Operation Manatee Music Prize: Top 5 Albums of 2018

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you the top 5 albums of 2018!

Five

Rafiq Bhatia – Breaking English

I love creative music that doesn’t quite sound like anything else. To me, it means there are still artists in the world with something new to say, and that’s exactly what makes music exciting for me. Bhatia’s second full-length album encompasses this spirit perfectly.

The style mixes a bit of Radiohead with New York jazz, middle-eastern flavoured strings, Southern soul, modern hip hop DJ, and a laid-back Californian chill. Breaking English sounds like the work of a musical mad scientist! That’s no doubt what keeps me drawn to it. Hearing this album also gives me a good idea what he contributes as a third of the brilliant Son Lux. Their style has only gotten more and more interesting, due in a large part, to the creative soul of Bhatia.

Breaking English is a remarkable album, full of musical surprises, and easily one of 2018’s best releases.


Four

MonoNeon –
I Don’t Care Today (Angels & Demons in Lo​-​Fi)

This guy is crazy!

The regular bassist for Ghost-Note (also listed on 2018’s Long List) counts Prince on his resume, along with an assortment of other hot shots. Honestly, though, it was the album cover that drew me in before anything else. I figured it’d be some neat stoner rock or something. What I heard on this recording, however, was so much cooler!

It’s funky, bizarre, fun, serious, and truly just really good music – and the lo-fi element just adds to the charm of it all. At times, his playing reminds me of Victor Wooten, but I mostly think of Bootsy when hearing MonoNeon (or seeing any photo or video of him). This album isn’t all bass licks though. There’s some gospel Hammond B3, some vocal harmonies, some great, raw drumming and guitar work. It’s not just musical either, though. The lyrical and emotion content covers intangible elements like god or just women, water & weed (“those are just three things that you need”).

Excellent album!


Three

Cosmo Sheldrake – The Much Much How How And I

My introduction to Cosmo Sheldrake was his EP, Pelicans We, likely recommended to me by fellow music blogger, Breaking Tha Beat. Remembering how musically interesting that was, I was very much looking forward to this release!

Holy hell! Did it ever deliver! The Much Much How How And I is so much fun! It makes me want to sing along, dance, and frankly, write more interesting music. Aside from the orchestral instrumentation, aside from choir, and aside from Sheldrake’s own style of singing all adding interesting elements, what really holds me in this recording is all the stuff in between: using splashing water as a rhythmic element, tasteful use of electronics, and a sense of humour in grandeur.

This album cannot be background music. It requires so much attention, as there is so much going on. The Much Much How How And I is the very center of attention. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys creative pop music and doesn’t like being bored.


Two

Kaada – Closing Statements

I was more excited for this release than any other in 2018. Kaada posted little snippets and teasers, leading up to the album’s release, along with a description of the inspiration. From his website,

The titles are quotes and fragments from different farewell utterances. Things that people (apparently) said when they were about to die.

Knowing his previous work, I couldn’t wait to hear this. To be honest, I tried not to get too excited about it, in case I didn’t like it as much as I expected, but I don’t know why I bothered. Kaada’s ability to guide a melody out of a string section is all it took for me to love this recording.

Focusing strongly on acoustic piano, Closing Statements mixes Kaada’s love of electronics, strings, and wind instruments wonderfully, with just the right amount of vocal work – vocals never taking the lead. You become enveloped in these swelling chords and moving lines on the piano. The tracks almost guide you to individual rooms where closing statements were uttered. Sometimes strange and unsettling, sometime familiar and comforting, always just beautiful music!

Above all, Kaada’s sense of melody – sometimes playful, sometime outright heartbreaking making this one of 2018’s most wonderful releases.


One

Son Lux – Brighter Wounds

Brighter Wounds is incredible! This album is creative, exciting, unique, interesting, emotional, complex; yet so accessible and easy to listen to. Son Lux’s sound is distinct (largely by Ryan Lott’s recognizable voice), yet it evolves with each release, no doubt due, in some part, to more and more involvement by the band’s other creative forces, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang.

I’ve listened to this recording more than any other in 2018, and it never stops being interesting. Take the gorgeous track All Directions, for example: Two thirds of it are lush, slow, lazy, off-beat, minimal, with this beautiful string part, and all the reverby goodness, before heading into double time with arpeggios and percussion, offset by that lush string riff, then what? Choir? Wow!

There’s more vocal work on this album than in Son Lux’s past (or am I imagining that?). At first, that kind of put me off. I like Ryan Lott’s voice, but I worried they were going too “pop” with this album. But first listens can be a bit bumpy for me – especially for a new release from a band I already like – and I know this, so I gave it a second try, and third… Brighter Wounds didn’t so much grow on me as happily become one of my favourite albums of all time!

This creative artwork is just awesome!

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