Albums Of 2018: James Liam Ward's Picks
2018 was another massive year for all genres music and although there is no way I can touch on everything that has been released, I’d like to shout out Noname, Rich Brian, Trash Boat, Pusha-T, Don Broco, J.I.D. and Brockhampton; all of whom put out great projects this year that did not make this list.
New Levels, New Devils
Equal Vision Records
“Nasty”, “O.D.”, “Bad, Saucy”, “So Strange”
Polyphia’s colorful and creative third LP lands on my top ten list through its irresistible grooves and fiery performances. This is an instrumental rock album with a voice on of its own; the playing on New Levels, New Devils is so expressive and engaging that these ten tracks rarely call for more, and yet songs such as “So Strange” prove that vocals can be implemented into Polyphia’s sound smoothly and effectively. I love the slinky tone of the guitars on this album as well as the warm, treble-heavy bass tone. Pairing these with defining drum grooves and a strong hip-hop influence throughout, the well-crafted instrumental palate of New Levels, New Devils sounds both refreshing and refined.
Time & Space
“Real Thing”, “Generator”, “High Pressure”, “Can’t Get Away”, “Come Back For More”
Turnstile’s major label debut was an improvement on all fronts for the band; expanding on their explosive punk sound with a wider set of instrumentation and more dynamic vocals. The band’s blistering percussion and mosh-worthy riffs are in full force on Time & Space, but I found many of the songs on this record to simply be more creative and more memorable than what I heard on their previous album. I love that Turnstile is not afraid to throw anything into a song to make it more dynamic and interesting, and I sincerely hope this becomes a trend in heavy music; resulting in tunes bursting with as much creativity as they do energy. Here’s hoping Turnstile have a record that is even more explosive and dynamic in store for the future.
8. Denzel Curry
Loma Vista Recordings
“Cash Maniac”, “Switch It Up”, “Mad I Got It”, “Clout Cobain”, “Percs”
TA13OO is a grim and personal peek into the mind of Florida rapper Denzel Curry. Up until the release of this album, Denzel was known for his impeccable flows and animalistic delivery, but what I loved about TA13OO was the diversity he brought to the album. Conceptually flowing from light to dark, resulted in quite a few surprises right at the beginning of TA13OO; Denzel Curry proves almost right away that he has the ability to carry himself deftly over a wide range of hip-hop instrumentation, not just gritty, bass-heavy bangers. Admittedly it is the aggressive side where Denzel still shines, consistently delivering fantastic sung hooks and rapid fire flows over spacey, hypnotizing rap bangers such as “MAD I GOT IT”. The dynamics coupled excellent production and performances on TA13OO have cemented Denzel Curry as one of hip-hop’s hottest up-and-comers, and we can only expect great things to come.
7. KIDS SEE GHOSTS
KIDS SEE GHOSTS
“Feel the Love”, “Fire”, “4th Dimension”, “Freeee”, “Kids See Ghosts”, “Cudi Montage”
Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s collaboration under the moniker KIDS SEE GHOSTS definitely took some time to really click with me. Even after my initial listening sessions and review, this project continued to grow for me from a good album into a great album. I wasn’t initially impressed with the introduction and ending to KIDS SEE GHOSTS, but upon further listens I have come to respect the off-the-wall “Feel The Love”, and kaleidoscopic “Cudi Montage” as an effective tone setter and satisfying closer respectively. The middle of this album still blows me away as Kanye West’s choice of sounds and samples is impeccable throughout. Tracks like “4th Dimension” are reminiscent of his iconic work in the early 2000s, and the experimental fusion of hip-hop and hard rock on “Freee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)” is an incredible blurring of genres that pushes the boundaries of what hip-hop can truly be. Kanye West released five albums this year, but none of his other projects comes close to the level of detail and attention that went into KIDS SEE GHOSTS, I can only hope their sophomore project is just as creative and forward-thinking
6. Hail The Sun
Equal Vision Records
”Mental Knife”, “Devotion Cuts”, “A Lesson In Lust”, “Arcane Justice”, “Glass: Half Empty”, “On Existence”
Far and away my biggest surprise of the year was Hail The Sun’s post-hardcore masterpiece Mental Knife. Over the past few years I found myself straying away from music in this style, simply because of the lack of strong LPs that were being delivered by the bands within this scene. What kept me addicted to Mental Knife was the sheer tightness and complexity of Hail the Sun’s performances, coupled with simply good song writing. I love that Hail the Sun is able to go on these winding, technical passages throughout their songs, and then still bring everything back to a great hook or an explosive chorus. The guitar playing on this album is incredibly melodic, intricate and thankfully not too flashy, while the percussion can be an absolute whirlwind or effectively simplistic and groovy. Hail the Sun is a technical band that knows when to flex but also knows how to keep a listener engaged and on the edge of their seat. The singing on Mental Knife ranges from soaring and triumphant on the title track, to shy and mystical on songs such as “On Existence”. Both the drums and the vocals are performed by the same individual, leading to a unique synergy between the two, matching complex patterns and intensities almost effortlessly throughout the album.
5. Kali Uchis
”Just a Stranger”, “Flight 22”, “Dead To Me”, “Tomorrow”, “After the Storm”, “Feel Like a Fool”, “Killer”
Kali Uchis’ Isolation was one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and I have loved it since the day it released. Kali and her collaborators really came together to create a stunning debut for the Columbian songwriter that is dynamic, colorful and irresistibly catchy. I love how Kali Uchis can go from a seductive introduction with Thundercat, to the hypnotizing synth-driven “Tomorrow”, to the disco-infused “Dead To Me” without anything feeling clumsy or out of place. I will be the first to admit that Kali is far from the most powerful singer, but the melody and personality that she brings to each of these songs is consistently potent and memorable. There are so many instantly catchy and nostalgic tracks on this record one after another that makes Isolation one of the strongest debuts of 2018.
4. Anderson . Paak
”Tints”, “Who R U?”, “6 Summers”, “Mansa Musa”, “Brother’s Keeper”, “Anywhere, Sweet Chick”
Anderson .Paak is finally matched with a set of songs that compliment his iconic and eccentric personality on his third LP Oxnard. Brought to life with the help of Dr. Dre, this was the breakout album that Anderson .Paak needed to catapult him further into the mainstream, solidifying himself as a musical force to be reckoned with for years to come. I love the texture and life that the instrumentals on this album have; songs such as “The Chase” are so epic sounding they feel almost cinematic, as if Anderson .Paak is scoring the latest Tarantino movie with his music. Tracks like “Headlow” and “Sweet Chick” really showcase Anderson .Paak’s raunchy, fantastic and clever sense of humour, while songs such as “Anywhere” and “Trippy” feel like classic Dr. Dre hip-hop songs updated for the modern age. There is something for everybody on Oxnard, as there isn’t a single bad song on this album, and all of it is tied together by the irresistible charisma and talent of Anderson .Paak.
Secretly Canadian/Tri-Angle Recordings
”Whisper”, “Messy”, “Mourning Song”, “Cherubim”, “Seedless”, “Invoice”, “Bless Ur Heart”
I have been obsessed with Josiah Wise (serpentwithfeet’s) astounding vocal dexterity and other-worldly production since the release of the debut EP Blisters with The Haxan Cloak. Soil however is a transcendental window into the heartbroken mind of Josiah Wise, whose lyrics express a human being that is confused, ravenous, desperate and hopeful all at once. The sheer boldness of this individual’s lyrics is enough to make these songs stand out, but it is the ethereal and stunning melodies that push it over the edge. I find this album is one of the few in which the production is actually outshined by the quality and complexity of the vocals. The tunes on Soil don’t exactly jump out at you; the instrumentation beneath serpentwithfeet is just enough to set a tone and allow the vocals to flesh out and build these songs.
2. Earl Sweatshirt
Some Rap Songs
Tan Cressida/Columbia Records
“Nowhere2go”, “December 24”, “Ontheway!”, “The Mint”, “The Bends”, “Azucar”, “Veins”, “Peanut”, “Riot!”
Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs was an album that challenged me with its obscure sampling, off-kilter flows, and most of all, its starkly grim atmosphere. Earl has always been a very personal artist, holding nothing back from his listener, and Some Rap Songs is no different. The album feels like a depressive spiral, which climaxes on the penultimate track “Peanut”, which feels more like an emotional exorcism than a piece of music. What strengthens this concept is “Riot!”, an almost sunny instrumental finale that closes out the album on a seemingly hopeful note; it is as if Earl Sweatshirt took the saying “It is always darkest before the dawn” and applied that to the ending of this album. Over time I grew to love the instrumentals on this album as much as Earl’s verses; from the bright guitar riff in “Ontheway!”, to the sharp, saloon style piano-line on “The Mint” to the bizarrely chopped vocal samples throughout “The Bends”. Very few of these tracks pass the two-minute mark, but the songs are so dense, so textured and so full of sound that rarely do they feel unfinished or unsatisfying. The album plays out like a collage of “Some Rap Songs” that flow like some sort of demented, despondent Madvillainy; and I am sure that this album will one day command the same level of respect that its primary influence maintains.
1. Anna Von Hausswolff
My number one album of the year is a perfect example of why every single one of these lists simply comes down to personal preference. I am not sure if other individuals will connect with this album the way I have or if these songs would evoke the same reactions that they did out of me. Many may enjoy this record because of its gloomy atmosphere, haunting vocals and superb organ playing, but on top of that there wasn’t a single album that came out this year that astounded me the way Dead Magic did. There are so many incredibly gutsy, satisfying and surprising moments on this album that had me hitting the rewind button just so I could comprehend what I had just heard. Anna Von Hausswolff is a Swedish singer-songwriter and organist whose ethereal and dynamic voice never fails to send shivers down my spine. Her performances on songs such as “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra” are so bold, and so powerful that I am floored by this track every time I hear it. I love that this album feels like an album rather than a collection of songs; at five tracks and just under an hour in length, Anna leaves plenty of time for her songs to breathe, develop, grow and then die all so beautifully. This is an album that rewards a patient listener; “Ugly and Vengeful” is an incredibly impressive track, as it is well over fifteen minutes and somehow manages to keep me on the edge of my seat for its entire runtime. I love the experimental and progressive edge of Dead Magic, as well as its grim, haunting soundscapes and almost gothic aesthetic. No other album has chilled me to the bone the way Dead Magic continues to do, and I cannot wait to see what this incredibly bold and talented songwriter has in store for us in the future.