In response to Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House, many responded in optimistic jest that the following years were sure to produce magnificent art. Two years later, I must admit that this outlook was indeed optimistic. While there has been a plethora of profound and unique material created over the last few years, the quality has failed to meet the heights of previous eras. A year drenched with Kanye West hype rendered two disappointing albums, and the popularity of trends like mumble rap have continued to torture listeners everywhere. Much like Donald Trump’s time as President, one can only hope the reign of Cardi B will be over just as quickly. Much of 2018 is worth keeping in the past, but thanks to Kamasi Washington, Courtney Barnett, IDLES, and many others it wasn’t all bad.
The following are some of the musical highlights of 2018.
#10) ZHU – Ringo’s Desert Pt. 1
Mystery producer ZHU returned to the musical fold in 2018 with the elaborate Ringo’s Desert Pt. 1 which reflects the artist’s newfound infatuation with the desert and sand. Lots of sand. In a promotional clip for the album, ZHU is heard being berated by his manager for the decision to bring 2.5 tonnes of sand to each show on his latest tour. Desert theatrics aside, Ringo’s Desert Pt. 1 is peppered with sensual bangers including the pairing of ‘Guilty Love’ and ‘Desert Woman’. We may not know much about ZHU, but we know the dude likes the desert.
#9) Jeff Rosenstock – Post-
If you’ve read any of my year-end lists before, you know I like to consider the ENTIRE year before writing up my thoughts. Jeff Rosenstock’s post-election anthem POST- was officially released on January 1st, 2018 making it the oldest release on this list, however it deserves recognition all the same. The opening track ‘USA’ is worth the price of admission alone, including one of the most shoutable lines of the year in “et tu USA / et tu et tu USA!” In typical Rosenstock fashion, POST- is a powerful, honest, and moving reflection of what it was like to wake up in America scared of an uncertain future.
#8) Vince Staples – FM!
A number of prominent hip-hop artists offered short albums in 2018. While many missed the mark, Vince Staples’ FM! Stands out as one of the better LPs of the year. Packaged in the form of a running radio set, FM! allows Vince Staples to show off his stick-and-move flow throughout seven solid tracks including highlights like ‘Don’t Get Chipped’ and ‘FUN!’.
#7) JID – Dicaprio 2
Atlanta rapper Destin Choice Route, better known as J.I.D., nailed it with the second edition of the Dicaprio series, his 2nd full-length release. Dicaprio 2 is chalked full of heavy-hitting rap singles, with tracks like ‘Westbrook’ and ‘Hot Box’ demonstrating the rapper’s rapid-fire flow. If Vince Staples’ big mouth braggadocio isn’t for you, J.I.D.’s sophomore release is worth giving a listen, if only to hear Method Mad sound as smooth as ever.
#6) Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Like many of Courtney Barnett’s previous releases, Tell Me How You Really Feel hits a beautiful balance between malevolence and optimism necessary in these troubling times. Barnett continues to offer little gems on her latest release, including an updated riff on a Margaret Atwood line that IDLES attempted to make their own last year. Tell Me How You Really Feel may represents a darker period in the Barnett catalogue, but tracks like ‘City Looks Pretty’ remain stellar examples of a songwriter on top of her craft regardless of her mood.
#5) Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Parquet Courts’ latest release Wide Awake! is arguably the most direct sonic “response” to current political climate in the United States. The appropriately titled Wide Awake! is a politically-charged collection of power-punk tracks that directly reflect the times, from the bouncing opening track ‘Total Football’ to darker reflections of our reality like ‘Violence’ and ‘When The Water Gets Too High’. Fueled by the snappy production of Danger Mouse, Wide Awake! is the most pop-friendly release of Parquet Courts career, however it maintains the edge and insight the band has become known for…and fuck Tom Brady.
#4) Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
Anderson Paak. continued a strong streak of impressive releases in 2018 with Oxnard. Riding the same blend of hip-hop, jazz, and dare I say rap, Paak. delivers another solid performance throughout Oxnard. Tracks like ‘Tints’ and ‘6 Summers’ will be in heavy rotation for quite some time, although I would take the “under” on six calendar flips. Like Malibu before it, Oxnard is another collection of funy, soulful singles from start to finish, with .Paak making the most of features from Kendrick Lamar, Pusha-T, Snoop Dogg, J.Cole, and more.
#3) Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer
Whatever mix of psilocybin Josh Tillman took before he created Father John Misty must have been one powerful dose, because ever since he has taken on the FJM moniker the career musician has found himself in a zen-like state of musical composition. Like many of his previous works, God’s Favourite Customer directly addresses the religious underpinnings of Tillman’s childhood, which included a deeply devout phase in which he would earnestly refer to himself the lord’s preferred purchaser. Like many of Father John Misty’s previous releases, God’s Favourite Customer features several singles worthy of their own attention, including some of his best writing to date on ‘Date Night’ and ‘Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All’.
#2) IDLES – Joy As An Act Of Resistance
The boys from Bristol are back with another album that wonderfully reflects the times. As the follow-up to 2017’s Brutalism, Joy As An Act Of Resistance shows the softer side of a band that came out of the gates angry as hell. Tracks like ‘Colossus’, ‘Samaritans’, and ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ take on heavy topics like fatherhood and toxic masculinity with an equally heavy sound, allowing frontman Joe Talbot to tie it all together with the wit and delivery to match. If you’re looking for punk rock with a purpose, look no further than IDLES.
#1) Kamasi Washington – Heaven And Earth
Kamasi Washington’s lengthy two-part album is a jazz masterpiece. The talented saxophonist plays centerpiece to an elaborate display on Heaven And Earth, which begins with the powerful call to arms of ‘Fists of Fury’. While many have been turned off by the length two-hour run-time of Heaven And Earth, the criticism rings hollow as every track has as much to offer as the last. Where other albums feel jammed with filler, Kamasi Washington’s conceptual offering is a delight from start to finish. For those unwilling to commit to commit to 120 minutes without a sample, try out ‘Fists Of Fury’, ‘Hub-Tones’, and ‘Street Fighter Mas’ to start.
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
John Prine – Tree Of Forgiveness
Sleep – The Sciences
Jack White – Boarding House Reach
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Andrew W.K. – You’re Not Alone
BROCKHAMPTON – iridescence
Denzel Curry – TA13OO
Oh Sees – Smote Reverser
Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
JPEGMAFIA – Veteran