Well we’ve hit the end of the year, the time where I spend hours writing about the music I loved for 1-12 readers! As with most years, I focused more on albums than individual songs, so a grand albums post will be forthcoming. But there were more than a few songs I loved at first sight listen, and unlike my albums post, I’ve decided to try and feebly do a ranking of them. I did not put much effort into the actual list and have absolutely forgotten something necessary, but I did work on the rankings. So here’s 30 songs I truly loved:
#30. Archive – “Mr. Daisy”
I came into this band by chance from a Facebook group talking about a song of theirs from 2009, only to discover that they’re still going strong and remain very popular in Europe. The band doesn’t contain themselves within genre, venturing anywhere between trip-hop and nu-metal. They released 2 albums this year, and a standout song is this track, a post-rock inspired alt tune that’s simple, fun and nostalgic. I’m excited to dive deep into this band’s catalog next year.
#29. Robert Stillman – “Cherry Ocean”
This is likely the most divisive and maybe the most obscure song on this list, as something that probably won’t appeal much to my core audience (those 4 people). Stillman’s soft, somber, 8+ minute jazz track sets the tone for the following album, though it’s the only song on it with lyrics. The song is sparse and drone-adjacent, but the scraps of melody are haunting and intriguing. Even though it’s a repetitive minimalist song, I find myself coming back to it repeatedly. It’s a warm and forgiving place to be.
#28. Meat Wave – “Honest Living”
This is my kind of thing – two-minute sucker punch of fuzz guitar and wicked vocals. I’m a sucker for even the worst garage rock, it’s my go-to and my comfort music, and Meat Wave’s recent album more than satisfies that crave within me. “Living” is a punk bruiser with depressingly satirical lyrics about the grind of the workforce. Throw in some good vocal rhythms to boot and you’ve got a memorable little garage punk tune.
#27. Gladie – “Born Yesterday”
A lot of indie-punk bands like to play it safe and merely threaten to go full throttle. Gladie aren’t that band, and they kick off their recent release with a amp-busting banger that makes a statement. I wasn’t aware of this band just a few weeks ago, and now I’m excited to see where they go from here. I’ve also just seen them live and can confirm that this track kills in a concert setting.
#26. Björk & serpentwithfeet – “Fungal City”
Leave it to Björk to make a “mushroom” album, a delightful and occasionally suspicious soundscape that makes it sound like you are lying on the forest floor. The album’s highlight and most on-point track is “Fungal City,” which barely hangs on to any rhythms to create a damp, foresty environment. It starts soft, gets heavy, and stays weird. I don’t know how you even approach crafting a song like this, but it is yet another Björk classic.
#25. The Smile – “You Will Never Work in Television Again”
I’m not really interested in debating whether Radiohead is done or what this offshoot means for their legacy – it’s a different project, no more no less. While the album mostly just sounds like Radiohead, this song has some rough energy that hasn’t been in the band’s music for many years. Very funny that they’ve played this on late night shows, hopefully they’ll play on Corden soon.
#24. The Beths – “Expert in a Dying Field”
If I were to somehow manage to actually list out my 10 or so favorite songs, the Beths would be the only repeat artist on that list. Count this one among the handful of their songs that I really love. Lush and heartbreaking lyrics and vocal melodies all contain themselves within a simple indie/punk song. This group always seems to find interesting ways to sing about despair and ennui, and this one is no different. Add in some of Elizabeth Stokes’s characteristically intriguing vocal rhythms and you’ve got another Beths banger.
#23. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – “The Harvest”
I treat doom metal like a sandwich – if it’s plain then fine, I’ll take it, but I probably won’t really enjoy it. Doom metal to me has to do something to tinker with the formula, and this song does just that. The Best Band Name in the World take a classic doom metal song structure and add synths and dreamy vocals into something fuller. It’s heavy and brutal, while still feeling fun and atmospheric. The band has always done stuff like this well, but this song and album is a high watermark for them.
#22. Van Buren Records – “FOUL”
One of my favorite rap records of the year came from a local group, Van Buren Records. The large collective makes fun and urgent music with a cascade of voices. The group is at their best when they’re moving quickly, as they do here. No voice or idea overstays its welcome, especially with key features. This is such fun stuff.
#21. Slipknot – “The Chapeltown Rag”
Slipknot’s new album was a divisive one – there was a lot of really stupid discourse around it including the phrase “Slipknot’s Radiohead album.” I loved it for the way it wraps together a more mature, balanced sound with some of their old angry bangers. Well this is the latter, just an old-fashioned Slipknot ear-gouger. Dopey lyrics about violence, manic drums (RIP Joey) and unexpectedly good vocals, this is classic Slipknot. It’s great that they’re finally moving past this kind of stuff, but it’s wild they can still do it so well, too.
#20. Billy Nomates – “spite”
“Don’t you act like I ain’t the fuckin’ man” rips Tor Maries across the chorus of this indie banger. I’m very unfamiliar with her work – I’ve heard a few songs and keep forgetting to check out more. But, this one recently grabbed my attention on the radio. It’s bold and brash while staying well within an indie song, a contained anger that’s delightful as it is genuine. It feels like a victory lap set to music, a ceiling-puncher and a song that probably kills live. I’m on board, now.
#19. 8 Kalacas – “Frontera”
I’m aware the phrase “ska metal” sounds about as off-putting as fruitcake but this song is wild. I first wrote about it in my “Songs You May Have Missed” midyear post and I’m going after it again. This song has horns and riffs and it’s an absolute blast to listen to. A sonic assault that lies more in metal than ska, this really isn’t like anything I’ve heard before. Part of that also lies in the lyrics – silly music is mixed with a dead serious story about a Mexican immigrant realizing the American Dream is a lie and sadly moving back home. The band has Latin roots that add an authenticity to the music that is often missing in wretched, ironic white guy ska. I urge folks to give this one a chance.
#18. Big Thief – “Simulation Swarm”
Big Thief make so many songs that are so heartbreakingly gorgeous that it doesn’t feel fair to other bands. “Simulation Swarm” isn’t nearly as good as 2019’s “Not” or 2020’s “anything” (from singer Adrienne Lenker solo), and yet it still makes the list. The music is calm and patient, featuring the effortless, minimalistic melancholy that the band is known for, and it’s complemented by Lenker’s soft, earworm vocal rhythm. As always, her unique voice elevates this into classic territory. Big Thief forever.
#17. My Chemical Romance – “The Foundations of Decay”
It’s so amazing to me that this exists at all. MCR’s first new release in nearly a decade, and it follows their path of switching up their sound with each album. I don’t know if a proper album is to follow – maybe they don’t, either – but I’d be intrigued if it does. This is slower and denser than you’d expect from MCR, more grown-up now than before. As per usual, the song rests on Gerard Way’s deceitfully strong vocals, but the whole band sounds great. This isn’t as flashy as the group used to be, and therefore the song is a grower – I wasn’t impressed on first listen, but after getting to see it done live (twice!) it’s won me over.
#16. Soul Glo – “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)”
I didn’t plan for this to be so close to 8 Kalacas but it’s only fitting. Soul Glo presents an equally scorned genre – rap-rock – in a way that’s genuine and refreshing. The opening track to their downright remarkable album Diaspora Problems is a manic, full-octane track that sounds dangerous. Inspired as much by hardcore punk and glitch as they are traditional rap and rock, this is “rap-rock” in the same sense that Death Grips is, not Machine Gun Kelly.
#15. Chat Pile – “Why”
Why do people have to live outside? is the simple question and refrain posited by post-hardcore upstarts Chat Pile. The centerpiece of a Top 5 of 2022 album is also one of the most bluntly political songs of the year (or ever, really). It’s a shakedown of America’s quiet housing crisis sung with a genuine, guttural anger. It feels like everyone in the country is boiling over with anger over their beliefs of choice, and that’s palpable on this barely-contained song. Anyone with an ounce of empathy can relate here, even if it’s abrasive on the ears.
#14. The Mountain Goats – “Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome”
It only took 21 studio albums for Mountain Goats to do their first true rock song. An album centered around low-budget action movies needed an energetic boost, so Darnielle et al up the energy for really, the first time in their storied career. Admittedly there are better songs across the unexpectedly great album, but this is my list dammit so I’m picking this one. Although the Goats have carved out their own niche in alternative music, I’d be curious to hear more of this side, too!
#13. Paramore – “The News”
I nearly disqualified this one for recency bias, it was released only a few days before I started this post. But it’s so damn good. Save for a pop-punk heavy debut recorded when they were all around 15, Paramore hasn’t released a bad song, and I’m delighted this stretch is continuing after a multi-year hiatus. The song abandons their more recent new-wave stuff for a return to fiery pop-rock, with more bite than they’ve ever had. There’s a fierceness that cuts through the music here, but also the melody is an instant earworm. I’ve only heard this song twice and it’s already so high.
#12. Fontaines D.C. – “Jackie Down the Line”
Imagine my frustration in 2019 when I first heard this group, a severely Irish post-punk group, only to be sufficiently bored by their album. I wanted to like it and decided to dive into the follow-up with an open mind and, thankfully, liked it much more. This is definitely the song I “sang” the most this year (as it’s not sung but spoken), because it allowed me to practice a ridiculous Irish accent. But it’s a great tune that’s simultaneously despondent and lively. There’s a lot of talk-sing post-punk bands coming out of the UK area (alongside IDLES, Black Country New Road and Dry Cleaning) and I’ve got varying opinions on it; this band has thankfully fallen in my good favor.
#11. MJ Lenderman – “Tastes Just Like It Costs”
Lenderman is an artist I ignored for a while because I thought he was the same brand of tired, acoustic stuff that Father John Misty occupies. My face was red when I finally spun an album, the great Boat Songs. This was my favorite song, a lively and fuzzy guitar track with a touch of humor but a melancholic vocal melody. This song, like much of the album, owes a debt of gratitude to the early alt groups like Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr. – a well I will never run dry. This is another catalog I will be diving into soon.
#10. black midi – “Sugar/Tzu”
I loved black midi’s debut only to be frustrated by the sophomore album. Their third righted the course and gave me what I think is their best song yet. “Sugar/Tzu” is one of the most raucous songs I’ve heard all year, manic talk-sung vocals mixing with a steady, revolving central rhythm and frequent…interruptions? The music video follows a boxing match, which is very fitting, as the resembles what it feels like to get beat up. The song sounds borderline improvised, closer to prime era Lightning Bolt than any of their more radio-friendly peers. I cannot overstress how wild this song is.
#9. L.S. Dunes – “Permanent Rebellion”
In most cases, I will side with any artist’s louder, more energetic tunes. This debut track from emo supergroup L.S. Dunes is no exception. The expectation-obliterating album’s penultimate song is also the loudest and most abrasive of the bunch, a throwback to all of the respective members’ heydays. The verses here are standard rock stuff, but the choruses hold a thrilling punch that separate Dunes from most supergroups; this isn’t a fun side project, this is a group with a statement to make. The emo revival will never die, baby.
#8. Weyes Blood – “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”
Natalie Mering is two albums into a trilogy that’s essentially about going through the rough of it. It’s sad enough on principle, and this album follows in the footsteps of 2019’s Titanic Rising by opening with the best song of the bunch. “Not Just Me” is a gorgeous chamber pop song, a heavenly ballad set over little more than vocals, harp and drums. It’s a dreamy, absorbing song with nightmarish lyrics about human suffering and ignorance. The album that follows is more of the same – and it’s one of the best of the year. But this one in particular is just a completely devastating yet rewarding listen.
#7. Weird Nightmare – “Searching For You”
When I heard that METZ frontman Alex Edkins was releasing a solo record, I had a feeling I knew what it would sound like – more melodic and alternative-based than his primary band, while retaining much of the energy. I was right, this song sounds like the crushing assault of (loudest band I’ve ever seen live) METZ filtered through the Minutemen. It’s loud and aggressive but it’s got a great rhythm and a more subdued approach. Like a few other songs on this list, it owes some to 90’s guitar alternative, revamped for today.
#6. Spoon – “Wild”
It’s very rare that a band can maintain a similar sound for decades and keep it fresh; they’ll either start to sound repetitive (AC/DC) or settle into a relaxed vibe (Wilco). But Spoon isn’t most bands, and “Wild” sounds like the same Spoon from 2005. They’re revamped and reinvigorated and they’re all the better for it. Britt Daniel’s odd singing voice remains the band’s best strength, as this would be a very standard song without it, but the Neil Young-like vocals elevate this to a Certified Spoon Classic.
#5. Leikeli47 – “Chitty Bang”
This song is just about as fun as music can get. The masked rapper kicks off her consistently excellent third album with this immaculately-produced bop. I don’t understand how this song isn’t topping the charts, I challenge anyone to spin it and sit still. A hip-hop song with pop structure and production, this song should really appeal to just about everyone. Although the artist has chosen to remain private, I hope 2023 sees her absolutely blow up.
#4. Gogol Bordello – “Fire On Ice Floe”
This one is circumstantial – after Peter Murphy checked into rehab and Bauhaus canceled their reunion tour, Riot Fest had to scramble to book a medium-big, evening act. Eugene Hutz and gang filled in, and delivered the best festival set I’ve ever seen (and went 10 minutes over, much to the chagrin of Glenn Danzig). I didn’t know this song when they played it, as it had only been released days prior, but they jammed on the chorus for an extended period. The easy, melodic refrain of “dance, dance, dance into the fire” had the massive audience all singing and dancing along. Although the band was there to promote defense for Ukraine, they still turned the set into an absolute party. This may or may not be a great song, but my vision will always be blinded by how I was first introduced to it.
#3. Perennial – “Tooth Plus Claw”
Again I am blinded, because my first interaction with this band’s music was when I had a chance to interview them (they’re really fun people to chat with, folks). This song doesn’t eclipse 90 seconds, just a dance-punk whirlwind that’s extremely high energy and just as fun. It’s loud and brash, but – like the rest of their album – is done entirely as a party. This is a throwback to The Hives and Be Your Own Pet, bands with short songs and contained chaos, that always still rely on melody above all. Love this so much.
#2. Arlo Parks – “Softly”
Arlo Parks just missed out on both my favorite song and album lists last year, and her sole release in 2022 is better than everything she delivered in 2021. This is one of those songs that will have you crying in seconds even though it’s a wholesome love song. The vocal melody perfectly matches the pure lyrics, a quiet message to a (potential?) lover. Her voice dominates over the music, seemingly mixed at a higher volume than a normal song would be. I’m not one for listening to songs on repeat but I could easily play this one for an hour.
#1. Orville Peck – “Daytona Sand”
Big surprise, the guy who goes by Orville Shrek on twitter loves the music of Orville Peck. There’s something about the mysterious, masked, Canadian, queer outlaw country/alternative singer that just works for me. The opening track to his stellar sophomore album Bronco picks up where Pony left off; the forlorn western lyrics, the driving snare drum and Peck’s deliciously commanding bass voice all propel this to the #1 spot. It’s catchy, fun and yet melancholic, and it’s probably my favorite song of the year.
For fun, here’s some songs that didn’t make the cut:
Beyoncé – “Break My Soul” (should’ve made the list, but do I really need to tell you about this one?)
The Linda Lindas – “Racist Sexist Boy”
Interpol – “Gran Hotel”
Rammstein – “Angst”
HEALTH & The Body – “AD 1000”
Thanks for reading this far! I wouldn’t have! I’ll be posting more year-end stuff, specifically an albums post on NYE and a films post sometime when I feel like.
As I continue a hostile takeover of my own long-dormant blog, I had the idea to do a weekly post to highlight four things I loved this week – gonna see if I can keep it to one film, one wrestling match and two albums (one old, one new), all of which will be under-the-radar stuff. As in, this week I watched “The Usual Suspects” for the first time, and listened to Don McLean’s “American Pie” album for the first time, but you already know about those things so there’s no point in exercising my knuckles to tell you about them.
Of course, things won’t always align like that and I’m sure I’ll straight up forget to do this +50% of the time, but whatever it’s my blog I can do what I want here.
#1. Diane Coffee – “With People” (2022)
This album came to me via recommendation, as I, just like everyone else, seemed to have completely missed it dropping. Diane Coffee is an ex-drummer of Foxygen and appeared on the second Run The Jewels album. I admittedly have not really kept up with their solo work over the years, but their name never dropped off my radar, so to see the criminally low play counts on their new album on Spotify was shocking. Folks, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s an eclectic indie mix, complementing tuneful music with off-kilter vocals, like a more energetic Hamilton Leithauser. A guest spot from Deep Sea Diver really seals the deal, too. There were a couple really great new releases I checked out this week, but this one is the most undeservedly overlooked. We’re talking album of the quarter stuff, here.
Other new releases I recommend: Black Dresses – “Forget Your Own Face,” Moonlight Sorcery – “Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity,” black midi – “Hellfire”
#2. “I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang” (1932)
I’d been meaning to check this flick out ever since the ending action sequence made the rounds on twitter a few months back. I’ve seen a share of 30’s movies now and one issue I have with most dramas is inconsistency – segments of action followed by long stretches of nothing, etc. It might be worth noting that two films that kept me consistently engaged were this and “Scarface” – both films from 1932, and both starring Paul Muni. This one follows a WWI vet as he’s wrongfully arrested for simply being in a restaurant when it gets robbed. Once he’s thrown on a chain gang, he commits an actual crime of busting out and going on the lam. It’s years until he’s found, as he’s changed his identity and become a man of his local community, but a wicked government throws him back in prison and then lies about how long they’re keeping him there. It’s dark and it’s cynical, and both getaway scenes are brimming with genuinely thrilling action. I really don’t know why this film – and it’s cool, helpful title – are not talked about more often.
Other films I watched for the first time this week: The Usual Suspects (1995), Zombieland Double Tap (2019), Willy’s Wonderland (2021).
#3 Kasey Kirk vs. Danny Demanto – ICW No Holds Barred 24 (4/1/22)
Realistically, I don’t know if I’ll spend the time writing about matches each week, because I don’t really pore over old footage at all and just stick to a handful of American promotions (Impact, GCW, ICWNHB, H2O, sometimes AEW, and a few other indies I’ll check out if the cards are good). I spent some time this week catching up on ICWNHB shows – my favorite deathmatch promotion. I’ve been with them since early on in the chains rebranding at the top of 2020, but they spent much of that year & 2021 being a cool, ho-hum deathmatch company with a couple noteworthy moments (60 minute ironman match, new title). In 2022, Demanto’s org has suddenly made a major push for recognition on the independent scene, with nearly every chains event being well worth your time, if you can stomach the violence. Coupled with that is the sudden push to give Kasey Kirk a spotlight as a singles competitor and not just a valet/interferer for her husband Brandon. She’s already defeated John Wayne Murdoch, Joel Bateman, and her own damn husband (in a very fun match I saw in person!) so for her to go up against, and beat, the head of the company – well it just made sense. Kasey and Danny don’t hold back – I mean, it’s Danny Demanto – as the violence escalates to thrilling and uncomfortable levels. 2022 has felt like a solid year for women in deathmatch wrestling, and this match is a highlight of that.
#4. Repulsion – “Horrified” (1989)
If you’ve for some reason continued to read this far, then you may already be familiar with the sole studio album from the band Repulsion. There’s more than enough gaps in my knowledge for me to call myself a metalhead – I mean, I kicked this piece off writing about Diane Coffee – but I closed one this week. The album was a massive influence on a generation of (largely worse) death metal, goregrind and grindcore groups. The tracks are direct in their filth, with song titles like “Splattered Cadavers,” “Bodily Dismemberment,” and “Festering Boils.” If there’s a body part, there’s a song. This album also sets the tone for grindcore moving forward, at 18 songs and 29 minutes. There’s a certain something in the production of this album that feels particularly grimy – every song sounds very rough and muddy without being overbearing. It feels like something that’s been mimicked a thousand times but never copied. “Horrified” won’t win any new fans to metal, but it should be a mandatory listen for anyone trying to trace the roots of grindcore et al.
Other older releases I enjoyed for the first time this week: Don McLean – “American Pie” (1971), The Buggles – “The Age of Plastic” (1980), Spoon – “A Series of Sneaks (1998), Oathbreaker – “ErosAnetros” (2013), Lingua Ignota – “All Bitches Die” (2018)
That’s four things I enjoyed this week! I’d like to keep this going weekly, or perhaps I’ll do one monthly as this took longer than I expected. If you actually read any of this, thanks! That’s very nice of you! I hope you feel an urge to check any of these out if they’re up your alley. Feel free to send me any recs of stuff you think I may enjoy as well!
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a proper review on this site, so it’s only fitting that my first post back is covering two new songs by Kira Velella – someone whose last release I covered nine long years ago. Velella is back with two new singles released independently of each other, though the songs feel intertwined conceptually.
“Even Then,” the newer of the two songs, follows a familiar but comforting folk-country format. Velella starts the song by complementing a soft guitar rhythm with stronger vocals – the song’s central focus. They’re joined later by drums and steel pedal (courtesy of Kenny Shaw and Ryan Hommel, respectively), but it’s clear that your attention should settle solely on Velella here. Her vocal rhythms feel warmly optimistic, as do her lyrics, which weave a tale of imperfections in a healthy relationship. The song’s verses are a one-sided conversation to a lover, founded on the repetition of the phrase “Even when” – i.e. “Even when I start the fight / Even when I know you’re right / Even when I’m sorry comes too slow / Even then I know you won’t go.” Think of it as a total flip of Big Thief’s miserable (but wonderful) song “Not.” The song plays like a written letter left as a secret to be found later, a secret we’re privy to as listeners.
“You Light Me Up” – released back in October despite taking place on the Fourth of July – follows a related musical path as “Even Then.” “Light” is a tender folk song, missing the slight country influence of “Even” but similar otherwise. Everything feels a little more balanced on “Light,” with Velella’s vocals falling more into the mix and a soothing drum rhythm taking more prominence. Guitar remains a focus, but there’s a faint piano line hidden behind everything else that adds some nice ambiance. The song is also an ode to an imperfect but cherished relationship, with a warm nostalgia, but more hints of vulnerability. The relationship in this song still sounds lovely, but something about it feels a little less concrete than in “Even Then.” Everything detailed in the song is in the past, looking back on good times, as opposed to a continuous presence. In both of these songs, Velella nails the complicated human mistakes and roughness of relationships that are often too sanitized or dumbed down by other artists.
The two songs work as both parts of a whole and as opposites of each other. Velella takes center stage on “Even,” a song that takes place in a universe of only two people – her and the person she’s singing to. On “Light,” there’s an almost immediate reference to other people in the neighborhood, and Velella herself sounds further in the mix, in the crowd of instruments. “Even Then” feels like a evening drive on a nice summer night in the open, where “You Light Me Up” feels more like the Independence Day it describes – a little crowded and warm, but still lovely and fun. Both songs have some cracked nostalgia, but are ultimately warm and rewarding folk odes to those we love nearly unconditionally. As we approach the doldrums of the relentless summer heat in yet another collectively terrible year, we can use some solace in songs like these.
Look, it’s been a weird year. I don’t really want to talk about it. What I do want to talk about is music, always, and what I’ve found is that there’s been a ton of great, under the radar stuff this year. I may do a proper post about what albums I’ve loved so far in 2022, but this post is specifically dedicated to songs you may have missed. You don’t need two posts about how great Bad Bunny or Sharon Van Etten are. So this post is 20 songs, unranked, that I think you should hear. I didn’t put any effort into planning genres here, just grabbed 20 that I love, but there’s a mix from noise to ska to old school hip-hop!
8 Kalacas – “Frontera”
Coming out of the gates with a controversial choice, because I know some people don’t like metal, and some people really don’t like ska, so ska-metal might sound atrocious. But 8 Kalacas combines the two in a way detached from any dopey 90’s skacore done by ignorant white dudes. Not to say that the music isn’t fun, because it’s a guilty pleasure of a track, but there’s enough genuine artistic passion and seriousness in the lyrics – a tale about immigrating back to Mexico after the American dream has failed you – to present this as a woeful tune demanding of your attention.
I know absolutely nothing about this band and, full disclosure, I only found them on a bigger blog doing this exact same type of midyear post. I don’t know how they found this band, a new Icelandic band who’s debut album has yet to muster 3500+ spotify plays for any song. But boy does this rip. This is the exact type of music I was looking for in my teens – guitar-heavy goth shit. This has the sound of a noisy, combustible no wave or noise rock band, but the vocals of something more gothic. It’s loud, melodic, dark and extremely sweaty. More of this, please.
FFO: METZ, mclusky, sweating your mascara off
Foxtails – “space orphan”
There’s a handful of albums I’ve listened to or added to lists to listen that were based off recommendations where I simply cannot remember where they were recommended to me. I jumped into this album entirely unfamiliar with the group, but based on the low-caps band name/album title/song titles and the cutesy album cover, I was expecting some tender indie. What I got instead was an inspired mix of alternative, violin, and scream-y vocals, not out of the realm of Defiance, Ohio, but less gimmicky then them too. This song is more representative of how much I loved the album in general, but it rips. There’s some very chaotic, downright uncomfortable stuff going on here.
FFO: Defiance Ohio, Gouge Away, having a breakdown in small town america
HEALTH/Ada Rook/PlayThatBoyZai – “MURDER DEATH KILL”
MDK ALL FUCKIN DAY
HEALTH is one of my favorite bands, and Ada Rook is maybe my favorite screamer right now, so this pairing just makes sense. The industrial group has been working with tons of artists – most notably Nine Inch Nails – across two collaborative albums. Results have been mixed, but this absolute ripper of a 2-minute song makes it all worth it. Music doesn’t get much more in your face than this, an absolute wicked aura matched only by volume. Seems intentional that the title matches the slogan of a wrestler who was once killed in the ring, revived, and tried to fight the paramedics to clear him to finish the match. I’m MDK affiliated.
FFO: Backxwash, The Body, light tube bundles
KRS-One – “Raw Hip Hop”
Thirty-six years into his career, KRS-One doesn’t have anything he has to prove to anyone, and he’s allowed to do whatever he wants. While his new album – his 16th(!) solo record – varies in quality, it’s got some bangers like “Raw Hip Hop.” It lives up to the title, with a first-person overview of the genre’s history from someone who’s always been at the forefront of it. His forceful rapping is mixed with a minimalist beat, resulting in an old-school sounding song from an old-school artist. It’s criminal that he still flies under the radar.
FFO: Q-Tip, Biz Markie, an era without Machine Gun Kelly in it
Leikeli47 – “Chitty Bang”
Okay so you probably have heard this song, as it’s being used in a TV commercial right now (don’t ask me for what, I tune those out), but it’s worth a mention here as the full song is simply a blast. The song opens the rapper’s excellent new album “Shape Up,” the first of many straight fun songs on a Side A that plays like one long party jam. Given that “Zoom” has well eclipsed 5 million Spotify plays and “Done Right” seems to be on TikTok a lot, I’m guessing – hoping – that Leikeli47 isn’t on these lists much longer.
FFO: Princess Nokia, Rico Nasty, that brief era where MIA was huge
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – “The Harvest”
You’re right, I did want to write about this one partially because they have the best band name in music hands down. But I’ve been singing their praises for a few years now. I’m hit and miss when it comes to stoner metal, so it makes sense that I’d love this song that really toys with the format. It’s got the length (9:10) and it’s got the riffs – by god, does it have the riffs – but it’s also got spacey synths and dreamy vocals. It somehow sounds both warm and menacing at the same time, as if it is simply not of this planet. I’ll give you a few minutes to take a few tokes before we continue.
FFO: Blood Incantation, Neurosis, getting high in the forest and what, is that a UFO? is that a UFO?
Mattiel – “Lighthouse”
Mattiel is one of a handful of indie artists whose continued lack of mainstream success upsets me to no end. Their new album “Georgia Gothic” continues their trend of making very digestible indie tunes with diverse inspirations, but a complete sound. My personal favorite, “Lighthouse” is bolstered by horns and and an excellent, repeated vocal line. Songs like this were designed to stick in your head.
FFO: Sunflower Bean, Horsegirl, feeling restless on a nice summer day
MJ Lenderman – “Tastes Just Like It Costs”
The name MJ Lenderman has been on my radar for a bit but his recent “Boat Songs” album is the first release of his I’ve actually heard. His name usually comes up alongside folksier artists that I’m usually hit-and-miss on, so to hear an album of generally grungier, more old school alternative was a delightful surprise. This is possibly my favorite on the album, because I’m a huge sucker for a song that ends on a repeating line (as seen elsewhere on on this list). This is a poppy, fuzzy guitar song with a neat vocal rhythm, resulting in what Dinosaur, Jr. might sound like if J. Mascis was just a little bit playful.
FFO: Dinosaur, Jr., Pavement, flannel shirts
Otoboke Beaver – “I Won’t Dish Out Salads”
I picked this one up via a recommendation and only listened to it this week, and I remain confounded on how to even classify this band. It’s garage-punk, with the ferocity of noise and the vocals of something poppier. Too melodic for Melt Banana, too hardcore for J-pop, and the tracks are just the right length for grindcore (the album’s last three songs account for only 39 seconds of music). It’s fun, aggressive, and insanely melodic. There’s only one other band I’ve listened to this year that sounded similar, and they’re…
FFO: Melt Banana, Guerilla Toss, trashing the term “guilty pleasure” once and for all
Perennial – “Tooth Plus Claw”
I’m a little biased on this one, as I recently got to interview these fine folks about their excellent new album, but it’s one of my favorite songs from the year nonetheless. Perennial’s music is a blast in both ways, and this song works a mission statement – a bouncy dance-punk track that harmonizes fun and aggression, all wrapped up in 85 seconds. Some bands that came up in conversation were Be Your Own Pet & The Hives, and it’s hard not to see Perennial as a spiritual successor to both those names.
FFO: Be Your Own Pet, The Hives, chugging cold brew
PLOSIVS – “Hit the Breaks”
Somehow this supergroup comprising members of Pinback, Against Me! (Atom Willard!) and Hot Snakes seems to have gone completely under the radar. The opening song off their debut song definitely sounds like the latter band, an aggressive but melodic indie-punk ditty that sounds like it was designed to absolutely kill in a live setting. You could argue that we don’t need yet another jangly garage group – but when it sounds as good as this, who cares?
FFO: Hot Snakes, Les Savy Fav, dads that rock
Porridge Radio – “Birthday Party”
Naming a song “Birthday Party” and then repeating the line “I don’t wanna be loved” endlessly is the grimmest possible way to establish a song. But that’s what the indie group Porridge Radio is about. Add in the pained vocals, deceivingly catchy rhythms and faint sounds of kids in the background, and you’ve got one of the year’s most brutally depressing songs. It’s what to expect from Porridge Radio, and it’s done well across the whole album, but never as good as here.
FFO: Nick Cave, the sadder Los Campesinos! albums, working on your birthday
SOAK – “Purgatory”
We’ve seen an absolute glut of electric-acoustic indie with pretty vocals over the last decade, but it’s still so nice to find artists who can do it so well. This song, the opener to a very solid album, mixes comforting acoustic with more unpredictable electric rhythms and deceptively haunting vocals. Their voice sounds so, so much like Adrienne Lenker’s, which is to say pretty and haunting at the same time. The repetition on “I’ll be hungry forever” to end the song is an extra wrinkle on the song’s beauty.
FFO: Big Thief, Waxahatchee, autumn
Robert Stillman – “Cherry Ocean”
This song remains confounding to me. It’s just shy of 9 minutes, features just a few instruments and very hushed, difficult-to-decipher vocals. It’s the only song on the album with lyrics, as the album otherwise meanders around various subgenres of jazz. I *guess* this counts as jazz, too, but I’m not even comfortable with that label. All of the components of this feel warm – the piano drone, the sax, the quiet vocals – and yet the final product feels cold and questioning. The album’s title – What Does It Mean To Be An American? – comes from a different song, but in the year 2022 that is a menacing question, and this song reflects it. There’s practically nothing to pull from this track, and yet I keep coming back to it.
FFO: Mount Eerie, Gene Hackman playing saxophone at the end of “The Conversation”
Tropical Fuck Storm/King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – “Satanic Slumber Party Part 2 (Midnight in Sodom)“
Seemingly half of the current rock & punk bands I like come from Australia, so it only makes sense to see a team-up like this. I’ll admit I am not super familiar with TFS but Gizz has been my most played band each year since I got obsessed in 2018, and this song plays into their super wild side, just 6 minutes of chaotic art-punk that seems to never nail down any kind of central rhythm but also maintain just enough normalcy to not be pure cacophony. This song is pure, unadulterated fun. Gizz are by no means an undiscovered group but they released this split just weeks before their monstrous album “Omnium Gatherum” and it seems to have gotten lost in that album’s shadow. Also, be happy Gizz-heads: they’ve already committed to releasing 3 (!) more albums this year.
FFO: the better Animal Collective albums, black midi, riding a unicorn through a rainbow ocean
The Venomous Pinks – “Todos Unidos”
Ok so this song is actually 2 years old now and popped up on my radar last year, but the Arizona punk trio’s debut was finally released in June, so I’m counting it. Messy and angry, the song hearkens back to the times when hardcore punk was first burgeoning into the mainstream with its call to action and gang vocals. It feels refreshing to hear such straightforward street punk in an era where the genre label “punk” is arguably being thrown around too loosely. Given that they just wrapped up a tour with *the Dead Kennedys,* I would say to watch for this name.
FFO: Rancid, Pennywise, the great street punk bands from your hometown that split up to become firefighters
Weird Nightmare – “Searching For You”
Weird Nightmare is the solo project from Alex Edkins from METZ, but one listen to the song and you could probably figure that one out on your own. While the song is much more distinctly indie than anything METZ, the sweatiest band in the world, has done, it retains much of the same sound. Edkins still snarls his way through this slightly menacing track, and he remains infallible in his way of coupling melody and noise. This song takes heavy inspiration from some legendary 80’s/90’s guitar alternative, and we should be thankful for it.
FFO: METZ (obviously), Preoccupations, the crushing weight of a Tuesday afternoon
Zeal & Ardor – “Feed the Machine”
There weren’t a ton of albums I loved in Q1 this year so this new Zeal & Ardor album sat near the top of my list for a while. I truly don’t know why they’re not getting more attention than they are, though I blame the metal purists who demand every band follow the exact same script. Zeal & Ardor not only didn’t follow a metal script, they never even read it. This song – more indicative of how much I loved the album in general – starts with a damn stomp clap. The album takes black metal and incorporates elements of African music, chamber pop, industrial, folk, and just whatever the hell the band feels is appropriate. Nothing about it should work, and yet it does in a way that still makes metal feel fresh. Truly one of the best albums of the year so far.
FFO: Deafheaven, Author & Punisher, music that pisses off your parents and pisses off the people who make music to piss off your parents
Zola Jesus – “Sewn”
Zola’s new album “Arkhon” – only 1 day old at the time of me writing this – masterfully blends peaceful euphoria, haunting melodies and vengeful brooding into one album. My personal favorite from the album swings towards the latter, a menacing synth track that sounds like an animal creeping in the night. It hits remarkably well on the album, as the previous track is deceitfully melodic, but it works well as a standalone track as well.
FFO: Chelsea Wolfe, Jenny Hval, the Matrix nightclub scenes
And that’s 20! Thanks to anyone who actually read through all of this for some reason, I appreciate anyone so willing to discover new tunes! Also a shoutout to A Wilheim Scream, Blood Red Shoes & Thou, who all had songs that initially made the cut here before I swapped some around – I’ve loved these groups for years now. This was fun for me even if no one read it, so I’ll try to do another 20 at year’s end!
Hello, welcome, good morning! If you’re seeing this then you’re one of the many teens of people that have been following this long-defunct blog. After many attempts to kick myself in the ass and start using this site for music reviews again, I’m finally actually forcing myself to do it.
I don’t know what this will look like going forward, I may use this to also discuss other personal interests of mine (film, pro wrestling, leftist politics). It’s definitely going to be a looser place for my thoughts. I had set some weirdly rigid rules for myself when I first launched this site 9 (!) years ago that I simply do not want or need to follow. I’ll still be doing standard music reviews – and sure submissions can be open – but I will not be sticking to that.
In the meantime, if you’ve been desperate to read some music writing of mine (hi mom), then you catch up on some I’ve done for Allston Pudding, covering mostly local bands in my beloved home city. I’m particularly proud of the interviews with Perennial and the Dirty Nil. I’ll still be focusing there, especially for local premieres & gigs. But I’d love to restart this blog as a free-for-all collection of reviews, thoughts & opinions. K? K!
Listen I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve Morning and I think we can say that collectively this the worst year that mankind has experienced in decades. So! I don’t really want to talk about it. What I do want to talk about is all the great music released this year. My listening habits did change this year due to COVID, as I hardly re-listened to any music. This meant a higher album count, but it also means I didn’t fall in love with many songs like normal. Still, I’ve made a list of 50 songs that kept me intrigued and playing on loop. I’ve added vids and descriptions for the Top 20. Also, both of these lists were made pretty haphazardly so I’m likely forgetting something very important. Pls revel in the garbage I like!
50 Songs I Loved: 50-21, A-Z
Adrianne Lenker – “anything” (editor’s note: I compiled this list a few days ago and I now feel like this should’ve made the top 25. Sorry Adrianne) Car Seat Headrest – “Can’t Cool Me Down” Death Valley Girls – “I’d Rather Be Dreaming,” “Under the Spell of Joy” The Devil’s Twins – “Bad Karma” (lovely folks who I recently interviewed) Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now” Fiona Apple – “I Want You to Love Me,” “Shameika,” “Relay” Grimes – “4 ÆM” IDLES – “Grounds,” “Model Village” Orville Peck – “Summertime” Ozzy Osbourne – “It’s a Riot” (w/Post Malone) (shut up) Poppy – “All the Things She Said” (who better to do a t. A. T. u. cover?) Run the Jewels – “yankee and the brave,” “walking in the snow,” “the ground below,” Sad13 – “Ghost of a Good Time” SAULT – “Free,” “I Just Want to Dance” Static-X – “Terminator Oscillator” (leave me alone) The Strokes – “The Adults are Talking” Thao & the Get Downs – “Temple” Uniform – “Delco” U.S. Girls – “4 American Dollars” Washed Out – “Too Late” Waxahatchee – “Lilacs” The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights” Worriers – “Terrible Boyfriend”
50 Songs I Loved, 20-1, Ranked!
#20. Poppy – “Anything Like Me” – Poppy’s sudden heel turn from Internet-infused bubblegum pop into nu-metal was even more shocking than it was great, and it produced some jams. This was my favorite of the bunch. Poppy also soundtracked an actual heel turn.
#19. Uniform – “The Shadow of God’s Hand” – This is what anxiety sounds like! One of the best underground rock bands, living under myriad levels of distortion, pumped out one of their best songs yet. Not for the weary!
#18. Fiona Apple – “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” – Side A of this album is the best half-album of the year, this being the highest-ranked of five songs I fell in love with. The found percussion works the best here, as it sounds like an actual quarantine musical project (though recorded much earlier).
#17. METZ – “A Boat to Drown In” – METZ are, unequivocally, the loudest band I’ve ever seen. And this song rivals their early masterpiece “Wet Blanket” as their most intense song. If I ever get to see them live again, this is what will finally kill my ears.
#16. Wasted Shirt – “All Is Lost” – More on this duo in the albums section, but this is one of the most fun rock songs of the year despite barely having any central rhythm. The dual-shriek kicks off the album, followed closely by a cacophony of guitar and drums. And it doesn’t let up.
#15. Mura Masa & Slowthai – “Deal Wuv It” – This is some weird and occasionally obnoxious British rap but god if this isn’t a super energetic and fun track. It was released very early in 2020 and soundtracked an otherwise slow start to the music year for me
#14. Tame Impala – “Breathe Deeper” – I don’t love Tame Impala like most skinny flannel white guys, but they do have jams. I love the extended bridge to this song, where a long, breezy rhythm suddenly stops with the tape and a whole new song briefly starts. It’s fun!
#13. clipping. – “Say the Name” – The two rapid-fire albums from clipping. over the last two years have been such bold, important and confident works, and this song is the epitome of them. Daveed Diggs raps at a surprisingly normal pace in a frustrated tone over a baritone vocal sample. This one’s not fun, it’s urgent.
#12. Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto” – Alright listen I’m short on time and if you’re reading this you probably already have a hard opinion on this song, let’s move on.
#11. Perfume Genius – “Nothing At All” – Mike Hadreas ditched his twinkly bedroom pop in favor of a droning, shoegaze-inspired guitar riff. But he kept his pained vocals and lyrics that touch on imperfect lyrics. Somehow, it’s even more affecting. This isn’t a sad song, but it sure sounds like one.
#10. Hamilton Leithauser – “Here They Come” – The first half of this song is a red herring, with Leithauser singing in a muted tone over a soft guitar. But he erupts in his more shrieking singing, with a fuller band. The whole second half retains a constant jovial high – try kicking this one from your head. Also, Ethan Hawke!
#9. Gorillaz/Peter Hook/Georgia – “Aries” – Gorillaz & New Order is just a winning combo, how could it not be? This song drifts along as it subtly becomes one of the year’s best earworms. The lethargic chorus from 2-D is somehow infectious through repetition while the Peter Hook riff is so simple yet so memorable.
#8. IDLES – “Mr. Motivator” – Okay these are the corniest lyrics from a band that already makes cringe-y metaphors and performative politics, but it’s also so high-energy that it’s easy to overlook. It’s raucous and fun while still being topical. I love this band dearly (more on that later) and this still has a great message.
#7. Bully – “Where to Start” – Bully has transformed as a solo project for Alicia Bognanno, who has wielded it as an outlet for her personal issues. This song, a straight grunge song with some her best vocal work yet, is a passionate ode to a lover, but it’s not clear if anyone’s listening. It’s also a good catharsis-inducer for the listener, if you let it be.
#6. Run the Jewels/Pharrell/Zack de la Rocha – “JU$T” – The largely minimalist production of “RTJ4” really lets the four-pronged vocal attack take the rhythm. It’s a bop, but it’s also a brutal attack on the nation’s few pedophile billionaires who run everything. Even if you have huge personal successes, you’re still under their control. Fun stuff!
#5. Phoebe Bridgers – “Garden Song” – The minimalist folk song that basically opens up her brilliant album is my personal favorite from it. The dreamy lyrics about a peaceful future with a loved one mix well with her soft vocals and a barely audible guitar line. This is Phoebe’s comfort zone for a reason.
#4. Grimes – “My Name is Dark – Art Mix” – The tragic downfall of Grimes from cool, feminist indie darling to crypto-fascist mother of a Musk spawn is distressing to say the least. I borderline hate that I still love her music, but I do, especially this song. The lyrics are Hot Topic diary nonsense but the swooping music and her full-volume vocals make this a hell of a ride. Great song for headphones!
#3. Bully – “Turn to Hate” – This is a good song no matter who does it. The original was an alt-country track by Orville Peck (only released last year), but Bognanno’s version proves it was destined to be a grunge song. She approaches this like she doesn’t know someone’s recording and she’s just releasing fury from her system. She has one of the best voices in rock today, and in my opinion, this is the superior version.
#2. Jeff Rosenstock – “Scram!” – The nicest boy in music doesn’t usually get this angry, but I’m glad he did. This is a mean, messy song reminiscent of BTMI!, this writer’s favorite band. It’s the best punk song of the year, a rollicking great time that demands you sing along. I only wish we got another chorus – the song’s too short!
#1. The Beths – “I’m Not Getting Excited” – What I loved about the Beths first album was how they created such great indie songs that wavered on punk from familiar, standard rhythms. It made this – the first song on their second album – all the more surprising, that it’s more downtune and grittier. It’s a necessary, but unexpected progression. The chorus is still catchy and annoyingly earworm-y, but it’s a great total package. This band is for everyone!
I ended the year having listened to 280 albums/live albums/EP’s – a personal best. I was going to write about 50 great ones but then that became 75 and became 100. So here’s 100 albums I loved! Similar to the songs list you just hurriedly scrolled past, I’m going to simply list 75 I loved and want to shout out, with deeper recs for my favorites.
Also – I covered some great local (Boston) artists over at Allston Pudding. Originally, I had ~5 albums from our year-end list on mine, but it felt a little like playing favorites, so I’m going to just say to check out everything we recommended, it’s all brilliant. You can also check out my less garbage-y breakdown of the best stuff over at The Filtered Lens. Okay, since I assume you have the spare time to listen to 100 albums, here’s my 2020 picks:
100 Albums I Loved (100-26):
070 Shake – Modus Vivendi 21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II ACxDC – Satan is King (please note that this is the grindcore band, not the classic rock band that’s been releasing the same album since 1980) Adrianne Lenker – instrumentals Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess Arca – KiCk i Bad Bunny – Las que no iban a salir Bad Bunny – El Último Tour del Mundo beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways Bob Mould – Blue Hearts Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You (this is the old dudes section of the list) Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God Caribou – Suddenly Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B The Chats – High Risk Behaviour Death Valley Girls – Under the Spell of Joy Deftones – Ohms Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me? Disclosure – ENERGY Dogleg – Melee Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full (this might be #26 on my list) Esh & the Isolations – Idiot Fingerz (while he didn’t make the Pudding year-end list, this was my favorite local release of the year. Had the pleasure of interviewing him as my first piece) Frances Quinlan – Likewise Fuzz – III Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor HEALTH – DISCO4 :: PART 1 Hinds – The Prettiest Curse Honey Cutt – Coasting Hum – Inlet Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Reunion Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure? Kitty – Charm and Mirror Kurt Vile – Speed, Sound, Lonely KV Lady Gaga – Chromatica Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake Liturgy – Origin of the Alimonies Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets To My Downfall (hate that I enjoyed this) Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow (i’m halfway into his recent memoir, it’s brilliant and punishing) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News Melkbelly – PITH Moses Sumney – Græ Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny (Demo) (these songs were written before I was born, but since they were recently re-recorded, I decided it was fine to include. Sorry to Neil Young’s “Homegrown”) Ms. Piss – Self-Surgery Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism Necrot – Mortal (this is the metal section of the list) Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V: Together Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts VI: Locusts Oceanator – Things I Never Said Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never Orbit Culture – Nija Osees – Metamorphosed Osees – Protean Threat (Jon Dwyer also released an Osees live album, an Osees remix album and a Damaged Bug album. He’s restless.) Pearl Jam – Gigaton Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals Porridge Radio – Every Bad Power Trip – Live in Seattle: 05.28.2018 (I wouldn’t normally include a live album in my lists but the world lost one of the coolest musicians alive a few months ago. I had the pleasure of seeing PT once and they brought the Paradise Music Hall down. Rest in Power, Riley Gale) Princess Nokia – Everything is Beautiful Princess Nokia – Everything Sucks Rico Nasty – Nightmare Vacation Shamir – Cataclysm Shamir – Shamir Soccer Mommy – color theory Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everywhere The Strokes – The New Abnormal Tame Impala – The Slow Rush Teenage Halloween – Teenage Halloween Thundercat – It Is What It Is Thurston Moore – By the Fire TORRES – Silver Tongue U. S. Girls – Heavy Light Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud The Weeknd – After Hours Wolf Parade – Thin Mind Worriers – You Or Someone You Know X – Alphabetland (first album in 27 years !!) Yaeji – What We Drew 우리가 그려왔던 Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind (this may have made the top 25 but I ran out of time for a re-listen)
100 Favorite Albums (25-1)
#25. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You – After the middling end result of 2016’s Wildflower, the Avalanches have largely ditched their original concept of sample-based indie songs in favor of original music. There are still samples, but – much like the recent Gorillaz album that just missed the top 25 itself – this album is focused mostly on collaborations that play to the strengths of the guests. What results is a beautiful, flowing dance album that has everyone from Vashti Bunyan to Rivers Cuomo. Despite the band’s continued fracturing, it’s a joyous record.
#24. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA – So “Army of Me” happened to have just come up on shuffle, but it made me realize that this album is similar to Björk’s Post, in that it’s an experimental pop album where every song sounds totally unique from the next yet the end result is a completely cohesive piece. It’s a smart and patient album, with a diverse mix of styles and influences that feels well beyond its years. Absolutely breathtaking feat for a debut.
#23. The Microphones – The Microphones in 2020 – So I debated which list to put this on, given the album is one solitary, 44-minute long song. But it is, conceptually, an album. After ~10 minutes of Phil Elverum playing two chords, it follows him as he details his musical journey, from the start through The Microphones through Mount Eerie. Elverum – the only person here – has had an abysmal couple years, as detailed in the two recent, brutally emotional Mount Eerie albums. Here, he sounds more detached, seeking some sort of catharsis by recounting everything – a tell-all from a normally reclusive guy. It’s not for everyone, but it’s engaging if you give it a chance.
#22. Adrianne Lenker – songs – Speaking of emotionally devastating songwriters, Lenker holed herself up in quarantine, detached from her Big Thief bandmates, and produced this album of heartbreaking, acoustic songs. There’s nowhere to hide from Lenker’s onslaught of pained vocals and traumatizing lyrics. These songs are recorded as if they’re necessary for Lenker’s continued survival. My favorite Lenker song is Big Thief’s “Shoulders,” about witnessing your father kill your mother, but this album’s “anything,” about attempting suicide on Christmas Eve, is a close second. Fun stuff!
#21. Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG – I’m a dumbass white boy who doesn’t keep a tab on Latin music or speak a word of Spanish, but I know bangers when I hear them. This album – the best of three Bad Bunny albums this year – is chock full of them. It’s a 65 minute long party, and a journey through a whole array of stylistic influences. Only a few songs here stretch over four minutes, keeping the listener on their toes through constant tonal shifts. Bangers are universal!
#20. Poppy – I Disagree – It feels disrespectful to put this over Bad Bunny but, I did say this was my personal garbage list. Poppy’s sudden dive into metal produced an album far better than I expected. Poppy’s piercing vocals add an interesting element to the music, and adds just enough uniqueness to upset the metal purists – usually a sign of something good. It borders on corny, but it’s extremely fun all the same.
#19. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now – The first big quarantine project that dropped remains one of the best. The cover, Charli lounging in bed; the lyrics, about how boring life has become and how much she misses her friends as she site around and watches TV. There’s love songs, glitch-pop, ballads, and EDM anthems, all songs that sound like they’re designed to be played live; a product not meant to be cruel but nostalgic. It’s fun in the music and the shared misery for the world pre-COVID. Charli doesn’t miss.
#18. Duma – Duma – This album, a debut, is what you get when you throw all standards and tropes out the window. It’s a healthy mix of industrial, grindcore, black metal, trap and world. If that sounds confusing, well it is. The Kenyan band throw regional influences into an already morphing black metal scene. It’s a challenging, beyond abrasive listen only meant for hardened listeners. Some songs show a softer side, while some lack any sort of rhythm altogether. It’s simultaneously unlistenable and brilliant. Also, I ruined an otherwise digestible Allston Pudding playlist by sneaking a song from this album in.
#17. Perfume Genius – Set Your Heart on Fire Immediately – Mike Hadreas has developed a knack for creating emotionally affecting songs out of very little. This album gives into those desires, as the best songs feature some of the simplest rhythms and vaguest lyrics. But it’s all beautiful – Hadreas resorts to his comfort zone of pained vocals and songs about off-kilter relationships good and bad, be he ditches his normal dream-pop in favor of guitar and shoegaze influences. Any new album from him has become appointment listens, and this one is no different.
#16. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned – If the title didn’t give you the general feeling of this affair, then the booming bass vocal sample that opens “Say My Name” will. A follow-up to 2019’s equally brilliant There Existed an Addiction to Blood, this album is a near-hour attack of bludgeoning bass and urgent lyrics, far more direct and relevant than some of the band’s earlier sci-fi conceptual stuff. Daveed Diggs focuses less on breaking the vocal landspeed record to deliver straight-forward lyrics, mired equally in art and politics. clipping. should really be bigger than they are.
#15. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene – I’ve said earlier and in other posts about my soured feelings towards Claire Boucher, but damn, I still love this album. It’s closer to her earlier works than her more conventional Art Angels, though that also remains her peak. It’s experimental pop that falls somewhere between genres; “Violence” is indie-radio ready while “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” is dreamy art-pop. Musically, it’s her most eclectic mix, taking everything she’s done before and producing something new from it. Lyrically it’s a mess of faux-scene kid cyberpunk garbage but, we can’t expect much more from the partner of a crypto-fascist billonaire who makes le epic jokes on Twitter.
#14. illuminati hotties – FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For – It lives up to the title! This album, a collection of discarded and/or incongruous ideas that Sarah Tudzin passed out while working on a proper album, is not like what she’d done before. She seemed taken aback by the positive response to this collection that was only given out as a holdover, but it shows how masterful of a songwriter she’s become in only a few years. A mix of her classic tenderpunk (it’s a thing, folks) and some harder-edge stuff, it’s a fun and whiplash-inducing quick little mix. She accidentally set the bar very high for her next proper release!
#13. Wasted Shirt – Fungus II – This one was huge for me on a personal level as it brought to creation one of my dream collaborations – Ty Segall and Brian Chippendale. The former, a beyond prolific garage rocker and the latter, the veteran drummer of noise band Lightning Bolt. I expected chaos, and I got it. In a rare move, Segall mostly takes a backseat and lets Chippendale control most songs, which means this sounds closer to a Lightning Bolt album than anything. The more riotous and uncoordinated the album gets, the better it gets; just a mess of avant-garde guitar and drums and indecipherable vocals. There’s a very limited audience, but I’m the target demo.
#12. METZ – Atlas Vending – I mentioned it earlier, but METZ is the loudest band I’ve ever seen, and their frenetic, ear-busting sound is often committed well to tape. But this – their fourth – feels like the first great album since their 2012 debut. Individual tracks matter less than the collective, punishing whole. But closer “A Boat to Drown In,” mentioned in the song portion, might be the loudest song they’ve done yet. METZ is the reason I need live music to return.
#11. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia – That’s a transition. This is the fun pop album we need to dance to alone in our rooms. It’s telling that it came out in Before Times. The album tries to predict the future of pop music, and although it couldn’t predict what would come just weeks later, it gives us a hope for a confident, disco future. Love odes to partners and yourself are all across this, what might be the most fun album of the year. Dua Lipa sticks the landing on the always important sophomore album.
#10. Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It – Like some other releases on this list, this album excels in short blasts of songs and a brief runtime. Unlike other albums on this list, it’s horrorcore – rap inspired by horror imagery. In this case, it’s sample-heavy and inspired heavily by Black Sabbath and Satanic imagery. But the lyrics are very real, coming from the heart of Backxwash, a black trans woman from Zambia residing in Canada. It’s a brilliant and painfully honest melding of ideas that’s unlike anything else I listened to this year. If you’re not convinced, keep in mind this won the Solaris Prize, awarded to the best Canadian album of the year and held by luminaries like Kaytranada and Arcade Fire.
#9. Uniform – Shame – I’ve been frustrated with the last couple Uniform albums as I felt like they didn’t lean totally into their gimmick. Shame, however, floored me. Strip everything away and Uniform is a rock band, but they layer everything under mountains of distortion and violent lyrics for an end result that sounds like something you’re not supposed to hear. The opening one-two punch of “Delco” and “The Shadow of God’s Hand” is the best opener of the year, and it never lets up. Just a harsh, noisy anxiety thrill ride. SO MUCH BLOOOOOOD!
#8. SAULT – Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise) – Two separate albums, but they were released only two months apart and serve the same purpose, so I’m treating them as one. SAULT is a mysterious UK R&B collective that melds crisp production, ear-popping funk and topical lyrics on race. The thirty-five songs across these two albums are basically all groovy earworms that are impossible to stay still to. Some, like “I Just Want to Dance,” have lyrics that echo that. Some, though, like “Strong,” are calls for unity and strength in the face of systematic racism. The beauty of these two albums is how subtly the group delivers urgent messages into your brain, as if subliminally. Rarely is political music designed to be so universally appealing, but these albums are.
#7. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers – If you couldn’t tell by me calling a Beths song my favorite this year, I love this band. Their sophomore album follows their debut in an appealing combination of punk energy, indie sound, and pop songwriting. They are defiantly indie, and there’s nothing revolutionary happening across Gazers, but their songs are insanely catchy with a high replay value. It’s a confident performance, especially from singer Elizabeth Stokes, whose vocals wonderfully fit whatever emotion any given song calls for. This album is more of a romp than anything else I heard all year. It’s 2020 still. We take these.
#6. Bully – SUGAREGG – For Bully’s third album, Alicia Bognanno stripped away her bandmates to record by herself, although it still resembles a full band effort. This was less the product of quarantine and more one of personal demons. Her songwriting has never been subtle, but she really lets us into her mental health struggles on this one. Bully is fundamentally a grunge band, and SUGAREGG would not sound out of place next to Celebrity Skin. These are straightforward rock songs under layers of distortion and wailing, emotional vocals. Her catharsis hits like a cold shower, and the fact that these songs are so catchy feels like a happy accident (it’s not). Bognanno is one of my favorite current singers, and this is her best work yet.
#5. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Given the infrequency, a new Fiona album is a landmark event. And this one feels like the definitive quarantine album – recorded mostly alone in her place, featuring found percussion and outside noises kept in the background. Ironic that it was all recorded prior to COVID. Side A starts with an incredible run of six of the year’s best songs, mostly experimental indie-pop songs that use a certain looseness to play with structure. Side B adheres more towards standard Apple stuff, but it’s all extraordinary. Throughout, she waxes nostalgic about her worst periods and the people who taught her confidence, as well as odes to those she loves. Her poetic borderline-spoken word vocals are better than ever, too. Is this her best album? That’s a *high* grading curve.
#4. IDLES – Ultra Mono – Everyone that has heard UK punk group IDLES seems to have a hard opinion on them. The love & hate mostly all comes down to the corny lyrics. I’ll admit that they lay too heavily into the cringe here – the opening line is Joe Talbot making a sword noise, and a few songs later he has a deeply weird line about Kathleen Hanna & Trump on an otherwise great song. But the extremely direct leftist politics feel refreshing in a way other bands haven’t been able to accomplish lately. Not to mention, IDLES have always managed to capture a live energy in their albums, making songs that are super rhythmic while also being completely chaotic. They had big shoes to fill – I think their previous album Joy As An Act of Resistance is earnestly my favorite album – but they delivered. Some people think IDLES are just being performative but – isn’t that all punk?
#3. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher – Wow yes this young white man in a flannel shirt loves Phoebe Bridgers, how cool and unique! But talk about a star-making album. Not that Bridgers was obscure before, but this elevated her to a household name, and for good reason. It’s the best indie album of the year, one filled with minimalist folk rhythms and deeply personal lyrics that combine youthful experiences with elderly nostalgia. It as the makings of a quarter-life crisis. The beauty in the lyrics is that no matter how personally specific Bridgers gets, there’s always a fundamental emotional issue that we can place in our own lives. There’s a reason I called this AOTY in other posts.
#2. Run the Jewels – RTJ4 – Run the Jewels do exactly one thing and they do it remarkably well – albums full of shortish, urgent rap songs with minimalist production that flow together like one long song. The title RTJ4 feels like an afterthought but it isn’t – it’s an abbreviation of their usual title. It tracks that the songs on this album are even more minimalist and even more topical and relevant than ever before. I still think their classic second album is the best, but this is the first RTJ album where I feel like I love every song. And the fact – mostly coincidence! – that it dropped right at the height of tensions after George Floyd’s murder made it feel like the most important album of the year. Both El-P and Killer Mike are in top form, and the guest spots are well-chosen; check the insane combination of Mavis Staples and Josh Homme! RTJ4 isn’t going to win over anyone who remains unconvinced, but it plays to all of their strengths in their tightest collection yet.
#1. Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM – It was game over for the AOTY contest when this dropped. Jeff, the singer of my longstanding favorite band and one of the nicest people alive, released one of his best-ever albums. It’s grittier and meaner than he’s been in many years, emulating his work in the mid-2000’s rather than his recent solo stuff. Like any Rosenstock album, though, it’s a loud, unhinged mess of energy with some softer ballads and pointed, critical lyrics that note how things could be better while still appreciating what we’ve got. His typical sad nostalgia is all on display, but there’s some tongue-in-cheek humor too, not something he’s done much of lately. NO DREAM touches on about every emotion you can think of, and does so in such an unpredictable and loud way that it feels like the perfect encapsulation of this godless year. Angry, funny, sad, screaming, whispering, alone, a group, nostalgic, optimistic, and all in 40 minutes. The Jeff Rosenstock experience. The 2020 experience.
(not the Timberlake thing).
If you read all this way – why? What’s in this for you? But really, thanks! I plan on using this blog again more regularly next year, I’ve abandoned it for too long. And remember, we’ve all had tough years and much as today/tomorrow feels like catharsis, we can’t let our guards down now. We’re not out of this yet, we need to stay safe. But remember we’re all in this together and there’s no shame in reaching out to loved ones if it becomes to much to bear. It was a weird year, let’s hope that doesn’t keep up. See you for another 10k word post next NYE!
Hey! Hi! Hello! I’m still alive and paying for this domain – and although I haven’t had time to maintain this blog in a few years, I want to try to start again! I’m sure my [REDACTED NUMBER] followers will be delighted 🙂
(Review originally published on thefilteredlens.com)
A lot has changed since the release of Grimes’ last album, 2015’s untouchable “Art Angels.” The album’s mix of bouncy and eerie pop melodies rocketed the already-rising Grimes into a much bigger light, and placed near the top of seemingly every year-end list (overshadowed solely by “To Pimp a Butterfly”). In that time she’s come as close to a household name as someone who makes eclectic dream-pop would, all the while testing some fans and hyping up others with her surprise romance with Tesla/Space-X epic bacon dudebro Elon Musk. My opinion of her has soured, deeply, but my opinion of her music hasn’t. It’s difficult to weight the two against each other for her new album, but it’s a stellar album nonetheless.
From a sheer musical standpoint, “Miss Anthropocene” is a big departure from the conventional structures of “Art Angels,” and is more aligned with her older work. It’s a smart attempt to try and re-couple with the section of fans that didn’t approve of the last album’s conventionality. A majority of the songs across “Anthropocene” have a much more atmospheric tone, with sweeping synth and distant, largely indecipherable vocals and lyrics. At the same time, she ropes in some elements of nu-metal, much akin to the recent Poppy heel turn. The album’s only real bop is the excellent “4ÆM,” which punctures the format by adding some breakbeats.
Thematically, “Anthropocene” takes on a much darker tone than its predecessor (which wasn’t exactly a glimmer of hope, itself). The album follows a goddess of climate change who, very literally, wants to watch the world burn. Various songs address various apocalypses (think King Gizz’s “Murder of the Universe”) from climate change (“So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth”) to opiate addiction (“Delete Forever”). It’s a lofty ambition for someone who’s career was at a bit of a crossroads, and she pulls it off masterfully well. Some of the album’s slowest tracks, like “New Gods” and “Before the Fever,” don’t exactly demand immediate replays. But on the context of a full album, they highlight songs like the rapid “4ÆM” and the euphoric closer “IDORU” remarkably.
If Grimes is attempting to reconnect with her older roots here – and she may not be, but “Anthropocene” is similar to older releases like “Halfaxa” – then there is a contradictory elephant in the room. Grimes got her start in witch house, although she never felt fully encompassed in the genre. Witch house bands are inherently anti-technology, with some choosing unsearchable names like oOoOO and ///▲▲▲\\\. “Anthropocene” isn’t a witch house album, but the roots are still there, and the sentimentality is present. Early single “We Appreciate Power” (left off the album but available on deluxe versions) is sung from the POV of an AI propaganda machine. It’s a powerful message (and a great song). But it is easily misconstrued because of the POV as being some kind of pro-techno-fascist nightmare, and it’s telling that it isn’t immediately apparent that Grimes meant otherwise. Her coupling with Elon Musk, our era’s most worryingly successful techno-fascist, deems a lot of the album’s genuine concerns either contradictory or irrelevant. Not to mention, her faux-edgy Tumblr aesthetics feel a lot sillier this time around, with song titles like “Delete Forever” and “My Name is Dark” and lyrics like (seriously) “So we party when the sun goes low / Imminent annihilation sounds so dope.” I watched the film “Snowpiercer” for the first time last night (inspired by “Parasite,” not by this album) and knowing how Musk is developing super-transportation and accumulating ungodly personal wealth amidst a likely catastrophic climate crisis, it felt….on the nose. This, uh, musk, is extremely difficult to shake off while listening to “Anthropocene.”
That said, if you can look past that, or if you’re a fan of Musk and this partnership, then this still an incredible record. Glorifying and horrifying, Grimes plays to all of her own strengths. The album is almost devoid of bangers like “Kill V. Maim,” but as good as that song is, it never felt like Grimes’s comfort zone. From the eerily quiet intro “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” to the sonic vaccuum of “My Name is Dark” to the unexpectedly sweet finale, “Anthropocene” is a well-rounded and satisfying that, like her previous albums, is bound to get better with each listen. There is a lot to pick apart, especially in the urgency of some of the lyrics. But even just as a sonic experience, it feels miles ahead of “Art Angels” in scope and ambition, even in the quiet moments. I wasn’t sure what direction Grimes would take after “Angels,” but she really sticks the landing.
Hello everyone, I promised at the end of 2018 that I’d be more attentive to this blog this year and uhh I was not, at all. My bad. I did a few reviews over on The Filtered Lens, which you can read, as well as some year-end and decade-end stuff. I forgot to post it here. I’m old and busy okay? okay. Anyways I actually blew past my personal record for releases listened to; I’m not sure exactly what it was before but it hovered around ~165, his year I did 250 dead (at the time of writing – might squeeze a few more in). I loved a lot of them! Music is good a lot of the time! So I decided to write about 50 albums I loved. And that turned into 75 so here’s 75 albums this year I loved. The top 15 or so are pretty set but otherwise I spent very little time working on the list, I loved all of these and many of them are incomparable so please treat much of this list more as a group of recommendations. Also from 35 onwards I wrote a bit about why I loved them. Here’s some good stuff:
#66. Uniform & the Body – “Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back”
#65. Bleached – “Don’t Think You’ve Had Enough?”
#64. Rammstein – “Rammstein”
#63. Field Mouse – “Meaning”
#62. Teitanblood – “The Baneful Choir”
#61. The Hold Steady – “Thrashing Thru the Passion”
#60. Dump Him – “D*kes to Watch Out For”
#59. Cursive – “Get Fixed”
#58. Microwave – “Death is a Warm Blanket”
#57. Iggy Pop – “Free”
#56. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – “Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire”
#55. Knocked Loose – “A Different Shade of Blue”
#54. Coldplay – “Champion of the World”
#53. Blood Incantation – “Hidden History of the Human Race”
#52. Malibu Ken – “Malibu Ken”
#51. glass beach – “the first glass beach album”
#50. Kitty – “Rose Gold”
#49. Thee Oh Sees – “Face Stabber”
#48. Xiu Xiu – “Girl With a Basket of Fruit”
#47. FKA Twigs – “Magdalene”
#46. Sebadoh – “Act Surprised”
#45. Lightning Bolt – “Sonic Citadel”
#44. Brittany Howard – “Jaime”
#43. Sharon Van Etten – “Remind Me Tomorrow”
#42. Bruce Springsteen – “Western Stars”
#41. That Dog – “Old LP”
#40. Karen O & Danger Mouse – “Lux Prima”
#39. clipping. – “There Existed an Addiction to Blood”
#38. Cold Wrecks – “This Could Be Okay”
#37. Stef Chura – “Midnight”
#36. Big Thief – “U.F.O.F.”
#35. William Basinski – “On Time Out Of Time” – The most peaceful album I listened to this year was Basinski’s, one that sampled huge galactic explosions for quietly impactful sound effects. This is a calming work, one that literally takes in the sound of the universe and sanitizes it for ambient peace. I have used this incredible piece of music to sleep to. At face value, it’s calming music. With context, it is the sound of an apocalypse.
#34. Thom Yorke – “ANIMA” – Fresh off of a soundtrack for the “Suspiria” reboot, Yorke released what is his best solo album by a long shot. It encompassed the best of Radiohead’s atmospheric elements while still sounding focused on Yorke’s more ambitiously patient capabilities.
#33. Better Oblivion Community Center – “Better Oblivion Community Center” – The duo of Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst (gulp) released a wonderfully solid group of indie-folk songs under the name/guise of a living center. It’s a neat idea, especially one for a subgenre that doesn’t exactly see a lot of concept albums. It’s a pretty gorgeous album to boot.
#32. Jenny Lewis – “On The Line” – The days of the indie forefront have long surpassed Lewis, so rather than try to recapture the virtues of the Rilo Kiley days, she’s grown into a forlorn bar country singer, and it suits her well. Her voice has grown, as has her emotional range. These are songs that are often taking place in the moment, but it’s a moment we all recognize and have lived in.
#31. Craig Finn – “I Need A New War” – Quite frankly this is everything you’d expect in a Craig Finn solo album. It’s somber and nostalgic without being overbearing; simply a collection of stories told matter-of-factly through Finn’s spoken vocals. Many take place in Massachusetts, which adds points for me, but it’s a quaint collection for anyone.
#30. The Cranberries – “In the End” – Yes this is the final Cranberries album to feature Dolores O’Riordan. Although her death was an accident, the album has many songs centering on finality or conclusions. It was a proper finale, and it only enhances the quality of the songs.
#29. Lizzo – “Cuz I Love You” – Yeah Lizzo rules, I think that we have discussed this. But in earnesty, she’s an incredibly talented performer and singer, and it’s simply great that she gets to let it all shine through. Her third album is a delightfully complete mix of rap, funk and R&B that manages to sound completely original in a tired field.
#28. Kerli – “Shadow Works” – Kerli is unfortunately *not* known as the woman that Lady Gaga ripped her costumes off of, which pains me to this day. But she has transformed into a wonderful, dark pop singer and this new album feels like a total complement to the path Gaga took.
#27. Blanck Mass – “Animated Violence Mild” – I would easily call this music only ready for ecstasy use; his electronic music has always been ready for people willing to take a club night into a dark direction. But this release of his is a specifically hyper-alert work, longer songs and harsher vocals that all sounds ripped from a blockbuster movie.
#26. Laura Stevenson – “The Big Freeze” – After a somewhat raucous album in “Cocksure,” the world’s nicest person takes a backseat in “Freeze,” a very lo-fi indie approach. These are mostly songs about family and returning home, aided by her beautiful vocals. Very emotional, musically sparse and deeply relatable, these are some tearjerker gems. More on her later!
#25. Solange – “When I Get Home” – Solange’s new work follows in the footstep of “A Seat at the Table,” but more specific. Solange feels more like she’s singing for herself, reflecting on her own experiences less for relatability and more for personal and cultural gratification. Still, the stories seem universal.
#24. Stephen Malkmus – “Groove Denied” – Malkmus worked on this album for long periods of time throughout his career, and was often denied a release. The result is less of a complete album than it is a collection of songs he wanted to release years ago but, magically, they come together in a narrative unit. Check that wild first track “Belziger Faceplant.”
#23. (Sandy) Alex G – “House of Sugar” – One of indie’s most intriguing up-and-comers is Alex G, and his 2019 release is a collection of barely-realized songs that range from standard indie to dreamy avant-garde on a dime. It sounds messy at first but on further listens it’s a well-rounded collection of songs that always keeps you guessing.
#22. Foals – “Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost” – A few years back Foals decided to kick the energy and distortion up, but here they tone back down. While I usually prefer the former, this result is a group of drawn-out and very well constructed indie songs, ones that sit on an idea until it is completely realized, maybe the most patient album of the year. Oh, but the songs are bangers, too.
#21. RAKTA – “Falha Comum” – Truly hypnotizing piece of experimental music out of Brazil that mixes post-punk energy with South American avant-garde. Switches from dreamy to chaotic at a moment’s notice, and is a completely satisfying listen along the way.
#20. Kim Gordon – “No Record Home” – At only 66 years old, Gordon has put out her first solo album. She was always one of the most avant garde wings of Sonic Youth, and it shows here. Many of these songs are surprisingly sparse, focused less on noise than they are on precision and abnormality. Still, she absolutely rages on the previously-released “Murdered Out.”
#19. Full of Hell – “Weeping Choir” – One of the year’s best metal albums was predictably from Full of Hell, just a brutal onslaught of thrash madness. As always they border on grindcore without actually embracing the subgenre’s silliness, instead choosing to end songs early just because their energy has finished them quickly. Don’t let the lengthy runtime of 24 minutes fool you – one song is seven minutes long.
#18. Charli XCX – “Charli” – Our Best Pop Songwriter returns with just a stellar album of tunes. These are complex pop songs that sure don’t sound like it, taking conventional structures and warping them with unique instrumentation and settings. Charli is great at pulpy earworms, and this album is full of them. Also, perfect set of guest features.
#17. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Ghosteen” – This is a surprisingly engaging and rewarding listen, given the subject matter. It revolves the untimely death of one of Cave’s sons, and the process of grief and acceptance that followed. Heavy stuff, but the album’s atmospheric nature welcomes all. It might be Cave’s biggest outlier and grandest experiment, and it’s the prettiest music made all year.
#16. Lana Del Rey – “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” – I love Lana, and this is her most comprehensive album to date. It works in all of the psych and soft rock influences she’s toyed with in the past, as well as expanding her lyrical scope from personal relationships to nostalgia around an old California and old Americana. Also a Sublime cover. Classic Lana.
#15. Sturgill Simpson – “Sound & Fury” – Simpson was already being ostracized by the country community, so he decided to lean into it. He and his band took a ton of drugs and wrote an antifascist album and anime, styled less in country and more in ZZ Top. The whole thing is a ton of fun, even during the slower songs. And the anime is on Netflix, for those interested.
#14. Purple Mountains – “Purple Mountains” – The last offering from indie legend David Berman was a collection of dark, tongue-in-cheek indie songs about what life is like when it leaves you behind. These songs can be taken literally and darkly, but Berman meant for these to be affirmations, of better times. Unfortunately, Berman took his own life shortly after the release, and a lot of the humor is negated. Think of it in a Nirvana “I Hate Myself And Want To Die” way.
#13. PUP – “Morbid Stuff” – PUP has all the makings of a standard pop-punk (PUP-punk) band but, due to the chaotic nature of the spoken-word vocals, I’m actually a fan. This album hits all the right pop-punk notes, from telling someone you’ll only see them at their funeral to running into your ex at Whole Foods. It’s a lively mix, made better by the comically hyper-specific lyrics.
#12. Billie Eilish – “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” – We don’t go anywhere (?) Regardless, I love Eilish’s completely new blend of pop. It’s hushed vocals over heavy synths that feel like they only pump out rhythms when they want to. It’s unlike anything else being played on pop radio and for that I love it.
#11. Jamila Woods – “LEGACY! LEGACY!” – Every song on this album is devoted to a black artist who was drowned out or appropriated during their own lifetimes, and Jamila spends the album wondering if the same will happen to her & today’s artists and activists. There’s no happy answer, and unfortunately that foreboding hangs over the whole album. It’s a lot of fun R&B, but it’s made for us (whites) to confront our own issues both past and future.
#10. The Coathangers – “The Devil You Know” – This deeply underrated garage-punk band delivered another classic, with fun hooks being complemented by lyrics raging against the NRA, and musings on growing up and letting go. This band doesn’t like to keep you very comfortable, but don’t worry – it’s fun all the same.
#9. Pharmakon – “Devour” – I wasn’t super into Pharmakon’s last album, “Contact,” so I was nervous – but this is the noise artist’s best album to date. Recorded in two takes, she uses the whole studio and time to her advantage. These songs are parts of suites and as such are even more drawn out than before. This is the most anxiety-inducing album of 2019, with shrieking synths and screamed vocals running chills down the spine. It’s not for everyone!
#8. Lingua Ignota – “CALIGULA” – It’s rare that Pharmakon doesn’t take the title of “most disturbing” but Lingua Ignota takes this easily. Another solo female act in noise music, Ignota’s behemoth incorporates elements of strings and operatic vocals, just to whisk them away in favor of guttural noise. It jumps from baroque to extreme noise, and is completely unsettling along the way. She bared everything on this album, more so than any artist in 2019. It’s not for everyone!
#7. Oozing Wound – “High Anxiety” – This is almost my favorite thrash metal album of the year, just a rip-roaring journey through the prospects of space and the idiocy of the humans surrounding us here on Earth. There’s a real tongue-in-cheek element to the lyrics, and an unsurpassed energy to the music. Just everything you want from thrash!
#6. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – “Infest the Rat’s Nest” – It feels really insincere to give the title of Best Metal Album of the year to a band that isn’t metal, but hell if this album isn’t a ride. Only three of the band’s seven members are present, but they deliver an old-school thrash whiplash, reminiscent less of Metallica and Slayer and more of Exodus and Overkill. That they’re telling a story of people who try to fly to Jupiter but end up in Hell is a whole added bit. Also this was the prolific band’s second album of the year; I didn’t like the first one, sorry.
#5. Orville Peck – “Pony” – Orville Peck isn’t country……is a invalid criticism. He embodies the 50’s and 60’s style of outlaw country. Outside of his masked anonymity, little about Peck is updated for 2019, which in turn brings a refreshing sound to country music. His bass vocals and barebones musical accompaniment sound completely unfamiliar in the 2019 landscape, as does his presence as a queer country singer. Peck embodies the rebellious spirit of country old, rather than the complacent pop-country of today.
#4. Jeff Rosenstock & Laura Stevenson – “Still Young” – I usually avoid putting EP’s or cover projects on a list like this but this a bit different than those; two of my favorite people collaborated on an comfort-zone-leaving set of four Neil Young covers. Side A is two Young classics, Side B is two more obscure ones. Their 8-minute take on “Ambulance Blues” is better than the original, and one of the best songs I heard all year. Also listen for a Craig Finn cameo!
#3. Amyl and The Sniffers – “Amyl and The Sniffers” – A debut from a drunk-punk band from Australia, this self-titled is a half-hour of raucous songs about love, not having any love, and not having any money. Also a great song about a monsoon thrown in. It could be a well-rounded emotional bit but instead it’s just a bunch of punk gut-punches. Honestly? Sometimes you need a ton of fun like this.
#2. Angel Olsen – “All Mirrors” – I already loved Olsen for how well she complemented her vocals against music, but she spins it in a whole new direction here. She isn’t always the centerpiece, sometimes giving that to synths or a string section. But still she steals the show, with spine-tingling vocals. Every song on this album sounds full, a drastic departure from the sparse nature of her previous albums.
#1. Control Top – “Covert Contracts” – Rip-roaring punk infused with industrial and post-hardcore results in a furious mission statement from within the walls of an oppressive patriarchal system. Incredible debut from a band I am confident is the future of punk. I’ve heard all of these songs dozens of times now and I still find my blood boiling at every one. The passion and fury behind the lyrics can be cut with a steak knife. I honestly think 2019 needed more topical, urgent music like this, and I deeply appreciate what we got of it.
(Remember at the top how I said I was on album #250? Well it’s now 1/1 and my official count was 254. Two of the last four I listened to caused me to readjust these rankings lol)
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:
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.
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.
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!