2

As the bumper car ride that was 2018 finally powers down, it’s time for Merry-Go-Round Magazine to take a look at the best that the world of music had to offer. Below, take a look at the top 50 albums of 2018.

Honorable Mentions:

Deafheaven – ORDINARY CORRUPT HUMAN LOVE

Born Ruffians – UNCLE, DUKE, THE CHIEF

Coheed and Cambria – VAXIS — ACT I: THE HEAVENLY CREATURES

SALES – FOREVER & EVER

Skeletonwitch – DEVOURING RADIANT LIGHT

Khruangbin – CON TODO EL MUNDO

Elysia Crampton – S/T

BROCKHAMPTON – IRIDESCENCE

US Girls – IN A POEM UNLIMITED

Noname – ROOM 25

Adrianne Lenker – ABYSSKISS

Top Albums NIN

  1. Nine Inch Nails – BAD WITCH

Genre: Industrial

Favorite Tracks: “Shit Mirror,” “Ahead of Ourselves,” “God Break Down the Door”

The word genius gets thrown around a lot, especially in the hyperbolic, buzzword-happy climate of today. But few artists have found success feeding the more non-commercial corners of musical expression through the meat grinder of pop sensibility, and fewer, if any, have managed to remain not only relevant, but vital, three decades later. Enter BAD WITCH, the latest offering from recently resurrected, alt-industrial monolith Nine Inch Nails. Whether it’s the final EP of a promised trilogy or just a really short LP, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that BAD WITCH, at 31 minutes in length, sees the band at not only its most concise and urgent, but at some of its most daring and inventive. Trading in guitars for saxophones that creep over thrumming basslines and breakbeats punctuated by washes of noise, Trent Reznor and now-official member Atticus Ross weave sonic landscapes that are alien yet familiar, alluring yet ultimately inhospitable. And, despite the ever-present current of rage coursing through it, one gets the feeling that Reznor might just have had a good time putting it all together. From the infectious, clap-along refrain of the wonderfully-titled “Shit Mirror” to the jazzy, David Bowie-informed “God Break Down the Door” and “Over and Out,” BAD WITCH presents a new side of a man who is just now hitting his peak. [Joseph Simpson]

Top Albums Snail Mail

  1. Snail Mail – LUSH

Genre: Dream Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Pristine,” “Heat Wave,” “Let’s Find An Out,” “Speaking Terms”

After setting the bar pretty high with their debut EP, HABIT, in 2016, the eyes of the indie sphere were definitely on Snail Mail when they announced they would be dropping their first full-length over the summer. With lead single “Pristine” in March, songwriter Lindsay Jordan let us know she was bringing her A-game. LUSH is an incredibly dynamic offering, driven by Jordan’s dreamy guitar and refined lyricism that encapsulates the traditional, angst-ridden teenage experience through a lens of maturity that extends far beyond her years, the kind of songwriting that will leave a majority of listeners thinking, “Damn, I wish I would have been able to handle a break-up like that when I was 18.” Musically, LUSH is driven by simple and catchy reverb-laden chord progressions that at a few moments can seem to blend together (with the crucial exception of the gorgeous picking on “Let’s Find An Out”), but it’s Jordan’s raw, yet reflective, words that make it one of the standouts of 2018. [Jake Mazon]

Top Albums Middle Kids

  1. Middle Kids – LOST FRIENDS

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Edge of Town,” “Mistake,” “Please”

Music can be a lot of things: it can give you perspective, it can introduce you to different cultures, but it can also be comforting. Australian-based indie rock act Middle Kids’ debut LOST FRIENDS wraps you in a warm blanket made of sounds of the soft late night magic of being youthful. The album’s uplifting musical notes know perfectly when to have the bottom drop off to emphasize when lyrics will hit the hardest, and lead singer Hannah Joy’s voice is interchangeably powerful, becoming at times both soothing and vulnerable. She is given a lot of responsibility to boost a lot of the more dramatic elements of this album and rises to the task. LOST FRIENDS feels like a triumph of process, often romanticizing all the awkward moments of the present that are so often forgotten in the grand scheme of things. [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

Top Albums Parquet Courts

  1. Parquet Courts – WIDE AWAKE!

Genre: Art Punk

Favorite Songs:”Total Football,” “Almost Had to Start a Fight / In and Out of Patience,” “Freebird II,” “Wide Awake,” “NYC Observation,” “Tenderness”

 Reading the first paragraph of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr.’s Wikipedia page is akin to experiencing one of the many concussions he’s sustained to amass such a resume. Broadcasters use the same words to narrate his existence: unlikely, remarkable, spellbinding. Brady happens to play a brief role as villain on WIDE AWAKE, a record full of them, yet his narrative matches that of Parquet Courts, a Brooklyn band that has officially arrived.

The four minutes that result in a guttural “FUCK TOM BRADY” are among the tightest in the band’s travelled career. It’s a track that will get a room full of introverted psychology majors thrashing like the drunkest Warped Tour diehards while Savage, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, screams about the brutal construction of capitalism. WIDE AWAKE is uniquely punk in its pop affectations, blended with the year’s most honest and earnest political lyrical commentary. Savage’s lyrical scope is more comprehensive than any other indie rock record released this year, largely because he is one of the few artists to correctly identify our current problems as systemic rather than a fluke. “NYC Observation” crams the entire issue of New York City’s gentrification problem into an 80-second short story that would make Richard Connell blush. “Before the Water Gets Too High” and “Death Will Bring Change” are hyper-aware of the world’s most prescient oncoming disasters, while “Normalization” and “Extinction” rock harder than most of their distinctly gritty, unpolished discography. Parquet Courts overcomes the vaunted indie curse of Danger Mouse to produce a subversive yet accessible work of art. [Ryan Moloney]

Top Albums Cranberry

  1. Hovvdy – CRANBERRY

Genre: Bedroom Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Float,” “Cranberry,” “Petal,” “Brave,” “Colorful”

It’s hard to pinpoint why certain bands’ names use a double “v” in lieu of a “w.” Is it to create intrigue, or just to simply stand out in a sea of similar artists? In Hovvdy’s case, the appearance of a stretched out “w” gives the name a relaxed feel, which can directly be applied to their sound. The Austin-based duo’s CRANBERRY is the sonic equivalent of a pair of worn-in Levis—simple yet sturdy, tried and true. Right off the bat, opening track “Brave” strides along assuredly with the soft confession, “Yesterday I woke up outside / Saw you for the very first time.” Late album highlight “Colorful” drifts like the last autumn leaf off a bare tree. The gentle repetition of “You say you’re tired from sleeping” is quietly breathtaking. With evocative lyrics, mesmerizing guitars, and dynamic drum patterns, Hovvdy use primary colors to paint a gorgeous portrait of life’s simple emotions. There’s been a large crop of bedroom pop albums as of recent, but Hovvdy’s CRANBERRY floats to the top. [Claire Epting]

Top Albums Future Corpse

  1. Future Corpse – CULTURE RUINS EVERYTHING AROUND ME

Genre: Math Rock, Post-Hardcore

Favorite Tracks: “An Abject Failure,” “Trapped in the Echo Chamber,” “Culture Ruins Everything Around Me”

The loss of BoySetsFire and Dillinger Escape Plan, combined with a disappointing return from At-The-Drive-In, have left gaping holes in hardcore and punk these past few years, but Future Corpse are here to pick up their slack and more. In a era of interchangeable, chugging, monochromatic-core bands, it’s refreshing to hear something so visceral in its delivery, and content yet so labyrinthine in its playing and construction. This level of urgency and heaviness is hard to maintain over so many tempo changes and impromptu guitar breaks, yet Future Corpse succeeds where so many wannabe post-prog-hardcore bands fail. By having their scathing lyrics, anguished delivery, and dizzying technical ability actually complement one another, they created some of the most weighthy, potent songs I heard all year (particularly on “Trapped in the Echo Chamber” and the title track). It would be higher if the flourishes of horns and other singers were better integrated, but it’s still a great reminder that punk music doesn’t have to be short or linear in order to hit with force. [Blake Michelle]

Top Albums The Anteroom

  1. How to Dress Well – THE ANTEROOM

Genre: Experimental R&B

Favorite Tracks: “Body Fat,” “Nonkilling 3 | The Anteroom | False Skull 1,” “Vacant Boat” “Brutal | False Skull”

If there was ever a year you weren’t supposed to like a neo-R&B album released by a trendy cityslicker who wears collared shirts, 2018 is it. However, predisposition aside, Tom Krell’s latest release as How To Dress Well, THE ANTEROOM, is hard not to love. Coupling his signature bleary-eyed vocal ambience with ever-so-trendy lo-fi house production, THE ANTEROOM is a brain-melting stew of unforeseeable post-Bjork maximalism. Like the entirety of How to Dress Well’s catalog, self-consciousness is the glue that keeps THE ANTEROOM in tact, yet Krell’s lyrics are never too awkward, intimate, or coffee house-y. After 2016’s godawful CARE, and with the much needed downfall of the yuppie R&B singer, I was less than excited to listen to THE ANTEROOM, especially in a year with a lot of experimental music (including Yves Tumor’s not listed but excellent SAFE IN THE HANDS OF LOVE). When I pressed play, I expected to shake my head and say “This guy again,” but I instead found myself shocked and wordless at one of the year’s most memorable avant garde releases. [Ted Davis]

Top Albums Brace Up!

  1. Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt – BRACE UP!

Genre: Noise Rock, Free Improvisation

Favorite Tracks: “Double Bind,” “She Punched a Hole in the Moon For Me,” “Bargain Sounds,” “The Secret Engine of History”

There is a feeling very specific to the live-concert experience: skating by on the edge of panic and jubilation, full of too much beer, in the center of the pit, getting jostled and shoved around with abandon. In these stomach-churning moments, nausea and excitement, frustration and elation, camaraderie and anger, all combine, leaving you somewhere in the fundamental middle of the human experience. It’s a feeling I’ve never heard so perfectly captured on record, but Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt take me back to every sweaty DIY space I’ve ever been in, letting loose, screaming, and feeling quintessentially alive. Like if Gnarwhal’s instrumentation got even less tethered, BRACE UP! is a blistering improvisatory noise rock jam session, all drooling amps, guitar squeals, and punishing drum work. Head-spinning in the best way possible, for its scant 32-minute runtime we are all putty in Corsano and Orcutt’s capable hands, thrown this way and that in stormforce gales of feedback and head-banging, knuckle-dragging sound. It’s loud, and brash, and bold, baby, and there’s no turning back once it kicks in. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Top Albums Lake Street Dive

  1. Lake Street Dive – FREE YOURSELF UP

Genre: Pop Soul

Favorite Songs: “Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts,” “Good Kisser,” “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “I Can Change,” “Dude,” “Musta Been Something,” “Hang On”

Despite being a band with so much history together, Lake Street Dive are still considered to be a relatively young group, which is why their astounding sixth LP slipped under the radar for most in 2018. Nonetheless, FREE YOURSELF UP is exactly what the group did here, leaving behind a more methodical sound for something freeing. From discussing heartbreak in “Good Kisser” to their anthem about the downfall of scummy men in “Shame, Shame, Shame,” not to mention “Dude,” the gospel rock cousin of Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy,” 15 years into their careers the New England Conservatory of Music alumni write songs intended to capture that freedom, or at the very least help you get there. After starting the 10-track album off with something more powerful, the later half transitions to something mellow and low-tempo, but each song has dance-worthy moments. You’ll come for retro ‘60s soul and ‘70s funk, but you’ll stay for the catchy lyrics and the raw emotion in Rachael Price’s vocals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We don’t deserve bands like this who are this excellently skilled and creative. Here’s to their success and spoiling us with their talent for many years to come. [Liliane Neubecker]

Top Albums Courtney Barnett

  1. Courtney Barnett – TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “City Looks Pretty,” “Nameless, Faceless,” “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” “Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack of Confidence,” “Help Yourself”

Courtney Barnett maintains the inimitable talent of relating her frustrations and anxieties to the material world without distancing herself from the rest of reality. Whether through candid strumming or grungy shredding, she functions to make those dark feelings sound tangible and human, where many other singer-songwriters lose touch with the ground they’re standing on in an effort to express the inner pits of their modern landscape. TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL doesn’t deviate from Barnett’s characteristic coolness, though it departs from the extroversion of her last album for a more vulnerable take on the exhaustion of interacting with others when there’s already a gunfight firing inside of yourself. While the instrumentation isn’t as unapologetically boisterous as her debut album, Barnett shines lyrically on this LP, oftentimes chipping in with self-encouragement between tired speculations about social isolation (“City Looks Pretty”), white-knuckled politeness (“Walkin’ on Eggshells”), fears of a wasted existence (“Help Your Self”), and the usual insecurities of kids who were told they were special (“Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack of Confidence”). Barnett never shies away from a jam, giving into punkish instincts throughout, but this LP generally leans back to muse, unguarded, on the inner monologue of her intimate dissatisfaction without ever sounding either too dispassionate or radical. With the nonchalance of flicking a cigarette, TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL reminds us that humanness is not a symptom, but merely an unsurprising condition—the least we can do is be honest. [Sienna Kresge]

Top Albums Janelle Monae

  1. Janelle Monáe – DIRTY COMPUTER

Genre: Future Funk

Favorite Tracks: “Django Jane,” “Crazy, Classic Life,” “I Like That,” “Take A Byte”

Janelle Monáe is a renaissance woman: a singer-songwriter, dancer, actor, producer, model, CEO, and style icon. She is still one of a select few artists that delivers a complete musical package in the form of chart-topping songs and compelling imagery. Her 2018 release DIRTY COMPUTER was accompanied with a short film of the same name, featuring robust color schemes and obvious references to Monáe’s sexuality—a major departure for the often black-and-white tuxedo-clad star. Monáe’s consistent adherence to her suit as a nod to her mother has made it nearly impossible to question her authenticity. And while it doesn’t come as much of a shock that she has come out as pansexual, it is shocking that she has been able to position herself as even more authentic. Every song on DIRTY COMPUTER can either stand alone as its own moment or can be contextualized with other songs from the album. Monáe finds ways to playfully insert lyrics that speak to her experience as a black queer woman in the United States into a set of vivacious and playful tunes that embody pop sensibility in a way that her previous albums haven’t. Her Prince influences shine on this album, namely on the tracks “Make Me Feel” and “Screwed,” featuring Zoe Kravitz. Every single lyric on the standout track “Django Jane” is jam-packed with references to important figures and important moments, a confident battlecry summed up the moment Monáe raps, “If she the G.O.A.T now, would anybody doubt it?” From the production to the lyrical content, she really does indulge us, tapping into her talent in a way that makes someone that is as complex as her easily digestible. Because her album and image are so seamlessly intertwined and constructed, it would be easy to miss just how much thought and work goes into producing an album like DIRTY COMPUTER, but if you have been sleeping on Janelle Monáe, it’s not too late to wake up. [Amanda Ball]

Top Albums awakebutstill

  1. awakebutstillinbed – WHAT PEOPLE CALL LOW SELF-ESTEEM IS REALLY JUST SEEING YOURSELF THE WAY THAT OTHER PEOPLE SEE YOU

Genre: Emo

Favorite Tracks: “Life,” “Safe,” “Fathers”

Once in a great while, you have the opportunity to catch an incredible band take off right from the beginning. When our incredibly attractive (but unfortunately not single) music editor CJ Simonson first turned me on to awakebutstillinbed’s WHAT PEOPLE CALL LOW SELF-ESTEEM IS REALLY JUST SEEING YOURSELF THE WAY THAT OTHER PEOPLE SEE YOU, I initially lagged on checking it out because it was only streaming on Bandcamp (if I’m really out of the loop for not having Bandcamp on my phone, please let me know). [Editor’s Note: He is.] The first time I listened to it, I thought it was a solid contribution to the growing emo-revival canon. But within a month, awakebutstillinbed was signed to Tiny Engines, and that’s when I really started to hear what this band was doing: the soft/loud dynamic between pretty guitar picking and blaring power chords was on point, Shannon Taylor’s brutally honest lyrics hit me right in the feels, and when she decides to unleash her fierce scream, it’s the closest thing I’ve heard to the perfection that is Anthony Green’s rage-ridden howls on Saosin’s TRANSLATING THE NAME EP. They impressively completed two DIY U.S. tours, landed an opening spot for Joyce Manor, and show no sign of stopping. The people are listening, and they cannot get enough. Expect big things from awakebuststillinbed. [Jake Mazon]

Top Albums Ought

  1. Ought – ROOM INSIDE THE WORLD

Genre: Post-Punk

Favorite Tracks: “Disgraced in America,” “Disaffection,” “Desire”

We can all agree Montreal is dope, but I wish that Ought were from the states, because “Disgraced In America” was just about the only appropriate track to put on after cringing through this year’s neverending barrage of terrifying morning headlines. In 2018, Parquet Courts and Iceage were the most lauded post-punk bands, the latter infusing a controversially stylish sheen into a genre that seems to persist largely out of nostalgia. While they may not have received the same widespread recognition as their peers, Ought pull off urgency extremely casually, doing so without abrasion or marginalizing doses of grime. Though they may wear collared shirts instead of leather jackets, Ought serve surprising portions of sentiment and authenticity. The record comfortably tackles politics, fever dream surrealism, and romance without ever sounding counterfeit. Tim Darcy’s vocals are as maturely assured as Tom Verlaine’s, but the impeccable and shamelessly modern production show that Ought are not actively trying to be a throwback Max’s Kansas City revival group. ROOM INSIDE THE WORLD is an energetic, unforgettable, and underrated rock and roll gem that unregurgitatively harkens Interpol, FUNERAL-era Arcade Fire, and Gang of Four. If this list had a spot for bands that go all out without any semblance of corniness, Ought would take it. [Ted Davis]

Top Albums Voivod

  1. Voivod – THE WAKE

Genre: Thrash Metal, Progressive Metal

Favorite Tracks: “The End of Dormancy,” “Iconspiracy,” “Sonic Mycelium” 

2018 was the first time in a long while that Voivod lived up to the high bar set by their work in the late ‘80s. They’ve made solid albums since DIMENSION HATRÖSS and NOTHING FACE, but THE WAKE was a fantastic revitalization of their sci-fi world-building and compositional talents. Their unique, futuristic guitar textures oscillate between liquid and crunch on a dime, the riffs zig-zag and oscillate just as seamlessly, and the vocals are as eerie and dramatic as ever. The performances have so much chemistry and life to them that it makes what could be a tired story of escaping dystopian overlords and a self-indulgent closing song filled with musical callbacks into something evocative and exciting. The metal scene needs acts like Voivod to prove that thrash metal, the spawning ground of virtually every other extreme metal genre, still has plenty of untapped potential left in it, even from a group this deep into their career. [Blake Michelle]

Top Albums Castlebeat

  1. Castlebeat – VHS

Genre: Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Tennis,” “Here,” “Town,” “Zephyr”

Josh Hwang makes music that feels trapped in streetlight-covered suburban streets, capturing both the magic and melancholy of being young and walking the sidewalks of developed America on humid summer nights. Hwang’s sophomore record as Castlebeat, VHS, loses some of the gauzy twinkle of his previous work, ditching some of the truer shoegaze feel that made his self-titled debut feel so warm and trading it in for more straight forward goth pop. With surf guitar lines ripped out of The Drums’ early playbook, VHS captures a middle-class hopeless, trapped in white picket fence mundanity. I remember running around the streets of my home town with friends, walking late at night under the orange glow of the street and the moon, playing on the elementary school playground long after the rest of the city had gone to bed; that youthful exuberance is everywhere in these songs, from the love-drunk drive of “Tennis” to the sinking warmness of “Town,” and it makes me yearn for a time of living between trapped, teenage helplessness and free-falling, romanticized potential. VHS is a grinning gem of drearie indie pop and its not to go overlooked for fans of Beach Fossils, The Drums, Wild Nothing, etc. [CJ Simonson]

Top Albums Rolling Blackouts

  1. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – HOPE DOWNS

Genre: Jangle Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Cappuccino City,” “How Long?” “Sister’s Jeans”

Just like Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever’s previous EPs, HOPE DOWNS is an album that is uncompromisingly filled with excessive indulgence. They’ve refurbished their style and glossed it up for their full length debut, which is jam-packed with whirlwinding riffs of harmonizing guitar rock, giving a free-flowing concert feeling through your headphones or speakers. Although sounding similar in tone, songs like “Cappuccino City” or “Sister’s Janes” (among others) are filled with a shot of adrenaline for you to vibe to. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s ability to just jam is their biggest strength; all of the harmonizing is proficiently done, and it makes HOPE DOWNS their most cohesive work, even if it does not hit the highs of their past. Their debut sounds and feels just about as good as any rock record released this year.  [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

Top Albums Ruins

  1. First Aid Kit – RUINS

Genre: Americana, Indie Folk

Favorite Songs: “Rebel Heart,” “Distant Star,” “Ruins,” “Hem Of Her Dress,” “Nothing Has To Be True”

Not only have Klara and Johanna Söderberg written some amazing songs on their latest album RUINS, they’ve finally come of age. During the silence of their 18-month hiatus, they crafted an entire album about pain, about being in RUINS. With influences from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen adding notes of Americana and dreaminess that weren’t as present in their previous music, it’s become an album as much about Klara and Johanna as it is about heartbreak and facing adulthood. That’s not to say that every song is slow and heavy; First Aid Kit very much included every aspect of grief and pain in their introspection, from the uplifting “Ruins” to the lively and upbeat “Postcards.” Still, most of RUINS paint a fairly grim picture, but the nail on the coffin comes from the grand finale, “Nothing Has To Be True:” “You can tell yourself so many things / And nothing has to be true.” First Aid Kit bring up every question we’ve all asked ourselves when we feel like our lives are falling apart, and in the almost-year since its release there hasn’t been a difficult day that I couldn’t ease with at least one track on RUINS (if not the entire 10-track album). [Liliane Neubecker]

Top Albums Summer Salt

  1. Summer Salt – HAPPY CAMPER

Genre: Surf Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Heart and My Car,” “Fast Furious and Wonderful,” “Happy Camper,” “Candy Wrappers”

Let’s get it out of the way: Oldies and bossa nova-inspired, Austin-based trio Summer Salt are going to draw comparisons to The Beach Boys. They don’t try to hide it, but once you move past this “old people music made by young people” formula, this album becomes clearer for what it really is: a concise collection of expertly-written, warm-weather pop songs made to sound deceptively easy. All candy bar wrappers and baseball gloves, old beaters and afternoon bike rides, HAPPY CAMPER nails its themes tenfold. Opening track “Heart and My Car” is an immediate standout, infusing clever lyrics with a sunny hook that demands consecutive plays. “She was out of my little league / Catching the wind of the window of my passenger seat,” lead vocalist Matt Terry croons, reminiscing over a love who got away. Self-described as music for “chillaxin’ by the pool,” Summer Salt’s HAPPY CAMPER offers so much more. “Revvin’ My Cj-7” will have you twirling your hair and tapping your pencil as you anxiously wait for the clock to release you from your mundane day job to go to the beach with your pals. Titular track “Happy Camper” will quite simply make a romantic fool out of you. Thoughtful lyrics creep up with a precision not unlike the feeling when a crush remembers a seemingly minute detail about you in passing. Though the mid-album track is titled “Swinging For the Fences,” HAPPY CAMPER doesn’t aim to, and that’s a really good thing. So many indie rock outfits are concerned with doing too much, with the goal to release the next OK COMPUTER that survives for decades. HAPPY CAMPER just wants to hang out and watch the sunset with you before heading home at summer’s end. The album is full of that same aching melancholy of that last day of camp. “Fast, Furious, and Wonderful” words it best:“What if I can’t get back, what if my heart leaps too high off the track? / I’ve been gone as the thunder moon takes rise from my wasted youth.” The songs are tight and snappy, and yet each one has time to breathe. “Life Ain’t the Same” and “Seventeen” evoke early GORILLA MANORera Local Natives with their rustling rhythms and soaring harmonies. At HAPPY CAMPER’s weakest, it can be a touch saccharine—a lick too LILO & STITCH. But at its strongest, it’s the the most confident, polished indie rock record of the year. [Claire Epting]

Top Albums Them Are Us Too

  1. Them Are Us Too – AMENDS

Genre: Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Angelene,” “Grey Water,” “Floor,” “Could Deepen,” “Amends”

Bands rarely get to write their own eulogy. Joy Division and David Bowie’s were abstract yet obvious in retrospect. Them Are Us Too’s is instant; “Angelene” is more tear-jerking than just about any opening track you’ve ever heard. Most of the record, including “Angelene,” was written before Cash Askew, the band’s guitarist, died in the tragic Ghost Ship fire, yet all 39 minutes feel like a funeral for one of the Bay Area’s greatest talents. AMENDS was assembled thanks to the band’s friends and family; a brutal expose into what could have been for one of Oakland’s most promising expressions of art in decades. New Order and other TWIN PEAKS-adjacent sounds are abound on AMENDS, especially on “Floor,” a track that feels like the perfect combination of Beach House and the aforementioned Manchester legends. “Could Deepen” is an odyssey performed on two less beers than the version that first appeared on PART TIME PUNKS. Few songs would sound fresher three years after their release, but Them Are Us Too makes it work simply by cleaning up the lo-fi aesthetic of the original. Kennedy Ashlyn’s lyrics are especially clear on this mix, rearing the pain in the repeated “You and I” refrain on “Could Deepen.” The band’s brilliance will likely lay dormant, but Oakland will always remember. [Ryan Moloney]

Top Albums At the Gates

  1. At the Gates – TO DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF

Genre: Melodic Death Metal

Favorite Tracks: “To Drink From The Night Itself,” “Palace of Lepers,” “Daggers of Black Haze,” “In Nameless Sleep,” “A Labyrinth of Tombs”  

You know that band that has always been critically acclaimed and hailed as influential that you respect but never quite got what the big deal was? Me neither after listening to TO DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF, the album that single-handedly convinced me that At the Gates have more than earned their legendary status. Never has their blend of death metal grunginess and power metal invigoration worked so well in such compact spaces, stuffing more switches between thrashy chugging, atmospheric plucking, and melodic shredding into three-or-four-minute songs than should be possible. It knows how to take the foot off the gas for just the right amount of time to tease and entice before slamming you right back into the ravenous barrage of blast-beats and animalistic shrieking, and how to leverage its down-tuned, murky darkness to imbue the moments of melodic, soaring guitar with so much more power and resonance. Plenty of alternative or gothic metal acts this year and years past try to transition between slow and fast, light and dark, anthemic and melancholy, but none were so economical with it as to make it seem deceptively linear and effortlessly stunning like At the Gates do here. [Blake Michelle]

Top Albums Wild Pink

  1. Wild Pink – YOLK IN THE FUR

Genre: Heartland Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Lake Erie,” “Jewels Drossed in the Runoff,” “Love is Better,” “Burger Hill”

On December 12th, 2018, Wild Pink’s official account Tweeted that “country was emo first.” It’s hard to think of a better way to describe the band’s sound than that. Even if there’s a healthy amount of influence from softer emo bands that will probably jump out more quickly at most listeners, Wild Pink have a clear affinity for the expansive, synthesized sounds of late ‘80s and early ‘90s heartland rock in the vein of Bruce Hornsby and the Range or Jackson Browne. Specific choices like the slide guitar lead in “Lake Erie” make that affinity even clearer, and this record might be one of the most effective syntheses of these traditions that the world has seen. YOLK IN THE FUR is effortless in its creation of sonic landscapes, and it’s hard to believe that there are seldom more than four instruments in the mix at one time. Guitarist and frontman John Ross has a real knack for open-tuned, chiming guitar parts that establish him as one of indie rock’s most creative players, with a full, resonant sound that has both a melodic focus and chordal center. Those who had Wild Pink on their radar before this record will note that there was a distinct change in sound and attitude; there’s a distinctive, gentle optimism to YOLK IN THE FUR. It doesn’t shy away from negativity, but there is a sense that things will be alright (despite, perhaps, a tendency toward feeling crushing isolation) that sets it apart from other records of this time and movement in indie rock. YOLK IN THE FUR is a maximalist record with a minimalist ethos, simultaneously a whisper into the wind and a shout to the heavens. [Adam Cash]

Top Albums 1975

  1. The 1975 – A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS

Genre: Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Give Yourself a Try,” “Love It If We Made It,” “Mine,” “I Couldn’t Be More in Love,” “I Always Wanna Die”

The best way to describe A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS is as an album in recovery. As lead singer Matty Healy has recently been in recovery from an addiction to drugs, the parallel of their music is completely clear and apparent. Although, that isn’t to say that their last record, 2016’s I LIKE IT WHEN YOU SLEEP, FOR YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL YET SO UNAWARE OF IT is not an album in recovery as well, but it’s at a different point in recovery. In fact, I LIKE IT WHEN YOU SLEEP… and A BRIEF INQUIRY… are almost at completely conflicting sides of recovery. While the former is at the beginning stages, when there’s a lingering overture of unease and depression, the latter is at the complete converse, when it’s all about rejoicing in flaws and allowing yourself to heal. With tracks teeming with overt thoughts, opinions, and quips about modernism, The 1975 are back, and feel more themselves than ever. A BRIEF INQUIRY… feels intimate in the best kind of way—when there’s no fear, just trust, like a childhood sleepover. I always tell people “It takes a special kind of person to be mad or respond negatively when someone is being wholeheartedly honest with you,” and on A BRIEF INQUIRY…, the 1975 are as wholeheartedly honest as they come.

P.S. This has nothing to do with the album, but not a day goes by I don’t think about that video of Matty Healy flirting and eventually kissing that hot Danish interviewer. [Jesse Herb]

Top Albums Car Seat

  1. Car Seat Headrest – TWIN FANTASY (FACE TO FACE)

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “My Boy (Twin Fantasy),” “Beach Life-In-Death,” “Sober To Death,” “Bodys”

Car Seat Headrest, despite their peculiar name, are one of the most notable standouts of the oversaturated Mac DeMarco-dominated indie rock scene. TWIN FANTASY is not the first of its name, a re-release of the smash underground success from 2011. Admittedly, I was exceptionally hesitant and cautiously optimistic of this release, being the original record was what exposed me to Will Toledo’s angsty yet grounded and relatable quotes about burgeoning queer adulthood; I had connected deeply to the topics he so earnestly displayed (and, to be honest, the fact that I shared the same namesake as the singer only added to the relatability). It doesn’t take more than one listen to realize the original TWIN FANTASY’s appeal, as Toledo’s open book lyricism dives between late-teen and mid-20s cornerstones like an anxiety-ridden psychedelic excursion, from being in a drunken state to come out to one’s peers to being just generally awkward, exploring the confused experience that is to be a young adult.

Thankfully, and goodness I mean it, the new and updated rendition of TWIN FANTASY still carries all the potent content and noteworthy qualities without forgoing what made it so special to begin with. Rather than the fuzzed-out and muffled recordings Toledo belted out at the vulnerable age of 19, TWIN FANTASY (FACE TO FACE) is a far more polished and discernible product. If one listens back to back from one edition to the next, the improvements are obvious and commendable. While the original had a far more rough-around-the-edges quality to it, the 2018 release still carries those same traits while allowing for a far more approachable experience. It’s a testament to Toledo’s long lasting power within the indie rock scene, showing that re-releasing an album he spun up solo almost a decade ago can still be one of the best of 2018. [Will Turmon]

Top Albums Caitlyn Smith

  1. Caitlyn Smith – STARFIRE

Genre: Contemporary Country

Favorite Tracks: “Before You Called Me Baby,” “Do You Think About Me,” “St. Paul,” “Tacoma,” “This Town Is Killing Me,” “House of Cards”

If you could go back and write your 12-year-old self a letter, what would it say? For Caitlyn Smith it would say something along the lines of: “We did it!” Spending more than half her life writing songs, and ones good enough for the likes of Dolly Parton, Lady Antebellum, and James Bay, too, it’s no wonder that Smith is gaining momentum on her first major label record, STARFIRE. The perfect combination of tough, confident, and a Southern belle (despite her Minnesotan roots), Smith has saved her best work for her own album, revealing she isn’t just talented with singles. The first track, “Before You Called Me Baby,” has the kick-ass power of a woman wearing tall leather boots, leaving you wanting more. The standout is “Do You Think About Me,” with a perfect blend of grit, pop, country, and blues, you can feel an ebb and flow as Smith belts out and draws you back with emotions that hit us like waves. Or give “House of Cards” a chance; the final chorus slows to a crawling pace and the music cuts down to just a short guitar strum as she almost whispers, “And I don’t know why it’s gotta be so damn hard?” Smith enchants us with the tone of her voice and her prose, painting a big picture with just a few lyrics. [Liliane Neubecker]

Top Albums Skee Mask

  1. Skee Mask – COMPRO

Genre: Ambient Techno

Favorite Tracks: “Cerroverb,” “Rev8617,” “50 Euro to Break Boost,” “Dial 274,” “Flyby Vfr,” “Muk FM”

Ferocious at times, though pensive more often, COMPRO’s comprehensive design is immediate. The record starts slow with clicks, buzzes, and whirrs dropped atop atmospheric synths that, like the record’s artwork, simultaneously highlight and obfuscate the solitary subjects within. Each individual flourish is pointed yet graceful, populating a particularly narrow swath of real estate in the earbuds. No sacrifices are made in sound design on the frenetic cuts like “50 Euro to Break Boost” and “Dial 274,” the scope of which are among the most ambitious of the bunch. “Flyby Vfr” similarly sports a clattering breakbeat against melancholy gusts of synths that rise and fall with bits of piano ripples, and makes the strongest argument that no other record this year so flawlessly balances sharp breakbeats atop heavy, cloudy synth melodies. Bryan Muller’s attention to detail is palpable in these granular moments, but COMPRO’s true marvel is its careful assemblage into something greater than the sum of its parts, a realization that becomes clearer and stronger with each repeated listen. Had it not been for the Against All Logic release, this would be my album of the year. [Ryan Moloney]

Top Albums Isolation

  1. Kali Uchis – ISOLATION

Genre: Neo-Soul, Pop

Favorite Tracks: “In My Dreams,” “Miami (featuring BIA),” “Nuestro Planeta (featuring Reykon)”

R&B has been changing for a while now, and a lot of the new and exciting artists put out outstanding albums this year to claim a place in the ever-shifting genre. Of those albums, Kali Uchis’s ISOLATION might be the most impressive. What stands out the most about this record is exactly how crisp and precise it sounds—there is so much beauty throughout that deserves admiration and recognition, vibrantly produced and filled with mesmerizing trips for all your senses to come alive with. Through her rags-to-riches story, one of a young girl who wasn’t going to be held back because of her star potential, she embodies a raw power—even in the more hazy parts of the album you can feel her strength and shine radiate through. Each listen can leave you feeling differently than you did the previous time. Some of my more euphoric moments in 2018 came while losing myself while listening to “In My Dreams.” That song alone is more lived in and cared about than most music released this year. [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

Top Albums Brandi Carlile

  1. Brandi Carlile – BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU

Genre: Singer/Songwriter, Folk Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Everytime I Hear That Song,” “Hold Out Your Hand,” “Whatever You Do,” “Fulton County Jane Doe,” “Harder To Forgive”

It’s hard to believe that 10 months have passed since BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU was released. Brandi Carlile blessed us in 2018 with a return to the unpolished, honest power that she unleashed in her first hit, “The Story.” The ending of “Whatever You Do” is the perfect example of the raw, unrehearsed element that makes rock such a magnetic genre. Every belting crack in her voice comes from Carlile’s extraordinary ability to translate raw emotions into her songs. It feels as though she poured everything she had into this album, finally allowing herself to gain momentum. Her previous album, 2015’s THE FIREWATCHER’S DAUGHTER, came off as safe and relatively canned compared to BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU. I’m not sure what changed; maybe it’s the power of becoming a new parent, as she demonstrates in “The Mother,” but she’s also leaning into darker subjects, like dying anonymously in “Fulton County Jane Doe,” as well as addiction and suicide in “Sugartooth.” Perhaps it’s the empowering nature of her songs like “The Joke”—an “it gets better” anthem which is genuine enough to turn a doubter into a believer. Nonetheless, whatever it is that helped Carlile create BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU, it’s working. [Liliane Neubecker]

Top Albums Goldin

  1. Nicolas Godin – AU SERVICE DE LA FRANCE

Genre: French Jazz

Favorite Tracks: “Les rues de Paris,” “En Mission,” “Snake Dance,” “Passion Femme,” “Pigalle Darling Club”

When choosing my favorite albums of the year, I forced myself to prioritize the records that made me feel the most over the records that spoke to me the most. AU SERVICE DE LA FRANCE is the most enchanting album that you didn’t hear this year. The Air member’s spy show soundtrack is an instrumental rollercoaster of transportive French elegance that leaves me wishing I studied abroad more than my friends’ Instagram stories ever will. Listening to “Le rues de Paris” you feel like you’re walking through a rainy Parisian alley in a trenchcoat at three in the morning, while 11 tracks later you feel like you’re sipping something silly in a dimly lit jazz bar during some kind of Indiana Jones-esque covert government mission on “Pigalle Darling Club.” Kamasi Washington, Onyx Collective, and Standing On The Corner helped to revitalize jazz and progress the genre in mind boggling ways this year, but the heavy experimentation of 2018’s post-bop stalwarts make the familiar conventions of Godin’s overlooked neo-noir masterpiece all the more seraphic. Alongside every other record on this list, AU SERVICE DE LA FRANCE stands for the least but is the most evocative. In my time as a music nerd, I have never lived through a year with more effective political art than 2018, but AU SERVICE DE LA FRANCE was the album I could put on at the end of the day that brought me somewhere sexier than what was happening in the world around me, and for that, I am grateful. [Ted Davis]

Top Albums Live 2002

  1. Mika Vainio + Ryoji Ikeda + Alva Noto – LIVE 2002

Genre: Glitch

Favorite Tracks: N/A

So a dude from Finland, a dude from Japan, and a dude from Germany walk into The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in 2002, and 16 years later when their recording is finally released, the Editor-in-Chief of Merry-Go-Round Magazine says: “That’s the most well-crafted album I’ve ever heard.” Operating in the murky waters of glitch, microsound, drone, EAI, and all those other genres you probably think you don’t have time for, it’s no secret that the three experimental titans collected here are more interested in the meticulous construction and deployment of sound in all its possibility than making traditional music. Then riddle me why this is absolutely electric from start to finish, an unbelievably well-paced ebb and flow of tension, build-up, and release that constantly shocks and surprises, leaving you exhausted and fulfilled as the last note fades into obscurity. Alva Noto provides the most minimal of rhythmic backbones for Vainio and Ikeda to go to town, and the result is something that has synapses firing on all cylinders, an impossible-to-pin-down carnival ride of skittering pulses, beats, and sine waves that massage every last inch of your brain. You will come out of LIVE 2002 feeling refreshed and energetic, dead to rights, and the crescendo to a deafening noise finale captures a room across the years. Put on headphones, turn it all the way up, and be cleansed, brethren. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Top Albums Mac Miller

  1. Mac Miller – SWIMMING

Genre: Jazz Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Ladders,” “What’s The Use?” “2009”

The way we discuss SWIMMING has been greatly affected by the real world tragedy of Mac’s passing shortly after the release of the album. And for good reason—it was the art left to us by a young man who mattered most to a lot of people. His presence will be greatly missed (you can read our tribute to him here). But all that is to say: there is still a tremendous amount that can be taken from SWIMMING,  independent of his passing. Packed with the more substance than all his prior projects, the album is more trimmed-down but also more thought-out. Mac sounds more genuine and humble than he had ever before, breaking down all the walls and delivering something with beautiful sounds that was also chock-full of self-reflection and anecdotes from his rocky and turbulent life. He has always shown a willingness to share his stories with the listener, but this time around felt different. It felt a lot like loneliness. An album created in darkness and isolation, SWIMMING seemed very fitting, and almost necessary, for 2018. [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

Top Albums Cupcakke

  1. CupcakKe – EPHORIZE

Genre: Trap Rap, Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Cartoons,” “Duck Duck Goose,” “Total,” “Fullest”

EPHORIZE opens with a misdirect—pianos, a cooing background choir, the kind of soft bullshit throwaway that’s reserved for 25-track rap event interludes. But then, as is often the case, you hear CupcakKe, the 21-year-old Chicago rapper whose give-no-fucks dirtiness on the mic has quickly made her the most exciting voice in the genre, and you feel at ease. “This that studio session / Where I deliver you a message / Reminding you to count your blessings / ‘Cause some ain’t make it to they breakfast,” she starts, a humbling reminder that acknowledges the strangeness of this opening while also quashing any ideas that this record would be atypical of the perverted, hallucinogenic bangers she’d been churning out the last several years. Indeed, she follows up “2 Minutes” with “Cartoons,” the colorful, dizzying pop rap track that will have you admittedly questioning your 2D Saturday morning friends as they’re dragged through the sexualized ringer with lines like “I’m a snack so I attract Scooby Doo’s / Give ’em Smurf dick, that’s balls blue” and “No we can’t kiss you, can’t even kiss feet / With Spongebob Squarepants over your teeth.” EPHORIZE rarely feels overthought, constantly a fiesta of fantastical, freaky, and fucked up visuals both sexual and animated (sometimes literally). Her ear for surrealist pop hooks comes alive on tracks like “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” or the not-safe-for-work-titled “Spoiled Milk Titties,” and even on more traditional trap beats like “Single While Taken,” the sheer entertainment of her lyrics and her technical prowess elevate the material immensely. In a year lacking off-the-wall hip hop releases, EPHORIZE delivered a high bar early on that will hopefully resonate far beyond this year. [CJ Simonson]

Top Albums MGMT

  1. MGMT – LITTLE DARK AGE

Genre: Synthpop

Favorite Tracks: “Me and Michael,” “Hand It Over,” “Little Dark Age,” “When You’re Small”

Regardless of your opinion of them, MGMT must be thanked for the gifts of “Electric Feel,” “Kids,” and “Time To Pretend,” each of which have soundtracked numerous life-affirming moments and collegiate parties (you know, the ones that don’t suck). Beyond that, the electropop group have produced an adequate crop of psychedelic rock over the years, although not all of it was as particularly groundbreaking. LITTLE DARK AGE is a refreshingly bold endeavor for MGMT, chock-full of acid-splashed dance anthems for the iPhone generation. Like so many artists this year, MGMT couldn’t help but feel compelled to write about the dangers of smartphones. On tracks such as “She Works Out Too Much” and “TSLAMP” (“Time Spent Looking At My Phone”), they tackle the subject head on. And yet, the album’s strongest moments lie in its homages to the past. An obvious standout is “Me and Michael,” a fizzy ‘80s throwback track that evokes Tears for Fears and The Psychedelic Furs. “One Thing Left to Try” follows suit, all silvery synths and canned drum beats. “When You’re Small” is a strong, Beatle-esque power ballad that simmers and sinks in all the right places. In our current little dark age, we are as technologically advanced as ever, but nowhere near as dependent as our future generations will be. Half of us push forward, and the other half does everything we can to stay back. LITTLE DARK AGE captures that in-between, where for a moment, time can stand still. [Claire Epting]

Top Albums Bon Voyage

  1. Melody’s Echo Chamber – BON VOYAGE

Genre: Psych-Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Breathe in, Breathe Out,” “Desert Horse,” Shirim”

There are so many reasons that Melody Prochet deserves her spot on this list. Released from the hospital following a brain aneurysm, she promptly released one of the most engaging and cinematic psychedelic records in recent memory. One of the few female bandleaders in a subgenre dominated by shaggy stoner bros, her first record without her ex-boyfriend Kevin Parker’s production chops at the helm is wonderfully all over the place and far more inconceivable than any Tame Impala album released to date. The songwriting on BON VOYAGE is scary and heavenly in a way that only somebody fighting for their life can capture trepidation. “Breathe in, Breathe out” plays like cotton candy, while “Desert Horse” is essentially a five-minute musical condensation of Jodorowsky’s EL TOPO. Following her debut, the critical consensus pinpointing Melody as a 2010’s Broadcast struck me as the easy way to compartmentalize Prochet’s flair as an otherworldly songstress. However, BON VOYAGE and its backstory reaffirm the comparison in a much more embraceable sense. The music community is fortunate that, unlike Trish Keenan, Melody survived her health complications and gave us an enduring trip of a follow-up. I can only hope Melody’s wellbeing and ingenuity stay with her and allow her to grace fans with a third record. [Ted Davis]

Top Albums Kamasi

  1. Kamasi Washington – HEAVEN & EARTH

Genre: Contemporary Jazz

Favorite Tracks: “Fists of Fury,” “Show Us the Way,” “Can You Hear Him,” “Journey”

For many a standard (non-jazz loving) music fan, Kamasi Washington’s career arc can be told through the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. THE EPIC, though it lives up to its name, was too long to be accessible to the average listener. HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE left many wanting more. And then comes HEAVEN AND EARTH, which is juuuust right. Washington’s compositions have heavy influence from the work of ‘60s-era players like Coltrane, and like many of his great works, HEAVEN AND EARTH is able to combine that classic jazz sound with a modern take on the spiritual jazz oeuvre. Washington isn’t even the most technically skilled saxophone player in the world, but there’s very obviously a ton of love and effort poured into this record. A concept record meant to explore a duality of external and internal realities within the self, the “EARTH” side of the record opens with “Fists of Fury,” one of the year’s best individual songs, and one of Washington’s most powerful individual works to date. A light Ennio Morricone influence permeates the track as it crescendos into a righteous anger that we frankly had not seen from Washington before this record. HEAVEN AND EARTH never returns to that space of anger after that, but both sides are compellingly arced, managing to tell unique stories while also coming together to create what may well be looked at as an all-time great jazz record. [Adam Cash]

Top Albums Wye Oak

  1. Wye Oak – THE LOUDER I CALL, THE FASTER IT RUNS

Genre: Noise Rock, Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs,”  “It Was Not Natural,” “Symmetry,” “Say Hello,” “I Know It’s Real”

Wye Oak’s last few records flirted with synthpop and electronica, but lacked the distorted rawness that made this duo stand out in the oversaturated weeds of indie music. But with THE LOUDER I CALL, THE FASTER IT RUNS, we see them fuse their gift for tension and catharsis with this new musical framework to fantastic payoff. Every verse is a spacious build of cascading keyboards, kinetic drums, and gentle, plucky acoustics, every chorus is a pitch-perfect crescendo of gorgeous multi-tracking and rumbling industrial swell. Its musical palette is equal parts listless but direct, restless yet solemn, a perfect mirror to Jenn Wasner’s musings about the natural human desire to seek meaning and purpose when such a thing might not even exist. Emotional swings from nihilism to optimism could be off-putting if not delivered right, and few can pierce through the synthetic fog of distortion and textual waywardness with such soaring, unpretentious earnestness as Wasner does. Trying to hold onto a core of tangible belief on “I Know It’s Real” while chastising our tendency to fit the world through simple lenses on “Symmetry,” accepting that wanting a better life is legitimate on “Lifer” while dismissing such dreams as pointless on “Say Hello”; these seemingly contradictory sentiments that try to reach a grand point but talk themselves out of it become the point themselves. Never has the frustrating inability to reach our destination, overtake our limits, or fully comprehend the world been flipped to feel so liberating. [Blake Michelle]

Top Albums DJ Koze

  1. DJ Koze – KNOCK KNOCK

Genre: House

Favorite Tracks: “Bonfire,” “Pick Up,” “Baby (How Much I LFO You),” “Lord Knows,” “Seeing Aliens”

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but Stefan Kozalla certainly doesn’t think so. Kozalla’s third studio album as DJ Koze is a hefty yet carefully constructed 80-minute expedition through the German producer’s Rolodex and record collection. KNOCK KNOCK is teeming with disco, funk, and soul samples paired with fantastic guest vocal contributions, resulting in some of the year’s best dance tracks. Be it trip hop or techno, Kozolla conjures summer sunrises on every track. “Club der Ewigkeiten” is the most enigmatic of this feeling, a song that truly feels like the first moments of waking up outdoors. Kozolla’s samples shine the brightest on the tracks without guests, most notably on “Bonfire” and “Pick Up.” The former a wonky reimagining of Bon Iver’s “Calgary” and the latter a tremendous disco track that leans heavily on Melba Moore’s “Pick Me Up I’ll Dance” and Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye),” while taking both to new heights. The Knight sample will be familiar to those that’ve heard Midland’s outstanding single “Final Credits,” but it doesn’t read like a rehash in the slightest. And while KNOCK KNOCK is a consistently enthralling near hour-and-a-half, the five minutes of “Seeing Aliens” dominates the record. It’s DJ Koze at his absolute best; constructing an ecstatic melody with warm keys over filtered drum loops with all sorts of buzzing quirks that hiss and purr throughout the track. It may not have a sonic analog on the record but it is the perfect summation of the album’s joy. [Ryan Moloney]

Top Albums Cardi B

  1. Cardi B – INVASION OF PRIVACY

Genre: Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Drip,” “Bartier Cardi,” “Bodak Yellow,” “She Bad,” “Be Careful”

Cardi B just straight up dominated Top 40 for the first half of 2018, and she did it all on the strength of a tour-de-force of charisma and personality that makes her a rap star tailor-made for 2018. What modern pop artist—rapper, singer, or otherwise—has the same combination of legit technical skill and ability to just be really fucking fun that Cardi B has? If there’s a particular general affliction that the late-2010s wave of Top 40 rappers suffers from, it’s that they have the personalities to create cults of fandom surrounding them, but frankly, they largely lack the ability to make music that fully harness those distinctive personalities. Name one Lil Uzi Vert song other than “XO Tour Life”—I sure can’t. Cardi does not have this problem, as every song on this record feels like a vital contribution to the Cardi B canon. INVASION OF PRIVACY owns, and turns into positives, any potential shortcomings that she has—the best rappers find ways to make themselves seem superhuman while also completely ordinary. Her confidence is empowering, and she is endlessly entertaining, but she lets enough light shine through the cracks in that facade that makes it seem real. Some rappers have leaned a bit too hard into sorting out their feelings on their records, and some take on a facade of invulnerability. Her singing voice (one of my favorite aspects of her performance) doesn’t blow one away, but it sure does the trick and is better than many give her credit for. Tracks like “Best Life” and “Ring” prove that she can hang with the more introspective sides of her competition as well, and they provide essential emotional balance to a record that is, quite frankly, stacked with danceable tracks from front to back. [Adam Cash]

Top Albums UMO

  1. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – SEX & FOOD

Genre: Psychedelic Funk

Favorite Tracks: “Not In Love We’re Just High,” “The Internet of Love (That Way),” “Hunnybee,” “If You’re Going To Break Yourself”

There is an undoubted correlation between current affairs and music releases, and 2018 has been the year of music about smartphones (and Facebook, and any other social media for that matter). But Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s SEX & FOOD does it better. Instead of the pointless commentary which has become fashionable these days, SEX & FOOD takes the hysteria, paranoia, and fear that comes from being attached to a computer at all times and dances with it—a disco ball drop on the end of the world as we know it. With elements of psychedelic, funk, disco, R&B, rock, and folk, multi-instrumentalist Ruban Nielson crafts a surprising smorgasbord of sounds to suit a variety of tastes. “Hunnybee” is as ebullient and sweet as they come, whereas lead single “American Guilt” is all spiky guitars and crunchy distortion. There are several songs that fall somewhere in the middle, some suited for the dance floor and others for an introspective night indoors. “The Internet of Love (That Way)” creaks and sighs as Nielson seeks a reassurance that will never come. “I wake up alone / Do you wake up with someone else?” he ponders as a meandering electric keyboard riff dances about him. “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays” packs a powerful message into a bop that’s slick and radio-ready enough to be played in an Old Navy. “I’m caught beyond the feeling I won’t live far beyond these years / We’re growing in a vicious garden / We don’t complain or nothing,” Nielson confesses amidst a stylish disco beat. It’s this contrast that elevates SEX & FOOD—it never feels the need to compromise its subject matter for flair. Rather, the two work hand in hand to make SEX & FOOD Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s most fully-realized work to date. [Claire Epting]

Top Albums serpentwithfeet

  1. serpentwithfeet – SOIL

Genre: Electrosoul

Favorite Tracks: “bless ur heart,” “mourning song”

There’s nothing quite like a good “breakup” album, except of course a breakup album that’s secretly about much more than the relationship it’s aiming to commemorate. More than a single relationship, SOIL explores grief and the process of grieving. Knowing what 2018 has forced a lot of us to endure, I can’t help but appreciate the magnitude of what serpentwithfeet delivers here. It is influenced by neo-soul, R&B, and gospel, but is at moments deliciously sad. It’s soft and rhythmic production calls you into, through, and out of, whatever possibly hellish yet beautiful journey you needed to take part in for the sake of your own growth. A good amount of the lyrical content features references to the proverbial “you,” with an anonymous “him” teasing out the reasoning for his deep dive into grieving. “messy” and “fragrant” are stellar examples of two points in the relationship that acted as the catalyst for the album. In the former a lover is encouraged to ignore his shortcomings to get closer to his lover and the latter is an intriguing exploration of where your mind trails after someone leaves your life and you begin to wonder how you fit into their canon of previous relationships. My favorite song on the album is its closer “bless ur heart.” When I saw serpentwithfeet live, he closed his set with an extended call and response of the second chorus; witnessing a full room swaying and singing out “Ooh child bless ur heart / keep a tender heart” suddenly revealed the experience of the album to me. There’s so much going on in the world that is worth being angry about, and yet people still need to eat and bills still need to be paid. In an increasingly busy world, there aren’t many moments we allow ourselves to appreciate the full scale of our emotional capability and just be tender. Isn’t it a blessing that we can just be sad for a day? Do we always need a reason to want to be left alone? Storms of emotion often feel like they’ve put us on the brink of collapse but sometimes a whirlwind can be just what we need to move forward. As the prolific James Baldwin once said: “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.” [Amanda Ball]

Top Albums Sons of Kemet

  1. Sons of Kemet – YOUR QUEEN IS A REPTILE

Genre: Afro-Jazz

Favorite Tracks: “My Queen Is Ada Eastman,” “My Queen Is Harriet Tubman,” “My Queen Is Albertina Sisulu,” “My Queen Is Doreen Lawrence”

Before I begin, I want to make sure you’re aware of the absolutely astounding Afro-Jazz revival that’s been happening in London the past few years. Shabaka and the Elders. Yussef Kamaal. Binker and Moses. Not to mention Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids holding things down here in the states. That’s all to say that in a movement that’s given us phenomenal record after phenomenal record, YOUR QUEEN IS A REPTILE still carves out its place as something special. From the opening notes of “My Queen Is Ada Eastman,” you’re immediately swept away to a dance floor full of sheer vitality and joy, a menagerie of percussion elements compelling your feet effortlessly forward. Composed of two drummers, a tubist, and Shabaka Hutchings of the aforementioned Shabaka and the Elders on saxophone, the connection and flow between each of the Sons of Kemet is palpable, a restless tectonic plate of technique and prowess that owns each and every sound and style presented within, whether it be the cyclical and unrelenting energy of Afrobeat in “My Queen Is Harriet Tubman,” or the slow, ponderous dub of “My Queen Is Mamie Phipps Clark.” That’s not to mention the brief snippets of grime that wriggle their way in, contributing to a holistic blend of the traditional and the new as far as it relates to the London underground sound. And while the frothing transcendence of the faster-paced songs is the album’s main calling card, slower tracks such as “My Queen Is Anna Julia Cooper” are where the subtlety and compositional prowess of the group can more distinctly rear their head. I cannot personally speak to the impact and legacies the Queens referenced within have had on diasporic African communities, but I can speak to the undeniable rebellion and tenacity of the human spirit on display. In a year where we were beaten down at every turn, YOUR QUEEN IS A REPTILE reminds us there’s always something to dance about. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Top Albums Caroline Rose

  1. Caroline Rose – LONER

Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Getting To Me,” “Cry!” “Jeanie Becomes A Mom”

Someone spiked the punch bowl that was a somewhat bland 2018 album showing, and you best believe it was Caroline Rose with her dazzling, upbeat, oddball album LONER. LONER, and Caroline Rose herself, are both a fucking delight. From start to finish, she delivers snappy, up-tempo, vibrant numbers, song after song switching things up so there is never a dull moment in her citrus-bright synths, whirring rock sounds, and layered, clever lyrics. Songs like “Money” or “Jeannie Becomes a Mom” are operating on a different level; the former is a whirlwind trip, spinning through imagery of a Neon Jesus and the refreshing (and hilarious) honesty of the admonition that “(she) did it for the money,” and on the latter we’re taken through the idealized banality of suburban domesticity, or at the very least the hope from the titular character to reach that place. Teaming with wit and doused in red from her signature track suit (or other equally scarlet ensemble), LONER is fulfilling, captivating, and a sheer pleasure to behold. It’s having fun, God damn it, and so should you. [Tapley Eaton]

Top Albums Father John Misty

  1. Father John Misty – GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER

Genre: Chamber Pop

Favorite Tracks: “The Songwriter,” “God’s Favorite Customer,” “Mr. Tillman,” “Please Don’t Die,” “The Palace”

Josh Tillman knew his act was going to wear thin eventually, and so the decision to bring things a bit back to Earth with GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER might in fact have been a career-saving one. The Carlinesque social satirist personae of PURE COMEDY was fun, but FJM’s unique brand of sardonic songwriting works best, by far, when it has a strong emotional center. GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER is, in turn, easily the most emotionally honest record he’s released. He comes to us with a bit less of his trademark swagger than in the past with songs that are introspective without being whiny or somehow self-effacing. It also represents a bit of a sonic shift into, occasionally, straight pop balladry in the style of Billy Joel or Elton John. Tillman’s career so far as Father John Misty has been filled with winking metatextual references to his own constructed persona, one that he’s been continuously mythologising up to this point. If we were to compare, for example, FJM to the camp ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW villain Dr. Frank-n-Furter, we’re at the “I’m Going Home” stage of his career—the point where he sordidly reflects on the mess he’s made, all with a twinkle of nostalgia for how much fun it was to make that mess. So what does Tillman prove with GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER? That he’s just as smart as we all knew he was, and that he’s going to have to pull something big out of his sleeve for his next record. Fortunately for him, GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER, with its compelling sound and genuinely touching emotional center, is more than good enough to keep us all invested in what comes next. [Adam Cash]

Top Albums Negro Swan

  1. Blood Orange – NEGRO SWAN

Genre: Alternative R&B

Favorite Tracks: “Dagenham Dream,” “Take Your Time,” “Hope,” “Jewelry,” “Charcoal Baby”

I don’t even know where to begin with an album like this.

Sometimes, to try and quantify the things that are remarkable or extraordinary can feel tired, and almost distancing? Therefore, rather than trying to be verbose, I’m just gonna gush! Albums like NEGRO SWAN don’t come around very often, and when they do they need to be held onto for dear life. Joni Mitchell’s BLUE, Prince’s PURPLE RAIN, Betty Davis’ THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT, and now Blood Orange’s NEGRO SWAN, each of which are albums that define generations and allow for integral change. I hate the term “Magnum Opus” because, truthfully, it feels so limiting, so instead I’m going to say that NEGRO SWAN is just… a literal treasure, a whole goldmine even.

NEGRO SWAN is a pastoral amalgamation that makes you feel like you just watched an incredible biopic. It’s not just the genre-blending, the lyricism, the compositions, it’s all of those things permeating into one another seamlessly. On one track alone there could be voiceover, panflute, and lyrics all about trauma, and you couldn’t possibly imagine the song any other way; it’s so perfect. Blood Orange should not be relegated as just an artist for queer people, he is a musical genius, and with the release of NEGRO SWAN, he deserves no title less than that. [Jesse Herb]

Top Albums Golden Hour

  1. Kacey Musgraves – GOLDEN HOUR

Genre: Dream Country

Favorite Tracks: “Slow Burn,” “Lonely Weekend,” “Oh What A World,” “Space Cowboy”

GOLDEN HOUR is what happens when patience is rewarded and the evolution of an artist comes to an artistic optimum. Kacey Musgrave’s quintessential work in a fantastic run of records, representing the leap we’d seen promised early in her career. From the clearly nuanced, manicured, and refreshingly liberal SAME TRAILER DIFFERENT PARK, it was clear Musgraves had the chops to be one of Nashville’s biggest stars, but I don’t think anyone expected PAGEANT MATERIAL to pivot as delightfully as it did away from country, keeping the whistles and western stomp of the genre’s roots while gussying up songs that were far too twee to ever feel commercial. But for as true to country as PAGEANT MATERIAL strived to be, staying in its lane enough to keep her in that world while still brimming with Nashville-saving potential, on GOLDEN HOUR she bucks the genre altogether, writing the kinds of songs that seem interesting and exciting on paper but almost rarely live up to their sublimely surreal potential. From the jump, “Slow Burn” exercises the twang out of the Dixie Chicks and replaces it with the drifting repetition of Cass McCombs. Constantly, GOLDEN HOUR is delivering punches that feel like the obvious culmination of her career; “Oh What A World” sounds like classic ‘70s singer-songwriter fare, but it’s been transported to the moon and back by Daft Punk, “Space Cowboy” is 2018’s “Wonderwall,” the “oh duh” track that feels so effortless in Musgraves’ hands that you’d swear you’ve been hearing it your whole life, and “High Horse” is the disco-country we’ve been waiting to actually work for decades. The Randy Newman balladry on closer “Rainbow” reminds us that Kacey Musgraves’ time as your country savior is over, and her time as a blooming provocateur of genre is only just beginning. Listen to GOLDEN HOUR and hear the very beginning of that power being flexed. [CJ Simonson]

Top Albums Lucy Dacus

  1. Lucy Dacus – HISTORIAN

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Nonbeliever,” “Historians,” “Night Shift,” “Pillar of Truth”

Lucy Dacus’ debut album NO BURDEN was a vulnerable and visceral depiction of someone’s life, almost like reading countless diary entries. HISTORIAN is completely different, and at least in my opinion, even more transcendent. It’s the kind of album that you hear in your head when you’re surrounded at an extremely loud party. The lyricism is unmatched and completely accessible to anyone who has ever felt stagnant. Every single time I listen to it, I find myself tearing up over a new line. Last week’s was, “This is what I wanted to talk about, but somehow the words will not leave my mouth.”

But what’s even more commendable is the willingness to forgive, completely centric through the entire album. In the past with artists like Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy, there’s an irrefutable tone of “This is who I am and I’m a little sorry for it.” Lucy is not unapologetic, but she’s completely aware of the fact that she’s learning. Not only from the grievances and experiences that shape us and our art, but from our unique perspective and the way we personally vilify in our own head. Lucy Dacus lets those pent-up NO BURDEN feelings rise to the surface, and leaves them like breadcrumbs with HISTORIAN. If you need to let go, vocalize your feelings, or have the best cathartic car-cry of your life, listen to this album. [Jesse Herb]

Top Albums Post

  1. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-

Genre: Power Pop

Favorite Tracks: “USA,” 9/10,” “TV Stars,” “Let Them Win”

Jeff Rosenstock is not here for your shit. He’s mad, he’s charged up, he’s ready to riot, but he’s still one of the most goddamn positive, upbeat, joyful musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to (or see, if you get the chance to go to a live show, do it—chances are he’ll do a sax solo while standing atop the bar). Politically pissed and raring to go, Rosenstock uses his ska influence to create some truly inspired sparkle punk tracks. His frequented motifs, such as feeling like a misfit or the age appropriateness of unemployed drunk nights and smoked-out mornings, are still common threads, giving anthems to those that feel like they still haven’t hit it big yet, but POST- is underscored with a fresh and energized anger from the current political state, with songs like “Let Them Win,” where he heeds the battle cry of, “We’re not gonna let them win again / Fuck no,” the song everyone needed in their 2018. It’s the call to arms for the everyman—anyone who feels those 20-or-30-something blues over struggling to both make it, anyone trying to remember to pay those parking tickets piling up on the counter, anyone who is tired of the shit from the White House—it’s got heat, it’s got tender moments, and a four-and-a-half-minute outro to “Let Them Win’s” powerful war-cry of a closer. If you’re seeking the cathartic refuge of screaming into a pillow, but with better guitar riffs, POST- is the album for you. [Tapley Eaton]

Top Albums Beach House

  1. Beach House – 7

Genre: Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Drunk in LA”, “Woo”, “Lose Your Smile”, “Dive”

On Beach House’s breakout “Myth,” Victoria Legrand implored of her subject, “Help me to name it / Help me to name it.” Now, with their latest album, 7, Beach House reveals how staggeringly skilled they’ve become at not only dreaming up emotional soundscapes, but putting a name to the feeling as well. The album has been described in interviews with Legrand as “pre-apocalyptic,” and that unrest permeates through 7’s entirety. It manifests in the sprawling “Drunk in LA” with some of Legrand’s most stunning lyrics to date. “I had a good life playing horses in my mind / Left my heart out somewhere running, wanting strangers to be mine,” she laments with old Hollywood gravitas. The same feeling shape-shifts in “Dive,” which thunders with carousel-gone-off-the-rails energy, and then again in the gentle “Lose Your Smile,” which is elevated by Alex Scally’s exquisite guitar work (which is present on the entire album). Similar to how the album cover features an amalgam of fragmented visuals, tracks are layered with bits of processed samples, women’s laughter and radio interference, creating a rapturous, jumbled, perfectly organized chaos. 7 fuses together the spell-binding, incense-scorched rumination of BEACH HOUSE and DEVOTION with the daring, cosmic adrenaline rush of BLOOM. Beach House’s earliest works had an almost underwater quality to them, as if Legrand’s will o’ the wisp-like vocals were shrouded in the hiss of a cassette fished out of a bubbling river. Holding up 7 to such works shows the degree to which their sound has completely evolved. Now, we are the ones submerged under the murky waters, with Legrand and Scally’s divine, haunting music echoing just above the surface. 7 is an upwards reach towards that sound, towards the godly light that waits for us if we manage to transcend the darkness that surrounds us. As dramatic as that sounds, for a pre-apocalyptic world, nothing could be more fitting. [Claire Epting]

Top Albums AAL

  1. Against All Logic – 2012 – 2017

Genre: Deep House

Favorite Tracks: “This Old House Is All I Have,” “Some Kind of Game,” “Know You,” “Now U Got Me Hooked,” “You Are Going to Love Me and Scream,” “Rave On U”

You wouldn’t think the man who once gave us an experimental ambient album meant to be the alternative soundtrack to a fairly obscure, Soviet, impressionist art film detailing the life of 18th-century Armenian poet Sayat-Nova would release what is the inarguable dance record of the year. And yet, that is the magic of Nicolas Jaar, operating here under the Against All Logic moniker he first branded with 2014’s ISSUE #9 EP. Every time I leave 2012 – 2017, I assume I’ll come back to it with more jaded, less impressionable ears, but this is by far the easiest album from 2018 to revisit, each listen unearthing a new groove to find yourself locked in, a fresh melodic counterpoint you might have missed the first time, or an unsung touch of production magic to leave you floored. Demonstrating Jaar’s already staggering penchant for sampling that he’s previously used to more esoteric effect in his main discography, 2012 – 2017 sees him crib from an entire genre history worth of soul, funk, and disco samples, lending a notably organic feel to the proceedings, giving the impression of a living, breathing document of days and dance floors gone past: you can feel the bacchanalia through the years, an anachronistic and liminal space where it’s always Friday night, the lights are low, the night is young, and the music’s high. But to be clear, 2012 – 2017 isn’t certainly a project of frivolity or shallow pleasures. There are hints of darkness lurking just around the corner of tracks such as “Hopeless” and “Flash in the Pan,” and the smoky, melancholy midnight musings of DJ Seinfeld can be found on a cut like “Such a Bad Way.” But all the more importantly, late-album masterstrokes such as “You Are Going to Love Me and Scream” and “Rave On U” demonstrate the degree to which Jaar is incapable of operating on anything but another level, both richly textured and masterfully constructed exercises in build-up and release. If you still hold fast that the album isn’t a feasible format for electronic music, shut up and listen. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Top Albums Daytona

  1. Pusha-T – DAYTONA

Genre: Hardcore Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “If You Know You Know,” “Hard Piano,” “Santeria”

It can be argued that Pusha-T’s lyrical chops are utterly inimitable compared to most of today’s rappers still releasing music. With the exception of industry icons like Q-Tip or P .Diddy, Pusha’s broad willingness to lay precise bars atop avant garde beats makes him worthy of his own hip hop crown. The release of DAYTONA served not only to cement his place, but pushed him through the outskirts of public conversation and into the lion’s den. Only 21-minutes in total running time and seven tracks long, the album is a lighting strike of his signature coke rap brand. Thanks to nixed production from The Neptunes, frequent Pusha collaborator Kanye West channeled the better part of his pre-MAGA months into a slew of contemporary sampling that gives T room to express his drug dealing woes, along with an opportunity to declare his prominence over the new guard. Opener “If You Know You Know” is a banger for the ages, where overwhelming drug-related lingo and double entendre are met with the perfect break for the unknowing masses: “if you know you know.” “Santeria,” a ghostly sample of Soul Mann and the Brothers “Bumpy’s Lament,” allows Pusha to beat his chest. “Of all the things I’ve ever paid for / Know that it’s no price tag when I wage war” indicates that he is not seeking Billboard #1 spots. What he wants is to let us know that he intends to take down his enemies and will get personal if need be. Unfortunately, it took a savage public beef with pop behemoth Drake to show the world that he was not kidding. His savage victory over Drake was a stroke of pop culture luck that gave devout Pusha-T fans the cathartic release they have long been waiting for. DAYTONA has put Pusha-T into the ears of mainstream hip hop followers and ironically earned him a Grammy nomination. So yes, his self-proclaimed title of “King Push” is not only unarrogant—it’s warranted. [Michael Stanziale]

Top Albums Mitski

  1. Mitski – BE THE COWBOY

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Geyser,” “A Pearl,” “Remember My Name,” “Me and My Husband,” “Nobody,” “Pink in the Night,” “A Horse Named Cold Air,” “Two Slow Dancers”

Who’d have thought 2018 was the year Mitski would give John Wayne a run for his money?

BE THE COWBOY’s greatest accomplishment has been forcing our collective consciousness to reconcile the conflicts inherent and oft-ignored in its titular protagonist. A symbol of unadulterated Americanism, the cowboy is revered as the heroic, rebellious, unapologetic gun-slinger, saving women bound in rope and tied to the train tracks, making no strong alliances to anything or anyone except to his unobstructed autonomy and a trusted steed. And while Mitski rides in with unmistakable swagger, BE THE COWBOY tears off the 10-gallon hat of the cowboy mythos to reveal the contradictions just below the surface—arrogance, amorality, disobedience, long, lonely treks across a sprawling wasteland, and, ultimately, destruction.

Mitski’s steadily blossoming indie success has consistently garnered respect for not only her catchy yet mordant musicianship, but also her fierce honesty and inimitable appetite for music-making. At this point in an artist’s career, we inevitably begin to witness references to their growing celebrity and the exhausting lifestyle of write-record-press-tour. If we know anything about Mitski, however, we know that she is a fighter, unmatched in her tenacity, ruddy, breathless, and stopping at nothing to pour out her guts. BE THE COWBOY only makes it obvious. Album opener “Geyser” burns with desperation, gasping for air to submit: “You’re my number one / You’re the one I want / And I’ve turned down / Every hand that has beckoned me to come.” “Me and My Husband” trudges along like a drunken Sunday in the saloon, lilting with honky-tonkish piano, raising a glass to loveless, unrewarding perseverance: “It’s always been just him and me together / So I bet all I have on that furrowed brow / And at least in this lifetime / We’re sticking together.” The synth-y backbeat of “Washing Machine Heart” pulses doggedly, yet she concedes, or rather commands, “Toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart / Baby, bang it up inside.” And while so much of BE THE COWBOY’s indurate affectations are camouflaged at first listen by über-polished production and a keen taste for danceability, Mitski never plays like she’s trying to fool the listener, always contextualizing the upbeat moments with the most cutting requiems, such as “Nobody butters me up like you / And nobody fucks me like me” (“Lonesome Love”). But BE THE COWBOY’s spirit of relentlessness is best captured by the album’s most haunting, yet delicate track, “A Horse Named Cold Air,” in which Mitski coos, “I thought I’d traveled a long way / But I had circled the same old sin.” There she is, trapped in the cowboy paradox, running lawlessly through town and desert, but nevertheless suffering the bondage that freedom begets. There’s no turning back, only running in circles.

The most redeeming, if not necessary, enterprise of our protagonist ends up being the most painful. Mitski proves in her work this very persistence, and BE THE COWBOY is a concept album that perfectly encapsulates the passion and fortitude of someone who rides with an eye on the horizon at all times, no matter the weight of her pack saddle. Don’t be fooled by the bravura or the soft edges—a cowboy doesn’t settle ‘til he’s got a bullet in his head. [Sienna Kresge]

TRAILER TRASHED Episode 4: Female-Presenting Nipples

Previous article

WELCOME TO MARWEN is a Life-Sized Disaster

Next article

2 Comments

  1. Earl’s album snubbed, sad

  2. […] Pink, whose excellent record YOLK IN THE FUR was a Merry-Go-Round favorite last year, delivered a terrific half-hour opening set for the show. The four-piece live version of the band […]

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *