For each of the last four days of 2018, Max is looking at the best music of 2018 through the prism of a different emotional state, placing them within a narrative to acknowledge the necessarily emotional and personal frames through which we interact with music. From anger and restlessness to depression, and finally arriving at a state of peace, we hope you’ll enjoy his exploration of the most electrically barbed and beautifully poignant songs of the past year. Read Part 1, Part 3, Part 4.
TW: manic thoughts, suicide.
It’s a better day today, I’m over the stupid doctor. I don’t mean much to him, and maybe that can be fine. I’m more disappointed in myself for getting so tied up in anger – fuck, I wanted someone to get hurt.
But I must distract myself – there’s better, more important things to be done. I’ll write that letter, yes – no, I should do that reading, but it will take so long; the room needs a tidy, that email needs an answer, and I never did call my Mum. Fuck! My body is vibrating with the possibilities, buzzing menacingly with their inability to become material. My leg leaps twice a second, unless I get up and pace. I can’t move beyond the room though, I sit down again. I need to be outside of all this, where everything doesn’t take so long.
I’ve used the word “restlessness” here while holding in mind a certain mental state I’m not sure I’m capable of conveying: Bipolar mania. Hopefully I can do a little to describe it all the same. It comes like a train when you’re standing too close to the track; the whoosh keeps on going for days. Like a rollercoaster, it’s often fun, but if you realise halfway through that it’s going too fast for you, there’s no way out and you’ll continue to be dragged along, until you finally collapse, exhausted and often depressed.
It’s this state of way too much – a relatable one for people who don’t experience mania? – which I associate with these songs. Whether massively and addictively fun or uncomfortable spiralling out of grasp, they all share an energy – or at least I perceive them to – which never ceases to pull my guts in all directions at once. I hope you’ll enjoy them.
Kero Kero Bonito returned this year with Time ‘n’ Place, and the decay of “Only Acting” from groovy guitar pop into chaos – the first hints of the song falling apart after the chorus, the disorienting stutters at 3 minutes in, the onslaught of noise that brings it to a tense close – drags us into a frenetic state of mind.
Anderson .Paak’s single “Bubblin”, with its squealing strings and beat that bears down on you to create a vision of excess reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street, keeps us tense, and Confidence Man’s “Boyfriend (Repeat)” will have you dancing endlessly even as synths leap around too fast for you to keep track – a feeling that permeates the rest of their album, Confident Music for Confident People. HMLTD, who are never content for a single song to keep to one genre, rhythm or mood, released the excellent Hate Music Last Time Delete, and on “Proxy Love” combine drum flourishes with a poppy hook over a dance beat, feeling like Soft Cell by way of anime stings.
Boy Azooga, meanwhile, tell us to “Do the Standing Still” on their latest single, to music which allows anything but immobility with its ceaseless energy. Superorganism use a similar approach on their self-titled debut’s “Relax”, which has a disconcerting chorus of beeping and crashing cars that never fail to leave me anything but relaxed.
Kanye West’s “Yikes”, with its confessional lyrics about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and his drug abuse – on ye, an album full of dark confessions – tells us that “I scare myself” as things get “menacing, frightening – find help”. The combination of his concerning comments about the #MeToo movement and the worrying coda where he pitches his mental illness as a “superpower” that makes him a “superhero” make the song a terrifying and saddening depiction of someone helplessly out of control. I’ve spent too long in 2018 hoping that Kanye will “find help” and that someone close to him will intervene to help him rather than allow his series of confused and problematic rants to continue.
Meanwhile, providing some political balance, tUnE-yArDs’s “Heart Attack” uses a dizzying beat that will have you worrying along with Merrill Garbus that your soul is being lost: the rest of I can feel you creep into my private life similarly frets about the toxic politics of today eroding our very sense of self. SOPHIE’s “Faceshopping” fights for similar rights that Garbus is singing about losing: those of having a self that is seen as valid and is given a voice. The song is an industrial pop defence of cosmetic surgery as a procedure which not only doesn’t make one more fake, but for many trans people is precisely the way in which their identity is able to be made real. The album, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, is extraordinary, displaying the instantly recognisable uniqueness of SOPHIE’s individually crafted noises and synths through startling thematic and aural variety.
Meanwhile, Let’s Eat Grandma – whose second album I’m All Ears actually features many songs produced by SOPHIE – mourn over a splitting relationship on “It’s Not Just Me”, with a dense soundscape behind their beautiful singing. Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo, meanwhile, worries about he and his partner’s bodies disintegrating in “Bodys”, hugging and dancing to desperately fight feelings of decay. The song – like all of those on the re-recorded 2018 Twin Fantasy – have been given many years to mature since the original lo-fi Twin Fantasy came out in 2011, and “Bodys” is one of those that benefits most from Toledo’s seven extra years of experience and knowledge.
Viagra Boys bring us “Sports” on Street Worms, which lists activities in such a way to make most of what we do every day seem pointless – the result is an urge to do something important, but an inability to figure out what that could be: perhaps the energy can be channelled into the dance punk of their song “Shrimp Shack”. This restlessness is picked up on by Aphex Twin’s “1st 44”, from the excellent Collapse EP, all faster-than-human breakbeat drums like those of Venetian Snares or µ-Ziq, or on Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s “Hanoi 6”’s squealing brass over the surprising jazz that they explored on the IC-01 Hanoi, perhaps the biggest change in a band’s direction in the past year and certainly the one I appreciated the most.
Finally, we are brought to death: perhaps the slow death of humans in the face of technology, as told by an analogy with chess master Kasparov’s 1997 loss to computer Deep Blue on “The Future of History”, by Tropical Fuck Storm. We might wonder who is “walking in the valley of death”, the refrain repeated throughout. Perhaps it is all of us, facilitating the technological takeover that will make us redundant day by day. Consistent with this theme of death, their album is called A Laughing Death in Meatspace, a title that primes you well for their hard-rock absurdist tendencies. Or maybe we can turn to a more precise death, that of MGMT’s “When You Die” from the brilliant album Little Dark Age. You’ll want to watch the video for this one, with its disgusting, psychedelic imagery of a failing magician accidentally dying. The song itself is suicidal in nature, with its daily banalities leading to outbursts of “go fuck yourself!” and “I’m ready to blow my brains out.” After a gunshot sounds, it becomes “permanently night” and “words don’t mean anything”. Let’s not try to drag any more meaning out of words, then, and end on that note.
-- Max Bastow, December 29, 2018