The RNZ Music crew (Kirsten Johnstone, Tony Stamp, Nick Bollinger, Alex Behan, and Yadana Saw) make their music picks from 2018's crop of international releases and give their opinions on the definitive trends from this year.
Janelle Monáe - 'Make me Feel'
Janelle Monáe is a genre-busting talent whose artistic vision seems to encompass the whole history of African-American music. In ‘Make Me Feel’, the first single from this year’s Dirty Computer album, she pays clear homage to her mentor Prince. It’s the funkiest thing she – or for that matter, just about anyone – has done since the brilliant ‘Tightrope’ at the beginning of the decade.
Lizzo - 'Boys'
This isn’t my favourite Lizzo song of 2018, that’s Bye Bitch, but Bye Bitch didn’t seem like an appropriate song for the radio audience. Lizzo is quite frankly my role model for 2018. She inspires me. Musically on point. Lyrically devastating. Thematically powerful and important. Get you some lizzo in your life. You’ll be a better person for it.
U.S. Girls - 'Incidental Boogie'
Meg Remy made her first studio album as U.S. Girls with the help of over twenty musicians, concocting an inviting mix of sixties-inflected pop and subversion (courtesy of Remy’s lyrical cynicism). On ‘Incidental Boogie’ she takes on the persona of a victim of domestic abuse, the words a bitter counterpoint to the music’s sweet swagger
The Internet - 'Roll (Burbank Funk)'
The Internet are an interesting collective made up of Syd tha Kid, Matt Martians, Christopher Smith, Steve Lacy and Patrick Page.
The band's members are in high demand as artists in their own right. Several of them have released solo records and worked on other non-Internet collaborations. Steve Lacy is the wunderkind producer whoworked on Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer prize winning DAMN. and my other 2018 fave Ravyn Lenae's EP Crush.
Earlier this year I asked them whether all these extracurricular activities made it difficult to focus and the answer was a unanimous 'no'.
The group's 2018 album Hive Mind is proof that these neo-soul, groove merchants have furthered honed their bleached out, laidback Californian vibes by seemingly being even more chilled out about their music making process.
On 'Roll (Burbank Funk)' you’ll hear Steve Lacy and Syd the Kid sharing vocal duties and blissing you out on one of the best basslines of 2018. Because 2018 is all about the bass.
Parquet Courts - 'Wide Awake'
New York punk quartet Parquet Courts teamed up with super-producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) for this record, who sanded off some of the abrasive edges of their sound.
There’s all the safety of Burton’s retro 60s production, and lots of reference points here: The Clash, Elvis Costello, Studio One reggae, Funkadelic, Devo, Talking Heads and Wire, but I think it’s that familiar canvas that allows singer Andrew Savage’s political missives to be heard loud and clear and in a more mainstream space.
Khruangbin - 'Maria También'
This Texan trio take their initial inspiration from obscure psychedelic rock made in South East Asia in the sixties, but when it meets south-of-the-border sounds from somewhere closer to their native Houston the result is something different again. Largely instrumental and often swathed in reverbs, I’m reminded of Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac.
Idles - 'Danny Nedelko'
An impassioned blast of positivity from British punks Idles, cheerfully brandishing a middle finger at the recent rise in anti-immigration rhetoric. Danny Nedelko himself is an immigrant from the Ukraine, a friend of the band, and the inspiration for this joyous, fist-pumping affair that also smuggles in references to Star Wars and Pavement. It turns out that in 2018 three-plus minutes of raucousness culminating in a rallying cry of “unity” was exactly what I needed to hear.
The Good, The Bad and The Queen - 'Nineteen Seventeen'
From the bottom of the world, Brexit seems like a tragi-comedy, a delicious slice of karmic comeuppance for the world’s most hefty empire of centuries past.
The cynic in me says this is great for art - last year we were raving about Sleaford Mods’ searing musical observations. But I'm sure it really sucks to live in the thick of it.
And that is definitely the take away from this album Merrie Land, the new album from Damon Albarn-led The Good The Bad and The Queen.
The membership is an all-star lineup. There’s the versatile and legendary Tony Allen who was Fela Kuti’s drummer and artist in his own right. Clash bassist Paul Simonon and Verve guitarist Simon Tong.
I love this record for the fairground-Wurlitzer flourishes - like some creepy coastal English holiday camp; the orchestral motifs from our favourite Beatles records; as well as the back catalogue of killer albums the band’s members have previously made. All these parts coalesce into its own coherent sound, perhaps thanks to production maestro Tony Visconti, who was David Bowie’s longtime collaborator.
There’s the line in 'Nineteen Seventeen' - “if you love me let me go” - that captures all the characters who may hold this lament; the broken-hearted middle-aged man, a young soldier in the Great War, or even a disaffected Euroskeptic leave voter. But really, could it just be about the Balfour Declaration?
Who would have ever imagined that the frontman of Blur, who made pointed observations of his compatriots in the Cool Britannia era is now lamenting the “omnishambles" that is Brexit.
Julia Holter - 'Words I Heard'
Holter’s fifth album Aviary really lives up to that name - there are songs that are as graceful as swans, as colourful as macaws, as polyphonic as a tui, as obnoxious as a gang of kookaburras at 5am and they have more shiny borrowed trinkets than a magpie’s nest.
Julia Holter is an L.A. based chamber pop artist who just completed her Masters in composition and I wouldn’t be surprised if this album was her thesis. You almost need cliff notes for the album. It’s so densely layered and uses all sorts of composition techniques, taking cues from John Cage, Medieval troubadour music, and inspiration from heavy works of literature and the current political climate in the US.
But there are also familiar sounds taken from pop - everyone from Bjork to The Beatles and Velvet Underground.
It’s 90 minutes long, and you can’t chew off that amount of the record in one sitting, but every song is a satisfying meal in itself. My gateway song was ‘Words I Heard’ which very much filled the space Joanna Newsom usually occupies in my mind. Particularly, the string arrangements on this are amazing and light as air, and I love the way she rolls the fragments of lyrics around in her mouth.
Lucy Dacus - 'Night Shift'
It was my first favourite song of the year and it’s still right at the top twelve months later. Lucy Dacus delivers the consummate breakup song as though it’s a three-act play. The first two minutes is anger and grief, reluctant forgiveness begins at two minutes and leads to the triumphant third act of fierce and final absolution complimented with full distortion pedal. The whole album is great and i love her.
Here's our super duper playlist. Enjoy!