2018 was full of ups and downs, an emotional rollercoaster ride tainted by political bigotry and violence on one side, but blessed by heartwarming activism and uplifting artistic output on the other. Here, we resume our personal favourites of this turbulent year’s portfolio of music. Music that helped us cope with the chaos that may have surrounded us as members of society or in our very own, very personal spaces. In the wake of #metoo, feminism has soared to new heights in mainstream discourse and so it seems all the more appropriate, necessary, and remarkable that women have very clearly ruled the year in music. That being said, we invite you to take a stroll through what we’ve deemed standout contributions to 2018’s discography, including escapism-invoking visuals and impressive newcomer releases.
While, obviously, it’s immensely difficult to narrow a year’s worth of fresh LPs down to only a handful, the following list represents some of 2018’s best, and partially most underrated full-lengths:
Beach House – 7
Ever since forming back in 2004, Baltimore-natives Beach House have enchanted global audiences by defying record industry boundaries through an undefinable sound. Seven albums in, the duo — consisting of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally — once again take us on a trip through their ever-so-dreamy, ever-so-melancholic world of wonder. The combination of chilly, distorted vocals, poetic lyrics and atmosphere-heavy, trance-inducing melodies guarantee a spellbinding listener’s experience — whether it be while pacing down a local highway at night or spending a rainy day in by the fireplace. ‘Lemon Glow’ and ‘Black Car’ serve as the feat’s hypnotising highlights. 7 is a must-listen for anyone who enjoys the feeling of being sucked into music like into a deep, dark void, who enjoys kaleidoscope-like day dreams and subtle melodrama.
Blood Orange – Negro Swan
Dev Hynes has worked with so many musicians it almost feels ridiculous that he has not yet become the chart-topping pop star his talent should easily allow him to be. But Hynes, aka Blood Orange, is rather camera shy compared to the people he’s worked with, such as most recently Mariah Carey and A$AP Rocky. Born and raised in East London, Hynes relocated to New York City in 2007 where he began working on music for himself and others. Since then, the 32-year-old has delivered more than a fair share of top-notch music, Negro Swan being no exception. It’s his fourth album album under the Blood Orange-moniker, and an alt-funk, in depth look into blackness, intimacy and juxtapositions of the individual vs. society.
Lykke Li – so sad so sexy
From the very beginning, Lykke Li’s name and persona stood synonymous with her mystical, soul-crushingly deep music. The enigmatic, Swedish songstress was — more or less willingly — pushed into pop music’s spotlight when her hit song ‘I Follow Rivers’ was remixed and garnered huge radio acclaim and airplay. Another dark album, a child, side gigs and a well-needed hiatus from the business later, Li resurfaced with an arguably surprising change of style. Where she was once the enchantress of fuzzy brass and steel drum instrumentals, the 32-year-old’s fourth studio effort embraces on-trend trap beats, recounts of nightlife excess and hymns of heartbreak — all of which, however different they may be to older material, tap into Lykke’s origins of rich-in-metaphor songwriting and gloomy production. Amongst others, fan-favs are the somewhat Kendrick Lamar-esque ‘deep end’ and the more experimental ‘hard rain’.
Robyn – Honey
Not so long ago, we devoted an entire article to the legend that is Robyn in anticipation of her new album. As disparate as Honey may have sounded opposite the rest of the Stockholm-based artist’s catalogue, it did not disappoint. The characteristically sad-but-danceable first single ‘Missing U’ raised a high bar after nearly 8 years of silence, while Honey‘s sexually-charged title track effortlessly eased us into Robyn’s new, more down-tempo sound. A more modest, house-infused production and introspective themes at its core, Robyn’s latest project serves less as an extension to her previous, electronica-rooted work, and more so as an introduction into a new chapter of the 39-year-old’s life, comprised by the lessons she’s learned, falls she’s took and steps she’s climbed.
ROSALÍA – El Mal Querer
A true flamenco aficionado at heart, Spain’s ROSALÍA is about to take over the world: An album based on toxic relationship-related literature and symbolism, El Mal Querer ventures into sonic spheres not typically associated with Flamenco, hereby drawing in old and new fans. As means to lay solid ground work for the 25-year-old’s rocket ascension into charts and playlists above and beyond her home country, ROSALÍA’s sophomore effort beautifully creates symbioses of futuristic R&B, trap music and her very own Catalonian heritage. If you don’t speak any Spanish yet, then this should be your reason to start learning.
SOPHIE – Oil Of Every Pearls Un-Insides
Being her debut album, SOPHIE’s first full-length would technically place her within the ranks of fellow newcomers. However, having spent years behind the scenes, off-stage, working as a producer for the likes of Madonna, Charli XCX and Vince Staples, the 32-year-old had already earned her seat at the table pre-Oil. The avant-garde nature of this record might mean an uneasy listen to those not in touch with electronic music of its kind, but the sheer quality of craftsmanship, emotion and energy within every beat presented make it an inevitable contender for this list. ‘It’s Okay To Cry’ and ‘Immaterial’ protrude as this feat’s jewels.
FAVOURITE MUSIC VIDEOS
Unsurprisingly, if the music itself is as good as it was in 2018, the accompanying visuals seldomly fail to impress. Below, we’ve curated a five-piece round up of music videos we found especially intriguing – some for their not-so-hidden messages and commentary on culture and society, and some simply for their high aesthetic appeal.
A$AP Rocky feat. FKA twigs – Fukk Sleep
‘Fukk Sleep’ comes from Rocky’s third studio album, Testing, and features guest vocals by none other than British alt-R&B chanteuse FKA twigs. The track revolves around Flacko’s journey from rags to riches, the guilty pleasures and downsides of living lavishly. The visual displays exactly that: the rapper and twigs, opulently dressed, are outlaws, smashing window shields, storming restaurants, leading what looks like a luxurious, pre-apocalypse Mad Max lifestyle. One can clearly see Twigs’ aesthetic shimmering through, her mind-blowing pole dance at the end of the video being the cherry atop of this ice cream sundae of a music video.
The Carters – APESHIT
Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s joint stint as The Carters is a piece of art — literally. ‘APESHIT’, the first single release of the couple’s collaboration, EVERYTHING IS LOVE, sees them posing and frolicking through Paris’ iconic Louvre museum. Filled with fine art references, the track and its video are an ode to self appreciation and black excellence – both of which deserve to be cherished in and outside of the arts, now more so than ever.
Childish Gambino – This Is America
Without a doubt, Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ not only broke the internet with over 400 Million views, but its chillingly accurate depiction of racial injustices broke hearts far beyond US borders. At first listen, the song makes a rather upbeat impression, only to later shift into darker sonic territories through drum-steered trap beats. The one-shot video follows a topless Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino as he dances through a parking garage, switching in between moments of cheerful gospel and gunshot-provoked calamity. Song and video alike make for a frighteningly fierce, well needed and unprecedented political statement.
Charli XCX & Troye Sivan – 1999
On a brighter side of things, our nostalgia-hungry hearts melted in the hands of Troye Sivan and Charli XCX. The two pop provocateurs’ collab dabbles in everything we love and hate about the ’90s, from Titanic to The Matrix franchise, Sketchers ads to Sims — they even took a hit at Justin Timberlake’s infamous ramen-noodle-look-a-like hairdo. The song in itself is catchy, but in combination with this instantly iconic nod to the Naughties, we find ourselves transported away from all our day-to-day troubles, even if only for three-and-a-half minutes.
St. Vincent – Fast Slow Disco
St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is known not only for her refreshingly odd chamber rock, but also for her art house-inspired music videos, daring sense of style and stance on feminist and queer issues. In a reworked version of 2017’s tearjerker ‘Slow Disco’, Clark engages in a full on, sweaty, sexy and unapologetically gay fetish party. Dazed and in awe, the singer slithers through bodies interwoven on the dancefloor, cathartically chanting about the emancipation from a (not-so-)significant other as she finds peace and liberty beneath the strobe lights.
2018 not only blessed us with comebacks, urgently awaited follow-ups and gorgeous visuals, but it also launched a remarkable number of newcomer breakthroughs. Here, we share our Top 5 debuts of the year.
Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy
Love her or hate her, as far as Hip Hop goes, 2018 has been the year of Cardi B. The 26-year old Bronx-native was fully equipped to become a pop cultural phenomenon through social media fame and reality TV appearances beforehand, but it wasn’t until she released her first proper album that she could prove she had the musical talent to back her larger-than-life-personality. Her overwhelmingly successful debut underlined that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Influenced by latin music, trap and old school female force reminiscent of Lil’ Kim and the like, Invasion Of Privacy is an eclectic collection of multifaceted rap tunes — and a standout debut if there ever was one.
Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
At only 21 years of age, Jorja Smith‘s lyrical wisdom can only be traced to the fact that she’s an old soul. The London-born’s unforgettable, sensual voice paired with traditionalist-yet-modern R&B ambiance feel like a match made in heaven. A more than promising debut, Lost & Found deals with topics of love, the loss of it and almost-post-adolescent confusion so maturely and with such keen observation, it’s impossible to not fall victim to its spell. We sincerely hope this moody, vibe-y and contemplative effort to set the pace for many more albums to come.
Kali Uchis – Isolation
The elusive, Colombian-American Kali Uchis had low-key invaded our playlists as a featuring artists to the likes of Daniel Caesar, Tyler The Creator and Gorillaz long before finally enriching our lives with a glorious debut album. The latter came in shape of Isolation, a record filled with zesty beats and breezy vocals through and through. With stylistic influences ranging from steamy reggaeton to seductive neo-soul to eery dream pop, Uchis’ formal first caters to every taste — a true treat for the ears.
Rejjie Snow – Dear Annie
Former INDIE cover star Rejjie Snow finally dropped his first full-length, a successor to his highly praised mixtapes. An unconventional Hip Hop record, this body of work clearly distinguishes itself from other releases of its kind, drawing from a full spectrum of genre-trespassing melodies, moods and collaborators. 20 tracks heavy, this album will take you full circle.
serpentwithfeet – soil
Josiah Wise, better known by his spooky pseudonym serpentwithfeet, has, thus far, only little music to his name. The enigmatic Brooklynite first appeared in 2016 with an EP titled blisters, and has now gifted us his first proper LP – both of which have been met with rave reviews. Goose bump-causing, crystal clear howls of love and desperation bathed in spacey arrangements guarantee both pleasure and pondering, endearment and examination.
Head Image: Still from Kali Uchis – After The Storm ft. Tyler, The Creator, Bootsy Collins via YouTube