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.

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Favorite Songs & Albums of 2017 (So Far!)

(Photo Credit: Rolling Stone)

So listen – I’ve only listened to 29 albums this year. This is embarrassingly small for me, who tries to do 2-4 new releases a week. But what can I say! I spent the first few months of the year working on my thesis and looking for a job (both successful!). But, I still wanted to talk about my favorites. I regret that there are many albums by bands I love (Gorillaz! Pissed Jeans!) that I haven’t had a chance to spin yet. I wrote my annual halfway point critic-y sister post over on The Filtered Lens, but here’s my purely personal post of the songs and albums I’ve loved so far this year. Up first – songs.

Favorite Songs of 2017 (So Far):

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

(review)

Waters, both in Pink Floyd and solo, was never interested in subtlety. And any remaining subtlety has withered with age. This track, which sounds like a “Wall” cut, bemoans all of the injustices of the Western world – journalists facing danger, schoolgirls facing danger, the Earth facing danger, and fascist leaders not facing danger, all with savage profanity and an angry whisper. If this isn’t a call to arms, then what is?

#24. “Hard Times” – Paramore

After a few years dabbling in adult rock and a general grown-up alternative sound, the folks in Paramore looked to new wave inspirations for their fifth album, “After Laughter.” The best example came early, in single “Hard Times,” a completely rousing and bouncy joint that sees the group willfully eschew adult alternative for a Devo inspiration.

#23. “Everything Now” – Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire’s slow transition from existential indie rock group into bouncy disco band has had many factors, from a shortening in members to an acceptance of fame. And it soldiers onward to “Everything Now,” one of the most outwardly danceable songs the band has ever produced. Although still not an optimistic song, the production from one of the Daft Punk men robots sure heralds their new turn.

#22. “Firing Squad” – Power Trip

The thrash/heavy metal band Power Trip spent a long time recording their sophomore album – five years. And it was worth it – the dudes in the band are riff machines, and it’s prevalent throughout their album. In this track, the lead single, the guitars hit an incendiary rhythm that doesn’t let up past one of the highest, most excruciatingly shrill guitar notes this side of Dave Gilmour’s solo in “Money.” Rock on.

#21. “Ignorecam” – Pissed Jeans

The dudes in Pissed Jeans – only dudes since their ~2012 reformation – are one of the only dude bands that fully recognize their place in music, as a bunch of dudes. They did it just fine on their absolutely stellar 2013 album “Honeys.” They continue on this song, sung from the point of a dude camgirl-watcher who gets off on being ignored. Not sure why exactly they felt the need to give the voice to this group of men, but it’s a killer (and tongue-in-cheek) song either way. Singer Mark Kovette usually sounds like he’s guzzling whiskey mid-song, and his throaty, guttural vocals sound especially so here.

#20. “Pink Up” – Spoon

Admittedly, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Spoon. While I recognize their immediate legacy in the indie-rock movement, they have never really done it for me. But their new album gets permeated by a completely pleasant pseudo-avant-garde track in “Pink Up.” It’s what the avant-leaning indie movement of ~2007 did best. It’s a perfectly enjoyable track that twists and turns but never loses it’s deeply pleasant rhythm.

#19. “Continuum” – At the Drive In

(review)

After 17 album-less years, ATDI finally saw Hell freeze over and blessed us with “in•ter a•li•a,”and while it’s far from perfect (‘perfect’ here meaning “Relationship of Command”), it has plenty of killer, gut-punching tracks. “Continuum” is driven almost entirely by Cedric Bizler-Zavala’s screamy vocals, which have only gotten stronger over time. The climax of the song, which literally jumps from a whisper to a scream, is one of the best bridges of the year.

#18. “Passionfruit” – Drake

And here I thought I was done with Drake. After three straight releases that I absolutely couldn’t listen to (two of which were loooooong, too), Drake came through with the music-heavy ‘playlist’ “More Life.” One of the breakouts is single “Passionfruit,” which starts with a sobering minute-plus synth rhythm (sobering, despite the DJ literally cutting in to tell people to drink more). It’s a pleasant track that sounds a lot like “One Dance,” but smoother, more digestible, and, well, fruity. Keep it up, Drizzy.

#17. “DNA.” – Kendrick Lamar

(review)

Lamar might be the only person in music currently challenging Beyoncé in the combo of mixing ambition, stage presence, and popularity. “DNA.” is a dirty, rapid track that showcases the two things Lamar does best – boasts and vulnerability. He also tackles another target – Geraldo Riviera. Riviera naturally said some pointless, racist stuff about Lamar in the past, so Lamar responds to it directly, even including a soundclip of Riviera’s comments for all of us to hear. Savage? Jury’s out, but it’s great either way.

#16. “Bad and Boujee” – Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert

Migos aren’t exactly upstanding guys, and it feels bad to support them. But this song has been stuck in my head since January and there’s nothing I can do about it. Migos excel in simplicity; the rhymes here often sound like poetry written by (filthy) kindergartners – but it’s all in the rhythm of the vocals. The easiness of the song isn’t laziness but a calculated exercise in infecting listeners with a rhythm that’s bound to survive past the year and into the ‘classics’ hall. And it was a #1 to boot. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,

#15. “Nightmare Logic” – Power Trip

I’m not up to date on this year’s metal albums, but no song I’ve heard has had a more commanding central riff than this title track. The riff is so simple that it seems criminal how catchy it is, but that seems to be Power Trip’s MO. And although the lyrics seem to invoke a fight against an other-worldly evil being, they can be easily (and probably intentionally) applied to the resistance felt in our own country. This song is the fierce shot in the knee we all need this year.

#14. “Cut to the Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen

How good was Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album “E•MO•TION?” She released a follow-up EP of cut tracks, and still had some gold leftover. This track, cut from both the album and the EP, is pop powerhouse. Jepsen practically smothers us in her voice, piercing through the music to belt the song’s title. Also, “Cut to the Feeling” feels like a description of the lyrics to every song she’s ever written.

#13. “Shining” – DJ Khaled feat. Beyoncé & JAY-Z

Khaled has a habit of bringing in some of rap & R&B’s best talents and bringing out the best in them, even over his simple beats. “Shining” is no exception, although the features make it worth the while. HOVA’s verse is on par with his verse in last year’s “I Got the Keys,” breathing energy into his limping* career. But Bey owns this tracks, singing at full volume and rapping a verse. It’s just a winning combination.

* – 4:44 is great, I wrote this bit before the album dropped and was kinda predicting it to be less so.

#12. “Run” – Foo Fighters

After a lackluster conceptual album and tour fatigue, Foo Fighters took a well-deserved break. And I, personally, thought that their glimmer was fading fast. But they returned recently with “Run” (no relation to their previous single “Walk”). The song stands as arguably the heaviest in their discography, with a riff boarding on metal and Dave Grohl’s screamed vocals. It’s whiplash in song form, in a way the Fighters haven’t delivered in a while. Also, the video is a masterpiece.

#11. “Governed By Contagions’ – At the Drive In

(review)

Boasting a title that sounds like it came from an ATDI song name generator, the band exploded back into the scene after 17 years with this single, a punk-induced blast that effectively uses both of the band’s singers. It’s as blood-boiling as anything in their back catalog, and appropriately dense. It’s also likely the best track on their new album. Turn the volume all the way up.

#s 10-7. “Talk to Me,” “Legend Has It,” “Call Ticketron,” “Hey Kids (Bumaye) [feat. Danny Brown]” – Run the Jewels

Okay is this fair? Maybe, maybe not. This is my blog, I do what I want. Run the Jewels have made a habit of putting out albums that flow like long suites. Their new album, “Run the Jewels 3,” opens with a surprisingly light track called “Down.” But then they kick it into high gear with “Talk to Me,” loudly announcing the album’s title. Their first two albums saw them justifying their own existence through searing political tracks. But this release sees them recognizing their popularity and rapping more about themselves. It’s less dark (though still dark), and often more fun. My personal favorite from the album, “Call Ticketron,” is just about the experience of seeing Run the Jewels live. Also, props to Killer Mike for some of the year’s best lines: “We are the murderous pair / That went to jail and we murdered the murderers there / Then went to Hell and discovered the devil / Delivered some hurt and despair” (“Legend Has It,” which also has a great video). Here’s a fun parting fact: both El-P and Killer Mike are 42, making the combined age of Run the Jewels 84. Legends.

#6. “call the police” – LCD Soundsystem

I have very mixed feelings about the publicity stunt that was the “break-up” and “reunion” of arguably-one-man band LCD Soundsystem. That said, James Murphy’s first single in seven years is exactly what you want from a Soundsystem song – nearly eight minutes, lacking a palpable central chorus and rhythm, and still inherently danceable. His lyrics are usually either completely targeted, or all over the place – and this song is the latter. Murphy sings like he’s throwing darts at a dartboard filled with “gentrified Brooklyn problems.” It’s a ton of fun stretched out over a long time, and it stops abruptly right as it becomes tedious. The true James Murphy way. Dance yrself clean.

#5. “On Hold” – The xx

The xx have never been the most upfront band. Even in the reformed group’s ‘new’ approach, they’re still very muted and emotionally vulnerable. And this is the exact reason why I, personally, don’t care for them. But for this track (the album’s lead single), Jamie xx takes a sample of a Hall & Oates song and exploits it as one of the song’s central rhythms. It’s an inherently catchy song that transforms a familiar rhythm into something else entirely. It’s a very groovy song, but one that repeatedly catches you in it’s cold, cold subject manner. The lyrics are just sad as all hell.

#4. “Sign of the Times” – Harry Styles

This song was a bold move, and one I deeply respect. At 5:41, the track is longer than every song in the One Direction discography (one remix matches it). It’s a somewhat bold lead single, one that signals an immediate shift away from the group he is permanently entwined with. And what a song – a piano ballad that’s vaguely about war (“Dunkirk” in theaters July 21st!) but also about personal relationships. It’s no secret that Styles was one of the better voices of the group, and it gets put on full display on this lead single. It’d be fun to watch the guy let loose if it wasn’t so emotional.

#3. “HUMBLE.” – Kendrick Lamar

(review)

The biggest jam of Lamar’s “DAMN.” was also its leadoff single. The song, less than three minutes, is a searing indictment of various things wrong with pop culture today. He touches on photoshopping models, billionaires giving talks and, vaguely and perhaps ironically, the luxury of millionaire celebs. And he does so with a ferocious energy, like he’s being paid word-per-second. The track is incendiary, the musical equivalent of a long string on fire, leading up to a bomb. Tense, direct, and catchy, it showcases Kendrick at his peak, truth-spewing form. And since I’ve done it a few times already – it has one of the best videos in years.

#2. “Fragments” – Blondie

(review)

The fun thing about doing pieces like this on my personal blog is being able to talk about any random album tracks I please, and there’s always ones that I love. This time around, it’s the final track on Blondie’s good new album “Pollinator.” The song is a left-field choice for my #2 of the year, for sure. It’s two seconds shy of seven minutes, and is a cover of a song written by a movie blogger. But Deborah Harry and co. just own it. It’s a new-wave song in the fullest – a slow intro that drags the listener long enough that they expect it to stay a sad ballad. And once that expectation is passed, the band locks in and jumps the tempo to practically double. Blondie don’t need to be putting in this much energy in 2017 (Harry just turned 72, for chrissakes), but the fact that they do makes this song so supremely entertaining. And the band stays locked in for most of the song’s runtime, before bringing it back in for a slower finale. I didn’t think we needed new Blondie in 2017, but we did.

#1. “Green Light” – Lorde

(review)

The first thing you should know about this song is that hitmaker Max Martin told Lorde her songwriting on this track was “incorrect.” She respectfully ignored his advice and released the song anyways. And man she dominates this song. The first minute sounds like old Lorde, piano ballad about meeting people in bars and what not. But once that off-beat piano kicks in, her whole history gets thrown out in favor of an excessively danceable tune that matures her teenage ennui in a very natural way. This song is the equivalent of a night where you went out a little too long – where you had a little too much, and got a little too emotional. But it’s also the morning after, when you realized that you don’t really care all that much after all. It’s three simultaneous emotions packed into one, and the pure volume and energy of the song make it difficult to handle. The proper response to this happens near the end of the song, when all instruments but the synth drain out in a supposed bridge, but one that Lorde ignores and keeps singing at high volume. This is a track for the bored teens, the 20-somethings who feel stuck, the 30-somethings who have to accept that life isn’t working out the way they want. It’s restless, fidget-y, and sleepless, but optimistic in a way that only Lorde could pull off. In other words, it’s 2017 in a song.

Favorite Albums of 2017 (So Far):

#10. Feist – “Pleasure”

Sparse, minimalist indie-pop isn’t usually something that barks up my tree, because I personally find it leaning more towards uninspired than emotional. But “Pleasure,” Feist’s first album in six years (and released only weeks before her appearance on the new Broken Social Scene record), feels intentionally lacking, like pieces have removed. It’s sparse to the points of actual silence, and yet the album has an undercurrent of something much bigger and darker. It covers a lot of ground, a lot of emotions and situations that are begrudgingly necessary in our own lives. This is a long way from an iPod commercial.

#9. Drake – “More Life”

Dammit, I like Drake again. His last three albums lost me completely – “Reading This” was frustratingly downtempo, “What a Time” was a cash grab and “VIEWS” was a painfully unlistenable act of showing you the table you’re going to put all of your emotions on, but then not actually doing it (as well as an exercise in the dangers of adopting another culture’s styles). But the common missing link in these albums was any remotely interesting music. Here, Drizzy incorporates music entirely, from the flutes in “Portland” to the sobering synth in “Passionfruit” that sounds like a tamer, better version of his inane and appropriative “One Dance.” Drake himself seems relaxed and in focus, more so than usual. And although this isn’t an album – it’s a ‘playlist’ – it’s still one of the better releases in his catalog.

#8. Foxygen – “Hang”

Foxygen are a pretty weird group. At their core, they’re early Rolling Stones imitators. Their music is very loose and fun, while being artfully destructive. But they do exist in 2017, an age where you can say “let’s spend the night together.” Foxygen exist more as the wet dream that exists in some Rolling Stones & Velvet Underground mix. This album, one of their better releases, is a large orchestral ensemble suite, although the band still officially credits only two members. Tracks like “Follow the Leader” and “America” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a more experimental prog-classic rock album, while maintaining a certain loose energy and heavy production that couldn’t have existed then. It’s a rare balance, and they haven’t always pulled it off in the past, but this album is a real gem.

#7. Slowdive – “Slowdive”

At it’s heaviest and loudest, shoegaze can be one of the most physically draining and ear-ripping experiences (My Bloody Valentine were regularly voted one of the loudest live bands and, well, Deafheaven). But at the other end of the spectrum are bands like Slowdive. They, like MBV and the Jesus + Mary Chain, regrouped for the current shoegaze revival and released their first new album in 22 years. The album retains shoegaze’s wall of sound, but through a dream-pop filter. The tracks on this album (especially “Star Roving”) fill you with a loud but warming sound that somehow reaches down into you like cocoa on a snowy day. It’s a summer-y album for people like me that don’t really like summer albums. Don’t feel like going outside? Let this be your sunshine instead. Note: headphones required.

*Doctors recommend a daily dose of sunlight. “Slowdive” has not been verified by the FDA and should not be considered a long-term replacement for vitamin D. Also don’t yell at me for calling Deafheaven shoegaze. “Sunbather” is.

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

(review)

This album title has a simple answer – no. Waters was never very subtle in his decades in Pink Floyd, and he has been even less so in his solo work. In fact, Waters is more direct in his lyrical attacks than any young punk band you’ll ever see. This album is chock-full of specific ailments the world faces. Waters (and all of Pink Floyd) is deeply anti-fascist, and with the rise of fascist and fascist-adjacent politics, Waters immediately followed suit. Although much of the album is acoustic and subdued (think “Mother”), his anger is broiling over the pot and onto the stove. Sure, at one point he refers to an unnamed world leader as a “nincompoop,” but most of his attacks land hard – he chronicles governments killing journalists, the indifference to women being murdered, climate change and police brutality in one verse. Waters is just as angry as ever. Also, happy 40th, “Animals.” You’re aging well, unfortunately.

#5. Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic”

I’d call this the best metal album of the year – to be fair, it’s the only one I’ve listened to so far. But it’ll probably stay that way. Power Trip take the best components of heavy metal and thrash metal and boil them down into songs that are straightforward but punishing. Metal bands can often be a little silly, but Power Trip demand to be taken seriously on this album, with grave political songs and mind-blowing riffs. The songs on this album are often somewhat basic, but they approach simplicity with a renewed energy, something most metal bands avoid (by either rehashing the same ideas, or trying to be overly conceptual). The rhythm in the title track barely stretches across more than one note, but it’s as effective as the best Motorhead classics.

#4. Lorde – “Melodrama”

(review)

From synth to industrial to piano ballad, Lorde’s sophomore album hits practically every point. The beauty of the album lies easily in how much of a sophomore album it feels like. Her first album was about life as a bored New Zealander teenager, minimalist and bleak; this album shares the sentiment, but from the POV of a 20 year old who has deeper experiences. Lorde’s choice to show those advancements through music rather than lyrics is brilliant, as it gives the album a whole depth that was intentionally missing from her debut. It’s a completely separate and distinct record, one that takes the already palpable emotions from her first record and translates them into different terms. This record is plagued with uncertainty about the future – it just switches between worry and carelessness. Lorde seems wise beyond her years, and this album shows.

#3. Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.”

(review)

K-Dot’s last full album was, need I say, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The modern masterpiece will almost definitely go down amongst “The Chronic” and “Stankonia” on the list of all-time best rap albums. Lamar presents himself on that album as a deeply flawed person, but does so in an otherworldly manner. On this album, he falls back down to Earth to compete at a fair level. The album is grittier, dirtier, and grounded more in velocity and realism than ambition. But don’t mistake that for a lack of creativity, because Lamar brings the heat. The album is full of intense boasts and rapid-fire rapping, from “DNA.” to “HUMBLE.” As always, the features are sparse, mostly centered around a solid Rihanna duet. And the album climaxes with a track that gives the oral history of the time Lamar’s father met the man who founded Top Dawg, the label Lamar is on – and then reimagines their interaction as a violent one. Lamar’s verses about addiction and personal demons actually feel more suited to this gritty album, and while it’s no “Butterfly,” it’s still a damn delight – sorry, a DAMN. delight.

#2. Mount Eerie – “A Crow Looked At Me”

The fact that I made it through this album in one pass is amazing. The fact that I did it over a drink is downright impressive. Only in rare circles of indie-folk do you find music this depressing and, when you do, it’s usually unwarranted and/or fictionalized. This isn’t. This album is the chronicles of folk/metal singer Phil Elverum losing his wife to pancreatic cancer shortly after she gave birth to their first child. The album acts as an extended news clip from a small-town station, a prolonged eulogy, and an admission of guilt over feelings Elverum maybe wanted to ignore. The album is entirely acoustic, and was structured chronologically from the immediate aftermath of her passing to acceptance a year later. The album’s songs are largely devoid of rhyme and structure, and are just thoughts thrown onto a page. Elverum describes the simplest of tasks – taking the garbage out, collecting her mail – with an emotional intensity that an average listener cannot relate to. It is extensively brutal, emotional, and honest. The entire album resembles a Mountain Goats song boiled down to it’s core and re-worked to be even more honest and unfiltered. If you think you can handle this album – then go for it. Elverum himself says there isn’t a lesson, that it’s just life. But even that can be overwhelming.

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

Run the Jewels have nothing left to prove. The two rappers, Killer Mike and El-P, spent the group’s first two records using their respective underground statuses to reach newfound fame. And now, both men (each 42 years of age), have hit that status. So their third album is less political and more vocal flexing. When you have both El-P and Killer Mike onboard, some narrative boasting is exceptionally enjoyable. They spend much more time on this album rapping about their own status as newly-christened throne holders. And they do it with flair – Danny Brown, Tunde Adebimpe, Trina, BOOTS, Zack de la Rocha and Kamasi Washington make appearances. RTJ have spent their first few years existing on a kind of fringe – a band more political than most current popular rappers, with a intensity not suited for radio. This album sees them join the ranks of current rappers and outdo nearly all of them immediately. The album follows their previous works, in that often songs blend together in one long suite (as you saw above), resulting in a constant crush of beats, El-P’s otherworldly one-liners and Killer Mike’s energy. Truly, a match made in heaven.

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Highly doubt anyone’s still reading (I didn’t), but if you did, thanks and remember to smash that like and follow button (did I do that right). Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have listened to, you know, a bunch more albums. Also remember to check out The Filtered Lens for occasional reviews from me and great takes on film and TV from others. See you in December!

David Bowie – “★”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Blackstar” “Girl Loves Me”

I wrote this on the day of the album’s release and decided not to change it after his passing. Rest easy, Starman. Thanks for everything.

Bowie’s return to weirdness has been so natural, it’s easy to forget he spent a decade in retirement and the previous decade in a creative decline. His new album, his 26th, is among the strangest and most provocative he’s ever released. It seems like Bowie spent his decade in retirement (2003-2013) reminiscing on his own career. Throughout all the characters Bowie has performed as over the years, there’s really only been two real ones – pop Bowie, and terrifying avant-garde Bowie. His excellent 2013 comeback album “The Next Day” was pop Bowie, middling, introspective rock songs and ballads about growing old in a culture that values youth. He sounded pained but not so much remorseful as satisfied with himself. It seemed like a final album, a send-off, a ‘thanks for listening.’ Then this happened.

The opening song on “Blackstar” (officially titled ““) is “Blackstar,” in spelled-out form. It is only 17 seconds shorter than his longest, the 10:14 classic “Station to Station.” It originally surpassed 11 minutes but Bowie and longtime co-producer Tony Visconti sliced it down to 10 so they could release it as a single on iTunes (Bowie is a man of the people). Bowie’s vocals mix with the free-form jazz to sound somewhat akin to Scott Walker. It’s less “Diamond Dogs” and more “Bish Bosch,” and it’s hard not to imagine Walker when listening, another musician who had a modest start before growing increasingly ambitious and experimental (and who has been around even longer!)

There’s only seven songs on this album, with the title track accounting for slightly under 1/4 of the album’s length. It is less rock, less pop, and more free-form jazz. Bowie and co. have said they were listening to “To Pimp a Butterfly” when they wrote this, saying Kendrick Lamar’s attention to blending genres inspired them to do the same. But it sounds more like Bowie was listening to himself. “Blackstar” and it’s video have maybe-references to satanist Aleister Crowley, who was a heavy inspiration to Bowie during the “Station to Station” recording session. And “Lazarus” includes the line “I used up all my money / I was looking for your ass,” which sure seems to mimic the self-description in “Ziggy Stardust,” “With god-given ass.” Elsewhere, he sings the plot of the 17th century play “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” in a song with the same name, an incestual, murderous tale.

Musically, the album walks the line of free-form jazz, almost always maintaining a steady beat but allowing for tempo changes (“Blackstar”) and avant-garde horn freakouts (“‘Tis a Pity…”). A majority of the songs are heavy on horns and drums, with less guitar. Bowie often, and sometimes unexpectedly, gives way to the music. The influence of Lamar is only a spiritual level, but “Girl Loves Me” does have a beat that sounds hip-hop inspired.

With all the characters and personae that Bowie has performed as over the decades, it’s easy to forget just how he became famous at all – he’s got an insanely good voice. It comes through here, especially on “Girl Loves Me” and “Lazarus” but across the whole album. “Girl Loves Me” is an enchanting, almost hymn-like song with Bowie’s voice in both the fore and background. It’s the strongest vocal song on the album. He sounds restrained throughout, like it’s all part of an avant nightmare. The only real exception is “‘Tis a Pity…” where his vocals sound more pronounced, more confident.

There is no character here. “” is a glorious and scary mess that is haunting because there’s no character – this is an album Bowie and co. wanted to make. It’s one of the least accessible albums he’s made in his entire career, and it will surely be placed alongside “Station” and “Let’s Dance” among his best work. This does not sound like a final album, but if it is, then Bowie is requesting demanding that we remember him primarily as an artist, an ambitious one unafraid to make something jarring and remote, and not as a successful pop songwriter. “I am not a film star,” he muses on the title track, even with great turns in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Labyrinth, and, sure, Zoolander. He’s deeper than those roles. He is a blackstar, something theoretical, something deep, massive and annihilating. He is also demanding that, like Lazarus, he live on far past his actual self. Don’t worry, Bowie, you’re going to.

-By Andrew McNally

Grimes – “Art Angels”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Flesh Without Blood,” “Kill V. Maim”

Grimes has never been known by one genre. She’s sometimes included in witch house, but she defies one of the basic principles of the genre. Her stage name – Claire Boucher, offstage – is short and easy to remember. “Grimes.” Template witch house artists do the opposite, names that can’t be found on Google. Like M△S▴C△RA, or ///▲▲▲\\\ (pronounced ‘Horse MacGyver’), or oOoOO. Her new album, her fourth, is predictable only that we’ve come to expect anything we haven’t heard from Grimes before. “Art Angels” is, more than anything, a pop album.

“Art Angels” is a very mixed album. As always, Grimes blends many influences and ideas to create a wholly original, bastardized sound not unlike the baby on the cover. It isn’t as consistent, this time around, although the high points are just as high as ever. The album takes a much more conventional format, overall. This might be due to Grimes famously scrapping the album she was working on last year because she felt it was “too depressing,” keeping only “REALiTi,” an altered version of which shows up here. Something about the album feels familiar, in the song structures, as if Grimes was leading us by hand into a dark forest but keeping us from being afraid.

Generally, the album’s better songs are the ones that have density and energy. “Flesh Without Blood” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, regardless of lyrical content. There are catchy tunes throughout. “Easily” is a dancy (if not somewhat lacking) song. “REALiTi” and “World Princess, Pt. II,” although similar, are both exceptional and engrossing late-album bangers. “SCREAM,” which heavily features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, is also an excellent track.

“Belly of the Beat” might be the album’s lowpoint, a largely acoustic track that might sound better if there was a different artist’s name attached to it. Some of the ‘lighter’ songs are disappointing. “California” borders on being too poppy, especially as it’s placement as the first real song, after the intro “laughing and not being normal” (which is a great track, while we’re on it). It centers itself as a lyrical ode, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

Still, you have to pride Grimes on trying new things. She’s included just about everything she can into her music, and she’s even made conventionality work for her. “Art Angels” tells us that, yes, Grimes can occasionally do wrong. But even when she does, she’ll right it on the next song and she’ll still sound great when she does. Her vocal screams – you know the thing she does – permeate the album, breaking up the songs from being too radio-friendly (“California” lacks them, and suffers because of it). It’s also impossible to ignore the power she holds. Grimes learned how to play multiple instruments after recording her last album, the near-perfect “Oblivion.” She does everything herself now. After realizing that only men were being allowed to use the production equipment for her music, she’s begun producing herself. Now she writes, performs all music, produces, choreographs shows and designs the album art and videos. And the video for “Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” is really something. And although she defies all genres, she’s generally lumped in with electronica music, which is chronically male-heavy. Grimes can release albums that aren’t perfect, and it doesn’t really matter, because she can tell young girls listening that they can do this, too. It’s why the collaboration with Janelle Monae makes sense – they’re two drastically different artists, but they’re both energetic, genre-bashing feminist singers.

Sorry. Went on a little tangent there. But Grimes is an incredibly important musician, and even if this album is frustratingly inconsistent, it could stand as her bid for greatness. “Flesh Without Blood” probably isn’t going to pick up any radio play, but it’ll gain more new listeners than “Genesis” or “Go” did. I’m worried about her next projects, that Grimes scrapped an entire album and ended up with an album like “Art Angels,” which flirts with greatness but rarely gets to it. But, she remains one of the most interesting artists in music today, and the album works well enough for the listener to forgive the sagging moments. “Art Angels” works because Grimes makes damn sure of it.

-By Andrew McNally

Snoop Dogg – “BUSH”

Grade: C

Key Tracks: “Peaches N Cream” “Run Away”

There’s a question I’ve had about ridiculously famous rappers for a while – what path do they follow, when they grow older? Classic rock singers like Rod Stewart and even Bob Dylan have been going the route of covers albums, so I’ve been wondering where a rapper like Snoop might go. Turns out, he doesn’t really know either. “BUSH,” his thirteenth album, meanders around basic funky rhythms with the aura of a man who hasn’t given up, but just doesn’t feel he has anything new to say.

It’s safe to say that the music that Snoop has put out in this millennium hasn’t tried to be revolutionary. “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” even as a potential candidate for one of hip-hop’s greatest songs, doesn’t try to prove anything. His Snoop Lion phase didn’t prove anything we didn’t already know (nor was it taken very seriously). So now that we’re 15 years into this century and Snoop Dogg is ever-increasingly just a family man, his music has taken a natural progression towards the fun and breezy. It often is, but it begs to wonder why it exists in the first place.

After a midtempo intro with Stevie Wonder, the next four songs on “BUSH” are all Snoop solo, and they could all really use the kick of someone else. “This City” serves as the best, centered around a hypnotic vibraphone rhythm, going on only slightly too long. The weakest of the four is “R U A Freak?,” with some groan-worthy punny lyrics and an uncredited appearance from Charlie Wilson so prevalent that I’m honestly not sure Snoop even shows up on the track.

There are brighter points later on the album. At the sixth of ten tracks, “Peaches N Cream” is the first one that really feels inspired. It’s the only song that credits Charlie Wilson, although he shows up on four tracks. “Run Away” features a surprising collaboration with Gwen Stefani, who channels her No Doubt years instead of her solo pop career. She adds a late spark to the album that’s missing elsewhere. And the album’s finale, “I’m Ya Dogg,” has guest verses from Rick Ross and Kendrick “some of ya’ll share bars like you got the bottom bunk in a two-man cell” Lamar, who called it himself – although the song is great, and really the album’s only true rap track, Snoop takes a vocal backseat and gets lost in the mix.

The funk revival of 2015 doesn’t seem like something planned, more coincidental. Snoop, Lamar, and Mark Ronson have all released funk-heavy albums, but each with a foundation coming from a different place. It’s going strong nonetheless, and the music is at least funky. Wonder is wasted in a lifeless opener, but “BUSH” does have it’s funky moments at times. It’s fun, and I think that’s all that Snoop’s going for now. If so, then it’s a minor success. But even so, he seems too content to be releasing placeholder, schlocky albums. This is the man who was vaguely involved in murder charges; the man with a drug rap sheet longer than Willie Nelson’s. It doesn’t seem right that he has settled into such a steady and easy life that he can release self-serving, basic funk. From reggae on “Reincarnated” to funk on “BUSH,” it seems like Snoop is closer to forfeiting the rap game rather than leaving it behind. But, it answers my question. When a successful rap artist can make enough and settle down, provided they didn’t marry Beyonce, then what are they to do? Keep it easy.

-By Andrew McNally

Alabama Shakes – “Sound and Color”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Don’t Wanna Fight” “Gimme All Your Love” “The Greatest”

Alabama Shakes’ “Sound and Color” is their sophomore album, but you wouldn’t know it. They sound like veterans, who have earned the right to indulge themselves in whatever they want. They spend most of the album resembling bands that have come before them – anywhere from TV on the Radio, to Citizen Cope, to the MC5. But all the while, aside from a few digressions, they’re a Southern blues-rock band, in total control of their sound. If they want to have fun, they’re damn well going to have some.

The opening song is the title track, a minimalist song based around layered vocals and beats. Intentional or not, it harkens strongly back to TV on the Radio’s opener “I Was a Lover” (from “Return to Cookie Mountain”), as a hushed song that gives the impression that the band could, but isn’t necessarily going to, erupt. The album follows exactly as it’s presented – usually calm and ethereal, but with occasional, noisy flourishes. The second track, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” establishes a smooth guitar line that’s instantly more melodic than the whole previous song. Brittany Howard’s vocals come in as a prolonged squeak, because, why not? Smooth blues vocals are expected to complement the music, and she gets to that point. But fighting the grain is the album’s mission statement.

“Sound and Color” is an album that sounds like it was designed around individual songs, not around an album format. What I mean – take a classic like “Dark Side of the Moon” or “Abbey Road.” Excellent albums, but not every song sounds great when it comes up on shuffle. They’re centered around an album format. Blues (and blues rock) is usually centered around songs, and nearly every track sounds like the band worked out the components that would make it unique. “Dunes” has a quick section where the band gives way to a dissonant pair of acoustic guitars. “Future People” has a synth-y drone in the background that would’ve sent John Lee Hooker to the hospital. Best track “Gimme All Your Love” sounds like an improved version of any song by any boring alt-jam band, occasionally bordering on near-silence. And then it picks up, suddenly, and unexpectedly. And “The Greatest” is a straight, worn punk track, one that sounds like it’s going to have a deceiving, disappointing red herring intro but doesn’t, keeping the energy up for nearly four minutes.

Every member of Alabama Shakes is clearly exceptional. Howard’s voice goes from low and subdued to high and shrieking at any turn. Zac Cockrell’s bass bumps the band through the whole album, more audible than on most rock releases. Heath Fogg’s and Howard’s guitars drive funky, usually melodic but occasionally dissonant rhythms. And Steve Johnson’s drums keep the rhythms afloat, expanding the band’s whole sound. The band occasionally works in group vocals, and sometimes not. Sometimes, they sound like a collective, sometimes they’re supporting one member. But always, they’re laid back and just enjoying what they’re doing. Without the band’s pure enjoyment of the music they’re making, half of the songs on “Sound and Color” would sound unoriginal, played out. But the band seems to understand that they’re playing some pretty hybrid genres, and they roll with it. “Sound and Color” probably isn’t going to be an album we’re looking back on in twenty years, but for an immediate time, it’s a hell of a ride.

If you like this, try: TV on the Radio, but as great as “Cookie Mountain” is, their follow-up “Dear Science” was even better.

-By Andrew McNally

Lightning Bolt – “Fantasy Empire”

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Grade: B

Key Tracks: “The Metal East” “Mythmaster”

Lightning Bolt is 21. Lightning Bolt is living on its own, balancing school and work. Lightning Bolt can drink, vote and smoke with no consequence. On their seventh album, they embrace being 21 as an actual 21 year old might – by accepting the rigidity of adulthood, accepting the routine of routine, but not embracing it.

The band, still comprised of just Brian Chippendale on drums and indecipherable vocals, and Brian Gibson on bass guitar, give the impression they’re cleaning things up. The songs on “Fantasy Empire” feel more rehearsed. They’re more rhythmic, more practiced, more worn-in. The band even recorded in a proper studio for the first time in years. This is a trajectory most bands tend to follow – they’re crazy while they’re young, but once they get a taste of success they straighten themselves up. But, Lightning Bolt has been unpredictably successful for many years, so to hear a more straight-forward, repetitive version of the duo is surprising, to say the least.

Or at least, that’s what they want us to think. Lightning Bolt’s rigidity on “Fantasy Empire” is only surprising because we’re used to their wild inconsistencies. Their songs weren’t improvised, but they sure damn sounded like it. 2005’s “Hypermagic Mountain,” one of the albums that got me into noise music, is an hour of Chippendale beating the drums into submission and Gibson shredding wildly. On “Fantasy,” there’s central rhythms and tempo changes. The vocals are rhythmic and coordinated (if not still wholly indiscriminate). But they’re still the same band. On opener “The Metal East,” the band rages on like an ambulance driver in a snowstorm – an experienced one.

The Brians were really just growing tired of the recording process and wanted a change. “Fantasy Empire” is their first album since 2009, and some of these songs have been in their concert rotation since 2010. Musical maturity is a different route for the band. Sometimes, it works, like the sudden tempo change and crescendo on “Mythmaster.” Other times, like on “Horsepower,” the lack of insanity leaves them focus-less. More often than not, things come together. The band nods to metal, like on “Runaway Train,” and to pop, like on the surprisingly rhythmic vocals of “Over the River and Through the Woods.” They’re more leveled, letting you know when you’re going to be assaulted and by which instrument. Things come together more, there’s a semi-structured cohesiveness. And the level to which the listener finds it either off-putting or a breath of fresh air, is really up to the listener. It does leave a hole, as they begin to sound like the bands they’ve inspired. But it’s a small hole, because even in it’s maturity, Lightning Bolt is still a 21 year old band – not yet rid of a few pranks, a few tricks up it’s sleeve, and a whole lot of energy.

If you like this, try: The best recent comparison to “Fantasy Empire” is Melt-Banana’s 2003 “Cell-Scape,” where they held back and wrote catchier, more accessible songs – and in doing so, their stance as the most ferocious band on Earth was only heightened, through the power of planned blasts instead of a full-on attack.