A Good List Goes a Long Way- 2018 Edition

If, musically speaking, 2017 had been a year in which I navigated mostly within my comfort zone, with many of my favourite acts releasing new music, 2018, bar a couple of records (more precisely, three), was all about discovery. Interpol and Editors released albums that are very much in line with their traditional sound and themes, yet both bands insisted that they were actually entering new territories, as if staying relevant could only be achieved through drastic re-invention. Both albums also took some time to grow on me- Editors perhaps longer than Interpol, but I gradually began noticing how they would return into my rotation ever more often. There is nothing wrong, after all, with knowing what kind of music your audience is after and delivering it accordingly.

Just as there is nothing wrong with drastic re-invention, when done right. I therefore belong to that minority of Arctic Monkeys fans who loved the new album, it’s self indulgent crooner vibes and exasperated sci-fi wisdom, the sand coloured slightly crumpled suits, the updated posturing, the middle finger raised to all those expecting a repeat of AM’s guitar led muscularity. Piano, my friends, I give you a lot of piano. Therefore, even if the list is again fundamentally a no particular order offer, I would still call Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino (I typed that fast&off the top of my head, sweet victory) my favourite record of 2018.

  • Kali Uchis-Isolation
  • Mitski- Be The Cowboy
  • Interpol- Marauder
  • Tom Grennan- Lighting Matches
  • Robyn- Honey
  • Anna Calvi – Hunter
  • Arctic Monkeys -Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
  • Loma-Loma
  • Editors- Violence
  • Eddy de Pretto- Cure

I would have probably expected both Robyn and Anna Calvi to be on the list anyhow, yet both records did in some ways exceed my expectations- I would call Calvi’s the best of her career so far, with her sublime guitar skills being perfectly complemented by the sultry and intriguingly catchy tunes. Robyn would have to work tremendously hard to outperform the sad candy pop perfection of Body Talk, so she wisely opted for small tweaks instead, giving the new tracks an extra dose of smoothness and, outrageously, some straightforward happy vibes

I was however completely in the dark about Mitski, which is a pity, but it’s probably best that I discovered her through the tour de force that is Be The Cowboy, an unapologetically un-mainstream album, with wistful ballads ebbing and flowing like a relentless river of feeling. When it comes to Kali Uchis, who makes it both to the best album and the best song list (with an absolute gem sung in collaboration with the ever present and excellent Damon Albarn), and Rosalia, whose album was marie kondoed out last minute when I decided I could allow only ten albums but whose Pienso en tu mira has been perhaps my main ear-worm of the past couple of months, a year ago I would have confidently stated that I do not listen to anything even remotely connected to reggaeton and flamenco. With the wisdom provided by hindsight I will label myself an utter buffoon.

Speaking of the songs, I tried to choose the final ten in disconnection from the albums as much as possible, picking only those which struck me as perfect on their own account.This ended up being some sort of labour of love which resulted in a 50 track playlist listening to which I can confidently say that I don’t feel anything worth mentioning has been left out- a historical first, and further proof that streaming services which let you organise your music with a couple of clicks are a godsend to the chronically lazy.

If, similarly to the albums, I am to choose the one song which says 2018 like none else, I will go for Helena Deland’s Claudion, an electro pop dream so addictive that I literally had to leave my laptop in another room so I don’t play if for about the 15th time in a row. Close runners up are Amen Dunes’s atmospheric Blue Rose and Son Lux’s intricate and hypnotic Slowly. After much deliberation, I did not however pick any tracks from the Arctic Monkeys album, as I felt in their case the context is fundamental. In an age where our attention spans are ever shorter and we want instant, spectacular gratification, it’s soothing to come across a record that forces you to take your time to take it in. From the tunes that landed towards the end of the year, Grimes’s We Appreciate Power stood out an oddly infectious dance anthem, hopefully a forerunner of one of 2019’s first great albums.

I tend to do most of my film watching in the first part of the year, when the long, gloomy nights of January and February are the perfect backdrop for screening marathons, and April’s Titanic festival always brings some exotic goodies to town. As such, there is only one film on the list from the second half of 2018, namely the Coens’s Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which of course streamed on Netflix. It’s made up of classically absurd coenian sketches set in the Wild West, of which I find the first to be a bit too slapstick for my tastes, but after this initial false note, it goes from strength to strength.

Wes Anderson tested me a little, for you see, I am not much of a dog person, so I found Isle of Dogs somewhat flimsy and almost tiringly self-referential at times, but then I figured that I would have probably been otherwise inclined if it were, say, about cats, so it did make the cut. Unlike Call Me By Your Name– which in all fairness I did see at the end of 2017, but which was of course such a hit with audiences well into 2018. In retrospect, it becomes ever worse, an implausible, egoistical tale about two privileged white men dreaming of peaches and stale frizzante. As an antidote, I can offer the alternatives of the raw and brilliant God’s Own Country, telling the tale of two considerably less privileged men trying to keep their lives on track in rural Yorkshire and the Chilean Una mujer fantastica, telling the story of a trans woman’s ordeal in the wake of her partner’s death with a phenomenal performance in the lead role by Daniela Vega.

The highlight of the year nevertheless remains Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, a perfectly mastered tale of alienation in modern Russia, in which every small gesture becomes an act of war among people who love nothing, ultimately not even themselves. It’s a tragedy of the mundane, which has often been something Russian artists are very inclined towards, and Zvyagintsev is proving to be this generation’s prime talent when it comes to accurately depicting fundamental human despair.

When it comes to series, ain’t nobody got time for ten a year (actually, a lot of people do, which is a little scary). In all fairness, I also tried my luck with a few others, but when there was no chemistry, I just let them go. Soldiering on with a two hour film you feel unconvinced about is acceptable, but investing energy in something that takes days of your life without giving much in return makes no sense. I actually started The Alienist solely on account of it having been shot in Budapest (in which period we even bumped into Daniel Brühl in the crowd at a Sziget concert), but it was a fortuitous choice, as it’s a wonderfully crafted late 19th Century Gothic tale set in New York, with great performances by all the leads. Sacred Games may have become a bit too convoluted towards the end, but it was a pleasure to see an Indian production that has but one really intricate dance sequence- it actually felt a bit funny that they did include it, as if they wanted to tick a box of compulsory Indian things, alongside say, a man in a wonderful turban. Sharp Objects had both a sharp plot (and a very un/satisfactory ending, depending on whether you want definite answers or cliffhangers) and a very sharp sense of place and character, something which it managed to accomplish both through a very controlled visual world and a carefully curated selection of music. 

While the entire mini-series was consistently great, the first episode of Patrick Melrose is the best thing I’ve seen on television this year, with an epic mistaken identity scene, a lot of wry humour amidst profound despair and an arresting performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. I was actually mildly unconvinced by Bodyguard and found it fairly predictable and not particularly tense- since it was meant to be as realistic as possible it’s probably an effect of my brain being dislocated by James Bond type silly action and always wanting someone to climb from a plane into another mid-air. So the main reason why I watched it till the and was a)to be able to complain about it, b)because of James Madden’s Scottish accent. In an interesting coincidence, I ended the year with a Berlin themed series, just as in 2017: Dogs of Berlin, though, is a very different animal from Babylon Berlin: it’s a raw, relentless and often cruel account of current day Berlin. While some of the plot twists felt a bit forced, I was impressed by the way in which it showed no mercy to its characters, weaving the story around a group of very flawed individuals who don’t always have a saving grace and who simply can’t make everything right. So basically I appreciated the realism of Dogs of Berlin but not that of Bodyguard, in spite of actual similarities. Consistent as ever on the eve of yet another year.

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