I could write volumes about how 2018 fucking sucked, but at least the soundtrack was great.
Now before moving on to my top 25 albums of the year, bear in mind that I consume albums in an archaic fashion: I pay for them with money (often beautiful vinyl versions); listen to them all the way through, in sequence, over and over and over again; and completely fall in love with them.
These are the records that had my back during a dreadful year.
Love in the Time of E-Mail
by Antarctigo Vespucci
by Ty Segall
by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
by Retirement Party
Counter Intuitive Records
by Falcon Jane
Plays With Fire
Uncle, Duke & The Chief
by Born Ruffians
Paper Bag Records
by Cullen Omori
Kill the Lights
by Tony Molina
by Albert Hammond, Jr.
Red Bull Records
by The Band Ice Cream
Urban Scandal Records
by Forth Wanderers
by Des Millions
by Car Seat Headrest
by Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus
I have no hesitation putting this EP ahead of so many great full-length albums released in 2018. Look past its six-song tracklist and you’ll see this debut offering from indie super-group boygenius — comprising Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus — has more creative energy than almost anything else on this list.
And how could it not? Baker, Bridgers and Dacus are all indie superstars in their early-20s, all entering the height of their powers after releasing career-making solo records in 2017 and 2018. And those six songs? They’re not just throwaway tracks — they’re some of the best songs any of them have ever written. But more impressively to me, they’re not simply Baker, Bridgers or Dacus solo tracks with three-part harmonies jammed in — the trio put tremendous care in crafting something completely original and beautiful.
by Soccer Mommy
Fat Possum Records
Nashville-based songstress Sophie Allison delivered an indie rock classic on her new LP Clean, defying critics of her preceding record Collection. In fact, this might have been a motivating factor: at a recent Soccer Mommy show at D.C.’s Black Cat, Allison noted her (somewhat feigned) surprise when a reference to Collection drew a healthy cheer from the sold-out crowd.
For context, Collection marks Soccer Mommy’s transition from DIY bedroom pop project to full-fledged indie rock band, and set the mold for an amazing follow-up. On Clean, Allison’s singing and songwriting are bolder, the sound is more robust, her full band is on-point — and — now the future looks very bright.
Where We Were Together
by Say Sue Me
I play Korean guitar pop band Say Sue Me’s debut LP a lot. It’s meticulously crafted, expertly performed and infectiously-fun — until the final track, when everything the quartet built comes tumbling down in a brilliant and emotional album-closer, “Coming to the End,” which is punctuated by a jaw-dropping extended guitar solo.
Like, I can’t hype up this solo enough — it emotes in the same way as the saxophone in “Jungleland” and or the slide guitar in “Layla’s” coda. It’s simultaneously thrilling and gut-wrenching as you hinge on the solo’s every twist and turn, set against pounding drums and crashing cymbals. It’s my favorite musical moment of 2018.
by Snail Mail
Before hearing Snail Mail AKA Lindsey Jordan’s debut LP Lush, I scoffed somewhat at Pitchfork Senior Editor Ryan Dombal’s assertion that the record “encompasses the once and future sound of indie rock.” Not that I wasn’t already impressed with Snail Mail’s preceding, self-recorded EPs — made before the Maryland native turned 18 — but that’s a BIG statement for anyone.
After hearing the album, though, I was like “Yep! Good call!”
“Pristine” is one of the record’s best tracks, but it’s also a fine description for Lush itself — every sound is polished and precise, but never manufactured; while Jordan’s songwriting already rivals the best in the game. And I’m not going to do that “for her age” bullshit — Jordan is a tremendous talent that’s touring her ass off, headlining shows around the world. We’re past that.
Fall Into the Sun
One of the most pleasant surprises of 2018 was the reformation of Swearin’ — which disintegrated in 2015 after the break-up of the band’s two creative forces, Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride. The Philly-based outfit initially pledged to forge on following the split, but that obviously proved difficult in the short term.
Fast-forward a few things and seemingly things are okay, both on- and off-stage. Musically, Swearin’ has never sounded better: Fall Into the Sun recalls the frantic guitar rock of the band’s 2012 and 2013 LPs, but there’s a new maturity in the sound, as well as an optimal balance between Crutchfield and Gilbride’s contributions.
Tell Me How You Really Feel
by Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett had a tough act to follow preparing the sequel to her magnificent, Obama playlist-residing, superstar-making first LP: 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. And she succeeded — however the intense pressure to meet astronomical expectations, which Barnett refers to on the record, seemingly took its toll.
Tell Me How You Really Feel is dark. It’s the album where Barnett stops being whimsical and starts getting real. No more missed connections at the YMCA pool — on the first three singles alone we find our hero battling misogynist shitheads online and in real life (“Nameless, Faceless”), calling for an emotional break (“Need A Little Time,”) and trying to cope with isolation/loneliness (“City Looks Pretty”).
by Lucy Dacus
Remember Lucy Dacus from #10 on this list? Well, she released an even better album on her own earlier in 2018. Historian, the (fellow) Virginia native’s second record, is a star-making solo effort on which Dacus called all the shots.
Between this and boygenius, Dacus used 2018 to cement her status as one of the indie rock’s greatest talents. An artist wise beyond her years, Dacus is the only singer-songwriter I’ve ever felt comfortable comparing to Joni Mitchell — which is among the highest praise I can think of for any artist.
by Jeff Rosenstock
Jeff Rosenstock set the bar high and early, releasing his stellar solo debut on New Year’s Day and never looking back. That I’m still listening to the former Bomb the Music Industry! frontman’s album in mid-December is a feat in and of itself, but POST- earns #3 on this list due to Rosenstock’s unbridled exuberance, anthemic scream-alongs and dinosauric riffs. Fuck, even the song’s ballad (SOTY candidate “9/10”) has energy coursing through its wall of sound.
by Remember Sports
If it weren’t a complete cop-out, the debut LP from Philly pop-punk band Remember Sports would be #1B on this list. I can’t really find a flaw across its 12 perfectly-sequenced tracks — each and every one of which has a place and purpose (as well as killer riffs and rapturous drumming). Guitarist and singer Carmen Perry’s brutal and brilliant lyricism is Slow Buzz’s secret weapon as she brilliantly lays bare the emotional toll of falling in and out of love.
by Caroline Rose
New West Records
Not everyone struggles on their second album. Some, like the wildly-creative Caroline Rose, use it as an opportunity to completely reinvent themselves artistically. Rose released her folksy, roots rock-inspired debut I Will Not Be Afraid in 2014 but ultimately wasn’t satisfied with it — any anything. She described the situation (and more) to Pitch Perfect PR:
“I was 24, lonely, and realizing life might actually be as hard as people said it was. Gandalf had yet to raise his staff and part the seas for me,” she says with a straight face. “I felt a bit disillusioned with my music; it didn’t sound like my personality. I hadn’t dated in years, I was going to lose health care. I felt detached from the modern world.”
So what did she do about it? “I joined Tinder. I turned 25 and rented my first real apartment and painted it bright colors. I started socializing more and little by little, weeded out all my clothes that weren’t red. I embraced my queerdom. I had a girlfriend, we traveled the country, we broke up. I discussed politics, capitalism and Rihanna. For better or worse, I became a member of the modern world. Turns out the modern world is terrifying.”
Rose got more personal and aggressive in her musical approach and tried to be more sonically diverse with her new work. She also injected humor into the mix — leading directly to essential LONER tracks like “Bikini” and “Money,” but also giving her music a lighthearted, fun spirit as she creates vivid scenes and characters. Folksy, roots rock turned into decadent indie pop heavy on guitars, keys and synths. So yeah, she found her sound. And it’s unlike anything we’ve ever heard before — that’s why she gave it a name: “schizo drift.”
LONER is my favorite album of 2018. Rose recently posted on social that she’s beginning work on the follow-up — let’s hope it’s [adjusts tie] more of the same.
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