Featured image: Nikko La Mere
Check out numbers 5-1 of the very best albums released in 2018 (see 10-6 here).
5. Leikeli47 – Acrylic
Leikeli47 never shows her face, even when she’s being interviewed only her eyes and mouth are visible. It’s a distancing tactic and one that can’t help raise the mystery surrounding the rapper and occasional singer and a choice that seems to have come about, in part, because of Leikeli47’s introvert tendencies. Shyness does not impact on the Brooklyn based artist’s ability to integrate and comment on the cultural and social issues that affect black women however. On Acrylic, her second album, she continues the theme of the hair salon as the harbinger of her country’s current standing with racial and gender attitudes. But Acrylic is also a huge amount of fun, see highlight ‘Full Set (A New Style)’, as Leikeli47 effortlessly secures her position in the hip hop genre.
4. Empress Of – Us
In 2018 Empress Of decided to make a record that was a lot more straightforward sounding than her well-received and occasionally experimental debut from a couple of years ago, Me.
Us is a risk then and may not appeal to those who were expecting more of the same for the bilingual singer-songwriter, but then you win some and lose some along the way such is the fickle world of pop. And this is a pop record, out and out. One that deals with heartache, anxiety and weed whilst avoiding the kind of mediocre, cloned production that has held a lot of Spotify mega-streams hostage for the last 18-months or so.
Songs like ‘When I’m With Him’ have a pathos and passion that elevate Empress Of beyond many of her contemporaries and Us is one of the best and most sincere mainstream pop records you’ll hear this year.
3. Beach House – 7
7 finds Beach House tentatively altering the thermostat on their sound whilst not disrupting the aesthetic that instantly identifies them. Incorporating the theme of a faded Hollywood star into their work, as is the case here, doesn’t sound like a massive stretch for the duo admittedly, but allowing producer Sonic Boom into their environment has allowed for exciting sonic shifts.
Tracks like ‘Lemon Twist’ and highlight ‘Drunk in LA’ are more defined and ambitious than the group’s previous work and the melodic tension meets the mood in quality and effect.
Although this is their seventh album, if feels as though Beach House have crept up to their status as one of the best and most important indie bands currently making music.
=1. SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES
SOPHIE has been creating music for years and her discography and production credits (Vince Staples, Madonna, Let’s Eat Grandma) are already extraordinarily impressive. Unreleased and possibly forthcoming collaborations with Rihanna and Lady Gaga are already in the bag.
It’s taken a long time, but 2018 finally saw the transgender maverick present her debut album and OOEPUI is a record that expertly crystallises her vision thus far. It’s one which confounds, moves and exhilarates the listener far beyond already high-set expectations.
SOPHIE has often said that great pop music should have no boundaries and that the current approach to making it is conservative and terrified to expand beyond long-set, commercially dictated parameters. She makes music that sounds like the future whilst honouring the fundamentals of the genre that make it so poignant and relevant still.
Pop music will never die, and with SOPHIE at the helm its potential to soar higher than ever before is very real.
=1. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
Meg Remy has not modified her music to reflect the social movements of our time. It’s by chance that her world view now matches that which has dominated mainstream media over the last year or so.
U.S. Girls is now on her seventh album and In a Poem Unlimited is her smartest, saddest, funniest and most brilliant record so far.
There is something subversive about a song like ‘M.A.H’, for example, which is Remy’s most instantly melodic and pop-centric track of her career. A shimmering, captivating disco ball of a song which is also a massive fuck you to the men who instigate wars. It may be hard at first to get what Remy is lyrically playing at, but once the penny drops it just adds to the appropriately combative nature of the song’s far from trivial intent.
Domestic violence, welfare reform and internet addiction all artfully fit into a musical narrative that is set to Italo house, electro-pop, free-form jazz and a chat with an opera loving cabbie. In a Poem Unlimited is an incredibly rich and compelling achievement and U.S. Girls are a vital and precious force.