‘No Shame’ – Lily Allen, by Genie Harrison
The reason I love, and have always loved Lily Allen’s music is due to the un-compromised honesty she unfailing offers. ‘No Shame’, provides no exception. As Allen bemoans, ‘I’m a bad mother, I’m a bad wife’, she speaks to her listeners with an undiluted clarity that’s almost shocking. Yet, her refusal to compromise herself – both musically and lyrically – precipitates an emotional connection scarcely found in today’s pop music scene. There’s no question that this has been the record that Lily wanted to make – regardless of the pressures put upon by the higher powers of record companies. The album is diverse in its offerings; tracks like ‘Trigger Bang’ (feat. Giggs), and ‘Your Choice’ (feat. Burna Boy), see Lily reach back into the roots of both reggae and afro-beat, reminiscent of sampling on her debut, ‘Alright, Still’. Musically, tracks like ‘Apples’ and ‘Three’ provide a total contrast, using a more paired-back production to present greater emotional rawness. However, what ties the whole album together is the heart that lies beneath. Allen has maintained an ability to create pop music with heart, producing something popular, and yet still true to who she is and what she wants to create.
‘The Lost Tapes’ – Ghostface Killah, by Zaki Rehman
In September Michael Rapaport appeared on ‘Sway in the Morning’ and called for the ‘OGs’ of hip-hop to take the culture back from the SoundCloud generation. Indeed, in 2018 the clash between old ‘90s culture and the new internet ‘lil whatevers’ has climaxed. Wu-Tang legend Ghostface Killah’s 17th studio album ‘The Lost Tapes’ seems to epitomise this conflict. The album itself is a creation of classic, hard-hitting Wu-Tang lyrics, over Big Ghost LTD’s soulful sampling, and grand orchestral beats. Without sounding like an overly nostalgic longing to go backwards, the album maintains a ‘90s purist sound with ‘bars, lines, verbal wordplay’ that ‘spits, darts, sharp like a DJ’ (‘Majestic Accolades’). Ghostface starts epically, proclaiming on ‘Buckingham Palace’ how he will ‘long dick your chick like my raps’ longevity’, a nod both to the harshly blunt lyricism of the 25 year old classic ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’, and his long lasting legacy that has ranged from experimental projects with BADBADNOTGOOD to more orthodox classics such as ‘Ironman’. Whilst lacking an explicit concept, the album feels both like a glorious victory lap of what he has achieved, and a subtly disappointed lamentation of how ‘rappers got no soul / selling out for click bait’, simply earning success by ‘break[ing] the internet with a dick tape’. Both the content and the reception of ‘The Lost Tapes’ epitomise the conflicts of 2018, and the importance of 2019 for the future of American rap culture.
7 – Beach House, by Ben Philipps
Apparently, the two halves of Beach House spend anywhere between eight and sixteen hours each day writing songs. That’s a lot of time; having spent eleven months making it, 7 (it’s their seventh studio album!) is their most expansive yet. 2017’s B-Sides and Rarities was a tidying-up act: the great achievement of 7 is that it has that trademark shoegaze-esque Beach House sound and simultaneously moves off into uncharted musical territory. It’s not a happy album: despite occasionally banal lyricism (“I want it all/but I can’t have it”), it’s clear that the band is acutely aware of the world in which they live, and has responded to it with a murky, dystopic sound. ‘Dive’ and ‘Lose Your Smile’ are standouts, and make it clear what Legrand and Scally are doing – using their talent for creating consistent and recognisable music as a launchpad towards something bigger.