2018 has been a year of unexpected football successes, unusually hot summers, cars launching into space and ever-predicted political turbulence. But in uncertain times, there’s always one thing we can rely on: interstellar music.
It’s been a huge year for electronic music, with albums like Skee Mask’s genre-busting Compro and SOPHIE’s audacious Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides firing up Top 10 lists across the interwebs. 2018 has also bared witness to the continued meteoric rise of British and American jazz, with the likes of Kamasi Washington finding his way onto hifi’s all over and Sons of Kemet making the Mercury Prize nominations short-list. Hip-hop has also had a ground-breaking year, with the man we all love to hate/hate to love – Kanye West – producing albums from Pusha T, Nas, Kids See Ghosts and of course, himself.
Repress culture has also rocketed with the ever-ongoing vinyl revival soaring to new heights in 2018. There’s been another flurry of vinyl reissues with Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports, Susumu Yokota’s Acid Mt. Fuji and Fyo Fukui’s Scenery all receiving much needed re-ups, while Kate Bush has repressed her entire catalogue. At this rate, 2019 promises to be another radiant year for the pressing plants.
So to celebrate such an exciting year in music, us here at Melodic HQ present to you a collection of our favourite albums of 2018, with contributions from our Melodic radio show hosts, staff and extended family. Enjoy and take note!
Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo – Night Time Stories
Chosen by Joe Bardsley (MDR Social Media Manager)
Texas trio Khruangbin take their unusual name from the Thai word for ‘flying engine’ (Aeroplane), a title that fits seamlessly with their intricate style as they effortlessly glide from track to track. Their second album Con Todo El Mundo is informed by a myriad of international influences from dub, R&B and psychedelia, to Middle Eastern funk and soul sounds which lure the listener in from opener, ‘Como Me Quieres’.
The hazy 10 song LP invites a foot tap that cannot be refused. Elaborate guitar licks dominate the mix and drench the album in melodically enriched sonic pockets; underpinned by swung rim clicks and hi-hat sweeps, which are bound by the smoothest of smooth bass grooves. The distinct lack of vocals is an element of Khruangbin’s musical vision which insights artistic purity and confidence. The occasional subtle spoken word verse echoes behind the dreamy wall of sound, demonstrating the group’s ability to steer away from the typical band set up. Yet still, they create music which is not only accessible to all tastes but will soon become your favourite chill time jam. This is a record that is necessary to any collection and by far my favourite album of 2018.
Kamaal Williams – The Return – Black Focus
Chosen by Michael Dowding (Øscillate Records)
From the first note on the Nord Electro in ‘Salaam’ to the funk drenched rhythms of ‘Broken Theme’, the album swaggers boldly between the broken beats of MckNasty, Wu’s warm strings and pads and Pete Martin’s bass plucks. It feels as though the music has been left to marinade over years; it’s fluid, confident, unashamedly unapologetic and cool as fuck. Wu’s Korg stabs in ‘Catch The Loop’ bounce off MckNasty’s percussion to cause a cosmic alignment so vivid that you could be sipping a whisky next to Roy Ayers as the sun sets. The influences are apparent, but the modern twist is what sent The Return on a tour that bubbled in the walls of Berghain before the South London return to Brixton. Amidst the backdrop of a thriving jazz scene in the capital, LDN Shuffle rings out. This is The Return, and it’s a million miles away from the end.
Maribou State – Kingdoms in Colour – Counter Records
Chosen by Eve Whiteside (MDR Journalist)
It’s been a few years since this innovative pair have released an album. I’ve been waiting for it with baited breath for the past three years and was not the least bit disappointed. Inspired by their travels in exotic locations, this echoes through in all the tracks as they even include field recordings which helped create perfectly layered and vibrant melodies.
Personally, the opening track ‘Beginner’s Luck’ is unlike any song I’ve heard in a long time; utterly tranquil with a haunting backdrop and enchanting vocals. Whilst showing that they can produce an album where all the tracks possess a unique twist, there is still the familiar alluring bass that is present in their previous album, Portraits. This particularly shines through in ‘Feel Good’, which features an exciting collaboration with funk ‘n’ soul trio Khruangbin. Despite only being released this September, it’s already my most played album of the year.
Nu Guinea – Nuova Napoli – NG Records
Chosen by Toby Taylor (Good For The Soul/MDR Promo Manager)
It is perhaps unsurprising that a self confessed Italophile such as myself has opted for an album that is heavily steeped in the traditions of the criminally overlooked Neapolitan funk scene of the 1970s and ‘80s.
Released nearly two years after their well received The Tony Allen Experiments, Nuova Napoli sees Lucio Aquilina and Massimo Di Lena (Nu Guinea) pay tribute to, and put a contemporary spin on, the distinctive fusion of Jazz-Funk, Disco, Boogie and Afro that dominated the Neapolitan club scene of yesteryear. The record breezes with effortless ease through these various sounds, ranging from the sleazy, tripped out, funk of the title track to more cosmic-y sounds found on tracks such as ‘Je Voulesse.’ The production on the record is top notch – aided in no small part by the duo’s recruitment of many of the top musicians currently plying their trade in Naples. Those such as Pietro Santangelo (whose sultry sax playing is a particular highlight throughout the album), add a vibrancy and character that really colours Aquilina & Di Lena’s compositions. Ultimately, this means the record moves beyond a simple ‘pasticcio’ of the 1970s & 80s Neapolitan dance scene – and instead deservedly takes its place alongside the great records that so heavily influenced it.
Clouds – Heavy The Eclipse – Electric Deluxe
Chosen by Jack Charnley (Altered Voltage)
More distorted breakbeats (shock), but this time with an extreme sense of dystopia. Set 400 years into a drug-ravaged future version of Glasgow, Clouds paint the picture not only with their sonics, but also with a website containing what is basically a mini graphic novel. Designed by David Rudnick (whose other work is worth a look), this novel weaves a story of a battered population. Their only solace is found in the multi-day raves that take place in the abandoned Palace of Art and the hope that they will all be freed from their anguish by a fabled rave-goddess known only as Eclipser. (Check it out here: www.neurealm.net)
The way the album has been put together with the backstory, imagery, packaging of the physical LP and all round rave madness is what pips this one to the post over Skee Mask’s Compro for me.
Charlie Looker – Simple Answers – Self-released
Chosen by George Maund (Cartier 4 Everyone)
Ok where to start with this incredibly prescient record ‘for our times’. By no means a typical Cartier pick, I came back to this over and again, almost always alone, in transit, headphones on. Looker began the writing process for this song cycle in 2012 and completed a Kickstarter campaign to fund its realisation last year. The result is a “meditation on the rise of fascism in the West”. Simple Answers provides the listener with anything but – this is not an ‘easy listening’ record – it’s a conflation of contemporary classical, early music, metal, jazz, trap, and a Scott Walker-inflected approach to the album as a cinematic, storied arc. Lyrically we’re made to look inward as much as out and while this can be difficult, it feels important (even rewarding) that art can continue to act as a mirror – now more than ever, right? As ambitious as DIY releases get.
Gunship – Dark All Day – Horsie In The Hedge
Chosen by Steven Woosey (MDR producer)
The year is 2007. It is the future.
Dark All Day is Gunship’s groundbreaking entry into this year’s retrowave scene. While it isn’t Gunship’s first retro-rodeo, it certainly comes across as a brand new take on the genre, combining new features with old. With vocals provided by Tim Cappello & Indiana, Kat Von D and even Will Wheaton, each track on the album delivers wonderful synth tones that match perfectly with the vocals to harmonise into a beautiful melody that I could loop for hours.
Each song sounds different enough that you know you’re moving on, but similar enough to not stray from the ambience that flows throughout. I think that this is the perfect balance for a listener, as it sets a tone for the musical journey, but almost keeps you in the same place, capturing the moment for fifty minutes straight.
Marie Davidson – Working Class Woman – Ninja Tune
Chosen by Léa Ben Saïd (Bruits)
2018 has been particularly good for longer-format releases. The number of high-quality albums which have come out this past year has made the choice so difficult as Skee Mask, Helena Hauff, or even Djrum’s albums were all the best in their own way. Ultimately though, the one that truly stayed with me is Marie Davidson’s Working Class Woman.
This year more than ever, dance music has regained its place as something inherently political. Davidson’s album portrays the life of women in the club, how hard they have to work and the problems of being involved in club culture, while addressing their relationship with other people and with success itself. The hope of improving this situation paired with perfectly executed electroclash and techno grooves is sure to leave a trace on anyone listening to it.
Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance – Partisan Records
Chosen by Benny Maths Goulsano (Black Beacon Sound)
Oh man, it’s been such an amazing year for music and so much so for albums that I could most probably put together a ‘Top 50’ list without having to think too hard. But I won’t do that here. Special shouts to Children of Zeus for Travel Light on First World and Pan Amsterdam for The Pocket Watch, both of which bless us with jazz-infused, soulful, thought-provoking, heartfelt hip-hop. Also need to mention Jon Hopkins’ Singularity on Domino with its careful marriage of the delicate and the distorted; Steven Julien’s Bloodline on Apron Recordings with its absorbing barrage of 808 patterns and Khalil Anthony’s JUNEBUG on Satori Ideas and Urban Folk Music with its funk-driven electronics and incisive, challenging lyrics.
However, it’s Idles with Joy as an Act of Resistance on Partisan Records that tops it for me. The raw, insistent aggression of the music is matched by the sharp, passionate lyrics, with it all being whipped up into a musical maelstrom and delivered with an urgency that demands attention.
Skee Mask – Compro – Ilian Tapes
Chosen by Josh Aitman (MDR co-founder)
2018 was my introduction to more abstract and challenging sounds and while Skee Mask’s release on Illian Tapes certainly isn’t where I’ve left the year, it was the perfect album to introduce it. From start to finish, Compro meanders through the various forms that electronic music can take, pushing the past forward in an ever sentimental but evolving musical climate. Testing the expansive possibilities of music production, Skee Mask creates multi-level soundscapes which build upon a core set of lucid ideals.
From its docile and warped opener ‘Cerroverb’, to the exhilarating ‘Prodigy-like’ sounds of ‘Muk FM’, Compro may not be your ‘traditional’ home listening album, however this year it has found itself stuck on the platter more than any other record I own. It’s gentle and somewhat unnerving acceleration from ambience to jungle, then back to more soothing sounds, sends you into a state of calm before ripping you apart. This album was a seminal moment for my own musical tastes – breaking me out of my usual spheres and allowing me to appreciate other influential, but arguably more challenging work such as Djrum’s Portrait with Firewood. This is why it makes for my album of 2018.