As we approach the end of the year, the Arts & Culture section felt it would be a good idea to recount the best of 2018. Cameron and Christina have each put together their top five albums and films of the year. What were your favourites? What did we miss? Let us know on social media!
Albums: Christina Morrison
The Pom-Poms – The Pom-Poms EP
The most accurate way to sum up The Pom-Poms’ vibrant sound is “cheerleader music”, the description used by band members Sam and Kitty Ray, producers and songwriters who effortlessly drift from genre to genre. The bouncy rave-pop of this release sidesteps the husband and wife duo’s previous proclivities for hard feelings conveyed in poetic ways, instead opting for pure exhilaration and danceability. Kitty, queen of soft flows over dream-pop beats, tweeted earlier this year she was making “bangers only” from now on, and she most certainly delivered. My favourite song of the year happens to be this EP’s lead single, “I Got That Boom”. It’s the audio equivalent to an adrenaline rush, perfect for cranking to full volume and screaming along to with your friends.
Mac Miller – Swimming
Mac Miller’s frat-rap days were the soundtrack to my early high school years and from there, I was able to watch him grow along with me, his journey finally culminating with this year’s Swimming. The album is, in my opinion, his best work – it’s a moody exploration into his own inner workings, an hour long search for self-assurance that floats by easily with soft, leisurely beats, some of which were produced by Miller himself. Mac Miller was an important figure in rap, making some of the most compelling music within the mainstream side of the genre ever since Watching Movies With The Sound Off. While he’ll be greatly missed and never forgotten, his legacy lives on in this beautiful, impactful piece of jazz rap mastery.
Joji – BALLADS 1
Since its release at the end of October, BALLADS 1 has been on strict rotation for me. Joji’s music is purposely minimalistic, yet still manages to pull off the unexpected. The musical decisions he makes on BALLADS 1 seem questionable on paper, yet from distorted mastering to ending a track mid-song, they all find their place and make a huge impact at that. It’s a big difference from his rather plain debut EP In Tongues, but the melancholy that quickly became a Joji trademark is present through dreary lyrics and gloomy beats. Yet, in an exploration to find his own unique sound, Joji’s managed to reinvent this style for himself and for other R&B artists in the game right now.
Tyler, the Creator – his 2018 singles
Okay, I’m taking major liberty with the term “album”, but the handful of singles Tyler sporadically released this year deserve a place among 2018’s best. Each song is full of intricacy and care, a breath of fresh air amongst modern rap that all blends together — not many full length albums captured my attention the way his self-proclaimed throwaway song “Okra” did. November also marked the release of his unexpected Christmas EP. Surprisingly, Tyler has a history of Christmas releases — his debut mixtape dropped on Christmas day 2009, offering a wealth of grisly lyrics responsible for his ban from the UK. Years later, Goblin’s controversial troublemaker has become Flower Boy’s bleeding heart and he’s come full circle with Music Inspired By Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch. It’s somehow family friendly, but full of passion and the usual attention to detail. Each track he’s dropped this year feels immensely important and personal to him and it shows.
A$AP Rocky – TESTING
Rocky’s third album is woozy yet ambitious; it’s classic A$AP Rocky with a wealth of experimentation. You’re especially in for a winner with the star-studded collaboration lineup added to the mix — for me, the biggest highlight of the album is a track featuring FKA Twigs, whose usual haunting vocals meld beautifully with the subdued beat and Rocky’s usual muted but confident delivery. The risks Rocky was willing to take with this one obviously come from a rich palate of outside influence – for instance, I hear a lot of Frank Ocean in this one, and the fact the album concludes with the Ocean assisted “Purity” speaks to that. Much like the collaboration with Twigs, it’s a perfect match. Many artists have attempted to do a lot in one album, but rarely does it all align; TESTING, on the other hand, manages to hit all the right notes in a variety of ways.
Albums: Cameron Tyson
Lucy Dacus – Historian
I thought there was a gap in the market for good, straightforward rock and roll. Lucy Dacus proved me wrong. Historian is one of the coolest albums of the decade, no matter the genre. “Night Shift”, the opening track, sets the tone perfectly. This is an album of songs that build from plaintive, simple melodies to epic, wall-of-sounds moments of pure energy. “Body to Flame” is perhaps the perfect song to dance to in the middle of an emotional breakdown. And “Timefighter” is a sexy, modern blues number that gives even John Mayer a run for his money. Dacus’ gorgeous, deep voice resonates beautifully through the entire album, backed up by soaring guitars and a huge production that brings the power of a live performance to a studio recording. I don’t think there’s anyone breaking more hearts, or rocking as hard, as Lucy Dacus is right now. Keep an eye on her next year; she’s on a roll and she can only go up from here.
Florence and the Machine – High as Hope
This is the ultimate feel-good summer album. Not because it’s happy-go-lucky, cheesy pop jams, but because it’s so emotionally cathartic that you’ll be screaming along with every word with a huge smile on your face. Florence and the Machine are titans of powerful, female-led pop and High as Hope is a staggering achievement. This is the band’s fourth album; each one has explored a different kind of sound, but High as Hope might have found the perfect match for Florence Welch’s dark, heartfelt lyrics and powerful vocal range. A simple but infectious backbeat drives “Hunger” forth like the rebellious anthem it is. Huge string sections underpin the heady climax of tracks like “100 Years”. But the production around Welch is never in the way; songs like “Sky Full of Song” need little else than Welch’s own voice to be as beautiful as they are and they succeed because they put her front and centre.
Ghost – Prequelle
Dark, dramatic and boasting some of the heaviest songs in Ghost’s catalogue, Prequelle has potential to be the metal album of the year. But there’s more to it than that: Ghost have wholeheartedly embraced their love of the 1980s on this album. Some of these songs are almost power pop, which I mean as a compliment: Ghost have become catchy, groovy and just the right amount of cheesy. Prequelle is a cool album, whether or not you’re here for the heavy metal. “See the Light” offers some surprisingly astute political commentary, which is a first for a band that mostly sings about the Devil. “Rats” and “Dance Macabre”, the album’s two singles, are infectiously fun and wouldn’t be out of place in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But my personal favourites for this album are the moments where that sense of fun pairs with its more experimental, prog-rock influence. The two instrumentals on this album are absolute masterpieces: the way a Blade-Runner-esque synth breaks through the almost medieval composition “Helvetesfonster” is the stuff of legend. Even better than that though, the saxophone solo at the climax of “Miasma” is one of the most unexpected and utterly astounding musical moments of the year. With Prequelle, Ghost stopped being a metal band and they stopped being an experiemental band. They started simply being Ghost; they’ve truly found their voice and no one else sounds quite like them.
Frank Turner – Be More Kind
The title alone makes this an important album. Filled with some of the most heartfelt, heartwarming and heartbreaking songs Turner has ever written, this album covers a lot of ground. This plea to everyone to show a little more compassion is something that we all need to hear a little more often. There’s a lot to be angry about in the world right now, but Be More Kind doesn’t dwell on that anger. It insists on finding happiness and finding it with other people. “Don’t Worry”, the album’s opener, is a quiet but confident offer of friendship: it sets an emotional tone, but the song immediately after, “1933”, blows your speakers away by being one of the most punk-rock songs Turner has put out in about a decade. While there’s more of the former throughout Be More Kind, these moments of high energy are still there and stand out when they do.
Ninja Sex Party – Cool Patrol
No, I’m not kidding. NSP’s original albums have always been funny and their albums of cover songs have always shown off their great musical talent. Cool Patrol finally brings both together. The sheer absurdity of their comedic work is backed up by very well written music, that honestly stands up alongside Blue Oyster Cult and Steppenwolf in the upper echelons of fantastic classic rock sounds. Songs like “Release the Kraken” and the title track are not only hilarious in their absurdity, but they also rock and would be right at home on a Guitar Hero game. My personal favourites are “Smooth Talkin’” (an incredibly poor attempt at both being smooth and talking) and “Mansion Party”, in which the guests at a rich person’s house party are mauled by an escaped panda gladiator. A lot of people are very self-conscious these days. People worry far too much about what their interests say about them and far too many others are needlessly cruel about it. Irrevent, childish and absurd bands like Ninja Sex Party remind us all that all that really matters is that you’re having a good time. There’s even a reasonably serious song on here: “Danny Don’t You Know” is a heartfelt anthem for self-love, no matter what anyone else thinks.
Films: Christina Morrison
Ari Aster’s Hereditary is a bleak and unsettling film about a family grappling with the recent loss of their mysterious matriarch and all the peculiarity that follows her death. This film is a horrifying image of loss and grief. Take out the horror and you have a family drama that’s enough on its own to leave you antsy. Hereditary isn’t exactly scary, but it’s haunting – lights on, no sleep kind of haunting. After all, you never know what might be crawling across the wall behind you. Eerie audio, striking performances (notably from Toni Collette and Alex Wolff) and realistic portrayals of grief previously unseen in film make for no competition when picking my personal favourite movie of the year. The best kinds of movies crawl into your mind and stay there at the back of it for weeks to come – aside from a newfound anxiety that comes about every time someone clicks their tongue, that’s what to expect out of Hereditary.
Remember what it was like to be 13 years old? Yeah, I don’t want to think about it either. Eighth Grade follows friendless outcast Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) through the final days of her dismal middle school experience. The debut film from comedian Bo Burnham takes all the nervousness and uncertainty felt back then and amplifies it for the big screen, increased in tenfold through little things, like Fisher’s nervous ticks and a heart-pounding soundtrack that creates the feeling of an impending panic attack. Burnham hits every little detail of middle school with cringe-inducing accuracy, making for an unsettlingly immersive film experience. Due to the realism Eighth Grade is built upon, it’s hard to watch at some points – a horror movie in its own right. But, it’s these features that lend to the film’s touching, tear-inducing quality. You might not be a middle schooler in the digital age, but if you’ve struggled with anxiety, it’ll hit home.
Beneath the body glitter and blood splatter the four leads constantly wear, Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation sees a retelling of the Salem Witch Trials for the social media generation. It’s a loud satire, meant to tell you our society hasn’t come so far since back then, and it gets this message across through sultry cheerleading routines and piercing gunshots all the same. Assassination Nation was easily the most fun I’ve had in a theatre this year, boasting cringe comedy, unexpected intensity and Joel McHale in a role that’ll make you never see Jeff Winger the same way ever again. Through genre-bending, roaring visuals and gratuitous violence, this film’s discussion of the claustrophobia that comes with the demands of being a woman in the western world still manages to be as in-your-face as the rest of it. It’s a two-hour thrill ride with an important message at its heart.
Technically, Thoroughbreds premiered in 2017 at Sundance, but there was an excruciatingly long wait for a theatrical release in 2018. It was on my mind months before I saw it and once I finally did, it proved well worth the wait. Cory Finley’s film debut is a quick-witted dark comedy about two spoiled upper class teenage girls – Amanda (Olivia Cooke), who has no emotions and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), who has too many emotions – as they attempt to play out their depraved fantasy of murdering Lily’s stepfather for no other reason than, in the minds of two spoiled upper class teenage girls, well… he kind of just sucks. This is one of Anton Yelchin’s final films, and he gives a performance to remember as bumbling drug dealer turned contract killer, Tim, who carries a gun but is too fragile to deal to anyone other than high schoolers. Thoroughbreds is a slow burn, but getting to the shocking conclusion is well worth the ride.
Sorry To Bother You
Can I just say it was a brilliant year for directorial and screenwriting debuts? Here’s the fourth on the list, this time out of musician Boots Riley. It can be said with confidence that Sorry To Bother You is unlike any film you’ve seen before – this film is original and unexpected, putting what feels like hundreds of new spins on the age-old anti-capitalist view. An absurdist social satire, Sorry To Bother You follows telemarketer Cash Green (Lakeith Stanfield) into the macabre depths of WorryFree, a modern slave driver that promises it’s anything but that. The thoroughly engaging sci-fi surrealism that follows is bizarre, off-kilter and, at times, grotesque, but the abstract portrait it paints of society is a troubling one. Think Get Out with less horror and more horses.
Films: Cameron Tyson
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s newest film is his most ambitious and possibly his finest. Isle of Dogs is his second stop-motion animated feature and I can’t for the life of me figure out why Anderson hasn’t made more films in this medium. Set in a near-future Japan, this tale of a young boy in search of his lost dog is beautifully animated, profound, heartwarming and surprisingly dark. This is not the kid’s movie that it seems: for every dog fight that looks like the classic, cartoon cloud of fists and stars, there’s one where a dog’s ear gets torn off right in front of you. Anderson has always had a knack for tapping into darkness, no matter how colourful his films are; Isle of Dogs is no exception. The result is an animated film as emotional as it is irreverent, insightful as it is hilarious and beautiful as it is brutal.
Without a doubt, Game Night is one of the greatest comedies of the last few years. There’s a great cast, a hilarious premise and a lot of love in Game Night, as well as a soundtrack so brilliant that it’s almost a crime. This murder-mystery gone wrong shows off Jason Bateman on his finest form since the glory days of Arrested Development, but is also a fantastic showcase for the talents of directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. Rachel McAdams and Jesse Plymons are easily the standouts in the cast, but everyone here is on fine form: there’s even a brief but brilliant appearance from Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Chelsea Peretti. Game Night is light hearted fun with believable friendships and plenty of self-awareness at its core; I haven’t laughed so hard at a film like this in a long time.
Won’t You Be My Neighbour?
This biopic about Fred Rogers is as heartwarming and revealing as the man himself was. Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood was one of the only shows on television willing to treat children with the intelligence and respect they deserve: it’s no surprise to discover that honesty and love were two of the biggest motivators behind the man that made it all happen. It can sometimes be hard to convince ourselves that there is still good in the world: Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a keen reminder that, not only that there is good, but that we have to be responsible for it ourselves. Even people who didn’t grow up with Rogers on their screens will enjoy this documentary. The humour and love on display here go beyond simple nostalgia; I’ve never seen a single one of his children’s programs but I was just as moved as the older members of the audience who learned so much from him. Rogers just wanted to treat children with respect, tell them the truth and encourage them to be good to one another. It’s hard not to love that.
Mission Impossible: Fallout
I can’t quite believe that, six movies in, Mission Impossible was still able to make one of the best movies of the series. Action franchises like these tend to fatigue pretty early and Mission Impossible has certainly had some missteps leading up to this. But Fallout is smart, efficient, tense and daring in ways that it hasn’t been for years. Henry Cavill is, for once, pretty well cast for his part, especially with his terrific moustache. One of my favourite elements of this film is the way it rises in tension so slowly; the danger and risk go up in little increments with every beat until suddenly, Tom Cruise is hanging out of a helicopter, his feet dangling above the spinning blades of another helicopter (and, yes, he’s still doing all of these stunts for real, all by himself). It’s been a while since there’s a been an action film this solid that wasn’t either about a superhero or weighed down by unneccessary ‘witty’ banter.
The Hurricane Heist
I won’t lie to you, this movie is terrible. Really, just awful. It makes no sense, the acting is terrible and nothing that happens in it is believable or relatable in any way. But it’s still one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema. They may have gotten almost everything wrong, but they tried so hard. I knew we were in for something special the moment the face of a skull emerged out of the black storm clouds in the sky – and I wasn’t wrong. This movie is impossible, insane, completely pointless and utterly stupid. But it’s also the most fun you could have had at the cinema this year. It’s The Room of action cinema. It might be terrible, but that doesn’t stop it from being incredible.