As much as we wanted to, it was next to impossible to cage every brilliant piece of music from 2018 in a category. Some music just stands out. Here we have some of the best music – an album, a song, an original soundtrack or a music video – that we couldn’t ignore for its sheer brilliance and importance.
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer came five years after her last offering. On her track ‘Django Jane’, she commands “let the vagina have a monologue.” Dirty Computer is Monáe’s monologue, echoing the thoughts and feelings of every woman of every colour, sexual orientation, size, age from all parts of the world; that is how deep and far it resonates. On this full-length album, an almost-ode to Prince and his beautiful career in music, she delivers socially conscious comments set against undeniably brilliant pop music. An uninhibited album like this was clearly made with confidence and pizazz. She masterfully brings different genres into the mix, as she goes on to comment on racism, sexuality and women empowerment. We can rely on Janelle Monáe to take the baton and lead mankind to a better, more inclusive and harmonious existence. She promises to be the harbinger of much needed change in the collective mental capabilities of our entire society.
Kendrick Lamar – Black Panther
Hip-hop heads couldn’t contain their excitement when Kendrick Lamar teased his involvement with Marvel Studio’s Black Panther. For the first time, the African community was going to be featured prominently on the big screen by a mega studio, and Marvel played their cards right.
Kendrick Lamar and his trusted producer Sounwave along with the film’s music composer Ludwig Göransson curated a banger soundtrack. It featured some of biggest names in modern hip-hop such as Vince Staples, SZA, Jay Rock, The Weeknd and Travis Scott. The soundtrack elevated the quality of the film and makes it even more enjoyable. From ‘All The Stars’ that has a more current, pop-vibe to ‘King’s Dead’ that is a proper track to pump iron to, Kendrick proves why he just can’t misfire.
Childish Gambino – ‘This is America’
Donald Glover is a once in a generation phenomenon. He’s a jack of all trades and master of them too. Whether you agree with his politics or not, it’s impossible not to groove to ‘This is America’. The video featuring a gleaming Glover aka Childish Gambino cake walking like a maniac and dancing with carefree school children while everything around him goes berserk was one of the most talked about videos of 2018.
Glover wrote and produced the song along with frequent collaborator Ludwig Göransson. The Swedish producer has whipped up some really marvellous tracks for the polymath in the past. Göransson outdid himself and conjured a track that can easily rake in numerous replays. With ‘This is America’, Glover proves that he doesn’t give a hoot about his stature. For someone signed by an image-conscious conglomerate like Disney, to be outright political in their art, it’s big.
Peter Cat Recording Co. – Portrait of a Time: 2010 – 2016
The music of Peter Cat Recording Co. has been haunting the lonely lovers and dreamers for the last six years. This year, however, with the help of Parisian label Panache, the band re-released a collection of the best songs of its career in a reissue titled Portrait of a Time: 2010 – 2016. The label has removed the other tracks from PCRC’s previous albums, redefining the band’s discography and history with only its very best. Signing with an international label topped off with the reissue is unique to Peter Cat, unheard of for any other Indian independent act so far. If an Indian act were to bag a deal like this, it is no surprise that it PCRC was the first one. A band like Peter Cat doesn’t exactly fit in the general scheme of things as they stand in the Indian independent industry. Their music does not comply with any of the genre boxes that bands have been adhering to. The band’s members are grounded but also not afraid to go rogue. When they perform live, they make sure they are putting up a great show for you. Grandiosity is in their nature, on stage and off it.
With the re-issue (digital and vinyl) gaining the band a lot of new listeners, it will be interesting to see what the group offers next within the framework of gypsy jazz dipped in nostalgia and romance, PCRC’s exclusive brand of sound, now legitimised by a decent sale of vinyls.
Alokananda Dasgupta – Sacred Games
Sacred Games achieved something no Hindi film has — it got people to notice the background score. The fact that almost every major media outlet, not just music websites, rushed to interview Alokananda Dasgupta after the release of the Netflix series also shows that acknowledgement.
For so long background score has been treated as second-rate. Alokanada Dasgupta, the composer of the riveting soundtrack that mostly comprises the background score, even expressed her disappointment at often seeing ‘music’ and ‘background score’ credited separately in films. It should be ‘original songs’ and ‘background score’, she says. The score is an essential part of a narrative. Sacred Games is proof that the Indian audience can take notice of that.
Ariana Grande – ‘thank u, next’
What Ariana Grande did on ‘thank u, next’ is extraordinary. For the first time, a mainstream pop-star refused to play along with the usual narrative that engulfs celebrities after a break-up. Especially after watching her recent split with Pete Davidson get used as a punchline on Saturday Night Live. Instead, Grande showed grace and gratitude that is almost unprecedented in the pop industry. The song has endeared her greatly and has done very well in numbers too, helped by an entertaining video.
It takes courage to control your narrative, to not get sucked in by the norm, and refrain from using a piece of music for a petty takedown like so many have before. To go through what Ariana Grande has since the Manchester attacks, and to come out the other side braver, more self-aware, and knowingly or unknowing, inspiring others to also love themselves is pretty damn spectacular.
SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
2018 has truly seen some ground-breaking, DNA-altering music being released. One of the proponents is Scottish producer SOPHIE. Produced for acts such as Madonna, Charli XCX and Vince Staples, Sophie Xeon has established herself as one of the most exciting producers of the last five years. In 2017, she opened up to the press about being a transgender woman. Subsequently, she made her solo musical comeback with a new single, ‘It’s Okay To Cry’, which is a beautiful and tender song. It is pop at its vulnerable best and what follows is the one of the most sonically transcendental and exciting albums of the year and perhaps the decade.
From ‘Ponyboy’ to ‘Faceshopping’, ‘Is It Cold In The Water’ to ‘Pretending’, the album is arresting, surreal and equal parts explosive and serene. The sounds that she produces throughout the album is unlike anything that has been heard before, with metallic clangs, screeches and vocals modified beyond recognition and comprehension. The theme of personal identity is prevalent throughout the album, with SOPHIE inspired by her coming out and her identity as a fully transitioned woman. She also has a very real possibility of being the first transgender to win a Grammy. This is one of the most mind-bending and genre-melting albums this year.
The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Years from now when scholars are studying the millennial culture and the evolution of the dating practices common with the current young population, the 1975’s A Brief Inquiry to Online Reationships will serve as an accurate representation of exactly what goes on these days. Through the different ages of rock music, what has remained constant is the feeling of passion – for a lover, a cause or a nation. Now, clearly the idea of romance has changed a great deal. Matt Wilkinson, frontman who hates being termed as a rock band, sings about two timing a partner, the difficulty of being sincere and literally says “fuck you, feelings!”
The band’s third offering is a commentary on modern day love, where the physical and emotional aspects of a relationship run parallel to each other, disconnected and never meeting. As the narrative switches between honest advice on how to love to a “fuck it” attitude, the band gets a chance to expertly show the various styles of music they have mastered over three studio albums, and exactly why Wilkinson is correct in taking offence on being termed as a rock band. The question of how healthy online dating (and all that comes with it) is looming on all our heads as we go and indulge in it. This album stands out because it puts a shiny, electro-pop infused mirror to it, throwing light on all our insecurities, loneliness, sadness and unfulfilled one-night stands.
Rosalìa – El Mar Querer
There are very few artists that have taken the traditional Spanish music scene by storm and challenged the traditional structure and preconceived notions of flamenco quite like Rosalìa. Hailing from Catalonia, she has created quite a stir with her modern interpretation of flamenco music, which has been equal parts praised, especially by the international audience, and equal parts dismissed by the traditionalists, who have accused her of culturally appropriating flamenco music. El mar querer, the second album by Rosalìa, is a bold artistic statement which revolutionizes nuevo flamenco, without homogenizing it and losing the core essence that defines flamenco.
El mar querer is experimental and conceptual, inspired by the anonymous 13th century Occitan novel, ‘Flamenco’ and is adapted to the modern narrative which revolves around a toxic relationship. Each song acts as a chapter in the story. Some of the most experimental moments in the album come in the songs ’De aqui no sales’ which consists of motorcycles revving up as part of its background instrumentals, ‘Bagdad’ where she combines her classical training with a sample of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’. The videos accompanying the songs are one of the most unique and bold aspects of the album. This album serves as a reminder that traditional and pop styles can coexist in the best of ways.
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