Top 20 Albums of 2018 (20-11)

20. Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino

For all the success Arctic Monkeys achieved early in their career, 2013’s AM seemed like their breakthrough. “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and “Do I Wanna Know?” were summer defining singles that could be heard thumping through speakers at every major festival in between bands. It would have been easy to return with the same formulaic mix of suave and sleaze and rake in the money. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is the opposite of that. It is an album that mixes sci-fi lyricism with lounge pop and glam rock influences to create one of the truly oddball records of the year. It is admittedly not for everyone but if you are a fan of Ziggy Stardust and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then Alex Turner and company have something for you. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

19. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How Your Really Feel

To be frank, when this album was released, I expected it to be much higher on this list, which speaks to Courtney Barnett’s talent. While not groundbreaking Tell Me How You Really Feel continues to showcase Barnett’s masterful guitar work and incisive observation lyrics. In particular, “City Looks Pretty” and “Need a Little Time” standout. Further, Barnett makes a foray into larger scale issues/experiences, using her growing platform to speak about the difficulties faced by woman, celebrities, etc. While these are obviously issues that also affect her, Barnett is typically very introspective in her writing, so it is interesting to see her take on a wider scope. It may not be her best album, but that says more about her immense talent than it does anything else. – Tom Heubel

18. Tanukichan: Sundays

Oakland-based Tanukichan captures a hybrid of dream-pop vocals and melodies with shoegaze noisy elements in her debut album Sundays. Producer Chaz Bear of Toro Y Moi has a marked influence in the chill nature of the album. Filled with catchy guitar riffs, Hannah Van Loon’s reverb soaked, sundrenched voice and mellow lyrics, Sundays is a quintessential dreamy pop album. However, its gritty shoegaze distortion sets it apart from other albums of this genre. Sundays feels like a dazed, fuzzy dream and captures the liminal space one feels on a Sunday afternoon – somewhat tired, kind of bored, but definitely not ready for Monday again. In a similar vein, as you listen to Sundays, you’re never quite ready for the album to end. – Jacqueline Sun

17. Andrew W.K.: You’re Not Alone

Prior to You’re Not Alone, the last original music made available by the Pope of Positive Partying was an LP of instrumental “spontaneous solo piano improvisations” titled 55 Cadillac. That was 2009. This year saw W.K. returning to the energetic synth metal he first became identified with over a decade and a half ago. With cover art provided by the iconic fantasy artist Boris Vallejo and his wife, Julie Bell, the music and lyrics on W.K.’s grand return to form had a lot to live up to even before listeners slid the record out of its gorgeous sleeve and put it on their turntable.

Fortunately, You’re Not Alone doesn’t disappoint. With thunderous drums, blazing guitars, percussive synthesizer arpeggios and W.K.’s resounding vocals extoling the virtues of partying and staying optimistic during the hardest times, the songs on You’re Not Alone couldn’t feel more applicable given the current malaise that has befallen the Western world over the last couple of years. You’re Not Alone is an album very of its time, and yet, with its universal messages of rising above and never giving up, it’s also timeless. – Andy Mascola

16. Lala Lala: The Lamb

Written after a home invasion, Lala Lala’s The Lamb is an album that is simultaneously vulnerable and strong. The 12-songs find singer/songwriter Lillie West dealing with her fears and insecurity and debating whether or not she needs someone to help her battle them. While her position vacillates with nearly every song, what doesn’t is the depth of her song writing. Through deceptively simple songwriting, West combs her psyche and turns pain or uncertainty into some of the most enduring indie rock hooks of the year. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

15. Maribou State: Kingdoms in Colour

Kingdoms in Colour, the sophomore album from Maribou State, is a vibrant, world-tour of an album. A musical feast for the ears, it is filled with rich rhythm and colorful melodies. Taking instrumental inspiration from different parts of the world, the album transports its listeners to another place and takes them on an endlessly enjoyable journey. It’s a smashing second album, building and expanding on the sound developed in their first record, Portraits. The album breathes a life of its own, seemingly dynamic and continuously changing through every replay of the album. As I repeatedly listened to Kingdoms in Colour, I found new melodic lines and musical passages that I hadn’t noticed previously. It’s an album that grows and develops upon further listens, rather than becoming stale, a sonic delight. – Jacqueline Sun

14. The Breeders: All Nerve

Decades after their first album, the Breeders are back in 2018, rocking like its 1989 again. It is incredible that a band such as this, that came up in grunge times and has seen the music scene change wildly around them, can come back and put together one of the most impressive albums of the year. Heavy, distorted guitars, a driving rhythm section, and Kim Deal’s effete vocal, all hallmarks of The Breeders, are also well-suited to fit into today’s indie rock scene. Deal is as good a songwriter as she has ever been, with songs like “All Nerve”, “Wait in the Car” and “Howl at the Summit” becoming immediate Breeders’ classics. It isn’t often ttat a band can span across four different decades and keep listeners coming back, but with All Nerve, The Breeders manage to do just that. – Tom Heubel

13. Ethers: Ethers

Perhaps penned while donning a wry smile, Ethers have been defined as a “super group” comprised of Chicago’s finest, albeit lesser known, indie and garage rock acts. Having released their debut self-titled album on Trouble In Mind just a few months ago may account for their current relative obscurity but I expect 2019 will see Ethers gain traction among fans and critics alike. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Bo Hansen (Heavy Times) and organist/vocalist Mary McKane (Outer Minds/The Runnies) the band is anchored by bassist Russ Calderwood(Heavy Times/Radar Eyes/The Runnies) and drummer Matthew Rolin. To categorize their sound as simply garage or punk rock would be lazy at best as their multi layered sound folds in the aforementioned genres while also incorporating elements of psych, pop, noise, prog, and more. What’s most impressive is the seamless intertwining of these genres into what feels as easily digestible as a single one. It’s precisely what keeps me coming back to the album time and again without tiring of their sound. I will admit being somewhat seduced by McKane’s fuzzed out Farfisa, which plays an integral role in making the bands sound what it is. I can say without hesitation my most anticipated album, hopefully, of 2019 is Ethers follow up to this their flawless 2018 debut. – Greg Scranton

12. Caroline Rose: Loner

After a four-year hiatus wherein she signed to a new record label and retooled her style both musically and visually, New York native Caroline Rose reemerged in 2018 sporting a red Adidas tracksuit and delivering eleven thoughtful pop-rock compositions collected on her excellent sophomore studio full-length, Loner. To help promote Loner’s release, New West Records dropped four vibrant music videos (two of which were directed by Rose) that helped capitalize on the singer’s sense of humor and rejuvenated sound and look.

Loner manages to strike an even balance between synthesizer-driven pop and traditional guitar-based indie rock with some tracks featuring Rose taking on both instruments in the same song in addition to singing. The songs on Loner, while often introspective, never completely abandon Rose’s sense of playfulness and wit. With rockabilly guitar riffs, synthesizer freakouts, and a vocal range that can easily go from gorgeously soaring to unbridled and manic, Caroline Rose gives every bit of herself. It’s safe to say that with Loner she’s locked on to a sound and style that fits who Caroline Rose is as both a singer-songwriter and a performer. – Andy Mascola

11. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy

It seems hard to fathom but Cardi B was not the US’ biggest pop star at the beginning of 2018. After releasing “Bodak Yellow” in 2017, there were still questions if Cardi could deliver the same success in a full album format. What she made was the blueprint for hip hop/pop crossovers. Invasion of Privacy delivers bigger and better hooks than “Bodak Yellow” (see “I Like It”) and equally aggressive flows (see “Thru Your Phone”). It is relentless in its lyricism and focus. While her year may not have ended the way she would have wanted, the cult of personality Cardi B has create should make sure she is never down for long. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

20-11 | 10-01

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