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The Top Five Albums of 2018 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

There’s been a lot of great music in this year, from sources both expected and previously unknown. It took quite some effort to bring the list down to just five, but these are the five that we think you should definitely listen to when ringing out the new year.

5. Chris – Christine and the Queens

Musically, Chris is a throwback. This album sounds like nothing as much as an escapee from the pop / R&B charts of the 80s and a very good one at that. It’s upbeat music with lots of interesting little quirks. It is not just effortless, but actively fun, to flow with this album and it’s embedded with myriad little flourishes that delight.

What truly elevates it though is the modernity it brings. While the structure is that of Michael and Madonna, the album is clearly something of 2018, both musically and, more strongly, lyrically. Héloïse Létissier’s alter-ego Chris explores the edges of modern femininity with intelligence and complexity. The character is strong and sensual but vulnerable and human. She’s a full person and she makes this one of the most vivid albums of the year.

4. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Kanye has had an interesting year to say the least, but we’re not here to talk about that. We’re just going to talk about the best of the series of seven-song mini-albums. Kids See Ghosts finally brings Kid Cudi out of the rut that his last few albums found him in and gives Kanye the grounding and focus that he’s lacked for a few years now. The two of them have a history of bringing out the best of each other and this album is the culmination of that relationship.

The rock-flavored rap of Cudi has exploded of late, but most of the current practitioners are somehow substantially more emo than Cudi ever was. It’s refreshing to see a return to his more straightforward, guitar-focused strain with this album. His deep voice and the thrum of his humming have always been his greatest strength and Kanye’s flat-edged rapping cuts right through it beautifully.

This album is a spiritual experience and clearly built to be so. “Reborn” evokes the kind of devotional feeling most religious ceremonies can only grasp at. The strength, the upliftment and the humanity of the song and the album as a whole transcends the human and reaches the divine.

Read our full review here.

3. Room 25 – Noname

Room 25  is easily the most unique album of this list and of this year. I’ve never heard anything like Noname’s blend of laid-back rap, jazz and soul before and I doubt that I will again until her next album.

Her technical skill is astounding. She takes rapid, layered lines and delivers them with a staggering nonchalance. She’s even able to mix a little laughter into the lines that she goes through at a blazing pace.

It’s not a loud album. It doesn’t need to beat you over the head with its merits. It just does what it wants to do and it does it extremely well.

Read our full review here.

2. MUDBOY – Sheck Wes

MUDBOY is basically the opposite of Room 25 in every aspect but quality and innovation. Where Room 25 is gentle and intricate and relaxing though, MUDBOY is pounding and blunt and arousing.

This is a rough and uncompromising album. It bludgeons you with ideas and innovations relentlessly. It’s also just really good rap. “Mo Bamba” is not just a viral hit, it’s the most exciting song in rap this year. He doesn’t need any kind of ornateness in this album, it’s just straightforward and strong.

I don’t actually expect to see this start a new trend in rap just because of how unique Sheck Wes’ sound is. Imitating him is not a task for the weak. Instead, we’re going to have to leave it to the man himself to show us what’s next for the most interesting music of the year.

Read our full review here.

1. Both Directions At Once – John Coltrane

Both Directions At Once was the album that I was most excited about this year and it delivered fully on that hope. Recently discovered in a copy given to his first wife, this album found Trane in the middle of that fertile period around My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. It never got the full release that his classics of the time obtained and so is quite naturally rough, but the brilliance here is undeniable.

His early takes on “Impressions” are fascinating not just for what they would become, but for the music that they were in the moment. It’s clear that this is a transitional period for Trane. He still has some of the pop sound of My Favorite Things here in “Nature Boy” and “Villa”, which may not be as challenging as the rest, but are still excellent.

The Untitled Originals are all intriguing. His variations on 11386 are all thought-provoking in different ways, Take 2 is exploratory and Take 5 is playful. They are elegant and unexpected and so beautiful.

There’s a clear difference between Both Directions At Once and the masterpieces that Trane actually released in those fertile years of the late 50s and early 60s, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an album of tremendous intelligence and my easy pick for album of the year.

Read our full review here.

@murthynikhil
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The Top Five Albums of 2018: Neeharika’s List

31 Dec

In more ways than one, 2018 has been an interesting time to be alive. One thing to be thankful for, though: there’s been some great music this year. There have been knock-out debuts, surprising self-one-ups from established artists, and some fantastic soundtrack albums. Suffice it to say, it was a tough exercise to whittle down this year’s music to the top five albums below. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

5. Sweetener – Ariana Grande

With three well-received albums under her belt, Ariana Grande is not a new name in pop music. On her fourth album Sweetener, she has really elevated her craft. With heartfelt, self-written lyrics and a greater focus on her glossy vocals, Sweetener is Ariana’s best album so far. It’s also the best pop album of the year, essentially because it was able to capture zeitgeist genres – trap, hip-hop, R&B – and adapt them into veritable pop songs.

Take, for example, the ubiquitous “God is a woman”. At its core, with deliberate and hypnotic beats, it’s a trap song; but Ariana flips it around to a surprisingly effective message of female empowerment. “breathin’” could pass for a mid-tempo dance song; listen closely, though, and it’s a well-penned mantra for positive mental health. On “no tears left to cry”, synth beats and perky vocals belie a tragic backstory: the track is her direct response to the 2017 Manchester bombing at her concert that killed tens and injured hundreds.

All things considered, it’s no wonder that Sweetener created a whole legion of new Ariana fans. Her next album thank u, next is reportedly already in the works – we can’t wait!

Best songs: “God is a woman”, “breathin’”, “no tears left to cry”

4. Albert Hammond Jr. – Francis Trouble

As we talked about in our full-length review, Francis Trouble has an intriguing backstory. Albert Hammond Jr. (guitarist for the Strokes) had a twin called Francis who died in the womb; Albert apparently created this project as an artistic rendition of the ill-fated Francis’ life. The result is a rambunctious, inspired and fun album that sparkles with the spirit of a man who’s happy to be alive – even if it’s only on this record.

Long-time Strokes fans should be able to quickly read the subtext here. Hammond was a high-functioning drug addict throughout the Strokes’ heyday in the early aughts before finally sobering up a couple of years ago. On Francis Trouble, the opportunity to explore Francis’ would-be life seems to have given Albert a fresh appreciation for his own new lease on life.

If you’ve got 36 minutes to spare in your day, we suggest you go ahead and listen to the entirety of this gem of an album. If not – start off with “Set to Attack” and we’re sure you’d want to hear more.

Read our full review here.

Best songs: “Set to Attack”, “Muted Beatings”, “Tea for Two”

3. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

Dirty Computer, the third full-length album from Janelle Monae, is her most accessible album so far. While her debut (The ArchAndroid) and sophomore album (Electric Lady) featured heady themes of a cyborg-populated dystopia, Monae takes it down a notch here with more direct storytelling. The result is a great pop-funk album that does justice to Monae’s lovely voice.

But even on the most accessible tracks, Monae’s incredible creativity shines through. “Make Me Feel” (President Obama pick for 2018!) is a sexy funk hit with a catchy, sing-along chorus that would make Prince proud. “I Like That” is a lovely R&B hit that honestly should receive far more coverage than anything Beyonce releases. And “Pynk”, featuring the electronic artist Grimes, may seem saccharine on the surface, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek, never-before-seen take on femininity.

Dirty Computer is funky, spunky and just plain enjoyable. Maybe one of these days, Janelle Monae will finally get the adulation she has always deserved.

Read our full review here.

Best tracks: “Pynk”, “Make Me Feel”, “I Like That”  

2. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Cardi B is everywhere this year, from guest spots on high profile songs to her own record-breaking list of chart toppers. We know this for sure: the Bronx native is not a one-time wonder.

Cardi is a shape-shifter – from stripper to social media star to reality TV hit to rapper – and it’s her ability to draw a common line across these phases that makes Invasion of Privacy an incredible album. Invasion overflows with swagger, great beats and surprising honesty; it’s almost hard to believe that it’s a debut album.

Commercial hits like “Bodak Yellow” and “I Like It” (another Obama pick) have cemented her status as the new reigning queen of popular music, but it’s the truth-spitting lyrics on “Get Up 10” and “Be Careful” that stay with you for much longer.

Read our full review here.

Best tracks: “Bodak Yellow”, “I Like It”, “Get Up 10”

1. The Voidz – Virtue

If you’ve made it this far and you’re surprised that we chose this relatively unknown album as our top pick, let us explain.

Virtue is old-school. It’s the kind of album that lures you in with an affable track – maybe “Leave It In My Dreams” – and fifteen listens later, you have a personal relationship with every single song on there. It’s rich, diverse, creative and endlessly gratifying in a way that very few modern-day albums are.

The Voidz, fronted by the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, are as eclectic as they come, so it’s no wonder that Virtue is an astounding mishmash of genres, styles and influences. There’s plenty of Strokes on here, from the friendly pop of “Wink” to the subtly mysterious “AlieNNatioN”. There’s some understated moments – like the sweet Mac DeMarco-esque “Lazy Boy” or the dreamy jazz on “Pink Ocean”. But perhaps nothing defines Virtue better than the bonkers Middle Eastern-synth-dance-pop vibes on “QYURRYUS”. (If you’ve never heard those words hyphenated together, it’s because there is no other music like this song and we’re trying our best to describe it in text.)

Just trust us on this. Virtue is one of those albums that gets you to view music itself in an entirely different light. Thank us later!

Read our full review here.

Best songs: “Leave It in My Dreams”, “QYURRYUS”, “All Wordz Are Made Up”

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