3. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs.
“My cushion was a bosom on bad days,
There’s not a black woman I can’t thank.”
Having spent most of 2018 listening to Earl’s angriest and most abrasive tracks, I seen his angst as immortal. But then came ‘Some Rap Songs’, and during first listen I realised the foundation of this record wasn’t gonna be frustration, but instead gratitude.
Despite having had no idea of who Keorapetse Kgositsile (his father), Cheryl Harris (his mother) or Hugh Masekela (his uncle) were prior to this album, it amazed me how Earl’s tributes to them could still evoke so many emotions within me. On ‘Playing Possum’, audio of an acceptance speech from his mother combined with snippets of his father reciting his poem ‘Anguish Longer Than Sorrow’ creates a posthumous dialogue between the two, even though Earl had the idea for the track before his father’s death. Hearing this was a seriously surreal experience, kind of similar to listening to David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ for the first time.
“To my son Thebe, cultural worker and student of life. Whose growth and insights inspire me, a thousand kisses.” – Cheryl Harris.
Throughout this record, Earl details some of his darkest inner demons in a constant stream of conscious flow. “Spent most of my life depressed, only thing on my mind was death, didn’t know if my time was next” he raps on ‘Nowhere2go’, avoiding all subtlety when it comes to this topic. As most of the messages on this album are less subliminal than his previous two records, instead of admiring clever bars, it’s his straightforward but nonetheless thoughtful insights that stand out to me the most, such as “Mama said she used to see my father in me, said I was not offended.”
A YouTube video by Bandstand (linked below) detailing Earl’s use of samples made me appreciate the beats on Some Rap Songs even more. Using a sample of The Ghostwriters’ gorgeous piano arrangement ‘Rococo Rondo’ to craft the piercing and unnatural sounding ‘The Mint’ is a stroke of genius. Though it sounds foreign, this track still has a strong spine to it, as some of the standout instrumentals on this album don’t even have recognisable drum beats. The hazy, hungover and uneasy ‘Peanut’ creates an atmosphere that hauntingly compliments the themes of mental struggle Earl raps about. King Krule’s ‘A Slide In (New Drugs)’ is the only other song that comes to mind when I think of this kind of soundscape being done so well.
The album closes with ‘Riot!’, a tribute to his late uncle Hugh Masekela who was a founding father of South African jazz. Earl chops up Hugh’s song of the same name and leaves it in a stuttering but stunning state. The song is completely instrumental, meaning the last words on the album are “My uncle Hugh” (heard at the end of Peanut).
But the irony of ‘Some Rap Songs’ is the fact that these instrumentals do not seem like songs at all. They seem more like little snippets of the atmosphere and the environments that have shaped Earl into the person he is today. And listening to that is an incredibly voyeuristic but meaningful experience.
With all that being said, this album really made me worry about Earl’s well-being. I hope the release of ‘Some Rap Songs’ can be a release for Earl himself, a weight off his shoulders. In 2018, the year Earl has described as “the toughest one” yet, Earl’s seen the passing of both his father and his uncle, while also having to deal with many more struggles that we don’t know about. I hope this album has marked this stage of his life as over.
Every Sample from Some Rap Songs: https://youtu.be/RrrYQ3hQ-Ig
2. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage.
“So much blood on my hands and there’s not much left to destroy.”
Nick Allbrook’s “just wanna shit all over myself when I die” spoken word passage didn’t quite get top lyric I’m afraid. There’s probably even better lyrics hidden in the record here somewhere but I sadly cannot understand the French and Swedish passages.
Well here it is, the most underrated album of the year. I cannot believe how little this record featured on 2018 Album of the Year lists. Of the reviews I did read, it seemed like the majority of them talked about either Kevin Parker or Melody’s near-fatal accident more than the actual record itself. Well, that’ll be my first and last mention of them both on this list, because ‘Bon Voyage’ is brimming with so many ideas that I need all the space I can get to write about the creativity on display here.
It’s pretty hard to believe this album is 33 minutes long. On one hand, there is so many transitions, subtleties and different genres weaved and blended into the tracks that it feels like it has to be longer. There’s enough material here for ‘Bon Voyage’ to be well over 33 minutes if Melody wanted it to be. However, it’s also because of this fast-paced flow that there is not one dull moment here, meaning this album could also feel like the quickest 33 minutes of your life.
‘Bon Voyage’ opens with pure psychedelic bliss on the track ‘Cross My Heart’, with a 12 string guitar and it’s accompaniment being played in reverse. So far, this track wouldn’t sound completely out of place on her debut. Emphasis on “so far”. She makes it pretty obvious, pretty quickly that this album is gonna be as unpredictable as one from The Avalanches. It abruptly breaks down into a bizarre beatbox/flute solo showdown, followed by a passage of heavy guitar riffs that then escorts us to the outro of the track, where we’re left with just the same 12 string acoustic guitar that started us off. It is complex and clever song structures like this that make the album actually feel like a voyage. And a “Bon” one at that too. (That probably made no sense whatsoever… yikes)
As this voyage continues, we arrive at ‘Desert Horse’, a track that’s as desolate and sparse as its title (well, for most of the track anyway). Melody gives the most haunting, and in my opinion, the best vocal performance I’ve ever heard from her. At the midway point, all instrumentation breaks down and we’re left with silence. The only thing we can hear is Melody taking an important breath of fresh air (considering the last track we listened to was about her difficulty breathing). This calm may just be the eye of the storm though, as it’s interrupted by an intruding guitar drone, a man screaming something in Swedish and an unnaturally high pitched shriek in the background. Unpredictable instrumentation and unsettling panned vocals close the track out.
Then comes what could very well be my song of the the year, ‘Quand Les Larmes D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige’. I’m a sucker for those extended drum fills that are being played for like 6 out of the 7 minutes of this track. I was the least surprised man on the planet when I found out it was the drummer from the prog-rock band Dungen (Johan Holmegard) who had performed this track. I love the way that even in this song’s most chaotic sections, while surrounded by an overwhelming atmosphere of guitars and constant crash cymbals, Melody is still just quietly whispering “angels aching” in your ear throughout the track.
The album’s closer ‘Shirim’ starts off with this cool loop of middle eastern music before being followed by this unusual distorted beat. I kinda wish this little intro lasted longer/developed more as it’s quickly replaced by synth chords and a simple snare drum beat. This is definitely the catchiest song on the record. While it’s not as creative as the other tracks here, it’s made up for in really strong production.
Which leads me to the controversial opinion: I think the production on this album is better than her debut. It features more of what I’d consider the spirit of psychedelia: experimentation. Through instrumentation alone, there’s simply more emotions evoked within me on this album than there was with her 2012 release.
Melody’s recently stated in an interview with Pitchfork that “There is always music inside of me. Maybe I’ll let it [stay] in there for a while.” as she pursues other interests in life. I can’t fault her, as the 4 years it took to release this album were 4 years of seriously intense labour. When she eventually does come back with a follow up, I’m confident she’ll have a reserve of creativity from her endeavours in other walks of life
1. IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance.
“The mask of masculinity, is a mask,
A mask that’s wearing me.”
Do I have to spell it out for you? Well, I suppose I don’t have to, IDLES kind of do that for me. This album is “G-R-E-A-T”. I’m not sure if an album has ever changed my perspective on life and the attitude I have towards myself as much as this one right here.
When this album first came out, lyrics like “He’s made of love, he’s made of you, he’s made of me, unity!”, “Don’t you feel like crying? Come on, cry to me.” and “I love myself and I want to try” made me cringe. Even the word “cringe” is a massive cop-out. These lyrics made me uncomfortable. I could not relate to these lyrics one bit, and instead gravitated towards songs like ‘Never Fight a Man with a Perm’ or ‘Gram Rock’, which were grounded in hilarious one-liners. An example being:
“You look like a walking thyroid
You’re not a man you’re a gland
You’re one big neck with sausage hands”
Eventually, I realised I was part of the problem of toxic masculinity and felt the same loneliness that lyricist Joe Talbot had been feeling for most of his life. In an interview with ITV, he describes the male facade of invulnerability as a “severe dislocation within society” which has led to suicide being the highest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. This realisation was liberation.
That’s where the genius of IDLES truly lies. The violence and anger of their music is what will initially appeal to the listener, but a little seed of tolerance and humanity will be planted in the process. Eventually, it grows to the point where compassion is almost all you can hear in their music. These guys are so furiously positive! It’s such a bizarre paradox. For IDLES to shout “this is why you never see your father cry” to their angsty predominately-male punk audience, we know IDLES are not preaching to the choir. They are singing to the people (myself included) that desperately need to hear their message, in a similar vein to Fugazi singing the anti-rape track ‘Suggestion’ to a room full of men as opposed to a room full of women. This is what gives me the sense that what IDLES are doing right now is truly important.
But you don’t become someone’s album of the year through just a lyrical theme. Every member’s contribution to ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ is flawless. I’ve already said plenty about Joe’s lyrics, but his performance is so consistently powerful. The violence of his voice in ‘Never Fight a Man with a Perm’, the chaos of ‘Rottweiler’, and the anguish of ‘June’ is what brings the tracks to life. Then there’s Jon Beavis’ drumming on tracks like ‘Colossus’ or ‘Samaritans’ and all I can think is “this is how drums should sound”. Every snare hit sounds like a fucking gun shot. Dev’s bass is the spine of the album, keeping everything grounded while also giving the guitarists freedom. Having said that, when I think of ‘Danny Nedelko’ (probably the catchiest track on the record), it’s not Lee Kiernan’s memorable guitar riff that I think of first, it’s actually Dev’s bass line. Lee really does step it up on this album in terms of catchy riffs though, turning tracks like ‘Danny Nedelko’ and ‘I’m Scum’ into catchy Song of the Year contenders. And how could I forgot “The Irish Adonis”, Mark Bowen. His dancing alone is enough to warrant his place in the band, nevermind his guitar playing. He creates some of the harshest noises on the record and shows off true chemistry with Kiernan, complementing each other on “Joy” on the parts where they used to deliberately clash on their previous record ‘Brutalism’.
After spewing out a big long list of compliments towards IDLES and ‘Joy as an Act of Resistence’, I feel like I have to end this list with the biggest compliment I can give to this record, and maybe the biggest compliment I could give to any record. This album is brave.
(Also cannot wait to see these guys in The Iveagh Gardens in July)
Other Album of the Year Contenders:
4. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
“Heading to the promised land, ruled by the masculine, tied to the country but we’re all from the motherland.”
5. Death Grips – Year of the Snitch
“Hanging out with Linda, I heard she’s in fucking custody”
6. Pusha T – DAYTONA
“Blew through thousands, we made millions, cocaine soldiers, once civilians”
7. Kali Uchis – Isolation
“My mama’s never on coke, this isn’t my way to cope, washin’ my mind out with soap”
8. Against All Logic – 2012-2017
“Boots and kats and boots and kats and boots and kats” (It’s a house record so I’m just gonna go with that as favourite lyric)
9. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
“Don’t wanna take my country back mate, I wanna take my country forward”
10. Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love
“Have you looked outside? I’m scared for my life, they don’t trust us”
Spotify Playlist of my 10 Favourite Songs of 2018: