Our favorite albums of 2018

 By CLTure

It’s been another incredible year in music. As the ability for artists to distribute musical projects gets increasingly easier, it’s getting progressively harder to discover new releases with all of the clutter of the internet and social media. Fortunately, our stellar group of music writers relentlessly scour sites and playlists for new tunes for your listening pleasure. Behold, our favorite albums of 2018.

Cameron Lee, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

10.) Jorja Smith Lost & Found 

Born to a Jamaican father and English mother, the 21 year old UK songstress Jorja Smith might be one of the most intriguing artists to surface in the last decade. She’s intrinsically talented and it shines through in her subtle delivery and pure vocal talent. With hints of the London streets and the irie vibes of the Caribbean islands, Smith’s talent is capable of meshing together the musical completeness of a classic album like Ms. Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation. Although her debut album Lost & Found falls a little short of a classic generational album, there is no doubt the world will hear a lot more from Jorja Smith in the years to come.

Favorite tracks: “Blue Lights,” “Where Did I Go?,” and “The One”

9.) Parquet Courts – Wide Awake! 

The garage rock art-punk sounds of New York’s Parquet Courts in their latest offering Wide Awake! continues to defy the modern recipe for indie music success. The group, who purposely does not engage in social media, concocts a collage of contrasting but creative sounds and rhythms reminding you of all of the great elements of the gritty New York punk rock and new wave scene. The measured chanting/singing, auspicious screams, utilization of synths, and the ambitiously abstruse lyrics, make Parquet Courts sixth studio album a captivating listen.  

Favorite tracks: “Wide Awake!,” “Tenderness,” and “Total Football”

8.) Courtney Barnett Tell Me How You Really Feel

The Australian Southpaw indie rock sensation known as Courtney Barnett has done it again. Her unique brand of effortlessly soothing grunge-rock must now make Barnett a national treasure in her home country. Her innate ability to masterfully combine astute lyrics and tweak her voice to perfectly scratch the emotion of each word, while her guitar playfully rides around her lyrics, is astounding. Barnett delivers a ten-song sophomore studio album filled with the full spectrum of easy-going rock music that makes her a unicorn in the indie rock genre.

Favorite tracks: “City Looks Pretty,” “Charity,” and “Nameless, Faceless” 

7.) Buddy Harlan & Alondra

At 25 years old, Simmie Simms III a.k.a. “Buddy” might be the youngest veteran in hip-hop. The Compton rapper and singer’s journey started as a teen when he was signed to Pharrell Williams and his underground hit “Awesome, Awesome” hit blogs across the internet music sphere in 2011. Buddy’s Harlan & Alondra exhibits the calm confidence of the Compton-raised artist who weaves his sometimes-nasally vocals and fluid song lyrics into a modernized West Coast funk. With features from Khalid, Ty Dolla $ign, and A$AP Ferg, the album has frequency somewhere between the daytime barbeque and late night cruising in the city streets.

Favorite tracks: “Shine,” “Trippin’,” and “Trouble on Central” 

6.) J.I.D – DiCaprio 2 

Atlanta-based Dreamville artist J.I.D has garnered a lot of attention since his debut solo album the Never Story was released in 2017, although his career started with the rap collective Spillage Village in 2010 collaborating with current labelmates Earthgang. His tongue-twisting lyrical style and choice of music production on his latest offering DiCaprio 2 provides a complete sound that has lifted J.I.D to the higher tier of current hip-hop “It” artists. With features by A$AP Ferg, J. Cole, 6LACK, Ella Mai, Joey Bada$$, Method Man, and BJ The Chicago Kid, DiCaprio 2 is a much-needed rap album that showcases the fullness of what a well-rounded hip-hop project can be in 2018.

Favorite tracks: “Westbrook,” “Off Deez,” and “Just Da Other Day”

5.) Anderson .PaakOxnard

Anderson .Paak is a walking musical jukebox. With features on several notable projects in the last five years and two critically acclaimed albums within the last three years, .Paak is finally reaching international esteem. His smoky voice paired with his witty wordplay makes him a rare bird in today’s music landscape. There’s a throwback quality to Anderson .Paak’s music that’s packaged in a vibrant soul exuding his own brand of hip-hop, R&B, and hint of jazz with noticeable West Coast flair.

Favorite tracks: “Who R U?,” “Cheers,” and “6 Summers” 

4.) Shame Songs of Praise 

South London post-punk outfit Shame hit 2018 like a slow-rolling and rumbling thunderstorm. Since first making waves in 2017 at SXSW with a raucous stage performance that consisted of half-naked awkward strutting that oddly fit well with their disruptedley dark but tightly structured rock songs, Shame has become a band to watch. Singer Charlie Steen’s energy is infectious, and his haunting chants and timely screams meld with their collective sound and style. Taking on so many different characteristics of your favorite rock ‘n’ roll bands, they are truly a merger of the genre’s finest.

Favorite tracks: “One Rizla,” “Concrete,” and “Tasteless” 

3.) The Internet – Hive Mind

LA-based neo-soul group, The Internet, consisting of the talented core of Syd, Matt Martians, and Steve Lacey originally derived from the Odd Future collective. The group’s easy-flowing instrumental licks, fronted by the hypnotically tranquil sounds of Syd produces a 13-song project that will leave you captivated. In an era of microwave music and creative content, The Internet makes intelligent music for those who move at a slower but smoother pace, not foregoing quality for instant gratification. The Internet provides new-age sounds that juxtapose our current social culture in all the best ways.

Favorite tracks: “It Gets Better (With Time),” “Come Over,” and “Look What U Started”

2.) Tierra Whack Whack World

Tierra Whack’s debut album Whack World has been a bit of a phenomenon in music this year. Foregoing the traditional single release run and short EP’s prior to a budding artists rollout, Whack released 15 songs that are all one-minute long. Although that concept may not sound revolutionary and a bit gimmicky, it’s what’s inside that’s mind-blowing. Laced with a colorful collection of rap, R&B, and neo-soul tastings, the EP showcases the full spectrum of Whack’s talents. Even more impressive is her visual aesthetic, using her Instagram platform to showcase imaginative short films for each track.

Favorite tracks: “Hungry Hippo,” “Flea Market,” and “Fruit Salad”

1.) Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour

There’s something mesmerizing about Kacey Musgraves’ latest album Golden Hour. She’s always had a knack for writing delightfully lucid and relatable country songs, but the technical production is what really shines in Golden Hour. Working with singer-songwriter Daniel Tashian (The Silver Seas) and acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Ian Fitchuk it’s the simplicity of the album’s audio richness that is so dazzling. Every bell, echo and proverbial whistle seems to strike with the perfect timing. Her voice is piercingly crisp and crackles in all the right places, while the lyrics take you on an emotional expedition.

Favorite tracks: “Love is A Wild Thing,” “Oh, What a World,” and “Lonely Weekend” 

Shirley Griffith, Music and Community Writer

10.) Kurt Vile – Bottle It In

Vile’s most tendril and expansive release to date, Bottle It In revs down cosmic highways in a classic car with the exhaust sprinkling down glittering tones off the ringlets of his signature dark mane. For this album, Vile called on some buds like Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Body/Head), Cass McCombs, Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint), and experimental harpist Mary Lattimore. Vile seems to have really found his element on this album, with previous songs like “Wheelhouse” (off his 2015 release) being just a taste of what this laidback guitar warlock is capable of. Most tracks on the album scale past five minutes with one exception in Vile’s twangy, shuffling cover of Charlie Rich’s “Rollin With The Flow.”

Favorite tracks: “One Trick Ponies,” “Rollin With The Flow,” and “Bottle It In”

9.) Mary Lattimore  Hundreds of Days

“Hundreds of Days” provides a sense of complex serenity. This album has a thousand emotions shrouded warmly underneath layers of understanding synth, guiding harp, and suspiciously distorted, distant knocking like a gentle reassuring tap on the shoulder. The album is full of clarity and is an experimental reverence for the moments worth remembering.

Favorite tracks: “Feels Like Floating,” “On the Day You Saw the Dead Whale,” and “Hello from the Edge of the Earth”

8.) Jenn Champion – Single Rider

In what is probably the cheeriest sad record in recent memory, multi-instrumentalist Jenn Champion brings her comprehensive style barreling into the pop world. Formerly known as S, Champion’s Single Rider is the first solo release under the new moniker with brand new synth-heavy and beat-driven tunes. Even the music videos released for the album are bright, colorful and lovably silly, all with a heavier message attached. The bubbly, irresistible ‘80s clap of music provides an entirely new landscape for Champion’s normally haunting lyrics and subject matter. Through the use of shimmering, layered electronics and Champion’s poignantly warm keys, each song excels in offering compassion and in giving the listener hope.

Favorite tracks: “Time To Regulate,” “Going Nowhere,” and “No One (Piano Version)” 

7.) Hayley Kiyoko – Expectations

Twentygayteen’s fan-proclaimed “Lesbian Jesus” gave us her debut album which is a perfect taste of pop. The album’s themes and self-directed music videos, like the multi-talented Kiyoko herself, are unabashedly gay and a pillar against the narrative of the male gaze. After dealing with negative feelings surrounding rejection and a fear of coming out, Kiyoko uses her music to inspire confidence in young people, especially those going through the same struggle and worries. The album cover has Kiyoko centered and slouched, smirking, her gaze slyly looking past a naked woman and at the listener, inviting them into the truth she’s found by accepting herself fully. Expectations has excellent sequencing and the tracks flow easily into each other. The energy of the album breathes with songs like “What I Need (feat Kehlani)” and “Curious” while adding peppered buoyancy and allowing reflection in the middle of the album with the powerful track “Mercy / Gatekeeper,” a song about Kiyoko’s depression that started as a poem.

Favorite tracks: “Mercy / Gatekeeper,” “Curious,” and “He’ll Never Love You (HNLY)”

6.) Gold Star – Uppers and Downers

Drawing steep comparisons to Americana roots artists like Ryan Adams, Marlon Rabenreither aka Gold Star recreates a suspiciously timeless pocket of rock’n’roll. His songs sound like they’ve been lost, hidden away collecting dust in a gritty LA wood-paneled basement since the ‘80s. Uppers and Downers chronicles Rabenreither’s sincere grapple with afflictions like hard drugs and love while he himself softens through the blows life can catapult at you, and he even finds hope in the tragic comedy of it all. Uppers and Downers  has its highs and lows, making it the perfect album to walk around town and take in all the different quiet ways humans pass by one another. The album buzzes with the slow-burning neon hum of Big Star coupled against the artful drug-addled steaze of The Velvet Underground.

Favorite tracks: “Half the Time,” “Chinatown,” and “Where I Will Be”    

5.) Lala Lala – The Lamb

Singer and guitarist Lillie West released The Lamb as her sophomore album and debut on Hardly Art. The album tackles insecurities and her struggles with loss and addictions (West is sober these days). Album opener, “Destroyer, is an agitated, swirling beauty of a song where time lulls before West’s layered vocals command the anxious chorus: “You are the reason my heart broke behind my back.” The album’s clever construction and biting lyrics come through more and more upon each repeated listen. The eight-bit drum sound coursing under “Water Over Sex” gives way to glistening guitar tones as West droningly explores her newfound sobriety while still sorting through anxieties: “I’m suddenly full this is belonging, I’ve had too much fun when will it get taken?” The Lamb is powerfully pretty with its raw portrayal of West’s emotions and unforgettably haunting song craft.

Favorite tracks: “Destroyer,” “Water Over Sex,” and “Dove”

4.) Kali Uchis – Isolation

Now that it’s a median temperature of 36 degrees in the Southeast, a good winter trick is to forego the defroster in the mornings and press play on Isolation to get your car heated up in no time. This album radiates the seductive swelter of Miami with the sassy empowerment of a woman who knows her worth and is here to collect on it. From slow dripping psychedelic sprawls to breezy tropical exotica to simplistic, automated drumbeats, each song is liberally unique and displays Uchis’ comprehensive knowledge of her craft. Lyrically, she possesses the best intentional side-eyes in the business like “Your Teeth In My Neck,” an entire song comparing the music industry to a bunch of vampires sucking her dry. Or on “Miami” when her velvet voice croons, “Why would I be Kim, I could be Kanye”– a lyric that admittedly held more weight at the beginning of the year before Ye’s MAGA stints. This album deserves an award strictly for Uchis’ song “Dead To Me,” a rhythmically sweet, concise “fuck you” to those that have hurt or discouraged her. Also notable about Isolation is the all-star cast of features like The Internet’s Steve Lacy, Jorja Smith, Bootsy Collins and Tyler the Creator. The entire album is a literal fire emoji.

Favorite tracks: “Dead To Me,” “In My Dreams,” and “Feel Like A Fool”

3.) Black Belt Eagle Scout – Mother of My Children

BBES is the solo adventure of multi-instrumentalist Katherine Paul who released Mother of My Children as a personal attempt at coming to terms with her identity as a queer indigenous woman. Her sound is inspired by a blend of native musical traditions and her current home base of Portland, Oregon’s burgeoning indie rock scene. Album opener “Soft Stud” incorporates a churning, wailing guitar side by side with Paul’s whispering, yearning vocals. The song’s prowess is immediate and for six minutes Paul leads you down an alluringly tormented path towards the soft, meditative tapping of “Indians Never Die.” This second track is mysteriously transfixing with simple, softly hummed vocals, light guitar, and a back-and-forth tapping. Cymbals build and crescendo into nothing at the song’s beginning but, by the second half of the track, the drums flare out creating an opening of relief by letting go. The album is exceptionally emotional but, above all, the songs are patient with themselves; they allow the instruments to expel different depths of feelings and Paul’s touching vocals are gracefully captivating.

Favorite tracks: “Soft Stud,” “Indians Never Die,” and “Yard” 

2.) Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

This album is a spectacular crossover from the often polarizing genre of country music. Musgraves is perfectly loving and thoughtful on softer songs and boldly pioneering on others. The album pulls at the listener’s heartstrings, strumming them tenderly on songs like “Slow Burn” and “Rainbow.” The sweet, simple step of “Butterflies” blooms dreamily, a lovers’ lullaby before a Daft Punk-esque intro opens into the universal enormity and capability of love on “Oh, What A World,” complemented by artfully placed banjo plucks. Completing the spectrum, disco-inspired “High Horse” and the glittering retro “Velvet Elvis” offer a refreshingly glamorous groove.

Favorite tracks: “Butterflies,” “Space Cowboy,” and “Wonder Woman”

1.) Tierra Whack Whack World

Whack World and the corresponding music video on YouTube is one of the most innovative, colorful takes on music that 2018 had to offer. Philly’s prolific Whack gave us a debut 15-minute album, with each one-minute track and video wildly different than the last. Whack stylishly incorporates full-body disguises and vocals that switch from mumble rap (“Black Nails”) to gospel-inspired pitches (“Pet Cemetery”) to comical inhales from a helium balloon (“Dr. Seuss”). Whack’s impressively spastic ideas are also reflected in song topics; how she likes her Chinese food, her beloved deceased dog, children’s games, and her mindful workout routine/diet are all subjects on the album, making the ordinary attainable and extraordinary. Whack’s execution of her clever lyrics creates an instantly quotable mantra, from the aware quip on “Bugs Life” (“probably would’ve blown up overnight, if I was white”) to the self-worth reminder on “4 Wings” (“I’m not perfect, but I improvise”).

Favorite tracks: “Black Nails,” “Hungry Hippo,” and “Fruit Salad”

Sean Titone, Music Writer

10.) Cut Worms – Hollow Ground

There is a wonderful ‘50s and ‘60s pastiche to the music of Max Clarke and his band Cut Worms, hearkening back to the melodic songwriting pleasures of Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers and “Please, Please, Me”-era Beatles. Hollow Ground is Cut Worms’ full-length debut and it’s full of easy-going charms that will have you singing and humming its verses and choruses long after the final notes of the album ring out. A vintage aesthetic, shuffling rhythms, and a sunny, occasionally country-like disposition are the foundation for Clarke’s songs of heartbreak and unrequited love.

Favorite tracks: “How It Can Be,” “Till Tomorrow Goes Away,” and “Don’t Want to Say Good-Bye”

9.) Michael Rault – It’s a New Day Tonight

The first time I heard the Dazed and Confused-infused guitar lines on Michael Rault’s opening song “I’ll Be There” off his sophomore album, It’s a New Day Tonight, I was hooked. It’s one of those songs that make you want to play it again as soon as it’s over, and it’s the ideal start to an album that sounds classic, timeless, and modern all at once. String arrangements that recall the finest moments of ELO or The Kinks are a welcome accompaniment to Rault’s catchy, midtempo guitar riffs. The Canadian songwriter Rault found a simpatico home on Wick Records, a rock-oriented subsidiary of Brooklyn’s Daptone Records after he caught their attention opening shows for the late Screaming Eagle of Soul, Charles Bradley.

Favorite tracks: “I’ll Be There,” “New Day Tonight,” and “Sleep With Me”

8.) Cordovas – That Santa Fe Channel

That Santa Fe Channel is technically Cordovas’ sophomore album, but it’s the first with ATO Records (home to like-minded bands My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes, and Hurray for the Riff Raff). Its compact track list of only nine songs makes this one all killer, no filler. The polished songwriting and warm production contribute to a mission statement from a band that has successfully figured out how to dance the fine line between modern Americana and a lost classic rock relic. Cordovas imbues their songs with the essence of The Band and the Grateful Dead, but whittle down the Dead’s extended jams to a sharp point, keeping the majority of the songs hovering around the three-minute mark. Charlotte native Joe Firstman is a founding member of this East Nashville-based band, and he recruited Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids to produce the album. Pattengale and Cordovas keep the focus on rich multi-part harmonies and an endearing nostalgic sweetness, dosed with a healthy sense of humor.

Favorite tracks: “This Town’s a Drag,” “Frozen Rose,” and “I’m the One Who Needs You Tonight”

7.) Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – Years

North Carolina’s Sarah Shook & the Disarmers are the modern embodiment of outlaw country in 2018. On their sophomore album Years, Shook and her band of brothers take listeners on a twang-filled tour of the ups and downs of Shook’s busted up relationship. Shook lyrically gives us a look at both sides of the equation, trying to understand where her partner is coming from, while also telling her side of the story in equal measure. When we spoke to Shook earlier this year she said, “I hope this album speaks to people who are in the midst of turmoil from such a relationship…I hope it gives them some hope and makes them feel less alone.” More sonically adventurous than their debut, Years blows open the doors for Shook & the Disarmers to do whatever the hell they want on their follow-up album, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Favorite tracks: “Good as Gold,” “Lesson,” and “Years”

6.) Tony Molina – Kill the Lights

Northern California’s Tony Molina has quietly accrued a few albums’ worth of impeccable power pop over the last few years, and he has written his best work yet with Kill the Lights. With ten songs coming in under 15 minutes, the pace is brisk and the songs are ridiculously repeat-button worthy. Taking cues from the poppiest moments of Guided By Voices, and the Byrds-ian jangle of Teenage Fanclub, Molina has an extraordinary knack for crafting beautiful, memorable melodies with intricate guitar fingerpicking and, at times, on a song like “Look Inside Your Mind/Losin’ Touch,” an almost classical music sensibility.  Grief stemming from a lost love has never sounded so gorgeous.

Favorite tracks: “Jasper’s Theme,” “Nothing I Can Say,” and “Now That She’s Gone”

5.) boygenius – S/T

Musical kindred spirits Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Daucus are some of the most talented and emotionally resonating artists out there right now, so when it was announced they had formed a band entitled boygenius, it was pretty exciting news to say the least. All of the best traits of each artist are heightened with this collaboration. Daucus, Bridgers, and Baker sing like their lives depend on it as they share intimate secrets that will hopefully provide a sense of strength to the listener who may be experiencing similar hardships. When the three of them sing in harmonious unison, the emotional weight of their voices in tandem is powerful and cathartic. Now if you need me, I’ll be over here crying while listening to “Me & My Dog.”

Favorite tracks: “Me & My Dog,” “Bite the Hand,” and “Stay Down”

4.) Jeff Tweedy – WARM

The mighty Wilco has been on an extended break since the release of Schmilco in 2016, allowing its fearless leader, Jeff Tweedy, and the other band members to embark on other creative endeavors during the critically acclaimed band’s downtime. WARM is Tweedy’s first proper solo album of all original material under his full name, and it contains some of his most personal songs to date. Written and recorded over the last two years in conjunction with the release of his first memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), WARM finds Tweedy taking stock of his life, ruminating on life and death and the sum of his musical contributions over the years. Early in the opening track “Bombs Above,” Tweedy intones “What I’ve been through/Should matter to you,” and with songs like these, it’s hard to disagree.

Favorite tracks: “Some Birds,” “I Know What It’s Like,” and “Having Been Is No Way To Be”

3.) Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour

With Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves achieved the impressive feat of staying true to herself while greatly expanding her sound to find a perfect sweet spot of country, pop and spaced-out folk. After finding happiness and marital bliss with singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly, she wrote some of her sweetest and most potent love songs of her career. Golden Hour is one of those rare albums that transcends genre and appeals to lovers of all types of music. A solo piano ballad like “Rainbow” sits neatly next to a disco banger like “High Horse” that assuredly brings everyone onto the dance floor. A song like “Velvet Elvis” should be a modern rock radio staple in a just and right world, while “Slow Burn” sounds like a lost Neil Young classic. There’s a little something for everyone here, and the album’s production courtesy of Musgraves, Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk is flawless.

Favorite tracks: “Slow Burn,” “Butterflies,” and “High Horse”

2.) Bonny Doon – Longwave

Longwave, the sophomore album from Detroit’s Bonny Doon, sounds like a cosmic country dream. The songs float along on a wistful air full of melancholy and longing. With touchstones of The Velvet Underground, Silver Jews, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Bonny Doon hits all of the indie rock sweet spots, even if the conjured feeling while listening to their music can, at times, be a bit of a downer. At first glance, Longwave’s tracks sound simple and understated but, upon further reflection and repeated listens, a deeper understanding and intent are revealed. Bill Lennox and Bobby Colombo share singer/songwriter duties, and their approach with Longwave was to capture a sense of spontaneity and minimalism while addressing introspection through meditative music and philosophical lyrics. It’s a mesmerizing trip from beginning to end.

Favorite tracks: “A Lotta Things,” “Longwave,” and “I Am Here (I Am Alive)”

1.) Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive

When done properly, protest music can uplift, enlighten and motivate. What a Time to Be Alive is a call to action by indie rock veterans Superchunk, and it is the perfect example of how a political protest album doesn’t have to be preachy to be effective. The Chapel Hill punk rockers assess the political nightmare we’ve been living in over the last couple years and, in the process, produced their most dynamic work in years. They raise their fists in resistance while offering solace to those of us feeling helplessness and despair. Lead singer Mac McCaughan sounds invigorated, angry and inspired on songs like the title track, “Break the Glass,” and “Reagan Youth.” Nearly 30 years into their career as a band, it’s an incredible and welcome feat that Superchunk can continue to sound as vibrant, necessary and relevant as they do on What A Time to Be Alive.

Favorite tracks: “What a Time to Be Alive,” “Break the Glass,” and “Erasure” 

Delaney Clifford, Music Writer

10.) Cult Leader – A Patient Man

If you’ve ever wondered what the soundtrack to the seventh circle of hell sounds like, look no further than Cult Leader’s latest work. From the moment this record kicks in, your blood runs cold, your hair stands on end, and you feel a genuine sense of terror. It’s exhilarating. From there, A Patient Man becomes an honest exploration of what the darker side of hardcore has to offer. Constantly oscillating between a rage previously unimagined and bone-chilling hymns of strife, this album is horror incarnate; a collection of songs that will surely solidify Cult Leader as one of the true commanders of their sound.

Favorite tracks: “Craft of Mourning,” “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey,” and “A World of Joy”

9.) Anderson .Paak – Oxnard

.Paak has done it again. Oxnard could easily be described as the artist’s magnum opus, full to the brim with features from some of the most talented rappers and singers in hip-hop, all in addition to .Paak’s slick verse, distinct voice and bewildering style. Effortlessly combining the foundations of hip-hop with soul, funk, and jazz, this is the record to define the year in the genre. After 2016’s Malibu, it seemed impossible that he could outdo himself, but doubters would be wise to heed – Oxnard is the real deal.

Favorite tracks: “6 Summers,” “Mansa Musa,” and “Cheers”

8.) All Them Witches – ATW

All Them Witches has gone criminally underrated in the modern era of rock ‘n’ roll – an egregious oversight which will hopefully be corrected with their latest self-titled work. The eight songs on this monstrous release span nearly an hour of pure fuzz, soul, and power as vocalist Charles Michael Parks Jr. croons his way through the winding tracks, blending sounds of southern blues rock with psychedelic funk and a genuine old-soul style. Whether the mood of the song is a fast-paced blur or a slow, menacing trudge, All Them Witches has once again defied expectations and continues to march to the beat of their own drum.

Favorite tracks: “Fishbelly 86 Onions,” “Workhorse,” and “Half-Tongue” 

7.) IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance

If there was ever a band to define the grittiness and anger that has marked the year, it’s IDLES. No matter what this group does, it’s carried with a frustrated posture and hyperactive energy that makes you want to get up and dance (and maybe throw some punches). Joy as an Act of Resistance has pulled the best of post-punk into the modern era, branded with a vicious embrace of individuality that IDLES has eagerly grabbed and claimed as their own.

Favorite tracks: “Love Song,” “Television,” and “Gram Rock”

6.) Drug Church – Cheer

In the grand scheme of sub-culture punk and hardcore, Drug Church can be easily lumped into the same category as Self Defense Family but, in truth, the only real commonality between the outfits is their shared vocalist in Patrick Kindlon. Drug Church boasts an outrageous fury to their sound, and Cheer is definitely no exception. Each of the ten songs brings something special to the table, reaching outside of the normal boundaries of their genre by incorporating elements of instrumentality and vocalization that have been lost on other bands under the same banners. After all is said and done, Cheer is blistering, invigorating, flat-out brilliant punk that the current landscape so desperately craves, a specialty of Drug Church that has once again been so cleverly delivered.

Favorite tracks: “Conflict Minded,” “Tillary,” and “Weed Pin”

5.) Mitski Be the Cowboy

Resounding electronica, cool-hearted love ballads, and a voice that can only be described as heaven sent – what more could you ask for? Mitski is apparently of the notion that there’s always more to be asked for and gracefully follows through with Be the Cowboy, her fifth studio album and certainly one of her most accomplished works to date. The record approaches ideas of relationships, love, and intimacy with a boldness disguised by her silken voice, wrapped with a masterful song-writing ability and unbreakable catchiness. These are songs meant to stay burned into your memory, but after one listen, it’s an album hard-pressed to stay on repeat one way or another.

Favorite tracks: “Geyser,” “A Pearl,” and Two Slow Dancers”

4.) Birds In Row – We Already Lost The World

When it comes to screamo in 2018, the pickings are slim to begin with. The genre is inundated with too much of the same, and it has become more difficult than ever for bands to distinguish themselves from the slush. Thankfully, Birds In Row are one of the few that have never had trouble staying ahead of the curve, and We Already Lost The World is another striking example of how just how far ahead this band is. With pulverizing speed and delivery, each of the nine songs sends a shock to the system that reminds listeners exactly why this French trio is never to be slept on.

Favorite tracks: “I Don’t Dance,” “Triste Sire,” and Fossils”

3.) Shame – Songs of Praise

When Songs of Praise came out shortly after the new year had passed, it was difficult to imagine a record that could beat it out for Album of the Year. Shame struck the world with a taste of something new, something malcontented and unrelenting, brought about by the furious defiance of five young Englishmen. When it comes to Songs of Praise, each song grips on with a dedicated purpose, refusing to be unheard, to go unremembered or be dismissed. While the album is already approaching its one-year mark, each fresh listen brings about something new to be found, cementing its clear value in this year’s list of gems.

Favorite tracks: “Dust on Trial,” “Concrete,” and “One Rizla”

2.) Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine

Coming to us from the combined force of Bon Iver and The National, Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner have collaborated to bring about this supergroup, and the result is somehow greater than expected. At large, there’s not a single song on this record that won’t bring a smile to your face. But, as per usual, a closer look beneath Vernon’s vocoder-tinged voice reveals a wealth of lyrical passion, delving into personal struggle and pain as well as a host of other emotionally driven experience. It’s more than clear with this release that in their niche, Big Red Machine knows no rival.

Favorite tracks: “Gratitude,” “Forest Green,” and “OMDB” 

1.) Pianos Become The Teeth – Wait For Love

Pianos Become The Teeth has always demonstrated a mastered adaptability, consistently remaining firmly rooted in their foundations as they take on new form time and time again. After undergoing their most drastic genre shift with 2014’s Keep You, it’s undeniable that they’ve nailed down every last brass tack of their style with Wait For Love. Vocalist Kyle Durfey’s once harsh and painful screams have been traded for a smooth singing voice, still wrought with the personal touch of history that has always served as the group’s calling card. But, unlike their previous releases, there seems to be a level of finality to this record, a sense of perfect musical and emotional harmony achieved in every song that only adds to the overwhelming weight of the words. Without a doubt, this is the Album of the Year for 2018.

Favorite tracks: “Love on Repeat,” “Bloody Sweet” and “Fake Lighting” 

Mitchell Franklin, Music Writer  

10.) Advance BaseAnimal Companionship

Advance Base, formerly known as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, writes stories. These are not big, dramatic tales with large arcs and twists and turns, but little vignettes where people live in small towns with their pets, going about each day like the one before. These songs are gorgeous and somber, as the characters wrestle with running into an ex’s dog, leaving a family for true love, and trying to get sober. The album is spacious and gorgeous, often with only keyboard, drum machine, and vocals carrying the tracks. There is even a Magnetic Fields cover snuck into the middle. Quiet, contemplative, and emotional, this album is meant to be listened to on a cold winter’s night.

Favorite tracks: “Your Dog,” “Christmas in Nightmare City,” and “Answering Machine” 

9.) Dollar SignsThis Will Haunt Me

This Will Haunt Me finds Charlotte favorite Dollar Signs stepping up its game in a serious way. Musically, this album incorporates the full band in an absolute onslaught of sound, but also finds room to include a sparse piano ballad. Lyrically, it’s so direct and brutal that it’s frequently hard to know whether to laugh or cry. A (seemingly) light-hearted song about pop music escapism suddenly collapses into a bridge that deals with a friend’s death in a realistic, unflinching way. It’s a shock to the system, but the show must go on, and the band shortly returns to seeking comfort in pop songs. There is also plenty of anxiety around money, balancing life in a punk band with “normal” life, and as any great rock band has, deals with the devil. The record is a whirlwind of stress and nervousness, but by the end the narrator seems to have found his way to a brighter future by asking others for help.

Favorite tracks: “Shallow Pop Songs,” “Waste My Life Away,” and “Tears/Beers/Fears”

8.) MitskiBe The Cowboy

Over her last two albums, Mitski successfully became a sweetheart of the indie rock community. But Be The Cowboy introduces a new concept: Mitski the Pop Star. Swapping out the aggressive guitars of her previous work for keyboards and strings, the singer-songwriter effortlessly churns out a slew of short, immaculately crafted tracks. There is a great amount of variety as she shuffles between disco, country, pop and many other genres. She sings of loneliness and heartbreak, anxieties and ugliness, but does it in such an endearing way that everyone can see a little of themselves in her songs. The 28-year-old musician already has three critically acclaimed albums under her belt, and it looks like she’s not slowing down any time soon.

Favorite tracks: “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?,” “Nobody,” and “Two Slow Dancers”

7.) Long NeckWill This Do?

Will This Do? is a great example of how restrained arrangements can help highlight terrific songwriting. Tracks like “Matriarch,” “Rosy,” and “Hive Collapse” keep the instrumentation simple, letting frontwoman Lily Mastrodimos’ lyrics and powerful vocals take center stage. The subject matter is heavy, as she wrote the songs during a period when “it felt like [her] family was falling apart and [she] was just watching it happen from a place outside of [her] body.” Musically, it manages to not get weighed down, as the band creates pop/rock/folk music that never feels sluggish or plodding. Still a relatively unknown band, Long Neck deserves to have the same level of recognition as similar acts such as Lucy Dacus and Kississippi.

Favorite tracks: “Matriarch,” “Hive Collapse,” and “10,000 Year Old Woman”

6.) Antarctigo VespucciLove in the Time of E-Mail

Antarctigo Vespucci, a side project of Chris Farren (Fake Problems), Jeff Rosenstock (Bomb the Music Industry!), and Benny Horowitz (The Gaslight Anthem), are filling the void for anyone who wishes that Weezer still put out interesting music. Farren writes some of the most catchy, fun power-pop songs of the last few years, and then Rosenstock fleshes it out with his knack for arranging guitar, synth and harmony lines to make the songs sound massive. The tracks brim with energy, but the lyrics reveal layers of anxiety and sadness beneath the poppy exterior. Farren takes lines like “When you really know me, and I mean really know me, will you want to know me anymore?” and turns them into anthemic sing-a-longs, covering up despair in sugar-coated melodies.

Favorite tracks: “Kimmy,” “Breathless on DVD,” and “Freakin’ U Out” 

5.) mewithoutYou[Untitled]

mewithoutYou once sounded so confident, so sure of the message that they were trying to convey. This certainty is all but gone on their latest album, which finds frontman Aaron Weiss burying his vocals deeper into the mix as he wrestles with faith, impending apocalypse, and his family’s history of mental illness. Much like the album art suggests, this album is explosive and vast, bursting at the seams with musical ideas, creating a messy scrawl that can be hard to sort through. The more melodic tracks, such as “Winter Solstice” and “Break on Through (to the Other Side) [pt. Two],” are some of the band’s loveliest, showing a beauty and maturity that was rarely heard on earlier albums. The album sounds like a man desperately looking for answers, but it doesn’t seem like he’s any closer at the end of the journey than when he began.

Favorite tracks: “Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses),” “Winter Solstice,” and “Wendy & Betsy”

4.) FoxingNearer, My God

It’s rare to hear an album as transparently ambitious as Nearer, My God. Foxing said that they were trying to make a “classic album” and it’s apparent that they took that goal seriously. The songs are explosive as the band juxtaposes between whispers and cathartic screams. The emo band teamed with Chris Walla (ex-Death Cab for Cutie), and his sleek production makes the album shimmer, especially in its more spacious moments. The band pulled out all the stops, including utilizing bagpipes, drum machines, brass, and more synthesizers than on any of their previous work. The album almost sounds like stadium rock, but manages to keep enough sincerity and oddities to remain separate from those acts.

Favorite tracks: “Grand Paradise,” “Lich Prince,” and “Trapped in Dillard’s”

3.) Sidney GishNo Dogs Allowed

From the opening of No Dogs Allowed it is apparent that this is a unique record, especially since Gish is a college student who creates her music from her dorm room computer. Acoustic guitar, wood block and melodica create a bubbly backdrop for a spliced recording of a man talking about teaching a parakeet to talk. The record doesn’t slow down from there, and it’s a testament to how you don’t need fancy equipment to create something exceptional. The album is endlessly witty as she sings about just wanting to sit while at a show, her inability to pronounce Persephone correctly, and her feeling of imposter syndrome about being a human.

Favorite tracks: “I Eat Salads Now,” “Imposter Syndrome,” and “Sin Triangle”

2.) Lucy DacusHistorian

Lucy Dacus, perhaps best known as being a member of boygenius with Julian Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, deserves just as much recognition as her bandmates. Historian tackles many tough subjects, including difficult breakups, her grandmother’s passing, her own mortality, and how “you don’t have to be sad to make something worth hearing.” She catalogues these through her lyrics showing off her penchant for honest, acerbic songwriting. The album is wrapped in fuzzy guitars and the warmth of her voice; it feels like a comfortable blanket to crawl under when the going gets tough. There is a lot to unwrap in this album, making each song worth revisiting over and over again to uncover new surprises with each listen.

Favorite tracks: “Night Shift,” “Addictions,” and “Yours & Mine”

1.) Hop AlongBark Your Head Off, Dog

Hop Along’s fourth, and best, album is the embodiment of perpetual motion. The nine tracks brim with energy as a multitude of instruments weave in and out of the arrangements. Violins, cellos, harps, and keyboards are found amongst the band as they create some of the most compelling rock music of the year. Frontwoman Frances Quinlan is at her absolute best, not as guttural and angry as on their last album, but always knowing how to contort her versatile voice to get the most out of a line. The refrain “strange to be shaped by such strange men,” appears throughout the album, showing her anger at deferring to men for her value/worth, instead of seeing the power in her own expression. After taking ownership of her own strength, she’s created an astonishing piece of art: every instrument, melody, and harmony placed carefully without ever wasting a moment.

Favorite tracks: “How Simple,” “Not Abel,” and “Prior Things” 

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