Top 100 Albums of 2018

So, I went on kind of a tear in the summer, where I blew through probably 100 albums in the span of three months. And there was a lot of great music this year, this was a record-book year. I handed out 46 A and A- grades this year alone, so I decided to up my usual countdown to 100, which includes nothing below a B grade. For the sake of my own sanity, 100-51 are just alphabetized with a brief description. Admittedly some of these albums are ones I listened to once earlier in the year and don’t recall all that well. But I don’t want to bore you, so here we go:

#100-51:

070 Shake – “Glitter” – Great EP from the rapper/singer featured on Kanye’s “Ghost Town,” some knockout performances throughout. Mark this name down now to impress your friends later.

The 1975 – “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships” – Okay so ’75 albums take at least a couple listens to fully engage and because of the late release date I’ve only gotten one listen in, I expect I’ll love this album come early 2019. Note: it’s now early 2019 and i haven’t relistened yet oops

Alien Weaponry – “Tu” – The Weaponry is a trio of teens from New Zealand who are using metal to help preserve the language of Māori, which is dying in New Zealand culture. Also, they just goddamn rock in any language. This band has already gotten pretty big but if you know of a way to help them preserve their culture, I’m sure they’d appreciate.

Andrew W.K. – “You’re Not Alone” – America’s premier party master delivered his first new music in quite some time, and it came with a number of rock and metal delights. Also, his devotion to helping those with mental issues strikes through this whole album. (Also, he’s friends with Gavin McInnes, make of that what you will)

Ängie – “Suicidal Since 1995” – One of pop’s new depressing frontrunners is Ängie, who fills her mini-album with songs about addiction and coping methods. It’s not a great time, but it’s great music.

Antarctigo Vespucci – “Love in the Time of E-mail” –  As equally fun and affecting as their previous releases, this is a solid pop-punk effort. Jeff Rosenstock and Chris Farren are good boys who write great lyrics so give them your money, thanks. Hi Jeff gang.

Aphex Twin – “Collapse EP” – Out of nowhere Aphex Twin has revived his career and burst onto another winning streak. This EP is only 28 minutes but it showcases the electronic master at his finest.

Bad Wolves – “Disobey” – A rock/metal supergroup that hit it big with their cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie,” but for me, it’s the closing track “Toast to the Ghost” that does it. One of my favorite metal songs of the last few years.

BROCKHAMPTON – “iridescence” – The ‘boy band’ struck gold on their first Amir-less album, hitting tons of different waves and emotions. The pain of what Amir did is palpable, but so is their acknowledgment of a burgeoning success. This is simply a great group capitalizing on their prime.

Camila Cabello – “Camila” – “Havana” wasn’t really a fluke, as Cabello’s whole album proves her to be a pop force to be reckoned with. It may be early in her solo career, but if she keeps up then she could be an absolute powerhouse.

Car Seat Headrest – “Twin Fantasy” – Feels a little disingenuous to include this, since the original version of this album came out in 2011. But Will Toledo decided to remake his Bandcamp classic with his now-full band, and it’s a true indie delight. “Cute Thing” was one of my most played songs of the year, FYI.

Cloud Nothings – “Last Building Burning” – Cloud Nothings returned to their brutal roots for this behemoth of an album; admittedly it burns out early but the early onslaught is some of the best guitar work of the year.

Deafheaven – “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love” – The single most polarizing band in metal only made themselves more so by releasing a…..metal-dreampop record. Nothing like this album has ever existed, and it doesn’t all work, but there sure are some genuinely enthralling moments. This is an album that haters will make fun of, using the reasons why it’s great as attempted insults.

Dirty Projectors – “Lamp Lit Prose” – Gonna be honest, this is basically another Dirty Projectors album, nothing more or less. If it ain’t broke!

Earl Sweatshirt – “Some Rap Songs” – I’m not the target audience for this release and I get that. This album is for pure rapheads, of which I am not. But Earl is basically infallible in the genre and this is just another walkoff homer for the prodigy.

Father John Misty – “God’s Favorite Customer” – I strongly dislike Misty as a person and I want to reflect that on the music, but damn if he isn’t a great songwriter. This is just another great album of the piano and guitar folk that he does so well.

Florence + The Machine – “High Hope” – Florence Welch is one of the best singers of our generation, and for this album the band stripped away a lot of their baroque elements to provide simple backing for her. The ambitions and stakes are smaller here, but the results are just as stunning.

Gaylord – “The Black Metal Scene Needs to Be Destroyed” – An EP from a black metal legend provided me with a couple of my favorite 2018 song titles – “Nice Sun Cross Tattoo Asshole,” “Varg Impaled,” “Odin Doesn’t Listen to Nsbm You Inbred Alt-Right Shitheels,” and, of course, “Neo-Nazi Metalheads Will Be Hanged and Their Broken Corpses Openly Mocked.” In case you haven’t noticed, this blogger is a leftist, and this is quality black metal.

Iceage – “Beyondless” – This album actually seemed right up my alley, and I’m still struggling as to why it didn’t entirely sell me. But still, some loud as hell punk-adjacent music with a Sky Ferreira assist is a win in my book.

Jay Rock – “Redemption” – Perhaps the most fitting album title of the year goes to Jay Rock, who made this album after surviving a brutal motorcycle accident. His TDE connections pay off with great contributions throughout the album, but quite frankly, Jay Rock is a rapper with amazing flow and voice, and he owns this album.

Jeff Rosenstock – “POST-” – This is easily my least favorite of Jeff’s solo records; it still made my list. Jeff gets more political on this record than previously, and although the end results are murky, there’s still some good to pull from. Also hi Jeff friends sorry again.

Judas Priest – “FIREPOWER” – 2018 was the 49th anniversary of Judas Priest. Not a typo! These dudes could’ve hung it up long ago but they still tour and put out solid music. This album doesn’t add much to the catalog but it still has some bangin songs. Here’s to the 50th year.

Kurt Vile – “Bottle It In” – It’s safe to say that Vile is the very best of the dudes who make music that doesn’t appeal to me. Jam rock isn’t my thing, but Vile has always added enough other influences to his music that even I find it palatable. His new album is no different.

Let’s Eat Grandma – “I’m All Ears” – This is a duo of British teen girls who have an understanding of electro-pop far beyond their years. Their second album is a danceable delight, but one with moments of sheer synth heaviness. This one didn’t miss my top 50 by much. Pay attention to these girls. Also, phenomenal band name.

Lil Wayne – “Tha Carter V” – I’m not super well-versed in Wayne’s music and I won’t claim to be, but he genuinely sounds refreshed and ready to go on this album, as if he’s pushed his demons past him. The last few years have been tough on Wayne but this is a triumphant record, and a great return to form.

Lil Yachty – “Lil Boat 2” – Yachty is one of the better rappers in this whole youth crowd, and his studio album was a generally enjoyable mix of emotions and styles. The short songs certainly aided Yachty, who blasts through many ideas at a lightning speed.

Marissa Nadler – “For My Crimes” – Nadler’s blend of goth and folk is always gorgeous, and this album is no different. “For My Crimes” isn’t necessarily for everyone but it is a great collection of dark, brooding folk songs, for those that want it.

Melvins – “Pinkus Abortion Technician” – This was admittedly a pretty half-baked effort from Melvins, who have lately opted for quantity over quality. Still, drafting Butthole Surfers’ member Jeff Pinkus into the band to do some covers – the best of which is “I Want to Hold Your Hand” – is a solid move.

Mudhoney – “Digital Garbage” – Meanwhile, the Mudhoney dudes are rocking like 1989 never stopped. Their new album is, in many ways, suitable for the times. It’s also a great rock record that reflects and reacts to many of the things going on in the music world today. Mudhoney: once great, still great.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – “Tearing at the Seams” – Just a solid blues-rock record, I’m a sucker for these. Know your audience.

Neckbeard Deathcamp – “White Nationalism Is For Basement Dwelling Losers” – Like Gaylord before, the antifa black metal scene erupted this year, also resulting in this amazingly-titled EP. It’s not quite as reformed as Gaylord’s work, but with song titles like “The Fetishization of Asian Women Despite a Demand For a Pure White Race,” there’s clearly a winner on the hands.

Neneh Cherry – “Broken Politics” – This album is pretty quiet and reflective, with some exceptions. Cherry, a legend, takes time for issues both personal and political, both of which she handles with a delicate eye. I did say exceptions, including one of my favorite songs of the year:

Nicki Minaj – “Queen” – Make no mistakes, this is an excellent rap album. It’s the ones that fans (myself included) lusted for after her teasingly-R&B heavy album “The Pinkprint.” This is Minaj the rapper, even if her personal conflicts of 2018 have plagued her record so as to make me less excited for her music.

Nile Rodgers/CHIC – “It’s About Time” – Damn right it was, the band’s first album since 1992 didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel but it did provide a vibing good time. Guest spots from Lunchmoney Lewis, Vic Mensa, Hailee Steinfield and, most notably, Lady Gaga, help cement this in the CHIC revival.

Paul McCartney – “Egypt Station” – Sir Paul doesn’t need to add anything extraordinary to his discography, and frankly he doesn’t. Unlike “New,” which saw some genuinely new direction, McCartney falls back on his roots – and that’s fine, because McCartney’s roots are as genuinely entertaining as anyone could image.

Peach Kelli Pop – “Gentle Leader” – Peach Kelli Pop is one of the best artists working in surf-pop today, but this album helped to add some diversity to her catalog, with a more diverse set of sounds, and some acoustic elements. Still, the vibrant and pure energy is not lost.

Phosphorescent – “C’est La Vie” – The offhand nature of the phrase “c’est la vie” sums up Phosphorescent’s meandering indie-folk very well. While no means as good as his last album, the outstanding “Muchacho,” there’s still plenty of warmth and pleasantries to go around, especially in these cold months.

Pig Destroyer – “Head Cage” – Though this album doesn’t hold the intensity of their previous full-length, “Book Burner,” few albums do. This is a more concise and thought-out Pig Destroyer, a band less afraid to take chances and make big decisions. It succeeds because of all these decisions, while maintaining at least some of their previous intensity.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – “King of Cowards” – Pigsx7 new album is mostly forwarded by the opening song and lead single, heard below. It’s a beast of a song, but the whole album (all six songs) follow in a similar trajectory of brutality.

Preoccupations – “New Material” – Beyond the clever album name, this is simply a solid work of moody post-hardcore that is reminiscent of their debut. It’s a tad lighter, especially with the vocals in harmonization instead of dissent. It’s a tad more accessible, but given the predecessors, it’s still some very dark stuff.

Pusha T – “DAYTONA” – Pusha T returned in a BIG way this year, breaking the news of Drake’s secret child. He prompted Drake to renew their feud with a (hindsight 20/20) limp diss on “DAYTONA.” Really, this short album exists partially as Drake bait, but it’s also one of the strongest and most enthusiastic releases of Pusha’s career. He’s a dark horse candidate for best figure in rap today, and “DAYTONA” only elevated that.

Single Mothers – “Through a Wall” – The album peters out by the end, but the A-side produced some of the year’s finest punk/post-hardcore, just a collection of ripping, amp-shaking tunes.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – “Sparkle Hard” – “Middle America,” the album’s first single, has arguably my favorite lyrics of the year. Much of the album has the sleepy and meandering tones of a late-career Malkmus, a man with nothing left to prove but many things left to muse on. Another great notch in a long career.

Sunflower Bean – “Twentytwo in Blue” – One of the year’s breakout twee indie bands also show a side that isn’t afraid to pump up the fuzz guitar, resulting in a very pleasantly well-rounded indie-pop album. Cute but loud!

Thou – “Magus” – One of the most prolific bands in metal is regularly releasing behemoths of both volume and song length; this year’s big offering was “Magus,” an uncompromising but not relentless attack of riffy sludge metal. Thou is both quantity and quality.

Titus Andronicus – “A Productive Cough” – The ambitious-to-a-fault punk band went largely acoustic for this affair. It wasn’t perfect, but the album’s loose, low-stakes feel is a nice palette cleanser to their last few heavy, concept records.

Tribulation – “Down Below” – The Swedish band has slowly ditched black metal music for more anthemic and straightforwarrock, while maintaining the imagery and vocals. It’s an interesting mix, one that sounds like a (much) more interesting Ghost.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Sex & Food,” “IC-01 Hanoi” – The former is a jazzy alternative album that is diverse in its instrumentation but not in its primary influences. The latter is a more ambitious, instrumental release inspired by avant-garde jazz. Both are equally great.

Vince Staples – “FM!” – This album feels like an idea Staples was toying around with and entered the studio to record, on a whim. But since it’s Staples, it’s still a complete and thrilling affair, packing a whole sum of ideas into a 22 minute concept record, complete with radio commercial breaks and all.

Witch Mountain – “Witch Mountain” – One of the best metal albums I stumbled across this year is this patient doom release from long-running up-and-comers Witch Mountain. Slow but thrilling, it’s all capped off by great vocals from newcomer Kayla Dixon.

………AND WITHOUT MUCH FURTHER ADIEU, I PRESENT THE TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2018:

#50. DILLY DALLY – “Heaven” – I don’t know how to classify this band. They’re certainly not metal, with the music often centering on the rock “crescendo building” songs perfected by the National, but with extremely gnarly vocals. Although the first track may be the most succinct, the whole album follows this format; it’s interesting and pearl-clutching.

#49. GØGGS – “Pre-Strike Sweep” – Ty Segall’s de-facto metal band put out a second release much better than their first, a somewhat fierce garage strike that…..okay it doesn’t sound a whole lot different than his other bands, just rougher production and quicker songs. But it’s loud and chaotic, and to be honest it rules.

#48. Mount Eerie – “Now Only” – I usually only have time to give albums one spin, but in the case of Mount Eerie, I can usually only *handle* one spin. This is an extension of his brutally honest 2017 release “A Crow Looked at Me,” which, if you don’t know the story behind it, please look it up. He doesn’t keep this album entirely acoustic, and he is healing, but it’s still a helluva gutpunch.

#47. High On Fire – “Electric Messiah” – Matt Pike had a busy year (see #12), with an excellent release from his more prolific band (a low bar to meet). The amazingly high-energy title track is a nod to Motorhead, but across the album is a more varying collection of thrash and doom metal, resulting in one of their most collective albums yet.

#46. MGMT – “Little Dark Age” – We all figured MGMT were done! Their first good album since their 2007 debut (and only fourth overall) is a simple, electro-pop album with some predictably dark elements. They’ve ditched the ambitions that fueled the first album and derailed the second in favor of simple but effective rhythms and consistently fitting vocals.

#45. Beach House – “7”- Beach House spend parts of their seventh album sticking their feet into shoegaze, which is a logical and welcome progression for the long-running dream-pop band. This release is a lot more eclectic and dark than previous albums, but still has the barebones repetition and fuzz-glaze that is trademark Beach House.

#44. Christine and the Queens – “Chris” – This is a powerful pop record, less Britney and more Kate Bush. The French singer incorporates some cultural music into some deep songs about personal identity and trauma that are relatable to many, often unfortunately. Still, there’s some fun to be had among the album’s poppier jams.

#43. Paul Simon – “In the Blue Light” – No new songs here, just a wonderful collection of lowkey, jazz reworkings of some of his older songs. The album is largely devoid of hits, with Simon clearly not gunning for a cash grab. Instead, it feels like he’s tying up some ideas that were never tied up when the songs were originally released. This is the quintessential rainy Sunday morning album.

#42. Pistol Annies – “Interstate Gospel” – The country supergroup of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley set a high bar for themselves simply by joining forces, but their third album combines all their respective ambitions into a solid set of country tunes devoted to love and lovers lost (but mostly the latter).

#41. Big Ups – “Two Parts Together” – Unfortunately, Big Ups are staring down a hiatus for personal growth. But what a way to leave us – with a constantly changing and evolving post-hardcore record that gives equal time to patient transitions as it does booming guitar tracks. It’s a cohesive record that showcases a band at their best, but also at their tired end. I happened to catch their penultimate show, RIP Big Ups.

#40. Anderson .Paak – “Oxnard” – Anderson is an extraordinary musician, rarely do you see an R&B singer who can sing so smoothly while also banging out some sick drums for himself. He does both on the album (albeit drums only occasionally), and he’s visited by legends from Q-Tip to Kendrick Lamar to Busta Rhymes. The album is a great time overall. While not as good as the predecessor, .Paak has nothing to prove and just has a great time in the studio, so why shouldn’t we?

#39. The Boxer Rebellion – “Ghost Alive” – The Boxer Rebellion have always had a limited maximum volume, so the fully acoustic release “Ghost Alive” is a natural progression of that. But this isn’t a downtrodden set. Many of these songs are pretty orchestrations, coupled with songs like leadoff track and lead single “What the Fuck,” a song that sets the tone for the album’s honest tone.

#38. The Damned – “Evil Spirits” – To be honest, I didn’t know the Damned were still around until a got a Facebook notification about an upcoming show (which absolutely *rocked*). Not only is this album good, it’s a great late addition to their stellar catalog. They don’t try to match the energy they still bring live, but rather deliver complex and complementary songs with rhythmic choruses and traditionally gothic and political lyrics.

#37. Hot Snakes – “Jericho Sirens”- This was a surprise and jubilant return for Hot Snakes, who delivered another record of quick and heavy (but not punishingly so) punk. There’s nothing revolutionary happening here, but the return to form for the long dormant band is a win in itself.

#36. Troye Sivan – “Bloom” – Troye Sivan spends this album sounding less like he cares about the production and the potential for radio hits and more about enthusiastically delivering these messages of love and hope. The fact that it has such slick production and radio hits seems like a nice bonus. Look no further than “The Good Side,” (below), a catchy song but one that features a dreamy, instrumental coda that isn’t exactly fit for pop radio.

#35. SOPHIE – “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” – This is a beautiful and anthemic pop record, and you shouldn’t let the avant-garde production convince you otherwise. This album touches on very important topics but it does so in a way that is so futuristic-ly inconceivable that it sounds like a an album Janelle Monae may have accidentally transported back to us from 2040.

#34. Blood Orange – “Negro Swan” – Dev Hynes is a shortlist candidate for most talented current musician, IMO, and “Negro Swan” is only a plus in his book. Though I don’t think he hit quite the diverse and political peak he got with “Freetown Sound,” “Negro Swan” is a strong and affecting collection of hope and trauma. Also, let’s just say this, I’m not the primary audience for this, he’s not making music for me, so the fact that I can glean appreciation of the situations never meant to be relatable to me is a testament to Hynes.

#33. illuminati hotties – “Kiss Yr Frenemies” – One of the best up and coming garage rock acts is the solo project of Sarah Tudzin, whose debut album is a purely delightful and fuzzy collection of tracks that sound well-worn. These are simply catchy rhythms captured with just enough guitar fuzz to really pull in the DIY feel that it deserves.

#32. Body/Head – “The Switch” – This is far from everyone’s cup of tea – in fact when I saw Body/Head this year in Allston, the 240 capacity venue was far from sold out. But the avant-garde guitar duo of Bill Nace and Kim Gordon – yes – have put out another set of patient but extremely loud, feedback-based guitar tracks. For anyone interested in the instrument itself, this is a sheer exercise in power. For people that like things like song structure and rhythm et al, less so. Also: see them live. My word.

#31. Superchunk – “What a Time to be Alive” – Oh believe me, the title is ironic. Political music kind of needed Superchunk and, after listening to this album, I think they kinda needed to fill the void. Some of their most directly punk-influenced music in years is fitting in what ended up being one of the only major political releases of the year. No new wheels here, but Superchunk still invoke the primal energy of their long-gone youthful days.

#30. Ariana Grande – “Sweetener” – Ariana is at the top of the world right now, and only because she demanded it so. I have nothing but respect for her for how she presents herself on “Sweetener” given the 18 months she’s had, and the fact that she’s already prepping a new release shows the true artistry in being able to reflect on her personal experiences – in the world’s public eye – in real time. But the fact that she not only got back into the studio but produced an album with many songs of optimism, even pop bangers? This is an album of sheer courage. One of my favorite songs of the year:

#29. Courtney Barnett – “Tell Me How You Really Feel” – Barnett ups the anger and the volume across much of her third solo album (which also complements the wonderfully lackadaisical duet album she did with Kurt Vile last year). While she rarely provides the unique vocal rhythms that made her first two albums such blessings, she still delivers a number of excellent guitar songs appropriate for any mood or volume.

#28. Snail Mail – “Lush” – Is it just me or are there a ton of teenagers running the music world right now? Between Soundcloud rap and the indie scene, the generation behind mine (gulp) is dominating, but few sound as weathered as Snail Mail across her debut album. “Lush” is full of muted but complete and poetic tales of love lost and deep despair, well beyond the years of most people at any age.

#27. Various Artists – “Music From or Inspired by Black Panther” – Could Kendrick Lamar follow-up his Pulitzer win (!!!!) with an Oscar win? It’s entirely possible, as this soundtrack serves as a creative victory lap for the current greatest act in music. While the concept of a soundtrack limits him in creativity, he still brings in tons of guest stars and creates a truly fun and wild ride, even on the songs he acts only as curator on.

#26-25. cupcaKke – “Ephorize” and “Eden” – cupcakKe is the chaotic good boost that is always needed, and her two equally great contributions in 2018 only cement her as one of the most thrilling, talented and downright entertaining acts working today. She’s incredibly – incredibly – profane, but only when she wants to be. “Ephorize” is anchored by a song called “Spoiled Milk Titties,” but the album’s best song is a clean track about cartoons. Her clean songs may go underappreciated amidst her sex boasts, but the combinations lead to surprisingly cohesive albums. Never stop, please.

#24. Travis Scott – “ASTROWORLD” – I was never aboard the Scott train before this album so apologies if this revelation is old news, but I didn’t know I needed prog-rap until this album. Scott’s total disregard for song structure is an absolute blessing, and it stands as something wholly necessary and unique. Not to mention, he bleeds confidence across the whole album, and he should, because he’s mastering this niche he’s carved out.

#23. Cardi B – “Invasion Of Privacy” – Cardi’s deeply problematic qualities aside, she’s a damn good rapper. Like she’s really good at this. This album could’ve been just throwaways to put alongside “Bodak Yellow,” but instead it’s twelve other tracks that are just as good. It’s like she threw a dart at the tracklist to see what would be the single. Her 90’s throwback spitfire vocals aid her brutal one-liners. This is just an uncompromising, but fun debut.

#22. The Dirty Nil – “Master Volume” – If someone tells you rock is dead, or punk is dead, point them to this album. This is good ol’ fashioned rock and roll with punk energy, and man do they do it well. I caught this group open for Against Me! in fall 2017 and made sure I checked them out further. Unlike most punk albums, this album actually ends spectacularly well – the last three tracks are my favorites of the whole album.

#21. Soccer Mommy – “Clean” – Like Snail Mail before, Soccer Mommy’s lowkey indie love and breakup anthems feel much louder than the volume allows. “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog,” she proclaims at the top of “Your Dog” (sorry, Iggy Pop). “Clean” isn’t here to play, even if the songs themselves sound warming and inclusive. Another great release from a seeming army of guitar-baring women conquering indie.

#20. boygenius – “boygenius” – Sometimes supergroups collapse under their weight, and sometimes they come out as boygenius. The heavenly pairing of Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers basically did exactly what people expected, which to say release a stunningly deep EP of six songs that feel cathartic and necessary.

#19. Foxing – “Nearer My God” – This album went sadly overlooked in 2018, because it’s filled with tracks that have precise and unpredictable structures, songs that constantly build and build to uncomfortable climaxes, and just about anything else you wouldn’t expect from such a band. This is an album for fans who appreciate music as a structure, not music as a sound.

#18. Yves Tumor – “Safe in the Hands of Love” – This is an uncomfortable album, in its abrasiveness. Electronic aural assaults are split among songs that sound like they could teeter on pop hits if it wasn’t for extra additives like background noise and abrupt key changes. More concisely, this is one of the best electronic albums of the year, one that challenges the ears but also challenges the listener to keep going. And you should, because the final track is the most intense and one of my favorites on the year.

#17. Kacey Musgraves – “Golden Hour” – Earlier in the year, someone on Twitter bemoaned that Musgraves wasn’t getting played on country radio. But she dismissed it, and she was right to – as much as this album has some traditional country songs, it also has some dance songs, so if anyone is looking for the proper midpoint between them, it won’t be found on traditional country radio. Her vocals dominate the whole album, for sure, but the album’s transitional mood of slow country into disco-pop is so weird and wonderful that you can’t hate any of it, unless you don’t like good moods.

#16. Nine Inch Nails – “Bad Witch” – This album created some *controversy* based on its length (read: purists being upset about purity things). Sure, it’s an album. It’s short (30 minutes dead), but the whole thing feels like a cohesive thought. Breakbeats are a bit of a new thing for Reznor, if not entirely outdated, but he uses them well across this album. As he does saxophone and instrumental tunes in general. This short album cuts the bloated qualities of most NIN releases and – don’t look now – results in arguably his best album since “The Downward Spiral.” Don’t @ me.

#15. Mitski – “Be the Cowboy” – Don’t let the ‘low’ rating here fool you, this album made me bawl like the little baby I am. Mitski’s grasp of power came with multiple admissions and denials of guilt across a simple but heart-spewing album. Mitski is one of the best pure musicians working today, and her anthems will fuel heartbreak for years to come.

#14. Parquet Courts – “Wide Awake” – One of the country’s best bands delivered again with a collection of songs that encompass mood over genre. The band’s garage-punk roots are present on the album, but they’re mixed with songs that incorporate elements from folk and even New Orleans jazz. As always, the lyrics are biting, but they bite off a bigger piece here, tackling larger political and social issues than the band is used to. They mostly succeed, taking on both those against the woke and the “woke” folks who do nothing but pat themselves on the back. It’s a crucial album for our time.

#13. Kate Nash – “Yesterday Was Forever” – It’s a great idea, IMO, to open your album with the screeching lyrics of “What’s wrong with me / Am I a person yet?” This moodiness and identity crisis sets the tone for the whole album, a blast of pop-rock that’s suffering from a constant millennial crisis of self-worth. Nash’s whole album is guitar-fuzz-pop beauty, supplemented by lyrics about lacking self-confidence and toxic relationships. Pretty songs may be interspersed with screechy vocals, or they may not, only the track decides. It’s a ride and, if it’s a relatable one for you, then a difficult one.

#12. Sleep – “The Sciences” – Honestly what else did we expect from the year 2018 than a surprise Sleep album on 4/20. Their first album in (arguably) fifteen years is a sheer exercise in severity, a collection of songs that absolutely pummels the listener, but never in the way that their previous, one-song album does. There’s almost a tongue-in-cheek quality to this album, but one that goes away immediately when you realize they’re singing about some serious issues (and, well, Geezer Butler). Sleep demands patience, and if you give it, then they’ll reward with one of the year’s best metal albums.

#11. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer” – Easily the most seductive and best R&B album of the year also featured multiple instances of Monáe’s improved rap skills. This album helped to re-identify her personae as a queer woman, solidifying that she is in fact a human and not a robot. Although she used her previous personae to mask her sexuality, she’s decided to let it out full force on “Dirty Computer.” We should be glad she did, Monáe is easily one of the best songwriters and performers in the business today, and her unflinching attitude towards the higher-ups in the industry only signify great things to come.

#10. Iron Reagan – “Dark Days Ahead” – I usually abstain from putting EP’s on these lists, since the limited offering can be a bit of an unfair advantage. This one feels especially unfair, as the total runtime is only 7:51 (shorter than three of the six songs on Sleep’s album). But this band has hit their absolute peak of blistering hardcore political punk. And though they’ve often been blunt and satirical, the final track “Watch You Die” is pretty genuinely emotional for a song with a 1:08 runtime.

#9. Thee Oh Sees – “Smote Reverser” – I discovered this band a number of years ago and liked some of their blunter guitar songs, but never got too into them – until I saw them live this year. They had a callous-inducing set at Boston Calling that was better than St. Vincent, my favorite live artist. It also helps that the band, which started as a lo-fi project 19 albums ago, has slowly transitioned into metal-infused garage rock. Sludgy and prog elements are infused in the longer tracks, but it’s the quicker guitar bursts that really drive the album.

#8. Robyn – “Honey” – This album doesn’t waste any time with the opener “Missing U,” a heartbreak ode that actually makes the listener feel sympathetic rather than empathetic. After that, it’s all classic Robyn – pop songs of love and loss that don’t exactly break any ground, but are presented with the pure fearlessness of Robyn. On her first album in eight years, she sings like she has nothing to lose. With many fans remaining by her side patiently, she actually didn’t have much to gain – but you wouldn’t guess it.

#7. Fucked Up – “Dose Your Dreams” – In a different year this album may have gotten the reception that “David Comes To Life” did in 2011; unfortunately it got shuffled under the other amazing releases. But the experimental hardcore band proved that “Glass Boys” aside, they can still deliver a classic. This album, much like “David,” is extremely long and conceptual, as well as both eardrum-burstingly loud yet musically diverse. The album has 18 tracks and nearly every one feels individual from each other one. Apologies to Titus Andronicus, but Fucked Up are the best concept record makers of today.

#6. Birds In Row – “We Already Lost the World” – Though this hardcore/punk band aren’t exactly veterans, they sure sound like it on their second album. The album has an urgency reserved for regular hardcore, but with timed, patient moments to catch your breath. Mix that in with some topically observational lyrics and the whole package is a spectacularly well-rounded affair that isn’t quite as depressing as the title suggests, but still packs a lot menacing punches in a 34 minute frame.

#5. Neko Case – “Hell-On” – Someone referred to Case as this generation’s Dylan, and in a way I agree – a consistently impressive folk lyricist, who can both take on dark, complicated issues with meandering or brooding songs, and pump out songs closer to traditional folk that still stand above those of contemporaries. And Case can hold these views for many albums. Her seventh album covers these bases and what lies between, a mix of emotions and topics, but all with the same intimacy and vulnerability. One of my favorite songs of the year:

#4. Ty Segall – “Freedom’s Goblin” – I sat on this album for a bit, because of the runtime. Segall is a garage rocker at heart, so a 74 minute runtime is a but surprising. But nothing can be cut from this behemoth, all 19 tracks add at least something to the album. The album’s best song is actually a Hot Chocolate cover (below), but the original ones certainly hold their own. It’s tough to narrow down some favs from this one, as the album delivers mostly fuzzy guitar attacks, with a few well-placed (and well-written) acoustic numbers too. For what it’s worth, this was Segall’s first of six (!) releases in 2018 (including GØGGS at #49)

#3. JPEGMAFIA – “Veteran” – The album title here serves double duty – Peggy sounds like a noise-rap veteran in the truest sense, and actually is a veteran, which influences the politics present here too. To keep in mind – this is not an album for everyone. At times it straddles conventional rap, but it often diverges into incredibly abrasive, and/or avant garde territory. On “Whole Foods,” he raps over a beat that sounds like a motorcycle engine. Human voices are often repeated as the beat as well. And his lyrics are very direct and tongue-in-cheek throughout. The song “My Thoughts on Neogaf Dying” consists almost entirely of the line “I don’t care.” Elsewhere, he namechecks everyone from Kanye to Mick Foley, all while subverting just about every rap cliche in the book.

#2. Daughters – “You Won’t Get What You Want” – Another album title that pulls a heavy duty, albeit not a double meaning – this is a new Daughters. They got their start in grindcore, but all these years later (and eight years removed from their last album), they’ve re-emerged as an entirely new force. While grindcore can be startling, the feeling leaves immediately. This is an album of terror, some of the most skin-crawling songs recorded in a while. “City Song” starts with a soft but pounding synth and snare hits made to sound like gunshots; it ends with the album’s loudest dissonant synth rhythm and a man’s bloody screams made into a rhythm. Sets the tone! The album never really lets up in its tonal exploration, challenging the listener on nearly every song, like a game that no one will win. Again – not for everyone. Though not my fav, I talked a lot about it so “City Song” is below.

#1. IDLES – “Joy as an Act of Resistance.” – Almost any other year and the night sweat of Daughters would’ve made #1, but IDLES released an album that speaks to me to my core. It’s not really hardcore punk, but it does have an edge, especially in opener “Colossus.” Everything about this album works. I have fallen in love with all twelve songs. I appreciate any album that has both the lyrics “For a long old while I’ve known I’m scum” and “badda badda bing, i’m the king.” My two moods! Joe Talbot’s vocals are uniquely fit for this band, and they really dominate the whole album. This helps further the lyrics, which cover a wide range of topics from toxic masculinity to immigration to being a leftist to (unfortunately) a stillborn birth to, uh, why you should never fight a man with a perm. This album is just a whole, completely-rounded listen that weaves through emotions and topics with the flow of a concept record but absolutely isn’t – just a sheer punk whirlwind where you can hear and appreciate the patience put into every single song. Damn. Here’s “Samaritans”

Sorry this took so long! It’s already midway into January so I’m not doing a songs one, no one reads this anyways, have a good year! Gonna actually post this year, I hope.

Advertisements

My Favorite Albums of 2017

Okay, let’s start this post off by saying that this list was *very* difficult to do, for four reasons. 1) There were *so* many good albums this year that it was tough to keep track of, and the fact that it was across all genres made it impossible to compare albums. 2) Some of these albums I loved early in the year and then totally forgot about until I looked at my yearly list, and with my limited time, I cannot relisten to all of them. 3) I didn’t do too well keeping up this year, and there are well over 100+ albums on my list that I didn’t get to, including some from artists I have loved for years. I just don’t have time! 4) I found some good obscure records this year, but unfortunately they got lost in the ether and I only remembered some of them because I did a terrible job cataloguing stuff this year.

That out of the way, here’s my Top 50 Albums of the Year:

#50. Crystal Fairy – “Crystal Fairy”

Why It Bangs – One of two heavy-as-hell supergroups this year (ahead of Dead Cross, who didn’t quite make this list), the combination of Teri Gender Bender (La Butcherettes), Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (At The Drive In, Mars Volta), Buzz Osborne and and Dale Crover (both of Melvins fame) produced a tough, heavy album that both challenges modern rock while giving in to the craving listeners.

Key Tracks: “Drugs on the Bus,” “Bent Teeth”

#49. At the Drive In – “in•ter a•li•a”

Why It Bangs – The band’s first album since 2000’s legendary “Relationship of Command” was a surprise, especially after their original reunion tour fell apart. Although this album doesn’t come close to the legacy of that album (if not tarnishing it), the post-hardcore legends still have some fight left in them. The album does not live up to the legacy, but it’s still an especially noisy, raucous affair, made all the more pertinent by the quick reckoning of awful male celebrities. It’s like 2017, the album. Also, we’re 2:2 in Omar Rodriguez-Lopez albums so far.

Key Tracks: “Continuum,” “Governed By Contagions”

#48. Converge – “The Dusk In Us”

Why It Bangs – The Monday after this album was released, a co-worker (who has cited Converge as his favorite band) told me that the album combines many of their previous influences into one. He was absolutely right. This album has Converge acting out both their most immediate and most drawn-out impulses. The title track is almost like a rubber band being pulled back, and the subsequent tracks are the paper being flinged.

Key Tracks: “Eye of the Quarrel,” “The Dusk In Us”

#47. Depeche Mode – “Spirit”

The electro-alternative legends respond to America’s politics brightly, with an album full of music and lyrics that are more politically urgent than the band has sounded in years. This could have to do with them telling off a big fan, and rightfully so. This album was the maybe the political album the year needed – one that was vague enough that the alt-right could adopt it, only for the band to absolutely slam-dunk on them, because they’re total leftists. Genius.

Key Tracks: “Where’s the Revolution,” “Cover Me”

#46. Migos – “Culture”

The mumble-rap superstars didn’t just break through in 2017, they had one of the biggest songs of the year. And “Bad & Boujee” isn’t just a fluke, because the trio capitalized on an album that is just as rapid-fire and entertaining from start to finish. 2017 saw rap break off into a few unexpected territories (more on that later), but Migos are surely going to be one of the long-lasters.

Key Tracks: “T-Shirt,” “Bad & Boujee”

#45. Blondie – “Pollinator”

Blondie’s eleventh album doesn’t need to be this good, but it is. They basically outsourced the album, with many of the best tracks being written by younger artists or covers of other songs. Still, this sounds like premium Blondie, with the pop-rock of new-wave sounding no less energetic than it did in 1977.

Key Tracks: “Doom or Destiny,” “Fragments”

#44. Feist – “Pleasure”

Feist’s first new album in six years was a beautifully minimalist affair, one where it seemed like the traditionalist pop elements were removed in favor of just guitar and vocals. The album’s outward minimalism felt more consequential than intentional, which added a whole element. It is indie-pop at its most diluted form.

Key Tracks: “A Man Is Not His Song,” “Century (feat. Jarvis Cocker)”

#43. Kesha – “Rainbow”

Kesha’s comeback album was one of many emotions – anger, combativeness, joy, pride, and defeat. After Kesha’s unfortunate and incorrect loss with her legal battle with her producer, Dr. Luke, fans wouldn’t put it past her to put out some garbage to fulfill her contract. Instead, she released an album of beautiful pop ballads, rock-heavy jams and country-inspired tracks to show how Kesha wasn’t going to be ignored at all, but rather accepted for what she is. #Freekesha

Key Tracks: “Praying,” “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)

#42. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – “Lotta Sea Lice”

A match that sounded great on paper sounded great on tape too, with America’s greatest garage-rock dude meeting up with Australia’s best grunge-rock goddess. Their album together makes a ton of sense, and while it doesn’t exactly improve on each other’s sound, it still serves a mission statement for what each person does best. It’s just a delightful album of two minds meeting face-to-face. If you like both or even one of them, you’ll enjoy.

Key Tracks: “Over Everything,” “Continental Breakfast”

#41. Foo Fighters – “Concrete and Gold”

There isn’t much to say about Foo Fighters to make them sound either interesting or not. That said, their new album is one of their better ones, perhaps their best since their great “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.” Their new album rocks harder than most of their recent releases, and even the radio-friendly songs like “The Sky is a Neighborhood” sound more equipped for the 90’s then they do now.

Key Tracks: “Run,” The Sky is a Neighborhood” (the singles lol)

#40. Sheer Mag – “Need To Feel Your Love”

People who say that punchy rock is dead have many bands to discover – least of all Sheer Mag. The band’s blend of seventies rock, punk and hints of thrash result in an album that knows when to step on the gas pedal, while still allowing for patient melodies. The riffs rip and the vocals will get stuck in your head, the best of both worlds.

Key Tracks: “Meet Me in the Street,” “Expect the Bayonet”

#39. The Mountain Goats – “Goths”

John Darnielle’s concept album could’ve easily been the heaviest Mountain Goats album, but instead he let it be one of the lightest. The album features no guitars at any point, focusing solely on piano, bass and vocals. It’s an interesting approach for an album focused on goth music and goth culture, but it works, bringing a terror into tracks like “Rain in Soho” and the total opposite in the jazzy “Shelved.” It’s the second straight “theme” album from the Goats, and an easy improvement over “Beat the Champ.”

Key Tracks: “Rain in Soho,” “Paid in Cocaine”

#38. Lil Uzi Vert – “Luv is Rage 2”

After internationally-known rappers began turning inwards and addressing their own issues with mental illness, addiction et al., the rise of emo-rap seemed inevitable. But the speed in which it came – and quality – was astounding. Vert is one of two emo-rappers on this list younger than me, and the youthful energy and chronicles of deep issues affecting young people are on full display. That he had a massive hit off this album that is directly threatening talks to the future of rap.

Key Tracks: “UnFazed (feat. The Weeknd),” “XO TOUR Llif3”

#37. Gary Numan – “Savage (Songs From a Broken World)”

Despite the Hot Topic title, Numan still has a natural knack for songwriting. If “Cars” is the only thing you know, though, then you won’t be as into this. This album is packed with heavy synth blasts at deafening volumes, matched only by his pained vocals and lyrics. Numan encompasses every bit of the goth image he created in the 80’s, and he soldiers on in pain to this day. Give him some support.

Key Tracks: “My Name is Ruin,” “When the World Comes Apart”

#36. Lana Del Rey – “Lust For Life”

Taking queues from classic rock and Coachella, Lana’s fifth official album couples her bleakest and most romantic ideas together for once, for an album that sounds unexpectedly fit for 2017. Her voice sounds great throughout, naturally, but the blending of vocals across the different lyrical ideas gives the album a whole deeper, puzzling meaning.

Key Tracks: “Love,” “When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing”

#35. Arch Enemy – “Will to Power”

One of the best metal albums of the year comes from mainstays Arch Enemy, an album full of expertly-produced, anthemic heavy metal that sounds too powerful for this world. Alissa White-Gluz’s vocals throughout the album are incredible, while the musicians behind her sound more locked in than ever. Not innovative or revolutionary, just a thrilling ride start to finish.

Key Tracks: “The World Is Yours,” “The Eagle Flies Alone”

#34. Japanese Breakfast – “Soft Sounds From Another Planet”

The tonal opposite of Arch Enemy is lo-fi project Japanese Breakfast, alias of Michelle Zauner. Her second album under the name is a totally sultry but somber release that never gets high in decibels. Zauner’s voice is gorgeous, and it mixes with the lo-fi music perfectly. It’s one of those albums perfect for disappearing into when you need to hide from the world for a little bit.

Key Tracks: “Road Head,” “Jimmy Fallon Big!”

#33. Drake – “More Life”

Okay, technically this was a “playlist” or whatever. But it’s Drake’s best release in years, and a welcome relief. I am of the opinion that Drake’s last three releases (counting the corpse with Future) were total duds start to finish. He corrected his biggest error – boring music. This album, though often questionably appropriative, features interesting and diverse music throughout, from pan flutes to island synths. Also, Drizzy himself is more patient, letting the music take the attention sometimes. It’s a great – and unpredictable – Drake album.

Key Tracks: “Passionfruit,” “Portland”

#32. Jay-Z – “4:44”

Hova’s best album in a long time came as an apology for the cheating addressed on Beyoncé’s classic “Lemonade,” as well as an acceptance of family, love and black culture. He packs it all into a surprisingly tight album that trims all unnecessary fat.

….okay, look. I don’t have Tidal and I’m not really down with illegal downloading. I only heard this album once when I happened to catch a full stream on Sirius radio. It’s really good, like really good. But I don’t remember it very well.

Key Tracks: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

#31. Sylvan Esso – “What Now”

A simple, sleek and affecting indie-pop album that hits every target from a couple’s first dance to backing off from a planned suicide. Each track here is deceivingly simple, with basic and often quiet music complementing Amelia Meath’s great vocals. But the lyrics pack many punches, and the music’s simplicity ends up being great hooks boiled down to their most catchy, fundamental core. This is an album that sounds forgettable on first listen – but still somehow demands another.

Key Tracks: “Die Young,” “Just Dancing”

#30. Los Campesions! – “Sick Scenes”

Though far from their greatest work, the now-veterans of indie-pop know how to make a listener feel loved, pleased and desperately alone all at once. It’s a trick few have mastered, but they’ve been doing it on practically every song for a decade. They continue on one of their better albums, and a welcome continuation of their excellent 2013 album, “No Blues.”

Key Tracks: “I Broke Up in Amarante,” “5 Flucloxacillin”

#29. Khalid – “American Teen”

One of three excellent R&B debuts on this list, Khalid’s album is an inexplicably great look at the fragility of teen life – partying mixed with pain (he is only 19, after all). His voice is smooth but the songs are often rocky, with unsure lyrics and uncertain tones, a sonic mirror of the fear teens feel about their own futures. This is about as good as R&B can get, made all the more impressive by Khalid’s age and limited output.

Key Tracks: “Young, Dumb & Broke,” “Another Sad Love Song”

#28. Lil Peep – “Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1”

Easily the most ominous album title of 2017. Also likely the shortest album on this list, Peep’s debut ‘album’ clocks in at 23 minutes. Like the aforementioned Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep is an emo-rapper, although he embraced the emo more than the rap. These are guitar-based tracks, and some of them are straight rock songs. But Peep’s lyrics about taking drugs to party and taking drugs to cope transcend both genres into a brisk, emotional and all-too-short debut work. Peep passed away exactly three months after this release.

Key Tracks: “The Brightside,” “Problems”

#27. SZA – “CTRL”

Another great R&B debut came, finally. “CTRL” was in the pipeline for a long time and SZA was barely able to release it. But are we all glad she did. She takes the best parts of Solange’s sultry music and Drake’s “are we friends or lovers” lyrics and transforms them into R&B that feels both completely new but still familiar. The best R&B toys with the formula, and that’s exactly what SZA does across her debut.

Key Tracks: “The Weekend,” “Drew Barrymore”

#26. Thundercat – “Drunk”

What do you expect when hear the phrase “jazz-bassist?” Whatever you expect, it’s here. Acid-jazz freakouts? Check. Smooth ballads? Check. Lyrics about making love? Check. Lyrics about Dragonball-Z? Check. Kendrick Lamar feature? Check. Kenny Loggins feature? Check. It’s all here. This is a wild and unpredictable trip from the first note to the last, and it’s a ton of fun along the way.

Key Tracks: “Uh Uh,” “Show Me the Way (feat. Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald)”

#25. Fever Ray – “Plunge”

Fever Ray’s second album came out of nowhere, released shortly after it was announced in October. The album is an exploration through ambient and dance, rarely letting up on beat but fluctuating in intensity. Personally, I think the album is at its best when Karin Dreijer goes all in on volume and lets loose, but there isn’t a wasted moment here. This album is club-ready out of the oven.

Key Tracks: “IDK About You,” “To the Moon and Back”

#24. Sampha – “Process”

…and the third amazing R&B debut of the year comes from songwriting phenom Sampha, who has finally branched out on his own after writing songs for everyone you love. His album “Process,” if you can even call it R&B, is a purely spellbinding work of minimalist piano & vocal work. The album is Sampha dealing with the death of his mother, inviting us along for the, well, process. Beautiful lyrics mix with even more beautiful music into one of the emotional works of the year. There isn’t a wasted second on this one.

Key Tracks: “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” “Timmy’s Prayer”

#23. Winds of Plague – “Blood of My Enemy”

Much like Sylvan Esso a few spots earlier, this is a group I stumbled onto on Sirius radio (I promise I’m not sponsored). If the band/album names don’t imply, they’re a heavy metal group, and one that rips hard with multiple singers. They use their multiple singers for gang vocals on huge, arena songs in a way that feels obvious but is always underused. If you think heavy metal should just be fun, then this is your band.

Key Tracks: “Blood of My Enemy,” “Never Alone”

#22. Charli XCX – “Number 1 Angel” & “Pop 2”

Alright so this is two releases, I get that, but they’re both 10 song mixtapes so putting them together as one isn’t unreasonable, right? Whatever, Charli XCX is one of our most innovative pop singers right now, and she shows it across these tapes that both embrace and eschew pop conventions, often in the same track. She had a busy 2017, considering her best song of the year, “Boys,” isn’t even on either of these releases. Also, shoutout to “Lipgloss” for being maybe the dirtiest song of the year.

Key Tracks: “Babygirl (feat. Uffie),” “Lipgloss (feat. CupcakKe)” & “Backseat (feat. Carly Rae Jepsen),” “Delicious (feat. Tommy Cash)”

#21. Harry Styles – “Harry Styles”

The former One Directioner totally switched gears after his group went on hiatus, releasing an album of fun, seventies-inspired pop-rock. It’s clear he’s been listening to a lot of Eagles and Fleetwood Mac here, which is not an insult. It’s not music that hasn’t been heard before, but it’s fun throughout, and it’s interesting to see a musician do the music that he has clearly wanted to do for a while.

Key Tracks: “Song of the Times,” “Only Angel”

#20. Foxygen – “Hang”

One of the more ambitious indie-rock groups thriving now is Foxygen, who style themselves more after early, chaotic Rolling Stones than anything else. Their album quality has fluctuated, but this album, a baroque odyssey that often seems like one long suite, is certainly one of their best (though “21st Century” remains in my all-time top 5). It is chaos set to an orchestra – a calculated, patient chaos that also remains catchy as all hell.

Key Tracks: “Follow the Leader,” “America”

#19. Perfume Genius – “No Shape”

By this point it’s safe to assume that any Perfume Genius album will end up on any Best Of list. Mike Hadreas is a machine, and this 13-track album feels like so much more and so much less at the same time. He is a master at pop-adjacent tracks that aim to depress, scare, or deeply fulfill the listener. This album has an almost incoherent flow, in the best way – his every turn is unpredictable, but always dark, and we’re along for his turmoil.

Key Tracks: “Otherside,” “Choir” Slip Away is great but these are my favorites!!

#18. Roger Waters – “Is This the Life We Really Want?”

Like a pirate ship following a leader, the rise of the dormant Trump led to the rise of the dormant Waters. The ex-Floyd singer delivered his first rock album in over 20 years, but he hasn’t missed any signals. Waters has always been one of the most anti-fascist men in rock, and he puts world leaders on full display here. Tracks like “Picture This” imagine a world without inequality – with specific lyrics. Still, Waters finds time a three-track outro separate from the rest of the album, a tender love suite.

Key Tracks: “Picture This,” “Is This the Life We Really Want?”

#17. Fleet Foxes – “Crack-Up”

The 2008 indie youth in me was completely reinvigorated by this album, the band’s first album in six years. Compared to their first two (excellent) albums, it is sharply more experimental, much the same turn that Bon Iver has taken. But unlike Bon Iver’s recent album, this doesn’t feel the need to challenge the listener, just bring them on a spiritual and musical journey that’s as every bit gorgeous as experimental. It demands multiple listens – but they’re all peaceful.

Key Tracks: “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” “If You Need to, Keep Time on Me”

#16. Code Orange – “Forever”

Easily the most innovative metal album I listened to this year, the folks in Code Orange manage to find a way to fuck up every song they perform. By that, I mean this album feels like a bunch of conventional songs with a bunch of oddities added to them, like random bouts of dissonance, unexpected tempo changes and sudden feedback. This whole album is a fever dream and a nightmare all in one, but also supremely entertaining.

Key Tracks: “Kill the Creator,” honestly just pick one, all of these songs bleed together so wildly

#15. Pissed Jeans – “Why Love Now”

It’s tough to be a male feminist, in some ways? It’s easy to point out the wrongdoings in others, but rarely do allies point out the wrongdoings in themselves. Pissed Jeans are, far and away, the best male feminists in music – they call on all men, themselves included, for their ways. They’ve always done this, but they double down on this album, inspired by other, awful men. It helps that Matt Korvette’s throat-full-of-whiskey vocals bring in the Motorhead listeners, and the band’s post-punk, intense music keep them. The band’s frequently intense sound might deceivingly influence some listeners yet.

Key Tracks: “The Bar Is Low,” “Ignorecam”

#14. The National – “Sleep Well Beast”

Although I love the National with all my heart, their template was getting a little old. So I’m very glad they switched it up a bit, and made it a little (just a little) more fun here. For one thing, this album has guitar solos, unheard of in previous, tightly-knit National albums, as well as less repetitive choruses. It also has Matt Berninger hitting higher vocals, and the band doing one pure, amp-wrecking tune in “Turtleneck.” Still, the band puts out many slower jams, and they’re as beautiful as ever.

Key Tracks: “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness,” “Guilty Party”

#13. Björk – “Utopia”

This is, and I truly mean this, a gorgeous album. There is no other way to take this album in then with headphones plugged in, nothing on your screen and your eyes closed for an hour. The album exists within nature, and by that I mean there are constant clips of birds that make this piece feel like it should be within a forest. Björk is a truly unbelievable artist, and even if this work is just another notch on her record, its still one of the best albums of the year.

Key Tracks: “Utopia,” “Losss”

#12. Slowdive – “Slowdive”

A mere 22 years after their last record, the British shoegaze band decided to release another. Many shoegaze bands have been faltering in their reunions, but Slowdive’s proved to be fruitful, with one of the most pleasing and promising albums of the decade. Although operating in a genre built around guitar distortion, they have a sound that is much more plentiful and fulfilling than their peers. This album feels like medicine when you’re sick on a summer day – an urge to soak up the sun’s rays, even with the consequences.

Key Tracks: “Star Roving,” “Sugar For the Pill”

#11. Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic”

A Texas thrash metal group finally got their comeuppance late in the year – when FOX News inexplicably used a soundclip during their toxic program “The Five.” How and why this happened is a mystery, but it at least opened the gate for the group to dunk on the network. In reality, the band released the best metal album of the year – a pure thrash sentence full of brutal, simple riffs and wild solos. It wasn’t just the best metal album of the year – it’s one for the ages.

Key Tracks: “Firing Squad,” “Nightmare Logic”

#10. Queens of the Stone Age – “Villains”

Listen, I’m still figuring out my place with QOTSA. The incident with the reporter hit me hard, especially considering QOTSA have not only been one of my very favorite bands for 10+ years, but that I finally got to see them after all this time. It was an ugly incident, and shouldn’t be disregarded, and I need to remove this band from my life, I know, but it’s difficult. It’s a difficult thing to do because their music has always been there for me and I genuinely had a lot of faith in Josh Homme, but I’m not so sure now. Also this album bangs start to finish but honestly, I’m not sure about the group any more.

Key Tracks: “Head Like A Haunted House” and “The Evil Has Landed” but if you have less of an attachment, then nothing

#9. Bully – “Losing”

An album devoted to losing a relationship! This post-punk mess is a real nightmare of intense music and screamy vocals from Alice Bognanno that never feels outright loud and abrasive but also never feels quite at home either. It is more uncomfortable than their first album, while remaining within the realms of indie-rock and post-punk. The album is a seamless ode to someone unseen, and the damage that person has done. It’s a painful record, but one that has a pain for everyone. Damn, does this album make you feel.

Key Tracks: “Feel the Same” “Running”

#8. Susanne Sundfør – “Music For People in Trouble”

Susanne Sundfør’s previous album was a dark and mysterious pop album that used strings and heavy synths liberally. To follow it, she released an album consisting largely of just her and acoustic guitar. This album hits depths unavailable on Sundfør’s previous works, since she could often buttress her voice with other instrumentation. Here, she is mostly alone, singing and strumming, hitting emotional depths unattainable on her previous records. It is an entirely unexpected side from a current Norwegian queen, and even if I was looking forward to more synth-blasting pop, it is a welcome exchange.

Key Tracks: “The Sound of War,” “Mountaineers (feat. John Grant)”

#7. St. Vincent – “MASSEDUCTION”

Yeah I read it as “mass education” too Indie’s best current artist finally lets it all on the table, in the celebrity-tormenting freakout that is “MASSEDUCTION,” the album she’s hinted at for years but never gone for. It’s a mind-meld of synth and guitar bursts, around lyrics focusing on loss, regret, and the toxicity and fakeness of ‘celebrity culture.’ It’s far more expansive in its genre-busting than her previous works, and although it might not be her best, it’s certainly the most ambitious St. Vincent album. It switches emotions on a dime and wow does it hit them all successfully.

Key Tracks: “Pills,” “Los Ageless”

#6. METZ – “Strange Peace”

The loudest band I’ve ever seen live (St. Vincent is #2) rebounds after a ho-hum sophomore album with this blinding mess. Both of METZ’s first two albums start at volume 12 (“Headache” and “Acetate” remain two of their best songs), and “Mess of Wires” kicks this album off like a lethal rollercoaster. The post-punk band falls into their natural groove, waning between fast-and-catchy and fast-and-noisy, and the flow is a lot better than it was on “METZ II.” This isn’t music for everyone, but if it’s your thing, then METZ have proved themselves one of the best noise bands around today.

Key Tracks: “Mess of Wires,” “Cellophane”

#5. Vince Staples – “Big Fish Theory”

Across EP’s and studio albums, Staples is 4 for 4. This album works to totally subvert the introspective nature of his previous work, EP “Prima Donna,” by looking and criticizing outwards towards rap culture. He doesn’t necessarily remove himself from his criticism and satire (though does sometimes), and he wavers through points. But his points hit hard and his beats hit loud. These songs sound club-made if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re also insulting the clubs that would play them. Staples is a force to reckon with, and his star power is only increasing.

Key Tracks: “Yeah Right,” “Bagbak”

#4. Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.”

After the other-worldly opus that was “To Pimp a Butterfly,” K-Dot needed to make a more back-to-basics album. He not only did so, but he still managed to make it a present all in its own. The album is filled with songs mostly shorter than those from “Butterfly,” quick, lyric-heavy jams that burst through the speakers, demanding a higher volume. It’s a surprise that Lamar isn’t screaming these lyrics at the intensity that he delivers them. But it is a much simpler album – basic, dirty beats and straight-forward lyrics about his upbringing rather than long-winded poems. Still, Lamar is an artist, and he couldn’t hold back – he re-released the album with the tracklist inverted for a totally different experience.

Key Tracks: “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.”

#3. Mount Eerie – “A Crow Looked at Me”

I talk a lot in this list about noise & experimentation, but music doesn’t need that – sometimes it just needs a grieving voice and an acoustic guitar. The story of this album is so sad that I don’t want to write about it again, but I will quickly. Phil Elverum lost his wife Geneviève Castrée to cancer mid-2016, not long after she had given birth to the couple’s sole child. This album is a borderline-concept record, with Elverum mulling over his grieving process in real time. This isn’t an act – these songs were written and recorded in this order and they never beg for sympathy. He used his late wife’s instruments to record the album, and he recorded it all in the room she died in, which adds a whole new, sad dimension to it. Basically, go into this album expecting to cry and expecting not to learn any lessons about anything.

Key Tracks: “Real Death,” “Toothbrush/Trash”

#2. Lorde – “Melodrama”

Easily my favorite pop album of the year went to Lorde, who weathered the general ennui of 2017 well. Although her album was mainly targeted at young folks, the lyrics about doomed relationships and friendships et al. strike a chord with any age group. And while her (phenomenal) debut album saw her sticking to a distinct lo-fi sound, this album sees her expand everywhere from club pop to industrial. Her debut was focused on the music, this is focused on the album – what can Lorde do in one release that touches on so many different points succinctly? The answer is “Melodrama,” a pop work for the ages.

#1. Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels 3”

Spotify told my three most played songs from this year were tracks 3-5 of this album, in order. I believed it. I especially love Run the Jewels because the group takes two veteran, underground rappers and pits them with each other to make the best possible music that they can. And, much like their first two albums, they don’t waste a bar. This album is more big beats and boasts than before, and less political, but there is still a healthy balance. It’s a longer album too, and the duo take a lot of time to flex with their newfound fame. Everything about this album works amazingly, and I find myself listening to tracks from it on a daily basis. The flow is amazing, and the consistent quality of their lyrics – whether they’re sharply political or comically boastful – is almost unprecedented. The fact that it came out so early in the year is definitely a factor but for now, RTJ3 is my favorite album of the year.

Key Tracks: “Legend Has It,” “Call Ticketron”

Well, thanks for tuning in! I’ll be jumping back into reviews soon I hope. If you disagree with anything here then, well, I don’t really care. This is my opinion and yours is as valid as mine. Let’s just go our own separate ways. If you aren’t annoyed by this then, cheers to still reading my garbage in 2018!

My Favorite Songs of 2017

Hey all, it’s that time of year again. No don’t go away, this might be interesting, really! It’s that time of year again where I talk about my favorite songs and albums of the year. No? Okay well for the three of you still reading, here’s my favorite songs of the year. I had a lot to say about this year but I basically said it all over at The Filtered Lens, where I put on a critical, uh, lens on and talked about the best albums and songs of the year (and did not contribute to best movies and shows, but you should read those too). For now, though, here’s the music I truly loved, regardless of quality.

Top 52 Songs of 2017: #52-27, alphabetical order

All That Remains – “Safe House” – One of the heaviest songs of the year, with frequent tempo changes and a phenomenal breakdown. All That Remains kick their album off with an absolute firestarter of a song.

At the Drive In – “Continuum” – The best vocal track on the band’s comeback album shows that, despite what other critics say, Cedric Bixler-Zavala hasn’t missed a beat. Vocal hard rock for the ages.

Bjork (feat. Arca) – “Losss” – A pure sonic overload with both pleasant bird noises and pounding drums, it places the listener in a universe – but what kind of universe is it? (Note: want to make so many loss.jpg jokes but won’t)

Charli XCX (feat. CupcakKe) – “Lipgloss” – Arguably the dirtiest song of the year also has one of the strongest featured verses, from up-and-cumming rapper CupcakKe. The song is about, well, using a dude’s ejaculate as lipgloss. No way to sugarcoat that. Except in the way that the song suggests. *cough*

Foo Fighters – “Run” – One of the best hard rock songs of the year, The Foos kick high energy into their music when it was the most devoid of it. One of the heaviest and most thrilling songs in their discography.

Iced Earth – “Seven Headed Whore” – Alright the name is off-putting, but Stu Block shrieks like almost no one else in metal, and his vocals are on full display in this blistering metal track. Their whole album was great, but this song ripped the hardest.

Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.” – Lamar’s most incendiary track to date is an absolute barnburner of rhymes and vocal intensity. He had a point to prove with “DAMN.” and even if it wasn’t the best track, he proved it best here. This song causes pure whiplash. Also: Don Cheadle!

Kreator – “Satan Is Real” – Thrash metal legends Kreator have nothing left to prove and indeed, their album didn’t prove much. Still, it contributed fierce single “Satan Is Real.” Kreator, legends still great beyond their years. Side note: If you ever run into John Darnielle, ask him to tell his Kreator story, it’s a doozy.

Lil Uzi Vert – “XO TOUR LIF3” – One of the darkest, heaviest rap songs of the year also happened to be one of the biggest. Although the song is about a break-up, the openly suicidal lyrics hit hard against the plain delivery. It’s a spine-chiller. This may be the future of rap, and if so, we’re in for a spiritual reckoning.

Lorde – “Perfect Places” – Just a wonderful pop song. When I hear this song in a good mood, I think it’s an ode to a disagreeing romance, and it’s a great song. But when I’m feeling down and hear it, it opens a new world where I feel all of Lorde’s frustrated and restless emotions. There is a lot of ennui in the song that can transpose nicely into almost anyone’s lives.

Marilyn Manson – “WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE” – Alright, calm down dude, you’re like 50 now. Still, Manson and his group have been on an upswing, and their new album had a few great tracks, like this guitar- and vocal-heavy boomer. (Note: this list originally included the better track “Threats of Romance” but due to the very abusive-y lyrics, I decided to cut it).

Mount Eerie – “Real Death” – In a concept album recorded in real time over a grieving process of Phil Elverum losing his wife, the opening track is destined to be the saddest. Words cannot describe how sad this song is, and it is downright unlistenable even with a short runtime. The saddest song of the year. And what a closing line.

The National – “Day I Die” – Just a great indie-rock song bolstered by a strong drum section, this track has a very National-like center of questioning your current relationship while looking at the successes of your past ones.

Nine Inch Nails – “Not Anymore” – Though not the breakout song from EP “Add Violence,” this track was the closest to classic NIN material. Absolutely shrouded in fuzz and synth feedback, it begs the question why this isn’t the track David Lynch used for the new Twin Peaks.

Paramore – “Hard Times” – While most bands went heavy and/or introspective this year, Paramore got more fun. This song, an absolute new wave banger right out of Blondie’s best work, is just a straight jam about trying to live life to the fullest. We needed more of this in 2017.

Perfume Genius – “Choir” – A downright creepy song fueled by hyper strings and a female singer who opens with “I can’t dream,” this is what nightmares are made of. But isn’t that the Perfume Genius way? But wait, there’s more…

Perfume Genius – “Otherside” – (not a RHCP cover). This is an utterly beautiful song built around both minimalism and maximalism, as Mike Hadreas twice builds the listener up from very little sound to a full pristine universe. One of a few “headphones mandatory” songs from this year. Arguably the most beautiful song of the year.

Phoenix – “J-Boy” – The lead single from an otherwise disappointing album is a downright disco jam, when the world needs it most. The lyrics may hide behind acronyms, but the track is a straight track that is not afraid to give the fans the dance rhythm they want.

Power Trip – “Firing Squad” – An absolutely hard-hitting metal song, this song mostly ushered in 2017 for me. Power Trip have an inexplicable way of writing very simple thrash metal but making it sound original as hell. One of the bands of the year.

The Revivalists – “Wish I Knew You” – One of the breakout indie hits of the year, this is a really simple, really affecting track that we can all relate to in some way. The singer never specifies any kind of romantic interest, which makes this so relatable for all of our recent relationships.

Spoon – “Pink Up” – Indie legends Spoon put a borderline-avant-garde track in the middle of their new album, and it’s a glorious, oddly soothing song with many percussion instruments creating a nice, somber beat.

Vince Staples – “Bagbak” – One of the most incendiary songs on Staples’ recent full-length asks for more black people in the Oval Office, for good reason. It goes on from there to the general declamation, “Suck a dick because we own ya,” in a way that feels both childish but powerful. A brutal and necessary track.

St. Vincent – “Los Ageless” – St. Vincent’s new album is so collectively good that I couldn’t actually pin down any songs for my lists. But the best is this takedown of celebrity culture, with a huge chorus that grows with every line. It is every bit envy as it is anger.

Thundercat – “Uh Uh” – Thundercat wins the award for most diverse features, but my favorite off his album was this red-hot jazz track centered solely around Thundercat’s pure bass talent. It’s an instrumental track of pure fire.

Roger Waters – “Picture That” – The most hard-hitting song from Roger Waters’ very political comeback outlined many awful, oddly specific situations of people who are out of luck. One of the best political songs of the year.

The xx – “Hold On” – Jamie xx has always gotten the short end of the stick in The xx, but on this track he samples a Hall & Oates classic and lets his band member compete over it. The result is the best full-band affair yet, and just a great, if sad pop song.

Top 52 Songs of 2017: #26-1

Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic” – The thrash metal band’s title track absolutely cleans up the genre’s name, with a central and whirring riff of only two notes. The band’s obtuse leftist lyrics add to the music, but it’s the simple-but-supremely-effective riff that drives this to be one of the best metal songs of the year.

Susanne Sundfør (feat. John Grant) – “Mountaineers” – Whatever you imagine pop avant-garde to be, it isn’t this – a song off an album where the main artist doesn’t even show until the three-minute mark, filled with bass vocals and droning synth lines. This is a slow-builder to the max, and all the better because of it. Also, it was the album’s final track, and lead single. Haunting beyond haunting.

Arcade Fire – “Everything Now” – The indie band’s deflating fifth album still provided one beacon of light in the title track, an energetic track centered around a flute rhythm and the idea of hoarding all the shit that you like. It has the innocence of an Arcade Fire song, and the energy of the political songs that we maybe {hiccup} expected from them.

Winds of Plague – “Never Alone” – There’s tons of ways to do metal right, and Winds of Plague explore one of the least-used ones – group vocals. This song has a huge, huge, huge chorus of multiple people singing simultaneously and it adds so much to the already heavy pseudo-thrash song. This song hits top volumes in every way possible (while also being a ton of fun).

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling” – Somehow cut from both “E*Mo*Tion” and the subsequent B-sides release, this absolute jam is a huge pop powerhouse of big beats and lyrics rightly suited to Jepsen – a song about the very beginning of a meaningful relationship.

Blondie – “Fragments” – This song clocks in at nearly seven minutes, and it doesn’t waste a second of it. Just when a listener thinks they’re truly in for a ballad, the band kicks into high gear with Deborah Harry singing an ode to an unknown lover. The song is actually a cover, but Blondie more than make it their own.

Run the Jewels – “Legend Has It” – A boastful rap track that basically fronts the band’s third album, this song is El-P and Killer Mike at their very best. It isn’t even their highest-topping song on this list, but the song still has some of the best lyrics of the year. Look no further than El-P’s lines about choosing their crew over sacrificing a rabbit.

Bully – “Feel the Same” – The shortest track on this list sure doesn’t feel like it. The 1:59 of this song pack a bigger punch, of someone who lost a break-up of some sort, asking if the other person is doing alright. It’s a feeling we can all relate to in some way. Also, let’s just marvel at Alicia Bognanno’s vocals, as she is truly disrespected in the annals of rock singers today.

Lana Del Rey – “When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing” – While I love many of Lana’s tracks, I’ve always been partial to the rare ones where she feels upfront. This is the case on this track, where she undermines her own chorus with vocal additions. The added profanity makes this whole ordeal feel like a disaster in a very planned way.

The National – “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” – One of the best indie songs of the year finds a familiar band leaving their comfort zone. Not only does Matt Berninger kick his vocals into a higher register than normal, there’s also a guitar solo. Both of these things have been unheard of in recent National albums. Fans of the band will hopefully recognize the uncomfortable territory the band puts themselves in as a way to grow and progress their sound.

At the Drive In – “Governed By Contagions” – The shrieking guitar line that opens the song welcomed the return of the post-hardcore legends. While their subsequent album was hit-and-miss, the lead single is a wild, noisy mess that sounds just as applicable as anything they did in the late ’90’s. Again, it is a welcome return.

Queens of the Stone Age – “The Evil Has Landed” – Yes, I am reckoning with the shit against Josh Homme. QOTSA are one of my favorite bands, give me time. In the meantime, one of the coolest rock songs of the year is this prolonged groove where Homme locks into a funky rhythm for a while, before eventually abandoning it for a full hard rock punch (not a kick). QOTSA’s finest song since 2007’s “Sick, Sick, Sick.”

The Mountain Goats – “Rain In Soho” – It was a bold decision on John Darnielle’s part to make a concept album about goths that has no guitar, and admittedly it wasn’t the strongest affair. But the album’s opening track is an absolute powerhouse of piano and vocals unheard of in even other Mountain Goats songs. The song feels heavy, even with just piano and Darnielle’s unusually paranoid vocals. The Mountain Goats wheelhouse is unprecedented but this is another great addition. I cannot overstress how much I love Darnielle’s vocals on this track.

Vince Staples – “Yeah Right” – This track is about 60%  bass. This song, doubling as a club banger, basically comes bass-boosted already (like an early Sleigh Bells song). It adds to the deceptive aura of the song, a track that’s really about the vanity of rappers who aren’t super important. It’s a total deconstruction of rap from the inside. Also, it features a short but sweet verse from Kendrick Lamar, the only real feature on the whole album.

LCD Soundsystem – “call the police” – James Murphy’s revival has been controversial and questionable, and the result itself was a little disappointing. Still, it provided a handful of great tracks, like this droning, minimalist dance track that has the obvious Bowie influence on it. Murphy’s habit of placing dark lyrics over happy music gets a little twisted, as both get a little darker than normal. And yet, the track still has an undeniable groove to it.

Arch Enemy – “The World is Yours” – Easily my favorite metal song of the year is an absolute powerhouse performance from a long-standing group. This song basically cements their album, with incredible vocals from Alissa White-Gluz and phenomenal guitar work. The track is a little long, but it doesn’t waste a second in building a world and completely destroying it. This is just great metal.

Harry Styles – “Sign of the Times” – And what better way to follow? The One Directioner’s first solo single was so drastically different than the group’s work that it nearly caused spit-takes. The song tracks at nearly six minutes of piano ballad and impressive, intentionally-flat vocals. Ballads are meant to be emotional and, even with the somewhat corny lyrics, this song tugs right at strings.

Fever Ray – “IDK About You” – Now this is the definition of a banger. This electropop song bangs hard across its cavalcade of beats. Karin Dreijer comes in hot with her high-pitched vocals, before giving way to the beats themselves, as hot as the vocals. It’s a tensely fiery track, as danceable as it is, well, fever-inducing. Music this hyper isn’t necessarily reserved for the club, and it has the aura of a song only played at the most exclusive of places.

Sylvan Esso – “Die Young” – This is a purely poetic indie ode. This track has a narrator who has planned their suicide, only to have it derailed by a sudden love interest. While it may be the plot of 1000+ YA novels, it rarely graces music. And the subtle synths of the song bring it into something special. Not to mention, the poetry brought forth is immediate in a way that feels natural instead of cliche.

Gary Numan – “My Name Is Ruin” – Yeah, him. Some 30 years after he released his sole American hit, the genius is still releasing amazing electronica music. This song is an incredibly patient synth track. It’s extremely heavy, a song that probably sounds best live at a festival. It builds up verse-chorus-verse-chorus, like a normal song, but it does it over six and a quarter minutes. But it’s an incredibly prolonged track, one that drags the listener on through the suffering. The version below is, unfortunately, a radio edit. If you enjoy then please listen to the full version.

Slowdive – “Star Roving” – This song helped me through a tough patch. The shoegaze’s band’s revival has brought a renown to the genre’s resurgence, and this track in particular helped move me through many difficult parts of 2017. It’s a completely sunny song that shows how fulfilling guitar distortion can be, rather than the usual harshness. This song feels like optimism in song form, but the complexity somehow applies to any emotion. Headphones required.

Mount Kimbie (feat. King Krule) – “Blue Train Lines” – A brutal indie track that depicts a man finding his lover right after she has attempted suicide, without knowing if there’s enough time to save her. That alone is the basis for a potentially terrifying track, but when you add in the sad drone of a synth, King Krule’s barely audible screaming, and the drums that come piercing out of nowhere halfway through the song, it becomes a turbulent mix of fright and confusion. At first glance, this is a dirty mess of music, but on further listens it goes much deeper.

Gorillaz (feat. Vince Staples) – “Ascension” – Vince Staples dunks on Gorillaz on their own album. The first real track on the album starts immediately with Staples’ declarative voice, before he launches into an odyssey about being black during an apocalypse, and mostly just trying to score before it all ends. Its paranoid but groovy, something Staples does well, and having Gorillaz as a backing band certainly doesn’t hurt. Staples also gets props for best use of profanity in any track this year.

Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.” – The final nail in the coffin of Lamar haters came with this early-summer declaration, one that starts with a guitar scratch, horn blast and the line “Nobody pray for me” all in two seconds. Lamar’s critics like to point to his melding of genres and ideas as him hiding behind production, so he responded with this pure-vocal blast, an ode to, well, money. Lamar’s paranoia also focuses on himself, reminding himself to stay humble(.) despite the fame. At 2:57, it’s everything we’ve expected from longer Lamar tracks, and even better. The fact that it was a #1 hit doesn’t even matter. Also, video of the year.

Run the Jewels – “Call Ticketron” – One of the wildest rap songs of the year is also one of the catchiest and quickest. There isn’t a real narrative to this song – El-P makes some of the most memorable boasts of his long career (“I do push-ups nude on the edge of cliffs”) while also handling the chorus, advertising Run The Jewels at “the Garden,” (something that will finally be happening when they open for Lorde (?) next year). Killer Mike, meanwhile, re-imagines last year’s film “Arrival” with him awaiting aliens with a blunt and a beer. The total package is the most fun song of the year.

Lorde – “Green Light” – Yes, I said this is also the #2 song on the sister post, but I stand by high placement on both. This song is lyrically about a side romance that is doomed to fail because the man can’t come clean. But the music is an invigorating party, one that feels like the exact moment in which you realize you’re “getting over” someone, whenever in the relationship it may occur. And, if you’re not in a similar situation, then it’s just a frequent burst of piano that seems to be set to the exact rhythm you need to pick yourself up and keep moving. After all, the song is about moving on, and rather than make a ballad, Lorde opted for a booming piano track, lead single and first album track. With a sound completely different from her first album. And that, my friends, is moving on.

Well, there you have it, my favorite songs of the year. Yes, there were songs I wanted to write about but felt I didn’t have the space. There’s always great songs in all genres, and just because these are the ones I chose to write about, doesn’t mean there was no other good music this year. Far from it – there was an abundance across genres. Even now, as I’m writing, I’m listening to albums I missed during the year. Keep on listening, good folks, keep on discovering. There’s something out there for everyone.

Justin Timberlake – “Man of the Woods”

(Photo Credit: That Grape Juice)Grade: D+

Key Tracks: “Supplies,” “Breeze off the Pond”

Let’s be perfectly clear here – this iteration of Renaissance Man Justin Timberlake is different than the one we saw on 2013’s double “The 20/20 Experience.” We know this because of the cover, where a picture of him in a suit is cut by him(/someone) in jeans and flannel, and also because he told us. In reality, our “Renaissance Man” doesn’t have many hats on his rack. This album (somehow only his fourth solo work) proves that he is incapable of stretching out of pop’s limitations, even if he stretches those limitations in multiple directions. He’s a great singer, better dancer and one-time denim enthusiast, but he’s only a decent songwriter and remains vapidly unaware of both boundaries and genre authenticity.

This album actually has some great moments – at 16 songs and 66 minutes, it has to. But we need to dive into the album’s most egregious moments, most of which work to actively discredit the title and premise. Timberlake is a Memphis native – a city within state lines of the country’s best music city. And he attempts to use that heritage to prove that he has a woodsy background; a background that rarely shows its face throughout the album. This should be an easy sell for an ambitious and malleable artist who could cherrypick collaborators. I mean, the guy has “timber” and “lake” in his name. Instead, tracks like opener “Filthy” and “Morning Light” fall back on pop conventions, which are decidedly un-woodsy. The latter features Alicia Keys, who had a massive hit about her home city of New York, a city so decisively un-woodsy that a salsa company ran a whole ad campaign about it. The album’s front half features some songs that are pure pop and, even though he grows into the image more as it transpires, it starts the album off with a joltingly off-brand start.

Also, I have to talk about the filthy lyrics. I’m not even referring to the song “Filthy.” I’m referring to the back-to-back genital-drying lyrics of “Sauce” and “Man of the Woods.” Early on in “Sauce,” Timberlake sings “I love your pink, you like my purple / The color right between those, that’s where I worship.” Ewwwwwwww. And it only gets worse, a whole lot worse on the following track. The song is about the mutual love he has for his wife Jessica Biel, but lyrically it sure doesn’t sound that way – “So tonight, if I take it too far, that’s okay because you know … I hear the making up’s fun.” This is uhhhhhhh this is a song by a man currently in a Woody Allen film. I would like to revert you to the pic of Timberlake wearing a #TimesUp pin. And the chorus is just awful: “But then your hands talking, fingers walking, down your legs / There’s the faucet,” he sings. Please take your sexy back. Here’s a fun fact to leave you with: he named this filthy song after his infant son.

Major authenticity issues and gross lyrics aside, this album does have some enjoyable tracks. Country sensation Chris Stapleton helps actually ground “Say Something” in the vague indie-country-folk world Timberlake thinks he’s invading. Other tracks like “Supplies” and “Breeze Off the Pond” are pleasantly enjoyable songs, the former mashing flamenco-inspired guitar with trap beats, one of the album’s most interesting ideas. The latter is the best example of the acoustic-driven vocal songs that dominate the album’s back half. Even some early tracks like the Pharrell-co-authored “Midnight Summer Jam,” are delightful if not empty tracks. Even the pre-release ridicule of “Flannel” is a little deflated, as the track is frustratingly enjoyable.

Still, there’s far too many faults on this album. Ugly missteps run hand-in-hand through the city, and any escapes into the woods are mere digressions. What is essentially the opening line on this album is “haters gonna say it’s fake.” When’s the last time you heard Justin Vernon say that? Merle Haggard? Just being from an area does not make you an automatic herald of the culture. I’m from Boston but I’m not gonna jump into a perfect street-punk career at 27. I mean, there’s a damn reggae song on this album. So while there are some surprisingly pleasant moments, and Timberlake may remain an annoyingly pleasant celebrity figure, I have to end this with a question: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one’s around to care, should you bother listening for it?

-By Andrew McNally

Beck – “Colors”

(photo credit: shop.beck.com)Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Colors” “Dreams”

Beck is a literal cornucopia musician – you never know what the next album is going to sound like. And while there’s plenty of other musicians that do the same, they rarely have such big hits as Beck, and rarely do it so alone. Let’s take his 2005 album “Guero” – there’s 11 other credited musicians, but Beck is credited on 20 instruments, and two of those other musicians are credited with spoken word bits and another is credited on “additional sounds.” This album was made with Greg Kurstin, who is credited on veery song along Beck, and almost no one else shows up. Beck has always straddled the line of total outcast – often improvising lyrics in the studio and blending combinations folk, rock, rap, pop, and electronic genres on a whim – and industry favorite, helping to define and cement alternative music more than almost any other artist. On “Colors,” his thirteenth album, he again takes a hard left-turn, this time embracing the pop spotlight he’s so often avoided.

This is Beck’s first album since 2014’s “Morning Phase,” which won a shocking Album of the Year Grammy (an award so much in Beyonce’s favor that Beck’s speech was barely above surprised mumbling, and featured a tongue-in-cheek Kanye interruption). “Morning Phase” was a soft and blissful record, mistaken for somber. It was a direct follow-up to 2002’s entirely acoustic “Sea Change,” with Beck marking the passage of time and the acceptance he has gained since the disastrous break-up that spawned that classic. But the album’s outlook is much brighter than the music seems. And it makes sense that while Beck was working on that record, he was also developing some of the tracks on this album, even though the albums couldn’t sound more different. The tracks on “Colors” are easily the poppiest thing he’s ever done, at least on a full-album scale. This is a straight pop album, and while it isn’t always effective, it is a lot of fun to hear Beck bounce back in an unexpected way.

“Colors” might be the closest thing to a genre album that Beck’s ever done. Even later albums like “The Information” had diversity amongst tracks. This album has big pop beats throughout and, at times, Beck’s return to the pseudo-rapping of his heyday. Radio pop is the one thing Beck really has left to conquer, so it makes sense that at this stage in his career he would attempt it. By this point, he has nothing left to lose and a solid legacy intact. The title track has a pan flute, “I’m So Free” has rapping, “Wow” has both. And every track on this album is inherently catchy and dancefloor-ready. Even at his weirdest, Beck has always mastered catchiness, but here it isn’t hidden behind slide guitar, or robotic noises, or sitar, or whatever else he had laying around.

The album isn’t without downtime, however. Even though it clocks in at 39 minutes, there’s some fat on the album’s bones. Songs like “No Distraction” and “Up All Night” suffer from bland lyrics and the vague catchiness that plague the entire generation of indie music right now, most of whom are imitating Beck in some way. Although Beck’s music hasn’t always been perfect, he’s never seemed like one who would become a victim of his own creation like he does on “Colors.” Also, a weird disappointment of the album is that the whole piece is centered on the song “Dreams,” a guitar odyssey with one of the most memorable bridge sections in any alternative song. But, the song was released a single over two years ago, and has already gone through the whole radio rise-and-fall process and drifted from many people’s radars (not mine admittedly, I love the track). To center the album around this song seems like a cash-out, like Beck admitting that in the two years since he hasn’t been able to craft up something as good.

Still, the album is a fun and accessible, if not forgettable listen. It stands along with “Sea Change” and “Morning Phase” as the most directly cohesive listens in the Beck discography, therefore also making them the outliers. He successfully hides his years throughout “Colors,” pulling off a batch of songs normally reserved for musicians who fell in love with “Loser” in middle school. It’s another new side of Beck: party Beck. And while I hope party Beck doesn’t stick around very long for fear of getting very tiresome, it is a welcome presence. It also makes me ravenous for whatever Beck will have up his sleeve for his next album. But for now, enjoy all the different shades of Beck’s “Colors.”

-By Andrew McNally

Marilyn Manson – “Heaven Upside Down”

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia) Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “WHERE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE” “Threats of Romance”

One of the most predictable things of the early-2000’s was the downfall of Marilyn Manson. After the group’s surprise hit in 1996’s “The Beautiful People” and the subsequent smash of 1998’s “Mechanical Animals,” the controversial facade of the group had to wear off. And it did, resulting in declining sales and popularity. But one of the lesser expected things would be the comeback. After a few albums of water-treading, goth-y nonsense, the group washed away all of their previous controversial conventions for 2015’s “The Pale Emperor.” The album was a blues-metal masterpiece, filled with songs that the eponymous singer sounded like he had wanted to record for years. The band’s follow-up is a more typical Manson album, but one that renews their energy and their goth and industrial influences, while mostly doing away with the dopey-ness that has plagued their lyrics.

This album starts strong – really strong – with “Revelation #12,” a track that periodically uses a police siren as an instrument. Manson’s voice comes through loud and crisp in a way that often faltered in the band’s down years. Really, the album maintains a high energy, especially on tracks like single “We Know Where You Fucking Live” and closer “Threats of Romance.” The band embrace their goth heritage on these tracks, calling back specifically to legends like Gary Numan and former collaborators Nine Inch Nails. The album’s best line may lie in “We Know Where You Fucking Live,” where Manson sings, “We don’t intend to eat the street, the asphalt is the good meat.”

The album has a ferocity to it that hasn’t been seen on a Manson album in some time. The album’s standout track (and the band knows it) might just be “Saturnalia,” a completely engaging and bold track that stretches just one second shy of eight minutes. It allows the band to stretch out into territories they haven’t before, resulting in a fiery, burning track that not only benefits from the length, but represents a tentative change in style. After “The Pale Emperor,” the band seems completely energized to record music that might be similar to what they recorded in their heyday, but on their own, nondescript terms.

And there is a calmness to a few tracks as well. The album’s third- and second-to-last tracks, “Blood Honey” and “Heaven Upside Down” bring in acoustic guitar and more approachable melodies. Manson himself described the album as a soundtrack, where the title track is the end credits. If the album had ended there, it would’ve been equally effective. That said, it ends with the punishingly repetitive “Threats of Romance.”

Still, as with any Manson album, it isn’t without some corny moments. The one-two punch of “Say10” and “Kill4Me” don’t land too well, even with the latter being a single. Although “Kill4Me”is by no means a bad song, with synths balancing the blasts of guitar, it still suffers after the dopey and similarly-titled “Say10,” a track that sounds like the regular album schlock of 1996. Likewise, the stupidly-titled “Je$u$ Cr$i$” doesn’t do anything for the album, just a stupid song with a stupid title, even with a solid beat.

The corniness of a post-98′ Manson album is kind of a cherish as much as a detriment, and this album balances the more silly lyrics with literal punches at the bookends that cement this as one of the band’s better albums. The sudden resurgence with “The Pale Emperor” continues with this album that somehow manages to be bold in 2017. While “Emperor” excelled on outside influences, “Heaven Upside Down” takes the best elements of Manson’s past and reverberates them into a sound that is equally throwback and current. Casual listeners might not be grabbed by an album of this intensity, but Manson fans will surely be glad that an album from the group in 2017 can still maintain such an anxious, monstrous and deafening level.

-By Andrew McNally

St. Vincent – “MASSEDUCTION”

(Photo Credit: Northern Transmissions)

Grade: A

Key Tracks: “Pills,” “Sugarboy,” “Young Lover”

Annie Clark has big shoes to fill. Her last album, 2014’s “St. Vincent,” was consistently ranked among the best albums of the year, a busy year. The album saw her rise from indie darling touring the festival circuit to playing the season finale of “SNL” and winning a semi-surprise Best Alternative Album at the Grammy’s (ironically, presumed winner Beck also released a new album this week). After all that, “St. Vincent” is my favorite album. Like, ever. All-time. Has been for three years. So “MASSEDUCTION” has high hurdles to clear and, to our baited breaths, it jumps over those hurdles in every way that Annie Clark can think of.

Don’t let opening track “Hang On Me” and lead single “New York” fool you – this is a big album. At 13 tracks and 41 minutes, it packs a whole boxer’s array of punches. Although the opening song is inexplicably lackluster, the album kicks into high gear with the guitar-heavy satire “Pills.” The track’s fuzzy, chomping guitar sounds like an “Actor” lost cut. One of the album’s few disappointments is that this is really the only track where Clark lets loose on guitar, something she still does a little infrequently. But when the album that follows is as good as it is, it’s hardly even missed.

Other standout tracks include “Sugarboy,” with a super catchy and choppy beat that’s sure to rip through audiences in her live show. “Happy Birthday, Johnny” is a slight ballad with some unexpected country slide-guitar, stuck right in the middle of the album. “Savior” is a funky and sexy pop song, but one that includes industrial elements (although he doesn’t have a songwriting credit, the album was co-produced by Jack Antonoff, who cowrote and produced a similar, excellent song on Lorde’s album earlier this year). “Fear The Future” hits super hard after the emotional but slight “New York,” with a deafening sound and incredibly anxious lyrics. “Young Lover,” the tenth track, seems like the beginning of the wind-down as, frankly, the song’s first section is dull. But it transforms into a full-bloomed vocal track, the best of the album and one of the best in Clark’s discography. The album’s final song “Smoking Section” is a satisfying conclusion, with Clark repeating “it’s not the end.” The song’s title and placement might be a reference to David Sedaris’s classic essay “The Smoking Section” – let us not forget that Clark’s debut contained references to “Arrested Development” and MAD Magazine.

“MASSEDUCTION” is not without fault, of course. There are rare moments of downtime, in tracks like “Hang On Me,” “Slow Disco,” and, to a lesser extent, the title track. There is also a palpable lack of guitar wizardry. Although Clark’s guitar pops up throughout, the album generally lacks the riffs designed to pummel live audiences to their core. It’s a confounding stylistic choice for someone who is becoming known as one of the best live acts. Still, audiences haven’t seen these songs performed yet, so who’s to say what Clark has planned (also, she’s just free to record whatever she wants, maybe she’s just tired of guitar).

Although not her best overall, this album stands as easily the most cohesive record in the St. Vincent discography. It has the fewest amount of skippable tracks (there’s only two that I’d even consider and I’ve *just* listened to it), it has everything from anxious noise about the future to industrial-funk to genuinely beautiful ballads to satire about the medical industry. I’ve written (in a few places, extensively, sorry) about the impact that Clark’s 2012 collaborative album with David Byrne, “Love This Giant,” seemed to have on her confidence as a performer. That newfound confidence shines throughout this entire record, front (back?) and foremost with that album cover. Clark has always been an interesting songwriter, but this album continues her trend of pushing listeners out of their comfort zone with the frequent genre changes and occasionally uncomfortable lyrics.

This album is a borderline-masterpiece, if not one outright. Although it lacks specifically-standout songs like all of her other albums (“Rattlesnake” & “Birth In Reverse,” “Cruel” & “Surgeon,” “The Neighbors” & “Marrow,” “Now, Now” & “Your Lips Are Red), it works as a huge cohesive unit that really doesn’t have much time to cut. It’s a challenging pop album, asking the listener to accept satire, sorrow and directly sexual lyrics amidst their catchy music. This album feels like all of the highs, lows and middles that Clark has been living since and possibly before her last album. This album was likely going to be the one that people really judged Clark on. Her last album is, for all intents and purposes, a breakthrough – so the eye was on what she would do with the exposure. And if this album is what Clark can do under the pressure, then it’s safe to say we’re welcoming in a new legend.

-By Andrew McNally