From Courtney Love to Ariana Grande: Music’s Misogynistic Blame Game

by beth mcleish

If I was born a boy / Would I be mutilated Humiliated, cursed & fated to grind away my time

With my heart on the line…

You would not do this to a boy.

Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love

We all know the story of the most (in)famous rock and roll couple since Sid and Nancy. Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were, quite possibly, perfect for each other. But their relationship was rocky, to say the least. Both fronting successful bands, they entered into a whirlwind, drug-fuelled romance, under the watchful and judgemental public eye. They were, according to Vanity Fair, “the closest thing the alternative nation had to a king and queen.” I am a huge fan of both Kurt and Courtney, their relationship has always been something that has fascinated me, and in particular, how hated Courtney Love was. There are even people who still believe she killed her late husband. My question is, why is she demonised for all the things Kurt was praised for?

Front-woman of acclaimed grunge band Hole, Courtney Love is someone that people love to hate. A successful musician, songwriter, poet, and actress, she is best known for being the wife of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Sometimes, she doesn’t even get the credit for that, with there being many conspiracy theories surrounding her involvement in her husband’s death. In 1998, documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield released the controversial film “Kurt and Courtney” which insinuates that Love holds responsibility for her husband’s death, speaking to many “sources” including the private investigator who is convinced that Courtney hired a hit man to kill Kurt. It is extremely biased, filled with anti- Love sentiment. Courtney is painted as a fame hungry, controlling siren, and this is the attitude that the press had towards her throughout the 90s, and to an extent, even now.   

Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain

Courtney herself, in the 1992 issue of Vanity Fair, pointed out the double standard she and her husband were held to:

Kurt is able to go into a record label… decide he doesn’t like it halfway through, walk out on the guys mid-sentence, and everyone goes “There goes Kurt. He’s so moody. Nirvana’s great.” But I go in and spend three hours… I’m sorry, I don’t want to be on his label and he calls me a bitch.

Although both 1991 debut “Pretty on the Inside” and 1994’s “Live Through This” were critically acclaimed, there were (and still are) rumours saying that Kurt Cobain wrote a lot of Hole’s best songs, and most of “Live Through This” (arguably their best album, featuring some of Courtney’s best lyrics surrounding motherhood, feminism, body image, and mental health issues). This myth has since been cleaned up. It is extremely unfair and misleading to claim and not to mention sexist to assume that a woman’s success is owed entirely to her husband. In the Guardian, music journalist Everett True writes that “It would be just as accurate to say the Courtney Love wrote most of Nirvana’s third album “In Utero.” For me, “In Utero” is Nirvana’s best album, and I can definitely see the Courtney influences. Kurt’s lyrics are more poetic, and mature and thematically, share ideas with Hole’s “Live Through This.” Courtney finally commented on this dismissive and quite frankly cruel rumour in 1998 saying “(If he had) the songs would have been much better.

For me, this abuse and discredit simply come from a place of misogyny. I think that the music press and the general public were threatened by someone like Courtney. An extremely self-aware, brashly outspoken and confident woman, all legs, dark lipstick, and bleach blonde hair, writing songs about sex, abuse, and suicide? Put simply, she was hated for acting how male rock stars had been acting for decades before her. Her being blamed for her husband’s death not only discredits his mental health struggles (an issue which in itself is deserving of an article) but also perpetuates the damaging idea that women are, largely responsible for their significant others’ wellbeing.

Sadly, even today this is the case. To give a more modern example, American pop singer Ariana Grande was harassed after the untimely death of her ex-boyfriend rapper Mac Miller. Many people on social media criticised her for not staying with him as he struggled with his drug addiction. The scathing comments on her twitter range from “I hope you feel bad,” to “You did this to him”, and “You killed Mac Miller.” This clearly affected Grande as she eventually turned off comments on her Instagram, and went on a Twitter hiatus.

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This behaviour from Mac Miller’s fans and Twitter users in general reflects on the way society treats female celebrities, and women as a whole. The National Organisation for Women (NOW) President Toni Van Pelt told VICE, “First of all, people are responsible for themselves, and men in particular are taught to think of themselves first.” Van Pelt goes on to say that women are always expected to look after or take care of others before themselves, and if they dare to put themselves first, they are seen as selfish. This point was touched upon by Ariana herself, in her statement on Twitter. She said: “how absurd that you minimise female self-respect and self-worth by saying someone should stay in a toxic relationship because he wrote an album about them… I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be.”  

It is interesting that she mentions motherhood in this statement, as this is another issue that women face throughout their lives. It also ties in with Courtney Love’s struggles. This archaic ideology that a woman’s role is in the home is something that to this day is instilled in us, from a very young age. Ariana also touches upon this saying that “shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his sh*t together is a very major problem.” She’s right, and it needs to stop.

This misogynistic attitude is sadly still so prevalent in today’s culture and is especially ingrained into music. Different genres all share elements of it, such as emo, hip-hop and alternative rock, whether it be in their lyrics or behaviours. I mean, in the ruling era of the “Soft Boy” (def; a man that uses his “sensitive” side to appeal to the emotions of women and subsequently manipulate them), it is surely not surprising.

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For example, Chicago based rapper Juice WRLD pines after an “evil girl” with “the prettiest face” who supposedly wants him dead, on his 2018 track “Lucid Dreams.” It may just seem like a sad love song on the surface, but when you think about it, we don’t hear this girl’s side of the story, and Juice WRLD is fully blaming his sadness on her. He also compares himself to his ex’s new boyfriend saying that he is the “better one.” The whole thing just doesn’t sit right with me, even more so when taking into consideration his preceding single “All Girls Are The Same”.

This is a very common theme in emo too. Think about Panic! At The Disco’s “Lying Is The Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off.” Brendon Urie scorns a lover who cheated on him, blaming her and only her, possibly forgetting that there was another person involved in this infidelity. In the chorus he sings of “testosterone boys and harlequin girls” which suggests that boys are just hormone crazy, enforcing the dreaded “boys will be boys, and that girls are clowns, falling for anyone who is nice to them”. To me, all of this seems to subtly reinforce these attitudes towards women in general. And of course, the whole idea that men are uncontrollable when it comes to sex is just as bad. He is blaming the woman for all of his anger and unhappiness. Now, of course, there will be times where women do abuse their partners, cheat on them, break their hearts, and that is completely valid. But all these songs seem to do is perpetuate the attitude that this is normal, and almost expected of women to do.

In 2003, American rock band Brand New released Deja Entendu, featuring the song “Me vs. Maradona vs, Elvis.” Singer Jesse Lacey sings “I got desperate desires and unadmirable plans” in this thinly veiled song about date rape, claiming “I almost feel sorry for what I’m gonna do… I swear I’ll tear you apart.” Lacey has said that these lyrics are not autobiographical, but recent allegations against him may beg to differ. Emily Driskill and Nicole Garey both recently shared accounts of their encounters of Lacey whilst they were underage. They say that he manipulated them into sending nude photos, and were groped at various concerts.  Driskill told Pitchfork that she hopes “with this coming out, it opens the door for people really looking out for women in our scene. It’s been talked about for a while but it hasn’t actually been happening.”

Music critic Jessica Hopper sums it all up in her 2003 essay “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t”. She says that “Girls in emo songs do not have names…We span from coquettish to damned… We leave bruises on boy hearts, but make no other mark… We are mysteries to be unlocked, bodies to be groped…

What Hopper says is so relevant, not just in emo, but in music in general. These damaging attitudes towards women have survived, and are still being sang about today. Women are not therapists, mothers, or simply just bodies to have sex with, and the sooner these ideals are challenged, the better and safer the music world (and the world in general) will be for women and girls.

 

References

Hirschberg, L. (2019). Strange Love: The Story of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. [online] HWD. Available at: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/03/love-story-of-kurt-cobain-courtney-love.

Love, C. (2006). Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love. Faber & Faber.

True, E. (2019). Ten myths about grunge, Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/aug/24/grunge-myths-nirvana-kurt-cobain.

Vice. (2019). Ariana Grande, Mac Miller, and Why We Blame Women for Male Substance Abuse. [online] Available at: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/a38g5k/ariana-grande-mac-miller-and-why-we-blame-women-for-male-substance-abuse.

Broadly. (2019). Making Mac Miller’s Death About Ariana Grande Is a Sexist Distraction. [online] Available at: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/bja8xz/mac-miller-death-blame-ariana-grande.

NME. (2019). ‘Live Through This’: Not a Hole lotta Kurt – NME. [online] Available at: https://www.nme.com/news/music/courtney-love-244-1400512

Pitchfork.com. (2019). Two Alleged Victims of Brand New’s Jesse Lacey Detail Years of Sexual Exploitation of Minors | Pitchfork. [online] Available at: https://pitchfork.com/news/two-alleged-victims-of-brand-news-jesse-lacey-detail-years-of-sexual-exploitation-of-minors/

Hopper, J., Shepherd, J., Klein, C., Blegvad, K., Samavai, S. and Casey, P. (2019). Where the Girls Aren’t – Page 2 of 2 – Rookie. [online] Rookie. Available at: https://www.rookiemag.com/2015/07/where-the-girls-arent/2/?fbclid=IwAR0V1bigBafeURSbBAx8uezOqTnGeyste_A5d-CC2DSuMg4Z3ylYz-lRngE [Accessed 3 May 2019].

 

Olivia’s 20 Best Films of 2018

Is there anything worth saying for a feature of this nature that hasn’t been said already? You’ll get your critically acclaimed style lists, full of movies you haven’t heard of, and then you’ll get the ones fuelled solely by fun: so, why not have half and half as Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96) takes you down the best films of the year?

20. Venom

Venom was one of the most enjoyable experiences I had both in the cinema and online in 2018. It’s also not a good movie. I made that clear in my review of it earlier in the year. The pacing is all over the place, it’s filled with early 2000’s comic book edginess and Tom Hardy spends the entire film looking like he slept in his car. But I genuinely can’t deny the immense amount of joy Venom brought me this year.

From the endless memes, thirst for the alien sludge tongue (and the immense amounts of porn that name of it), Tom Hardy’s entire performance of just doing weird shit for the sake of it, the way in which it could be easily read as a rom-com between a journalistic human disaster and a sentient pile of alien goo, Venom is the pure definition of just kicking back and having a good-natured riff. What helps is despite the endless story, character and tone problems, there’s very little cynicism to Venom. In being produced by a studio that obviously had no faith in it, there was a real sense of just going for broke and hoping it would survive.

And it worked – in spite of the reviews, Venom turned out to be a surprise hit and most people I’ve seen who like it do so for the same reasons as me. It’s stupid, campy, it has Tom Hardy being the absolute most and it’s strangely endearing in spite of itself. I can’t say it’s on the list as a genuinely good film but I’d be remiss not to give a mention to a film that genuinely brought me joy this year, even for unintended reasons. It may be some turd in the wind trash but it’s my turd in the wind trash.


19. Annihilation 

Believe it or not, I’m actually a huge sci-fi fan. Honestly, I’d put it up there as one of my favourite genres. However, when it comes to the sci-fi that grabs me, I usually find myself much more on the philosophical side of asking questions about the nature of our lives instead of detailed explorations of lore, character or world-building. So, I’m less of a Doctor Who or Star Trek fan and a bigger fan of sci-fi films that ask more questions than they do answer them.

Annihilation was that film this year. Taking a simple concept to explore multiple facets of ecology and human reflection, Annihilation is an intelligent, bold and frustratingly intriguing watch. The ending particularly leaves the viewer thinking long after the credits roll and I hugely respect its restraint in not talking down to its audience by explaining what and how you are supposed to feel at all times. One of the more underrated releases this year but definitely the pick for viewers hungry for some brain food.


18. Halloween (2018)

When it comes to Halloween sequels, Halloween (2018) really didn’t have a high standard to live up to. While some people have a soft spot for Halloween II and III, it’s generally agreed that none of the other films in the franchise touch the subtle magic of the original. Until this sequel, which gave us a genuinely great Halloween movie with Michael Myers and Laurie Strode back on top form. It makes enough call-backs to the original to not seem gimmicky and the visuals are striking with a great comeback performance by Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s the sequel fans were truly waiting for.


17. Deadpool 2 

While it has some writing issues and some things that could’ve been reworked, I thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool 2 more than the first. Since Deadpool’s origin story is now out of the way, the sequel gives the chance to do more with his interactions with other characters and it succeeds for the most part.

The jokes are funny, the queer-coding has been upped with many of the characters (our prayers of Negasonic Teenage Warhead getting a girlfriend came true. If only she got more screen-time), the new characters are all fun and memorable and the dramatic moments hit closer to home than the first one for me. Add in a great soundtrack and Deadpool 2 is a thoroughly satisfying trip to the movies.


16. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

As I progress in film studies, I learn more and more that trying to define film in technical terms and tropes is not only obnoxious but counterproductive to how we judge what films have merit and which don’t. For as much as film geeks (speaking as one) love to pretend they have refined tastes and their favourite films are a list of “important” Hitchcock and Tarantino films with a special mention to whichever indie director is being racist this month, film is a visual and personal medium and we have no way of knowing what will personally affect us. As Marie Kondo said; if something sparks joy, it has inherent value. Sometimes we don’t need a long, intellectual explanation of whether a film is “objectively” good or not and the reason for liking it can simply be “it makes me happy”.

This is a convoluted way of saying I had a blast with Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again!. I squealed when Cher showed up for no reason, I enjoyed the cheesy covers of lesser-known ABBA songs, I loved the beautiful Greek landscape, I loved Lily James and the sex-positive, female-centric aspect of the story (even if there’s more than enough continuity errors from the first film) and it’s surprisingly heartfelt ending. It’s dumb, cheesy, silly and fun and I was unabashed in my enjoyment of every minute.


15. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

I love films about films. Whether it’s a ‘based on a true story’ adaptation such as Saving Mr. Banks or The Disaster Artist, or documentaries about the life and work of actors/directors working on iconic or infamous films that even they didn’t know would hold such influence, I adore learning about the creative process. My love for film goes beyond what is just on the screen and finding out about the lives and trials of directors and actors throughout is every bit as fun for me as enjoying the art itself.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead explores the bibliography of Orson Welles, argued by many to be one of the greatest directors who ever lived. However, as the title indicates, he was only truly thought of as such following his death. While everyone around him argued Citizen Kane was the greatest film ever made (much to his amusement as he didn’t think much of it) Welles maneuvered the world of cinema with a wry humorous cynicism, willing to break the rules and conventions of film-making and producing work that was lambasted at the time and now regarded as some of the finest innovative cinema ever produced. This film is a wonderful look back on one of the true pioneers of the artistic merit of film.


14. Love, Simon

Love, Simon was ground-breaking for a number of reasons and as I revisit it, I find myself appreciating it more and more. While the plot and style of acting are intentionally over the top in accordance with 2010’s teen comedies, the anxiety and isolation felt by Simon as he struggles to come out to both himself and the people around him is treated seriously and sensitively. Some actors are little too over the top (the head teacher in particular tries to be hip with the kids and talks in a way no head teacher has ever spoken), a few scenes are fairly awkward and Logan Miller’s performance of an intentionally annoying character really makes you want to strangle him, which is probably the sign of a job well done but it doesn’t make the character any more pleasant.

But the core of the story about Simon’s relationships and his terror at everything changing once he comes out makes it stand out from other films of the type. The plot of two teens writing to each other having no idea who the other is a concept that can and has been done with heterosexual couples and films targeted towards teens but the film addresses that these experiences of crushes and not knowing the identity of who you’re crushing on takes on a specific fear for LGBTA+ teenagers. Simon has good parents, nice friends (somewhat) and some people would question why he would feel so trapped about his sexuality. But this is a fear that many LGBTA+ people (myself included) face constantly in our relationships: you could have the most progressive, loving parents and friends possible and there will still always be that corner of raw doubt and fear in the back of your mind. There’s a wonderful scene between Simon and his mother once he is at his lowest point and the words she gives him are the exact words any good parent should give their child in the situation.

It may unfortunately not be the reality for many LGBTA+ people but it’s a perfect example of how things should be. It’s an appreciation for the risk Love, Simon truly was as the first teen gay romantic comedy backed by a major studio. For as much as many like to pretend that LGBTA+ people and teenagers are more accepted now than they have been in the past, the fact remains that many films focusing on LGBTA+ relationships are often independent projects, as many big-name studios are unwilling to risk a large investment in films focusing on LGBTA+ relationships due to the risk of financial loss from casual homophobes (who unfortunately are a large demographic). Additionally, when they are made, many will often receive a higher age rating than a film with the same content focusing on a heterosexual couple. For a film about a gay teenager who is struggling with coming out to explore the anxieties related to it, getting a happy ending with a fairy-tale kiss that isn’t censored or implied and being rated as appropriate for the teenagers it’s targeting is ground-breaking and should be seen as such.


13. The Shape of Water

One of the things I love about Guillermo del Toro’s work is how he tends to have one foot in cold, harsh reality and the other in pure fairy-tale fantasy when making his films. Pan’s Labyrinth was the clearest example of this, with the Alice in Wonderland inspired story taking place against the brutal backdrop of the Spanish Civil war.

However, while Del Toro showcases both the beautiful and the brutal sides of human nature in The Shape of Water, his unabashed romanticism and love of fairy-tale logic and story-telling combines with his compassion for those outcasted by society, especially in 1950s Cold War-era America. The relationship in the film is a metaphorical statement made literal, showing the love that many outcasts hold in their heart. It takes the harshness of its setting and shows it in all its ugliness, just to completely reject it. It is his most personal film to date and also one of his best.


12. Black Panther 

Two big Marvel movies this year seem to have audiences spilt down the middle; most people I meet seem to like both but seem to love one while thinking the other was just okay. For some, Black Panther is the best Marvel film of the year and Infinity War is just okay; for others, Infinity War was the film they’d always been waiting for and Black Panther was just another good entry into the Marvel hero canon.

I find myself in the former camp; while I do think Infinity War is a good film, I find more things about it that irritate me the more I think about it whereas Black Panther is just as good the next time as it is the first. The characters are well-drawn and some of the most complex and likable in the MCU so far. While dues are rightfully given to Michael B Jorden’s amazing performance as Killmonger, I also think Chadwick Boseman’s performance of T’Challa’s thematic and emotional arc throughout is more interesting than many fans give it credit for. And of course, Shuri is wonderful. Infinity War is undoubtedly the more ambitious film but I also feel it is more flawed by comparison, while Black Panther utilises its isolated conflict to create more a more satisfying and complete film overall.


11. Paddington 2 

Paddington 2 is so unabashed in how genuine and sweet it is, I could swear I felt my teeth falling out at the end. It doesn’t have one hint of cynicism and its simplicity in just making the title character the most likable bear ever seen on screen is enough to melt the stoniest of us. Every actor’s dedication to the quaint and sweet tone the film sets completely sells it. It’s just a lovely film.


10. The Happy Prince

I adore Oscar Wilde and I’ll admit, a lot of reason for this film being on the list is through emotional attachment rather than the logistics or technical aspects of the film. However, I can’t imagine anything that could be truer to his spirit than choosing with your heart rather than your head. Named after his famously sombre fairy tale, The Happy Prince tells the story of Oscar Wilde’s life after the scandal that destroyed his career and eventually his life.

Being his first film as well as playing the title role, this is clearly a personal passion project for Rupert Everett. There are many roles actors can take that can be seen as a blatant Oscar grab, especially if they are a long-respected veteran who haven’t won one yet (Gary Oldman as Churchill in Darkest Hour and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady are the first to my mind). However, Everett combines the subtle pain with the natural flamboyancy that Wilde was known for as an unabashed and poetic romanticist with a wonderfully forward outlook on life and love, which the world around him cruelly rejected. He was also imperfect. He was selfish, frivolous and frequently took advantage of his friends. But the film consistently highlights that some of his more selfish actions may not have been necessary if he hadn’t lived in the time he did and even respected artists of the time were not immune to the prejudices of his society (if anything, they were heightened due to the public disgrace).

There’s a great line in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (featured above) in which one of the character’s remarks to the Asset “sometimes I think I was born too early or too late for my life”. This line sums up the sheer unfairness of how Oscar Wilde spent his final days and the film highlights the tragedy of Wilde being a prime example of a man born in the wrong time.


9. I Tonya

I’ve always felt Margot Robbie was underrated. Even when the projects she’s in tend to be utter garbage (hello, Suicide Squad), she is usually a bright spot in whatever she stars in and I was waiting for a film that would allow her to show off her range. I, Tonya is that film and I still say she absolutely deserved a best actress nomination for it. There were parts of this film that reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster (2002), in which she loses herself so much in the character you forget you’re watching a performance. The rest of the actors are all great, with main players Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney also giving standout performances.

The film ingeniously uses transcript interviews from the real Tonya Harding and her associates, many of which contradict each other, leaving it up to the viewer who to believe and how much of each character you can believe. Instead of demonising or sympathising with Tonya, the film instead smartly asks you to draw your own conclusions, with a fair bit of dark humour thrown in.


8. Won’t You Be My Neighbour

I didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers as a kid. While I was a devotee of many an American children’s show such as Sesame Street and Arthur, being a UK kid largely meant most of my exposure to Mister Rogers came through the internet. I knew he was a kids show host from the 1960s and was intensely beloved by all who grew up with him. His catchphrase “Won’t you be my neighbour” is the title of this one-and-a-half-hour documentary regarding his legacy as the host of one of the longest running children’s shows on PBS Mister Rogers Neighbourhood.

Like other icons such as Bob Ross or Steve Irwin, it seems radical at the time and nowadays for a single person to be so unflinchingly kind yet stoutly progressive. The film covers an incredible moment in television history in which he not only saved funding for public children’s television in front of the US Senate Subcommittee, his words are so powerful the Committee head doubles the amount of funding being cut. His argument that the ethics of kindness and teaching children that their emotions are valid and important is ingrained into the philosophy of how he lived and taught in his life. It’s hard to believe he was every bit as kind when the cameras were turned off but every acquaintance and friend he made testifies as such.

His concern was that children were emotionally intelligent and observant and deserved to be treated as such and the impression he left on the people he grew up with is undeniable. As someone who didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers, I’m not ashamed to say I sniffed and cried almost all the way through.  


7. Blackkklansman

BlacKKKlansman ties with I, Tonya for being the most well-acted docu-drama of the year. John David Washington and Adam Driver have incredible chemistry in this hard-hitting story that’s so implausible, it’d be impossible to believe if it wasn’t true. Spike Lee has never been one for subtlety but in this day and age, that approach is necessary to convey the parallels of 1970s race relations to modern day, showing how much has changed and how much has not changed while also being engaging as a straight-up great buddy-cop film.

While the film may have comedic moments of just the sheer absurdity of the situation, the story of African-American police officer Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan hits hard in its depiction of true events and real mind-sets with an ending that left the cinema I was in so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.


6. Overlord

Few movies captured the mood of the year better than Overlord. In the year of rising political tensions and fascism back on the rise, the catharsis of this bombastic, insane gore-fest can’t be overstated. Overlord is the prime example of taking an insane B-movie concept of an American soldier squad going up against mutated Nazi superhuman zombies and running to the moon and back with it, resulting in what can only be described as Inglorious Basterds on acid. It’s gross, disturbing and ridiculously fun, with all the Nazi killing you could ever want. What else do you need in a film?


5. Widows

If there was a list for best cast in a film this year, Widows would be at the top. With performances from acting powerhouses at the top of their game such as Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya and Elizabeth Debicki, Widows is a poetically shot and soberingly empowering film with some of the most well-developed and realised protagonists in any film this year.

Steve McQueen is one of the most uncompromising story-tellers working in directing today and his empathy in which he writes his characters elevates them from a simple heist movie. It’s slick, stylish and a testament to the strength of its cast.


4. Mandy

It’s been a surprisingly good year for Nicholas Cage. From his campy yet dramatic performance in the dark comedy Mom and Dad to the pitch-perfect casting of him as Spider Noir from Into the Spider-Verse, his reputation for saying yes to every script he’s offered finally seems to be turning out some good material and Mandy is arguably his best film in years.

Marrying intense emotion and horror with ridiculous bombast, Mandy gives Cage the perfect bonkers premise to really show off his range. Visually, it was one of the most appealing films of the year for me (I’m a sucker for that surreal neon grindhouse aesthetic) and topping it off with a dueling chainsaw is the perfect formula to have me grinning like an idiot the whole way through.


3. Hereditary 

Hereditary is one big gasp of ‘holy shit!’ all the way through. While an excellent film as a whole, the first half is undeniably stronger than the second. I feel the second half could have kept a few more answers in the dark instead feeling the need to explain nearly everything in a rush, as if afraid the audience would have been angry with a more ambiguous conclusion. But it’s still a good second half coming off of an incredible first half. While the latter half is horrific in a more conventional sense (though no less shocking), the first half of Hereditary is horror characterised as a howl of pure despair.

I’ve rarely been so uncomfortable and so upset simply watching a scene of a family eating dinner in silence, knowing the circumstances surrounding it. Hereditary forces you into a purely empathetic state with its characters, with many of their actions and words that would cast them as irredeemable in any other film coming with an understanding of the raw emotional pain every single character is going through under the circumstances. There’s no escaping the confrontation of what happens to them and the intensity of facing these ugly, horrific thoughts and emotions made for some of the best acting in Toni Collette’s career.

Save for my number one pick, it was probably the rawest and visceral experience I had in the cinema in 2018.


2. Into The Spider-Verse

Hands down the best-animated film of the year. What fascinates me about Into the Spider-Verse film is how little I can find wrong with it. One way to identify a successful film is looking at what it aims to achieve and how it accomplishes what it sets out to do. This doesn’t always mean the film is good or pleasant (the majority of early 2000s gross-out comedies aim to disgust and alienate the audience and they succeed. This doesn’t mean they are good films). But considering Into the Spider-Verse aims to adapt a large amount of characters and their universes through the use of multiple animation techniques to create a layered experience, it’s incredible how well they are adapted.

The film manages to tell the story of Miles Morales, keeping the focus on him and having him as the perfect vessel to explore the concept of multiple universes, each with their own spider superhero. Each spider incarnation is so likeable and charming and the animation corresponds with each of their characteristics perfectly. It’s so bright, creative, colourful and fun and easily the best Spiderman film, which is surprisingly a high bar now considering Tom Holland’s excellent reimagining of the character in Spiderman: Homecoming. But Into the Spider-Verse just gets everything right and accomplishes everything it sets out to do, which qualifies it for one of the best films of the year in my book.


1. Suspiria 

There’s a saying that the mark of an impactful film is one that doesn’t leave your mind long after the credits roll. Notably ‘impactful’ doesn’t always translate to good (I couldn’t stop thinking about The Greatest Showman when I saw it but that was more thinking about every single thing wrong with it and how frustrating it was) but it leaves a deep mark on your brain, an impression in long sea of everything you watched in the year. I have not stopped thinking about Suspiria (2018) since I saw it and I’ll probably continue thinking about it for the rest of my life.

A reimagining of Dario Argento’s horror aesthetic 70’s classic, director Luca Guadagnino stated that he based this film more on the feelings he experienced while watching the original rather than a straight remake. The result is a psychedelic explosion of ideas and concepts that better utilise the premise and complexity than the original. The original is a beautiful film but also very straight-forward – it’s true innovation comes from its atmosphere and aesthetic rather than being a tour de force in story or character.

Tilda Swinton’s triple performance not only testifies to her incredible skill but informs of her role in the philosophy of the story once all three parts are considered, matched by Dakota Johnsons subtle but unnerving performance once all about her is revealed. Guadagnino takes the opportunities that the original presents and goes all the way with what it can do, resulting in a final act that had my jaw on the floor and the need for a post-coital cigarette. There is so much explored through the visual storytelling and revealed nature of the characters, resulting in a film both stunningly beautiful, intrinsically layered and cringingly grotesque.

Top it off with Thom Yorke’s amazing score, which may be one of my favourite film scores of all time, and Suspiria is an uncomfortable, uncompromising, challenging and beautiful watch. It is definitely not for everyone but it is almost certainly for me.

sabrina is not in this chat Are LA’s Freshest And Sharpest Trio

To write about sabrina is not in this chat in terms of influences is a tremendous disservice to their inventiveness and originality. The Los Angeles-based experimental rock trio test the constraints of rock music, pushing against punk rock’s insistence on brevity and experimental music’s formlessness with destructive élan. Sharp, smart, and wholly refreshing, Sabrina quash easy comparisons to their peers or forebears. Yet it’s nearly impossible to think about the group without considering the striations of No Wave, Post Punk, and Math Rock that run prominently across the group’s DNA.

Consisting of guitarist/vocalist Olivia DeBonis, bassist Maddie Calderon, and drummer Siena LaMere, Sabrina have been slowly gaining traction in the West Coast experimental scene and beyond. Last fall the group embarked on a tour of the East Coast. The previous summer, they played a smattering of shows all around California, as documented in a rough, guerilla-style home video. The band’s debut full length album Not Recommended for Sensitive Skin was released January of this year, which has generated critical acclaim and even a co-sign (albeit, an obscure one) from Cherry Glazerr.

I met with Maddie in Pasadena to discuss Sabrina’s history, the future of the group, and the overall experimental scene in California.

Tell us about the band’s history.

Siena and Olivia have actually known each other for around five years. They went to school together and had played in bands together before. I met Olivia through my best friend Julian when they had started hanging out. Siena and Olivia had started a band already and Julian kept going, “You know they need a bassist right?” And I had just picked up my bass and I was still kind of learning and getting a feel for it. I went and jammed with them and it just worked really well. We’ve been doing that for two years now as of February.

Had you been in any bands before that?

No, it was my first. I like to say that I learned how to play bass in Sabrina. It wasn’t their first band, they used to be in a band called Kindergarteners… but this was my first band. I’ve been in other ones since then, but this is my baby!

Did you know about Kindergarteners before meeting them?

Julian had told me about them, but I hadn’t seen them. They’re actually from [North Hollywood and Studio City] so they’re from a little bit different of a scene than I was. I’ve been in Pasadena for the last six years. So there’s a little bit of distance there, but it’s starting to overlap.

How long have you been with Penniback records?

I’ve personally been working for Penniback for a long time. I met Julian—he’s the co-founder—in high school. And at the end of our senior year was when we started hanging out and we’d ditch at lunch and go get fish tacos… and he said, “You should come to a show,” and the first show I ever went to was a Penniback show and it was at The Smell. The Buttertones and the Meow Twins were playing. I was like, “Woah, this shit still happens?!”… That’s our community. That’s where we got our start.

We [Penniback] have always been booking shows as a promotional group and we recently got a website where we could showcase what’s going on and anything new with our artists. But we’ve always been a record label, just I think our media outlets are changing, but not by much.

Has everything Sabrina’s released been through Penniback? No self-releases or other labels?

No, our first two were through Penniback. We’re probably the most independent band on that label as far as functioning on our own and getting stuff done, which is cool. We took care of all of our recording stuff and they helped with the PR.

Some of the songs on Not Recommended have been released previously as singles or on EPs.

Yeah, we have around three new tracks on the album and we took the last two EPs, and they were kind of like demo recordings, and we got serious about recording everything. We wanted it really nice, so we met up with Andrew Oswald, who recorded everything for us, and he’s recorded so many of our favourite bands and we just love what he does. So it was cool to be able to work with him. We were actually supposed to go up to San Francisco to record it, and his studio got shut down or it had to be moved, and he was in between spaces so he was like, “Fuck it, I’ll just come to Anaheim, I’ll just come to you to record!” And we packed all three of us, all of Siena’s drum kit, my bass amp, Olivia’s guitar, and day packs in my little Honda Fit. And we made it to Anaheim.

Did you always have the intention to put the songs on a full length album?

We knew that eventually we were going to want to rerecord and make them nice. I think the initial point of when we first released the first two EPs was like, “OK, let’s get our stuff out so we can be heard as fast as it can be,” and then towards the end we thought, “We have some new stuff and we want to get a little more serious and clean things up a little bit more.” It was intentional, but I don’t think we knew when we first releasing the EPs that we were going to rerecord all of it. But I’m really glad we did.

Do you feel like you’ve gotten more attention since putting everything out on an LP?

Definitely. It was definitely more costly, so we were like, “Let’s really push it!” The album art—I made the actual set and we got together and fucked with the lighting and the toys to find out what works. It was definitely a long process.

Can you talk about the writing process for the album?

I feel like the writing process has never really changed from our dynamic, which I kind of love. Hyena and Clean are the first songs that were ever written, and that was before I joined the band, actually. And then everything from there—either I’ll bring a bass riff or Olivia will bring a guitar riff and we’ll jam on it. There’s so many recordings, 45-minute recordings on my phone where we were trying to record some songs for a demo and we accidentally jammed for 45 minutes, and we’re like, “Oh shit, that was so tight, I’m so glad we were recording!” [Laughs]. A lot of our stuff has come from that, which is really cool.

The last two songs that were added to the album were This Innocent Fish and Relief. Both of those are pretty insane, they’re definitely the craziest songs we’ve written. They’re very abrasive, but more technical. I feel like Relief is kind of a cult classic; I feel like a lot of people aren’t going to get that one. This Innocent Fish… I didn’t think too much of that song when we released it, but our friend Alex was like, “When are you gonna play that one again?

I came across an interview you did with Urban Outfitters.

[Laughs] It’s so old! That was our second or third show we did, the Play Like a Girl show. That’s what we did the interview for. I can’t even remember… they set up a photo shoot for us at the park. It’s really old. That was a weird show!

Was it all right? Did it go well?

I think our first five shows were pretty rough, but good in the right aspects. Everyone was still able to kind of understand what we were doing even if weren’t able to articulate it well enough. People were like, “That shit’s weird, I’m down!” Cool, glad you get it!

Our first show was a house show and it was crazy, it was almost a joke. We had barely practiced, my bass broke and I was trying to tune it with pliers… and it was kind of intimidating to me at the time. Olivia got wiped out by some kids moshing, she was tossed over her amp and the drum kit. It was crazy, we’ve come a long way. But I truly love house shows. I think I can speak on behalf of all of us that they’re the most intimate setting you can have.

Do you play more house shows than bars or other venues?

It’s pretty even, actually. For the last few months we were getting ready for tours so we slapped a guarantee on some stuff and we saved up to go out, so as of recently it’s been more venues than house shows, but we usually have a pretty even cut. Bars are always super frustrating because I’m the oldest and I just turned 21, so we usually get told, “All right, sit outside until your set, get back out there when you’re done,” or, “You have to stay in that corner and you can’t leave!” [Laughs] They don’t care!

You said earlier that your sound is very abrasive. How do live shows typically go, are people generally receptive to that kind of style?

Most of the time, I think we’re pretty fortunate. We play to a lot of musicians, so I feel like the response from that is kind of different from someone who doesn’t play music. But even from someone who just listens to music, we get good responses. I [recently] met this girl who just came up to me and was like, “Your band is sick,” and I’m always baffled when someone is like, “Yo, that’s cool.” I just wonder, “Really? You think so? I’m just getting shit out!

But, people are pretty receptive, and if not, there’s always at least one person that’s really down with it. We played a house show in D.C. and people were sitting down and they started leaving, but there were two people who were like, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” They bought us drinks later and we hung out. That one person is really all I need. But usually it’s pretty good.

Tell me about the tour you did on the East Coast last fall.

The last time we did a tour we did South by Southwest and then we went on a West Coast tour, but this was the longest we’d ever been on the East Coast and we did a lot of damage. We went to a lot of places. We crashed our friend’s van the first night of the tour in the snow. It was so bad, we were driving to Skidmore for a show we almost cancelled… It took us five hours, and thirty minutes from our destination, we were going twenty miles per hour, and it was the calmest collision. We were there for two hours, but we got the car back the next day in perfect condition (aside from cosmetically damaging it). My homie ended up actually buying it off him and drove it back over here. But we did the whole tour in that van.

We went to Philadelphia, Boston, and I swear to god, we met someone way more eccentric than the night before. The weirdest people and situations just kept happening and it was very surreal. We ended at The Glove in New York. It was amazing, we played with Godcaster… that whole night was so surreal but it was a great way to end it. It was emotional: it was cold, it was long, there were tears, there were laughs… lots of bagels, lots of bread [laughs].

How does the East Coast compare to shows back here in California?

It depends on where you’re at. Philadelphia was kind of difficult, one our shows in Philly dropped and the other one—we had fun, but it was weird. So much had come down at that point and we were just a little bit delirious. I actually just screamed through the entire set for no reason, and it was honestly one of the most fun sets we’ve ever played. There were five people and this big ass dude who said, “Quantity or quality?” and Olivia said, “How do you measure quality?” and he was like, “I SELL PURE COCAINE!” What’s happening?! Where are we?!

But we’ve played some really crazy LA shows, so I haven’t really noticed a significant difference. I feel like New York is more receptive to experimental stuff, so we definitely get a lot of feedback when we’re there, which is cool.

You have some songs like This Innocent Fish, which are very tightly structured and seem difficult to improvise over, but there are also songs like Intermission and Sabrina the Nut that are more meandering and maybe easier to improv with.

Sabrina the Nut is just an iPhone recording jam. We don’t perform that, it was just something we started doing and we were like, “What’s happening? I don’t know, just keep doing it!” And Intermission is a completely improvised jam that we did at the end of recording. We really wanted to do a completely fresh jam. They’re not songs we play live and they’re just completely improvised.

Do you do improv on stage?

Sometimes, we definitely have to be feeling it, but we’ve done some pretty cool improv. We’re very much a jam band in that aspect, we’re really good at feeding off each other’s energy and knowing what’s to come or how to counteract what’s to come. It’s nice.

A lot of these songs shift abruptly into new sections that don’t really sound like anything that’s come before. When you write these songs are they cobbled together from different ideas that have been floating around or do you deliberately set out to write pieces with all these disparate parts?

Sometimes it’s very deliberate and other times it’s like, “Yo, that other thing we were jamming on a week ago would be really sick on this.Sabrina was pretty deliberate; a lot what ends up in the song… it made us laugh. At first when we were recording it, two of our homies were like, “Are they serious?!” But it’s very playful and jokey, but the bass is more sinister. That is intentional. I feel like there’s a good mix of intention and appreciating free form and going with some kind of flow, but intentionally so.

I’ve read that you describe your songwriting style as “choppy.” Do you still stand by that?

I do! I think I was talking about my lyrical style being choppy, but also musically I’m kind of choppy too. I’m writing in an emo band now and so I’ve got to be better at transitions. But vocally and lyrically… I practice writing without stopping. Sometimes it’s not always coherent, but if I keep going, what I want to come out or what I feel needs to come out, does.

But it’s not a full sentence, it’s just statements or words. But my brain’s kind of like that too; I have a very hard time organizing my thoughts, so it’s easier for me and I feel like it’s more honest. But I also love Built to Spill, and that motherfucker—just paragraphs and paragraphs [laughs]! It’s whatever is sincere and honest to you.

It seems like [Los Angeles club] The Smell has been a big part of the band’s history, can you talk about your experience with that?

I feel like it’s a big part of our entire community’s history. The first show I ever went to in LA was at The Smell. I grew up in a tiny, tiny town, and when I moved here I didn’t get out of Pasadena, and my dumb ass thought Pasadena was LA and I was like, “This is kinda whack!” And I went to the show and was like, “Woah, this shit happens?! This is real?!” And I wouldn’t be playing my bass today if it wasn’t for The Smell.

I probably wouldn’t be in Sabrina, I wouldn’t have met Olivia. Where I met Olivia was at The Smell. That’s like a huge, fundamental part of our community. Joe Smith is our dad, he provides us with a safe space to grow what we’re doing and expose others, and we’re forever grateful.

What do you think it is about the LA experimental community that draws so many people in?

The LA experimental scene, I don’t think it’s that big. I think we’re coming out of… I missed the whole Burger Records wave, I came right as that was dying out. I came when a lot of bands were trying to rip off those bands, trying to ride off that wave, and it was like, you missed it!

As of recently, there’s definitely been some weirder stuff popping up. It’s almost getting more math-ey, but not in a commercial way, in a less obnoxious way. I love math rock, but there’s definitely a lot of people who are like, “I can’t listen to this! There’s too much going on!” But I feel that [style] being implemented more. I definitely think that it’s up and coming and that we’re inspiring each other to make new weird stuff and challenge the next thing. It’s growing for sure. – Sean Hannah (@shun_handsome)

Top 50 Albums of 2018

editor’s letter

I think I speak for everyone when I say that 2018 has been a year of growth: that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been a positive one, lord knows there’s enough to argue that it’s been far from it, but as writers, a site, and/or as individuals, we’re going into 2019 having change for the better.

That’s why lists like the one you’re about to read are pretty important as not only are they a lot of fun to speculate about and formulate, they act as a sort of pseudo-diary entry that documents the music that helped for this aforementioned development to occur: maybe it’s a record that taught us something new or gave us new insight, perhaps it was a gateway entry into a previously daunting genre or it could just be that over the course of the past 12 months, it was the album that just summed up what 2018 meant to us.

So without further ado, let’s talk about those records that we’ll be keeping in mind far after you’re done reading this feature – thank you and enjoy. – Liam Menzies


Note: Unlike some publications, there’s no editorial judiciary over the placements on this list. Each writer was allowed to choose between 10-15 albums with points allocated accordingly. This was all tallied up and has resulted in the list you’re reading now – if you don’t like it then you’re probably Kent Brockman.

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
by
BOSTON MANOR

“BURY ME” roars Boston Manor frontman Henry Cox on England’s Dreaming – a track that has cemented its place very much towards to summit of a career that has always had the idea of constant growing and developing at the helm. Comparing, perhaps unnecessarily, with debut LP Be Nothing, the Blackpool punks have grown on the live stage as well as via the studio and the title, Welcome to the Neighbourhood, suggests that this is a new era where they call the shots. The closing ghostly chorus of “the day that I ruined your life”  on Hate You repeats before drifting into nothingness, and it is with this that we realise Boston Manor are not just another one-dimensional pop-punk band, but an outfit with longevity and an abundance of as-of-yet unexplored layers. – Callum Thornhill


49

FIREPOWER
by
JUDAS PRIEST

Judas Priest might come as a bit of a shock on an end of year list, especially with so many good releases in 2018, but Firepower showed that not only did Priest still have it, they were able to release their finest album to date. Despite being one of metal’s elder statesmen, Rob Halford has never sounded better as he howls through tracks like Firepower, Lightning Strike and Necromancer. An unexpected highlight of the unexpected addition is Sea of Red, an acoustic-cum-cinematic epic of an album closer, showing that whilst metal may have seen countless strong releases, sometimes, a golden oldie is always the best. – Oliver Butler


48

 

SOIL
by
SERPENTWITHFEET

The debut full-length release from Brooklyn-based ex-choirboy Josiah Wise, who performs by the name serpentwithfeet. On soil, Wise’s impressive vocal range twists itself around confessional pieces exploring the strangest, tenderest parts of love and loss. The view we are presented with is unstable and full of contradiction – love is grotesque on messy (I’ve been sitting alone for hours / Waiting for you to bring your ugliest parts to me), but rapturously beautiful on cherubim (every time I worship you / my mouth is filled with honey.)

The lyrics are, at times, almost painfully personal and vulnerable, creating the sense that what we are listening to is a glimpse into something sacred, otherworldly. ‘serpent’ knows when to practice subtlety and when to let go – mourning song is a haunting break-up piece which unleashes all its anguish in its second half in a somewhat twisted celebration of romantic failure; “I want to make a pageant of my grief.” And what a beautiful pageant it is. – Lizzie McCreadie

 


47

 

HEART SHAPED BED
by
NICOLE DOLLANGANGER

Heart Shaped Bed is delicately violent. Nicole Dollanganger sticks to what she knows best, melancholy barren instrumentation paired with heart-wrenching fantasy lyrics of obsession, death, and sex. Dollanganger plays the narrator, weaving stories, equally disturbing as they are alluring. Opener ‘Uncle’ introduces the album perfectly, it’s nauseating and uncomfortable but somehow beautiful. Songs connect hazily, tales of weddings and affairs pop up repeatedly, making the album completely compelling, requiring multiple listens to piece together the puzzle. HSB doesn’t deliver quite the same impact as her 2015 album Natural Born Losers, but stands solidly as one of the strongest releases of the year. – Isabella McHardy


46

 


KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW
by
MARMOZETS

Marmozets finding themselves on this list shouldn’t be a shock, especially with how good The Weird and Wonderful Marmozets was. But with Knowing What You Know Now, Marmozets have pushed themselves to new heights and expanded their sound to become one of the most exciting bands currently on the scene. On here, we’re able to listen to a cohesive sonic unit with a battalion of guitars and drums, with Becca’s vocal versatility acrobatically dancing over a sonic force. Whilst tracks like Major System Error, Play and Insomnia are some of the best they’ve ever done, you can’t help but feel they’re still holding a couple of cards close to their chests, and we haven’t seen the best of them yet. – Oliver Butler


45

 

SUM OF ALL YOUR PARTS
by
FATHERSON

Killie boys Fatherson had a huge 2018, and that was all down to Sum of all your parts. The album is exquisite in all ways and proves fathersons immense talent in song writing and instrumentation. Songs like Charm School and The Rain shine have huge riffs and are made to be played live, While other songs such as oh yes slow the album right down, and create an intimate and beautiful feeling for the listener. The raw and unique approach to the production of the record is amazing, with loud and gritty guitars and beautifully crafted harmonies shining throughout. The band blew it out the park with this record and their rapid growth is only certain to continue into the new year. – Gregor Farquharson


44

 


I DON’T RUN
by
HINDS

Madrid 4-piece Hinds receive a lot of back-handed compliments. Praise is often accompanied by odd comments on their musical ability and an apparent lack of sophistication in their song writing. And considering that they released one of the best indie rock albums of the year back in April, these takes seem pretty baffling to say the least. I Dont Run improves on the band’s debut in nearly every sense, with their trademark sunny disposition married to a much-improved ear for melody. Add in the fuzzy, ramshackle vocal interplay between Ana Perrote and Carlota Cosials, and youve got a record overflowing with instantly memorable hooks and an irresistible, unique charm. Nay-sayers be damned, Hinds are here to stay. – Rory McArthur


43

 

YE
by
KANYE WEST

What a fucking shiter of a year Kanye’s had out-with his musical output. From supporting Trump to claiming slavery was a choice, it seemed as though everything he touched turned to shit – that was until he got back in the studio. Recording and producing a string of great albums (Nasir not included, because fuck Nas). Coming a week after Pusha T’s spectacular DAYTONA, Ye is another left turn from chi-town’s king. Going back to the more self-analysing and scathing self-loathing that could be heard on 2008’s 808s and Heartbreaks (a criminally underrated record, but that’s by the by). 

His bi-polar disorder is a theme running through the very veins of this record (the cover of the album even references it), and it’s refreshing to hear someone as influential and highly regarded (musically speaking at least) as Kanye discussing and being so open about these issues. Even if it is thinly veiled behind Kanye’s braggadocios and often times hilarious lyrics, it’s clear that music is a release that Kanye can always rely on to make his stances and viewpoints on everything more articulate than he ever could without a backing track. – Jake Cordiner


42

 


HISTORIAN
by
LUCY DACUS

Dacus’ sophomore album seems to revolve around one thing: rebuilding from loss, whatever that loss may be. Historian’s penultimate track, ‘Pillar of Truth’, is an achingly beautiful recollection of Dacus’ late grandmother as she lies on her deathbed. Perhaps the apex example of her exceptional song writing ability; solemn, littered with religious imagery, dancing with perspectives, often placing herself in the role of her grandmother:  “Lord, be near me in my final hour. I once had sight but now I’m blind / I tried to be the second coming, and if I was, nobody knew.”

Dacus gathers herself from the pain of loss and rebuilds herself without the optimism of a sunny disposition. Historians’ copes with loss in a way we all wish we could; taking pain as fodder for growth, a vessel to steer to strange new beginnings. – Madeleine Dunne


41

TWISTED CRYSTAL
by
GUERILLA TOSS

On their third album since 2016, serial experimentalists Guerrilla Toss produce their most satisfying collection of songs to date. Revelling in sci-fi themes, Twisted Crystal manages to be both surprisingly accessible and full of the sonic exploration you would expect from the band. Lead vocalist Kassie Carlson is the star of the show, providing the melodic anchor to the propulsive, space-age instrumentals that zip around her. But the supreme catchiness is only half the fun. On multiple listens, you begin to catch more subtle lines of guitar and synth that colour the record in a thousand strange hues and provide whole new layers to an already impressive record. Its only 29 minutes long, but it packs in a whole universe worth of quality. – Rory McArthur


SWEETENER
by
ARIANA GRANDE

An emotionally turbulent last year for Ariana Grande seems to have resulted in an absolute masterpiece of a pop album.  The once squeaky-clean star, straight off the Nickelodeon screen has grown up, honing her sound with sultry ballads, hip-hop inspired beats and an ever-impressive range.

Sweetener is an absolute joy to listen to, 47 minutes filled with hope, deeper meanings and important messages.  She shares wisdom on how she deals with anxiety in breathin, preaches female empowerment on the sexy gospel god is a woman, and on dance anthem no tears left to cry she tells listeners how she’ll grow through all the bad, and create a bloody good pop song out of her hardships. – Beth McLeish


39

 

TA1300
by
DENZEL CURRY

2018 was a strong year for hip-hop and evidence of that is TA1300, Denzel Curry’s latest album. Curry is a captivating presence, his flow chopping and changing with ease from track to track. TA1300 is cohesive without ever being repetitive, incorporating catchy hooks that also pack a punch resulting in highlights such as SUMO. Denzel Curry has captured the attention of many with this album and will no doubt continue to do so. – Ethan Woodford


38

 


REIDI
by
BLACK FOXXES


Black Foxxes continue to excite with 2018’s Reidi, after a stellar debut with I’m Not Well in 2016. Right from the first melancholic chords of Breathe, the album just feels like a band wiser beyond their years, with a far more expansive sound than their debut. Highlights include Take Me Home, Manic In Me and Oh, It Had To Be You. However, with that said, the entire album from front to back IS the highlight. Mark Holley is one of the most exciting songwriters of 2018. With the band already rigorously working on new material for 2019, you get a good feeling they’ll be appearing on many Album Of The Year lists for many years to come. – Oliver Butler


37

 

LUSH
by
SNAIL MAIL

Lindsey Jordan’s debut full-length release, Lush, proved itself to be infectiously catchy, supremely confident, and a stunning follow up to Habit, the EP that rose her to dizzying heights of popularity in her senior year of High School. Snail Mail has mastered taking sober self-doubt and turning it into the perfect crowd-pleaser with earworm guitar riffs. Take ‘Pristine’, beaming melodies dance with Jordan’s direct and earnest lyricism: “Don’t you want me for me / Is there any better feeling than coming clean?”

There are moments of pure introspection, too. On ‘Let’s Find Out’, Jordan drops the fuzz and offers a tender, folk-tinged side to Snail Mail: “Burn out when you want / something that’s lost belongs to you / someone should pay for it / Well, I don’t know who.” Unencumbered in sound and lyricism, Lush navigates heartbreak with melodic, raw authenticity. A mesmerising debut, and a tantalizing look at what’s to come from the talented young songwriter. – Madeleine Dunne


36

LIFELONG VACATION
by
SLOPPY BOYS

On Lifelong Vacation, the debut album by three former members of the brilliant and dearly missed Birthday Boys sketch group, The Sloppy Boys establish a hilariously dopey identity for themselves. These are the kind of guys who go to a coke party in search of beer. Who seem to think Michael, Janet, and Reggie Jackson all have the same catchphrase. Who hit up dance clubs to find girls who’ll tuck them in bed and feed them warm milk.

The humor is dumb-smart (or possibly just dumb-dumb) and maybe inaccessible for those who aren’t intimately familiar with the work the three comedians have done with The Birthday Boys and Comedy Bang! Bang! But incredulity will give way to earnest appreciation by the time the album reaches “I’m One Hell of a Dude.” – Sean Hannah


35

ION
by
PORTAL

Five albums deep now Portal are still creating some of the most potent and out-there death/black metal you’ll ever hear. While the production on previous Portal releases tends to sound like the songs are bathed in murky and viscous tar, Ion clears up the sound and allows each individual instrument to be heard clearly in the mix. In doing so you can now fully hear how fucked up of a band they really are.

Riffs are winding and dissonant, the musicianship is as complex as it is perplexing and every track leaves the listener feeling totally unsettled. With a Lovecraftian flavour to the band, Portal makes soundtracks for descending into the abyss that’s as chaotic as it amazing. If you don’t shy away at a bit of extremity in your music theIon is an album to get lost in. – Liam Toner


34

HONEY
by
ROBYN

Having waited eight years since her last album, many fans of Robyn may have thought Honey would never come, or that she would have lost her appeal by the time it did. Thankfully, Honey is once again a showcase of her ability to craft infectious songs that benefit from creative instrumentals and Robyn’s charisma.

Something like opener Missing U is lavish and fleshed out with a lot going on to help it channel the bombardment of emotions Robyn is documenting whilst Missing U is a tad more minimalist, leaving the Sweedish star to lay everything bare. Hopefully, she won’t leave us waiting quite as long for another album as good as this one. – Ethan Woodford


33

I’M ALL EARS
by
LET’S EAT GRANDMA

Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton emerged with their debut two years ago. I, Gemini was filled with fanciful fairy tale narratives, trippy tracks about radioactive mushrooms, dead cats and treehouses. Lyrically, carrying a childlike whimsy – but that was to be expected, it was literally written by two seventeen-year-olds finishing up their GCSEs. A promising release, but there was room to grow. And the Norwich duo didn’t disappoint.

On I’m All Ears Let’s Eat Grandma award their honed psychedelics a glossy coat of high-end production. It’s a thousand times more bold, dynamic and unlike anything you’ve heard before.  With production credits from SOPHIE and the Horrors’ Faris Badwan, lead single ’Hot Pink’ builds with snarling synths to weaponize femininity in a sickly sweet pop-banger. It builds with thrashing bass and the indignation that the artists’ girlhood could undercut their presence: “Hot pink/ Is it mine, is it? / You won’t believe the shit that I can do.” 

I’m All Ears is worlds away from Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut offering – still trippy and eccentric, but now lyrically mature and with much-needed fine-tuning, to the experimentation they’ve been praised for. With I’m All Ears, they solidified themselves as trailblazers, unafraid to leap boldly from intensity to intensity. – Madeleine Dunne 


32

 

DOSE YOUR DREAMS
by
FUCKED UP

Divisive punks Fucked Up have returned with what might just be their crowning achievement. The hefty 18-song long tracklist of Dose Your Dreams finds room for a whole multitude of styles, including some spectacularly rousing punk (Raise Your Voice Joyce), heartrending shoegaze (How to Die Happy), and 90s-style indie (Came Down Wrong). Damian Abrahams roaring vocals stun, but the real strength of this album is its variety, with other members often taking centre stage, as well as an impressive lineup of guest collaborators. The storyline concerning the bands favourite recurring character David is impossible to follow without a lyric sheet, but these songs nevertheless play as an enthralling odyssey that stands as one of the years most imaginative and unique releases. – Rory McArthur


31

DANCE MUSIC
by
MASTERSYSTEM

2018 has been a great year for music, however, we know that when we look back at 2018 in terms of news out with the art itself, the first thing we’ll think about is the tragic loss of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison. His suicide was so tragic as it caught everyone by surprise as he had been so active. His latest record – Masterystem’s debut Dance Music was released just a couple of months before he took his own life.

Masterystem is a kind of supergroup formed of Scott and brother/Frabbit drummer Grant Hutchison and Justin and James Lockey, from Editors and Minor Victories respectively. To put it simply – Dance Music is a really fucking good punk record. Guitars bastardised in distortion and crashing drums intertwine to build to massive crescendos (Teething). However, what elevates Dance Music above the crowd is Scott’s lyricism. While some tracks may be uncomfortable to hear in the wake of the tragedy, Dance Music is further evidence that Scott was one of the songwriters of our generation. Rest easy big man, we all miss you. – Andrew Barr


CHRIS
by
CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS

Heloise Letissier of Christine & the Queens strutted back into our lives this year with a haircut and an armoury of brash, 80s funk-infused numbers under the androgynous new persona Chris. The production is much more maximalist here than on her debut Chaleur Humaine and, as always, everything is done in French as well as English. Lead single Girlfriend, featuring Dâm-Funk, is an irresistibly danceable exploration of desire and performativity, making for dizzyingly good pop music.

Chris makes a point of underlining desire from the perspective of a woman, while at the same time teasing and questioning the very concept of that womanhood. There are tender moments, too – Doesn’t matter is anguished and existential, What’s-her-face explores childhood alienation. It is an album which celebrates fluidity and instability, offering more questions than answers, and encouraging you to dance right through it. – Lizzie McCreadie 


29

Time N Place
by
Kero Kero Bonito

London indie-pop mavericks Kero Kero Bonito came in strong on their sophomore album. Featuring singles such as Time Today and Make Believe, it’s as joyful as you’d expect from a KKB record. Well, until you reach something like Only Acting with its cacophonous climax or Rest Stop that feels like you’ve been transported to a menacing, out in the middle of nowhere gas station.

More often than not though, Kero Kero Bonito play with the concept of pop and take it to its logical conclusion, digital bleeps and pings you’re familiar with almost without knowing and sickly sweet melodies you’ll be humming till next year. Time n Place is like a 00’s board game with an unknowable amount of colourful plastic parts and rhyming chance cards you haven’t seen in years – an absolute riot. – Tilly O’Connor 


28

S/T
by
Big Red Machine

A record that seems to have been overlooked by everyone (including this site’s very own Liam Menzies) is the self-titled debut from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and The National’s Aaron Dessner, despite the fact both Dessner and Vernon are two of the best indie songwriters of the decade. What is evident in Big Red Machine’s 10 tracks is the love of songwriting that Vernon and Dessner both share. It’s more experimental and less cohesive than anything that The National or Bon Iver would release, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

The near 6-minute highlight Forest Green is a longing, meditative track where Vernon repeatedly croons “I was gonna give you more time” between confusing imagery such as “I was gonna put it in my pocket / for every drying socket”. Forest Green epitomises the entire record – it’s undeniably scatter-brained, it’s the sound of two friends having fun and not taking themselves too seriously – it just so happens these friends are virtuosic songwriters. – Andrew Barr


27

Freedom’s Goblin
by
Ty Segall

Last January, Ty Segall quietly delivered one of the finest records of 2017. That is, of course, quiet as in it was met with little fanfare. The music, on the other hand, was a short, sharp shot of frenetic energy that blew the new year’s blues away with consummate ease. And now, almost a year to the day, a new project, entitled Freedom’s Goblin, has been unleashed upon the world to do the same. 

This may well be the musician’s finest release yet, at the very least standing toe to toe with some of his previous classics. It’s a treasure trove that demands multiple listens to uncover its hidden gems, of which there are a great many, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone begrudging a few extra listens to really get to grips with it when the music is this good. – Rory McArthur


26

Bark Your Head Off, Dog
by
Hop Along

On LP4, Pennsylvania’s emo-folk sweethearts Hop Along really find their stride. Not that any of their previous work has been without merit, far from it, but Bark Your Head Off, Dog is surely their most texturally beautiful and fully realised release to date. Intro song How Simple is a sign of things to come, a jaunty, yet introspective number (a style of song that Frances Quinlan and co. have perfected over the years).

Not a single moment of the album’s runtime is wasted, with some unexpected instrumentations and timings always creeping around each and every corner. Simply put, Bark Your Head Off, Dog is one of the loveliest and deceptively saddest indie albums of the year. – Jake Cordiner


25

Songs of Praise
by
Shame

Shame blasted open the doors of 2018 with their wild debut LP Songs of Praise, the album title itself indicative of their particular brand of dry wit. This is a far cry from the eponymous Sunday afternoon BBC One religious singalong – you can imagine a pleasant elderly couple accidentally stumbling on this while browsing the interweb, recoiling in horror as Charlie Steen screams through the speakers like an angry goblin.

Although musically-speaking there’s nothing particularly revolutionary going on here, the rebellious attitude on display is a whole different matter. The South London five-piece have perfectly captured the anger of a generation fed up with austerity and itching for an uprising. Lead single ‘One Rizla’ is exhilarating and catchy in equal measure, while the ominous drawl of ‘The Lick’ builds to an intense finish. Songs of Praise may contain nods to the past, notably Mark E Smith, but the righteous indignation and nihilistic humour is very, very relevant. – Kieran Cannon


24

Astroworld
by
Travis Scott

Texas-born rapper Travis Scott pushes boundaries and brings the cutting edge to hip-hop with his #1 album Astroworld, by far the GOOD music aficionado’s best body of work to date. Known for curating music, Travis brings something different to the mainstream hip-hop scene, purely through bringing together hazy beats and trippy effects to produce something heavily altered with tons of extra after effects. This keeps most songs in the album colourful as well as rich and with 37 different producers on board, this description shouldn’t be any surprise!

This metaphor may be a cliche at this point but this release is very much an hour-long rollercoaster with plenty of accelerating highs and loop de loops to keep you enthralled. Songs like Yosemite add the finesse and a pinch of stardust which sets it apart from most albums of this year. Then there’s Stargazing which pretty much sums up the album in four delightful minutes of ‘psychedelic hip-hop’ said the man himself. The futuristic feel truly does echo a theme park, like its out-there artwork. Astroworld features a bundle of brilliant samples not to mention The Beastie Boys as well as loads of unnamed features and surprises all over the place.

Finally, its highlight is without a doubt the Drake featured ‘Sicko Mode’. It constantly keeps you on edge with its huge beat changes that arguably make it an experimental masterpiece. The album takes hip-hop on a strange and oddly fulfilling roller coaster ride that is ahead of most of his peers. – Sanjeev Mann


23

God’s Favourite Customer
by
Father John Misty

Following 2017’s acclaimed Pure Comedy, Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman) wasted no time in releasing his next album God’s Favourite Customer. In stark contrast to its predecessor, a sprawling, grandiose project, this album is much smaller in scope, focussing mainly on Tillman’s marriage problems over the previous year or so along with struggles relating to his mental health, a powerful excerpt from opener Hangout At The Gallows comparing depression to mental terrorism. While many fans may prefer when Tillman tackles grandiose concepts in an ambitious fashion, the decision to make things more compact and set his cynical, witty sights on himself was a smart move.

Unsurprisingly, God’s Favourite Customer features some of Tillman’s most emotional songs yet. From admitting his darkest fears for his marriage on “Just Dumb Enough to Try” and being candid about his own failings on “The Palace” Tillman pulls no punches and this makes for a deeply personal album. This is highlighted on “The Songwriter”, where Tillman explores how art can affect relationships, serving as the emotional climax of the album and solidifies it as another success for Father John Misty. – Ethan Woodford


22

Tell Me How You Really Feel
by
Courtney Barnett

This year, Australian guitar queen Courtney Barnett proved that the classic excuse of the “difficult second album” is merely that – just an excuse. Her follow up to 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit features her trademark snarky lyrics and memorable riffs with a more mature and broody tone. She takes on the ever-relevant topics of violence against women, mental health, and politics, presenting them in her own way. In catchy lead single Nameless, Faceless she cheerily paraphrases Margaret Atwood with “Men are scared that women will laugh at them… / Women are scared that men will kill them. / I hold my keys between my fingers.” It is in quintessential Courtney Barnett style to handle these heavy topics in a light-hearted way, whilst still making the important point.

The title of her album is representative of Courtney opening up to her audience. She answers the question of how she herself feels, singing of her anxieties, her loneliness, and her self-doubts. Her guitar playing is fierce, her story-telling lyrics are personal. City Looks Pretty is an extremely self-aware pop song about depression, Need a Little Time tells us of the stresses of her new found fame and the feminist undertone to the whole album is brought to a head in I’m Not Your Mother I’m Not Your Bitch. In all of these songs, however, she tells us that being vulnerable and strong aren’t mutually exclusive and that it’s okay to be both. – Beth McLeish


21

Daytona
by
Pusha T

Pusha T’s solo career to date has been going from strength to strength. King Push, in particular, was dense and experimental, a demonstration of his considerable lyrical prowess. Not since the glory days of Clipse, though, has Pusha T sounded so focused; so driven.

Produced in its entirety by Kanye West, DAYTONA is one of five albums to emerge from his prolific ‘Wyoming Sessions’ and is arguably the strongest of all. Ye’s influence on the album is profound – his creative control gives the record a single-minded determination and an almost minimalist feel. The star of the show, though, is very much Pusha. Although the topics he raps about are broadly the same as they’ve always been – drug dealing, wealth, grudges – he occupies this space and makes it his own.

Kanye’s involvement was always going to court controversy, not least when he made the ill-informed decision to spend $85,000 on the licensing of an image depicting Whitney Houston’s bathroom after an apparent drug binge to use as the album’s cover art. Pusha still forges his own path, however, and makes it abundantly clear he doesn’t support his producer’s political agenda. No stranger to controversy himself, Pusha reignites his age-old beef with Drake on Infrared, calling out the Canadian rapper’s use of ghostwriters and kicking off an exchange of shots which culminated with The Story of Adidon.

Pusha has always been criminally underrated but after DAYTONA he can now legitimately claim to be one of the best in the game – his bars are relentless and he’s very much firing on all cylinders. – Kieran Cannon


Sister Cities
by
The Wonder Years

The Wonder Years have always been one of those unique bands. With this latest record, the remnants of their pop-punk background have been power washed and with this clean slate, the band has crafted an exceptional album that is sure to lead on to bigger and better things. Raining in Kyoto is one example of the band’s ability to write a powerful and unique rock song, the powerful lyrics and loud guitar creating an amazing soundscape that pulls at the heartstrings as it simultaneously blows you away.

Other tracks such as the title track and Pyramids of Salt have the band’s signature all over it, while still managing to add new bits to the band’s style. Slower songs like When The Blue Finally Came show off another side,  the heartfelt lyrics behind the slow and toned down instruments sounding completely different to any other track the band has on the record. The Wonder Years have always been a band praised for their lyricism that borders on being poetry more than anything but with Sister Cities, Soupy and co. have shown just how capable they are of making the foundations they’re playing on top off as sturdy as the words they want to graffiti on it. – Gregor Farquharson


19

Veteran
by
JPEGMAFIA

Grabbing originality by the horns and screaming in music normalities face is exactly how it feels to listen to JPEGMAFIA’s Veteran. Barrington Hendricks’ second studio album incorporates sounds from the future. It’s politically charged and aggressive yet in and amongst the anger and hype there are signs of meticulous thought and devotion to the inner workings of music that sounds like it is years ahead of his peers. Thug Tears has some of the most interesting production with almost ear piercing clicking and speaker breaking bass, while songs like Macaulay Culkin show a different side of Hendricks’ forever interesting production.

While we’ve made it clear that this sounds like it’s from 3018, it’s more like discovering a vinyl from that era that’s been used on a player with the world’s worst anti-skate: songs regularly feel like they’re about to break at any moment and while this could be a cause for concern for anyone that likes their songs a bit chunkier, it only goes to make those moments where JPEG kicks down the metaphorical door hit all the harder.

JPEGMAFIA’s latest album is a powerful piece of work, it’s an album that you can find new sounds to focus on with every listen. While Peggy may state “Fuck a blog, fuck a fan, hope my record get panned” on the album’s opener, it’s clear that the jaded and abrasive attitude of his is something many are keen to hear more of. – Will Sexton


18

iridescence
by
Brockhampton

BROCKHAMPTON’S fourth album begins with Matt Champion saying calmly “perfectly fine, it’s fine” which sounds like something the boyband would have been telling themselves during the making of their 4th album. After a whirlwind debut record, BROCKHAMPTON’S 2018 was dominated by the sexual misconduct allegations against Ameer Vann, who was subsequently kicked from the band. Then there were canceled albums – namely Team Effort and PUPPY, leaving the BROCKHAMPTON camp in a bit of a mess.

Out of the ashes rose iridescence, recorded in 10 days in London’s Abbey Road studios. Thankfully, they more than rise to this pressure, and iridescence sees BROCKHAMPTON taking a left turn yet still going from strength-to-strength.

The production is harsher and noisier, like on WHERE THE CASH AT, where Merlyn takes centre stage and provides one of his best moments in the band’s catalogue, sounding almost demented atop a minimal drum and synth beat. Many members of the band provide arguably their best moment yet on iridescence, like Kevin’s emotive verse that sits atop a string section on WEIGHT, or Joba’s explosive and show-stopping J’OUVERT verse, which not-so-subtly addresses his feelings towards former member Ameer.

However, as always, BROCKHAMPTON are at their best when they are all in tandem and demonstrating their unparalleled chemistry. This happens on string-led SAN MARCOS, where Matt, Kevin, Dom, and Joba deliver stunningly emotional verses between an equally emotive Bearface hook. The track ends triumphantly, with a choir belting out “I want more out of life than this” – there’s no doubt BROCKHAMPTON were shaken in 2018, but iridescence shows that they’re not going to be defeated any time soon. – Andrew Barr


17

N**** Swan
by
Blood Orange

Devonte Hynes, also known as Blood Orange, is often the unsung hero in music today, providing so much inspiration both directly through collaborations and indirectly by releasing consistently adventurous, genre-hopping records. Despite not receiving the popularity some of his contemporaries have done, Hynes’ less direct approach and attention to detail make him a talent to treasure and one that will continue to impress through his career.

The latest proof of that is Swan, an album that delves into how we as humans view ourselves and how we view others. Hynes combines his lyrical ability with intricate instrumentals that all come together to form a cohesive album that has an atmosphere to it that Hynes has curated. Swan is one of those albums that impresses more and more with each listen, every return revealing something that went unnoticed the last time. Hynes also brings the best out of his featured artists, with A$AP Rocky delivering a more subdued performance than usual that serves as a standout moment on the album.
Swan is one of 2018’s most important and significant albums and perhaps one that will serve as the album looked back on as Blood Orange‘s finest output. – Ethan Woodford


16

Year of the Snitch
by
Death Grips

It only made sense that the build-up to Death Grips’ sixth full-length release was full of moments that us Scots would describe as the trio being absolutely at it: unconventional collaborations? Check. Releasing so many singles that you’ve essentially leaked your own record? Check. Working alongside the bloody director of Shrek? Fucking check.

Having had dropped a release every year since 2011, the cynical amongst you may assume this was to mask a lack of progression in the Sacramento experimental hip-hop group’s sound but as the saying goes, assuming makes an ass out of you (but not me). From the mid-noughties cut which has been submerged in black ooze that is the album opener to the metal-influenced Black Paint (that features none other than Justin Chancellor of Tool fame) to the full-on synth punk bop Streaky, MC Ride and co. succeeded in coalescing the band’s various stages into one package and posting that two decades into the future.

The band are well known for their saying “Death Grips is Online” but in a world that’s always connected, even when we’re off our phones, so too is their music omnipresent which is both an exciting and terrifying prospect going off of Year of the Snitch alone. – Liam Menzies


15

2012-2017
by
Against All Logic

“If you don’t know jack about house, you’ll love this” adorns the back of 2012-2017, a quote that could be weaponised by critics of this record but there’s a hint of truth to it that actually works in its favour: the complexities at play on here may falter compared to other powerhouses in this field but the hypnotic appeal of this record means that it is absolutely ideal to spin it at any given party (or moment).

This compilation of Nicholas Jaar’s house music alter-ego is certainly one of the best electronic albums released in years. The technical prowess displayed on the album is outstanding, with meticulous attention to sampling, and fantastic instrumentation. Jaar thrives off of his experience with more club-orientated tracks from his early days, and this is evident throughout. The tracks are thrilling and a joy to experience; sometimes they’re dark, deep and smoldering, before exploding into a funky and colourful flurry. Jaar has mastered track progression, and there isn’t a second on the release that is wasted. Listening to this album just can’t help but be an enjoyable experience. – Karsten Walter


14

Confident Music For Confident People
by
Confidence Man

Hey everyone, remember fun? That’s the question Confidence Man ask with their music, as soon as that first four-to-the-floor beat kicks in, driving forward Janet Planet’s seductive vocals on Try Your Luck. What follows is an often-hilarious, always-danceable jaunt through forty-one minutes of groovy rhythms, buzzing synthesisers, and infectious melodies that refuse to leave your brain for months on end.

Building their name on their fabulously energetic live shows (featuring dance routines and costume changes, obviously), Confidence Man’s kinetic zest translates pitch perfectly onto record with cuts such as Don’t You Know I’m In A Band and All The Way, showcasing their inimitable knack for fusing pop music and dance music in a fashion reminiscent of the heady successes of LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip. Of course, the best song on the album is Boyfriend, the debut single on which helped the band to divide music lovers across the internet, and has to be heard to be believed. Whilst they may not be for everyone, Confidence Man prove wholeheartedly on their debut record that they deserve to be listened to, sung along to, and – duh – danced to. – Josh Adams


13

Room 25
by
Noname

To say there’s been a narrative about female rappers in 2018 would maybe be a tad naive: over the decades, there’s been plenty of strong women in the genre showing that they’re just as, if not more willing to show off their skills. However, when it comes to the general public changing their ways, or maybe clearing out their ears, artists like Cardi B, Cupcakke, and Jean Grae are showing how silly it is to leave an entire group out of the conversation.

Welcome to the stage Noname who has been on radars ever since her contributions to Chance’s Acid Rap and with Room 25, she’s not only cemented herself as one of the greatest talents in hop but proved that to herself which may be just as important. It can’t be understated the infectiousness that her delivery provides, a smooth as butter flows that has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies that make her an absolute delight to listen to even on a surface level.

Her demeanour isn’t hollow though as there’s more than enough substance to this record, Noname peeling back the layers to talk about all the things affecting her, whether that be wider social issues like on Blaxploitation or deeply personal worries like on Don’t Forget About Me. While she may be fraught with anxieties about her impact on not just music but her family, this record is brimming with confidence that means even though as critics we can’t answer the latter, Noname’s importance to music is astronomical: a strong feat considering it’s coming from just one room. – Liam Menzies


12

Holy Hell
by
Architects

The latest effort from metal outfit Architects marks a difficult past 12 months for the band since the extremely sad death of guitarist and songwriter Tom Searle. Holy Hell signifies their return and while they may be grieving over the past, their eighth studio album ensures that they’re firmly ahead of their peers. 

It would be fair to say the band are back to their headbanging best as songs such as Mortal After All, Dying To Heal and The Seventh Circle ensure that while the compositions are meticulously laid out, the performances given throughout give them all a much-needed aura of mayhem. A great example of this would be the delivery from vocalist Sam Carter whose pipes somehow manage to contain all the rage and emotions brewing within, a nice parallel to how the bass just barely manages to remain intact from the guitars.

There’s not a single weak moment to be found which feels pretty apt considering the tragedy that is fuelling the band and is fortunately brought up in a touching manner with Death Is Not Defeat being the ideal, heart-wrenching tribute.

Harnessing their grief and sadness, Architects could find happiness in the fact that they’ve made a piece of work that critics and fans alike love. More importantly, though, they’ve made a comeback that doesn’t trample over Tom’s memory but instead makes a shrine for him that’ll stand the test of time. – Sanjeev Mann


11

Dirty Computer
by
Janelle Monae

Recently Grammy nominated for Album of the Year, Dirty Computer is the work of pop shapeshifter Janelle Monae. It’s shiny, it’s fruity, its liberating. This album propelled Monae from a relatively underground name known by most for feature tracks to the big time. Monae plays homage to her late mentor, Prince on this summer’s best celebration of pansexuality Make Me Feel (sorry Rita Ora, Cardi B et al). Coupled with a glowing, vibrant video, this cut feels like the coolest dance party you’ve accidentally found yourself invited to.

Afrofuturistic themes from her past works are carried through on cuts such as title track which plays with the idea of the corruption of a sentient computer hard drive. As well as featuring some impressive collaborators including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Pharrell providing some impeccable production, Monae shines on more minimal songs like So Afraid. A brief period of vulnerability on an otherwise outward looking hopeful record, it lets you inside the mind of someone scared of love. A topic done to death, but not unwelcome towards the end of an upbeat, confident album. Overtly political and passionate, Janelle Monae has created a perfect Pynk time capsule of what American life is currently like, as well as laying down her plans for what it could be. – Tilly O’Connor


You Won’t Get What You Want
by
Daughters

Daughters have been releasing music since the early noughties and over the years, the band’s sound has made quite a change. Starting out in a grindcore style and then moving into noise rock territory, You Won’t Get What You Want sees the band take influence from the likes of no-wave, noise rock and industrial to create something altogether more unique.

The album has one common theme and that’s viscera. Most of the songs on here all create an overall oppressive and anxiety-ridden atmosphere and boasts powerful production that has the songs sounding grand. Held together by gritty baselines and a huge drum sound, sinister synth chords blend with winding and dissonant guitar riffs to create a potent mix of sounds that unnerve the listener on each track. Long Road, No Turns ends in particularly evil fashion when a synth lays down maddening minor chords that take the track into even darker territory than it was before.

Alexis Marshall’s vocals stand out on the album as well. Many others would have took a much more aggressive vocal style to fit with the albums sound but Marshall opts for a more reserved clean signing style which helps increase the anxiety factor in the music and allows his poetic lyrics to shine through and add to the overall sense of dread Daughters create on the album. It would be fair to say that You Won’t Get What You Want is Daughters magnum opus, with its ambitious combination of styles coming together so well and a near flawless tracklist it’s easy to see why this ended up on lots of year-end lists. – Liam Toner


Ø9

Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
by
Arctic Monkeys

Tranquility Base represents a significant turning point in the Monkeys’ musical career. Alex Turner felt it was time to ditch the ‘realism’ of their previous material, a move which was always likely to polarise their fanbase. Nevertheless, this piano-heavy, riff-lite foray into surrealism and the abstract is an intriguing new direction for the Sheffield four-piece, one which ultimately pays off.

People were quick to disparage the concept – “we get it, you like Bowie” – but in reality it’s a complex record, borrowing ideas from the unlikeliest of sources ranging from lounge music to Serge Gainsbourg. The production is warm and understated, a far cry from the lager swilling, in-your-face attitude found on the likes of Favourite Worst Nightmare, and it makes for strangely nostalgic listening. Turner switches effortlessly between crooner and falsetto, delivering lines in a stream-of-consciousness manner and touching upon subjects as far-fetched as sci-fi hyperreality before crashing back down to earth again with contemporary US politics.

Some fans would be thrilled if the Monkeys were content with churning out albums like Whatever People Say I Am ad infinitum, but Tranquility Base shows a level of maturity and willingness to adapt and for this, they deserve to be applauded. It’s less party, more philosophical – but it’s still essential listening. – Kieran Cannon


Ø8

S/T
by
Kids See Ghosts

Released just a week after Ye, Kids See Ghosts is, for our money, in the upper echelons of the best material from either Kanye or Cudi. A vibrant, brash and oftentimes surreal masterpiece that can leave you crying one moment and pishing yourself laughing the next (here’s looking at you Kanye’s adlibbing on Feel The Love). 4th Dimension for example, samples a mad sounding ragtime Christmas tune, please bare in mind that this album was released on the 8th of June. 4th Dimension also includes Kanye pitching his voice up and laughing like a witch.

But behind all the weirdness and wonderfulness contained within the production lies some very serious subject matters, the chief of which is Kid Cudi speaking with a fierce openness about his well-documented struggles with anxiety and depression. “Just a lost boy caught up in the darkness” he sings on the aforementioned 4th Dimension, and on album highlight Reborn he implies that he’s seeing the light at the end of the perpetual blackness that is his mental state.

It’s an album that highlights Cudi and Kanye’s strengths just as, if not more effectively than Man on the Moon and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy respectively, and believe you me, I don’t say that lightly. Though there are excellent features from Yasiin Bey, Pusha and Ty Dolla $ign among others, this is undoubtedly the Ye and Cudi show, and it’s absolutely fucking brilliant. – Jake Cordiner


Ø7

Some Rap Songs
by
Earl Sweatshirt

Who would have thought that a member of the decade’s most juvenile hip-hop collectives would go on to a) become a refutable rapper in his own right b) be compared to greats like MF Doom and, most importantly, c) release one of hip-hop’s most unique and essential listens this year.

Sure, this could have easily been the intro we used for Tyler’s entry on last year’s AOTY list sans the doom comparison, but Earl couldn’t be further away from what his frequent collaborator or 99% of hip-hop is doing at the moment. It’s easy to bring up run times in any of these write-ups but Some Rap Songs length is worth mention considering it’s so brief, clocking in at just over 20 minutes and featuring 15 songs which is more akin to a punk release than it is a hip-hop one.

And much like something from Black Flag, there’s a barrage of emotions that never seem to cease though Earl still delivers them in a candid, deep manner, his flow meaning he usually doesn’t let a second get chucked in the recycling. Most impressive of all is down to the fact that every bar is dazzling, managing to capture the pain that is eating Earl alive, whether it be his well-documented depression or his grief regarding his uncle and father. While we at TRANSISTOR like to wrap these write-ups aptly or with a side of wit, we hope that Earl finds peace soon and gets whatever help necessary. – Liam Menzies


Ø6

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
by
The 1975

The 1975 are simultaneously one of the world’s most divisive and most famous bands, thanks, in large part, to overblown ringleader Matt Healy. Healy is the definition of a love-or-hate character, and the majority of critics started out firmly in the hate camp as the band released their underwhelming 2013 debut. However, while the band (and particularly Healy) still had their detractors, their 2016 record i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it began to win over some critics.

The 1975 returned in 2018, announcing their third record A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. At first, it seemed like this would be more of the same – with the verbose album title and slightly average lead single (Give Yourself A Try). However, the record is something that even The 1975’s biggest fans didn’t think they’d be capable of. The pop moments from ILIWYS haven’t gone anywhere – It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) is an irresistible pop song which masks Healy’s playfully dark lyricism about his heroin addiction.

However, ABIIOR’s best moments showcase The 1975 as a more diverse band than those who wrote them off ever would have thought. Sincerity is Scary and Mine hear the band trying their hand at jazz, and it more than pays off. How To Draw / Petrichor genuinely evokes an Aphex Twin song in its second half, and I Like America and America Likes Me is sounds born of a Justin Vernon/Kanye West writing session. ABIIOR is a stunningly diverse and bold record, and every risk the band takes seems to pay off, making a record that only The 1975 could make. Maybe it’s time to give Healy and his bandmates a try. – Andrew Barr


Ø5

Wide Awake
by
Parquet Courts

Even from the title of the Brooklyn art-punk four piece’s sixth effort, you can tell parquet courts are up to something different from usual. Sure, their intellectually riotous trademarks were still intact – the rugged yells, the steady rhythm section, the thrashing guitars, the keen sense of experimentalism – yet from the outset, their inclinations towards the political (and the danceable) were made clear.

You could factor in the influence of new producer danger mouse as the sole bearer of responsibility for this bolder yet more accessible direction, but the signs were clear on their last LP, the 60s-tinged “human performance”, that parquet courts were never a group to remain static. That record fanned out the band’s sound, allowing them to experiment with the funkier grooves and atmospheric keyboards that dominate “wide awake!”, yet never at the expense of what made them so exciting in the first place.

Cuts such as “violence” and the title track take these new elements to the extreme, and is all the better for them, as the band bristle with a spikiness that matches the venom of the lyrics, which take aim at the alt-right in a defiant display of wokeness that never comes across as preachy or condescending. match these to some truly massive choruses, and you’ve one of the albums of the year – they make it sound easy. – Josh Adams


Ø4

Joy As An Act of Resistance
by
Idles

Idles took the challenge of the ‘tricky second album’, chewed it up and spat it back out again. Joy as an Act of Resistance is a ferocious 12 track attack on the senses and the establishment. Beautifully observant word choice throughout, it almost reads like a carefully crafted piece of stand-up comedy. Tracks like Never Fight a Man with a Perm are so chock full of cuttingly quotable jibes, they take a good few listens to really get your teeth into, but are worth the work.

Lead single Danny Nedelko, named after a Ukrainian friend of the band will no doubt be the soundtrack to future BBC4 documentaries about the Brexit era, with good reason. It looks at Theresa May’s hostile environment and gets hostile back. Hitting you where it hurts from start to finish, Danny Nedelko feels like hope without borders. Despite the ballsy, brasen delivery, lyrically the entire album tackles sensitive issues such as love in the modern age toxic masculinity and immigration with tender sensitivity.

Track June tells the story of the stillbirth of lead singer Joe Talbot’s daughter. Quoting Ernest Hemingway’s micro poem, the words “Baby shoes for sale, Never worn” ring out towards the end of the song, closing off a poignant moment on the album and summarising a major theme of the record: you’re allowed to feel, you should, and Idles want you to. – Tilly O’Connor


Ø3

Cocoa Sugar
by
Young Fathers

It’s a challenge to figure out how to talk about an album like Cocoa Sugar.

On the one hand, it would be easy to praise Young Fathers for conjuring up a spellbinding journey that sees the band tinker with hip-hop, art pop, gospel, neo-soul, and R&B. Sure, being able to muster up songs in these styles and fitting them onto one record is admirable but a real accomplishment would be pulling them all off masterfully and wouldn’t you know it, Young Fathers did just that. We can’t discuss this record without mentioning In My View, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous cut of indietronica and R&B that’ll have you crying tears of joy without breaking a sweat.

And on the other hand, it would be painfully naive of us to not mention the lyrical content on here. Some have accused the band of not being upfront about themes like they have on other albums but if you do the work, you’ll notice that the trio has made their messages abstract but decipherable: Turn is a powerful song about refugees, Toy acts as both a tale of a toxic relationship in addition to a metaphor for…well, any sort of one-sided relationship such as government and Tremolo is all about fragility.

Huh, maybe it was a lot easier to explain why we love this album after all? – Liam Menzies


Ø2

Twin Fantasy
by
Car Seat Headrest

It is fair to say we live in an era where cries about the declining, decrepit nature of rock music in the twenty-first century are more common than Tommy Robinson supporters having the union jack in their Twitter bios, but apparently no one told Car Seat Headrest, who have come roaring through the 2010s with an almost unparalleled discography in modern indie rock.

The current version of twin fantasy – itself a remake of its rougher, younger 2011 self – takes everything you might love about crashing drums, distorted guitars and confessional lyrics and polishes it up for the modern day, somehow meticulously balancing the intellectual and the physical to a degree that only becomes more breathtaking as the record progresses through its ten tracks.

Frontman and one-man-band polymath will toledo’s songwriting has never been sharper as he updates and refines his most honest and raw lyrics to date, distilled into instrumentals that are both vast and profound, epic and intimate. The latter of these accomplishments can be traced directly to the talents of Ethan Ives, Seth Dalby and Andrew Katz, who breathe new life into the original’s charmingly scrappy arrangements and bring a new perspective to the tale of a crumbling relationship. “twin fantasy” is ultimately as near-flawless as indie rock gets, and we’re still not even that close to summarising its brilliance. – Josh Adams


Ø1

Be The Cowboy
by
Mitski

As the summer of 2018 drew to a close, Mitski released her third studio album, Be The Cowboy.

Heavy with vulnerability and the aching listlessness of solitude, it was easy to misread the release as autobiographical, particularly when you recollect how deeply personal Mitski Miyawaki’s existing body of work is. The release wove together several fictional, yet very familiar, tales of lost love, longing and above all, loneliness.

Before taking up the guitar on her 2014 release Bury Me At Makeout Creek, Mitski’s choice of instrument was the piano. Be The Cowboy sees her return to the keys, and perhaps that’s why a sense of growth permeates through the releases’ sound. Gone is the distinctively fuzzy distortion that decorated her two most recent albums, to be replaced with… well, the confidence to push the boundaries of experimentation.

Within the 14 tracks, only two of which had run times exceeding the three-minute mark, Mitski fluidly dints between genres. It’s a masterful method to showcase her dynamic songwriting ability – quickly veering from synth-pop to folk-rock to plaintive piano melodies, stylistically grounded by her distinctively clear voice and immersive narratives that, altogether create a clear and concise, oftentimes devastating, listen.

The word devastating comes to mind because, without doubt, there are moments where this album can downright wind listeners (I’m looking at you, ‘Pink In The Night’). While each short tale exudes that gut-wrenching feeling of being cast aside – something that Mitski has honed through her body of work – it’s fragility that’s always in some way protected, be that by wry wit, erudite metaphor or just in a disco banger (I’m looking at you, ‘Nobody’.)

While staying true to the raw vulnerability of her previous work, Mitski asks listeners to embrace their hurt, their rejection, and their solitude, to tilt their heads up and ask for something “bigger than the sky”. – Madeleine Dunne 

 

Top 10 King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Songs

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard never fail to surprise.

Even before their almost impossibly productive 2017, they were renowned for their superhuman work ethic, genre-hopping tendencies, and unmissable live shows. Add the 5 albums of last year into the mix and you’re left with 13 full-length records containing everything from jazz to psychedelic rock to prog and back again, a truly unique discography befitting of a truly unique band.

But this year they’re taking a break from recording, so it seems like a good time to take stock. That’s right, today we will be ranking (see: attempt to) the top 10 songs from Melbourne’s finest. This has been a tough task, but please, sit back, relax, and get ready to be slightly irritated that your favourite didn’t make it.

10. The River

With each of its 4 tracks clocking in at exactly 10 minutes and 10 seconds in length, 2015’s Quarters is a bit of a mixed bag. Half of the album feels like padding to reach the necessary track lengths, full of endless jamming around ideas that would have been better served as much shorter songs. The same cannot be said for its opener though, that being the hazy bliss of The River. Gizzard have ventured into jazzy territory a couple of times, but this track is undoubtedly the greatest of those experiments.

The combination of the 5/4 time signature and production that has the band sounding as if they’re playing through thick smoke is a winning one, lending the track a lo-fi ambiance that’s as catchy as it is intoxicating. Spiraling riffs eventually ebb and flow towards a climactic and potent time signature shift, welcoming in slinky reworked versions of the main guitar lines that cement this as a stone cold classic.

9. Crumbling Castle

This one knocked about in various forms before it’s final incarnation appeared on last year’s Polygondwanaland as its opening track. First, there was a short, 3-minute version played live a few times, then a leaked instrumental demo recording, and finally the proggy behemoth that takes the number 9 spot on this list. The whole 11 minutes are essentially just the band flexing every muscle they have, and it works to awe-inspiring effect.

The main vocals and lyrics are fairly standard, but it’s the instrumentation that really lifts this track. The intricacy of the interlocking guitar parts is pretty much unparalleled in their discography, combining with bubbling synths to create an almost overwhelming experience. Add in some chant-like sections and a ferociously heavy epilogue, and you’ve got an album opener for the ages.

8. The Lord of Lightning

Murder of the Universe is a pretty polarising album. Some love the overtly mystical themes and the narration, but many dismiss it as a self-indulgent misfire lacking in any real substance. There is one thing that most agree on though, and that’s the fact that The Lord of Lightning goes hard. The ominous riff that hangs over the entire song combines with the propulsive drums and frequent freakouts to leave the track feeling like it’s going to blow apart at any moment.

And then it does! Towards the end, off the back of a signature Stu Mackenzie yowl, the guitars grind down to a sludgy crawl, transforming the song into something infinitely more intimidating. It’s perhaps the finest individual moment on any Gizzard record, and more than its earns the song its place on this list.

7. Sense

Paper Mache Dream Balloon is a bit of an outlier, with the manic, conceptual ambition of most releases absent in favour of a breezy psychedelic pop approach. This big a change in sound could have been a disaster, but thankfully it resulted in both an album that still stands as a high point of the band’s career, and yet another stellar opening track. Sense is a relatively simple song, with a repetitive acoustic guitar providing the backing for some sumptuous clarinet, but it’s this simplicity that gives it its charm.

Mackenzie drops his usual staccato delivery in favour of a delicate vocal that floats over the song instead of dictating its direction. The result is a short but instantly memorable track that more than matches up to its flashier, louder siblings.

6. The Bitter Boogie

While Sense, and most of the rest of PMDB, sound as if they were written specifically to be sung around a campfire in the middle of a commune, The Bitter Boogie wouldn’t sound out of place on a western soundtrack. The guitars and harmonica lean heavily on blues influences, while the looping bass and repeating vocal of ‘bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter…’ mixes in a more psychedelic edge.

These elements create a swirling, almost hypnotic groove that’s fantastic even by itself, but towards the end of the track, the vocals of Ambrose Kenny-Smith come in and lift things to another level. His abrasive, almost sleazy style dials the blues up to 11 and the whole thing instantly clicks, with his absence from the rest of the song only serving to heighten the satisfaction when he eventually arrives. The result is an often overlooked classic that only misses out on the top 5 by a hair.

5. Sleep Drifter

Top 5 time! That’s right we’ve reached the big time, and what better way to enter the final straight than with the finest cut from the 2017 microtonal masterpiece Flying Microtonal Banana? Seemingly inspired by a piece entitled Kara Toprak by Turkish poet Asik Veysel, Sleep Drifter showcases the band at their most confident and musically accomplished. Fittingly, the track floats along like a lullaby, with simple, childlike lyrics, ‘I can see you next to me / And it is lovely’ acting as the perfect accompaniment to the gentle yet groovy guitar melodies. The microtones keep you from drifting off though, keeping things intriguingly offbeat and adding in a distinctive and unique flavour that pushes this one into the realm of greatness.

4. Am I In Heaven?

Until it was usurped by Nonagon Infinity, I’m In Your Mind Fuzz was the best example of King Gizzard’s signature brand of frantic, tightly wound psychedelia. Despite opening with a deceptively chilled acoustic section, it’s best track, Am I In Heaven, soon descends into beautiful madness. The Aussies have never again sounded this jacked up, with the rhythm section and guitars galloping along at a thousand miles an hour creating a disorientating wall of noise in the process. Mackenzie’s vocals sit distorted in the mix, screaming nonsense and employing his signature ‘WOOOOOOOOOO’ to electrifying effect. By the time the chorus rolls around he sounds 50 ft. tall, as the chords rise with him. This is perhaps the best example of the band just throwing everything they have at a song and just seeing what happens, and it’s fucking glorious.

3. Head On/Pill

Great debate rages over which album of the 13 is the best. There’s no definitive answer of course, but at the same time, it’s definitely Float Along-Fill Your Lungs. The band’s third record is the most psychedelic they have ever produced, featuring sitars, trippy lyrical imagery and some beautiful kaleidoscopic artwork. The recent vinyl reissue of the album called its opener the ‘Gizzhead national anthem’, and a description has never been so apt.

Whenever this song starts appearing on setlists, fans across the world start talking in hushed tones on internet forums about the possibility of the band playing it when they come to their city, and its not hard to see why. From the euphoric twang of the opening riff through the wild, shimmering ride of the next 16 minutes, this is a song good enough to get you hooked on Gizzard forever. For such a long song, its remarkably catchy, and although it can get repetitive, you soon lose count of the endless cries of ‘PILL’ and just get lost in the psychedelic soup.

2. Robot Stop

As the opening/closing/anywhere in between song on the infinitely looping masterpiece Nonagon Infinity, Robot Stop never fails to get the loudest cheer when played live. It packs in enough ideas to fill an entire album, and even features the return of a motif from I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’ Hot Water, a moment that somehow feels like a natural fit instead of a cheap trick.

It’s got a totally unique energy befitting of its punk-style pacing, bursting out of the traps and quite literally never letting up. But for a track of this rapid a pace, it packs one hell of a melodic wallop, and as far as riffs and solos go this song is an absolute embarrassment of riches, with them all piling up on one another before cascading seamlessly into Big Fig Wasp.

It may well be the band’s defining song, but it’s not quite their best…

1. Float Along-Fill Your Lungs

So here we are, at the summit of Mount Gizzard. It’s been tough whittling down 13 albums to just 10 songs, but there was never really too much doubt about what sits at the top of the pile. The title track from Float Along-Fill Your Lungs isn’t just the band’s greatest song, it’s one of the best psychedelic rock tracks of the last 10 years, and yes you can quote us on that.

The central mantra of, ’Just float along, and fill your lungs / Just float along, and breathe a deep breath’, doesn’t just function as an appropriately hippy-sounding refrain, it encapsulates the vibe of this entire genre of music and of the band themselves. Mackenzie repeats it over a soundscape alive with a million colours, with guitars exploding and reversing back again amidst throbbing synth gurgles; it couldn’t fit together any better.

The result is something that’s somehow both relaxing and thrilling at the same time, with multiple listens revealing new melodies hidden under the layers upon layers of shimmer. Who knows if they’ll ever top it, and we suspect we’ll see them try soon enough, but until then, stay safe, and remember: rattlesnake, rattlesnake, rattlesnake… – Rory McArthur (@rorymeep)

Girl In A Band: Answering That Fateful Question

“I’m sorry if I’m alienating some of you / your whole f*cking culture alienates me”- Bikini Kill.

A few years ago, I wrote a short article on the fated interview question faced by many, many musicians.

Sooooooo…. what’s it like being a girl in a band?

Having had a little experience of being a girl in a band at the time, I felt I could say my piece. I agreed with Kim Gordon in her autobiography (aptly named Girl in a Band) when I said that it was no different from being a boy in a band, as we were, quite simply doing the same thing. I recognised the barriers between women and music careers, but ultimately, I believed that things were by far better now than they used to be. I guess they are. Well, on paper they are. Is the music world still a world that excludes women?

Since starting my band, we have had some incredible opportunities, and of course, I am grateful for every single one of them. However, surely it is not unreasonable for me to be getting tired of being one of only two girls on an entire gig line-up. From what I’ve gathered, the type of music we play, and the music scene, in general, is a boy’s club. For a long time, I just didn’t think there was that many women in bands. But now I’ve learned that this is 100% not the case. We just aren’t getting booked as much as our male counterparts. Why is this? Surely, it’s not that hard to be a bit more inclusive?

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However recently, promoters have started to cash in on this and have started putting on “female fronted bands…”. This is a commonly used term with promoters, bands and reviewers alike. I find it ridiculous. Would you describe a band of guys with a male lead singer as “male fronted?” No, no one would say this, because sadly the assumption is that musicians are male. Surely, it’s not fair then to disregard women’s songwriting and their art, and just make it about their gender? This has been happening to women ever since they started making waves in the music world. In the 1960s, all-girl Merseybeat band, The Liverbirds were booked to play in the famous Star Club in Hamburg, where The Beatles were also playing. They remember (telling Kate Mossman in her BBC documentary “Girls in Bands”) John Lennon saying to them, “Girls with guitars? I bet you that doesn’t work out.” A decade later, when The Runaways were formed, they were shamed for being sexual but leered at for the same reason.

Joan Jett and Lita Ford are incredible guitarists, but at the time they were only seen as leather-clad, jailbait femme fatales. Sadly, things don’t seem to have changed that much. When I went to see Wolf Alice last year, I witnessed a bunch of lewd comments directed at the singer Ellie. I’m sure she’s used to this, but she shouldn’t have to be. A woman should be able to get up and sing a song or play her guitar, without having to worry about what she’s wearing, or what people think of her. This is the kind of thing that Bikini Kill and the other bands of the Riot Grrrl movement were talking about in the 1990s, it really makes me really sad that these songs are still so relevant.

Pale Waves singer, Heather Baron-Gracie tweeted: “If you come to a Pale Waves show and you shout at me to “sing a song naked” I will have you removed in seconds.” Here is a woman in quite a successful pop band, getting angry about the way she is being treated by her audiences. It is good that she can stick up for herself so publicly, however, this treatment of women could possibly discourage young girls to feel that they would be welcome, safe and comfortable expressing themselves in the music world.

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Being a woman in general, you are constantly being fed contradictions. You’re weak, but you must be strong, be smart, but girls are dumb, be sexy, but not too sexy because then you’re a slut. This is, unfortunately, something that follows us into the music world too. Whenever I play gigs, I feel the need to dress up in my coolest clothes and wear lots of makeup. It’s that constant pressure to look good that affects so many women in bands, and a lot of the time it matters more than what the music sounds like sadly. Of course, boys in bands are scrutinised for how they look too, and there is, of course, an expectation for them to look cool. But for female musicians, it almost seems like they’re there to be sex symbols, and their music is secondary. According to Fender, 50% of new guitar players are female, but all of this gets me thinking, how many of that 50% will feel like they’ll be taken seriously?

Are gigs safe spaces for women and girls? Not yet.

Are women musicians respected and recognised for their art? Not yet.

What is it like being a girl in a band? Well, what do you think?
– Beth McLeish (@mixtapeheart)

The 12 Days of Halloween

The best time of year is upon us and it is time to celebrate all things spooky.

Watching horror films and putting up macabre decorations is a good start to getting into that Halloween spirit, but we find it’s just as important to have a spooky soundtrack to boot. So until Hallow’s Eve graces us on the 31st of October Transistor will be bringing the spook in early with the 12 days of Halloween.

Each day we’ll be updating this piece to post some of the darkest and eeriest sounds that have been committed to music from a variety of different genres and styles but all with the same shared goal: to create music that unsettles the listener, explores the occult and in general, conjures the Halloween spirit into the listener. – liam toner (@tonerliam)

Day 12 – Static Age by The Misfits

At the end of the day, it’s night. But also, at the end of the day there’s only one band you need to listen to on Halloween and that’s the Misfits. Misfits were a punk band formed 1977 in New Jersey and would become internationally loved as a cult band thanks to marrying of punk music with horror themes. Early in their career, their dedication to horror would have them arrested for grave-robbing after a gig. Although over the years The Misfits would go through a plethora of members with several good albums under the belt there best album would be 1996’s Static Age. Although released in 1996 Static Age should have been their debut as it was recorded in 1978 but no labels wanted to put it out which is such a missed opportunity as Static Age stands as one of the greatest punk albums of all time.

There are many reasons to why this album stands out as their best and one of those reasons is consistency. Listening to the album is such a thrill as were giving anthem after anthem with probably only Theme for a Jackal being a missable track. As the album features the bands early material they’re still wearing their influences on their sleeves but unlike other punk bands of the time Misfits influences added up to a very interesting sound. Many of the compositions (all by vocalist Danzig) take riff and chord progressions from rock and roll, rockabilly and doo-wop and mixed with Danzig’s vocal’s sounding like a gritty mish-mash between Jim Morrison and Elvis make for a potent combination. The icing on the cake for the band is, of course, the morbid, b-movie inspired lyrics.
The track Hybrid Moments which is essentially a punked up 50s song with a twist shows the band at their most infectious with hooks-a-plenty and a song that is just emanating raw energy throughout the tracks brief length.

Another fan favourite would be Last Caress. This song stands out as one of the most Ramones sounding songs the band has done but it’s Danzig’s vocal work on the track that makes the track so exciting. Although the lyrical approach of the track was apparently to be as edgy as possible it’s the juxtaposition between abhorrent lyrical themes mixed with high energy poppy punk that makes this track downright amazing. It’s hard to listen to the vocal break near the end where Danzig bellows out the track title without getting chills down your spine.

 

Day 11 – Christian Death’s Only Theatre of Pain

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In the late 70s/early 80s goth rock music would be pioneered in England with bands such as Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy but across the pond a similar sound would be developing under the moniker Deathrock, where Californian band Christian Death would influence and inspire the whole scene thanks to their debut album Only Theatre of Pain.

Whereas the UK goth scene favoured low baritone singing to create moods, vocalist Rozz Williams’ vocal style would be much more whining and manic and at times Williams would create tortured soundscapes by layering his pained moans. While the modus operandi of the group would be anti-Christianity, lyrics would also allude to graveyards, Satan and necrophilia amongst other antagonistic topics which creates a lot of chilling imagery in the band’s work. The other thing that made the band really special was the guitar work from Rikk Agnew. Agnew originally played with punk band The Adolescents but the approach he had to guitar in Christian Death would perhaps be his most powerful. Making use of guitar effects regularly Agnew would create all sorts of haunting atmospheres with weird lead lines, solos and guitar manipulations. His unique style is particularly good on the track Spiritual Cramp a song based around a punkish dirge with a completely eerie and strange solo.

Following from Spiritual Cramp comes Christian Death’s most renown song Romeo’s Distress. The song has a morbid pop sensibility to it that makes the track totally infectious but still retains an evil spooky quality that makes it essential listening for the Halloween period.

Day 10 – Obscure and Forgotten Horror Rock of the 60s

There was a weird time in the early to mid-60s where (mostly) American rock and roll bands decided to make songs about monsters, horror clichés and in general, Halloween flavoured topics. A lot of the examples of these songs were made by small bands that only ever released singles here and there. Fortunately, in today’s day and age, we have Youtube, a platform for all of these forgotten gems. This spooky phenomenon was very scattered and doesn’t seem to originate from anything or anywhere in particular and as such a lot of these types of songs vary in style. In this playlist we have for you today you’ll get a blend of surf rock, rockabilly, blues, garage and rock and roll all related by their ghoulish themes.

Day 9 – Drei Lieder op. 25 by Anton Webern

Anton Webern was an Austrian composer that in the first half of the 20th century would become known for his unsettling and avant-garde compositions. Webern was a student of Arnold Schoenberg and would take a lot from his teachings, but Webern would become most known for his use with the serialism technique. Serialism, as created by Schoenberg, is a guideline for creating atonal melodies. It is done by taking all 12 notes in an octave and arranging them in random orders without repeating any notes.

This means that the melody will never find a tonal centre as all notes are used equally. Drei Lieder op. 25 is made for two instruments: piano and female voice. Both the voice and the piano make use of the serialism technique and in doing so create a skin-crawling and creepy piece that would be the last thing you’d want to hear when exploring a graveyard at night.

Day 8 – Funeral Parade by Part 1

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Part 1 are a bit of a strange band. They came out of the UK’s late 70s/early 80s Anarcho-Punk scene, home to such overtly political bands such as Crass, Flux of Pink Indians and Conflict. Part 1 would be regulars to the Wapping Autonomy Centre (also known as The Anarchy Centre) where many of these bands spent their time and put on charity gigs. Despite all this, the band’s sound would be separated from all of their peers’ thanks to its macabre subject matter and ghostly sound.

The band never managed to get too much recorded in their short run but their EP Funeral Parade is a mostly forgotten goth-punk banger. The songs are held together by hypnotic post-punk basslines and at times the bass is the key melodic element. Throughout a great deal of the EP the guitars (soaked in chorus/flange effects) just scream with feedback like banshees; in fact, feedback is used fantastically as a compositional element throughout the EP and is what creates such an eerie vibe throughout. Reading the tracklist gives us an early indication of what type of sound the band is creating with tracks such as Graveyard Song, Ghost, and Salem. One of the only things that might be recognized as Anarcho Punk is the vocals, a gravelly bite which keeps the tracks aggressive and punky making the bands spooky tone sound downright evil.

Day 7 – King Night by Salem

Salem are an American group whose debut album King Night, released in 2010, would gather a lot of attention for being a pioneering album in the Witch House genre. Their sound would blend chopped and screwed samples, trap style beats, ethereal operatic vocal samples with synth-laden instrumentals. This blend of sounds creates very dense soundscapes expertly blending between darkness and pop sensibility that would make the album one of the most interesting releases of that year.

Although other artists in this style would go much deeper into the occult themes and imagery it’s fair to say that this album would be a starting point and level of excellence that witch house artists would aspire to reach. King Night most importantly has an overall spooky and arcane vibe yet in a very modern way that makes it ideal for this time of year.

 

Day 6 – Memphis Rap

Memphis in the 90s was home to one of rap music’s spookiest subgenres – Memphis Rap. The groups that would come to define the style favoured dark instrumentals, 808 drum kits and fast double time and triplet flows (Memphis Raps influence on modern trap music is understated but huge). Groups would regularly sample horror movie scores and a great deal of the music was laced with a chilling, ominous atmosphere.

Many Memphis groups struggled to get much recognition and as such acts quite often relied on a D.I.Y. ethic in order to put out mixtapes. This led to many of the classic releases of the time being lo-fi in nature. However, this lo-fi quality at times added an extra depth to the music and adding to the mystery.

Three 6 Mafia

Of all the Memphis groups Three 6 Mafia would become the most commercially successful in the scene thanks to their debut album Mystic Stylez. Boosted by higher production value and by radio play of the track Da Summa Three 6 Mafia would become the face of the Memphis rap sound and would help inspire many artists for years to come.

The instrumentals on Mystic Stylez are rife with creepy atmosphere with most of the group contributing to production. DJ Paul brings a special flare to some of keyboard and synth lines due to his background as church organ player.
The title track of the album is the best representation of the groups unique sound and Lord Infamous’ triplet flow verse would make Migos blush.

“Mystic Styles of the ancient mutilations
Torture chambers filled with corpses in my basement”

 

Tommy Wright III

Although never quite attaining the success of Three 6 Mafia, Tommy Wright III was, to many, just as significant as the former. Wright would also heavily flirt with satanic themes, lyrics about murder as well as with the rapid-fire flows and eerie beats that Three 6 would use. On the cover for his Ashes 2 Ashes Dust 2 Dust mixtape Tommy can be seen standing in a graveyard with a shovel in his hand as if he’d been out graverobbing and stopped for a quick photo. His track Gangsta Forever is a strong representation of his talents as a rapper and the instrumental is nothing short of spooky.


Criminal Mafia

Criminal Mafia never came anywhere close to the level of modest success that the two previous artists but their Crucifixion mixtape stands out particularly for its totally lo-fi sound. The grainy and dusty sound quality of the tape gives it a very mysterious aesthetic. The songs all sound ancient as if this was a tape that was discovered in the dark woods with nobody knowing it’s origin.

 

Day 5 – Monster Mash by Bobby Pickett

When it comes to Halloween music there’s nothing that’s quite as iconic as Monster Mash. The song is your generic 50s doo-wop dance song but with a totally campy Halloween twist. The lyrics tell a story from a mad scientist’s perspective (Dr. Frankenstein’s most likely) of a monster he created coming to life and dancing “The Monster Mash” a dance that would become a fad amongst all your classic horror monster tropes such as zombies, ghouls, and vampires. The Monster Mash even made Dracula himself jealous as it usurped his dance craze the Transylvania Twist. The production takes the song just a little further with added B-movie horror sound effects spread throughout the track.

There’s nothing deep or ground-breaking about this track but Monster Mash is undeniably just a lot of fun and to this day is still considered by many THE Halloween song.

Day 4 – Bauhaus

Bauhaus are forever remembered as the forefathers of the goth rock genre. Forming in the late 70s alongside the rise of post-punk, Bauhaus would take the sounds emerging at the time and push them into much darker more theatrical realms. Vocalist Peter Murphy’s voice (a sinister baritone) would be mimicked by a huge number of bands following in their footsteps.

The band would release four albums over their initial short career but their debut In the Flat Field would stand out as their best with songs such as Dark Entries being a standout track with its high energy minimalist riff, smutty lyrics and the great backing vocal chant in the second chorus.

Bauhaus are one of those bands who are known for starting out at their peak and deteriorating in quality as they progressed. It’s easy to see why people think this when you take into account their very first single Bela Lugosi’s Dead. The track is an almost 10-minute-long masterpiece.

It starts with the clicking of percussion that is manipulated with delay effects to create bizarre and eerie sounds and then is joined by the bass guitar. The bass plays a very simple creeping bassline that varies subtlety while the guitar slowly starts to join the mix. The song consists of this unsettling instrumental until 2:50 when Murphy’s vocals finally kick in and hen they do it’s completely worth the wait. His baritone voice sings of Bela Lugosi the Hungarian actor whose performance in the 1931 adaption of Dracula would become legendary, particularly for giving birth to the stereotypical accent that Dracula would forever be associated with.

This track is a true goth rock anthem and is probably one of the best songs ever written around vampiric themes. Perfect for Halloween.

 

Day 3 – Dracula’s Music Cabinet by The Vampires of Dartmoore

It’s hard to find much information about this strange band other than they were a German band blending elements of jazz, blues, surf rock and psychedelia and their album Dracula’s Music Cabinet would be there only known release. Despite this, the band would be remembered in some circles as a cult band of freaks who created a soundtrack to a non-existing horror film and would stand out as one of rock music’s best forgotten, spooky gems.

You won’t find this album on youtube but Spotify and Apple music listeners should be able to hear it in all its glory.

Day 2 – T.S.O.L.

T.S.O.L seemingly started as a standard American Hardcore band in the late 70s but their magnum opus would prove to be 1981s Dance With Me. Some found their transition from straight punk into more gothic/deathrock material jarring, but the early blooming of deathrock on this album would make this record standout above a lot of the other hardcore releases at the time.

Tracks such as Code Blue would have vocalist Jack Grisham sing about no longer trying to get off with the girls at school, but instead, Grisham now fantasises about Necrophilia and breaking into the mortuary to enact his morbid fantasies. Silent Scream with its dark post-punk stylings featured lyrics stating, “I’m the cobwebbed stairs, the ancient bones…I’m the demon cowering in the corner”.

The title track Dance With Me stands out as a perfect closing track. The bridge section of the song breaks down into a single note pulsing bass line backed up by chorus drenched minor chords from the guitar. This builds into a climax where the songs main lyrical theme returns:

Dance with me my dear
On a floor of bones and skulls
The music is our master
The devil controls our souls”

Despite half of the album’s songs not quite embracing the spooky vibe of some of the standout tracks on here it’s quite easy to see why Dance With Me can be considered a horror punk classic and an album perfect for Halloween. We’ll leave you with this quote from vocalist Jack Grisham.

Yeah, we dug up some graves, but we dug up graves even before the first record. All that crap, like breaking into mortuaries – we’d done that before. Look at the first TSOL record, it thanks to the church PA – we’d been busting into churches and desecrating the altars. We’d steal the PA and spraypaint the altars.” 

 

Day 1 – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins originally planned on becoming an opera singer, but when that didn’t work out for him he began to sing for blues bands. However, he took a lot of opera’s theatricality into his stage presence which would have him donning crazy stage clothes and macabre props.

His stage performances along with his wild roaring vocal style on the track I Put a Spell on You would have him considered the father of ‘shock rock’ and he would inspire countless artists from Alice Cooper to Marilyn Manson. These days, I Put a Spell on You is considered a Halloween anthem and has been covered by countless artists.

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Now that you’ve got enough music to soundtrack the day, fling your costumes on and go hit up the graveyard and, most of all, Happy Halloween!