We did it, team. We made it to the end of the year (sort of). Although 2018 has been fraught with increasing tensions between countries, an ever-revolving door of political scandals, and just about every natural disaster you can think of, it’s been a bloody good year for music. And I’m here to help you navigate the best stuff. Here’s my list of albums released this year that you may have missed and are now obligated to listen to.
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile
I’ve only started to discover jazz this year, and Sons of Kemet provided the perfect introduction in the form of Your Queen Is A Reptile. Hailing from the UK, the band blends African influence with a classic jazz sound (and two drummers!) to create diverse soundscapes unrivalled by previous years’ jazz releases and breathes life into a genre so many are starting to forget.
Best track: ‘My Queen is Ada Eastman’
Mac Miller – Swimming
I’ll be the first to admit that Swimming didn’t initially click with me. It was good, that was for sure, but not something I saw myself coming back to. So, when the announcement of Mac Miller’s passing came, I found myself wandering back and rediscovering the album in all its glory. Drenched in electronics and glistening with heavy bass lines, so much of the album connects personally with the listener. Mac’s signature singing/rapping style consistently outperforms itself as the record rolls on, and his more traditional incorporation of instrumentals creates a perfectly mellow atmosphere unrivalled by many hip-hop releases this year. Although Mac is gone all too soon, it’s nice to know he left such a fantastic album behind.
Best track: ‘Self Care’ – “You never told me being rich was so lonely/Nobody know me, oh well/Hard to complain from this five star hotel”
IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Punk has been on its last legs for a long time now, but IDLES are here to tell you to take that thinking elsewhere. With Joy as an Act of Resistance, they prove there’s still life in the culture. Combining some of the catchiest bass lines of the year with genuinely confronting lyricism, IDLES dip into several genres to make their best work. Addressing themes of toxic masculinity, classism, and xenophobia, and mixed with a diverse combination of aggression and more aggression, it’s an album filled to the brim with on-the-nose one-liners and just pure fun.
Best track: ‘I’m Scum’ – “Spit in your percolator/I am procrastinator/I over-tip the waiter/Sarcastic amputator”
Noname – Room 25
Never one to shy away from how she’s truly feeling, Noname holds her own in a genre dominated by male artists and proves that some of the best writing comes from the heart. Room 25 follows her brilliant Telefone mixtape by amping up the beautifully airy instrumentals, coupling them with almost spoken word-like flow to create a short burst of delightful energy. The introspection never feels forced, and almost becomes its own instrument in the sea of frenetic drum lines and measured bass playing. It’s glorious to hear an artist finally achieve their full potential, and I hope you love it just as much as I do.
Best track: ‘Don’t Forget About Me’ – “I know my body’s fragile, know it’s made from clay/But if I have to go, I pray my soul is still eternal”
Saba – Care for Me
Finally, I cover an artist I truly hope is on the come-up: Saba. His unique blend of lofi with jazz-based hip-hop creates an incredible dynamic between instrumentals and lyricism all through Care for Me, and it results in one of the most enthralling listens of the year. Despite the warm surface of the music, the album conveys Saba’s battles with his demons, his close friends dying, and police brutality. But the at-times bleak lyricism is backed by chilled instrumentals, creating a dynamic unmatched by his contemporaries. It perfectly complements a rainy day, or even just a bleak one, but it warms the soul and leaves the listener hoping for a better future.
Best track: ‘BUSY/SIRENS’ – “Surely deservin’ of all this lonely/You sad? Tell me, how you sad? You got all these friends, you got all these fans”