I wrote a lot in this post, so I’m gonna keep the intro brief. Thought music as a whole was pretty dang good this year. My top 20 records feel especially water tight. A good amount of pop-leaning stuff in there. Is that due to the traditionally indie publications that I read now putting a greater emphasis on pop coverage because it’s “cool”? Is it all being bought out by majors? Or am I just getting sucked into pop music more? I don’t like feeling like I’ve been brainwashed, so I’m gonna power through that. The bottom half is dominated by “experimental” records, which all kind of shuffled around throughout the year. Wish I liked that 0PN album more! Anyways, I hope you enjoy + find things you love that you didn’t know about before. Love ya.
AKA these are overlooked albums that deserve at least a listen no matter who you are!
- Confidence Man – Confident Music For Confident People
- Eleventeen Eston – At The Water
- Fire-Toolz – Skinless X-1
- Gia Margaret – There’s Always A Glimmer
- Hermit & The Recluse – Orpheus Vs. The Sirens
- Holy Fawn – Death Spells
- Kate NV – для FOR
- møl – JORD
- North Americans – Going Steady
- Ovlov – TRU
- Pariah – Here From Where We Are
- Rezzett – Rezzett LP
- Rosali – Trouble Anyway
- The Samps – Breakfast
- Young Galaxy – Down Time
— — — — —
50. Wished Bone – Cellar Belly
49. Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
48. Natalia Lafourcade – Musas: Un Homenaje al Folclore Latinoamericano en Manos de Los Macorinos, Vol. 2
47. Flasher – Constant Image
46. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
45. Mary Lattimore – Hundreds Of Days
44. Young Jesus – The Whole Thing Is Just There
43. Kelly Moran – Ultraviolet
42. Leon Vynehall – Nothing Is Still
41. Saintseneca – Pillar Of Na
40. Anenon – Tongue
39. Adrianne Lenker – abysskiss
38. Pusha T – DAYTONA
37. Camp Cope – How To Socialise And Make Friends
36. IDLES – Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
35. Daniel Bachman – The Morning Star
34. Natalie Prass – The Future And The Past
33. Kamasi Washington – Heaven & Earth
32. Caroline Says – No Fool Like An Old Fool
31. Bernice – Puff LP: In the air without a shape
30. Mountain Man – Magic Ship
29. Against All Logic – 2012-2017
28. Haley Heynderickx – I Need To Start A Garden
27. Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen
26. Denzel Curry – TA13OO
25. Julia Holter – Aviary
24. Palm – Rock Island
23. Renata Zeiguer – Old Ghost
22. Robyn – Honey
21. serpentwithfeet – soil
“A series of commercials where everyone is crying while advertising their shiny new products.”
Unabashedly goofy, Caroline Rose & her band of fellow jesters have made an unashamedly good time on LONER. There are born-to-be-hit songs like “Soul No.5”, “Money” and “Bikini,” but I love that songs with a subdued nature like “Getting To Me” and “Jeannie” can also punch you in the gut with a great hook. Also surprise – a blast live! Who knew?
“Being trapped in a haunted house for 12 hours with intensely vengeful spirits, intent on constantly torturing you to the edge of consciousness until morning.”
Yeah yeah yeah, You Won’t Get What You Want is loud, chaotic, pummeling, sinister, caustic, incendiary and feels like it was built on a cursed burial ground. Something I haven’t seen enough people talk about is how pretty this album is. Okay yes, there are some gnarly moments on here, but sounds like the detuned mandolin-sounding instrument on “Satan In The Wait” and “Daughter”, plus my favorite horns & strings at the end of “Guest House”. Ok, that’s only a few examples. I guess the only thing to focus on is that this album is an unrelenting terror ride of skin-peeling noise rock, ripe with one of the best album closers of all time.
“A deliciously funky sexual revolution to get all this bogus business balanced.”
That meme where Janelle Monáe has progressively turned into Prince over the past three albums is pretty accurate, and I honestly thank her for it. Since his death in 2016, the world has been desperately lacking in a pansexual, sexually liberated funk god in the public sphere. The best part about this whole meme is that Dirty Computer is really damn good – not just some dollar store funk schlock. Bless Monáe and let her only prosper in this mad world.
“Ultimate naked lip-syncing post-shower in a foggy mirror moment compilation.”
As expected from pop made by a dancer, Chris is optimized for motion. It’s damn near impossible to stay still while listening to the album, as the slick melodies and grooves encourage the listener to embrace their inner ballerina and really move it out along with the music. Seriously: take a shower to this on and automatically boost your self esteem.
How to get a fabulous record + money printer: start with the highly dramatic, storied tradition of Flamenco, then get a powerful, graceful, multi-faceted pop voice, then bring it all into the hyperfuture with next level producer El Guincho. There’s a lot more to it than that, but those three things obviously make Rosalía’s sophomore record El Mal Querer an unforgettable record. Where on some songs she’s making some of the best pop of the year (“Malamente” + “Pienso En Tu Mirá”), and on others she’s drawing Björk comparisons (“Reniego” + “A Ningun Hombre”), this is not to be missed, even if you don’t know Spanish and can’t connect point-blank to the lyrics. The emotion is THERE. All you need to do is listen and I’m sure you’ll get it, language barrier or not.
“Seeing some of the same old, charming items (fridge magnets, plastic cups, fake plants, plastic tablecloth) from your grandparents’ house in a thrift store, miles & miles away.”
Kind of outside my wheelhouse, but boy howdy these did Wisconsin folks make a damn fine country rock record. I haven’t seen a ton of attention on Dusk from the general “indie populace” aside from my punk CT friends, so lemme give ya my pitch: if you like homespun classic rock songs that you can blast out of your car, chock full of soulful slide guitar, dual lead guitars, organ, rollicking acoustic guitar, tender string arrangements, relatable lyrics, and a healthy dose of the best retro radio tunes has to offer, you’ll like this to the moon and back. I can confidently say that there isn’t a bad song on here. A base comparison would be Alex G’s country tendencies paired with Sheer Mag. Dusk will be in my constant rotation all summer for years to come.
“A HAM radio enthusiast plays multiple distorted frequencies at once at high volumes while reclining in an old oversized recliner.”
Soulful, chopped up loops house Earl’s masterful, broken flow for quick, vibey hits of depressed pleasure. The obvious comparisons here would be Dilla, MF Doom and Madlib and Earl carries the torch of the masters valiantly. Since each song is so short, it’s easy to consume multiple listens of songs and find new turns of phrase and notice small details in the samples used. “Peanut” is the most devastating song of 2018.
“Drifting between lucid dream states and bleary, active consciousness while riding out snooze alarms in the early morning.”
Even though I was expecting/desiring something more dancey like her previous EPs, Tirzah’s long-awaited debut album is a slam dunk. Her signature smeared pop takes on a sleepier, deeply romantic feel on this album. Slowly weaving in between moods and dream states, Tirzah navigates the imperfect saga of devoted relationships sounding like no other record that was released this year. Excited to see if she ends up picking that dancier side back up and incorporates it into this slower sound. Hopefully I don’t have to wait another five years for the next one.
“The satisfying feeling of watching your close friends and family react negatively and shamefully after you say something really self-deprecating but actually very funny.”
In one of the weirdest album redemption cycles, Future Me Hates Me went from an “eh, ok” album to a “holy hell, these riffs are the best of the year and I can’t get these songs out of my head” album, all thanks to a weird dream I had. I couldn’t make this up: after I listened to Future Me Hates Me, I was not impressed. A few days later I dreamt that I listened to it again and really loved it (although it was not actually Future Me). I decided to take the dream as a sign and gave it a second listen, which got me to where I am now. Instead of a power pop/jangle pop basement group lackadaisically & luckily creating super catchy songs, these are some uber-trained musicians scientifically formulating the most charismatic, catchy, invigorating, straight-to-the-heart rock songs of the year. “Little Death” is nothing short of an epiphany. Perfect use of harmony, dissonance, dynamics, sequencing, etc. I think these kiwis are set for big, big things. I hope they are, at least.
“Like being strapped inside a metal box that has one small window to look out of and being pushed down a large, snowy mountain.”
The sounds, the SOUNDS on this record. They continue to floor me after every listen. The volleys of bass in “Rev8617”, the gorgeous sheet of synths on “Flyby VFR”, the rubbery break on “Kozmic Flush” the ominous transmissions on opener “Cerroverb” the great percussion on “Via Sub Mids” – all examples of the pristine quality material that these songs are made out of. Saying it’s an Ambient Works lift is a vast injustice.
“Dramatic shots of various, large birds soaring over and diving into the Grand Canyon.”
Along with having my favorite song of the year (“Believe”), Freedom is just a plain old great album. Lots of sweet little details, like the partially obscured guitar line on “Miki Dora”, the harmonica solo in “Skipping School” the lovely jangles on “Freedom”, and plenty more. Just really easy to listen to and get introspective to. Had a friend experience this album on a long night drive through the midwest and said the album really hit a euphoric center. Gonna have to try that someday. Perfect for a wandering spirit.
“Laying in the bed of a pickup truck, you watch the skies change hue, listen to different sounds coming out of passing cars, and feel the terrain changing around you as you make your way across the country to visit an old friend.”
Perhaps the record that best defined my spring / early summer. For good reason, too. I have a theory that this album’s ~canon universe~ (cause I’m that kind of guy) exists in the same as The Avalanches’ Wildflower. Both masterfully utilize soulful and psychedelic samples & features in an electronic dance framework, and both embody a tenderness that isn’t usually found in the genre. It’s psyched on getting weird, having a good time with very few, if any gimmicks. Get in the car, step off the stoop, hop on the train, get on the dancefloor: it’s party time.
“After a hard, summer rain, steam rises from a clearing that’s been ravaged by wildfires.”
I’m conditioned at this point, but whenever I hear Liz Harris’ voice I turn to mush. Putting her voice on full display with a spare piano arrangement, the songs on Grid Of Points are just as easy to get lost in even without the walls of ambiguous noise and harsh reverb from her previous albums. Make no mistake, listen to this when you’re fully ready to get lost.
“Plush sun & silky breezes caress your entire body, making you feel weightless.”
On my first few runs through Golden Hour I blamed my affinity for it on the fact that most of the songs here could double as Camera Obscura songs. Going forward, I came to the conclusion that it’s just a really, really pretty album. It’s fun, it’s a gorgeously produced, it’s got some great hooks, near-flawless sequencing (“Love Is A Wild Thing” to “High Horse” is a hell of a ride) and simple, relatable lyrics. I’m not going so far as to say I’m a pop country fan, since this is an anomaly in the genre (as far as I know / have read), but I’ll be damned if I can’t enjoy this. Just lay back and let it carry you like a pink cloud at sunset.
“Sitting by a pool in a plush robe while the neighborhood burns behind you.”
Isolation is one of those records where if I unexpectedly hear any of its songs in a few years after it falls out of my constant listening rotation, chances are it will jar me loose from any thought process or conversation and make me say “oh MAN – this is SUCH a good album.” Much like the Kacey Musgraves album, it’s another fun, super well-sequenced pop record, but in this case there’s a lot more variation in terms of sounds and ideas explored as a whole: reggaeton, quaint pop transfused straight from Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz-brain, slinky UMO funk, lazy Tame Impala funk, BBNG + Bootsy fonk, Amy Winehouse badassery, etc etc etc. There’s a whole spectrum of daunting styles and sounds here and Kali aces the gauntlet.
“Reading a specific passage of a cursed book found in a damp alleyway causes auditory & visual hallucinations and an intense desire to build monuments to an unknown deity.”
So here’s a weird thing: this album reminds me of what I thought NYC was like when I was a kid. Right from the start, “Faith In Nothing Except In Salvation” transports me to an art gallery space in a Soho loft in the early 90s that I feel like I saw in a video in elementary school, or something on the news in suburban Michigan. “All The Love That We Have Now” reminds me of SNL-like shots of characters amongst the hustle and bustle of taxis. “Noid” brings up thoughts of the police in the East Village. It’s a record that I’ve walked around to in the city and felt like I’m blending in with the pavement and traffic. It feels paranoid about big cities, both thriving and withdrawing from them. Sound bouncing off concrete, acoustic guitar dripping down sewer grates, the violent screeching of subway brakes, the rewarding & gentle silence of a quiet block. After this huge jump from what Tumor was doing before this album, I cannot wait to see where he goes from here.
“Getting so deeply invested in your family’s old, nostalgic stories that you begin to interact with corporeal visions of times long past.”
Bark Your Head Off, Dog sees Hop Along flexing their biggest studio budget yet (either that or stretching their budget to incorporate the biggest range of sounds they’ve had on record) and also continuing their reign of crafting songs that are so satisfying to sing along to. Nothing really new to say about Hop Along for this one: they remain one of the most solid, impressive and expressive rock bands around, as well as one of my all-time favorites. Again and again they have proven that they can do no wrong. The vocal chords of Frances Quinlan are national treasures that we need to protect for life. Can’t wait to sing along for more years to come.
“Getting trapped in a bright, LCD-covered room and being forced to find the key to exit by popping hundreds of balloons filled with sticky, pink goo.”
After getting a bunch of EPs and a collection of singles, I resigned myself to thinking that we’d never get a legit album from SOPHIE, or frankly any of the PC Music virtuosos. I was wrong! And holy hell, this album is so worth the wait. Thanks to the pristine vocal work of Mozart’s Sister, Oil is like listening to the emotional journey of a semi-conscious barbie doll trying to legitimize herself in a weirdo post-consumer world. That’s the narrative y’all, don’t try and debate me. The one consistent voice throughout gives the album an anchor point, allowing the ballistic instrumentals to exist around the vocals as they progress, until Mozart’s Sister is ground to dust and shot into another dimension on magnificent closer “Whole New World/Pretend World”. SOPHIE continually pushes the boundary of her sound in different ways throughout the course of the record, hinting that down the line there will be no limit to SOPHIE’s creativity and freedom.
“Taking the moments from your past that hit you with waves of hotly embarrassing nostalgic feelings when you lay in bed at night and recreating them as high-budget feature films with you playing every role.”
ALL KILLER, NO FILLER. Didn’t think Mitski could make an album I’d like more than Bury Me At Makeout Creek, and then she up and made one. I feel like I appreciate both albums the same, just in different ways. After all, they’re VERY different. Be The Cowboy establishes that Mitski can wholly and cleanly rip someone’s heart and brain out of their body with 14 different procedures, ranging from 1:30 to 4 mins. An unbelievable range of power sprung from highly relatable lyrics, kick-you-in-the-face hooks, great variation among tracks: the full package. When you’ve got fans screaming “YAS HYDRATE QUEEN” at live shows across the country (I can confirm this is a thing), you’ve got something going right. Obviously. Also always have to give a shout out to my friend Mary Banas who was nominated for a GRAMMY for her Be The Cowboy album design!
“A world-class spy is a sucker for karaoke.”
U.S. Girls are the hardest working band of 2018. Traveling with a 7-9 piece band, the Meg Remy-led squadron of boogie saints lit up stages across the world all year, both with headlining and opening gigs. I think they’ve been touring legit all year. I had the pleasure of catching them twice, once at a small club at 1am (their third show of the night) and once at Brooklyn’s biggest club (opening for Amen Dunes). Both times the band performed with blistering hot intensity, all nine players flexing in perfect unison translating the dense, dramatic psychedelic pop on In A Poem Unlimited seamlessly into the live setting, adding flourishes and elongating jams to make the crowd go wild. I realize I’m talking a lot about just the live show here, but seeing these songs live is an otherworldly experience. The careening guitar coalescing with red-hot sax, the chemistry between the hand drummer and the kit drummer, the showmanship of the trio of singers, the bond between the whole band. It’s a whole production. Not to mention the lyrics, which sees Remy continue her masterful dissection of family, domestic abuse, destroying the patriarchy, female empowerment and revenge. Putting in the most work for potentially the least reward? This band is a treasure and we need to thank Meg Remy and company for that.
- U.S. Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
- Mitski – Be The Cowboy
- SOPHIE – Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
- Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
- Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands Of Love
- Kali Uchis – Isolation
- Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
- Grouper – Grid Of Points
- DJ Koze – Knock Knock
- Amen Dunes – Freedom
- Skee Mask – Compro
- The Beths – Future Me Hates Me
- Tirzah – Devotion
- Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
- Dusk – Dusk
- Rosalía – El Mal Querer
- Christine & The Queens – Chris
- Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
- Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
- Caroline Rose – LONER
- serpentwithfeet – soil
- Robyn – Honey
- Renata Zeiguer – Old Ghost
- Palm – Rock Island
- Julia Holter – Aviary
- Denzel Curry – TA13OO
- Kadhja Bonet – Childqueen
- Haley Heynderickx – I Need To Start A Garden
- Against All Logic – 2012-2017
- Mountain Man – Magic Ship
- Bernice – Puff LP: In the air without a shape
- Caroline Says – No Fool Like An Old Fool
- Kamasi Washington – Heaven & Earth
- Natalie Prass – The Future & The Past
- Daniel Bachman – The Morning Star
- IDLES – Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
- Camp Cope – How To Socialise And Make Friends
- Pusha T – DAYTONA
- Adrianne Lenker – abysskiss
- Anenon – Tongue
- Saintseneca – Pillar Of Na
- Leon Vynehall – Nothing Is Still
- Kelly Moran – Ultraviolet
- Young Jesus – The Whole Thing Is Just There
- Mary Lattimore – Hundreds Of Days
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
- Flasher – Constant Image
- Natalia Lafourcade – Musas Vol. 2
- Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
- Wished Bone – Cellar Belly