It’s time for Crack Magazine’s Annual Report, our chance to take stock of the year in music.
Yesterday, we posted our Top 50 albums of 2018. Obviously, any attempt to parse, then grade, an entire year’s worth of albums into a list of just 50 is recipe for hotly contested debate, not to mention some heartbreaking exclusions. So we didn’t. We did 100. Ranked 100-51, these are the albums that caught our attention, that said something intriguing about the year just gone, or just demanded repeated listens on the office stereo. In other words, the records that we just couldn’t live with ourselves if we chose to ignore. Our Honourable Mentions.
Stay tuned for more 2018 roundups, coming soon.
BADBADNOTGOOD keyboardist Matty Tavares credited a “mental breakdown” as the catalyst for this solo album as Matty, though you wouldn’t guess on first listen. Gorgeous psychedelic soft rock that sounds like Tame Impala without the radio-friendly anthems (other than the glistening Clear, which is fit to soundtrack a Michael Cera coming-of-age movie), Déjàvu kept coming back to us this year.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Sex & Food
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Sex & Food came at the perfect time of year. Released early April, the New Zealand band’s fourth studio album sat within that uneasy transitional period where we’re all just about getting over our SAD and desperately longing for some sun. Through lo-fi, disco-tinged bops and more introspective psychedelic numbers, Sex & Food shed some much-needed light on us.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Watch Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s exclusive acoustic performance of Sex & Food here
Working Class Woman
Marie Davidson is a sucker for self-scrutiny on her fourth solo LP, Working Class Woman. At times, Davidson takes self-parody to extremes. So Right suggests a euphoric dancefloor celebration, but it’s rife with tongue-in-cheek affectations (“Sexual/ Conceptual/ Tell me are you/ Conceptual”). Working Class Woman showcases the breadth of Davidson’s poetic imagination and analogue skillset. There’s an urgency to Davidson’s new sound that we haven’t quite heard before. Here’s hoping she goes even deeper next time.
April Clare Welsh
Composer, producer, singer and violinist Brittney Parks firmly steers her cosmic vision on sophomore EP Sink. In an interview, she’s said, “I just feel like an African queen, like I’m ruling the world… I can make any sound I want, any world I want, and no one can steer me another way.” This firm hold of her own power sees her explore her connection with Northeast Africa and West African one-string fiddling, merging sweeping flourishes of violins with organic, environmental sounds and electronic beats. The result? A hypnotic tapestry that’s both minimal and rich, with Parks’ vocals gliding over the production with bold statements that make her presence ring loud and clear: “This is my light, don’t block the sun/ This is my seat, can’t you tell?” 2018 mood.
New York rapper Shayna McHale comes into her own on her third studio album, consolidating her vision and upward trajectory. In interviews, McHale has been vocal about the pressure for black artists to tap into the zeitgeist by linking race to pain and struggle. McHale, however, finds her stance of resistance in simply existing and radiating confidence in spaces where she’s not expected to be. In an interview with Crack Magazine, she said, “I didn’t want to get people to like me off the struggle. I want to be a representation of joy and excellence”. Bold, bravado-filled statements punctuate the sensual, woozy production on JP3. 2018 has been the year of working your flex, and JP3 sees McHale flexin’ all over, with lines like “this pussy so righteous” and “everybody wanna be black, it’s so tragic”. When we met her in a north London studio, she confirmed the overarching theme of her work: “I just stand up against all the fuckery.”
Ross from Friends
With early releases on Lobster Theremin and gigs at Panorama Bar, Ross from Friends is an artist with no problem finding the zeitgeist. But Felix Weatherall’s material, far from being achingly ‘now’, is, in fact, a timeless and otherworldly proposition, and his debut album feels poignant. ‘Emotive’ is a word that’s used a lot about Weatherall’s work, but the gently polished alchemy on Family Portrait is about much more than pushing emotional buttons. Filled with shimmering, dusky melodies that are only ever half in view, this is a powerful debut.
Year of the Snitch
It’s near-impossible to define Death Grips. The Sacramento two-piece, comprised of vocalist MC Ride and drummer/producer Zach Hill, have been putting out some of the most experimental music this side of the millennium. Their latest offering Year of the Snitch continues to push boundaries. Offbeat time signatures fight with industrial electronic productions, while Ride’s scream-shouting sounds like something straight of a basement at a hardcore punk show. Never relenting its head-splitting energy, Year of the Snitch is one to get stuck into.
Rachel Grace Almeida
2018 is the year we all officially embraced Getting In Our Feelings, and we have artists like Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy) to thank for that. Clean, the Nashville singer-songwriter’s studio debut, feels like a comforting hug from a friend. Guitar pop at its finest, Allison delivers her dulcet coos with plainspoken lyrics about love, friendship and everything in between. We’re wearing our sad girl colours proud.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Some Rap Songs
Tan Cressida / Columbia
Recorded shortly after the 2015 album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Some Rap Songs is the sunnier sequel. Earl still approaches subject matters like his reluctant rap star status (“Sometimes I wanna call it off… big dog, finna rip the collar off”), his cannabis dependency (“Three spliffs had my wing tips clipped”) and being held in the grip of depression (“Two years, I’ve been missin’ livin’ life”), but the soundscape is wholesome. Comforting voices are morphed, soulful guitar licks glimmer, piano loops have a warm crackle while gentle strings usher the album’s most tender lyrics on Azucar. Strange and compelling, this is a record worth spending some time with. Earl Sweatshirt has important things to say, and you’ve got to lean in close if you want to hear them.
The Red Notes
On The Red Notes, Jamal Moss pays homage to the jazz giants of Blue Note: Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, and filters their legacy through the house music style of his home city of Chicago. Moss’ “cosmic bebop” has always had a spiritual edge. The Red Notes feels especially vibrant and vital.
A new Frankie Cosmos album can feel like picking up a lost thread of conversation. With Vessel comfort and anxiety track along side by side. Nothing is ever easy in Frankie Cosmos territory; nothing, as she sings on the title track, comes natural. Kline has a keen, quick grip on the back-and-forth of modern uncertainty, swinging high from triumph to low-lit sorrow. It’s why she’s such a comfort to return to, keeping you company in the long nights, laughing with you again in the morning over breakfast.
Black Butter Limited
Octavian became a star after the success of his anthem Party Here, a self-fulfilling prophecy about escaping poverty, and when it came to the highly-anticipated mixtape – initially titled Revenge – he used the opportunity to raise a middle finger to everyone who doubted him. A cohesive batch of beats reflected Octavian’s taste for melodic soundscapes, providing a canvas for him to colour with his raw emotions.
Dies Iræ Xerox
Three years on from the brittle melancholy of Grind, DJ Richard proves he’s lost none of his aptitude for atmosphere. Dies Iræ Xerox dials up the dark wave and leans into sluggish EBM mechanics and thick analogue basslines whilst studiously avoiding schlock (apart from that title – can we talk about that title?). Still, it’s the drifts of inky ambience that make the biggest impact, with beatless tracks like Dissolving World expressing the inescapable sadness that lies at the heart of his very best work.
The Trilogy Tapes
Rezzett breathed new life into distorted, lo-fi club music in 2018 – no mean feat. Known for their hazy, decayed sound, on Rezzett LP, the London duo broadened their gaze, taking tropes from house, dub and jungle and refracting them through a glass darkly. The result is playful and, at times, eerily pretty. For a sound which is redolent of obsolescent technology – of VHS tapes and burned-out equipment – Rezzett LP feels startlingly fresh.
It’s difficult to imagine a voice more suited to the kind of unsettling ambience of the world of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria than Thom Yorke’s. His vocal style is nothing short of supernatural horror itself. Yorke’s falsetto, with its siren-like quality, feels conjured rather than affected, seemingly laden with torment from the process of being dragged from some unearthly depths. These are pieces of music at once as crushing as they are uplifting, perfect accompaniments to their visual partner but capable, too, of transcending it as a work of art, becoming something else entirely.
Born Again in the Voltage
Drone music continued its infiltration into the mainstream this year (need proof? see your nearest prestige TV drama or horror trailer), but look further up the cultural food chain and you’ll find a new wave of composers exploring the outer reaches of beatless music. Caterina Barbieri’s Born Again in the Voltage is a suite of four electro-acoustic compositions created from cello, voice and Buchla 200, her modular synth of choice. Despite the minimal setup, the results are, by turns, meditative and deeply physical with the deliberate and measured shifts between mood felt on an almost cellular level. Transformative listening.
The follow-up to the mixtape that made Galcher Lustwerk, 200% Galcher revamped the formula to include instrumentals as well as those classic Galcher sounds – woozy beats, lazy vocals, and heaps of personality injected into a style often lacking in it. The sound of a summer daydream.
Dean Blunt was in a collaborative mood in 2018. As well as his joint album with Delroy Edwards, Muggy Vol.1 – one of two projects to appear out of nowhere on WeTransfer – appears to be a group project. A compilation credited to various artists, released via World Music Group, the label founded by Blunt and Inga Copeland in 2012, Muggy Vol.1 is typical Blunt – enigmatic, fleeting and full of surprises.
Not All Heroes Wear Capes
Bucking the trend of inflated super-producer albums by delivering a concise, focused record with expertly curated features, the surprise-released Not All Heroes Wear Capes is definitive proof of Metro’s staying power. With gorgeous sampling, a strong variation on tempos and genres and a show-stealing whispered guest verse from 21 Savage – it fittingly left us wanting more.
Shugga Sextape Vol. 1
Shugga Sextape Vol. 1, Ian Isiah’s first project in five years, is the brazenly sex-positive album we needed this year. Clocking in at just under half an hour, the Brooklyn R&B singer takes us on a cosmic exploration of all things horny. Most interestingly, though, Isiah takes Auto-Tune to higher heights. Album centrepiece Bleach Report reaches heavenly peaks with each inverted melody, while Persistent features a high-pitched vocal sample that rewinds with each bass thump. Shugga Sextape Vol. 1 satisfies fans of raunchy slut drop anthems and spiritual slow-burners alike.
Rachel Grace Almeida
We Out Here
This year, London’s jazz scene finally reached the zenith its been slowly building up towards for the past few years. Always bubbling under the surface, We Out Here is a dynamic Gilles Peterson-curated compilation presenting the best sounds the city has to offer. Featuring tracks by the likes of rising jazz gatekeepers Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective and Moses Boyd, We Out Here captures the vibrancy and unrelenting talent of London’s burgeoning jazz community.
Rachel Grace Almeida
One of the years biggest breakout stars, Rico Nasty’s Nasty is an essential introduction to rap’s most vital new voice. Trampolining between Minaj-style lyrical acrobatics and downtempo self-reflection, the 21-year-old demonstrates an agility that your favourite rapper took a lifetime to master. Blending sugary sweetness with authentic hardness – Nasty is proving herself as the real deal. As she spits on Won’t Change, “People fake it ’till they make it, always dressed up in the latest/ You can never catch me slippin’, ’cause I’m never fuckin’ playin’.”
The Masked One
With his shimmering metallic mask, LD has always stood out among his fellow drillers in Brixton group 67. And it’s not just the visual aesthetic that’s made LD one of the most well-known MCs in the scene. The Masked One is UK drill in high-definition. Dramatic strings and choir vocals soar as LD delivers raw lyricism with rage and precision. The tone shifts as LD shares tales of his love life on track Part 1 (So Fly) and Part 2 (Baddest), proving the rapper’s versatility, while Dizzee Rascal rises to the occasion for a guest verse on Stepped In, eager to boost his relevance to UK rap’s new generation. While a lot of UK rap acts struggle to sustain the hype generated by YouTube hits, The Masked One indicates that LD could be around for many years to come.
International Anthem Recording Co
To describe a style that sits somewhere between jazz and live hip-hop, drummer/producer Makaya McCraven refers to his sound as “organic beat music”. This double album was recorded at intimate live sessions across Chicago, New York, LA and London, with McCraven assembling a team of adventurously-minded jazz musicians for each stop. A loose, laid-back project which glows with beauty from start to finish.
Car Seat Headrest
The original Twin Fantasy album made Will Toledo a Bandcamp sensation back in 2011. This re-recorded version blows off the dust to capture Car Seat Headrest at its best – the minute details, the moments of dark comedy and of course some hearty sing-a-longs to latch your feels to. Detailing the arc of an intense romantic relationship, Toledo’s wry observations capture the mood of an infatuation: ultimately too messy to be truly satisfying, but exhilarating nonetheless.
Jeremih & Ty Dolla Sign
As two innovators of R&B’s contemporary form, there is something refreshingly traditional about Jeremih and Ty Dolla’s joint LP. Both thematically and sonically, this feels closer to a classic R&B album than anything either artist have put out before. Centred fairly firmly around a quest to flick the lights off, both artists channel the best in golden age R&B (even repurposing the bass-line from Mary Jane Girls’ All Night Long on the opening track). Equal parts cringe-inducing and intoxicating, it’s one of the most natural and addictive joint albums of the last few years.
While it might not be the irresistible, cohesive suite that Malibu was, Anderson .Paak’s third studio LP Oxnard is a compelling voyage through the artist’s nostalgic curiosity. He paints a vivid and honest portrait of his hometown spanning tension, hedonism, escape and self-discovery all with gorgeous G-funk synths and matchless Cali cool.
Peel Dream Magazine
Modern Meta Physic
Peel Dream Magazine is the one-man project of multi-instrumentalist John Stevens. With the album arriving just after summer had wound down, Stevens’ debut LP provided the perfect entry point into the gentler, autumnal season with its fuzzy psychedelia coalescing with gauzy indie pop and drifting vocals. As implied by the title, the LP is a modern take on a school of thought, with Stevens’ 2018 vision reimagining guitar acts from the 90s that nostalgically channeled the likes of The Velvet Underground in the 60s. A comforting patchwork of influences, but still kept fresh and new, made this release one of the most satisfyingly cathartic indie listens this year.
You might have once wretched at the thought of liking country music, but we’re living in a post-Golden Hour world now, partner. Texas singer and songwriter Kacey Musgraves sent ripples through 2018 with the critically-acclaimed Golden Hour, an album picking the best from traditional country and pop and merging it into one sound that’s equal parts tender, playful and downright comforting.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Pavel Milyakov’s string of EBM-influenced releases have shown him to be a master of an intentionally ugly craft. The Moscow producer’s bare-bones take on techno is a defiantly unpleasant one that has the power to turn club into apocalypse. Cherskogo Drive retains that sense of gnarliness while adding an unexpectedly delightful level of sheen to create a solid contender for the best home-suitable, club-ready LP of the year.
There was a period when Stefan Kozella was one of European dance music’s most intriguing and inconsistent producers. Then came Amygdala, his 2013 LP on his own Pampa imprint. The record was a lush and sublimely sensate listening experience, packed with moments of genius that coalesced into a towering totality. Almost impossibly, Knock Knock rivals its predecessor. Kozella’s approach remains as scattershot as ever; luminescent sadlad filter-house and broken-hearted disco sit alongside sunrise-ready dewy-eyed anthems in the making. But there’s a cohesion at play that means Knock Knock feels like the best DJ mixes. These are songs that talk to one another, poly-vocal constructions that prioritise pure pleasure.
Break World Records
Amerindian producer Elysia Crampton returned in 2018 with another set of dense sound collages. This time round, Crampton drew even more on the rhythmic traditions of her Andean heritage. Though complex, they are made for dancing, and have an almost celebratory feel. This creates a particularly brilliant contrast when paired with Crampton’s metal influences, which feature throughout. It’s a sharp addition to an album which, considering it’s under 20 minutes long, makes a very full statement – one which cements Crampton’s status as an exciting and wholly unique force.
Studio Barnhus Volym 1
For a label with 60 releases to its name, it’s surprising that this is the first full-length compilation Studio Barnhus has released, especially given its propensity for championing new and emerging artists from its home city of Stockholm. Each of the label’s three heads appear, with Pedrodollar’s Reality World in particular capturing the off-kilter jubilance of the collection at large. DJ Koze’s Hawaiian Souldier is a typically self-referential outing and album highlight from a man enjoying a purple patch. Those who pick this up will add to their collection a varied encapsulation of the label’s quirky, exuberant aesthetic.
Novelist is a relentless innovator. The 21-year-old’s debut album Novelist Guy is an independent, self-produced record that charts his journey to this point. Although touted as the first potential grime star of his generation back in 2015, Novelist never really made the jump to the mainstream, nor did he give the impression he ever really wanted to. The album rattles with fiery unpredictability. The beats are rough and ragged, moving between the playful glitches and grime thrill. Novelist Guy embodies the integrity that makes Novelist such a captivating young artist.
The Jericho Records
You have to applaud the conceptual vision of Ancient Methods (aka Michael Wollenhaupt). His first full-length album, The Jericho Records, sonically portrays the biblical battle of Jericho. Although there’s a level of ambiguity as to what is being explored here, Wollenhaupt’s versatility across the album is impressive. The clank of machinery within industrial techno is replaced with the banging of marching drums, for example, and it’s these subtle changes that give the concept weight without betraying the audience with cheesy Middle Eastern BC pastiche. Wollenhaupt’s mastery of production extends beyond noise, with 80s German proto-techno gem Walking on a Cursed Soil being a real standout on this inspired and ambitious record.
Queen of Golden Dogs
Seb Gainsborough – who goes by Vessel – is no stranger to operating far outside the traditional realms of genre. Queen of Golden Dogs is as lofty and intense as the gnomic title and surrealist painting on the cover might suggest, and the songs are dedicated to the women – authors, artists, lovers – who inspired them. There are no easy reference points on Queen of Golden Dogs. Often, like on first single Argo, beats do not seem to be constructed from anything so mundane as kick drums, cymbals and snares, rather the scuttling clatter of ragged claws that keeps time with a torrential squall of synth lines. This is an exhilarating and unstable piece of art where beauty and affection exist right next to upheaval and metamorphosis, just like life.
Gwyn Thomas de Chroustchoff
It’s been a long year for Ariana Grande. At 25, the singer has long graduated her debut as a Nickelodeon teen sweetheart-turned-pop star, and her third album Sweetener finds the effusive chanteuse at her most adventurous. Grande’s voice is forever without fault, navigating powerful, stratospheric highs and airy runs effortlessly. The album is laced with references to the aftermath of the tragedy, but none are more powerful than the album’s stellar centerpiece breathin. “Time goes by and I can’t control my mind,” she sings before launching into a moving refrain: “Just keep breathin’, and breathin’, and breathin’ and breathin’”.
Grid of Points
The latest release from Grouper, aka Liz Harris, features the same stripped back instrumentation heard on 2014’s Ruins: piano, voice and occasional field recordings. Grid of Points, though, is a very different record. The heavy, waterlogged pianos have been swapped for brighter ones that gently ring with life. Absence and understatement have always been favourite tools of Harris’, and in Grid of Points she deploys them to full effect. A sense of loss pervades throughout, but somehow, the album is also a strangely feel-good release – one that resonates with quiet, compelling confidence.
Rappers don’t come raunchier than CupcakKe. Since going viral in 2015 with early tracks Vagina and Deepthroat, the 20-year-old Chicago native has been honing her skills across a slew of mixtapes and albums. Now, CupcakKe has delivered her third album Ephorize, which once again amps up her X-rated blueprint. But CupcakKe’s lyrics have always been explicit. What makes Ephorize a step up is her evident confidence and ability to effortlessly ride any beat, flexing like an established pro. Not only is it guaranteed to keep her fan base happy, Ephorize is an example of an artist in her prime and a brilliantly filthy riposte to an increasingly buttoned-up world.
Let's Eat Grandma
I'm All Ears
Let’s Eat Grandma’s 2016 debut I, Gemini deployed recorders and childish half-raps in equal measure to paint their inscrutable and eerie world. On their second album, uncanny Norwich teens Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth begin to turn their introspection outwards. A grandiose prog journey with oblique lyrics and a faded bassline that unfurls into an 80s rave montage, it captures the euphoria of a band growing comfortable with its own strangeness: a sprinkling of perfect pop glitter, mixed with muddy pond water.
Rough Trade Records
Over the course of this decade, the consistently sharp New York-based band Parquet Courts have made an impression on the consciousness of a generation. With Wide Awake!, their seventh LP, they make their mark indelible. Thematically, the band reproach modernism and the penchant for individualism and nihilism that comes with it, but this time guitarist and principle singer Andrew Savage seems much more comfortable with his anger. Musically, Wide Awake! is a departure too – partly because the band recruited Danger Mouse as producer, whose influence can be felt in added sheen. Their angriest work then, their most polished, and, quite possibly, their best.
Young Echo Sound
The 11-strong Bristol collective confidently mash up hip-hop, noise and dub on their emotive second album. Over 24 tracks, there are no qualms about delicate poetry sharing space with wall-shaking distortion – you just need to throw yourself into their unpredictable world. This is undoubtedly a big album, from a whole gang of people expressing a range of emotion. With such a multitude of talents smudging together, it’s bewildering to try and unpick the parts, but in this way Young Echo reveal the power of solidarity and collectivism. They express, through multiplicity, some of the contradictions of love and fear, with a pronounced streak of tension and subversion that could be said to define Bristol’s music culture, or human nature itself.
Gwyn Thomas de Chroustchoff
With 2016’s Spaghetto EP, GAIKA claimed his position as the Dark Wizard of dancehall. If Spaghetto saw GAIKA ascend as rightful heir to power, Basic Volume sees the Brixton-born artist asserting his dominance and establishing a dynasty. There is a thickness to Basic Volume. A humidity created from the swirling, storm-like ambience of its soundscapes and the haze of its ever-present Auto-Tune. Perhaps most notable, though, is what GAIKA has achieved with his collaborators. SOPHIE-produced Immigrant Sons is the album’s most daring point – bringing together the seemingly disparate and distinct sounds of PC Music and dancehall to create something staggeringly contemporary. Like the album itself, it’s unafraid, not only to defy convention but also to turn its hand to rewriting it for those who would dare to follow suit.
Lotic’s first LP sees the Houston-born producer – who broke through in 2015 as a resident of the wild and experimental Berlin party Janus – lend their futuristic vision a heavy injection of hometown influences, including syrup-thick hip-hop and Texas marching bands. Power also features tracks where, for the first time, we hear Lotic’s voice. This creates welcomed moments of vulnerability and defiance. Hunter’s whispered mantra – “acting real feminine/ make ‘em vomit” – speaks of the fragility of power, and the ease with which those who wield it are made upset. Perhaps Power’s greatest quality is that while it’s no less experimental than previous EPs, Lotic’s decision to add their own vocals peels open a sensitive core inside their creations – one which you might not have spotted previously. And in vulnerability, there is power.
Secretly Canadian / Tri-Angle
Described by Björk as “one of the most emotionally generous singers”, few artists in contemporary music are as special as serpentwithfeet. For soil, serpentwithfeet creates a baroque sound palette to match his intricate tales of love and loss. serpentwithfeet is indeed blessed with a staggering voice and a flair for writing intensely personal yet universal songs, overloaded with drama thanks to a penchant for occult imagery and the traditions of church music. There a few tracks here which feel like obvious singles, but with soil, serpentwithfeet creates a completely realised world, and it’s stunning.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way here: nothing on Cocoon Crush is as big, bolshy or brain-jiggeringly massive as Objekt’s 2017 track Theme from Q. With his first full-length release since 2014’s Flatland, Objekt – real name TJ Hertz – scuttles between weather-worn ambience (Nervous Silk), gallery-space crackle (Another Knot) and the odd lump of intergalactic trip-hop (Deadlock) in true PAN fashion. The result is an album that seems determined to burrow deep under the listener’s skin. More of a comedown companion than a club classic, Cocoon Crush this is an album to be savoured in a granular level, a mosaic to be poured over time and again.
As he remains under the Mixpak banner it’s clear Popcaan – once a protege of Vybz Kartel – is enjoying the fruits that come with being dancehall’s poster boy on Forever. Here, Popcaan mirrors his effortless bravado with sensitivity. The chest-inflating Superstar sees Popcaan proudly boast of his stature in pop’s upper echelons, but on romance riddims like Mi Luv Yuh and Through the Storm he delivers arms-out-wide proclamations of love. It’s not all heat – at times, the record fails to justify the hefty runtime and its lyrics sometimes fall hollow. But for most of the album, the sweet signature sound of Dre Skull’s production shines brightly, and Forever is an album that sees Popcaan gaze beyond his own hype.
Cat Power’s tenth album maintains Chan Marshall’s status as a stateswoman of great American songwriting. Her first record in six years, Wanderer speaks of pulling closer and stretching apart, returning only to leave again. Marshall’s breath punctuates sparse ballads, driven by rolling piano, expansive guitar and a lyrical map of riddles and wisdoms. Electronically distorted vocals inject an alien strangeness into Marshall’s folk, and Lana Del Rey’s cameo on Woman adds understated support to a song that doubles as a mission statement. But it is on the tender, piano-based version of Rihanna’s iconic hit Stay that Marshall’s return is most triumphant and contemporary, reasserting her talent as an astute listener as well as an inimitable voice.
El Mal Querer
Rosalía is Spain’s latest viral star – a DIY-minded flamenco revivalist with an impressive online following and an upcoming role in Pedro Almodóvar’s new film, Dolor Y Gloria. For her album, El Mal Querer (which loosely translates as “loving badly” in English), the Catalan singer breathed new life into a centuries-old artform, daubing the mournful wails and urgent palmas (handclapping) of flamenco with a layer of early-00s chart-pop gloss.
April Clare Welsh
Everything is Love
Parkwood / Sony / Roc Nation
Everything is Love, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s first collaborative album, is the logical next step in a partnership that transcends the dichotomy between their public personas and private lives. It would be enough for the Carters to make their point with sly references and double entendre, but what makes Everything is Love so impactful is that it’s musically on par with anything else either artist has released in their careers. Here, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are on top form, firing on all cylinders. Every track on the album serves to strengthen their self-made mythology. Whether the record is meant to open a new chapter in the Carters’ shared oeuvre, or simply exist as a standalone creative effort, it’s an astonishing expression of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s joint identity as both African American icons and complex married couple, and could only work if both parties had already climbed to the very top of their respective games.