10. CARDI B- INVASION OF PRIVACY
“Bodak Yellow” was one of the most standout and ubiquitous tracks of 2017- rap or otherwise, announcing Cardi B as a bright new star of the genre. Cardi is a Bronx-born rapper who became a social media star through Instagram and joined the cast of the VH-1 series “Love & Hip Hop: New York” before releasing any music. Unlike most reality stars or actors who later become musicians, Cardi showed that she was a talent from the get-go. “Invasion Of Privacy” is her official major label debut and is the antithesis of the modern, sprawling, endless big budget rap star album (see Migos & Drake). It’s all killer, no filler and contains “Bodak” as well as her other hit singles “Bartier Cardi” and “Be Careful”, as well as summer of 2018 summer smash “I Like It”. Cardi’s rapping is funny, clever and biting and she may just be the best thing in commercial rap right now.
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9. ICEAGE- BEYONDLESS
When Danish punk band Iceage broke out with their debut album “New Brigade” in 2011 they sounded gloomy, apocalyptic and dangerous. But like any great band they have evolved their music with each album while maintaining their own distinct sound. Iceage are still strictly indie and very unknown among the mainstream but they have gotten catchier and more accessible as they’ve aged. “Beyondless” is their fourth album and certainly one of their best. Tracks like “Catch It”, “Pain killer” and “Thieves Like Us” are some of the band’s best songs yet- goth pop but with a detached, ramshackle, almost drunken quality to them. The band plays tightly while frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt sings loosely and off the rails, bringing to mind Pete Doherty of the late great Brit band the Libertines. “Beyondless” is one of 2018’s better albums.
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8. SNAIL MAIL- LUSH
In a year in which indie-rock is somewhat dominated by young females, Snail Mail’s kick-ass debut album “Lush” may just be one of 2018’s best. Snail Mail is eighteen year old, Lindsay Jordan, a gay D.C. native, who is indebted to nineties indie-rock and who was taught guitar by the great Mary Timony. Her music is gritty, spare & sad but nearly every song builds to a soaring chorus with ripping’ guitar riffs for some of the most satisfying rock songs of the year; especially “Heatwave”, “Pristine” and the truly great “Full Control”.
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7. JANELLE MONAE- DIRTY COMPUTER
Third album by the extremely talented Janelle Monae, combines a pop sensibility with an experimental, futuristic sound and outspoken politics and a myriad of genres; R&B, rap, soul, funk, dance-pop and 80’s style New Wave. Influences include Prince, Bowie, Janet Jackson, Chic & P-Funk. “Dirty Computer” takes a look at our modern surveillance state and especially at what it means to be a minority (in Monae’s case black and queer) living under it. Its messages are life-affirming and badass rather than heavy handed and the album is a blast of a listen start to finish. Standouts include Prince-homage “Make You Feel”, the pro-female anthem “Pynk (Feat. Grimes)”, the hyper sexual “I Got The Juice” and politically dead on “Django Jane” and “Americans”.
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6. MITSKI- BE THE COWBOY
Third album by Japanese-American Mistki Miyawaki is her most accessible and charming to date. Moving away from the distortion of her last album, “Puberty 2”, “Be The Cowboy” offers up a more polished approach while sacrificing none of her music’s more challenging & complex aspects. On “Be the Cowboy” Mitski adopts the persona of a typical suburban wife longing to break free of the marital and societal expectations placed on her. Standouts include lead track “Geyser” and the disco-banger “Nobody”.
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5. KACEY MUSGRAVES- GOLDEN HOUR
“Golden Hour”, lovable Nashville outlier Kacey Musgraves third album, is her best yet and by some measure. Musgraves has a lovely voice with an obvious southern twang, which will likely always keep her rooted to a country sound. Yet she cleverly takes traditional country music and infuses it with early eighties pop, disco and R&B freeing her music up to sound unlike anything else out right now. Her lyrics are funny, witty, relatable and progressive (especially in the country world) and she cleverly turns cliched phrases like “Wonder Woman”, “Space Cowboy” and “High Horse” on their ear. The highlights are abundant with too many to list here and I hope Musgraves ends up all over the radio. “Golden Hour” is one of the best albums of 2018 so far and it is easy and fun to root for such a likable artist.
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4. BEACH HOUSE- 7
Over the course of the last decade. psychedelic dream pop Baltimore duo Beach House has unlikely become one of the bigger and most consistent great bands in indie rock. In seven albums they have yet to deliver an album short of very good and close to half of them have been great. Their new album, the aptly named “7” is one of their very best- right up there with “Bloom” and “Teen Dream”. While keeping their signature hypnotic, hazy sound with rich soaring vocals, “7” is heavier and thicker-sounding than their previous albums with more live instrumentation, particularly drums. Highlights are found all over the album but include “Lemon Glow”, “Dive”, “Black Car” and “Drunk In LA”. I predict “7” will land in my year end top ten as it continues to get richer and reward me more with each listen.
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3. KAMASI WASHINGTON – HEAVEN & EARTH
“Heaven And Earth”, saxophonist and bandleader Kamasi Washington’s second full-length release (after his three disc debut “The Epic” and excellent “Harmony Of Difference EP” is another astounding musical accomplishment by one of modern jazz’s leading lights. Though certainly not as long as “The Epic”, “Heaven And Earth” is a two disc set lasting over two hours with not an ounce of mediocrity on it. It’s a concept album with two distinct sides- “Heaven” is now Washington experiences the world inwardly while “Earth” represents the outward world. External vs. internal. The weight and breadth of “Heaven And Earth” are a throwback to progressive jazz albums of the early 1970’s such as Miles Davis and Weather Report. I’ve loved everything Washington has put out and “Heaven And Earth” is his best yet and one of 2018’s best albums.
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2. LOW- DOUBLE NEGATIVE
One of the absolute standout albums during one of the most tumultuous years of the past century. Incredibly, Low, 12 albums & 25+ years into their career, has delivered it’s best and most relevant release yet, while almost totally changing up their sound. Known as one of the pioneers of the early-mid nineties slow core movement, “Double Negative” deals often in glitchy electronic noise whereas the group through most of its career was traditional guitars, bass & drums. It brings to mind Radiohead’s “Kid A” and like that album sounds downbeat, paranoid & oftentimes downright upsetting. It is a perfect release during our society’s great unraveling.
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1. NO AGE- SNARES LIKE A HAIRCUT
“Snares Like A Haircut” is L.A. punk duo No Age’s first album since 2013 and their best in a decade. In fact it’s also my favorite album of the year so far. No Age take the hard driving energy of punk and the beautiful feedback haze of shoegaze and add it to sharp songwriting which has hooks for daze. They are equal parts pop and experimentation and “Snares”, their fifth full-length album, contains their best set of songs since “Nouns”. The highlights are abundant and include “Drippy”, “Cruise Control” and “Tidal”. Nearly every track on the album is under four minutes and the second the album ends it leaves the listener wanting more.
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