December is every list lover’s dream.
Right now, end of year round-ups are as prolific as an unfaithful Kardashian spouse, with everything from 2018’s best films to worst countries to do business with deemed worthy of a rank. So here we are, adding another one to the list. While every music and lifestyle-related blog and their dog have waxed poetic on the albums that made them move this year, I hope you discover something new here. And while on a whole we can unanimously declare 2018 a total write-off, the silver lining is that these tumultuous times seem to have brought out the best in a bunch of artists who released records this year. From Idles to Leon Bridges to Tierra Whack, here are the albums that made me feel a little less scared of what the future might bring.
Jungle – For Ever
Jungle’s two principal songwriters (and only permanent members) Josh ‘J’ Lloyd-Watson and Tom ‘T’ McFarland went through some serious heartbreak while writing this record, and we’re all the better for it. From all that darkness came this beacon of light—a mix of hazy, soulful slow-burners like ‘House in LA’, and percussion-led synth jams like ‘Happy Man.’ After the breakout success of their debut record in 2014, J and T were feeling the heat when it came to recording a follow up. What a huge sigh of relief they must have exhaled when they listened to For Ever for the first time all the way through.
The Blaze – Dancehall
My first introduction to The Blaze was actually this music video. I watched it three times in a row, and then went and devoured all their other music videos, which play more like short foreign films than anything else. To be honest, I didn’t really even think of separating the music from the visual and listening to it on its own. But the French duo are as much musicians as they are cinematographers, and these songs hold up just as well on their own. An incredible debut album by two cousins who only began working together a few years ago.
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Everyone has an opinion when it comes to Belcalis Almanzar, which I guess is only fair considering she sure has an opinion on everyone else. Mine is that she put out one of the most captivating albums of the year. Almost every song is a hit, and even though they’ve all been played to death by now, it’s impossible not to get psyched when a track like ‘Best Life’ comes on. Female rappers have long been overshadowed by males in the hip-hop industry because they were born with dicks and we have not yet completely disabled the patriarchy. But give Cardi another couple of years and I reckon she’ll finish the job. That’s not a threat, it’s a warning.
Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
In a time where every band sounds like they ripped their entire discography off another band (who almost certainly ripped their’s off The Beatles or The Stones), Scottish trio Young Fathers are a breath of non-genre-conforming fresh air. Their definitive brand of spoken word rap backed by tribal electronica polished by melodic vocals sounds confusing in theory, but produces pure gold in practice.
Saba – Care For Me
It’s lazy work to quote a YouTube commenter, but Drew McGivhan is right—this is a masterpiece. The 24-year-old Chicago rapper wrote and arranged this entire record in honour of his cousin—born Walter Long Jr., but known by his rap name dinnerwithjohn—who was stabbed to death in February last year. To listen to Care For Me is to ride this wave of grief with Saba as he navigates feelings of sadness, anger, love, loss, loneliness, and everything in between. Easily the most underrated album of the year by one of the most talented young storytellers in America right now.
Marlon Williams – Make Way For Love
New Zealand singer-songwriter Marlon Williams has the voice of an angel plucked right from the heavenly chambers of a church choir—the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament choir, to be exact. On Make Way For Love, Williams puts his god given talent to good use as he works his way through heartbreak, regret and ultimately, acceptance. If you’re going through it, and I mean like really going through it, go through it with this guy.
Leon Bridges – Good Thing
Three years ago, Leon Bridges worked his way into everyone’s psyche by way of an Apple Music commercial. The song featured in the ad was ‘Coming Home,’ the title track to his debut album and our first introduction to the Texas singer’s special blend of gospel, soul, and R&B. I played that album to smithereens, so much so that I felt I knew Bridges’ sound like the back of my hand. The first time I heard ‘Bad Bad News’, the first single from Good Thing, I thought I’d pressed play on the wrong song. Who is this guy? What have you done with the old Leon? You’ve dropped him in the middle of a speakeasy dance floor blaring jazz and funk, and you’ve made him sexy. I like this new guy. He can stay.
Tierra Whack – Whack World
‘Who, what, where, when, why, how, this is fucking fantastic’ is a pretty accurate summary of my thought pattern when I first discovered Tierra Whack’s visual and auditory project, Whack World. The Philadelphia artist’s 15-minute audiovisual journey is made up of 15 one-minute tracks that melt into each other like brainwaves on LSD. Tierra Whack is clever, weird, creative, talented, curious, and the antithesis of the stereotypical hyper-sexualised female rapper. Basically, she’s everything we need. And if you haven’t heard of her until now, Whack’s own words explain it best. “Probably would’ve blew overnight if I was white,” she raps on the album’s second track, ‘Bugs Life.’
Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Ohhh, that indescribable feeling of hearing music that truly captivates you, that enters your bloodstream and warms it like a hyper-addictive painkiller, that rattles you and excites you and makes you want to lead humanity into some kind of moral-based war armed with fury and honour and conviction. Anyway, what did you think of the new Idles record? I thought it was pretty good.