It’s been a big year for music.
From all sides of the industry kaleidoscope musicians have been responding to the ongoing political events, social changes and their own internal worlds. We’ve narrowed it down to our top 10 picks:
10. Kamasi Washington – ‘Heaven and Earth’
We all know Kamasi Washington as a jazz saxophonist, composer, producer and key member of the jazz collective: West Coast Gets Down. His talents seem unending, and this year he’s done it again, shaking the jazz scene with a heavy injection of Afro-futurism. The lyrics of the opening track, ‘Fists and Fury’ express an energetic, political and confrontational edge, “When I’m faced with unjust injury/Then I change my hands/To fists of fury.” Still fully inhabiting his expansive, majestic and incredibly well-crafted sound, the new message is clear; gone is the optimist – now it’s time to say it as it is.
9. Tom Misch – ‘Geography’
Coming thruuu with another uplifting album is Tom Misch, a British singer and producer. He’s honed his style to a fine art; groovy, charming, and just damn uplifting. This is one for those who are longing to be transported to a summer beach, perhaps to regain some relief from the political onslaught that continues to hit us all. Well constructed, unassuming and oozing with balmy chord shifts, this laid-back album is just delightful and bound to leave you feeling a little lighter.
8. ROSALÍA – ‘El Mal Querer’
Next up we’ve got Catalan-born Rosalía Vila (ROSALÍA), with an album which beautifully interlaces modern art pop with traditional flamenco vocals. In fact, no one is better equipped to comment on this album than fellow singer and producer James Blake, who’s reaction so perfectly articulates what we’re all thinking, “Just what the actual afjhkhhhhhdiquyhqkzjdhjsnbahjkbbsbdhsjajbaFfdfffdffffffffffffffffffff.” Well put James.
7. J. Cole – ‘KOD’
We’re double taking too. But this album is just full of f**king tunes. Stripped back and brutally honest, J. Cole reveals some of his most intimate feelings, including a heart-wrenching account of his mother’s alcoholism, as well as concern at the Xanex and prescription drug scene. Famous for reaching success without the help of collaboration, he’s also broken free from his lonely ways, with two tracks featuring kiLL edward. All of this while keeping heads nodding and lips curled into a 40-minute bass face.
6. Lucy Dacus – ‘Historian’
The lyric rich indie-rock album from Virginia singer-songwriter records her self-observations and notes of the people around her. It truthfully and openly expresses the relationships between people, through snapshots of conversation and the small actions that so often go unnoticed. Building on her first album, Historian includes strings, horns, effects and the spoken word to created an expansive yet intimate musical journey.
5. Kanye West – ‘ye’
It’s been a massive year for Kanye West, who has released five (…yes, *five*) albums, three under his own name, and two in collaboration, released under the names of Pusha T and Nas. It took some deliberation before settling on this one to go into the top 10, but ‘ye’ comes up trumps (thank you, thank you). The first track, ‘I thought about killing you’ is an arresting and brutally honest track, detailing rarely articulated inner thoughts, in a way which is literally enough to silence a room.
It clears the way for a stunning array of honesty, vulnerability, desperation, hope… and is that a hint towards feminism, Kanye? ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ is a dedication to women who are hard done by male behaviour. And in addition to this, ‘Violent Crimes’ openly admits, “Now I see women as something to nurture / Not something to conquer”. Well, he’s gone and done it all. Bravo Kanye!
4. Ariana Grande – ‘Sweetener’
Ariana Grande is far from sweet in this powerful and uplifting album. Her first release since the bombing at her 2017 Manchester concert, Grande sheds her former industry driven image, replacing it with an honest, positive and far more sophisticated sound. A highlight of this album is her song ‘God is a Woman’, responding to the #metoo movement, and appealing to the growing number of people who feel that some things need to be set straight when it comes to gender equality, God being one of them.
3. Janelle Monáe – ‘Dirty Computer’
Since it’s release back in April, there has been a constant hum of excitement and praise for this album. Monáe initially gained a name for herself exploring afro-futurism through the lens of the modern android, using a robot persona to make comments about culture and human nature; brimming with social and political messages, this album is no exception. The title track continues along the computer/robotic theme, and the album ends with ‘So Afraid’ and ‘Americans’ which are brutal in their confrontation of political fear and disillusionment with gender inequality.
2. Gia Margaret – ‘There’s Always a Glimmer’
Okay, so you’re probably thinking, “Who’s Gia Margaret?” And that’s a fair question, considering she doesn’t have an ‘about’ page on spotify or a wikipedia page, and her online presence is still fairly limited. You’ll have to trust us on this one, this Chicago-based singer-songwriter and producer has created just the most gorgeous album, in a self-described style of ‘sleep rock’.
Allegedly these delicate and quietening songs were written in an attempt to combat insomnia. And they do a remarkable job of slowly turning down the dimmer switch, and letting everything mellow. Playing in both Chicago and London in the New Year, she’s definitely one to watch in 2019.
1. Kendrick Lamar – ‘Black Panther: The Album’
Can someone please tell us how Kendrick does it? With the release of this haunting, experimental and highly political soundtrack album for the heavily awaited Marvel film, Kendrick Lamar (yet again) shakes things up for the rap scene. Black Panther is the first Marvel film to be centred around a black superhero, and Lamar’s music reflects an intense mix of political frustration along with an acute excitement of social change in the pipeline.
He opens the album with the jarring, experimental title track, yet the album goes on to shift in theme and tempo, exploring thrill, despair and most of all defiance. Dripping with exciting collaborations, featuring the likes of SZA, Khalid, James Blake, Jorja Smith, Swae Lee, Future and Schoolboy Q, this is undoubtedly the most exciting album of the year. So rich in musical and cultural significance, with this album Lamar once again effortlessly acquires total respect, from fellow musicians, listeners and critics alike.