As 2018 draws to a close, it is time to reflect on another year of new music. A lot of the most popular music released this year has been challenging and experimental, which reflects a shift in the tide of pop music and mainstream tastes.
Empowerment has been a significant feature of a lot of 2018 records, with artists using their platforms to convey messages about situations of minority, political defiance and upsetting situations.
A small group of us got together to try and make a collaborative top 20 list – but given the subjectivity of music, we decided to make a list each.
10. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
I was disappointed to miss Khruangbin’s set at Houghton festival this summer, and thus they remain high up on my list of acts that I need to see live. Returning with just their second full studio album, the psychedelic indie band have cemented a sound that makes them seem older and more acclaimed than they actually are. Con Todo El Mundo, or ‘With Everybody’ is a record for daydreamers, foggy rooms and those needing to be mellowed out after a hectic New Years.
9. Mac Miller – Swimming
Mac Miller’s death was one that shook the world community. It was akin to the losses of musicians such as Amy Winehouse, Tupac Shakur and Jim Morrison; a tragedy amplified by the fact that we had only heard a snippet of their creativity. Mac Miller’s final album is an exploration of mental struggles, addiction and love, without a real urge to escape them. ‘Swimming”s funky, comfortable feel means that Mac Miller’s final work stayed true to him – definitely not a challenging or progressive record, but one that tastes eerily bittersweet given its accidental foresight.
8. Aaron Taylor – The Long Way Home
A spot of easy listening never goes a miss – on British singer Aaron Taylor’s new album. ‘The Long Way Home’ is slick and smooth throughout, giving off that classic D’Angelo neo-soul vibe that is impossible to listen to in a stationary fashion. Full-sounding jazzy choruses and grooving drum beats make this a great release.
7. Pablo’s Eye – Spring Break
Reissue culture is a funny one – a lot of old records are re-pressed that don’t need to be. The same can’t be said for ‘Spring Break’ by Pablo’s Eye – a forgotten Belgian psychedelic and ambient techno group. This record was first released in 1995, and gained minimal acclaim. Listening to the complex, ultra-clear studio sounds on this record make you astounded at how ahead of the times this album is. The songs send you into an ulterior world of imagination and peace, with immaculate mastering and gorgeous drum patterns. Not only does this release slot right into the modern day, but it fits right at the forefront.
6. Kamaal Williams – The Return
Kamaal Williams’ up-tempo, cruising style of jazz music would slot nicely into an old PS2 edition of ‘Need For Speed’ or ‘GTA’ – low-riding, stank-facing but unassuming composition. The young south-Londoner has been amidst the South London scene for a while, having released work under the alias Henry Wu via the Rhythm Section International label. The dissipation of his duo with Yussef Dayes has led to this point – a debut album under his own name, which is not just a collection of great songs, but a smooth and exciting body of work.
5. Skee Mask – Compro
Bryan Muller, AKA Skee Mask, has always released work that focuses on drums, breakbeat patterns and patient progression of sound. This is no different on ‘Compro’, which is a masterpiece. It has warm, ambient moments, hardcore jungle licks and ethereal synth melodies that come and go. It’s definitely an album to listen to in one sitting – a journey rather than something to come back to finish off later. Stick your headphones in for this one and drift off: in the words of Resident Advisor: ‘Few artists can make percussion sing the way Skee Mask does.’
4. Against All Logic – 2012-2017
Nicholas Jaar blew me away with his DJ set at Houghton Festival in 2017 – a lot of the music he played was unreleased, bizarre and breathtaking. This was because a lot of what he played was music from his soon to follow record under his new alias Against All Logic. This album is a treat of sample-heavy tunes that never cease to bore you. What is different about this album compared to Jaar’s other work is that most of the songs here feel in-place and in-time. There are predictable drum patterns that you can dance to, uplifting vocals and major-key instrument riffs. ‘2012-2017’ is triumphant and technical.
3. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
There seems to be two opposing parties when it comes to opinions on this record. There is the ‘I liked the old Arctic Monkeys, none of this slow, pretentious American-styled shit’ versus the ‘This album is a great concept album – all musicians progress over the years’. I’m on the latter’s team – TBHC is an album that takes place on the moon some time in the near future, where it has become gentrified, populated and monetised. Alex Turner talks to you from a luxury resort, as one of the members of the hotel’s band. The music that they make is sleazy, cheesy and emotional – ultimately it is ponderous. The basic drums and guitar riffs on this album mean that we are forced to focus on the lyrics – this is a clever way of emphasising a concept album. We are with the singer of this moon band; alongside him, thinking.
2. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Earl fans really really love Earl. With only a handful of releases and public appearances, Earl Sweatshirt has still managed to gain messiah status. What we know about Earl is that since returning from time away from the UK when he was younger, his old group Odd Future shot to stardom and so did he. On ‘I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside’ and ‘Doris’, we were shown Earl’s visions as an artist: a desire for challenging and dark production, and masterful, MF Doom-esque poetic lyricism. ‘Some Rap Songs’ returns with the same demeanour; sludgy production with distant glimpses of messages about his last few years scattered throughout. Earl is the son of the late poet laureate of South Africa, and his death earlier this year affected Earl greatly. He continues to be the voice of the down-beat talents of society, and is one of the only remaining poets in the rap game.
1. Christine and the Queens – Chris
Héloïse Letissier, who conjured up her alter-ego ‘Christine and the Queens’, morphs once again into ‘Chris’ on her latest record. This album is triumphant pop music at its very best – danceable, funky, well-produced and relevant. The Guardian claimed that “‘Chris’ is the musings of a newly-buff pansexual who wants to have all the fun that boys are having”. Much like politicians, pop musicians are on a big stage, and have the opportunity to convey important messages. Too many pop musicians use their stage to put out meaningless work that is produced by somebody else – such are the days of post-Michael Jackson//Prince pop music. Chris is here to save the day, to bring us back to those times when pop music was actually cared about by its maker.