From ghettotech and art rock to booty house and Gothic synth pop, it has been a stellar year for music. Lloyd Gedye picks his 10 best albums of 2018.
1. Thandi Ntuli, Exiled
Thandi Ntuli’s stunning second album, Exiled, was certainly a statement of intent when it arrived in early February. The Standard Bank young jazz artist of 2018 has matured as a composer and writer, delivering creations such as New Way, which fuses personal and national politics in a way that seems effortless but that very few artists can achieve.
It’s clear that Ntuli’s star is rising. Even filmmaker Spike Lee is paying attention, featuring two of her songs in the remake as a Netflix series of his 1986 movie She’s Gotta Have It.
Related article:After a whirlwind year, Thandi Ntuli is still on the rise
2. Martyn Bootyspoon, Silk Eternity
Since it dropped in mid-February, Martyn Bootyspoon’s Silk Eternity has become one of 2018’s guiltiest pleasures. Bootyspoon – real name Jason Voltaire – is a Montreal-based Chicago booty house and Detroit ghettotech revivalist who grew up listening to his DJ brother’s house records.
Voltaire told Fact magazine that Bootyspoon is a “drunk alter-ego slash sassy party friend”. Clearly, he has a wicked sense of humour. “Let’s see your browser history/ We gonna make browser history,” he declares on The Grid, over a beat that had everyone who heard it shaking ass.
3. Aero Manyelo, Body Language, Volume 19
For a number of years, Ivory Park’s Aero Manyelo has been pumping out some of the finest house music in South Africa – whether it’s the minimalist tech house of the 2016 single Had It All or the sheer, banging joy of 2017’s Mooki.
Released by international label Get Physical, Manyelo’s Body Language, Volume 19 dropped in mid-April. Not only did the artist deliver a knockout DJ mix series, he also took the opportunity to add some new jams. Highlights include his remix of Blanka Mazimela’s Phezulu and his own Taking Long, a dance floor epic that deserves to be played everywhere this summer.
4. Anne Dudley, Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise
In late May, Anne Dudley, one of the co-founders of the 1980s avant-garde synth-pop band Art of Noise, revisited 16 of the band’s songs as piano pieces, delivering an unexpected gem.
Dudley has freed the beautiful melodies from the original songs, which tended to be overshadowed by the Art of Noise’s use of studio trickery. In 2017, Dudley told M Magazine she gets annoyed with people who think Art of Noise is just computer music. Dudley has certainly set the record straight.
5. Angélique Kidjo, Remain in Light
In early June, Angélique Kidjo dropped one of the biggest surprises of the year: her magnificent reimagining of the seminal Talking Heads album Remain in Light, originally released in 1980.
Kidjo first came across the Talking Heads while in jazz school in Paris after she fled Benin, and her initial instinct was that the music had an African feel to it. Her peers disagreed, arguing that the music was rock, but Kidjo was correct: Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat was a massive influence on Talking Heads’ work.
Now Kidjo has taken these songs back to their roots. It’s difficult to single out a highlight on an album this good, but her take on Crosseyed and Painless packs a punch.
Related article: CC Yoyo recalls Fela Kuti and (Afro)beat
6. Gazelle Twin, Pastoral
The strangest record of the year – and quite possibly its finest – was Pastoral. The third album from Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, is a paranoid state of the nation address to a UK gripped by rising fascism, criminal tabloids and Brexit. Bernholz skewers Britain with her portrayal of it as a little island of hate peddlers.
Although Pastoral’s aural palette is filled with dissonance and disorientation, it’s a charming record. The melodies on many of the new songs are played on old English instruments – including recorders and harpsichords – and then digitally processed, giving the album a nervy, anxious sound.
7. Tony Allen and Jeff Mills, Tomorrow Comes the Harvest
This year’s best collaboration was between Nigeria’s Afrobeat legend Tony Allen and Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills. Allen has collaborated with techno artists before, most notably with Germany’s Moritz von Oswald Trio in 2015 on Sounding Lines, but Allen and Mill’s late-September release, Tomorrow Comes the Harvest, is a far superior album.
Clocking in at just over an hour, the 10-track album features various edits of just four compositions from the duo. But nobody’s complaining when the results are this good. The Seed sounds like an Afrobeat party on the moon, with American poet Carl Hancock Rux starring on the album’s highlight, The Night Watcher.
8. Ah! Kosmos, Beautiful Swamp
One of the year’s most rewarding albums was Beautiful Swamp, which Turkish producer Basak Gunak, who goes by Ah! Kosmos, dropped in October.
The album brings together banging percussion, echoing guitar and euphoric synth melodies to create music that feels quite otherworldly. The highlight, June, sounds like a distant cousin to the synth work of South Africa’s late DJ Spoko, while We Can’t Fall Off a Mountain effortlessly combines Tuareg desert rock and Gothic synth pop.
Gunak is based in Istanbul and Berlin, and also composes for sound installations, dance, theatre and film, which explains her success in transporting the listener to new worlds.
9. Donny McCaslin, Blow
New York saxophonist Donny McCaslin, the bandleader on David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, returned in October 2018 with a new album, Blow, which he says was inspired by his period working with the thin white duke.
It’s certainly not a traditional jazz album, with McCaslin pushing his compositional skills into the realms of art rock and electronica. Vocals are a big part of the album, with Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek guest singing on The Opener, a stream-of-consciousness narrative very much in tune with Kozelek’s own recent songwriting style.
It is apparently the beginning of an ongoing collaboration between the pair. Blow’s highlight, though, is Tiny Kingdom, a funky rhythm featuring a powerful vocal performance from New York songwriter Jeff Taylor.
10. Carlo Mombelli, Angels and Demons
Just when we thought 2018 had delivered all the musical riches it could, Carlo Mombelli released his latest album in November. He’s working with a whole new group of musos on this one, with only Kyle Shepherd on piano remaining from his previous record, the magnificent I Press My Spine to the Ground.
Since then, Mombelli has recruited a very different band, with Keenan Ahrends on guitar and Jonno Sweetman on drums. Angels and Demons is subtle, with the album drifting from one composition to another like one long outpouring.