Tuesday, January 1, 2019

top 10 albums of 2018

Here goes my top 10 albums of 2018!


Phantom Thread: Jonny Greenwood

Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood's delicate yet ravishing score was one of the intrinsic parts of what made Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread so distinctive. As an album, Greenwood's music works as a fluid tapestry of hem-hawing strings and tinkling pianos--its peculiarities spelling-out unease and romance.

"It's strange, 'cause lots of British music in the '50s is quite twee. And if there's anything this film isn't — or at least the lead character, Reynolds Woodcock, he's not twee in any way. So instead, we started thinking about what music he would listen to, and that kind of led me to things that are little more austere.

Also, I'm a big fan of all of these really over-the-top baroque recordings from that era, where they didn't care at all about what was authentic, and so they would have enormous romantic orchestras playing Bach and Vivaldi and stuff, and it sounds glorious. It's not how they do it anymore." -Jonny Greenwood


Cusp: Alela Diane

Dabbling in themes of motherhood, time and existence, Diane's fresh, melodic, and intimate record is a thing of beauty. Haunting opener "Albatross" is one of the finest tracks of the year.

"The record was finished being mixed the weekend I had Oona and almost died, consequently. So the record was done, but I was singing about that exact thing on “Song for Sandy,” about Sandy Denny. She’s a musician that I’ve respected and loved for a long time, and she died tragically when her only child, her daughter, was like seven months old. After becoming a mom and thinking about Sandy Denny’s story, I felt called to elaborate on it in that song. And when I had Oona and had severe complications and got way too close to the edge, it was strange to me that I had already written a song about leaving your child behind, and the tragedy of that.

[Almost dying] has given me this more grateful perspective of everything I get to experience. On tour, even when it’s super hard, and in moments with my girls that are super challenging, I’m just like, “I’m just glad I’m here, on Planet Earth. As horrible as it may feel, I’m alive, and I get to experience this.” It really gave some more perspective. And I think in my music I’ve touched on that before, the lightness and the darkness, and death, and the intensity and the mystery of it." -Alela Diane 


Scorpion: Drake

Drake continues to churn out epic albums that grow more and more ambitious. Slickly produced and edited, Scorpion is mainstream rap bliss but edged with canny precision and raw perceptions. 90s nostalgia runs rampant and samples are utilized in surprising ways.

"Thanks to the breadth of Drake’s dragnet and his live-in-the-studio approach, he snares a huge number of songs; culling these to fit into an album – even one with 25 songs – is a heroic feat of editing. This is not just a matter of what tracks make the album; Drake pays close attention to small details. “We’d show him our best work, the craziest stuff, and he was still pushing the bar higher – it was just not good enough,” says J. Valle, who co-produced “March 14.” “He was encouraging and gracious. But all week long it’s like, what does it take to get this guy to want a song?”" -from Rolling Stone article by Elias Leight


Cocoa Sugar: Young Fathers

A fine album of searing distortion and sunny pop melodies from the Edinburgh-based band.

"I take inspiration from pretty much anything. In the last year everybody’s banging on about self-love and all this kind of stuff. I think that should just be a way of life. It’s good that these things are kind of put forward now and it’s cool to look after yourself and your health. In the last year I’ve been spending more time with family, regulating friendships. I think all that seeps in—all that helps. Conversations that you have with people, all that filters in somehow. Things that you see, stuff that you read, interactions with people it adds something. We recorded one of the songs in L.A. and Kayus [laughs] … he got high. He was a bit useless that day, but we recorded something. It’s weird like … being in L.A. It made sense a lot of the music comes from America. It all sort of … it’s to do with the sun. There’s a lot of sun. And when there’s a lot of sun you want to make music that suits that sort of environment. That was kind of a revelation to me. You think of the places up north and its all dark and melancholic and all this kind of stuff. One of the songs we’d done was ‘Soon Come Soon.’ That was a couple years back. That had that sunny feel. Without even saying anything, everybody just felt that was the vibe. We made something that was a bit more brighter or colorful. I think all these things filter in. But there’s no point where you’re like, ‘I’m getting influence from this, take me to this point.’ It’s not as obvious." -Alloysious Massaquoi


Black Panther: Various Artists

A blazing compilation of tracks "from and inspired by" the hit motion picture. Kendrick Lamar & SZA's pulsing "All the Stars" is an obvious highlight as are Lamar's duet with The Weeknd ("Pray for Me") and Khalid & Swae Lee's summery smooth "The Ways."

"The tie-ins to the film can be tenuous, but Kendrick and company bring 50 minutes of big-time team-ups and crossovers scanning black music across three continents: rap, R&B, gqom, Afro-soul, and pop from South Africa, throughout California, London, Texas, and Ethiopia by way of Toronto. The album is a sampler of the film’s broader vision of black excellence. It’s fitting that this slightly convoluted, sometimes generic offering largely delivers on its promise, much like the larger comic world it now occupies. A fun, rap-centric album is now Marvel canon." -Sheldon Pearce


Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides: SOPHIE

Like St. Vincent's newfangled record from last year (my #1 pick of 2017), SOPHIE's album is a metallic, hard-hitting delight whilst pushing sonic boundaries in pop.

"Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides reminds us why pop music became popular music in the first place. Its catchy melodies, sing-along capabilities, and relatability provide a far-reaching cultural tool. To SOPHIE, loudness and repetitiveness are tools to stimulate the most primal reactions and to sing the catchiest expression of self. In this manner, pop music is being advanced, and it should be understood as something more complex than commercial and superficial. OIL exaggerates pop motifs not to reiterate their flaws or hypocrisies (we don't need satire to recognize this), but rather to intensify and reimagine its function. SOPHIE proves that pop music can be used to share marginalized expressions in a dominant way. The discourse of transgender identity, fetish subcultures, or unspoken traumas can be assertively shared through pop music and pop culture." -Hans Kim


Invasion of Privacy: Cardi B

One of the most striking mainstream female rapper albums (wish there were more of them!) in recent memory, Cardi B's album is an appealing bevy of catchy tracks (like summer anthem "I Like It"), while being deeply personal as well.

"The thing that I'm most proud of [from] my project is that I could show people that I could do different types of music. I felt like people [were] boxing me [in] and think that I could do like a certain type of sound. And I just wanted to show people that, no, I could do different things. And then on top of that, I'm proud that I could be a woman in my album, you know? A lot of people think that I'm just this girl with no feelings. I hate admitting it, but I do have feelings. I am a woman, at the end of the day. I do have emotions, and I'm glad that I could pour it out in my album, in my body of work." -Cardi B


Dirty Computer: Janelle Monáe

Monáe continues to be one of the more compelling musical artists of the time. The shimmery Dirty Computer dips into funk, beach pop (Brian Wilson figures in title track), feminist R&B, and slinky Prince-inspired clip-clock grooves (single "Make Me Feel").

"I have always loved science-fiction and Afrofuturism. Octavia Butler is a hero of mine. Watching films as recent as Black Panther made me feel even more hopeful about getting opportunities and funding to execute our Afrofuturist ideas and stories. Afrofuturism and sci-fi through the lens of black writers and directors deserve support. These studios respond to money, and they respond to whether an idea is viable for their company.

I feel like it’s a great time to be presenting the projects that you have in your heart. If you grew up being rejected or teased for being a science-fiction nerd or geek and you were black, to me this is the time you would be celebrated. I love the fact that we are telling our stories from our mouths and through our own eyes. I think that if we don’t they will be erased. Representation matters, and we should make sure that we’re doing all that we can to get our stories out." -Janelle Monáe


Golden Hour: Kacey Musgraves

I've been a fan of Musgraves since her debut album (my #6 of 2013!) and it's been exciting to see her to continue to evolve as an artist. Musgraves stays close to country roots while branching out slightly into other genres of music (space-pop and strands of disco--"High Horse" is a crowning achievement). The songwriting is aces here, in both melody and in her astute lyrics.

"I was on a giant Bee Gees kick going into this record, I could not quit. And I think that through osmosis that kind of seeped in and I was like, “Wait a minute, OK, a Bee Gees-country mashup or a world where the Bee Gees meets country would be so sick.” And also I love Sade, I grew up listening to her. I was kinda thinking, “Man what would it sound like if Sade made a country album?” There has to be a world where sonically, this can all make sense, you know? It was also important for me to not lose the my spirit or my character through everything. Like I didn’t want people to just be like, “Oh, third record, she’s just gone fucking crazy, off the rails here, who is this?” So I wanted a vein of familiarity that people have come to know about my music, but I definitely wanted to play with some other realms within that. And songwriting-wise, I’ve always been really focused on turn-of-phrase and wit, you know, and I love that kind of songwriting. But I think at a certain point, it can kinda wear people out. Like, we get it, you can turn a phrase and not everything has to be wrapped up in a lyrical bow, so to speak. With this record it was really important for me just to play with getting kind of more an aerial view of the lyrics and not getting my magnifying glass out for each thing. Just kind of using a different color or different shade writing wise." -Kacey Musgraves


Isolation: Kali Uchis

I'm finding it difficult to describe this album as it continues to surprise me in its sound and adventurousness. Uchis's vocals are unbelievably tart and silky, underscored by eclectic, superb production and instrumentation throughout. Highlights include slo-mo romp "Miami," enveloping "Just a Dream," and my favorite song of the year, "In My Dreams," a keyboard drumbeat backed tune which builds to a rousing finish in melancholy and celebratory fashion.

"There’s no particular method or course of action that I take in order to decide who I’m going to work with besides feeling complete and total respect and admiration for that artists. I started making music by myself and figuring all of that on my own. I had never worked with other people before, really. Even with Por Vida, it was all pretty much over emails, so I had never really sat in a room with other musicians and instrumentalists and singers and, together, try to make a contribution to my music. For this album, I really just wanted the collaborators to be people who are very much in their own world and include people from the old school and people who are newer. I have my peers, like Jorja and Steve [Smith] and Kevin Parker from Tame Impala, and then have people that I grew up with that I’ve been listening to forever, like Bootsy [Collins] and Damon Albarn. I just really wanted the album to be more well-rounded, and the people who contributed to it are people who have a place in my heart." -Kali Uchis 

A look back at my Top 10 Albums of 2017.

My favorite tracks of 2018 are compiled on Spotify. Playlist below.

-Jeffery Berg

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