Who run this list? That’s right—girls, including the one who made the song I just badly paraphrased. My 2018 is predominantly solo female; from the jangly indie rock of Courtney Barnett and Soccer Mommy to the refined art musings of Mitski and Cat Power to our very own R&B rising star, Jess Connelly. Even with the Carters, in a collab between Jay-Z and Beyoncé, it’s Queen Bey who shines—being both the better singer and rapper.
This could be because of many things: the aftermath of the #MeToo Movement, the resurgence of misogyny in our (and their) governments, the fact that gender issues have now once again come to the fore. Though honestly—looking for a political reason is only sugarcoating the truth: women just made better albums this year. And here they are.
10. COURTNEY BARNETT - Tell Me How You Really Feel
Courtney Barnett is the reincarnation of 90s slacker indie rock as an Australian woman—self-deprecating, snarky, lazy-sounding and, most importantly, secretly talented AF. With her second solo album, Barnett at least makes an effort to be an artist: her songs go deeper, her voice a little more personal. I’m grateful she kept the snark, though. I mean, no one else can pull of a perfectly-crafted-seemingly-nonsense-but-utterly-poetic lyric like “Friends treat you like strangers and strangers treat you like their best friend. Oh well.”
9. YO LA TENGO - There’s A Riot Going On
…is Yo La Tengo’s SIXTEENTH album! And they’re still on this list! How is that even possible? There’s A Riot Going On can hardly even be listened to in one go: much of the record is comprised of hums, feedback and long droning sounds, and when members Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley decide to sing they do so in barely audible whispers. The end result is a perfect wallpaper double album: dreamy, slow, languid, long, but also over before you know it.
8. JESS CONNELLY - Jcon
Jess Connelly is the kind of popstar we’re desperately in need of right now. Neither a cheesy tired balladeer nor a scantily-clad bombshell, Connelly is confident, stylish, visionary, and completely in touch with herself and her music. She sings in a lazy drawl that augments her backing tracks, and she ain’t afraid to drop them F-bombs (only three songs in the album are not marked EXPLICIT). She’s also a brilliant collaborator, and you can hear this when she works with producers like Lustbass for “Turn Me Down” or her partner-in-crime Crwn (who by the way also released an excellent album this year). Jcon is a nickname Connelly’s friends call her, but it can be easily misread as “Icon,” which this musician is fast-becoming.
7. WILD NOTHING - Indigo
There is nothing new nor innovative about Wild Nothing’s new album Indigo... BUT IT’S JUST SO FUCKING CATCHY. Jack Tatum is a magical chorus machine, turning weird-ass lyrics like “letting goooooo... I wanna be happier now! I wanna be more than closed!” and “oscillation: pulling me close, pushing me back” into unforgettable hooks. Also, in a time where everyone’s trying to ape the 80s, Wild Nothing is the rare one that gets it right.
6. CAT POWER - Wanderer
Every time Chan Marshall comes out with an album, she becomes a different person. Whether she plays the homecoming queen (The Greatest), the jilted lover (You Are Free), or the phoenix rising from the ashes (Sun), you know that for the length of the record you’ll be listening to this artist come to terms with the next stage in her life. Her role in Wanderer is a bit more obvious. She’s a Wanderer (the title of the album and a song), but she’s also a Woman (also a song, in which she likes to remind us by repeating the phrase “I’m a woman” around 42 times). Fans of her early work will find respite in Wanderer as she finally returns to her guitar+raspy voice style. But make no mistake -- you’re listening to a completely different person now.
5. CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS - Chris
Speaking of personas, Héloïse Lèttisier takes things further by giving her alter-ego Christine and The Queens another alter-ego in the form of Chris, the titular character from her new album. She also does this album twice-- first in English and then in French. All these layers, cloaked in the glowing sheen of 80s R&B, ironically takes us more inward, resulting in a very personal exploration of sexuality, gender politics and fame.
4. MITSKI - Be The Cowboy
I was never big on Mitski, which I feel now has been an egregious error. She is a truly singular artist, writing songs that feel they were made in a small bedroom but also feel epic in scope. The patterns are unpredictable, the lyrics mundanely poetic. It would be art if it weren’t so much fun; it would be pop if it weren’t so intricately crafted.
3. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE - Thank You For Today
Welcome back to the top three, Death Cab for Cutie. After a decade filled with experiments and ambitiously long opi, my favorite band from the noughties goes back to what they do best—smart and poignant pop music. Thank You For Today is Death Cab’s best album this decade. Unfortunately that’s not saying much, but I’ll take it.
2. THE CARTERS - Everything is Love
In 2016 Beyoncé released Lemonade; an awe-inspiring personal manifesto both about being a black woman in today’s America, and taking power back for yourself after a marriage crisis. The following year Jay-Z released 4:44, a confessional that was both intimate and vulnerable; 36 glorious minutes of Jay-Z unraveling. As a fan of music, it was awe-inspiring watching two greats sort their most private issues out on the world stage, and when I found out they were doing an album together I was ecstatic.
Everything is Love was not the album I was waiting for. Instead of going inward like the aforementioned solo albums, the reunited couple goes completely outward. Instead of taking off the masks, it feels like they put on a few more. But it is powerful. In fact, the album is nothing but a show of power. In “Nice”, Bey sings “If I gave...two fucks about streaming numbers woulda put Lemonade up on Spotify. Fuck you.” In APESHIT, Jay-Z raps: “I said no to the Superbowl. You need me, I don’t need you.” They f--king shut down the Louvre to shoot its music video, for God’s sake. I felt the flex, every minute of every song, and so I don’t mind putting the catharsis on hold.
1. SOCCER MOMMY - Clean
I don’t usually write this list in order, with number 1 the first I’m able to finish. This time around, though, I’ve saved the best for last—if for any reason because I don’t know what to write. What makes this 21-year old college kid from Nashville’s album so good that it eclipses legends like Beyonce and Cat Power? There’s nothing groundbreaking about her melodies and she writes juvenile teenager lyrics like “I wanna be that cool” and “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog,” and yet, here she is. It’s most probably because Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, produced work so raw there’s a certain energy to it. In a yearender list where words like “catharsis”, “personal”, “confessional” and “confident” seem to pop up a lot, Allison embodies all these qualities. She reminds me of a younger version of many of my favorite musicans: Juliana Hatfield, Veruca Salt, Mary Timony -- and if she’s on that path I can’t wait for what’s in store in the future.
Iceage, Earl Sweatshirt, Snail Mail, Pusha T. and CRWN
DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR
The last Chvrches album was really saccharine and generic, which breaks my heart because they were in the running to be my band of the decade. Aside from that I cant think of anyone else. Oh, wait. Kanye.
TRACKS OF THE YEAR
I made a playlist. Here it is. It features a bunch of the guys above but also appearances from old faves like MGMT and Stephen Malkmus, as well as exciting new voices like ROSALíA and King Princess.
BEST LIVE ACT
My year in live music was pretty desolate, Fuji Rock having been the only major music thing I went to this year. Kendrick Llamar conquered that festival, with MGMT a surprising runner up. On the local front, Anderson.Paak and The Free Nationals brought it, thanks to Karpos Multimedia. And after 20 years Sandwich proved they’re still the best live band in the country, ending with an encore set that brought me back to Mayric’s in the 90s.
MUSIC VIDEOS OF THE YEAR
Have you guys heard of Paco Raterta yet? The kid’s a prodigy. And speaking of prodigy, one of our very own has done two videos already for, you guessed it—Prodigy. Here’s his video for Timebomb Zone, and any video that features a cute Asian girl crushing a 7-11 Big Gulp cup before terrorizing a bunch of manongs and tourists automatically gets my love.
Speaking of our very own, one of my favorite experiences of the year was seeing Joey Frank at work as he turned Truefaith into international superstars with this meta AF video for MGMT. In it, the hipster kings discover a song by Truefaith and rip it off , making the song a megahit. They actually had Truefaith record a version of the song and released it a week before their version, with hilarious results.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not necessarily the best thing director Rian Johnson did in the span of a year. This video for LCD Soundsystem starring legends David Strathairn and Sissy Spacek is a throwback to some of his more poignant and quiet work like Brick and Breaking Bad’s Ozymandias.
And finally, you have this: the most talked-about video of the year, and rightly so. Childish Gambino and Hiro Murai cook up a cult classic that is not only fun, energetic and shocking, but perfectly encapsulates America today. The video and song co-exist so perfectly that one wouldn’t have been a hit without the other, and what better title for this song than “This is America”?