Rowena’s End-of-the-Year 2018 Retrospective

2018: full of delirious highs and inevitable lows for us all, I’m sure. Below are four albums which, throughout this tumultuous year, have soothed me to sleep and strengthened my nerve, kept me company on interminable train-rides, and made everything—even the current political hellscape—seem just a little more hopeful.

 

1. milo –who told you to think​?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!

Whilst his two most recent albums experiment with a looser rap-style and more subdued mood, milo’s 2017 release, who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, for its sheer life-force, has to be the one to make it into my retrospective. Here, milo gives us the playful flows and linguistic twists for which he’s known and loved, but no longer as end in their own right—for, as he protests in ‘Landscaping’, “it don’t feel therapeutic just blabbering bout neutered truths”.

Of all milo’s releases to date, WTYTT is, without a doubt, the most refined embodiment of what many are calling his ethos of ‘artistry over marketability’: the production itself is tight and polished, whilst retaining an underground, DIY feel. The sound is a mirror to the album’s central aesthetic aim, articulated via a sample of James Baldwin’s voice at the beginning of the opening track: the “artist’s struggle for integrity”. milo carries the spirit of Baldwin with him throughout this album, addressing the role of the artist in society, relating the experiences of living as a black man in contemporary America, and always orbiting back to a humbling philosophy of love—as in the gorgeous, almost-lullaby of ‘note to mrs’, or in Euclid’s feature on ‘Landscaping’, where he raps in hushed reverence: “I love wild things wildly, I love quiet things quietly”.

With this cerebral release, which takes us “swerving through moral detours / most boisterous”, milo at once elevates rap to the realms of the sublime, and grounds it in his own unapologetically political existence. He is, as ever, unafraid to “fuck with the timing of the whole swell ballad”, especially when it allows him to fulfil his political, philosophical, and artistic vision.

Listen to: landscaping; paging mr bill nunn

 

2. Mitski – Be The Cowboy

Just in time to soothe our inevitable summertime sadness, Mitski blessed fans with yet another heart-wrenchingly relatable release, Be The Cowboy. This album will emotionally wind you, then lift you up to euphoric heights, only to pull you back down into to the pits of lovelorn despair. And all of this in a mere 32 minutes. Mitski, throughout her career, has made an art of writing songs so condensed and charged with meaning that to listen to her music feels like reading an incredibly powerful (and deeply melancholic) piece of poetry. And like any good poem, this is an album which is endlessly quotable: “why am I lonely for lonesome love?”, “I don’t want your pity / I just want somebody near me” and, a personal favourite of mine, “Venus, planet of love / Was destroyed by global warming”. Packed with poppy synths and infectious melodies, this is not only an album to cry to in your room alone at 2am, but one to sing along to in the car with friends, with the volume at full blast.

Listen to: Nobody; Two Slow Dancers

 

3. King Krule – The Ooz

King Krule’s The Ooz is another release which has been flowing through listener’s ears for more than a year now. Released in October 2017 to almost unanimous critical acclaim, Archie Marshall’s most recent work is a truly sui generis piece of sound-art. With a gravelly, world-weary baritone (surprising when, in interviews, we find a slight, mischievous twenty-something), Marshall, like a modern-day, existentially-wracked Virgil, guides us through city streets in the dead of night, stopping at darkened street-corners to “howl” his “empty emotion” (‘Locomotive’).

Fragments of exquisite poetry (“I’ve got more moons wrapped around my head than Jupiter knows”) tremble above thrashing, out-of-tune guitars; gritty and visceral images (“He’s mashed, I’m mashed, we’re mashed / That cat got slashed in half like that”) are followed by a saxophonist’s playfully rich jazz riffs. As ever, Marshall is unafraid of the shock of juxtaposition; and no more so than in terms of genre. From his endless sea of influences, Marshall bodies forth an album which, even more than his debut, is astonishingly hybrid; trip-hop oozes into punk-rock, dub into jazz-ballad.

This is an album which swims in the listener’s mind long after the final track. Even after a year of listening, I find myself sinking back into Marshall’s beautifully alien soundscapes, discovering new textures to his despair with each replay.

Listen to: Biscuit Town; Logos

 

4. Camp Cope – How To Socialise and How To Make Friends

All-woman Melbourne-based punk trio Camp Cope refuses to pull punches in their 2018 release, How To Socialise and How to Make Friends. And this is clear from the very first track; on ‘The Opener’, singer Maq refuses to mince her words. Righteous anger cracks through her Courtney-Barnett-esque vocals as she calls out the flagrant gender biases which permeate the punk scene. With fury, she challenges all misogynists within in a hundred-mile radius: “Tell me how all of my success has got nothing to do with me / Tell me again how there just aren’t many girls in the music scene!” Here is a band taking traditional punk-anger, and using it to an unabashedly feminist end.

And yet, this is also an album of rich emotional nuance. Punchy numbers that make you want to drop what you’re doing and dance (such as the title track), are balanced by quieter, diaristic pieces like ‘Anna’—an introspective reflection on intimacy, loss, and the therapeutic process of song-writing, which brings to mind Green Day’s similarly confessional ‘Amy’, and reveals Camp Cope’s emo roots.

If I were to describe this album in one word, it would surely be ‘cathartic’: from the furious finesse of Thommo’s drumming, to lyrics which are as unafraid to confront political injustice as they are messy, confusing, and sometimes downright abusive relationships, this album is a beautiful and necessary working-through of many kinds of trauma. And as woman and fellow musician, there is something incredibly empowering about being able to put in my headphones, block out the world, and share in Camp Cope’s catharsis.

Listen to: The Opener; Animal and Real

-- Rowena Gutsell, December 15, 2018