2018 has seen the continuation and prominence of a few odd trends in music—one being this bizarre obsession with Xanax in rap, another being viral YouTube stars garnering successful music careers. I’m probably just getting older, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand their popularity, or for that matter, the new age of hip-hop that houses this curious mania.
While stark with oddities, 2018 did produce an exceptional array of song writing across the board. From electronic textures to crafty guitars, genius unrivalled and wordsmiths with passion, here are ten from 2018 worth dropping the needle on.
The Presets – Hi Viz
When the MicroKorg was released in 2002 a lot of buzzy electronic music surfaced. Once the first wave had hit and rolled away, it was pretty obvious who was going to hang around. Leaving the rest to wander back to uni was the cream of the Australian electronic crop, The Presets. The fourth in a career that boasts some of the most successful hits in Australian electronic music history, Hi Viz takes the high energy of Apocalypso and gives it an unabashed 7.00am kick on.
A percussive and oddball wonderland, the record sees Hamilton and Moyes move in a collaborative direction. Where the past saw the pair largely create on their own, Hi Viz lends an ear to a party of guests—St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Choir, Kirin J Callinan, DZ Deathrays, Alison Wonderland and The DMA’s. Distorted guitars join the often-unique programming of synths, while Hamilton’s vocals bob around in an almost tongue-in-cheek immaturity.
Much like the neon construction workers or cyclists of our cities, Hi Viz exists to garner attention and stand out. With their fourth full-length offering The Presets’ illuminate a beacon of electronic fun.
Gurrumul – Djarimirri
A posthumous release, Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow) is the fourth and final from Dr. G Yunupingu. It’s an astonishing feat of Indigenous voice and flows an eternity of spirituality. A celebration of traditional Yolngu life, the album paints the endless beauty of the ancient people that call this land home. He details the movement of nature through both flora and fauna—an interaction with the land and spirits that conjure story and existence.
Incorporating classical arrangements and the ancient harmonies of the Yolngu people, this album bridges western and Aboriginal culture. It’s the final testament of a man at his creative peak and stands alone in both spirituality and respect.
Cash Savage & The Last Drinks – Good Citizens
I’m not a massive fan of the term “slept on” but if that’s what gets you ‘round, then Cash Savage is the preeminent example of an artist “slept on” in this country. On her third soiree Good Citizens, hers is a voice that bites political indignation while maintaining that brooding emotion synonymous with her iconic past. Her latest solidifies her status amongst the likes of Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Mick Harvey and Gareth Liddiard—a master of the Melbourne mourn.
To match the anger of a community examined by a nation, Savage delves into furious pub rock. It’s somewhat uncharted territory but her passion and obvious hurt find an appropriate vehicle in the raucous earlier stages of the record. Written amidst the noxious haze of the same sex marriage postal vote, Savage reflects upon the ugly face of a country surfacing in times of division. Opposed to running out of steam, the latter half of Good Citizens slows down to focus, ushering in a despondent drone of beauty. Kat Mear’s weeping violin aches over the technical dexterity of The Last Drinks. With the popularity (finally) of Good Citizens, you best believe this ain’t our last drink from Cash Savage.
Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Heralded as one of 2018’s most necessary and important bands, Idles have taken the music community by the throat. Though where most punk bands go for the jugular, Idles educate with genuine aggression and experience. In a whirlwind of post-punk riffery, the band is a poised chaos. Joy as an Act of Resistance injects a technical musicianship of the top shelf with song writing to match. Commanding this wilful cacophony is front man Joe Talbot and it’s here that Idles play to their strengths. Having led a life of addiction, bereavement and rather heavy trauma, we live out his experiences through gut wrenching honesty.
From the stillbirth of his daughter Agatha, Talbot investigates the social complications of toxic masculinity, class inequality, the ability to love oneself and expressing passion regardless of patriarchal or political constraints. With their second album, Idles breathe a rapturous intensity back into a guitar music that had begun to whither with recycled tropes and nihilism.
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Between the present and where she wants to be, Courtney Barnett delivers the iconic deadpan introspection we’ve come to love her for, though this time around she leaves the fun at the front door. There is an honesty and vulnerability on Tell Me How You Really Feel that seems increasingly coarse with a career expanding. Kicking against the pricks, Barnett shows the world she isn’t mucking around. Heavy guitars slacken and tighten with attitude throughout as Barnett asks the perennial question of “Why?”
Largely existential Barnett rattles the cage of her self-doubt and stays within. In an era of political and social dross, many artists have felt the need to address such content outward. Barnett on the other hand, keeps her anxieties within in an attempt to feel them out—to make sense and understand them. Tell Me How You Really Feel is an inward conversation informed by disappointing interactions with the world.
Hockey Dad – Blend Inn
Being a life-long resident of the ‘Gong, I’m well versed in the lush surroundings Hockey Dad call home. It’s slow passed, pretty darn friendly and a great place to grow up. Although not an overly bad thing, it’s the distance from this oasis that Hockey Dad capture on their second full length. It’s a longing for familiarities and a simple oasis.
A nominee for Triple J’s album of the year, Blend Inn continues the infectious sound that’s seen them champion the ears of the coastal kids. Their sold out tour of Australia was absolutely huge. Picking at themes of self-identity, Guitarist Zack Stephenson knows how to write a chorus—his drawn-out vocals over thrashy garage guitars continuing to kick it straight between the uprights.
Objekt – Cocoon Crash
Berlin based electronic artist TJ Hertz, Objekt, is of a futurist mind set. His second full length offering, Cocoon Crush is a multi-textured exploration of bass music and intellectual beats. While orchestrating an intricate range of techno landscapes Objekt transposes eerie, though undoubtedly beautiful natural elements. Throughout there is moisture, avian chirps, insects and percussive footsteps. Such is Hertz’ genius, these are rewound, chopped and filtered without losing the nature of the piece. An assumed dichotomy is cast away with wondering drums and a purely inimitable approach. To be enjoyed in a dimly light room somewhere between 2 and 5.00am—this is music on the frontier.
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
NYC’s Parquet Courts blend an infectious punk agitation with indie rock technique—have always done and will forever do. Their 2018 release Wide Awake! is no exception and is pretty close to a perfect record for me. I’m a huge sucker for anything from New York in the early 2000’s so their infusing of a dance punk edge is making me seriously happy.
Created during Trump era hysteria, the band explores the collective hive mind of a country in the spotlight. Where most descend too fast into pessimism, vocalist A. Savage studies a positive light. This, as they see it, acts as a greater opposition to the prevalence of mass violence and division that exists within the U.S. Sharing singing duties, Austin Brown sheds light on personal interactions with grief. Wide Awake! is the 6th from Parquet Courts and is a fantastic feat of musicianship—quite literally counting down the days until they tour this January.
Mitski – Be the Cowboy
With peculiar synths echoing Gary Numan and an aptitude completely of her own, Mitski’s latest is a giddying exposé in self-doubt and reflection. Flexing her education as a composition major, the 14 songs featured are a dynamic range of elaborate crafts (wo)manship. From deep arpeggiated wobbles to ballad-esque structures, Mitski wields the keyboard like an extension of herself. Sonically, Be the Cowboy is a much thinner record than her last. Where Puberty 2 saw Mitski hidden beneath a more robust sound, her 2018 release steps out into a comfortable vulnerability.
Somewhat counterintuitive, though stylistically brilliant, this visibility suggests an acceptance of anxieties and the strength to face her self-doubts. Where once she stood beneath distortion, now she/we can interact with the issues at hand.
Tropical F*ck Storm – A Laughing Death In Meat Space
Lyricism is much like art in that it’s completely subjective, so picking a ‘best’ is often a contentious endeavour. That being said—TFS’s vocalist, Gareth Liddiard is the finest lyricist to ever come from Australia and there’s no way you’re changing my mind on that; sorry. A supergroup of Australian alternative rock royalty TFS exist as Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin (The Drones), Lauren Hammel (High Tension) and Erica Dunn (Harmony/Palm Springs). On A Laughing Death In Meat Space, Liddiard’s iconic wit is sharp as ever. His impossibly cool intellect mixes with an Australian air of colloquial piss-take—though his insights on technology and social politics are far from light hearted.
Through clenched teeth and a beer in hand, Liddiard warns of a dumbing down of society. With Meat Space being a tongue-in-cheek reference to our physical world, he suggests we’re melting out brains with an over throw of technology. Liddiard mirrors this to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a neurodegenerative disorder induced by the consumption of human flesh, resulting in fits of laughter—A Laughing Death in Meat Space.
Providing a fitting backdrop to Liddiard’s rapid fire phrasing is a dissonant stridency that, somehow, remains intact. Throughout the album, TFS hold the tension of its instrumentation on the brink of collapse. As an audience we aren’t quite comfortable—It’s chaotic, but it’s catchy as hell and a welcome punch in the gut.
Would you have added someone different to this list? Let us know what you thought of our top ten albums in the comments below.