Top 20 Albums of 2018 (10-01)

10. Pinegrove: Skylight

The human side of Pinegrove and the controversial release of Skylight are deeply complicated, and not something that can adequately be addressed here, so I won’t so it the disservice of try. The music, on the other hand, is a clear success. More fully developed than they debut album Cardinal, Skylight underscores lead singer Evan Stephen Hall’s ability compose and execute a complete concept, both within a single song and across an entire album. The positivity and all-embracing message of the band and the incongruous nature of the accusations that face Hall could reasonably produce any number of completely valid feelings and perspectives. As Hall himself might say, however you’re feeling, about the allegations, the album, or otherwise, is natural. Pinegrove is a clear rising star in the indie scene, and it will be imperative to follow their journey as they continue to address the allegations against Hall while attempting to continue grow as an outfit. – Tom Heubel

09. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs

First full length, filling big venues, 35 minutes of concise pop punk from down under from a band mature beyond their years and catalog suggest. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever savvily mix the sounds of Aussie brethren of decades past including the likes of The Saints, Radio Birdman, The Go-Betweens with fellow continental contemporaries such as Dick Diver, Salad Boys, The Stevens, and Twerps to forge their own brand of pop punk jangle jams. The band has come to define their own sound by mixing and melding genres not often associated with one another. “Over the years, we built up our own sound and style, guitar pop songs with bits of punk and country” shared Fran Keaney, one of the bands three frontmen guitarists, including fellow founding members Tom Russo and Joe White. If album sales or critical acclaim aren’t enough to define the success of an album then look no further than the relentless touring and sold out shows these guys put up in 2018. If you were lucky enough to catch them live you’ll need no convincing of their merit but if not check out Hope Downs for one of the best albums released this year. – Greg Scranton

08. The Goon Sax: We’re Not Talking

On indie pop trio The Goon Sax’s sophomore release, We’re Not Talking, the Brisbane, Australia band show considerable growth and maturity in terms of production and subject matter. Utilizing more vocal contributions from bassist James Harrison and drummer Riley Jones, in addition to occasional strings, horns, and piano, The Goon Sax take on relationships, loneliness, and alienation. Don’t get the wrong idea, We’re Not Talking isn’t so much a wall-to-wall pity party insofar as it manages to be equal parts pity and party.

Zippier tracks like the galloping opener, “Make Time 4 Love”, the driving “She Knows”, and the tense build and release of “A Few Times Too Many” are balanced nicely by songs like “Now You Pretend”, which features vocals by a mournful-sounding Harrison accompanied only by a plaintive piano. Not to be outdone, Louis Forster takes the same solo piano approach on the lo-fi “Somewhere in Between”. We’re Not Talking has The Goon Sax evolving technically and maturing lyrically without abandoning the relatable charm and likability with which they’ve imbued all their music thus far. – Andy Mascola

07. Cursive: Vitriola

2018 was a shit show filled with bad actors and a creeping feeling of dread. Vitriola is the perfect accompanying piece. While much of Cursive‘s previous work dealt with the bitterness of breakups and divorce, Vitrola goes straight for the cruelty of this world. Singer/songwriter, Tim Kasher sets capitalism, the American Dream, and the American government in his crosshairs for some of the most cutting lyrics of his career. Anthems like “Under the Rainbow” or “Life Savings” show a man at his breaking point, trying to keep sane in an increasingly insane world over abrasive yet catchy music. The re-addition of cello to the line up gives Vitriola a classic Cursive sound but make no mistake, this is a definitively 2018 album. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

06. Beach House: 7

Beach House is the duo that keeps getting better. The soundscape of 7 is a distinct pivot from their previous albums – it’s noisy and grating, less dreamy and more hellish. In this album, Beach House enlisted the help of Sonic Boom, and his experimental, psychedelic influence is noticeable throughout. 7 is dark and moody, and in the band’s own words: “there is quite a bit of chaos happening in these songs, and a pervasive dark field that we had little control over.” The contrast of the noisiness of the instrumental with Legrand’s ever ethereal vocals creates a distorted yet engrossing sound. This is Beach House at its most re-invented, yet most secure self. The album is confident and self-assured, leaving no doubt that Beach House will continue to create excellent, yet unpredictable work. – Jacqueline Sun

05. Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves third full-length release, Golden Hour is an absolute stunner, weaving together her typical country twang with more experimental atmospheric, psychedelic, and even disco influences. The production is incredible, allowing the bass to shine throughout the album, and adding a few non-country touches such as vocoder and more psych-rock synths. Beyond the musical arrangements, Musgraves’ talent as a songwriter manifests largely in her ability to make cutting turns of phrase and gentle observations of the world around her, mixing country imagery with some of the psychedelic themes that are present throughout this album. The lead track, “Slow Burn” is one of the best songs of the year, and “Space Cowboy”, “High Horse”, and “Lonely Weekend” are among the many highlights. Golden Hour is an inventive and wildly successful blend of genres, making it an easy selection for this list, and album I’ll be sure to revisit time and again. – Tom Heubel

04. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse

Speedy Ortiz has never had a problem writing riffs. Sadie Dupuis and company have been veritable riff writing machines in their career but what has often eluded them was putting the whole package together: riffs, hooks, lyrics, production. On Twerp Verse, the stars align. Dupuis’ lyrics feel more universal while often being incredibly pointed. “Lucky 88” goes after the apathetic in society who seek more distractions to remove themselves from the shitshow that is our world. “Villain” deals with the banality of sexual assault and the entitlement of some men. “Lean In When I Suffer,” maybe the catchiest of the tracks, deals with people who are feminist allies only when convenient. It is a cornucopia of topics that seem increasingly shirked in our current political climate but Speedy Ortiz tackles them with tact, wit, and killer riffs. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

03. Snail Mail: Lush

To say 2018 has been quite a year for Snail Mail lead Lindsey Jordan would be an understatement. A critically acclaimed debut album, and a whirlwind tour to boot, Snail Mail has leapt to the front of indie rock’s radar. Lush is smartly written, emotionally vulnerable and musically complex. Jordan’s voice toes between bored, to energetic, to blunt – at once sounding emotionally invested and then throwing it all away with the next “anyways.” She sounds like any conflicted teenager. Unlike other indie rock albums of this flavor, Lush sounds extremely crisp and clean. Each guitar line is well defined and moves through its own space, contrasting with Jordan’s raw vocals. In contrast to the lo-fi sound of Snail Mail’s 2016 EP, Habit, this time, we can finally hear Lindsey Jordan. – Jacqueline Sun

02. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!

I had heard about Wide Awake! before I actually heard the album. The one thing that was reiterated several times going into the album was at the end of “Total Football” Andrew Savage yells “fuck Tom Brady.” This is sort of emblematic of Parquet Courts in general. They are a band that people think are insouciant (and they can be) so they do not necessarily get the respect they deserve. Instead of going into the album hearing about Savage’s diatribe about America’s all too often mass shootings on “Violence” or how the poor get forgotten during natural disasters on “Before the Water Gets Too High,” people talk about the low hanging fruit. Maybe the low hanging fruit is there to get people in the door. Come for the “fuck Tom Brady,” stay for the heartbreaking tale of Savage’s mother who deals with substance abuse and homelessness on “Freebird II.” Stay for the warnings about pervasive nihilism and the effect it can have on your humanity on “Tenderness.” Listen, really listen, to Wide Awake!. There is a lot more to Parquet Courts than meets the eye. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

01. Mitski: Be the Cowboy

In Mitski’s world, moments and minutes are years and decades, loneliness is a reason to celebrate, and one good honest kiss is life’s ultimate reward. Be the Cowboy is the album Mitski and her producer, Patrick Hyland, have been steadily building toward ever since the pair first joined forces on Mitski’s 2014 release, Bury Me at Makeout Creek. Delivering fourteen affecting, unhurried songs in just over thirty minutes, Mitski’s latest is a pocket miracle and a high-water mark in terms of sustained quality for the artist thus far.

The songs on Be the Cowboy range everywhere from swelling orchestral paean’s to true love (“Geyser”), to swinging country-tinged tributes to one-night stands (“Lonesome Love”), exaltating disco bangers toasting solitude (“Nobody”), and sparse poetic ballads (“A Horse Named Cold Air”). What holds all this disparate genre-jumping together are the songs in between, the songs that have come to exemplify Mitski’s musical style for steadfast fans and casual aficionados alike.

“Why Didn’t You Stop Me” opens with pulsing synths before Mitski’s distorted guitar crashes the synthpop party. The gritty lead hook on “Remember My Name” stalks the singer as her tough verses frame synthesizer freakouts just before she rides a rocking bass and drum breakdown. “Toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart, baby, bang it up inside” Mitski sings on “Washing Machine Heart”, a pounding track that does an excellent job balancing the guitars and keyboards. Throughout Be the Cowboy, it’s the songs that are more commonly associated with Mitski’s urgent and often visceral style that hold the whole thing together, helping to create a consistent-sounding work.

The record’s most poignant moment arrives with its final track, a ballad titled “Two Slow Dancers”, that has the singer imagining a couple lamenting the passage of time. The inclusion of the song’s opening line, “Does it smell like a school gymnasium in here?”, a lyric that would otherwise come across as clunky and unpropitious if delivered by any other singer, is a bold songwriting choice and a direct testament to the power of Mitski’s uniquely intimate and cathartic vocals. “To think that we could stay the same, but we’re two slow dancers, last ones out,” Mitski sings conclusively, bringing the entire album to a resounding, comprehensive finish. “Two Slow Dancers” is a moving and appropriate ending for an album whose journey finds its narrator navigating loves highs and lows up to the point of near-expiration.

During an interview with The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, Mitski said of the album’s title, “I was so attracted to that idea of freedom and arrogance and not having to apologize.” She went on to describe the record’s protagonist, saying, “This album, I think, it’s protagonist is someone like me who feels like they want to channel and embody that energy of a cowboy.” Be the Cowboy is an album for everyone who’s ever dreamed of true love. It’s also for everyone who’s ever loved and lost. It’s for the lovelorn who never give up hope, and it’s for those who have managed to find their soulmates and refuse to let go. Simply put, Be the Cowboy is for everyone. – Andy Mascola

20-11 | 10-01

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