1. CZARFACE, MF DOOM – Bomb Thrown
“It’s very necessary like a Q Tip Grammy rant” might already be the best line of the year. While Nautical Depth (the first single from CZARFACE and DOOM’s upcoming record) seemed to create a mixed response, Bomb Thrown can leave no doubt that we are in for a fantastic album. The comic-book aesthetics of both artists are brought to life in a chirpy, colourful beat that still doesn’t leave its backpacker roots, letting the three MCs deliver an effortlessly slick set of verses. Inspectah Deck is first up, giving the already-colourful instrumental a bouncy energy alongside fellow CZARFACE MC Esoteric. Even DOOM sounds more energetic here, a surprising feat considering his traditionally cool, laid-back delivery. With a track as bright as this, summer feels like it’s come early.
2. Jack White – Respect Commander
It’s still strange hearing Jack White’s guitarwork mastered cleanly. Of course, this should be no surprise – his role in legendary 2000s garage-rock duo The White Stripes far outshines any success he has had as a solo artist. As such, it can be hard to separate the Stripes from Jack. Boarding House Rea, however, comes very close to doing just that. Respect Commander, an early standout for me, is a bizarre blend of White’s old guitarwork, Thundercat-esque bass lines, and something else entirely. The track begins with a strange blend of genres and styles, incorporating breakbeat-like pads, eccentric bass plucks, Latin-inspired acoustic plucks and more into a frenzying journey towards the track’s end. Just as this journey reaches its climax, it settles into a more familiar pattern, letting White’s vocals enter over a traditional rock backing, and bringing the track to an incredibly satisfying close.
3. PRhyme – Black History
Despite a series of mediocre reviews and critical scepticism of the duo of DJ Premier/Royce Da 5’9, my love for the rapper-producer duo is unlikely to fade. PRhyme 2’s principal concern is summed up best by it’s list of features: features from Roc Marciano, Dave East, Rapsody, Big K.R.I.T and Yelawolf present this as a rap-lover’s rap album. Black History, the album opener, sets the tone perfectly, showing Premier and Royce at their respective best. Premier’s beat is compelling throughout, beginning with a frantic yet minimalist clicking, before progressing into a punchy, galactic blend of stadium-rap. Royce is the perfect companion, too – he brings bar after bar, adopting different styles to match Premier’s shifting beat. Black History is a perfect example of why Royce and Premier are still revered in the rap game to this day.
4. Leon Bridges – Bad Bad News
Leon Bridges is certainly one to watch this year. The enigmatic singer-songwriter-producer has had somewhat of a break since his 2015 debut, releasing just a handful of songs and features over the 3-year hiatus. 2018, however, marks Bridges’ grand return, with a sophomore album dropping in just 2 months’ time. Upon listening to Bad Bad News, one of the album’s first singles, it’s clear to see why Bridges is described as outside-of-his-time. The vocals are an instant throwback to the magic of 60s soul, yet still sound fresh and original in 2018. Bridges’ instrumental needs not be overstated, too – his vocals carry the track forward, letting a jazzy dance-track simmer underneath.
5. Sigrid – Raw
Despite seeming to have ripped off N.E.R.D’s album cover (don’t ask me why), Sigrid’s latest single is a real gem. The Norwegian synth-pop musician, fresh off BBC Music’s Sound of 2018 award, has released an understated track that verges into the experimental, while staying grounded enough to fit within the niche she occupies. The minimalist, twinkling instrumental plods along in its own time, letting Sigrid’s unique vocals occupy the spotlight. The song is soul-searching and compelling – pining for freedom of expression, the singer wails powerful one-liners such as “If I show I’m fragile / Would you go ahead and find somebody else?”. It’s clear that Sigrid’s future will be fruitful.