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) Kids See Ghosts (Kanye West and Kid Cudi)
As difficult as it is to look past the fact that Kanye West is a Grade A idiot, there is no denying he’s a talented artist. I’ve also always loved Kid Cudi, and when Kanye and Cudi team up, they demonstrate their ability to break the rules, experiment, and make great music.
Kids See Ghosts sees Cudi bring Ye back from a very weird time and some pretty bad musical endeavours, including one of his releases earlier in the same month, Lift Yourself, which is a far cry from Kanye’s earlier, brilliant stuff. The short album delves into both artists’ more dark times and shows off their talent. It’s worth noting, though, I hated Kanye’s screaming in the first track (Feel the Love).
Best Song: Kids See Ghosts ft. Yasiin Bey
9) Astroworld, Travis Scott
Before Astroworld, I didn’t have much of an opinion on Travis Scott and wasn’t particularly familiar with his music. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised by Astroworld. The album’s insane list of featured artists is definitely the best this year by far. The eclectic range of featuring artists allows Astroworld to surprise and impress as it moves from song to song.
The album includes appearances from a few of my favourite artists, including Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, Thundercat, Frank Ocean and James Blake and many others, along with Scott, who make the album distinctive and impressive. Sicko Mode, three tracks in, was the moment I sat up and thought, “okay this is sick” when the song switches half way through. The album is complex and surprising and curates the talents from many big names across many different genres to create a fantastically dynamic album.
Best Song: Stop Trying to Be God
8) Dirty Computer, Janelle Monae
I’ve had a soft spot for Janelle Monae since her incredible performance as Teresa in one of my favourite films, Moonlight, and so was excited to listen to her album when it came out this year. The album is personal, angry and self-assured, and confirms Monae as a jack-of-all-trades.
Monae addresses race, sexuality, sexism and politics and many other issues without letting it weigh her down musically. The album remains upbeat and takes inspiration from so many genres and artists, even including a nod to country music in the final track, American, which blends country with upbeat synths, a heavy bass and sampled audio that states “Until women can get equal pay for equal work, this is not my America. Until same-gender-loving people can be who they are, this is not my America. Until black people can come home from a police stop without being shot in the head, this is not my America”, leaving a poignant message on a remarkable album.
Best Song: Django Jane
7) Seasons, Mahalia
I love how distinctive Mahalia’s voice is, her British accent and rich vocals are perfectly combined with the laid back R&B influences in the production of her tracks. Despite only being 5 songs long, I was impressed by the variation and breadth of Seasons. I only wish it had been longer, but I’m hoping this means Mahalia has more music on the way. Seasons tackles subjects such as long distance relationships, one night stands and break ups and indicates an exciting future for a very talented young lady.
Best Song: Surprise Me
6) Testing, A$AP Rocky
Despite mixed reviews, I really liked Testing. It doesn’t sound like anything else around and it bravely experiments with earbending sounds. I love the sampling of Moby on ASAP Forever, it’s unexpected but it works, and again Cudi’s addition is always welcomed. Praise the Lord is one of my personal favourites as a longstanding Skepta fan and North London gal, and I can’t get enough of this merging of British grime and American rap with two of the best in the game. Dev Hynes (who’s album, Negro Swan, only just missed out on a place on this list) offers his soft croon on Hun43rd and Purity finishes a psychedelic and sometimes disordered album with a laidback sonic gift from the one and only Frank Ocean.
Best Song: A$AP Forever REMIX
5) Isolation, Kali Uchis
I’ve been a fan of Kali Uchis since 2015 when I watched the video for Ridin Round and first saw how effortlessly talented and sensual she is. Isolation shows how Uchis has developed as an artist and refined her sound with inspiration from so many different fields. One of my personal favourite tracks is In My Dreams, featuring the Gorillaz, a combination I didn’t expect, but loved, and the result weirdly reminds me of The Drums?
Isolation’s variation is testament to Kali Uchis’ talent and the debut album features an impressive array of artists that confirm her exciting reputation. The fact that she does not allow these big names to outshine her, cements her place within the music industry as someone with far more to come.
Just a Stranger (ft. Steve Lacy)
4) Hive Mind, The Internet
Hive Mind demonstrates how the members of The Internet have gone away and honed their craft whilst pursuing solo projects, and have come back together to create an album that is technically better than any of their previous work. If I’m being honest I could probably listen to Syd and Steve Lacy singing a shopping list and enjoy it but Hive Mind perfectly encapsulates a cool laid back effortlessness, whilst still displaying their incredible talent and ability. I could listen to this album all day, every day and I think I actually did this summer. I also love the retro-feel of the cover art so much. This was one of the hardest to pick a best song from, as there isn’t one that I don’t love.
Best Song: Next Time / Humble Pie
3) Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt
As someone who was obsessed with Odd Future from the age of about 14, I remember Earl Sweatshirt as the really young guy who disappeared to Samoa, had loads of white American boys wearing tie-dye shouting “FREE EARL”. Then he finally came back and absolutely smashed his lengthy and lyrically complex verse on Oldie. Since then, he has consistently progressed and refined his talent as a skilled lyricist and artist with every album he releases.
Each of the songs on SRS is very short, the longest is 2m45s leaving us wanting more, whilst also demonstrating his ability to create a chaotic yet entirely cohesive album that jumps around and tackles a range of different subjects such as self exploration, self acceptance, grief and loss. The album feels like an audio collage that Earl has cut up and stuck together himself, pulling together different samples and sounds, including audio samples of his mother and late father.
It is also nice to see Earl take the reins on this album. Early in his career he often let other members of Odd Future or other features take the lead on his tracks and come in first, whereas on SRS he has the confidence to claim the album in its entirety. The album is sentimental and reflective and showcases Earl’s genius.
2) No Shame, Lily Allen
My Spotify Wrapped 2018 embarrassingly revealed to me that I had spent an obscene amount of hours listening to Lily Allen this year, which did not surprise me, considering how much I loved her new album, No Shame.
Trigger Bang, featuring Giggs, was the first single to be released back in 2017 and gave us a taste of what was to come – reflective and unfiltered, tongue in cheek and recognisably her. Allen has always been unapologetically herself; infamously ballsy and mouthy and this is no different.
No Shame allows Allen to document the dissolving of her marriage, a difficult personal life and her internal battles, all the while never losing her ability to sugar coat a song with her angelic voice and sense of humour, such as cheerily confessing to infidelity on My One – ‘Baby, I fucked half the boys in Paris, I’m in New York so embarrassed, cos I need my One… Pumpkin, I picked something up in Sydney, now this voice inside my kidney, says I need my One’.
Nevertheless there are a few stripped back songs, which are raw and honest and give us Allen at her most vulnerable. Family Man, Apples and Three all showcase her singing and song writing abilities and give a different side to the artist, as well as constructing a narrative through the album. Allen’s honesty has always appealed to me, as has her frank and clever song writing, and she certainly hasn’t lost her ability to effortlessly blend different musical styles together, give them a distinctively London twist and top them off with her unmistakable singing voice.
Best Song: Your Choice (feat. Burna Boy)
1) Swimming, Mac Miller
Besides Amy Winehouse, Mac Miller’s untimely passing is one of the most heart-breaking deaths of a musician, in my opinion. Similar to Earl Sweatshirt, I have been a huge fan of Mac Miller since around 14 years old and remember constantly listening to his mixtape, K.I.D.S., in school and going to see him on tour with my friends. Mac’s artistic progression is second to none and I have always felt it was fascinating to watch an artist grow, and to grow along with him, from a teenager rapping about Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza to the musical masterpiece that is Swimming.
I loved Swimming before Mac Miller died and I love it even more now, because it’s the last album we got from him – and it’s insanely good either way. Miller lays himself bare on this album, turning inward and reflecting on a difficult period in his life, addressing his demons including heartbreak, the pitfalls of fame, and depression. There are so many different influences and genre nods on Swimming and you can tell Miller used his time as an artist to educate himself on different styles, instruments, and production methods. 2009, the penultimate song on the album, gives me chills every time. I love the strings in the introduction, the laidback piano and honest reflection from Mac in his search for internal peace.
The evolution of the album as it moves from song to song indicates a true talent, his musical and personal self-progression, and what we hoped was Miller coming out the other end of a tricky time. Tragedy aside, Mac Miller was, and still is, one of my all time favourite artists and Swimming will always be one of my all time favourite albums. It is impossible to pick the best song on this album, as every single one is so, so good in its own way to me. If you haven’t listened to this album all the way through, please do.
Other special mentions:
Negro Swan, Blood Orange
Sweetener, Ariana Grande