Lots of things in 2018 were shit. These albums weren’t.
The Independent called this record “hollowed-out”. Burn that review. For Ever has been four years in the making, and it’s more than worth the wait. Similar to the group’s first pop-funk collection, the album constantly hits the mark of stomping choruses, slick instrumentals, and excellent studio production. Sure, it’s not a million miles away from Jungle’s debut—but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Bottle It In
Kurt Vile’s latest record manages to pull off the holy grail of songwriting, creating feelings as much as tracks. The album is packed with rambling earworms, with the artist’s psychedelic commentary floating over the top of unpretentious, repeated guitar riffs. Whole songs are composed of just two chords, and are fuelled with a simplicity that belies their power. Few other musicians can keep a person hooked for a full 10 minutes with the same four bars, but Vile is all vibe.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
Kudos, Mr. Malkmus, for creating the album we never knew we wanted, but most definitely needed. Songs about bike lanes! Bizarre uses of Auto-Tune! A nod to Germany’s cultural stereotypes! Pavement this is not, but that’s just fine—Sparkle Hard is further evidence that Malkmus’s talents are more versatile than anyone could have predicted in the ’90s. Bonus points, too, for being significantly better than his previous offering, Wig Out at Jagbags, which sounded like your dad made it with his mates in the basement of his $4-million East Van teardown.
Noname does have a name, and it’s Fatimah Nyeema Warner. Initially a slam poet before her spoken-word-esque rap made it onto tape, Noname has bars that would make Kendrick Lamar weep with jealousy—see “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English/My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism”—with a cosmic jazz backing that sounds like Robert Glasper’s solo work on crack (the good kind).
Kingdoms in Colour
U.K. duo Maribou State spent the past three years touring its debut record around the world. Those influences have rubbed off on the pair for its sophomore offering. Layering international sounds on a downtempo base, Maribou State blends a host of different sounds—think the Chinese guzheng and the melismatic vocals of India—each played in the traditions and with the scales of its native culture. At no point does this feel like appropriation—rather, the album is a homage to the countries that the pair has visited since 2015. And you can dance to it.
For Those Who Know
These guys used to make future bass. Thank god they pivoted to jazz-infused hip-hop. Both members of the duo—drummer Conor Rayne and trumpeter Ivan Jackson—trained at the Manhattan School of Music, and it shows. Hammond organs, silky choruses, and three features from Robert Glasper (yes, him again) make this album both technically proficient and instrumentally epic. Especially if you like trumpets.
Dans Ma Main
A largely instrumental release, Dans Ma Main is an arresting record from the French-Canadian artist. Want to put it on in the background? Good luck with that. With its soft, emotive score, this album demands full attention, drawing in the listener until it’s impossible to focus on anything else. For Dans Ma Main, Blais has ventured down the Ableton rabbit hole, adding light touches of strings and occasional electronic drumbeats to his pieces, building cinematic soundscapes that create narratives without words.
It’s easy to write about the cultural significance of this album. Heading to the archives of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Dutcher listened to the songs of his ancestors on wax cylinders, and used those traditional lyrics and melodies to write arrangements in the language of his Tobique First Nation. In doing so, he literally brought part of his community’s culture back to life. The importance of that story, though, might have been buried in New Brunswick if the music he created weren’t so goddamn powerful. Dutcher is a classically trained operatic tenor with an enviably rich voice, and his vivid arrangements with piano, strings, drums, and more are both complex and inspiring. There’s a very good reason that we chose this record to win this year’s Polaris Music Prize.
Mike Milosh’s latest record cements his status as one of the sexiest men alive. Not only has he managed to land a girlfriend like Geneviève Medow Jenkins—the particularly striking woman on the cover of the record—his music is full of the sultry, whispering vocals that made listeners (if not record execs) swoon. Secrets about Milosh’s love life abound on Blood, as do metaphors and double-entrendres. (I’m pretty confident that the thing that’s rising in “Phoenix” is not a bird.) Yes, every track has a similar, laid-back feel to its soft-core R&B, making it hard to distinguish between songs—but when it’s this sexy, who cares?
The Deeper You Go
If you ask me—and, since you’re reading this, I suppose you are—no top-10 list is complete without a little tech-house. German electronic-music veteran André Lodemann is the master of making Goldilocks music—minimal, but not too minimal; deep, but not inaccessible. This record is full of classic Lodemann moments—think slow-burning string solos in the middle of a drum break, and bright acoustic guitar riffs over a gritty industrial beat. The producer has built his reputation on his uncanny ability to start a song in one mood and end it in another, and The Deeper You Go does not disappoint.
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays