2018 was a year full to the brim with political outrage, controversy, backlashes and twitter pile-ons, and while we often hear that art reflects life, it isn’t often that so much of a year’s music is as socially and politically outspoken as it was this past year. We here at The Sphinx have put together a list of some of each writer’s personal favourite albums released in 2018, and we did so without really discussing our choices first. What came as something of a surprise was that this theme of social reflection, and political ire, was so prevalent on nearly every album featured in this article – some of which, from bands who haven’t ventured into that kind of lyrical territory before. There’s something really powerful about this seemingly united front presented by musicians against society’s failings, whether communicated through cynical caricaturing, empowering uplift, or straight-up rage.
So, with that said, here are nine albums that had us thinking, as well as dancing, in 2018:
Sarah Potter’s Album of the Year – Joy as an Act of Resistance by Idles
Joy as an Act of Resistance by Bristolian band, Idles would have to be my album of the year, with an angry, unapologetic political message jumping out of every track, it is hard not to back these progressive post-punk heroes. They are, after all, just saying how most of us feel. It is an album which speaks for those in society who are rarely listened to, the lower classes and their unspoken struggles; such as hypermasculinity and love. The sheer exuberance from the heavy instrumentals and shouted vocalisation give you the real sense that this is raw, pent-up emotion and a release of absolute rage at society. In an ever hostile, political world, Idles still proudly, publicly rebuke the right-wing, which is a stance most artists are too scared to take, more interested in making the charts than a difference. The song ‘I’m Scum’ was a standout, as singer Joe Talbot, accepts his labels as his, denouncing the negativity of the notions and just being unapologetically himself. The idea of accepting oneself to be scum revolts against so much of right-wing politics in such a simple, admirable way. The more upbeat instrumental to this song creates a marching beat for the listener to follow along within a physical and mental sense, as they should share the same mentality. This, for me, is the main take away from this album, that same mentality.
Read our full review here.
On a lighter note, my first honourable mention would have to go to my guilty pleasure, club classic of 2018, Staying at Tamara’s by George Ezra. The songs, ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Paradise’ will always take me back to bouncing around clubs with my friends at home and are just certified bangers in general. And lastly, my childhood favourites, The Wombats. Their fourth album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, had to be included. With a sound more similar to their earlier albums, but with a more refined feel, tracks such as ‘White Eyes’ and ‘Lethal Combination’ really encapsulate my favourite kind of pop; slightly melancholic with a hopeful touch.
Deputy Music Editor, Lily Blakeny-Edwards’ Album of the Year – Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae
After a 5- year break, Janelle Monae made her much-awaited return in 2018 to provide what was, for me, one of the best albums of the year. Monae’s ‘Dirty Computer’ presents an eclectic mix of R&B, soul and funk, all while showcasing the young artist’s personal and political message. With bright synths and, lively melodies heard throughout, it is on this album that we see Monae’s vocal talent on full display. On ‘Make Me Feel’, a 1980s-inspired track, the artist mixes her sensual vocals with a rich baseline, making it a definite high point of the work. Another standout track has to be ‘Django Jane’ in which Monae showcases her lyrical ability by expanding on her fears for the future, as well as celebrating herself as a black, female artist. This mix of somewhat-heavy themes and her upbeat, feel-good sound blends effortlessly. It’s a refreshing, clever, and uplifting masterpiece, and I would say that nothing in 2018 could outshine it.
Psych-Rock band, The Nude Party, was certainly one to look out for this year as they offered their debut, self-titled album. Heavily inspired by classic Rock, with not-so-subtle nods to classic Country and Americana, the album is ultimately upbeat, but doesn’t take itself too seriously, with catchy melodies and clever writing about war, money and getting “real jobs”. The masterful instrumentation, mixed with lead singer, Patton Magee’s smoky vocals provides some belters on tracks such as ‘Chevrolet Van’ and ‘Wild Coyote’. It’s an impressive debut from the young artists, and one I would definitely recommend checking out.
Another album which I considered a highlight of the year is MGMTs Little Dark Age. Feeling far more experimental then their ‘Oracular Spectacular’ era, this latest album showcases the talent of the band, who are able to provide a keen level of intricacy, while still supplying catchy hooks and electric dance beats. A weirdly wonderful mix of vintage synth-pop and brooding lyrics can be heard throughout the album, both of which provide an almost creepy nostalgic feel, while still giving you something to dance to. While certainly unusual, I welcome the comeback of the band, and honestly feel that Little Dark Age is their best album to date.
Music Editor, Daniel Marx’s Album of the Year – All Ashore by Punch Brothers
After three years spent working separately on side projects with a wide variety of musicians, the five progressive bluegrass virtuosos that make up the American band, Punch Brothers, came back together to release their fifth full-length album, All Ashore. These guys have been my favourite band since I started following contemporary music because of their genius marriage of folk and formal styles of music, consistently dismissing the bluegrass label despite their appearance. They are a band defined by ambition, their music striving to be dense and conceptual, while also feeling vibrant and memorable. With All Ashore, Punch Brothers reach new heights of both those elements of their musicality. The album is a song cycle that, for the first time in their decade of releasing music, delves into politics, taking on the dishonesty of the current American administration. It’s also a deeply personal record, with the title track tackling the difficulties of being present in one’s relationships when juggling multiple creative endeavours – perhaps a commentary on the realities of the gig economy. All this is conveyed through some of 2018’s most beautiful and intricate acoustic instrumental work.
Chicago rapper, Noname, released my favourite hip-hop record of the year by quite a stretch. Room 25 is Noname’s debut full-length album and was, for me, the most emotionally affecting rap album of the year, as well as the most technically impressive performance of the year in that genre. Noname has one of the slickest flows in contemporary hip-hop, and she uses that technicality to communicate ideas that are funny, heartfelt and culturally vital. Meanwhile, singer/songwriter and contemporary classical composer Gabriel Kahane, released the only album that made me cry in 2018. Book of Travellers is a beautiful exercise in empathy, documenting the stories of strangers Kahane met on trains around America after the 2016 presidential election, and conveyed in a stunningly heartfelt way with just his voice and a piano. Kahane is the musician I spent the most time listening to in 2018, and it was that sense of empathy that kept bringing me back, day after day.