1. Mount Eerie – “Now Only”
“Now Only” is not an easy listen. Mount Eerie, the stage name of Phil Elverum, experienced unthinkable tragedy in 2016 when his wife, Genevieve Castree, died after a battle with cancer. Elverum was distraught, a newly single parent with a very young daughter, and was looking for any way to channel his grief. Last year’s “A Crow Looked At Me” was his first album discussing his wife’s passing, and it chronicled the immediate days, weeks and months after her death, featuring anecdotes about finding her “end of life tissues” and breaking down when he sees her toothbrush.
“Now Only” discusses the difficulty of what happened after—his songs were massively acclaimed, and he went out on a tour. They feature a little more instrumentation than “A Crow Looked At Me,” but are still spare and unforgiving. The breathless verses on “Tintín in Tibet,” the opening track on “Now Only,” features the story of how Elverum and Castree met. It’s wildly romantic, utterly heartbreaking, but inevitably, Elverum reveals that Castree’s life reverberates through her art, Elverum’s songs and their daughter. Very rarely does music emotionally hit this hard, and Elverum has a once-in-a generation talent for conveying feeling so honestly.
2. Beach House – “7”
“7” is Beach House’s most experimental album since their 2010 classic “Teen Dream,” and the risks they took pay off. Beach House have been one of the most consistent bands of the 21st century, and “7” is yet another stellar album in their canon. From the epic climax of “Dive,” to the dark, evocative “Drunk in LA,” Beach House delivers again on creating beautiful music, while sounding vastly different from their earlier material.
3. Earl Sweatshirt – “Some Rap Songs”
“Some Rap Songs” is the Earl comeback album the world hoped for, but never expected to receive. The album is introspective and moody, perhaps not as outwardly nihilistic as his 2014 album “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside,” but more willing to confront his own feelings. His tumultuous relationship with his father is discussed in multiple songs, but with a tone of mourning, following his father’s death earlier this year. “Some Rap Songs” is difficult and powerful but is an unbelievably honest and genuine collection of songs.
4. Parquet Courts – “Wide Awake”
“Wide Awake” is by far the most fun-sounding album about inequality, collectivist politics and global warming ever. An eclectic mix of punk, funk and jangling indie pop, “Wide Awake” grips listeners with catchy, danceable hooks, and keeps them listening again and again with the dense, witty and intellectually thoughtful lyrics. The song “Wide Awake!” has been stuck in my head for six months straight, and it’s probably not going anywhere.
5. Car Seat Headrest – “Twin Fantasy”
“Twin Fantasy” was originally released by Car Seat Headrest in 2011. It was cheaply recorded, extremely raw, but incredibly catchy and honest. When lead singer and songwriter Will Toledo was given the chance to revisit “Twin Fantasy,” he chose to re-record every song, adding new lyrics, different instrumental parts, and most importantly, much higher quality recordings. The power of the album is not lost—“Twin Fantasy” can be heartbreaking, adventurous and personal all at once. 16-minute songs about existential crises have never sounded so good.
6. Snail Mail – “Lush”
7.Belle and Sebastian – “How To Solve Our Human Problems”
8. Pusha T – “DAYTONA”
9. Mitski – “Be The Cowboy”
10. Against All Logic – “2012-2017”
1. Kacey Musgraves – “Golden Hour”
Kacey Musgraves is used to operating between worlds. As a female, pop-minded and lyrically adventurous country singer, Musgraves has sung about weed, biscuits and bi-curiosity. She’s been embraced by critics and rejected by the gatekeepers of her genre, winning Grammys and pissing off the male-dominated Nashville scene in the process.
“Golden Hour,” Musgraves’ third album, is the culmination of that experience: all at once an expansive, adventurously crafted album of pop-country and a sonic “fuck-off” to the scene that seeks to limit her. Musgraves refers to her music as “cosmic country,” and that’s as ambitious as it sounds. But Musgraves stays true to that ambition on “Golden Hour:” she pairs banjos with disco beats on “High Horse” and pedal guitars with vocoder on “Oh What a World.” It’s a sonic palette more akin to Beck’s “Morning Phase” than it is to any country album of recent memory.
Musgraves grounds her ambition in an optimism that radiates throughout the album, with dreamy soundscapes and lyrics about surrendering to the beauty of the world. She’s assured in that surrender, singing, “I used to be scared of the wilderness, of the dark / But not anymore,” on “Love is a Wild Thing,” before it drifts into dreamy synth and lap steel.
But perhaps the most telling lyric on “Golden Hour” is one of the first, where Musgraves sings, “In Tennessee the sun’s going down / But in Beijing they’re headed out to work,” as a soft beat starts to pulse on “Slow Burn.” It shows Musgraves’ unique position, with one foot in her old world and eyes wide open to what lies outside of it. “Golden Hour” is an album about how brilliant the world could be, if you’d only look.
2. Saba – “CARE FOR ME”
Saba’s “CARE FOR ME” is an all caps outcry. In just over 40 minutes, the Chicago rapper’s second album is a triumph in storytelling, with Saba taking on the same grave urgency with topics as specific as his cousin’s murder or as universal as feeling absent to his friends and family. More than any rapper today, with his signature quick-footed flows, Saba is able to express so much in so little time. It sounds dense, but “CARE FOR ME” carries all the destructive introspection of Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” with almost none of the crypticism. It’s telling that some of Saba’s most powerful lines are his most blunt, like on “FIGHTER” where he recounts his girlfriend telling him: “I ain’t asking a lot / I know you think you’re listening but you’re just waiting to talk.”
3. Snail Mail – “Lush”
Lindsey Jordan is about the age of an average Bowdoin sophomore, and she’s already one of the most talented songwriters of our generation. At 19, Jordan and her band Snail Mail released “Lush,” a powerhouse album of guitar shredding indie rock that takes influence from rockers like Liz Phair, Courtney Barnett and Car Seat Headrest. “Lush” is one of the most focused works of guitar rock from the past decade, but what makes “Lush” one of the best albums of 2018 are Jordan’s lyrics, sincere and screamable: “It just feels like the same party every weekend, doesn’t it?” “I hope whoever it is / Holds their breath around you, ‘cause I know I did,” “Don’t you like me for me?”
4. Kali Uchis – “Isolation”
2018 saw many big name artists bending genres and breaking out of their comfort zones. But bending genre is Kali Uchis’ comfort zone, which makes her debut album “Isolation” feel effortlessly eclectic. Uchis is known for her features with Tyler, the Creator (“See You Again”) and Daniel Caesar (“Get You”), but her solo work is undeniably assured. Whether she’s blending trap and hazy blues rock on “Miami,” or crooning over the classically melodramatic “Flight 22,” or dancing over punchy reggaeton on “Nuestro Planeta,” Uchis never missteps. Her lyrics are equally assured, as she breezes past haters on “Dead to Me:” “See, you think you got problems with me / But baby I don’t even think about you.” That combo of musical and lyrical prowess is rare: Uchis didn’t find a space to fill, she created her own. And she doesn’t need you in it.
5. Mac Miller – “Swimming”
Mac Miller’s unfinished legacy was founded on growth. Every album marked a reinvention, some progression towards resolve even if that resolve wasn’t visible. But on “Swimming,” Miller seemed to be finally catching a glimpse. It’s an album that sees Miller dancing over funk beats and ruminating over foggier, subdued tracks, giving weary-eyed wisdom along the way. The darker tracks seemed to be the most hopeful ones at times (“I’m trippin’ but I’m fallin’ up,” Miller raps on “Hurt Feelings”), but it’s the misty eyed “2009” that leaves us with a farewell letter from an artist looking back on the struggles that would eventually take his life, and not being bitter about any of it: “Yeah, ok you gotta jump in to swim / Well, the light was dim in this life of sin / Now every day I wake up and breathe / I don’t have it all but that’s alright with me.”
6. Janelle Monae – “Dirty Computer”
7. Travis Scott – “Astroworld”
8. The Carters – “Everything is Love”
9. Jorja Smith – “Lost & Found”
10. The 1975 – “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships”