The year is almost over, and short of some masterpiece dropping out of nowhere, the best albums of the year are out there already. While I’m not as fluent in the world of music at large as I used to be, I do still find time to enjoy some of the latest albums. So, with that in mind, here are ten albums that I’ve been listening to a lot during 2018.
10. Gurrumul – Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow)
Best Song: Gäpu (Freshwater)
In the documentary Gurrumul, there’s a beautifully comic scene where Gurrumul discusses the lyrics to The Police’s Every Breath You Take. After being invited to sing a duet with Sting, Gurrumul questions the lyrics that essentially carry no meaning. There’s nothing to the song other than it being a bunch of words. In contrast to Every Breath You Take is the final masterpiece from the late legend, Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow).
Here, Gurrumul blends Yolgnu culture with western music in a way that you can’t help but be moved. These songs about Gurrumul’s life and his culture.They’re about the legacy of the first nations people of Australia and the long history that goes untold in Australian culture. To Gurrumul, every song is personal, every song tells a story that comes directly from his life. We’re lucky to have been able to experience such a profound talent.
9. Urthboy – Turning Circle EP
Best Song: Have and Hold
It may feel like a cheat to slap an EP on a ‘Best Albums of 2018’ list, but when the EP is made up of five of the best songs that that artist has ever written, well, you damn well bet it’s going to end up on the list.
Urthboy’s Turning Circle EP is short, but full of the explosive, angry, and inspiring themes that have flowed through Urthboy’s previous works (Turning Circle is the perfect companion to his previous album The Past Beats Inside Me Like a Second Heartbeat). Whether it be slamming the conspiracy theory morons who fill the internet with Flat Earth, or the ode to marriage equality with the heart breaking Have and Hold, there’s not a dud on this release. With the realisation that The Herd will probably never release another album, it’s great to see that Urthboy is still carrying the political flame for Elefant Traks with essential release after essential release.
8. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Best Song: Screwed
Now, I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to R&B music, but good music is good music,and there’s no denying that Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer is one of the most enjoyable, exciting, invigorating releases of the year. It embraces LGBTIQ+ life. It embraces sex. It embraces feminism. It embraces living a life and questioning the establishment.
It’s bright, it’s exciting, and it’s subversive in all the right ways. Take the best song on the album, Screwed, where Monae joins up with Zoe Kravitz to sing about sex. At first it’s all about owning sex, and owning who you are, then it morphs into questioning the power of sex, culminating in one heck of a line – everything is sex, cept sex, which is power. Even if you don’t dig into the deeper themes of Dirty Computer, you’re still going to walk away with an album that rewards you with great music. Isn’t that enough?
7. First Aid Kit – Ruins
Best Song: To Live a Life
It’s been a while between albums for First Aid Kit,with their last album being the pitch perfect Stay Gold in 2014. Before Ruins landed, there was a barn burning track that landed out of nowhere – You Are the Problem Here. As an acerbic song that landed just as the #MeToo movement was beginning, You Are the Problem Here suggested that there was going to be a change of tone for First Aid Kit going forward.
But, with that anger out of their system, they returned with Ruins. A quiet album that is contemplative, reflective, and, as is expected from a First Aid Kit album,embraces the bond that Johanna and Klara have as sisters. Ruins crosses genres, with a touch of folk and an element of country being blended into the mix, coming together to show a cohesive theme of growing from the troubles of your past. The quietest song on the album, To Live a Life, is also the most heartbreaking, with a single guitar gradually building to an immersive harmony that washes away any feeling of grief or sorrow that you may be holding onto, allowing you to be ok with the difficult decisions you’ve had to make as your life rolls forward.
6. Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends
Best Song: The Opener
How to Socialise & Make Friends opens with a bass hook that you’ll fail to get out of your head for ages. Then, as The Opener unfolds, you hear the most timely, powerful take down of men in the Australian music industry. As Sticky Fingers apparently have no issue getting headline slots on festivals around Australia, How to Socialise & Make Friends works to make listeners blatantly aware of the rampant sexism going on around in Australian music.
Two albums in, it’s easy to get the impression that Camp Cope have become exhausted with the music scene as this second album moves on into some dark areas. But, equally so, it’s hard to escape the feeling that while the band may sound angry and frustrated, they’re also aiming to tear down the establishment from the inside while creating some damn great songs. Almost as great as their self-titled debut album, but no less essential listening.
5. Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meatspace
Best Song: Rubber Bullies
Taking a break from The Drones, Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin went and rounded up Erica Dunn and Lauren Hammel to create Tropical Fuck Storm. The last Drones album was full of the trademark Liddiard yips and yelps, but felt lyrically exhausted and repetitive.Working as a creative reboot, Tropical Fuck Storm still carries the vibe of The Drones, but here, Liddiard feels refreshed, revitalised.
Sure, opener You Let My Tyres Down wouldn’t feel out of place on a Drones album, but as the track list whittles through the nine songs with alarming speed, we become witness to the varied styles that Liddiard and co. are working with. No longer does this feel like a Gareth Liddiard and ‘a band’ album, instead, it feels like a Gareth Liddiard, Fiona Kitschin, Erica Dunn and Lauren Hammel album – purely collaborative and explorative. As the dream like Shellfish Toxin makes way for the title song, and in turn, bends into the albums finest moment, Rubber Bullies, one can only feel comfortable with The Drones hiatus taking a little longer than expected just so there can be another Tropical Fuck Stormalbum.
4. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Best Song: Be Careful
Now, just like Dirty Computer and R&B, I’m even less in touch with the rise of women rappers in America. I know that embracing sexuality and luxury isn’t something that’s new for rap music – heck,try find a male rapper in America that doesn’t have some misogynistic song about owning women -, but Cardi B kind of just exploded onto the scene in a way that made you sit up and pay attention (and not in the way that Nicki Minaj did with Anaconda).
Invasion of Privacy drips with great lyrics that Cardi B throws outwith ease. The beats get you moving – I Like It in particular has you moving on the spot – which is probably why Invasion of Privacy has become my ‘exercise album’ of choice. Most importantly, just like Dirty Computer, Cardi B fully embraces her body and owns her sexuality completely. After decades of male rappers going on about‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’, it’s refreshing to see the same kind of lyrics changing hands and being owned by a woman who knows exactly how to use them in a positive way. This album surprised the heck out of me. Dig into it folks.
3. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Best Song: City Looks Pretty
Courtney Barnett has always been open about her mental health, managing to tuck the talks about anxiety in with energetic rock on her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I just Sit. With Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett reflects the anger and anxiety in the lyrics with the music. This is a more pointed album, one that – just like Camp Cope’s record – reckons with the way that masculinity rules over society.Nameless, Faceless confronts this head on, with the death of women in Australia at the hands of men growing to terrifying heights in 2018.
Tell Me How You Really Feel came out in May. Less than a month later, Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered on her way home. The lyrics ‘I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Men are scared that women will laugh at them/I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Women are scared that men will kill them’ have never been more potent. This list is full of great women who all have their own stories to tell, it’s devastating that those stories are relegated to the side while they use their platform to sing songs about the misogyny and danger of men in society.
2. Abbe May – Fruit
Best Song: Freedom
Look, I’ll be honest, I’ve been addicted to Abbe May’s music ever since I saw her live some twelve or thirteen years ago or so. She stood on a stage by herself, a glass of whiskey on the floor, and she belted out the most insane blues vocals I’d ever heard. I was hooked. Ever since then, I’d picked up release after release and made sure that I caught her electric live shows when they’d frequently pop up around Perth. Howl & Moan kicked off with a deep,dark blues vibe, and ten years on it’s still one of the great West Australian albums. Design Desire and Kiss My Apocalypse saw May move into different areas – the guitar was still there, but the vibe was changing in different ways. There was a bit of a groove that borrowed from R&B, a small touch of disco here and there,yet, it was still unmistakably Abbe May through and through.
Five years between albums, and Fruit lands like an atomic bomb. The working title for the album was Bitchcraft (which is a banger of a song), but Fruit feels more appropriate for an album which is exceptionally reflective. If you follow Abbe May on social media (and you really should), you’ll know how open she has been about her life. It can’t be easy to be as open as Abbe has on Instagram/Facebook, where May talks about the difficulties that come with alcohol, the pressures of touring life, what it’s like to live with anxieties, and just the day to day struggles that she goes through. But, gosh darn it am I glad she does.
Fruit feels like the culmination of years of working through issues, and getting them out of her life so she can live a more positive, fruitful life. The album is littered with songs that embrace everything that makes Abbe May, well, Abbe May. Whether it be love (Seventeen is a gut punch of a song that carries May’s blues/soul voice to a rocking pop aesthetic that just devastates you), or the environment (Doomsday Clock feels custom made for an audience to clap along to), or sexism in the world (I’m Over You, a harmonic companion to Nameless, Faceless and The Opener), Fruit is Abbe May operating at her peak.
After three interludes that litter the album, where Abbe talks about her sexuality and coming out, and the difficulties of coming out, the album closes with an eight minute epic song called Freedom. Profoundly self-reflective, Freedom feels like a love letter from Abbe May to herself. This isn’t new – given past songs have May talking about those who have criticised her (after which she replaces them with a drum machine) – but with Freedom, it feels like May is ready to let all of this go and move forward with her life. As she sings ‘babe, you know I had to let you go’, Freedom moves into a medley of other songs from the album, with the cry of ‘I love you’ from Seventeen ringing loudest. This time, May isn’t singing this to anyone, but finally, to herself.
While I’ll always love Abbe May’s previous albums, I know that it’ll be Fruit that I’ll be reaching for the most when it comes to deciding which one to give a spin.
- Middle Kids – Lost Friends
Best Song: Never Start
I haven’t been hit by an album this hard for a very long time. Since its release, there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t listened to Lost Friends. Sure, Hannah Joy’s voice is one of the finest out there at the moment, and her band mates Harry Day and Tim Fitz do a cracker job filling out the band. But, it’s the song writing that carries this album through every day for me. The entirety of Don’t Be Hiding is one open wound that has Hannah Joy singing about being there for someone – about being able to accept everything that’s good and that’s bad about them. Or maybe it’s On My Knees, a song about seeing the world from a different perspective as you kneel there begging for it to not be so.
Yes, the song that got them on the radar is still one of the best out there – Edge of Town – but Lost Friends is an album that’s full of ‘best songs’. I know that’s a cop out when it comes to explaining why this is my album of the year (‘oh, y’see,they’re just all so good’), but really, they are that good. In an interview with NME, Tim Fitz mentioned about how rarely listens to a full LP, stating ‘if you make a whole album nowadays, then you’ve done a very good job’. Well, Lost Friends is a whole album full of songs that other bands would be envious of.
Look, I don’t know if I can properly explain just why Lost Friends works so damn well, it just does. It’s open in an extremely personal way, but not so personal that it becomes exclusive. Joy sings about personal issues with all the rawness that you’d expect deep, personal issues to be sung about. But, this isn’t a tear jerking album. It’s an indie-rock album,and it has everything in it that makes folks think that they have what it takes to make an indie-rock album.
Whatever it is, Lost Friends by Middle Kids is easily the best album I’ve heard this year. An album which I can easily lose myself in.