Words About Music
I don’t get to write about new music as often as I’d like, but I figured I could at least take some time to put together my 25 favorite albums of 2018 so far, since we are halfway through the year and all. This list is in alphabetical order and is subject to change by year’s end, of course. I’d also like to say that after this, I’ll be putting in some work on an updated list of the most terrifying musical acts of all time, given the feedback I’ve received on my first list over the years. So, be on the lookout for that. Presented below are 25 essential albums for your listening pleasure, and feel free to leave your favorites in the comment section.
But first, some honorable mentions that are absolutely worth listening to as soon as you can possibly manage.
Drake — Scorpion (I know… I know)
Kanye West — ye (Yeah…)
Lucy Dacus — Historian
Portal — Ion
Rolo Tomassi — Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It
Saba — CARE FOR ME
Screaming Females — All at Once
Sons of Kemet — Your Queen is a Reptile
Tierra Whack — Whack World
Young Fathers — Cocoa Sugar
Now on to the actual list:
A.A.L — 2012 – 2017 (Other People)
While I was underwhelmed by the latest album from global electronic music sensation Nicolas Jaar, I never stop looking forward to his output. On a whim, he decided to put together several groovy deep house recordings he’d put together over the years onto the 2018’s best electronic album under the A.A.L (Against All Logic) alias. The resulting album is an hour of slick samples, deep grooves, and impenetrable beats. It’s the most fun Jaar’s music has ever sounded, and I can’t wait to hear more out of this project.
Favorite tracks: Some Kind of Game, Know You, Flash in the Pan
Anna von Hausswolff — Dead Magic (City Slang)
I first came across this Swedish arbiter of goth in 2015 when she released her album The Miraculous, which had quite a bit of potential. The follow-up from Ms. von Hausswolff, Dead Magic, is a clearly superior effort which collides her organ-playing skills with heavy, multi-phased post-rock and darkwave. It’s a goth album from a dimension raised on Godspeed You! Black Emperor and late-period Swans. Not for the faint of heart or anyone susceptible to wormholes.
Favorite tracks: The Truth The Glow The Fall, Ugly and Vengeful, The Marble Eye
Beach House — 7 (Sub Pop)
I have always felt that Beach House is a little overrated, even their really great material. To a certain extent, I feel that way about their latest album, 7, which is being praised to high heavens this year by critics and fans. While I am not completely floored with 7, it’s the best Beach House release in a number of years, and it shows that they’re still able to experiment and push their sound, which they somewhat failed to do on 2015’s twin albums Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars. This record features some bizarre production, beautiful singing, and a genuinely exciting tracklisting that has me looking forward to Beach House’s next album in ways that their other recent material didn’t.
Favorite tracks: Dark Spring, Drunk in LA, Dive
Car Seat Headrest — Twin Fantasy (Matador)
The only album on this list that is a bit of a rule-bender. While Twin Fantasy, the cult favorite lo-fi album Car Seat Headrest released onto Bandcamp all the way back in 2011, has been available for public conception for years (to high acclaim), it apparently wasn’t good enough. Personally, I have highly preferred CSH’s post-Bandcamp output. Such is the case on this re-recorded version of Twin Fantasy, even more loud, epic, and timely than it was when it dropped initially. The 2018 version makes the 2011 version sound like a mere demo, that this is the work CSH mastermind Will Toledo always wanted to make if he had had the means 8 years ago. These new recordings redefine the album for me, and I think that this production is an even better work than 2016’s incredible Teens of Denial. If that’s cheating, so be it.
Favorite tracks: Beach Life-in-Death, Nervous Young Inhumans, Cute Thing
Death Grips — Year of the Snitch (Third Worlds)
My boys are back with their sixth full-length studio album in the seven or so years they’ve been wreaking sonic havoc together. Year of the Snitch is easily the band’s most experimental, diverse set of songs yet. With features that range from the turntablist stylings of DJ Swamp to the similarly-swamp-related spoken word of Andrew Adamson, the Sacramento experimental hip-hop trio takes us on a voyage into psychedelic rock, sludge metal, digital electronica, hardcore punk, and jazz. They get really weird with this one, and it’s always a thrill to be challenged by another difficult Death Grips album, especially when the music is as good as it is here.
Favorite tracks: Black Paint, Dilemma, Disappointed
Ghost — Prequelle (Lima Vista)
At first, I wasn’t sure that Prequelle was a worthy contender in the esteemed Ghost catalog. After multiple listens, the glossy genius of the album clicked with me, and while it is not my favorite Ghost album, it is still pretty fucking great. The band is still sounding full, clean, and layered, with vocalist Tobias Forge (now going by Cardinal Copia) delivering some of his most sonorous hooks yet. Its poppiness is the direct result of the trajectory the band has been taking since their instant classic (for me) 2010 debut Opus Eponymous. There have been many twists and turns since then, but Prequelle sounds like the most fully realized version of Ghost’s sound, and even if it’s not their best, it’s an impressive entry in one of contemporary rock’s best discographies.
Favorite tracks: Rats, Miasma, Pro Memoria
Half Waif — Lavender (Cascine)
It turns out that Pinegrove keyboardist Nandi Rose Plunkett had a better album in her than either of Pinegrove’s two. That’s not necessarily a dig at Pinegrove, but it’s certainly meant to compliment Nandi and her Half Waif project. Lavender, her latest, is a catchy, dark synthpop record that wormed its way into my brain the very second I gave it the time of day. It’s a tightly produced album full of sad, contemplative songs. This isn’t reinventing the wheel in terms of contemporary synthpop, but it is just a consistently great record that contributes a heaping spoonful of extremely well written and well performed songs.
Favorite tracks: Lavender Burning, Lilac House, Back in Brooklyn
Hop Along — Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Saddle Creek)
I was instantly floored when I heard Hop Along’s 2015 album Painted Shut, their second album as a full band. Maybe it’s because of that that their latest record, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, was disappointing at first. It’s not as immediately hooky, nor is it as loud. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an exercise in increasingly poetic and cryptic lyricism and geniusly layered instrumentation. It doesn’t reveal itself on first listen. It’s got layers you need to peel off by spending time with it. Thankfully, the resulting album is as free of flaws as its predecessor. This record is replete with satisfying songs, dynamic writing, and killer performances. If Hop Along isn’t on your radar now, you are missing the fuck out.
Favorite tracks: How Simple, Not Abel, Look of Love
Iceage — Beyondless (Matador)
Iceage is another band on this list who succeeds even when they are not operating at their best. After almost four years of waiting after the release of their 2014 masterpiece/magnum opus Plowing into the Fields of Love, I was curious to see if they could top it. Unfortunately, they did not. The Danish punk group’s fourth album reads less like an Iceage album and more like an album by vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s other band Marching Church. Beyondless is an energetic album that is more jazzy and old school than any Iceage record so far. While it felt a bit uniform at first, it rewards repeat listens, as well as a close read of the cynical, politicized lyrics. Beyondless is Iceage’s most accessible album so far, and considering their unusual career trajectory, I long to see where they go next.
Favorite tracks: Catch It, Pain Killer, Showtime
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris — Everything’s Fine (Mello Music Group)
I have been a conscious fan of rappers/producers Jean Grae and Quelle Chris for a couple years now, and it wasn’t until this album was announced that I realized that they are a romantic couple. That chemistry comes through in spades on what is perhaps the year’s greatest political hip-hop album. Everything’s Fine is a hazy, lo-fi collection of humorous tracks and interludes which poke at the collective anxiety about the world that we all like to ignore. Complete with a coveted rap verse from comedian Hannibal Buress, this record is an introspective delight for the apocalypse age.
Favorite tracks: My Contribution to this Scam, Ohsh, Scoop of Dirt
Jeff Rosenstock — POST- (Polyvinyl)
I have professed my love for modern punk rock legend Jeff Rosenstock’s solo music since his excellent Side One Dummy debut album We Cool? from 2015. He topped that album’s excellence the following year with the aptly titled WORRY., which saw Rosenstock and his talented band take their multiple influences and songwriting chops to new heights. On New Year’s Day 2018, he dropped the surprise album POST-, his first for Polyvinyl. While the album feels lower stakes and less developed than its two predecessors, it is still one of the year’s stronger punk albums. Some of the songs take a more simple, power pop approach, while others are Jeff’s longest and most experimental yet. If you’re looking for the hangover to WORRY., do not miss out on POST-.
Favorite tracks: USA, TV Stars, 9/10
Jordaan Mason — Earth to Ursa Major (Self-released)
I have been following the work of Canadian singer/songwriter Jordaan Mason since I was first familiarized with their 2009 cult classic, Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head. After absolutely loving that album and its follow-up, I was highly anticipating Earth to Ursa Major, an 80-minute opus of depressive lo-fi folk ballads that dives deeply into Mason’s suicidal ideation, political distress, and incomparable poetry. While this isn’t my favorite in Mason’s discography, it is still one of the year’s best; an emotional rollercoaster that seeks pseudo-spiritual comfort amid constant fascist violence. This album is by no means a comforting listen, though. Tread lightly amid these waters, for they could drag you right into their aqueous depths.
Favorite tracks: Grief Poem (Everything’s Collapsing), It Does Not Get Better, No Wires
JPEGMAFIA — Veteran (Deathbomb Arc)
Experimental rapper/producer JPEGMAFIA returns with his masterpiece, an insular, ferocious treasure of punk-rap goodness. Peggy produced, mixed, and mastered this album on his own, but that won’t come as any surprise to fans of his individualist anarchy. This is the political album of the year, lashing out at everyone from Trump and his alt-right cronies to Morrissey, Drake, and gentrifying yuppies. Abrasive, noisy, exciting; this is what punk music means in 2018.
Favorite tracks: Baby I’m Bleeding, I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies, Curb Stomp
Kali Uchis — Isolation (Rinse/Virgin/UMG)
Colombian-American vocalist Kali Uchis has been slowly building up her profile over the past several years. She quickly grew to enjoy the company of frequent collaborators like Tyler, the Creator, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Damon Albarn. This built for several years until the hype was insurmountable, and all that has culminated in one of the year’s greatest debuts. Isolation is a catchy, amazingly produced journey through Uchis’ cultural background and musical come-up. Across this, she sings beautifully, working with all the aforementioned collaborators in addition to familiar names like Jorja Smith, Bootsy Collins, Thundercat, DJ Dahi, Sounwave, TV on the Radio’s David Sitek, The Internet’s Steve Lacy, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, and BROCKHAMPTON’s Romil Hemnani. This album is a who’s who of important new music-makers and the sound of pop music to come.
Favorite tracks: Just a Stranger, Tyrant, After the Storm
KIDS SEE GHOSTS — KIDS SEE GHOSTS (G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam)
Of all the albums Kanye West was responsible for bringing into the world this year, the best of the bunch is clearly his collaborative album with protege-turned-dark-horse Kid Cudi. While some of Cudder’s recent material could easily lead one to believe he doesn’t have any more great music in him, KIDS SEE GHOSTS is the best he’s sounded since he first broke. Cudi’s singing and rapping is at peak performance, levelled by Kanye’s similarly personal, yet humorous bars and his flawless production. At barely over 20 minutes, this album is as completely awe-inspiring as it is criminally short. If you’re boycotting Kanye this year, I get it, but you’re also a dummy who’s missing out on some serious good-good. This album is fantastic.
Favorite tracks: Feel the Love, 4th Dimension, Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)
Kimbra — Primal Heart (Warner Bros.)
When will Kimbra get the respect she deserves? Seriously, Primal Heart is one of the best pop albums of 2018, and clearly one of the best of the year, full-stop. While this album isn’t as cohesive as it could be, it still stands as a collection of fantastic songs. She made the right call by bringing in veteran producer John Congleton, who endows these songs with the right amount of radio-friendly sheen and experimental texture. Kimbra’s voice is incredible on this, whether she’s serving braggadocio on the Skrillex-produced “Top of the World” or flexing her balladeering chops on “Version of Me.”
Favorite tracks: Top of the World, Recovery, Real Life
MGMT — Little Dark Age (Columbia)
MGMT hardly like to repeat themselves, which explains why no two albums in their brief discography sound alike. 2013’s self-titled album was an unfortunate career low, but by no means a bad album. Thankfully, the duo took their time in putting out what might go down as their definitive masterpiece (yes, I said it). Little Dark Age is a foray into ‘80s synthpop with some heavy influence from other contemporary acts who fuck around with synthpop, specifically Ariel Pink and Connan Mockasin, both of whom helped out with some of the tracks on this album. It’s an airtight set of catchy, humorous, dark (of course) songs that I think will go down as the least dated MGMT album yet, which is ironic given the retro vibe at play. It is just that damn good.
Favorite tracks: Little Dark Age, Me and Michael, When You’re Small
Mount Eerie — Now Only (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Washington’s own Phil Elverum was responsible for dropping my Album of the Year last year with his indescribably sad and cathartic A Crow Looked at Me. I did not expect him to drop a sequel so soon, but Now Only is the wake to Crow’s funeral. It looks more in depth at the relationship Elverum and deceased wife Geneviève had and how much their multiple years of love meant to him. This album employs fuller instrumentation and serves as the excellent, polished epilogue that I didn’t know Crow needed. It seems that this saga of Elverum’s musical output is mostly over, and I am happy to hear that his public grieving process has been helpful for him. Whether he puts out music or not, that’s what is most important. The fact that this album is highly compelling and another vital testament to true love is clearly secondary to what it means to Phil and all grieving along with him.
Favorite tracks: Tintin in Tibet, Distortion, Crow Pt. 2
Parquet Courts — Wide Awake! (Rough Trade)
One of the few torchbearers of indie rock returns with its catchiest, most overtly political album yet. With a crisp, clear sound courtesy of Danger Mouse — one of his best productions in years, I might add — the boys have outdone their already impressive track record with their usual combination of righteous anger, dark humor, and referential lyrics. If you enjoy one rock album from this year, let it be this one.
Favorite tracks: Total Football, Almost Had to Start a Fight / In and Out of Patience, Normalization
Pusha T — DAYTONA (G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam)
Who would have thought that Pusha T’s best solo work would be hardly longer than the average EP? When I first heard that Kanye was going to be cranking out seven-track albums throughout the months of May and June, I didn’t believe that they would be happening. When DAYTONA first dropped, I didn’t think there was any way a 20-minute album from a rapper whose as-yet-unreleased King Push album I have been anticipating for fucking years would be a satisfying listen. And yet, at barely over 20 minutes, DAYTONA is one of the year’s shining musical accomplishments. Not only does Kanye bring some of his best production ever, but Push comes through with inflammatory, harder-than-diamonds bars delivered through gritted teeth and multiple “YEEUUGGHs.” All killer, no filler, an amazing album in the pipeline from one of hip-hop’s best MCs.
Favorite tracks: If You Know You Know, Santeria, Infrared
serpentwithfeet — soil (Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle)
Another long-awaited debut album, soil is the latest project from Brooklyn-based singer serpentwithfeet, real name Josiah Wise. While his debut EP, blisters, featured production from The Haxan Cloak, apparently The Haxan Cloak is perpetuating his sudden (and unfortunate) disappearance from music. Instead, soil features production from established great Clams Casino and promising up-and-comer Katie Gately. The result is a stupefyingly gorgeous album that is melodic without being overtly catchy. These songs likely won’t get stuck in your head. The feeling they give you, however, is addictive. Careful, this serpent bites.
Favorite tracks: whisper, fragrant, slow Syrup
Sleep — The Sciences (Third Man)
The kings of stoner metal officially made their studio return with a surprise full-length album on 4/20 (Thank you, Jack White). The Sciences is the first proper release from Sleep since their 60-minute song Dopesmoker saw a proper release in the early 2000s, several years after it was recorded, shelved, and the band went their separate ways. Guitarist Matt Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, and new drummer Jason Roeder (of Neurosis) sound better as a unit than they ever have, though, each pulling from their respective careers since the late ‘90s to inject a thrilling level of effortless storytelling and instrumental prowess. This album is everything a comeback album should be. May your bongs burn forever for Sleep.
Favorite tracks: Antarcticans Thawed, Sonic Titan, Marijuanaut’s Theme
SOPHIE — OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES (MSMSMSM/Future Classic)
It’s SOPHIE’s world, and I’ve been living in it ever since “Hey QT,” the collaborative one-off/publicity stunt she orchestrated with PC music founder and Charli XCX’s current BFF, A.G. Cook. After that, SOPHIE revealed herself to be one of pop’s most inventive producers, landing credits on projects by Madonna and Vince Staples. Finally, we have her debut full-length album, an astonishing journey of transformation, opulence, and defiance. This album revels in its transness, and with SOPHIE singing lead vocals on her own tracks now, she’s an unstoppable art pop force who will make you cry right before dropping an acidic banger in your lap. Stardom is imminent for this one.
Favorite tracks: Ponyboy, Faceshopping, Immaterial
Tropical Fuck Storm — A Laughing Death in Meatspace (Mistletone/TFS)
I have been a diehard fan of Australian rock band The Drones ever since I was first turned on to their 2013 album I See Seaweed. While we await more music from The Drones, that band’s two vocalists and songwriters — Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin — formed another band, the aptly named Tropical Fuck Storm. With this project, Liddiard and Kitschin (along with Lauren Hammel on drums and Erica Dunn on guitars/keys) go even further out into aggressive, distressing weirdness. Like The Drones, you’re gonna get darkly comic, cosmically horrific lyrics about politics, war, and international relations. The musical palate has been taken up a notch, however, with quirky, squawking synths and screaming guitars; a fusion of noise rock with post-rock, electronica, and garage rock. It must be heard to be believed. You will not be disappointed.
Favorite tracks: You Let My Tyres Down, Antimatter Animals, Soft Power
U.S. Girls — In a Poem Unlimited (4AD)
When I finally got the chance to dig into the intricacies and nuances of the latest album from Meg Remy’s U.S. Girls project, I was fucking blown away. Remy’s voice is not only a singular, breathy pillow of unique composition, but she puts it to amazing use on In a Poem Unlimited. She and her band fuse elements of disco, art pop, and electronic music in strangely organic ways. The melodies are slick, the lyrics are slyly political, and the instrumentation is boisterous and impossible to ignore. This album is as fun to listen to as it is to analyze, and I am in high anticipation for whatever Remy puts out next.
Favorite tracks: M.A.H., Incidental Boogie, Pearly Gates