The best albums of 2018
There’s a debate going on in my home country Holland at this moment about a yearly pop music chart, the Top 2000 of all songs in the history of pop music. It seems to be dominated by white males, virtually ignoring black en female artists.
I’d like to add a complaint to this justified criticism. Without even having glanced at the list, I’m betting at least 95 percent of the songs on this chart is either American or British. As if no good pop music is produced in other countries, in Spain, Russia, Turkey, Mororcco, Nigeria, China, Korea, Japan.
My personal record collection says otherwise.
I bet my list of ten favorite albums of 2018 is unlike any other list you’ve seen so far. There is only one American album on it, by an artist of colour. The rest is from Japan and Spain. Furthermore, most of the artists in this list are women.
This is not because I decided to exclude men, or white men, it is because I have always wanted to know if there’s anything else besides what is offered to me, what is in front of me, ready to be consumed. I am always looking for something different. This is why I end up with great music by people who are not necessarily white males. Who build on different traditions, are inspired by different music and different gods, who are motivated by other things than the typical white male hobbies.
And so they sound different and I like that. I like white male musicians, I have Bowie and Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and The Doors in my collection. But what I find strange is that people seem to always be looking for the next Bowie, the Next The Doors, a new Queen. For more of the same. If I want The Doors, I put on a record of The Doors, not a band that sounds just like The Doors.
Hope you’ll find my list interesting, and that it’ll expand your horizon. I would like to recommend two albums (actually three) that didn’t make it to my top ten but could have, had I made this list on a different day, in a different mood. These are the Curry Samplers by the wonderful Japanese earthenware/music producer Tanukineiri (there is a Curry and a Coriander sampler), two intriguing compilations of brilliant tracks by different indy artists from Japan, downloadable for absolutely free, and All Nerve, a very satisfying comeback album by the incredible The Breeders.
Undoubtedly tonight, in my bed, I will suddenly remember an album I played all summer or something but completely forgot to mention. If you’re reading this and missing your album that you’re convinced should be up there with all those other great albums, my humble apologies. You’re probably right. Or perhaps I haven’t had the chance yet to hear it.
10: Zombie Chang: ‘Petit Petit Petit‘
Zombie Chang made it onto my list of fave albums of last year and she is here again, because Petit Petit Petit is certainly one of the finest albums I heard this year.
Zombie Chang is hard to define. At first you may find her ditties silly, but listen closely, they’re fresh, recalcitrant and sassy musical statements. A little dadaist, a little punky. Zombie Chang seems intent on irritating you, fucking you up a little with her artful provocations. This is anti-pop music, and yet her songs are irresistably charming and very intricately composed. They are happy protests, this album is a little party. No, a big party. A big, wierd, zany, crazy, silly party.
Listen to it here.
9: Falsettos: ‘Falsettos‘
I have waited a long time for this debut-album of Falsettos, a Japanese rock-chick band I have been fancying for years. Falsettos doesn’t disappoint, it’s full of sultry, somewhat melancholic rock songs with a bite. The band is somewhat comparable with the Breeders but I find them more original, with surprising twists in their songs and pleasant oddities, like a trumpet, or a strangely romantic piano-riff, or some off-beat vocals, or some Gnawa-like chanting. There were moments I was reminded of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.
Listen to it here.
8: Mondo Grosso: ‘Attune/Detune‘
Mondo Grosso is a Japanese musician/DJ/composer (real name Shinichi Osawa) who leaves the singing and rapping to other Japanese pop stars. His tunes are exhilarating, very dancable, sometimes moody and a mix of disco, soul, acid, house en electronica. They’re smooth and atmospheric and sexy, a little nightclubby, a little after-partyisch.
Attune/Detune is a collage of hot, sizzling tunes to be played after a long night of dancing and flirting, enjoying a last drink before you go to bed.
Listen to it here.
7: Wednesday Campanella: ‘Galapagos‘
Wednesday Campanella or Suiyoobi no Campanella or 水曜日のカンパネラ, they’re in my library under those three names and the more famous they become, the greater the variation of those names.
Wednesday Campanella stays recognisable but they always explore new territory, with always the same themes. Always inspired by folk-tales, always playful electronic pop with familiar folky elements, a Chinese violin, percussion that is reminiscent of Okinawan music, et cetera. They’re always a little tongue-in-cheek, playing a little hard-to-get, being a little evasive and off-beat.
I was somewhat puzzled by the co-operation of the Campanellas, earlier this year, with a terrible French band named Moodoïd – I have no great love for French pop-music – but the album they brought out this year is – as is the tradition – greater than the one before. They’re getting better with each album.
Listen to it here here.
6: Cero: ‘Poly Life Multi Soul‘
Definitely the most groovy album in this list. A very compelling jazzy, funky swingfest I just can’t sit still to. Ingeniously composed tracks, throbbing with life and excitement. Complex and overwhelming, yet very smooth and easygoing. Really a fantastic album and may I make a suggestion? This band should be lined up at the next edition of the North Sea Jazz festival.
Listen to it here.
5: Kill my 27: ‘Psychotropic‘ and ‘Hypnotic‘
I’ve been following singer/guitarist Hitomi for quite a while now. I like to run to her music. It’s hard, fast, aggressive and uncomprimising. Hitomi sings like something between an angel and a banshee and her songs are far more intricate than you would perhaps think at first.
I think she’s the last great punk-rocker of our time.
4: Supaman: ‘Illuminatives‘
The musical year started really well on the first January with the new album by Supaman, a rapper from Montana and a child of the Apsáalooke, more widely known as the Crow Nation.
Supaman has more or less the same approach as Native American rapper Frank Waln, whose album The Bridge ended up in my list of fave albums of 2017, in that he mixes modern rap and hiphop with traditional music and powerful recorded speeches to tell a story of identity, oppression, racism and discrimination, but they also convey a message of hope.
Each of them has a very distinct sound, however, with Supaman laying more emphasis on the traditional music and instruments than Waln does. Also traditional dancing in a traditional outfit is an important part of Supaman’s act.
I have one point of criticism. The third track of the album, Nativekeyz Interlude, contains a flaming speech by Louis Farrakhan I was very impressed by the first time I heard it. Only later I learned what a blatant antisemite Farrakhan is. Not in the sense that he, like many critics of the Israelian government, tends to forget the distinction between the Israeli people, its government and Jews living anywhere in the world, but that he actually considers Jews vermin, like the Nazis did.
I can’t listen to that track anymore, now that I know what kind of a man Louis Farrakhan really is. His speech is now a nasty stain on an otherwise brilliant album.
Listen to it here.
3: Hatis Noit: ‘Illogical Dance‘
If you like Gregorian singing, Buddhist Chants and maybe you have heard of Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses and you like Kate Bush, especially her album The Sensual World, with those Bulgarian singers and of course Bjork, then you might like Hatis Noit’s enchanting voice as well.
Hatis Noit is from Hokkaido, the snowy north of Japan. Apparently she went on a pilgrimage to Nepal and took up singing from a female monk there. Her music sounds like spooky fairytale music from the Arctic.
2: Eiko Ishibashi: ‘The Dreams my Bones Dream‘
I once called Eiko Ishibashi a musical Miró. Her latest album reminds me of Chagall: dreamy, romantic, soft and fairytale-like. It’s very devoted music, very solemn, therefore it reminds me of Bach as well (there’s even a beautiful track consisting of only church-organ music). I find it soothing, compelling, atmospheric, hypnotic, angelic. A delicate mix of pop, classic, ambient, jazz and poetry. Truly a stunning album. Download it here.
1: Rosalía: ‘El Mal Querer‘
I told you she was going to be big. Rosalía took the world by storm this year. She brought out a new album, a true work of art, some thought-provoking, dazzlingly eye-pleasing videos and she gave a concert in Madrid that awed people all over the world.
Rosalía is a genius and her music is totally unique, a blend of traditional Spanish music and summer-pop. Her performance a mix of avant-garde theatre and urban dance, her appearance a crossing between a statuette of a catholic saint and a working class alley cat.
She is a goddess and we are truly blessed with an album as gloriously exalting as El Mal Querer.