom he works exceptionally well, and you have an album that rarely – if ever – overstays its welcome.

Big KRIT poured his heart and soul into 4eva is a Mighty Long Time, understanding his strengths and weaknesses exceptionally well, and it shows. Despite its length, the LP doesn’t feel like it goes on – forgive the pun – for a mighty long time.

While KRIT was shining in his lane, Migos were working on the follow-up to their acclaimed album. Clearly intending to ride the wave of their previous success for some more time, Culture II arrived almost exactly a year on from its predecessor.

Or perhaps more accurately, it landed with an awkward thump.

As a whole, I don’t dislike this album. I loved multiple tracks and liked a few others.  There are several moments of Migos at their most Migos, and there are a few interesting sonic moments, specifically in the production. The singles are some of the best songs on the album. But at a whopping 24 songs long, Culture II overestimates the patience of well, everyone who’s listening to a Migos album. And that proves this LP’s downfall.

Migos have never been compelling lyricists – their appeal comes as vocalists, with unique flows, buckets of charisma and catchy choruses and vocal intonations. Stretching these talents across far more tracks than they need to diminish them significantly. It doesn’t help that the MCs themselves sound a little disinterested in experimenting, or even amplifying their strengths. In fact, in Quavo’s case in particular, his weaknesses as a lyricist are amplified as he struggles to keep coming up with interesting punchlines about wealth and sex. The Autotune-drenched vocals simply aren’t enough. Only Offset manages to hold his own on a significant part of the album.

It comes down to a significant, singular difference in how Migos and KRIT approach their respective albums – how much the MCs have to say. Having not put out a new album in a long time, KRIT had a number of themes to speak on, and a lot to prove. That translated into each song, each verse, each hook having its definite place. There was enough variety for the size of the album to not feel excessive, and being a gifted MC, KRIT ensured that we were listening intently to his every word. But given the deluge of music Migos have been associated with over the past year, Culture II is overkill. In a bid to keep their names in the industry’s conversations, they’ve put out too many songs that recycle their (already generic) tropes in decreasingly clever ways, accentuated by their limited technical skills. The result is an album that says a lot without actually saying much of note. The singles will keep the Migos brand afloat, but at what cost? Twitter is flooded with self-attested fans trashing the album. “The whole album sounds like one long song” is the most common refrain.

It’s unfortunate, really, that the Migos have been so blinded by their fame that they got complacent, to the point of repetitiveness. Because the first Culture made it evident that they could be wildly creative and entertaining. Their revival after the middling post-Versace run is further proof that they know what they’re doing, and can do it right if they want to. It’s a hope, too. Maybe they’ll put out an album that cements their legacy the way 4eva is a Mighty Long Time did for Big KRIT sometime in the next few years.

One can only hope it won’t be another gargantuan double album.

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Double Albums: Migos Does Wrong what Big K.R.I.T did Right