Pi Arts & Culture’s ‘Best of 2018’ series highlights the favourite things we’ve seen, heard and read this year. In this final article, read about eight of our favourite albums from the year.
Bark Your Head Off, Dog – Hop Along
Finally, after three albums, we have definitive proof that Hop Along are indeed the best indie-rock band in the world. It seemed presumptuous to say so after only two records but on Bark Your Head Off, Dog, Hop Along don’t simply retain their acerbic, heartbreaking talent for storytelling on ‘How Simple’ and ‘Look of Love’, or their focussed, yet experimental, composition on ‘Not Abel’ or ‘One That Suits Me’, all anchored by Frances Quinlain’s distorted, yet mesmerisingly musical, vocals. Their third album expands and improves, presenting a band at the top of their game, offering undeniable proof that their first two albums weren’t simply flukes.
Be the Cowboy – Mitski
It’s been an incredible year for women with guitars. Despite a senseless Grammys snub, rave reviews have affirmed Mitski as leader of the indie rock pack. Be the Cowboy is a collection of vignettes, one that digs through a turbulent, layered, and specifically female psyche surrounding identity and relationships. Popular tracks ‘Nobody’, ‘Geyser’, and ‘Remember My Name’ are, in equal parts, softly confessional and rip-roaringly blunt; in each instance, Mitski’s elegant, poignant vocals carry us to choruses made for screaming from the rooftops. Sometimes an album comes along that’s so passionately, forcefully introspective, it manages to hit the emotional spot you didn’t know you were hiding.
Caamp – Boys
Boys’ differing A and B sides allow Caamp to deal with the interplay of themes through a myriad of perspectives. Side A’s melodic and calming melodies bring out an idyllic view of life with care-free nods towards travelling and moving away on a whim to start a new life in ‘26’, and notions of detachment and the beauty of nature in ‘Going to the Country’ and ‘Full Moon Song’. However, this is masterfully contrasted by the B-side, foreshadowed by a hidden-song on the A-Side – ‘No Esta Aqui’ – which turns the album into a lament on life, discussing the themes of hopeless love, friendship and reflection. The range of folky melodies, underpinned by the banjo which sets the tone, creates a balanced album that allows for a great sense of introspection, of both the gloomy and tranquil kind, making it an album that has, at least, brought some solace in 2018.
Con Todo El Mundo – Khruangbin
Like their 2015 debut The Universe Smiles Upon You, Khruangbin’s Con Todo El Mundo effuses effortless coolness. In this sophomore effort, the Houston-based trio weave groovy soundscapes infused with influences from all around the world. Dreamy, unhurried numbers including ‘Cómo Te Quiero’ find their place alongside the likes of ‘Maria También’ (probably my favourite song of 2018) and ‘Evan Finds the Third Room’ – sharp, energetic tracks that lend the album real tempo. In a year where I have found it difficult to get enthusiastic about new music, sitting back and allowing myself to be transported by this interesting, exciting and, above all, incredibly enjoyable album has been a real pleasure.
DAYTONA – Pusha T
The first thing that strikes you about Pusha T’s third solo album, executive produced by Kanye West, is its brevity – DAYTONA lasts for just 21 minutes. However, that’s more than enough time for Pusha to produce his finest work to date. DAYTONA is packed with grim, menacing bars that narrate gripping tales of cocaine-fuelled opulence. Kanye acts as curator, producing seven understated but excellent beats as well as announcing his comeback via a braggadocious verse on ‘What Would Meek Do?’. Other stand-out tracks include the outstanding opener ‘If You Know You Know’ and ‘Santeria’, which features a haunting uncredited sample from rising star 070 Shake.
El Mal Querer – ROSALÍA
Traditional Flamenco music has undergone some re-workings and Catalan musician Rosalía continues to advance the genre with El Mal Querer by mixing in trap, hip hop, and R&B elements. Stylistically, as well as conceptually, El Mal Querer bridges different time periods as the narrative, which talks of a doomed relationship, is based on a 14th century novel and is divided into thematic chapter headings for each track. ‘Malamente’ and ‘Pienso En Tu Mirá’ are radio-friendly, catchy, lead singles while ‘Bagdad’ will likely feel familiar to most listeners as it samples Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’. Other tracks (numbered by chapter) add depth to the story by using sound effects and spoken word segments to bring in a realistic dimension. Even though there may be a language barrier for some, El Mal Querer is still an enjoyable experiment in how to update a traditional genre.
A Star Is Born Soundtrack – Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper
While Bradley Cooper’s impressive work as director, writer, producer and musician for the A Star is Born project is noteworthy, it is Lady Gaga’s tenacity as a vocalist that lifts each track. Imagined as a revival of the 1937 classic, the film’s strongest feature is undeniably the soundtrack, which developed organically during the production of the picture. Lady Gaga’s creative prowess appears to be limitless: from minimalist R&B in ‘Heal Me’, dreamy country in ‘Maybe It’s Time’, to pop extravaganza in ‘Look What I Found’, her versatile technique defies genre while enhancing her duet partner’s own performance. Cooper and Gaga are generous and their dynamic translates into a powerful, moving record that is more than your typical collection of piano ballads.
Superorganism – Superorganism
The release of seven lead singles certainly did not tone down expectations for the release of Superorganism’s debut eponymous album. With a carefree attitude present throughout the album, rooted in Orono’s soothing, almost-deadpan voice, the band sing about being a prawn and other just-as-peculiar creatures throughout the album, using them as metaphors for various topics including peace and growing up. The sound effects add to this surrealism and futuristic feeling, despite the simplicity of their production. The use of the most basic techniques, usually involving routine activities and day-to-day objects like apples, blowing bubbles into a cup, yawning and the setting of an alarm, cleverly facilitate this surreal atmosphere. However, it also gives the album a homemade edge, where a group of friends have got together in someone’s home and just played about to create a unique collection of sounds which are a pleasure to experience.
Image: Superorganism lead vocalist Orono Noguchi