Summer 2018 was full of surprise releases, a standalone popstar, viral dance challenges and fantastic comebacks. In no particular order, this roundup highlights some of this summer’s best music. Honorable mentions include Ariana Grande’s “Sweetener”, Drake’s “Scorpion”, Travis Scott’s “ASTROWORLD” and, of course, the soundtrack for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”
Florence + The Machine: “High as Hope”
After the personal darkness of “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” (2015), the band is back with the wonderful, witchy and wild “High as Hope.” It’s lead singer Florence Welch at her best: combining vulnerability, past experiences and vivid imagery into a beautiful work of art. Highlights include the hopeful “South London Forever” and the rambunctious “Hunger.” On songs like “Sky Full of Song,” “Patricia” and “100 Years,” Welch’s vocals take center stage, telling stories in colorful detail – a trademark of the band’s artistry. “High as Hope” is another solid entry in the band’s discography, as expansive as it is introspective. Try listening to it in a field of flowers; that’s where it works best.
Nicki Minaj: “Queen”
There was a lot riding on “Queen“, especially after the album’s messy rollout (two delays, a sampling issue and a scathing opinion piece). Thankfully, it’s well worth the wait. From the tropical “Ganja Burn” to the hilarious diss track “Barbie Dreams” and the bravado of “LLC” and “Good Form,” the album is a lap of the rapper’s greatest hits, highlighting everything she excels at. However, the album’s 66-minute running time drags with many filler tracks (especially Future duet “Sir” and the snooze “Miami”). Even so, Queen is still a slam dunk and a reminder that Minaj is still wearing her crown.
Gorillaz: “The Now Now”
After their dark and apocalyptic “Humanz” (2017), the digital band is back with an album perfect for summer. Written and recorded by co-creator Damon Albarn earlier this year, “The Now Now” is a welcomed addition to the band’s discography, full of bright alternative beats and more focused than its predecessors. Highlights include the beach vibe “Humility” (feat. George Benson,) spacey “Lake Zurich” and folk “Souk Eye.” Whereas “Humanz” was crippled by its long list of featured artists, “The Now Now” brings the focus back to the Gorillaz themselves. Sure, “The Now Now” isn’t their best work – that title still belongs to “Plastic Beach” (2010). Nonetheless, it’s concise, interesting and made for summer listening.
Beyoncé & Jay Z: “EVERYTHING IS LOVE”
The surprise release marks an end to the trilogy Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” (2016) began and Jay Z’s “4:44” (2017) continued: a personal trilogy revolving around marriage, cheating, love and forgiveness. “EVERYTHING IS LOVE” is a powerful ending, including the exciting trap of “APESHIT,” the easy-listening vibes of “HEARD ABOUT US,” and the hilarious conversation of “LOVEHAPPY.” No, the album isn’t as diverse or impressive as “Lemonade” – but what is? Beyoncé dominates “EVERYTHING IS LOVE”, making it feel like a Beyoncé-featuring-Jay-Z release rather than a duel effort. Regardless, it’s a strong entry in both of their discographies and a satisfying ending to a very public marital dispute.
Charli XCX: “5 in the Morning”/”Focus”/”No Angel”/”Girls Night Out”
After her perfect mixtapes “Number 1 Angel” (2017) and “Pop 2” (2017), Charli XCX is back as one of the leaders of forward-thinking pop. Over the summer, the artist served some of the best bops of the year, beginning with the infectious “5 in the Morning.” Her latest release is the absolute banger “Girls Night Out,” which has had unofficial versions and leaked releases over the past year. The releases are Charli XCX at her best, featuring earworm sounds like the bouncy beat of “No Angel” and the monotone flow of “Focus.” The four singles add up to a solid reminder that Charli XCX’s creations never disappoint.
Mac Miller: “Swimming”
“Swimming” introduces a more mature, open and honest Miller. On the album, Miller maps many themes, including vulnerability, self-reliance, fame and his recent breakup with Ariana Grande. There’s exploration of different genres, from the slow vibes of “Hurt Feelings” and the spacey jazz of “Ladders” to the disco of “What’s the Use?” True, the album is far from focused, but that doesn’t mean “Swimming” isn’t strong. Rather, the lack of focus is what makes this album worth a listen. Miller takes listeners on a tour of his headspace. No, it’s not the most organized, but it’s honest and real.