25 Joy as an Act of REsistance by idles
Joy as an Act of Resistance beats with a pulse that proves punk isn’t dead. IDLES stack their sophomore album with humour, honesty and angry bangers. Their post-punk sound is so smart it’s as woke and witty as Kanye West thinks he is. Lead singer Joe Talbot grew up in Exeter, so we can’t blame him for slating it on IDLES’ first album. They used the city to address the stagnance in British society; in their second album, the band develop their critiques, keeping them as raw and riveting as ever.
‘Samaritans’, a highlight of the album, chants anti-macho mantras over some kick-ass drums. The hook wages war against ‘the mask of masculinity’, crescendo-ing with ‘I kissed a boy and I liked it’ before a head-bopping drop. IDLES craft a post-Brexit E.U.logy in their tune ‘Great’. Talbot, deep in Brexit-satire, mocks nationalism with a British ‘blighty’ persona. The vocalist shifts from his customary gruff delivery, crooning ‘Islam didn’t eat your hamster’.
The album title comes from a Huffington Post article about a murdered boy, Darius Smith. At the funeral, his family danced; their joy resisted oppression. This album explores frustration against oppression and repression. It shouts and swears and dances at it, telling bigotry and self-defeat to f*** off. Through honesty or satire, it addresses toxic masculinity, racism, homophobia and bereavement.
I saw IDLES this summer in a tent on Brighton beach; it was the littest gig of my life. They are poetic, hilarious, and very very loud: anti-social socialism at its finest.
24 Superorganism by Superorganism
On their slippery debut album, the internet band Superorganism transform from leftbrain bandcamp oddities into international sensations. Led by teenage vocalist Oroi Noguchi, the eight-piece group are a multicultural collective of musicians and designers pulled from across the UK, Japan, New Zealand, Korea, and Australia. Together, they produce shapeshifting DIY pop that splits the difference between Mount Eerie and Katy Perry.
Despite running at a fleet 33 minutes, the production is as finely lacquered as any early Kanye or Daft Punk single. ‘Everybody Wants to be Famous’ layers Noguchi’s multitracked vocals over a cut and paste mix of digitally scrunched guitar, chirruping synths and snapping camera shutters. It’s almost overwhelming, but you develop the impression that Superorganism’s sonic maximalism is precisely how living online sounds: an uncomfortably loud chamber where audio files glitter against each other like shiny gobstoppers rolling in a candy machine.
Noguchi is a rare vocalist who can spin detachment and poignancy in the same deadpan couplet. Listen to ‘Reflections on a Screen’, a dancefloor gem that reaches for the ecstatic melancholy of early Robyn. Here, her barbed lyrics read like a transcript of an early hours Snapchat session, as the singer dryly remarks on the MA student turned cam star’s ‘good girl lingerie’. But there’s gentle poignancy in the song’s cascading chorus: ‘All this stalling, keeps me going/Just recalling, you and me’.
Interconnectivity can distance, yet it can also pull us into an understanding of what it means to long for intimacy. The web is deep, and Superorganism perceive its emotional depths better than almost any other licensed pop group working today. As a complete listening experience, Superorganism is satisfying. As a debut, it is a superlative beginning.
23 COMing home by Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges is an inheritor of 60’s soul, the style of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye lassoed and dragged into the 21st century. Bridges’ first album, Coming Home, clung faithfully to these roots with its classic, soulful sound. With his second album Good Thing, Bridges has strayed towards modernity while keeping his feet firmly planted in the music he loves.
It is still as smooth as ever; like being covered with butter and licked clean inch by inch, but the tell-tale signs of his modern influences are unmistakable, from the spacious claps and atmospheric piano on ‘Forgive You’ to the reverb heavy synths on ‘Lions’. His lyrics have changed too, gaining sincerity by inching away from the fanciful nostalgia of swimming the Mississippi to the more grounded images of slipping a pillow under his girl’s head.
Bridges is not yet straddling the old and new, more dipping his toe into the electronic world of present-day R&B and hip hop. This is what makes Leon Bridges an artist for your eye and Good Thing an album for your ear: it carries the anticipation of an artist finding his balance between his roots and his future.
22 I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma
Psychedelia lives. Not the navel-gazing kind of over-indulgence and incoherence though, à la your perpetually-stoned friend waxing lyrical on Tame Impala. I’m All Ears instead takes the genre into something more ethereal, strange, and yet somehow clear-sighted in its ambition.
Let’s Eat Grandma’s second LP sometimes seems like a sort of twisted fantasia; the tracks arc crash and arc about, stretching on for as long as eleven minutes. Incorporated are elements from all over the musical shop: the one-two ice-bath opener of ‘Whitewater’ and ‘Hot Pink’ clash their jagged beats and pounding synths against such later tracks as the sprawling, prog-y ‘Cool & Collected’.
Throughout it all, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth work their curious, sometimes-discordant and sometimes-harmonious voices, maintaining a thread of lyrical and emotional conviction. Ballad-adjacent ‘Ava’ is a melancholic reflection on depression, while ‘It’s Not Just Me’ sounds an empowering anthem to honest relationships. This album spreads out in so many different directions.
The effect is aided by some excellent production, favouring moody basses, rock janglings, and what seems like a cornucopia of different generic cues that still come back together for the quieter moments. This is managed even within some of the tracks themselves; ‘Donnie Darko’, the grand closing number, effortlessly blends Pink Floyd-like sonic sparsity with the occasional infusion of EDM.
I’m All Ears easily marks itself out as one of the best albums of the year. More than that, it’s certainly one of the most adventurous. Take a trip sometime into the world of psych-pop; linger amongst the synesthetic colourings of dazzled minds. It’s exciting to see what the teenage duo from Norwich do next.
21Bloom by Troye Sivan
It’s debatable whether Troye Sivan’s Bloom would have fitted better in any other year – with an LGBTQ+ music scene never looking more vibrant, Sivan’s highly anticipated release blossomed throughout the year after a series of singles dropped since the beginning of the 2018.
Slick electropop anthem ‘My My My!’ proved the singer was serious about his music career, in an infectiously rhythmic song about love and liberation, succeeded by acoustic and raw ‘The Good Side’, showcasing Sivan’s ability to channel multiple emotions in his music in his open letter to an ex. Dubbed as a “pop anthem about queer desire”, ‘Bloom’ made Sivan sceptics sit up and listen, with its pulsing drum-machine instrumentals a prime example of quality pop in 2018.
Other highlights include a collaboration with Ariana Grande and reflections on a dating app hook-up at the age of seventeen with its eponymous title, on a record which has no doubt been one of solace for fans of the likes of Years & Years and which has also launched Troye Sivan further into the spotlight, and deservedly so. Bloom is, ultimately, a collection which stems from intimacy and vulnerability, yet transcends into one of the finest and proudest pop albums of the year.
20 Lost & Found by Jorja Smith
Jorja Smith has been working hard in the music scene for the past few years, and it is with the release of her debut album Lost and Found that she has made her mark as a strong stand-alone artist, showing herself to be a bold, new talent with a distinct voice and incredibly song writing skills.
Her debut album offers an eclectic mix of sounds, beginning with the titular song ‘Lost and Found’ including a long introduction with a regular rhythmic beat intermingled with jazz in the background before Smith’s voice kicks in, her melodic vocals yet punchy attitude permeating through. This song is quickly followed by ‘Teenage Fantasy’, a personal favourite off the album, where Smith sings alongside the delicate mix of a piano in the background, before the song increases in speed when the chorus kicks in and the background singers can be heard, further emphasising Smith’s beautiful vocals. In addition though, Smith portrays the sheer talent and diversity of her vocal range through the song ‘Lifeboats’, where her freestyle rapping skills are demonstrated.
At an initial glance, this album appears to be a collection of heartbroken love songs, however Smith’s song writing and vocal skills do so much more than this, with the song ‘Blue Lights’ in particular addressing the unjust racial profiling occurring frequently within society. The album leaves you feeling empowered, and Smith’s voice is a beautiful melody to the ears.