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 2, Part 3.
Three awful days, but here we are. I awake in my body, and it’s a curiously painless experience. Waves of gentle euphoria wash over me, and as I look outside the world has a novel glow to it. There’s an orange tint to the building opposite: it must barely be dawn. I’ve woken without an alarm, without any heaviness. I can take on the world.
Everything just flows, from chores to chats to creativity. I think of you, I call you, we meet up, it’s simple and beautiful and requires nothing more. And, as the colour on the building opposite takes on a bright pink before the sun sets, I feel as if not a second was wasted today.
Peace is complicated for me – I must admit that it’s rare at times. Some of the songs here are clearly aiming at (and, I think, succeeding in) creating a blissful, smooth and clear levity which nears the platonic ideal of peace. But I have also included songs that aren’t without tension, but which still evoke a sense of release if not freedom, or of contentment if not joy. You’re reading my most naïve review, in a sense, as experiencing these songs as tranquil often requires for the blissfully ignorant context in which I heard them to overwhelm any disturbing elements wriggling within their sound or themes. I hope that the review and accompanying playlist can nevertheless gently lift your frowns and upturn your lips.
Jon Hopkins’ Singularity, inspired by his experiences on magic mushrooms, is a beautiful psychedelic window onto a world – ours – which is united in a warm system of networks. While using dance-friendly grooves as the basis of many of its songs, the album is also gentle, graceful and mesmerising. The two longest pieces, “Luminous Beings” and “Everything Connected”, are also the best, allowing Hopkins’ hypnotic visions more room to expand into a blissful universe. They also represent the album well, with their shared spirit of spiritual luminosity and connectedness.
“Carcassonne”, one of six songs released by Angelo de Augustine this year, also establishes a sense of peace without sharing any of the same characteristics: it is not electronic but acoustic, not cosmic but personal, and not about universal unity but about a romantic one. Blissfully reduced to two people and one moment, the narrator “wants to know you now”, peppering the song with beautiful vignettes, among my favourite: “Found you in the garden with pockets of gold / I forgot the future and the time.”
Khruangbin’s effortless sound on Indian- and Middle Eastern-influenced Con Todo el Mundo compels you to move without making you feel any exertion. “Lady and Man” gorgeously crafts a dialogue between the guitar and bass, patiently waiting for the soothing vocals to bloom.
ANMLPLNET – half of which is Slothrust’s Leah Wellbaum and half Mickey Vershbow – released a surprisingly graceful song given its title: “I Was Fucked by a Cloud”, from their record Fall Asleep. Amongst their rules for the project was to drink absinthe during every rehearsal, and it is surprising given the precision of their performances, though it might explain the songs’ inebriating haziness. Drum fills and guitar riffs bounce around a slowly amplifying room, then a chorus repeated twice gives way to gentle improvisations before an eruption of grungy hooks seizes the quickening song, which finally decays over two slow minutes. If you’re like me, you’ll feel “rejected by the ground” and (at least metaphorically) “fucked by a cloud”.
Local band Catgod released their third single this year, “Sleep In”, a soothing combination of folky harmonies and Ott-style psychedelic funk. Cat’s flute mellifluously brings the track together into a whirl of hypnagogic sound. Eels opt instead for strings to achieve similar feelings of lifting off the ground on eponymous track “The Deconstruction”. Meanwhile, Janelle Monáe’s “Pynk”, from Dirty Computer, uses a deep synth to tie the celebration of the female body into a soft pop tune.
David Byrne’s American Utopia created a vision of a wonderful – and possible – society, and “Every Day Is a Miracle” is the closest he comes to the spirit he achieved with Talking Head’s practically perfect Naïve Melody “This Must Be the Place”. It elevates even the “unpaid bill” and “the dick of a donkey” to a miraculous state – he and Brian Eno, who co-wrote, perhaps inspired by Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” (which sacralises everything from “cafeterias” to “cock”) – the song ending on a soft plea to “love one another”.
Then comes a selection of pure pop which I find peace in for its specific associations with positive memories this past term: A$AP Rocky’s gorgeous repurposing of Tame Impala in “Sundress”; Omar Apollo and Drayco McCoy’s joint single “Algo”, all precise basslines and clap-along drums with soaring and alternating Spanish and English vocals; Janelle Monáe’s Prince homage “Make Me Feel” which does her mentor justice in its groove-filled, sexually fluid eroticism; Kali Uchis & Steve Lacy’s “Just a Stranger” from her album Isolation, with its hook by turns ascending and descending in a melody that entrenches itself in your brain’s reward circuit.
And, finally, to draw the day to the close, Superorganism’s “Night Time”, from their self-titled debut, demonstrates what the band gains from having eight members from very different backgrounds. Backed by 90’s garage-style drums, which accompany simple melodies from singer Orono, three-piece backing vocals, and a wide selection of somehow never overbearing samples; these disparate elements are all brought into an exciting ebb and flow, ending with a yawn that signals both its and our close.
I hope to everyone reading this that you’ve had a 2018 that, if not unmarked by sadness, left you with positive memories: of music or of art, with partners or with friends, of professional success or personal silliness.
Happy New Year, everybody. Stay alive for the positive moments to come.
-- Max Bastow, December 31, 2018