Best Albums of 2018
I'm finally done. This is a top 20 of my favourite albums of 2018. In lists such as this I always try to find the midpoint between how much the records impact or relate to my personal experiences or how it generally pushes genres we're all familiar with to the next horizon. Writing about why these albums were amazing is another journey too. Sometimes love is primal, and some song just digs into your brain forever without you realising it. Anyway, some honorable mentions that barely missed the mark includes Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by the Arctic Monkeys, Stranger Fruit by avant-garde metal band Zeal & Ardor, Daytona by Pusha T, the Kid Cudi & Kanye West collab, Kids See Ghost, flamenco pop artist Rosalia's latest album, and lots more (lol I'm copping out). I'm sticking to 20 because I'm a masochist, and I like to evaluate how much more one album left a mark in my memory than another. The top 20 below then are truly and sincerely the albums that made my year. Oh, and they're in order, though none of the albums are that far apart from each other in quality.
20) Everything's Fine - Jean Grae & Quelle Chris
When the single Zero came out alongside the retro arcade music, I was excited as hell to see what the collaboration between Jean Grae & Quelle Chris could bring to the table. Safe to say, the album exceeded all of my expectations. Everything's Fine is dark comedy musical and a dystopian satire masterpiece. The album pulses with paranoia woven by smooth flows and strong commentary - a grand exercise in worldbuilding, until you realise the world they're building is the world we live in. A world where conspiracy theories fuel paranoias and denial keeps us servile. The tracks are propelled by jazz productions and even dream pop, (Listen to River. It's magical), and although the musicality doesn't change much in tone, the narrative in each track is phenomenal. Featuring comedians like Hannibal Burress in tracks 'Ohsh' (who actually raps in the track too) takes the timeless meme of a human being's urge to deny the worst to a whole higher realm. (Explaining the title Grae says, "As you get older, it tends to be a response that you give more and more without realizing that you're even doing it. You're like, 'Everything's fine,' but the narrator in your head is like, 'Everything was not fine.)Nick Offerman's monologue in Everything's Still Fine is poignant, and affects me personally, and should affect everyone really - relating the moral dilemma of living in a world that bombards you with bad news so you really feel like you should be doing something about it, while knowing that you can't solve anything, so you just lull yourself into complacency. Nick Offerman trailing off to "They won't come for you..." at the end is haunting. All of which makes Everything’s Fine an important piece of history. A great big mirror for today’s mad, mad world.
19) Oxnard - Anderson .Paak
Sure, it might not be as funky as Malibu, but Oxnard is great because it shows how well Anderson .Paak pulls of that old school sound while still keeping it fresh. He’s shown his prowess with contemporary R&B sounds, trap, and gospel - and in this Oxnard, a semi-autobiographical account of him growing up in his hometown, the slightly cleaner, tighter composition serves Anderson .Paak well. Dr. Dre’s production plays a huge role in this; you can hear it in the backbeat in Mansa Musa (where he himself features alongside the wonderful vocals of Cocoa Sarai). Dr Dre’s touch doesn’t put the sound in any boxes, one moment you get some familiar West Coast hip hop vibes, the next moment you trippy (e.g. intro to appropriately named Trippy ). Oxnard makes me dance in my car, but also laugh sometimes. Anderson .Paak mentioned that one of his major influences for this album besides Jay-Z’s Blueprint was Kanye West’s College Dropout, and you can see that kinda self-effacing swagger, well-intentioned doucheyness (oooh paradox) in tracks like Sweet Chick, which is one of my favourites. As he’s naming all of this women that he knows, he constantly gets interrupted by another woman with a gun. As an R&B artist first rather than hip hop, Anderson .Paak never feels like he’s filling in a segment for a song, and that the rappers featured are just turning it up to 11 for him. He’s always in control and dominant in his singing and even in his rap flows. Whether it’s in songs featuring jazz-soul singer Kadhja Bonet (please check out her entire Childqueen album if you haven’t yet) or when he’s exchanging fires with the likes of Pusha T, Anderson. Paak always keeps it together. You can always hear his charisma through the tracks, wrapped in the right amount of frantic and sleek, sometimes all in one breath.
18) Boarding House Reach - Jack White
Jack White got a lot of flak for Boarding House Reach. Pitchfork called it ‘a slog’. Even some long time Jack White fans found the new album’s experimental streak a cause for irritation. It’s understandable. With the White Stripes, Jack White has been a progenitor of early 2000s American indie rock alongside bands like The Strokes or the Vines, and it’s tough to see your heroes change. With that being said, after several solo and side projects that are either inoffensive and uninspired or just barely passing the average mark, Boarding House Reach is Jack White at his most audacious. The audacity consists of self-aware monologues, Lou Reed-esque mumbles, backed by your occasional bongo drums, plenty of distortion, some hip hop backbeats and just a lot of ambient work molding scenery and poetry together. The guitar in this album holds equal status to the modulation effects, the piano and even strings in songs like Get the Mind Shaft. Clearly, Jack White is not tied down by indie rock or blues roots here. So much goes on through the narrative, some of them can even be funky as hell. There’s a lot of quirky pretension in the lyrics that works in the context of the tracklist as Jack White pays homage to all of the sounds that has influenced rock throughout history - from psychedelia, rhythm blues and even hints of gospel and soul in tracks like Connected By Love. Don’t be fooled into thinking the production is all random splattering; there’s a lot of very poignant, technically precise moments in this album, like the piano ballad saying farewell in Humoresque and the sweet spoken poetry in Ezmeralda Steals the Show. Jack White takes the very direct storytelling approach of the blues and puts it through a multitude of genres. There’s a lot of caricatures too, like the self-important bragging noises of Corporation and the nonchalant man in the face of wreckage in Abulia and Akrasia(“While we are still sinning, may I still have another cup of tea”). It’s the type of innovation that makes you believe rock can still evolve and even if it’s ambling on like a zombie, it’s not an entirely inanimate genre.
17) Bumantara - Budak Nakal Hujung Simpang
This year embodied a type of Nusantara revival in every niche in the indie scene, riding a tide that’s been going on-and-off (high-tide, low-tide sort of deal). They come in many forms, whether it’s the psychedelia approach (Margasatwa, Ramayan), vintage pop ye-ye (Masdo), or folk neoromantika (Mafidz, Amir Jahari) – there’s something for everyone. Nusantara is and can be an unhelpful scholarly term – it’s vague, abstract and huge. Even when it comes to the genre more closely resembling Budak Nakal, like the more veteran presence of Salammusik (check out their latest singles DJ and Debar Lembut), the influence is varied. Plus,aren’t all music sang in Malay considered ‘Nusantara’? Whatever your opinion is regarding the word, Bumantara takes the Malay folklore to interesting places, with instrumentations that vary through many traditional sounds, and natural ambience. AG Coco’s production keeps the festive energy Budak Nakal is known for and the album is filled with moments of refreshing creativity, while holding on to that to the big band/ska vibes – blaring horns counteracted by soft gamelan tones to create a unique experience.
16) Wa Caya Lu - Sweetass
Call it murky grunge, noise pop or call it whatever they want you to call it (the enigmatic ‘Haruan Cina Noise’), Sweetass cuts the edge off with a little light-heartedness, coursing through the veins of rough distorted guitars anchoring itself on pretty big melodies (re: 1995 & solo in the self-titled track). It’s gritty and catchy – from the feedback sound that heralds in Naughty by Nature, to the screechy mumble flinging you back to the freaking 90s when Gen X angst exploded from garages (or the equivalent of garages) as you hear “Wa caya sama Lu”. When zines and punk forums were THE THING. Wa Caya Lu is not just a lazy homage, but a no-nonsense compilation of disillusioned, fuck all stoner (drugs are bad) jams. The way the production makes you feel like you’re about to witness some band blast your face off while they’re setting up their amp touches a homely nerve. Trust the sound, bang your head, ramble on mentadak mentadu – this album was one hell of a catharsis for my 2018.
15) Joy As An Act of Resistance - IDLES
IDLES brand of positive punk takes on toxic masculinity, bigotry and devastating moments of vulnerability in this masterpiece. Most of all, it tells us that joy doesn’t have to be hollow escapism, it can be a powerful antidote to hatred. For the immense power of joy IDLES through has the hardcore manifesto. It does not compromise on aggression, as songs of hope are tinctured with mosh-worthy, headbanging riffs. It acknowledges that in the resistance against hatred, you need to get your hands dirty in self-defense . Singer Joe Talbot weaponises this against a variety of topics, such as toxic masculinity (such as in Samaritans, where the proceeds of the song goes to the charity which administers the suicide hotline of the same name: The mask of masculinity Is a mask, a mask that's wearing me) and homophobia (I'm like Stone Cold Steve Austin/I put homophobes in coffins/I'm like Fred Astaire/I dance like I don’t care). There's also plenty of badassery in this album (I said I got a penchant for smokes and kicking douches in the mouth/Sadly for you my last cigarette's gone out). Joe Talbot's occasional dissection of pop culture and tabloid media is also another highlight of the album , like in I’m A Scum (I don't care about the next James Bond/He kills for country, queen and god/We don't need another murderous toff), as he owns up to all the derogatory labels thrown by hateful people - it’s part reclamation, part obliteration. The expectations of mass media upon individuality also gets a spit in the face with the punchy track "Television". So many of the tracks of this album feel like rallying calls to liberty, and they do so with gut-wrenching gusto that it didn’t take long for it to become an instant favourite. There’s also the really catchy, happy songs, such as the call against xenophobia in Danny Nedelko and Great, (both comes with an infectious spelling part) declaring that the immigrants are their brothers too, desecrating the divisive nature of nationalism and the stupidity in bigotry. (Favourite line in the whole album is "ISLAM DIDN'T EAT YOUR HAMSTER" In advocating the perks of joy, Joy As An Act of Resistance contains a devastating sadness in it too, like in the song, June, where Joe sings about his stillborn daughter. The verse where he repeats "Baby shoes for sale. Never worn" is effortlessly heartbreaking and shows the emotional nuance this album harbors while still making you want to ram someone in a mosh pit in the name of jubilant solidarity.
14) Dog Days Diaries - Hacktick!
How does something that pay tribute to such a vibrant era of pop punk feel so fresh and deliriously innovative? Hacktick’s Dog Day Diaries has got the answer for you. Whether you’re an angsty teenager looking for a soundtrack, or an adult still feeling like a teenager, there’s a very manic and moshable anthem in every track. Not taking yourself seriously is an art form, and Hacktick! hones that with their energy, honest lyricism and their entertainingly fluctuating cynicism such as in Berhenti Melayu and in Another Loser Anthem.
13) Twisted Crystal - Guerilla Toss
Twisted Crystal is psychedelia without the cliches - no sitars or other instruments made to sound like meditation music and no gratuitous reverb. It’s slightly madder New Wave music reminiscent of Talking Heads and DEVO combined. Guerilla Toss is an art rock band that dabble in many different genres, and in their latest album, they get crazy - straying further away from dance-punk templates, breaking in the blender for a whole buffet of sounds. In one of my favourite tracks of the album, Metereological, there’s a funky breakbeat as singer Kassie Carlson sings a disjointed, delusional, declaration to be real (I want to be natural/Meteorological, Hands up/ I give up). In Come Up With Me, there are solos worthy of a classic rock song. At its heart, Twisted Crystal is my most fun listen in 2018. The eerie glockenspiel in Hacking Machine transitioning into bright guitars is an example of the band mixing in pop colours with artistic statement. The messaging is surreal and hilarious, like when the band dedicates an entire song to a space Jesus cult that calls their followers ‘rabbits’ in the aptly named Jesus Rabbit. The twangy bassline introducing it is addictive. Twisted Crystal is eclectic, electric and wonderfully manic.
12) Little Dark Age - MGMT
As eloquently explained in this video essay by Middle 8, MGMT in the past few years has hit a bit of a rocky patch in their pursuit of new sounds, especially with their 2013 self-titled album. The songs never reached the same level of popularity as their hit songs Electric Feel, Kids or Time to Pretend. Even in Congratulations, as much of a spectacular conceptual opus of psychedelia it was to me, they didn’t achieve the same level of success as when they started out as indie disco heroes of the late ‘00s. The duo themselves acknowledged this lack of commercial success, stating, “We got a glimpse of fame and shrunk back” in their interview with the Guardian. With Little Dark Age however, MGMT has gone beyond simply returning back to the golden days of Oracular Spectacular - they’ve found a sweet musical spot between pop appeal and bold reinvention. The stark Ariel Pink influence and 80s synth-pop in Little Dark Age is a blessing wrapped in warm New Wave blankets. There’s even a little goth in the album especially in the title track. Highlights of this album include the sincere and catchy friendship anthem, Me & Michael and a tongue-in-cheek commentary on isolation in a digital world in TSLAMP. There’s just so much in this album for every mood: the abrasive fuck-all track When You Die (We’ll all be laughing with you, when you die), the motivational When You’re Small and even the hilarious in She Works Out Too Much; a song which tells a story about a man who feels insecure about how fit his (former) significant other is. The fact that the song starts off with this aerobics instructor going “Okay, here we go!” is brilliant. She Works Out Too Much is a testament to this whole album - whether you read into it as deeper social commentary or just consider it as a joke song, it still works. That’s why Little Dark Age deserves this spot.
11) Kill the Lights - Tony Molina
One of the most challenging things to do in music is brevity. Long epic songs leave space for fuller narratives, larger ambience - but to invoke full-blown emotion in the span of less than two minutes is a whole other skill. Tony Molina has been sharpening his short song craft (some critics call them ‘micro-songs’, a horrible label because they remind me of financial instruments or corporate governance) ever since his debut back in 2013 with Dissed and Dismissed, and with Kill The Lights he’s reached a new zenith, sticking to a consistent jangle-pop sound. The album feels like a trailer for old feel-good movies, the type of music that Wes Anderson would play in the background as a bus departs with your lost childhood love on board saying goodbye to you. It’s beautiful, bite-sized melancholy, with no need for flourishes; just honest-to-god emotions. Over time, people like Tony Molina have become a writing hero for my constantly wordy ramblings; showing beauty in the brief, but never feeling incomplete. Listen to the backing organs on Jasper’s Theme with harmonies worthy of 60s bands like the Lovin’ Spoonful and The Byrds - you can’t help but press repeat.
10) Dengan Ikhlas - Milo Dinosaur
When I first heard Usah Resah come out in 2017, a type of spirit possessed me – the kind that sounds like a stadium of unbridled emotions driven by war-like percussions and mathy guitars. Dengan Ikhlas is an album of hard-earned rawness, where the band members sing in a chorus, occasionally singled out by blistering oft-kilter chord progressions, and then solo-ed by a singled honest voice. It’s spiritual, but where the transitions might be audacious post-hard-core, the lyrics are a candid homage to life, love and the will to carry on. Tracks like Tabah and Kasih (Sayang) are stand-ins for my jiwang anthem this year, but none of it feels a tad bit pretentious. Rock out to this if you haven’t yet. Truly one of the greats.
9) Telltale Signs - Sobs
If there was one word to capture the strength of this Singaporean band, it's melodies, melodies, and melodies. At its core, if you strip away the electric guitars and the drums, and envision a Sobs that's only Celine with an acoustic guitar, there is still a foundational, adorable, appeal to the songwriting. The fact that Sobs decided to make their music dreampop is just the universe being overly generous with us. No one's complaining, obviously. Not to mention, it's not just bare bones dreampop. Sobs emphasis on hooks and melodies doesn't make it incomplete or derivative, in fact their sound feels very textured. You can hear that in the little claps in Eastbound or Telltale Signs, the modulation spacey sounds in the background of Sundae.The opening to Astronomy, makes me soar.It's warm, fuzzy but most importantly purposeful. All of this while Celine Autumn's glossy voice bounces off the jangly, twinkly guitars like a sunbeam. They call themselves 'Uncool Pop' and it honestly is the best label for them. There's a very laid back, slacker rock feel to the lyrics like in Party Song, a comforting anthem for a person struggling to cope with the innate anxiety of adulthood (re: my life). One of my favourite descriptions of Sobs came from a friend was that the bands looked like they skipped piano school when they were teenagers and went to gigs instead. Stereotypical or not, the entire band and the music gives off a much needed homeliness, where their 'uncoolness' only makes them charming and relatable.
8) Historian - Lucy Dacus
Lucy Dacus was an unwitting discovery on my part, in an indie rock scene where slow, emotional songs of the likes of artists like Tomberlin & Julien Baker find a home. To me, Lucy Dacus stands a notch above the rest for her songwriting and also her great knack for atmosphere. These songs aren’t just sappy rants with wintry guitars, some of them ascend to a a level of grandeur, as she sings about how human beings help each other out in tough times. There is a somber resignation in the lyricism, but in songs like The Shell, a beautiful gift of hope. (You don't wanna be a creator / Doesn't mean you've got nothing to say/ Put down the pen, don't let it force your hand). Night Shift speaks to a very personal story of lost love and has one of the best lines in a song this year, as the singer hopes to never cross paths with her former significant other again. (You got a nine to five, so I’ll take the night shift/And I’ll never see you again if I can help it/In five years I hope the songs feel like covers/Dedicated to new lovers). There are too many night drives where I’ve put this album on, and it never gets any less beautiful.
7) The Future and the Past - Natalie Prass
Natalie Prass was an amazing find for me. On a Talkhouse podcast she did with her producer and friend, Matthew E. White, her background in music caught my interest as she talks about taking a degree in songwriting, writing about the political and her experiences of being a woman in the music industry. I was attracted by the stories she would tell in her songs so I decided to check her out but I was given two whole cakes to eat, instead of a decent slice. The Future and the Past is a vehicle for Natalie Prass’s excellent singing, but also stands like a tight, addictive tribute to 70s Motown & R&B. The number of heavy basslines in this album is rightfully gratuitous; it’s soul funk with interesting moments of audio textures and production, like the primal, heaty vibe in Hot for Mountain . But one of the most addictive parts of The Future is the downright infectious, and joyful tracks like my favourite love song of 2018, Short Court Style. My anthem for happiness now has definitely become the vocal harmonies that introduces the song, breaking down into sexy guitar licks as I find myself moving my shoulders to it when I don’t even dance (monologue: “What is happening to me). It’s a whole vibe, reminiscent of singers like Mariah Carey or Janet Jackson, but with instrumentation and audio layering that gives it an almost rawer, fresher feel. There is also a riveting feminist anthem in this album called Sisters that goes into this large piano hooks and a guitar call-and-response that just screams power, or as The Guardian puts it “fighting oppression with a charm offensive”. Even in the more somber tracks, such as Lost, a pop ballad that is, to put simply, the most straightforward song in the album, Natalie Prass continues to shine. No funky chops, or intriguing production is needed to showcase Prass’s wonderful voice, but the fact that the album is filled with memorable auditory moments anyway really makes it hard for me to not put this album on a pedestal.
6) Be the Cowboy - Mitski
In Be the Cowboy, Mitski goes back to her piano days, eschewing from the guitar distortions that underpin her past discography. The first song I got to know Mitski from was the indie pop garage rock track Townie, where in it I found an artist with punk ethos and a knack for catchy indie choruses. Slowly in my discovery of Mitski is also the gradual realisation that through the heavy riffs of singles like Your Best American Girl and Happy is one of the most beautiful voices in rock - heck in all of music - I’ve ever heard. There is something so crisp about Mitski’s singing - a force of nature that’s both a nurturing lullaby (like when she sings Two Slow Dancers) sometimes, other times shaken with an almost anxious vibrato. The underlying concept of the Be the Cowboy is about owning up to the myth that society puts upon you - the ‘cowboy’ here being a figure often romanticised in Western culture, when neither the outlaws or the livestock herders are as cool as they are on TV. The myth Mitski talks about here are the forced masks of celebrity, loneliness, romantic relationships and nostalgia. The sigh at the beginning at Me and My Husband is iconic and an example of one of Mitski’s purposefulness in the creation of this album. The sigh makes an otherwise simple song about being with your husband forever, a frustrated affair. You share in the exhaustion. The almost murmuring vibe of Nobody’s chorus wrapped in disco backbeats is a harrowing ode to solitude. Too many of these moments exist in the album. Essentially, if I’m pushed into a reverie of some fantasy past where I went to a high school prom again whenever I listen to Two Slow Dancers, I’m gonna call the cops, because Mitski is too powerful.
5) Future Me Hates Me - The Beths
No other band from 2018 made me as happy as the power pop, indie rock catchiness of The Beths. Elizabeth’s Stokes lyrics sound like it came straight from the heydays of twee pop. Its sweetness with substance. Some of these lyrics really are wonderful pieces of prose (“In a well-designed world/Everyone that I know is broken/And has fell for it before” from the title track) and downright fun to sing (Love the prechorus in Happy Unhappy: 'Cause you're in my brain taking up space/I need for remembering pins and to take out the bins/And that one particular film that that actor was in). The oohs and the aahs harmonizing with Elizabeth’s vocals turns up the brightness to a 100 too. I hesitate to use the word ‘sincere’ to describe it, because sincerity is such an odd thing to applaud when artifice can sometimes be appealing to the ears too in the wide world of music, but there are no random flourishes here. Just a group of great musicians coming together to compose really strong hooks and memorable riffs. It’s been a while since I’ve stumbled upon a rock band that makes me wanna be every part of it, its backing vocals, the solos, the drums. Every part. I haven’t gotten to how the whole album just seems to talk about the type of childish insecurities we all still feel in relationships and society, no matter how old we are. I’m just glad Future Me Hates Me is the soundtrack for it and that I'm singing it while smiling. How many times have you seen an album title and thought, “Okay, mood”? God bless The Beths, I wanna hug all of them.
4) Time 'n' Place - Kero Kero Bonito
Evolution for an artist in terms of musical styles is a double-edged sword - a possible friend at first, a probable traitor in the future, or even worse, innovation can simply churn out inoffensive & bland gunk. Fortune tends to favour the bold, but what if being bold involves shedding the giddy kawaii for shoegazing, lo-fi indie? Kero Kero Bonito, helpfully, answered that question this year with splendid result. The first hint at their transformation from adorable dance pop was the shocking, dark twist in KKB’s single Only Acting. You join in on lead singer’s Kero Kero Bonito’s spiral as composition and composure gives way to chaos, bridged between a semblance of an indie rock band. You can’t escape the screaming. Say what you will about the quality of avant-garde music, or the benefits of noise experimentation , but you can’t listen to Time n Place from back to front without coming out of it not feeling anything (even if that feeling is utter shock). But this isn’t just a whizzing cauldron of noise, Kero Kero Bonito is a group of people who still hold on to their expertise in melodies and hooks, as evident in songs like Make Believe or Swimming. Dipping their feet in distortions doesn’t mean they’ve lost their mastery in creating almost meme-like earworms. There is plenty of warmth in this album that makes Time n Place a great musical trip, like the garage rock, quasi-grunge feel in Flyway. It says a lot about an album if a more conventionally structured song ‘surprises’ you like the optimistic plot twist in acoustic anthem Sometimes. Time n Place was a teaching collection of music for me too, that as Sarah Bonito’s vocals tells us that it’s not all Flamingo-era flower and dandy anymore, she also tells me that happiness can be found in pieces of dusty music players, through blurry fidelities and unforgivable bedlam.
3) Veteran - JPEGMAFIA
The first impression I get after listening to Veteran is that JPEGMAFIA isn't afraid of anything, and not just when it comes to creative productions. He actually served in the US Air Force, having received an honorable discharge, and you can sense that authentic rage in all the tracks - especially living in an America that doesn't look at people like Peggy as an actual veteran when he actually served. The man secretly learned audio sampling and made beats when he was in the military - at night, under his blanket. All of that gives us this DIY goldmine. In 'Real Nega' he uses his throat voice as an intro and a man wailing in the background as the whole rhythm, and it works. In Veteran JPEGMAFIA (aka Peggy) satirises everything, from societal expectations upon African-Americans, masculinity, liberal bubbles, music critics all of this through masterfully concocted noise. It's not directionless concrete music though, not hollow 'ambient' experiments. It's tough to conceive at first, but Peggy hones in on making the tracks coherent. Some of them even have weirdly catchy rhythms. Like the soul in 'DD Form 214' or the intro to ‘1488’ is unmissable. The glitch music in Baby I'm Bleeding is meant to be dissonant and disconcerting, but goddammit if it isn't catchy. As shown in this track and the rest of the album as well, JPEGMAFIA is out for blood. ("Promise I will never go blonde like Kanye?!"). One of the funniest attacks is against Morrissey (yes, the lead singer of The Smiths who is actually a stupidly huge racist) in a song appopriately called 'I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies". There are some really dark moments in the album too, like Rainbow Six accompanied by the sound of a man wailing in pain, sounding like a diary from Peggy’s military days, and it just sucks you in. When I say real punk experimentation and subversive authenticity is in underground trap now, I mostly mean JPEGMAFIA. Rebel-without-a-cause-fuck-all-of-you isn't rock's banner anymore. Peggy probably shredded it. If Kanye was the Black Beatle (sigh, Kanye), JPEGMAFIA is the Black Johnny Rotten . Or just the one and only Peggy, since he wouldn’t approve of that label (it’s actually in the Morrissey song: “FUCK YOUR JOHNNY ROTTEN, I WANT LIL B”). If the person killing rock is JPEGMAFIA, I’d happily surrender.
2) Bersendirian Berhad - Bayangan
The heart of Kuala Lumpur and the lonely urban solitude that comes with adulthood in the modern world gets a soundtrack in 2018 in the form of the gruffy, jagged, folk minimalism of Bersendirian Berhad. Fikri Fadzil’s album is not just a playlist of folk whinging, but an audio diary that serves both a personal expression of disillusionment, but also a bigger societal longing for community and nostalgia. There’s something about folk that feels dated, but when you hear the chug-chugging of Kuala Lumpur’s intro, to the subtle distortions of www, you will realise that there are very few decades that Bersendirian Berhad can exist in except for the present.
1) Room 25 - Noname
Soulful, conscious rap finds its way time and time again in the hip hop scene, especially today, with its ever widening spectrum of subgenres & aesthetics. For the past couple of years, no one approaches it the way Noname does. Her brand of rap is soft-spoken in voice, but hard-hitting in message. So much more than her 2016 critically-acclaimed debut Telefone, Room 25 is Noname at her most transparent, reflecting the US political climate (and the world’s, to a certain extent) and herself such as in the song Ace. (“Room 25, the best album that's coming out/Labels got these niggas just doing it for the clout/I'm just writing my darkest secrets like wait and just hear me out/Saying vegan food is delicious like wait and just hear me out”). There’s sometimes no separating the political and the personal, through songs like Self, where Noname shows off her skills, but her pride never lacks insight as she disses the people in hip hop who think women can’t rap. ("My pussy teachin ninth-grade English/My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism/In conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus/And y'all still thought a bitch couldn't rap huh?). This interconnectedness between her commentary and the accounts of her personal life is what keeps Noname’s poetry subtle but pointed. It's her moments of self-doubt and relinquishing old truths (like in Self: "Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches/Maybe this is the entrance before you get to the river") that makes her relatable in a world where the heroes and beliefs we held to high regard get destroyed by scrutiny. Besides Noname's poetry, the other column this album stands on is the production by Phoenix. The jazzy dissonance and syncopation just elevates the mood everytime, adding blistering energy to introspective tracks like Prayer Song.The collaborations in this album are all gold mines, especially Smino and his pipes in 'Ace' or Benjamin Earl Turner in Part of Me. Noname didn't just outdo herself with Room 25, but a whole large chunk of the contemporary rap scene too. No other record is more profound, smooth, but still feel human and grounded. It is true as mentioned in Blaxploitation, that revolution isn't easy, but good music like Room 25 will keep us going anyway.