The 50 best albums of 2018

Hello everyone. Its been ages since I’ve written anything on here – I started a new job working as a reporter for a magazine publisher in June, and its taken up pretty much all of my time since. But the list of my favourite albums of the year is a fixture on this blog, which I’ve turned out every year since I started it.

So – lets jump straight in to the list. I’m going to fit it all into one post, moving to #1 in ascending order. Once we get to the top 20, as per usual, I’ll fill in a bit more detail on why I loved each album. Enjoy! Let me know your thoughts in the comments – did you agree or disagree with my picks?

#50 Nostrum Grocers – Nostrum Grocers (Abstract Hip-hop)
#49 Orbital – Monsters Exist (Acid House)
#48 Tim Hecker – Konoyo (Ambient, Experimental)
#47 The Field – Infinite Moment (Ambient Techno)
#46 Beach House – 7 (Dream Pop)
#45 Rayland Baxter – Wide Awake (Country, Indie Folk)
#44 Soccer Mommy – Clean (Indie Rock)
#43 Ovlov – TRU (Shoegaze, Indie Rock)
#42 Brockhampton – iridescence (Hip-hop)
#41 Kurt Vile – bottle it in (Psychedelic Folk, Indie Folk)
#40 Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man (Hip-hop)
#39 Aphex Twin – Collapse EP (IDM, Experimental)
#38 Mount Eerie – (after) (Indie Folk)
#37 DJ Koze – Knock Knock (House)
#36 Iglooghost – Clear Tamei / Steel Mogu EPs (Drum n Bass, IDM)
#35 Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile (Jazz)
#34 Clarence Clarity – THINK:PEACE (Alternative Pop)
#33 Robyn – Honey (Pop)
#32 Laurel Halo – Raw Silk Uncut Wood (Experimental, Ambient)
#31 Pusha T – DAYTONA (Hip-hop)
#30 Jeff Rosenstock – POST- (Pop-punk)
#29 Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meatspace (Psychedelic Rock, Noise Rock)
#28 Denzel Curry – TA13OO (Hip-hop)
#27 Turnstile – Time & Space (Hardcore Punk)
#26 Death Grips – Year of the Snitch (Experimental Hip-hop)
#25 Kali Uchis – Isolation (Pop)
#24 HMLTD – Hate Music Last Time Delete EP (Glam Punk, Post-punk)
#23 Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Indie Rock)
#22 Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It (Post-hardcore, Math Rock)
#21 Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer (Pop, R&B)

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#20 Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs (Experimental Hip-hop)

Earl emerged from his underground bunker in 2018 with Some Rap Songs, his most introspective and intriguing release to date. Knotty and technical lyrics inside an anxious haze of weed-smoke, like you forgot to turn off Dilla’s Donuts before you went to bed, and then had a terrible nightmare.

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#19 Kero Kero Bonito – Time n Place (Pop, Garage Rock)

Shapeshifting pop trio KKB transition from hyper-glossy J-pop to a blend of garage/noise/twee pop in their quest to be the most relentlessly fucking FUN band on the planet. Few artists could pull off such a range of styles, but KKB do it. ‘Sometimes’ was so disarmingly sweet it brought a tear to my eye on first listen.

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#18 Parquet Courts – Wide Awake! (Indie Rock, Post-punk)

Parquet Courts’ agressively wordy punk songs were wry, witty and woke. You could probably write a thesis about this album if you followed all the lyrics on Genius, but its to Wide Awake‘s credit that you could just as easily stick on the title track and shake your butt in blissful ignorance of all the world’s problems.

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#17 Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want (Noise Rock)

A harrowing and highly tense album, somewhere at the crossroads of rock, industrial and noise music. Not background listening. YWGWYW inspires the kind of cathartic terror that a good horror movie does, and you’ll feel like you just barely made it out alive after breathless closer ‘Guest House’.

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#16 Sleep – The Sciences (Stoner Metal)

A towering colossus of slow-motion powerchords and fuzzed out basslines. Sleep pick up where they left off, 15 years after their last album, with another stoner metal classic for the ages. Many bands in the genre could pull off the atmosphere, but almost none could achieve this sense of vertiginous size and scale. Big.

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#15 Saba – Care For Me (Hip-hop)

Super-relatable Chicagoan Saba put together a melancholy breakout hip-hop record with Care For Me. The debt to Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper are clear, but the interest paid is generous. Grief, friendship and love are handled with a deft touch and luscious production. One to keep an eye on in 2019.

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#14 IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance (Post-punk)

IDLES continue to fight the good fight against toxic masculinity, nationalism and general misery on their provocative sophomore album. Nobody could preach self-love and tolerance with such ferocity as frontman Joe Talbot, and nobody could release a punk album better than IDLES in 2018. I FEEL FREEEEEEEE!

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#13 SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES (Alt Pop)

I suspect this one will only get better with time, too. SOPHIE’s experimental pop music was on the very cutting edge in 2018. Her fractured and unstable songs often deal with themes of trans- gender identity, but electric ballads like ‘Infatuation’ go straight for the heart, not the brain.

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#12 Milo – budding ornithologists… (Jazz Rap)

Milo followed up my AOTY for 2017 quickly, with a dreamier and more esoteric record than his last. budding ornithologists is equally fluent in moments of astral jazz-rap transcendence, but brings with it a a newfound sense of playfulness. Yes, there is a song called “thinking while eating a handful of almonds”.

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#11 AAL – 2012-2017 (House)

Nicolas Jaar adopted a pseudonym to release his most explicitly danceable record yet, a deep/tech house excursion that proved an unlikely crossover hit in 2018. It yielded irresistible, ultra-modern singles at every turn, from the pulsating ‘Some Kind of Game’ to the euphoric ‘Know You’ and expansive closer ‘Rave on U’.

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#10 Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears (Alternative Pop)

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2018 was Let’s Eat Grandma, a young but prodigiously talented pop duo from Norwich. They turned away from the psychedelic quirkiness of their first album to drop the most chameleonic and exciting pop album of the year with I’m All Ears. Beautiful, abrasive, and oozing confidence.

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#9 Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Indie Rock)

A re-recording of the lo-fi breakout album that Will Toledo first caught ears with, Twin Fantasy is a 70-minute prog epic of joyous, widescreen anxiety containing the catchiest goddamn indie rock songs of the year. Existential angst between moments of pure childish glee, like ‘Bodys’ and ‘Nervous Young Inhumans’.

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#8 boygenius – boygenius (Indie Rock, Singer-songwriter)

Like-minded songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus came together to form a melancholy indie rock supergroup as boygenius. Together they were greater than the sum of their parts, crafting an agonisingly short but endlessly replayable set of bittersweet, intergalactic love songs. Please, please more.

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#7 Choker – Honeybloom (Alternative R&B)

Another surprise – Choker went from being a Frank Ocean wannabe to releasing the most compelling R&B album of 2018. Honeybloom was an impressionistic collage of memories and sepia-tinted imagery, set to a series of dreamy R&B instrumentals. A revealing but mysterious album best listened to in its entirety.

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#6 Pinegrove – Skylight (Indie Rock, Country, Emo)

Pinegrove’s thoughtful blend of emo, country and indie rock took a step forwards with Skylight. Its refined production and songwriting contained the perfect chemical combination of sadness and hope, which kept me coming back throughout 2018. Brief but beautiful, like so many of the best things are.

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#5 Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Atmospheric Black Metal, Post-rock)

An album sure to offend the metal purists even more than Sunbather did, on account of its melodic (and, admittedly, a bit melodramatic) post-rock interludes. But the dynamic interplay between those moments of cinematic prettiness and pure black metal savagery provided some of 2018s most thrilling music, to my ears. Just listen to the way the bridge at the 8 minute mark of ‘Canary Yellow’ portends the most utterly destructive riff of the year. Crushing.

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#4 Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (Country, Pop)

The soundtrack to a long, hot Spring that preceded a long, hot Summer. Golden Hour oozes warmth and optimism from its every pore, even when Kacey’s heart-on-sleeve lyricism dips into the melancholy. I have a very distinct memory of listening to this record while walking alongside the route of the London Marathon in June, in perfect weather, feeling completely and utterly content with life. Few albums inspire such a strong and seasonal sense of peace.

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#3 Anna Von Hauswolff – Dead Magic (Neoclassical, Ambient, Experimental)

A mythical missive from a dark age of necromancy and superstition. Dead Magic is an imposing neoclassical beast containing 16-minute songs that build to eye-widening climaxes of stomping rhythms and maniacal organs. The primal music of Swans – particularly To Be Kind – is a definite influence, but Dead Magic contains a degree of Gothic romance entirely its own. The only album of 2018 that could have been released in 1618, except Anna probably would have been burned at the stake for being a witch.

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#2 Noname – Room 25 (Jazz Rap)

Room 25 plays like a kind of time capsule. A repository for poetic everyday wisdom you didn’t know you needed in your life until you heard it. Noname’s stunning sophomore record delivers clear-eyed meditations on love, race, family, death, fame and so much more with the deftest of touches. Her rap style, bordering on spoken word, bends language playfully and easily. Her live jazz-rap backing is vibrant and deliciously groovy. Combined, they propelled this dark horse contender to an easy pick for hip hop AOTY. Essential.

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#1 Mount Eerie – Now Only (Indie Folk, Singer-songwriter)

Phil Elverum’s harrowing quest to find solace in music continued on Now Only, following the death of his wife to cancer. This record was a stream of consciousness from the very depth of human suffering, leading to a place just a little bit brighter, and a little bit more manageable. Now Only is one the most singular, complete and affecting expressions of grief you’ll find in any art form.

The climax of ‘Tintin in Tibet’, which tells, side by side, the stories of the day Elverum met his wife and the day he watched her die, is devastating. Even a year on. And yet – that tiny glimpse of light, of hope for a better future – is what makes Now Only worth enduring. To me, this is not a sad album. It’s an album that reminds me even the most complete and consuming sadness imaginable can be managed. And it’s my favourite album of 2018.

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Forest Fires & Foxgloves

Forest Fire

Today is inside a glass box
Hanging from a crane above concrete

I am not sure if this tree
Is a hologram

This severed stump
Pouring brown ivy down like blood

Or the emerald cobwebs
On the abandoned boathouse

Which look like the Whatsapp message
You read but didn’t respond to

And if I start a forest fire
Will it all burn down to roots

Or just spark and then fizzle out
Like headphones in the shower

 

Foxgloves

the foxgloves
outside my kitchen
window are so
tall that every
time i make toast
i see a person
in my periphery
and am a little bit
surprised to find this
topsy turvy plant which
grows up from the stem
but seems to bloom down
and wears a dress of purple
castanets that make me think of
you.

 

 

credit: the image at the top is a wonderful painting by angie wright i just found by googling foxgloves which you can find here 🙂

ALBUM REVIEW: Kanye West – Ye (2018)

Kanye West is surely pop culture’s craftiest puppet master in the Age of Outrage. Here is a man who knows how to stir exactly the right amount of controversy and work it to his favour each and every time, and has forged a legendary rap career as much from being an outspoken asshole as he has from being a fantastic producer.

The latest Kanye controversy, for anyone who missed it, was his vocal support for Donald Trump and the ‘Make America Great Again’ movement, as well his statement that 400 years of black slavery ‘sounds like a choice’. The general consensus seemed to be that he had gone too far this time, and was out of touch.

‘Nobody walks the tightrope between juicy scandal and career immolation with more finesse than Kanye West’.

But the truth is, almost nobody is more in touch with the world in 2018. We are living in an era where controversy is the essence of fame itself, and nobody walks the tightrope between juicy scandal and career immolation with more finesse than Kanye West. Any publicity is good publicity, and you know that every single person who said Kanye went too far was listening to his new record the day it dropped.

Did I mention he released an album? Yes – in the eye of Hurricane Kanye is his new record, titled ye – seven tracks long and only 23 minutes, much like Pusha T’s recent DAYTONA, which West produced. It deals frankly with mental health issues and contains heartfelt songs dedicated to his wife and daughter. It’s also probably his worst album to date.

Kanye’s recent output has been very inconsistent both in terms of style and quality. 2016’s The Life of Pablo was an erratic and messy album which Kanye put together quickly and then spent many months publicly revising, uploading new versions and songs to streaming services and digital stores. Ye feels just as scattershot, but at a third of the length its highlights are fewer and further between, while its lowlights are more unavoidable.

File ‘Yikes’ and ‘No Mistakes’ under highlights: the former contains a catchy hook on top of a moody bassline and some ghostly vocal samples, while the latter is a brief, two minute slice of vintage soul Kanye. It contains some of the album’s most memorable bars, too: ‘I got dirt on my name, I got white on my beard / I had debt on my books, it’s been a shaky-ass year / Let me make this clear, so all y’all see / I don’t take advice from people less successful than me, huh?’

‘It’s hard to hear Ye as anything more than a rushed and very inconsistent record’.

But then there’s the ridiculous, high-pitched, mumbled hook on ‘All Mine’. The eye-rolling monologue that makes up the majority of ‘I Thought about Killing You’. And worst of all – the Kid Cudi feature on ‘Ghost Town’, in which he sings the hook like a cat in the process of being strangled. I literally cannot hear that line – ‘I’ve been tryyYYYYYyyyYYYinnnnng to make you love me’ – without physically wincing and skipping the song. It’s that bad.

Ye should be commended for the frank manner in which it deals with mental illness, but it can be difficult to treat these issues with the seriousness they deserve when Kanye rhymes ‘hurt so bad, I go numb’ with ‘I called up the Muslims, said I’m ‘bout to go dumb’.

In the end, it’s hard to hear Ye as anything more than a rushed and very inconsistent record. While DAYTONA felt short for the purpose of filtering out the imperfections and removing the filler, Ye feels short because it was put together in a month. But even though, in my opinion, Kanye’s music has been on a downturn ever since 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the man’s intuitive grasp of the mechanics of fame is sure to keep his name on our tongues at least until the next album rolls around.

6.6/10

ALBUM REVIEW: Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer (2018)

Father John Misty’s God’s Favourite Customer comes barely more than a year after his album Pure Comedy, which released in April last year. The songs of this new album were conceived in much the same time period, only a matter of months later. And Misty (real name Josh Tillman) has stated in interviews that they were written during a period in which he was struggling with mental health issues, and spent two months estranged from his wife while living in a hotel.

Coming so soon after Comedy, it’s no surprise that God’s Favourite Customer is very similar in terms of musical style. Both albums are largely comprised of languid, mid-paced piano ballads over which Misty sings in his typically self-aware, sarcastic manner. But Customer is only a couple minutes shy of being half Comedy’s length, and as a result avoids that record’s biggest flaw: its over-indulgence.

When I reviewed Pure Comedy in 2017, I said I felt like it was “beating me over the head with self-aware, post-ironic commentary”. That certainly isn’t the case for Customer, whose songs are much more concise, and tend to follow conventional verse/chorus structures. This helps to make Tillman’s lyrics, which are still the most appealing thing about his music, stand out even further.

While there are plenty of lines written from behind an ironic sneer, songs like ‘Please Don’t Die’, ‘Just Dumb Enough to Try’ and ‘Disappointing Diamonds are the Rarest of Them All’ are about as close as Father John Misty will ever get to a completely sincere love song. And their strong vocal performances are matched with some more lively instrumentation, bringing a bit of volume and energy to the record.

But taken as a whole, the ten songs of God’s Favourite Customer blur into one, and lack anything really distinct to make them stand out. Listen to the first three seconds of ‘Just Dumb Enough to Try’, ‘The Palace’, and ‘The Songwriter’ one after another and you’ll understand what I mean – each features the same slow, minor chords played at almost exactly the same tempo.

It all just feels too safe, and although I appreciate that this album is more direct than its predecessor, I can’t help feeling I’m walking on familiar ground. I’d love to see Father John Misty apply his lyrical talents to some more adventurous music, but I don’t doubt that God’s Favourite Customer will continue to feed the cult of personality which surrounds Misty at this point, and be more than enough to appease his fans.

6.8/10

How Poetry Died

For those who don’t know me in real life – I’ve been unemployed for a little while now since returning from India, looking for work and somewhere to live in London. I’ve had a handful of interviews already, and hope to have some good news on this front soon. But in the evenings, after I’ve spent my day drinking double strength coffee and slavishly refreshing indeed.com, I’ve been working on another task, one equally heroic though considerably more pointless. Like a modern day Sisyphus, slowly pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again, I have been – yes – trying to clear out my Steam library.

Call it the one benefit of having too much time and not enough money: I’ve been trying to get through the long list of games I’ve purchased on digital game market Steam, but never found the time to actually play. Every adult with a Steam account probably knows that vaguely depressing feeling of scrolling through your games library and realizing you’ve never even installed half the titles in it. You feel like you’ve become just another cog in the wheel of cultural capitalism, a victim of market psychology: ‘Oooh, it’s half price – wouldn’t it be stupid not to buy it?’ But, inevitably, you never find the time to play through that copy of Grand Theft Auto 2 which was marked down to 60p.

A culture of consumption

Of course, we know why this is happening. The people who run digital markets like Steam, Playstation Store and Amazon are masters of sale psychology. Limited time deals, wishlists and free trials tap into a particular part of the brain, and lead us into purchasing decisions we might not otherwise have made. It doesn’t make any difference to the platform holders whether we actually play the games or watch the movies we buy, so long as we’re spending money on them. (As a side note: anyone who wants to learn more about how corporations advertise to you should watch this fascinating Youtube video on the six principles of persuasion.)

We can see it in the world of music, too. I’ve sometimes caught myself listening to an album for no more than twenty minutes before abandoning it forever, for the sole purpose of logging it on music database rateyourmusic.com, a website where I have rather obsessively ranked almost 2000 albums on a scale of 1-10. As someone who writes critically about music, it can certainly be a useful tool for keeping track of everything I listen to. But there’s definitely an element of fetishizing the sheer quantity of music that enters into my ears, without giving it the critical attention it deserves. And even more perverse is game database backloggery.com, which I recently stumbled across, where users spend large amounts of time creating detailed lists of all the games they haven’t had time to play. Instead of, y’know, actually playing them.

“This is the reason why poetry is pretty much dead in 2018”

I think this trend towards a culture of consumption, which has probably been happening since the industrial revolution, is accelerating faster than ever now that online stores make it so easy to purchase media. And I also think this is the reason why an artistic medium like poetry is pretty much dead in 2018, or has at least lost a great deal of its cultural relevancy. A book of poetry doesn’t have a runtime, or a clear beginning and end – it gives out as much as you’re willing to put into it. It requires patience and space to think, both of which are in short supply in the digital age. And it isn’t easily qualified or ranked. In short: you can’t consume it quickly and throw it away.

And poetry is also almost completely removed from technological advancements, which have been at the heart of culture throughout the 20th and 21st century. Film, games and music have all developed alongside the technology that powers them, taking us from rudimentary projections, Pong and Kraftwerk to 4K displays, virtual reality and an electric organ made entirely out of furbies. OK, whether that last one is an evolution or a monstrosity might be up for debate. But regardless, these mediums are the ones that have remained, or become, relevant to contemporary culture (by which I basically mean popular and financially viable) because people want progress. And in the digital era, technology is progress.

“We’ll still be able to write poems in the dirt with our mutated, radioactive fingers.”

I went to a poetry workshop in Bath a few weeks ago titled ‘Publishing Your Poetry’, which was hosted by a small publisher called Burning Eye Books. One of the things that struck me the most was when the speaker made a very casual comment that there was ‘absolutely no money in poetry’, and that none but the one or two biggest publishers do better than barely staying afloat. Of course, I never expected I would make any money from writing or publishing poems I’d written, but I was surprised to hear just how bleak the business reality is.

Perhaps that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. Everyone who works on the publishing side of poetry does it purely as a labour of love, and for the sake of the art. Likewise the people who still feel the urge to write poems in 2018. If poetry is dead, maybe it can live an afterlife where it serves as an antidote to the culture of consumption which surrounds contemporary art? One which exists outside the whirlwind of reviews, sales figures, fame, twitter controversy, and – yes – steam sales. And even if that never comes to pass, we can at least take comfort in this thought: when Donald Trump and North Korea lead the world to an inevitable nuclear apocalypse and all human technology is destroyed, we’ll still be able to write poems in the dirt with our mutated, radioactive fingers.

Petrichor – a poem

Today is a rainy day and I’ve been lying in bed writing a little poem i quite like and wanted to share soooo…here you go

Petrichor

I can smell the pensive rain
And its name is my favourite word:
A cleansing acid, a watering can
Applied to a dry brain
Or the feeling of relief
Which the storm brings in:
Being excused from everything
Outside
And only leaving boot prints
In the oversaturated earth
Of my thoughts.

ALBUM REVIEW: Pusha T – DAYTONA (2018)

‘Cocaine concierge, longest running trapper of the year’

It’s been three years since the release of Pusha T’s last album, 2015’s King Push – Darkest Before the Dawn. In the heavily commodified world of mainstream hip-hop, three years is a long time: the era of music streaming has brought us to a point where many artists will put out a new project every year, and will often stretch these albums out to ridiculous lengths to maximise the number of streams they receive. For some particularly bad examples of this see Migos’ Culture 2, or Rae Sremurrd’s uninspired triple album SR3MM which released just a couple of months ago.

DAYTONA, by contrast, is seven tracks long. At twenty one minutes, it’s also shorter than King Push, which was supposed to be a prelude to this record. But while the album’s perplexingly short runtime initially struck me as dissapointing, it turns out to be one of DAYTONA’s greatest strengths. The record is completely devoid of the filler we so often see in big rap albums, and it has a cohesion and focus which they very often miss. All the lyrics (bar one Rick Ross feature on ‘Hard Piano’) come from Pusha, while Kanye West handles the production of all seven tracks.

Pusha plays the character of thespian kingpin throughout DAYTONA, which he himself described as ‘luxury drug rap’. What sets him apart from the leagues of rappers who’ve written shitty bars about taking and/or selling drugs is both his storytelling ability and his sense of humour. Just like someone such as Raekwon, whose album Cuban Linx is namedropped as an inspiration, Pusha T songs feel like the inner monologue of a villain in a gritty crime narrative: ‘Feds takin’ pictures like its GQ / This Avianne collarbone is see-through’. But Pusha keeps it light with a healthy dose of comedy at the same time: ‘I been grantin’ wishes like a genie / To bad hoes in two-piece bikinis’.

Kanye’s beats, meanwhile, are some of the best he’s put together in years. They’re loud and ostentatious, but in construction surprisingly simple. ‘The Games We Play’ and ‘Come Back Baby’ are almost nothing but big, crispy drums and a killer bassline, but both make incredible use of their respective samples. The former samples a guitar solo from this obscure ’60s funk jam and then screws it down to half speed until it becomes a woozy oriental stomp almost unrecognizable from its source material. And the latter makes use of R&B singer George Jackson’s ‘I Can’t Do Without You’, contrasting the soulful chorus with clinical, bassy verses to fantastic effect.

DAYTONA isn’t a particularly ambitious record, and truthfully it doesn’t break much new ground for either Pusha or Kanye. But it demonstrates what both artists do best in an admirably minimal and highly replayable set of seven songs. If this is to be the first release of the Summer of Kanye (his record label GOOD Music are gearing up to release at least three more albums in the next couple of months), then it’s definitely a strong start.Here’s hoping for more like this.

8.1/10