Review: “Heard It In A Past Life” by Maggie Rogers

The record is teaming with life and joy in terms of the richness of its lyricism and musicianship.

FFO: HAIM, boygenius, Stevie Nicks, “After Laughter-Era” Paramore.

Singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers has a modern version of a classic success story.  She did not grow up in a particularly musical family, but at age seven began taking harp lessons, and as her love of music grew, she expanded her instrumental pallet to include guitar and piano.  During high school, she attended a Berklee College of Music summer program and won their songwriting contest, spurring her to continue to focus in that area. 

Eventually she found her way into New York University’s prestigious Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, where she recorded and self-released a folk album in the vein of early Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens.  During this time, she studied abroad in France where she started listening to house and dance music, and after experiencing an extended spell of writer’s block, began creating new music that combined her folk melodies and lyricism with the backbone of the dance genres she fell in love with in France. 

Her real success came in the form of a viral video.  The legendary Pharrell Williams, an in-house musician at N.Y.U. at the time, visited a music production class that Rogers was enrolled in to critique the students’ work.  In the video, a visibly moved Pharrell tells Rogers that her song “Alaska” is basically perfect, saying “I’ve never heard anyone like you before.”  Coming from one of the most influential pop/hip-hop producers of the past two decades, this was about the best endorsement she could get, which launched a massive major label bidding war.  Now, nearly two years later, her debut full-length has arrived via Capitol Records. 

This context is necessary because it takes up a fair amount of the subject matter of the album.  In many ways, Heard It In A Past Life is the story of an introvert suddenly thrust into the spotlight.  One of the album’s lead singles, the folk-pop “Light On,” deals with this head-on in the first verse, “Oh I couldn’t stop it, tried to slow it all down / crying in the bathroom, had to figure it out / with everyone around me saying, ‘you must be so happy now.’”  It’s not angry or whiny, but a genuine expression of confusing emotions; her story is one that many dream of and strive for, but is terrifying when actually experienced. 

But the record does not wallow too long in this specific space; It is teaming with life and joy in terms of the richness of its lyricism and musicianship.  The Pharrell-approved “Alaska,” exemplifies the instrumental Rogers’ instrumental depth.  The beat is intricate and layered, with subtle syncopated synths adding a bass-layer of melody as Rogers’ voice floats overtop, “I was walking through icy streams that took my breath away / moving slowly through westward water / over glacial plains.”  The imagery shows her deep-connection with the natural world, which makes her stand out in the context of most pop musicians.  Elsewhere, she uses samples from nature that she collected on hikes; “Overnight,” sounds like it samples a bird call as a percussion instrument.  It’s fresh and creative while still being accessible to pretty much everyone. 

Despite the danceable beats and sugary hooks, Rogers remains first and foremost a songwriter throughout the album, with her lyrics as a central focus on the record.  Back-half highlight “Retrograde” features one of the album’s most passionate vocal performances, in which she belts the chorus, “Oh here I am, settled in on your floor / quieting all the world outside your door / and I am reckoning.”  It is authentic, passionate lyricism rarely found in much of today’s pop music. 

Ever since Lorde’s debut Pure Heroine in 2014, much of the pop landscape has been defined by cool detachment and cynicism, or simply over sexualization of the star.  Maggie Rogers requires neither of those things to be successful.  The way in which she throws herself into her music with such genuine love and passion is refreshing because it relies not on cultivating a pop image, but just in being her and sharing music that she is passionate about creating.  Rogers is clearly making music that she loves, and it is a joy to be able to breath it in with her. 

What holds the album back from being great is the major label-ness of it.  This is not to say that top-tear production is bad; I myself am a big fan of pop music, and high-end production is not a strike in my book.  But, there are moments when the album lacks a certain edge, when the crispness of the drums and guitars are a bit too crisp, and it feels a bit wrong.  It’s not inauthentic, but it holds some moments back from being as cutting as they could be. 

That said, the record remains a breath of fresh air for fans of pop and folk alike.  It is one of the only folk-pop records that I have genuinely enjoyed, because it’s not soft and dumbed down, but is a creative testament to what can happen when an artist takes genuine inspiration from the two seemingly opposed genres.  More than anything, it establishes Maggie Rogers as an artist to follow in the coming decade. 

Rating: 7.8 (Stand Out)

For info on how we score albums see our rating scale.

Release Date: Jan 18, 2019

Label: Capitol Records

Review: “Tomb” by Angelo De Augustine

Tomb leaves the listener feeling refreshed in the way one feels after a good, healthy cry.

          When someone experiences a significant breakup or loss of a romantic partner, there is usually a rush of conflicting feelings.  Sometimes they manifest in betrayal and anger.  Sometimes there is only shock and an inability to process the event.  But more often than not, the most overwhelming feeling is one of deep mourning over the fact that something that was once good and beautiful is now gone.  The mind spins trying to make sense of everything; relishing memories, attempting to sort out how we got from there to here.  On the title track and album opener of Angelo De Augustine’s excellent Tomb, he captures this initial feeling perfectly, at once evoking remembrances of a beautiful relationship, wondering how it is now gone, “I walked into your life at the wrong time / never quite been perceptive of real life / it was not your fault or a fault of mine / but it’s hard to let you go this time.”  It is more than mourning; it is a search for justification, a deep and resounding “why?” 

            Part of what makes these lyrics so powerful is the instrumentation.  In a soft falsetto comparable to Sufjan Stevens (his label-mate and owner), Augustine’s double-tracked vocals hover over soft guitar plucking, with subtle piano underlying the second half of the track.  The result is melancholy, melodic, and incredibly captivating.  However, this is not your run-of-the-mill indie-folk record.  The following track “All to the Wind” calls to mind a McCartney-penned Beatles track, with snappy piano-pop chords and subtle guitar parts providing more layers.  “I Could Be Wrong,” sounds like something from the Postal Service or Sufjan’s Age of Adz, with a simplistic electronic beat and minimalistic synth textures.  This album is no sleeper; at no point does the instrumentation feel mundane. 

            What makes this album stand out is the way it intersects beauty and pain.  The record was written in 2017 in five days – December 20th-25th.  The feeling that it evokes is similar to what many feel around the holidays.  For a lot of folks it is a time of reflection and reckoning with one’s place in life within the context of somber beauty.  The chorus of a stand-out track, “You Needed Love, I Needed You,” captures this reflective mood, “Life’s been hard and you’ve lived a few / did I give too much love to you? / I’m sorry but it’s what I had to do / you needed love and I needed you.”  It’s heartbreaking in that it recognizes the situation, but does not desecrate the beauty that once existed in the relationship. 

            This song also exemplifies effective songwriting in its use of images that are specific enough to give the listener a clear picture, but also general enough that most people can relate to them without being generic.  “Back in my hometown looking for a silver Honda / but there’s too many all around / and I fear I’ll never find you / so I walk around.”  Everyone in the civilized world knows what a silver Honda looks like, yet it’s a specific enough image that it feels real, allowing the listener to attach their own associations to it and cry right along with Angelo. 

            While much of this album deals with heartbreak, it also goes beyond it.  That is to say, the breakup is not isolated; it is contextualized in the songwriter’s world.  Hushed acoustic track “Kaitlin” invokes memories of family, “Mother left you in the night / my father faded into the same light / now we’re both hoping to find someone.”  The record has wide vision and it immerses the listener deeply into its world. 

            Tomb leaves you feeling refreshed in the way one feels after a good, healthy cry.  It’s not panicky or hopeless, but an honest attempt to reckon with loss that is just as normal and human as it is to weep for things worth weeping over.  It is appropriately named, as it is a monument to something that was at one time good and beautiful that deserves to be remembered in the minds of the artist and listener alike. 

Score: 8.8 (Best New Music)

For info on how we score album see https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Review: “The Mystic and the Master” by Laura Stevenson

Laura Stevenson has been quietly making a name for herself for the better part of the last decade. After a stint playing keyboards for the now legendary punk band Bomb the Music Industry!featuring none other than the eternal Jeff Rosenstock, Stevenson embarked on her own as a singer/songwriter, releasing her first solo offering A Recordin 2010. Since then she’s released three more full lengths and garnered a modest, but devoted following on the back of her artfully introspective lyrics and emotive singing voice. Despite her real-world success though, Stevenson has largely flown under the critical radar. This is confusing not only because of her clear talent as a lyricist, but also considering she runs in the same circle as recognizable artists like Jeff Rosenstock and Chris Farren. Her predicament calls to mind that of Kevin Devine, another artist who is almost as talented as he is criminally underrated and whose situation seems to defy all prevailing logic. 

The Mystic and the Masteris the first new release from the New York songwriter since her 2015 full-length Cocksure.It is a two-song double single released on her mother’s birthday as a nod of appreciation for “enduring” the raising of her and her sister. In contrast to some of her prior work, both tracks are performed with only acoustic, strings, and voice. This stripped back arrangement feels even more intimate than usual for Stevenson, who makes use of the opportunity to deliver some of the sharpest and most nostalgic lines she’s penned yet. 

On the title track she paints a stunning portrait of her mother: “Cause she loves you ’til she shrinks and she thins / Like a violet in a violin / And she’ll paint you a shiny porcelain tooth / Like the one that hangs in hunch / From her second man’s sucker punch.” With each subsequent line Stevenson blows the dust from the family photo album, providing vivid if melancholic snapshots of family tradition, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. It’s storytelling through embodiment, unpacking the person of her mother into an engaging narrative. When she moves on to the second track, Maker of Things, she pivots into a more traditional storytelling method, but achieves the same effect. Here she juxtaposes a fight between her sister and her mother at a gas station during her childhood with witnessing the closing of the same gas station as an adult. Staring into the parking lot, surrounded by “for sale” signs, Stevenson trades her air of nostalgia for resolve: “I don’t feel small / I don’t wince, I’m not ashamed / I feel big, I push back, only time I did that.” 

Though brief, The Mystic and the Master double single is one of the most gripping releases from this December, a clinic on emotive storytelling and a reminder of the underappreciated songwriter’s superior skill with words. For those unfamiliar with Laura Stevenson’s back catalog it also provides an easy launch pad into her work; some of her most potent songs put into a succinct and accessible package. Hopefully this movement on her part foreshadows a full form return to new music, because with her writing the sharper than ever, 2019 could finally be the Stevenson breakout we’ve been waiting for.  

7.4/10 (Stand Out)

For more information on how our scoring system works see: https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Review: Central States EP by Mr. Golden Sun

There’s a certain kind of calm that can only be experienced on the open highways of the American Mid-West. Long before the journey takes its toll and the stir-crazy sets in there is a fleeting period of serenity that envelops travelers in this region. For only a moment the passenger chatter dies down, the traffic all but vanishes, and the landscape dissolves into green and brown pastels. The only sound is the rumble of the road. The world ahead looks open and endless. In the same car once filled with hectic energy there is, if only for this moment, peace.

Mr. Golden Sunhails from Kansas City, Missouri, well within the range that this pleasant phenomenon regularly occurs. Perhaps that is why the newest offering from the Matt-Hamer-led folk-rock project, Central States EP, seems to capture and personify that specific mood so perfectly. It’s an EP content to breath easy, immersing you in soft acoustic guitars, soothing melodies, and dreamy, atmospheric production. Make no mistake though; this is not a chilled out, stripped-down mood piece. Rather it stays in steady motion from opener Place & Timeall the way through closer The Comedian, never really gaining or loosing too much momentum, just maintaining a comfortable, sleepy pace; gliding like a car down an empty highway. 

It’s fitting then that Central States EP begins with the narrator breaking down on the interstate. Here on the standout track Place and Time, Hamer displays a knack for turning everyday inconvenience into something distinctly romantic. “I was sure when the chorus dropped/ That Kansas City was the will of God” he croons in a song that begins stranded on the shoulder of the highway and ends in a fulfilling marriage. Hamer’s storytelling is one of his strongest points, writing characters that feel real and personal. While rarely overt, there is also a certain spiritual undertone that helps connect each song on the EP, using religious images like “living water” and “pillar of cloud/…pillar of flame” while playing with themes such as rebirth. This helps Hamer frame his songs about everyday life in a loose, but powerful grand narrative. Nowhere is this more evident than in the penultimate track Goldfinches, another clear standout, where Hamer forsakes the slow drive of much of the album for a 6/8 waltz that sees him searching for the spiritual connection between the migration of birds and the language written in his own chest. It’s a track brimming with real yearning, easily relatable whether applied to the concept of God, some vague transcendence, or even just the search for meaning and connectedness.

Central States is not without its weaknesses, however. The consistency of the mood is both one the EP’s greatest strengths and also what keeps it from breaking much in the way of new ground in its genre. In six tracks, only Flyover Country really breaks the sleepy spell cast over the work as a whole, and though the song in isolation is a great track, its vaguely chip-tune synths make it feel just a hair out of place on an album that doesn’t give much context for that particular experiment. That leaves the song in an unfortunate catch twenty-two where it does provide a needed pace-change, but in doing so it also ruptures the immersive atmosphere set up by the tracks both preceding and following it.

All that aside, Central States does what it’s trying to do well. The mood is relaxing and pleasant, the writing is both engaging and thought-provoking, and the instrumentals shine when given their proper spotlight. While it may not be radically ground-breaking, it is still quite good within its folk-rock context and certainly merits a listen the next time you hit that moment of sacred peace on a cross-country road trip. One of the benefits of its mood and genre is that it is widely listenable and enjoyable across demographics, so most anyone can readily find a situation for it. For Mr. Golden Sun it serves as a nice foundation on which to build for the future; a solid first offering from a clearly talented songwriter.  

6.6/10 (Solid)

For information on what our album scores mean see:
https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

The Top 25 Albums of 2018

Ranking albums is an inherently subjective task. When trying to evaluate the Top 25 Albums for 2018 I did my best to meet each album on its own terms, judging it by what it was trying to do more rather than an arbitrary quality such as authenticity. For each release on this list I tried to take into consideration the artist’s intent, my own emotional response, and the actual content of the piece, comprised of the writing, instrumentals, and cultural context. This is by no means an infallible list, for I am not an infallible man, but these are the 25 releases that stood out most to me this year.

 

  1. Bought to Rot – Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers (Punk/Alternative)

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The solo debut from Laura Jane Grace, best known as the frontwoman of Against Me!, is a great singer/songwriter album dressed up as a punk album. Here her usual cynical witticisms become the focal point, which when combined with crunchy distortion and a natural knack for writing immediately memorable choruses, make Bought to Rot everything you could want out of a first foray into solo music. It is gritty, honest, and as always, utterly unapologetic, another exciting joy ride from the mind of Laura Jane Grace.

  1. WARM – Jeff Tweedy (Singer/Songwriter)

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Over the last few Wilco albums Jeff Tweedy and his unique brand of obtuse lyricism has largely been contained and overshadowed by experimental sounds, courtesy of Nels Cline, and a-typical song structures. On WARM Tweedy forsakes those tendencies for more straight-forward folk-rock songs led by his trusty acoustic guitar and some of the most direct lines he’s written since his days in Uncle Tupelo. The result is something entirely different from Wilco, but still undeniably Tweedy; a vulnerable, introspective album that is sonically peaceful and musically intricate even in its sparse arrangement.

  1. It’s Hard to Have Hope – Svalbard (Metal, Post-Hardcore)

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It’s Hard to Have Hope combines the driving power of post-hardcore with elements of cinematic post-rock and melodic metal tendencies, creating an album that feels earnest, emotional, and convincingly important.  Where the standard formula in much of the post-hardcore world is to swing for the chorus and then descend into fight riffs, Svalbard’s songs seem to be continually ascending, more concerned with creating gargantuan crescendos with layer after layer of guitar than creating bone-crushing riffs. This strategy pays off, making It’s Hard to Have Hope one of the most interesting albums to come out of its genre in a while.

  1. God’s Favorite Customer – Father John Misty (Indie-Folk, Folk-Rock)

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Four albums deep under the stage name Father John Misty, Josh Tillman has permanently carved his name into the upper echelon of this decade’s songwriters. God’s Favorite Customer is yet another spectacular release from the prolific writer, complete with his signature lush soundscape and immediately recognizable writing voice, beginning on the very first track, revolving around a classic Tillman line: “What’s your politics / what’s your religion / what’s your intake / your reason for living.”Comparative to his prior releases, God’s Favorite Customer finds Tillman at his catchiest and arguably most accessible, though he doesn’t shy away from any of the snide, nihilistic tendencies that made him famous in order to get there.

  1. Joy as an Act of Resistance – IDLES (Punk, Post-Punk)

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With possibly the best album name of 2018, the sophomore LP from English band IDLES is a diverse, exciting listen start to finish. After the opening track Colossus one might think the album would be an ominous, quasi-industrial onslaught, but what follows is instead largely a fun, irreverent, energetic punk album about self-love and communal unity. Joy as an Act of Resistance is perhaps the most aggressively wholesome album ever recorded, filled with lines like, “If someone talked to you like you do to you, I’d put their teeth through”, “I’m a real boy, boy and I cry”, and “Islam didn’t eat your hamster / Change isn’t a crime.”As such the seemingly paradoxical title is actual the most apt description of this album: it’s the most badass album about joy you’ll ever hear.

  1. Bark Your Head Off, Dog – Hop Along (Indie Rock, Alternative)

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Hop Along have been a staple indie-rock critical darling for the better part of the decade for good reason. Along with one of the most unique voices in indie, Frances Quinlan is one of the best lyrical storytellers of her generation, and if this was ever in doubt, Bark Your Head Off, Dog should seal the deal. Here Hop Along are on top of their game, pulling stories from as disparate sources as World War I, Cain and Abel, and a drunk man yelling at the bar, all written in that trademark conversational style that makes you feel like you’re hearing them in the living room of a distant relative. Bark Your Head Off, Dog also finds Hop Along at their most easily accessible, an area they have not always excelled in, with more refrains and repeating melodies that act as touchstones allowing the listener to track with the song narratives more easily.

  1. POST- – Jeff Rosenstock (Punk)

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POST- is the closest thing to the political album that most punks were looking for in the wake of the 2016 American elections, Brexit, and the growing unrest across Western culture as a whole. Jeff Rosenstock is clear, poignant, and angsty as always on his newest release, bookending it with two monolithic tracks USA and Let Them Win that respectively delve into cultural decay and offer a triumphal resistance cry. Though not quite as experimental as his previous release Worry, Post-still has everything we’ve come to expect from Rosenstock over his illustrious career across several bands: energy, angst, cathartic shout-along choruses, and sharp social commentary.

  1. Heaven and Earth – Kamasi Washington (Jazz)

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On his latest odyssey, the double album Heaven and Earth (which is actually shorter than his last release, believe it or not), Kamasi Washington explores the dynamic between the terrestrial and the celestial. Heaven and Earth is a 2.5 hour epic split into two eight song halves, the first of which is about the world around Washington and features darker tones, African and Latin rhythms, and a re-imagining of the Bruce Lee theme Fists of Fury; and the second of which is about the more esoteric and spiritual world Washington sees inside himself. On this half Washington changes gears on a dime to transcendent sounding brighter tones, building movements, and at times borderline classical arrangements.

  1. Kiss Ur Frenemies – Illuminati Hotties (Indie Rock, Alternative)

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The “quirky indie sound” has been done a lot of times in the past ten years, so often that it has almost become a cliché, but Illuminati Hotties manage to breathe life into the genre with their dynamic new album Kiss Ur Frenemies. Where similar bands are content to ride the tropes, bubbly melodies, fuzzed out beach guitar, and simple up-beat drumming with charmingly dorky lyrics that more or less fetishize Portlandia culture, Illuminati Hotties instead utilize the same sonic palette to create an album that feels real and grounded. There is a lot of very poignant vulnerability in Kiss Ur Frenemies and a lot of musical diversity for a sound that is often very one-dimensional. It is an album that swings between melancholy and bubbly without feeling manic, encapsulating a wide range of emotions that all land effectively.

  1. Historian – Lucy Dacus (Singer/Songwriter, Alternative)

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Fresh off her first release and first critical success only two years ago, Richmond, Virginia singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus returns with a vengeance with another fantastic album, Historian. Her newest release covers a lot of emotional ground in only ten songs, chronicling failed relationships, her participation in the Baltimore protests, the life and death of her grandmother, and the unstoppable march of time. On every song Dacus is an open book, spilling her feelings and telling personal stories artfully and relatably. On top of her impressive lyricism, Historian is also an impressive instrumental album, trading in the simple acoustic chords common for singer/songwriter-types for distorted riffs and shredding guitar solos, swelling in and out between sparse arrangements and all out rock songs that keep the listener always on his/her toes.

  1. Shrine – The Republic of Wolves (Emo, Post-Hardcore)

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On their second proper LP, The Republic of Wolves find themselves filling the shoes of the recently departed Brand New. Shrine is an existential concept album based loosely on Japanese folklore, telling the story of a man who loses his soul to a mountain deity. This narrative, though perceptible across the album, is largely a conduit to explore questions about what it means to have or not have a soul, to slip in and out of a supernatural view of man and self, and the loss and re-framing of purpose as faith collapses. The struggle with these themes across the album is visceral and at times frantic, making Shrine the rare album to make themes this heady feel direct and personal.

  1. All At Once – Screaming Females (Rock, Alternative)

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In age where rock revival is led largely by bands that are more top 40 pop than rock or bands directly derivative of the era they’re evoking (I’m looking at you Greta Van Fleet), Screaming Females stand apart by just being a damn good rock band without pandering to trends or worshipping at the altar of their forefathers. All At Onceis loaded with driving beats, sludge-punk guitar tones, and high-flying solos the likes of which we haven’t heard since The Sword and Wolfmother, but in a package that finally avoids feeling rehashed like most attempts since the year 2000 to do exactly this. If you’re looking for nearly an hour of pure, unadulterated guitar music that will make you throw up your devil horns in salute, then look no further, because in 2018 Screaming Females have finally done it.

  1. Late Stage Capitalism – Jeremy Messersmith (Pop-Folk, Singer-Songwriter)

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Jeremy Messersmith’s new album Late Stage Capitalism was almost one of my picks for most underrated album this year and it is filled with snarky, cynical sing-alongs reminiscent of Father John Misty, but a little hookier and dare I say a little less pretentious. Overall it is a joyfully sarcastic album dissecting the current American cultural moment, presenting a scathing indictment of capitalism, the large-scale rape of the planet for profit, and the rampant fear of commitment in one the most connected societies of all time. All of this is done with a snide smile rather than an angry yell, flipping the bird to first world problems with songs you can’t help but bob your head to.

  1. Lush – Snail Mail (Singer/Songwriter, Indie-Rock)

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The debut LP from Snail Mail lives up to its name, immersing the listener in a lush soundscape of reverb-heavy guitars and synth-pads while singer Lindsey Jordan laments breakups with dreamy hook after dreamy hook. Lush is easily one of the catchiest albums released in 2018. It is also one of the most immediate and relatable, one that most anyone could enjoy on the very first listen regardless of their listening habits.

  1. TA1300 – Denzel Curry (Hip-Hop, Soundcloud Rap)

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Though he’s sometimes credited as the original progenitor of Soundcloud Rap, it’s hard to capture Denzel Curry’s creativity with any one label. You could call his ambitious new album TA1300 “Soundcloud Rap”, but it would hardly do justice to what is a diverse three-part odyssey with sounds all over the spectrum. Each section of the album grows progressively darker both lyrically and sonically as it goes on, making it feel like a descent into madness, a descent that is heightened by Curry’s incredibly dynamic voice that ranges from the sort of sing-song trap style that his genre is known for to a harsh, emphatic bark reminiscent of DMX. Likewise his lyricism ranges from simple and repetitive to long-form, complex bars, showcasing one of his greatest strengths: knowing when a few words will do the trick and knowing when to spell it out for you.

  1. Negro Swan – Blood Orange (RnB, Funk)

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Negro Swan is easily one of the most ambitious albums of 2018. Devonte Hynes’s newest release under his pseudonym Blood Orange is 16 tracks of conceptual RnB complete with spoken interludes dissecting themes such as self-worth and family. The songs cover a wide spectrum, utilizing various keys and synths, woodwinds, horns, and the occasional detuned guitar. Tying all of these together is Hynes’ smooth, expressive voice and expansive layers of harmonies, sometimes vibrant, sometimes haunting. The result is a probingly reflective album about finding yourself, contextualized with arrangements suited for long drives through empty cities at night.

  1. Ordinary, Corrupt Human Love – Deafheaven (Black Metal, Blackgaze)

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Black metal isn’t usually known for being emotionally malleable, usually limited to harsh, cold tones, but Deafheaven’s epic Ordinary, Corrupt Human Love is packed with so many different emotions over the course of its hour long run time that it feels like you’ve lived an entire life by the time you’ve finished it. Their brand of black metal meets shoegaze, dubbed by some “blackgaze”, first thrust them into the critical limelight in 2013 with Sunbather, and Ordinary, Corrupt Human Love is a beautiful expansion on the sounds and themes they began exploring back then. On this album Deafheaven is at their most cinematic, incorporating jazz piano, clean vocals, and various other styles into their signature huge sound.

  1. Soil – serpentwithfeet (RnB, Soul)

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The term “rock opera” was used in the 60s and 70s to describe narrative driven rock albums with a flair for bombastic or theatrical choices. Soil is to RnB what a rock opera would be to rock n’ roll, a narrative driven album with theatrical undertones, including an ensemble of vocal harmonies that provide the majority of the dynamic momentum on the album, much like the ensemble in a classic, Greek play. It’s unlike anything that I have ever heard before, mysterious and vaguely mythical despite it’s very modern and far from supernatural context. Listening to it is almost more like watching a movie than it is listening to an album.

  1. You Won’t Get What You Want – Daughters (Metal, Noise)

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You Won’t Get What You Want is one the most impressive and also one of the most unlistenable pieces of art that I have ever heard. It’s blend of heavy dissonant, distorted guitars and industrial sounds is so harsh and aggressive that it almost engages a fight or flight response when I hear it. This oppressive palette is juxtaposed with lyrics that read like 60s beat poems, incredibly articulate pointed pieces that make American, suburban life seem like a grotesque horror-scape. It is one of those rare pieces that I can’t exactly say I enjoyed, but I was so fascinated by it that I continually kept coming back to it nonetheless. Often times music this harsh is ill-thought out and played more for shock than anything, but You Won’t Get What You Want is brilliant in its intentionality, and as a result the most haunting piece of music of the decade so far.

  1. Extralife – Darlingside (Folk)

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On Extralife, a cryptic concept album about a post-apocalyptic future, Darlingside create a soundscape that is lush and vibrant, thanks in part to the beautiful melding of acoustic guitar, strings, woodwinds, and subtle electronic drones. However, while the arrangements are stunning, what really seals the deal are the near constant four part vocal harmonies that could make even Simon and Garfunkel jealous. When combined, these two elements create a feel that is much more Narnia than Mad Max. It is at once filled with immediate beauty and distant longing, the kind of album that one can appreciate equally when feeling sad or feeling happy. Armageddon never sounded so beautiful.

  1. On Watch – Slow Mass (Indie-Punk, Post-Hardcore)

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Slow Mass’s debut LP is a clinic on album composition, swinging between frenetic hardcore punk and beautifully sparse art-punk while touching on every sound in between. Alongside the ever-changing, constantly metamorphosizing music, the lyrics help create an album that seems to have it’s finger on something real, but intangible; everyday, but mysterious; pretty out there, but still grounded somewhere. It is the kind of album that is both mechanically innovative, but also emotive and thoughtful; an album that is unapologetically artsy without feeling overly self-indulgent.

  1. Lavender – Half Waif (Synth Pop, Alternative)

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In an age where female songwriters are finally starting to get the credit they deserve alongside their male counterparts, Nandi Rose Plunkett is still one of the most underrated songwriters of the 2010s. Filled with images inspired by her grandmother, Plunkett’s (Half Waif’s) latest offering, Lavender, is an elegy to time and mortality dealing with growth and collapse, self and place, and isolation and community. After several promising releases it seems that Half Waif has finally hit her/their stride. Her lyrics have never been more powerful, her arrangements never more tasteful, and her song composition has never been so on point. With this release Plunkett has absolutely made her case to be considered in the upper echelon of alternative singer/songwriters, right up with the Boygenius trio of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers as true master songwriters.

  1. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – The 1975 (Pop Rock, Art Pop)

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A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships was the most surprising release of 2018 for me by a large margin. I have never been a huge fan of The 1975’s blend of pop rock and 80s nostalgia, and despite rave reviews from my friends who were fans I didn’t go into this album expecting anything more than a solid pop rock record. I couldn’t have been more far off. Instead ABIIOR toys with Justin Vernon-style freak folk, jazz reminiscent of John Coltrane, 90s RnB, Oasis-inspired stadium rock, and various kinds of art pop. I expected another album about casual relationships and depression. Instead ABIIOR is the 2018 equivalent to Radiohead’s OK Computer, even directly referencing the classic robot monologue Fitter Happier off that album. It is perhaps the album most in touch with the Western macro-culture this year, relatable, relevant, and even a little frightening.

  1. Room 25 – Noname (Hip-Hop)

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For all intents and purposes Room 25 is statistically tied for the best album of 2018 for me. Chicago’s Noname is one of the most unique and refreshing voices in Hip-Hop, hyper-literate and incredibly self-aware, her lyrics are easily the most impressive of the year and cover everything from dealing with her growing influence, to the exploitation of black Americans, to her position as a woman in hip-hop. Her voice and flow are both immediately recognizable. Where most rappers either aim for relaxed or intense, Noname manages to keep her flow almost conversational, bordering on spoken word, but fitting her incredibly verbose lines tightly over the beat. Most of the backing music is also done with a full live band with dreamy string arrangements, horns, keys, pads, and jazz-influenced drumming reminiscent of Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiments, which she was famously involved in. Room 25 is an absolute must-hear album regardless of your listening habits.

     1. Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It – Rolo Tomassi (Metal, Blackened-Hardcore)

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I gave Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It the edge over Room 25 because while I think Room 25 is for sure a top five hip-hop album of the decade, Rolo Tomassi’s critical breakthrough is easily the best metal album since Mastodon’s 2009 prog-metal epic Crack the Skye. Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It is an album of gargantuan scope, dealing with the imminence of death and growth through love in the present. Musically it is immediately impressive and impossible to categorize, so rather than pointlessly try to fit it into genre boxes I’ll try to meet it on its own terms. Every song carries itself with the weight (and often the length) of an album closer, each grandiose in its own way and leading effortlessly into the next. Some, like A Flood of Light or Contretemps are cinematic to the point of rivaling cinematic-metal kings Deafheaven, others like Aftermath and Risen hardly seem to be metal songs at all, with the former more akin to shoegaze and the latter more akin to Julien Baker. But unlike most metal albums that dip this far into cinematic and experimental territories, TWDALWBI is also unashamedly heavy when it needs to be, like on Alma Mater, Whispers Among Us, and Rituals. Here Rolo Tomassi show that they are not only talented experimentalists, but also masters of their native genre, nailing the perfect sweet spot of being unfathomably heavy without ever overdoing it and becoming comical. The result is a somewhat esoteric album with the rare instrumentals that can actually carry and contain such heady themes and make them feel every bit as real and important as they are. It truly is a masterful album and one that never gets old. Each consecutive listen reveals new discoveries and rewards the listener in new ways. This is why it is the number one album of 2018.

 

Notes and Special Mentions

I chose not to include Boygenius on this list since it was an EP and not an LP, but it was one of my favorite releases of the year. I also chose to leave out Pinegrove due to the controversy and complicated circumstances surrounding the album. I’d like to give a special nod to Care For Me by Saba which would have made this list if I had heard it before I started writing, and also to Errorzone by Vein which just missed the cut but is a great record nonetheless.

Ian’s Top 25 Albums of 2018

Trying to make end of the year lists is an inherently subjective task.  Here at Not a Sound we are committed to reviewing albums based upon how well they accomplished what they set out to do given their audience, genre, and vision.  That makes ranking albums across genres and cultures difficult in many ways, because it is impossible to review Mark Kozelek and A$AP Rocky in the same way, or compare Ariana Grande to Deafheaven.  At the end of the day, our favorite records are the ones that stuck with us the most, not only in terms of technical prowess, but in terms of an emotional and personal connection.  So don’t take this list personally if your favorite record didn’t make it on here; this is simply the music that defined 2018 for me.  Just because your favorite artists aren’t on here doesn’t mean I think they’re bad.

25 – How To Fix Everything by Fantasy Camp

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Emo-rap singer and producer Fantasy Camp did a lot this year. He produced songs for other artists, helped form Misery Club, and released two of his own Eps.  The second of which, How To Fix Everything, is huge leap from the first, demonstrating crisp, focused instrumentals and pristine vocals.  As emo-rap continues to develop, it is clear that Fantasy Camp will be one of the artists at the helm.

24 – Historian by Lucy Dacus

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I have to admit that I was one of the people who only found out about Lucy Dacus when the boygenius project was announced.  After listening to her latest album Historian, I understand the hype that she has received from critics this year.  The record is a perfect example of well written indie-rock, brimming with poise and sincerity.  The best example of this is the track “Night Shift,” which characterizes her voice, lyrical style, and arrangement very well in its two part structure.

23 – TESTING by A$AP Rocky

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A$AP Rocky has had a difficult time living up to the hype that he and the media have built around him since his breakout in the early part of the decade.  Testing is no masterpiece, but I enjoyed all the weird detours and experiments he takes you on over the course of the record.  It doesn’t flow perfectly, but it’s a fun, truly odd listen that was definitely a soundtrack to my summer.  “A$AP Forever REMIX” is one of those songs that you gotta turn up to with the homies every once in a while.  It just is.

22 – Corinthiax by Wicca Phase Springs Eternal

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On this EP, Wicca Phase cleaned up his sound, and released a polished effort that is easily the most likeable and accessible work he has created yet.  The EP loosely follows the theme of seeking after “Corinthiax” – “A dark manifestation of a love that I was given by the hollow moon.”  It’s a dark, quirky listen that is an acquired taste, but one that I have learned to love given the right mood.

21 – Nasir by Nas

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One of the five albums to come out of Kanye’s Wyoming sessions, Nasir lacks some of the focus of the other five, but is still a phenomenal listen.  Kanye’s beats and Nas’ lyrics and delivery are a match made in heaven, and the album is crowded with great samples.  The album drops off a bit at the end, but the beginning warrants a spot for me on this list.  Also the song Simple Things might be one of the catchiest hip-hop tracks of the year.

20 – East Atlanta Love Letter by 6LACK

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6LACK is the artist that I always hoped Drake would be.  Unlike Drake’s bloated Scorpion, East Atlanta Love Letter is concise, and while it shares a similar moody hip-hop/modern RnB style to Drake, 6LACK sounds way more convincing than Drake ever has.  On album highlight “Scripture,” he raps, “I’m and RnB n— with a hip-hop core” and you believe him.

19 – DAYTONA by Pusha T

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On the first Kanye-produced project to arrive this summer, the president of G.O.O.D. MUSIC label made a scorching comeback.  This is a nearly perfectly constructed album – Push’s delivery is intense, sadistic, and snarky as ever before.  He spits bar after bar over Kanye’s beats and sampling, which are expertly crafted and chosen to fit the moment.  This is a daring, experimental, and daunting example of what gangster-rap looks like in 2018.

18 – CARE FOR ME by Saba

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The Chicago-native Saba wrote some of the most heartbreaking bars of 2018.  Much of the album deals with the loss of a loved one, and the aftermath.  On opening track “BUSY / SIRENS” he disdainfully and heartbrokenly raps, “Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat / I’m tryna cope, but it’s a part of me gone / in this packed room I’m alone.”

17 – 7 by Beach House

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Beach House is one of those bands that I’ve always flirted with, never fully committing to calling myself true “fan,” but this album may have won me over.  I was swinging at the park up the street from my parent’s listening to it this summer when the song “Woo” came on.  The gorgeous synths, electro beats, and airy vocals singing “I want it all, but I can’t I can’t have it” made me feel like I was in a dream.

16 – Lush by Snail Mail

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A friend recommended this to me quite recently, and while I haven’t had the chance to get close to it, Lush is a strong example of what an indie rock album should sound like to me.  It is full of tightly constructed songs, passionate lyrics, and earwormy melodies that stick with you when you’re done.  Jordan’s vocals are emotional without overdoing it.  This album is one that I will return to in 2019.

15 – Sweetener by Ariana Grande

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I guess you could say I’ve been an Ariana stan (no that’s not a typo) for a while, and this album helped validate this title for me.  While her excellent debut Yours Truly was a great 90’s throwback record, and her subsequent releases yielded massive hits, it did not feel as though she had a truly unique voice in the pop sphere.  On this album she seems to have finally found it.  It’s a massive, girly, sincere, and fun album that pulls out all the stops.  This record proves that trap is the new pop, as many of her songs are oriented around trap influenced beats, while still maintaining the RnB-diva aesthetic of her previous work.  As far as pop music goes, this is as 2018 as it gets.

14 – Tha Carter V by Lil Wayne

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Wayne’s long delayed, incredibly hyped fifth Carter installment finally came this year.  For an album that he had begun working on years ago, this record sounds surprisingly modern.  Of course, in many ways it is nostalgic as all get out in terms of the lyrics and some of the beats, but it does not disappoint.  It felt like a return-to-form for Wayne, a resurrection of the master MC of ten years ago, with fast bars on top of fast bars, and punchline after punchline.  Where Wayne shines the most however is in his introspection as a veteran of the scene, as in the delightful and melodic “Mess.”

13 – Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt

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Odd Future alum Earl Sweatshirt was another popular rapper who made his return this year on the psychedelic, jazz influenced hodge-podge that is Some Rap Songs.  Earl has always been introspective, but he takes it to a new level on this release, reflecting upon the loss of his father.  He successfully ages from the angsty punk we knew from his early career to a reflective, wise adult who is on the verge of a spiritual awakening.

12 – Mark Kozelek by Mark Kozelek

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These days there’s not really that much of a difference between a Sun Kil Moon record and Mark Kozelek solo record, but it is evident upon this release.  These songs mainly consist of guitar looping and Mark’s trademark, stream-of-consciousness storytelling.  While not as engaging as some of his more dynamic work, this album is a testament to where he is at in his life and career.  It means a lot when an artist chooses to release a self-titled record this late in their career.  This album represents who Mark is, as he sings about his home town, boxing matches, memories from his childhood, and the day-in-and-day-out of his extremely normal, yet fascinatingly introspective life.

11 – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love by Deafheaven

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I don’t usually listen to metal that much.  One night this summer I was cramming an assignment for an online class, and I saw an album called Ordinary Corrupt Human Love pop up on my recommended page.  The album title is what initially caught me, as the meaning of the statement was intriguing, and the words themselves just sounded powerful.  I found myself struck by the dark beauty of the music.  I couldn’t understand the words lead vocalist Clarke was saying, but I felt the emotion of the music, and the attempt to make something huge and important.  “Canary Yellow” was blasted in my car on the way to work quite a bit in August.

10 – Kids See Ghosts by KIDS SEE GHOSTS

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This is the colab album that both Cudi and Kanye fans have been dreaming of for years.  It’s an extremely artsy-banger, with Ye and Cudi trading verses back and forth, across various genres and styles ranging from guitar-sampling rap, to straight up rock music, and even a song that sounds like Man On The Moon-era Kid Cudi.  It’s the perfect example of the genre that Kanye and Cudi have carved out for themselves over the span of their careers – a unique blend of art rap and pop rap that has gone on to influence hip-hop as we know it.

9 – Astroworld by Travis Scott

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Astroworld finally lived up to the hype that Scott has had since the start of his career.  The album is like the fictional theme park it is named after; each song is a wild ride and a new attraction.  While it inevitably drops off at some points due to its excessive runtime, it feels natural.  Like any long hot day at an amusement park, there are highs and lows: long waits in line, stops in grimy bathrooms, overpriced food.  But, most of the time, you’re still glad you went.

8 – This Is My Dinner by Sun Kil Moon

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I’ve already written about this album, so I’ll spare the details, but I will reiterate that this is one of Kozelek’s best recent works.  Rather than feeling oppressive as he did sometimes on 2017’s Common As Light, his stories here feel like they are coming from a better place of hope and often humor.  The variation of instrumentals is engaging, and captures a melancholic beauty that I am often aware of in late fall.  It is no wonder he waited to release this album until November 1st, as it was written and recorded in November of the previous year and perfectly fits that mood.

7 – Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest

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I wasn’t sure if this should really count towards this year or not, as it is a re-recorded version of an album released years ago on bandcamp.  But considering the work that Toledo did to literally re-record and rework the whole thing, I believe it does stand out as a new record.  This is a densely packed, experimental indie-punk album that lays the writer bare to the listener.  It’s a long, thrilling masterpiece that is a tribute to those suffering from mental illness that is also life-affirming in its exuberant weirdness.

6 – Club Misery by Misery Club

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This is another that I’ve written about already this year, so again, I’ll spare the details.  Misery Club is one of those underground groups that you run across every so often that you realize is bound to be huge.  The melodies, tight beats, and emo lyrics are all geared perfectly towards rap’s current moment, as intense vulnerability is becoming more popular than ever.  With the right publicity behind them, this group could be one of the biggest pop-rap sensations, if not on the radio, then in the larger underground scene.

5 – Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along

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Hop Along’s third album is different than the previous two.  It has far fewer explosive moments than Paint It Shut, which initially was a setback to me.  Overtime though, the consistency of this record has caused me to come around to viewing it as potentially Hop Along’s best record.  It is paced perfectly, a fantastic example of guitar-based indie pop.  Lyrically, it touches on the emotional and personal memories, as well as on the current political moment in songs such as How You Got Your Limp and One That Suits Me.  It is a timely release that hits all the bases.

4 – Skylight by Pinegrove

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It took me a few days to listen to this album.  Given the band’s past, I had mixed feelings about their return, and it had been a while since I had listened to Cardinal actively.  In the end, Skylight turned out to be one of my favorite releases of the year.  It is not a drastic departure from their previous sound; much of it is still the same brand of country-infused emo that made them popular.  The difference here is that there is an amount of reflectiveness in these songs that hits the ears differently than Cardinal.  The first half is slow-paced and linear, and there are far fewer catchy hits on this record than before.  But give it a few listens, and you will find layers to the stories that these songs tell that will have you coming back time and time again.

3 – Swimming by Mac Miller

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Mac’s final album is his best yet.  I remember thinking this before he died, wondering where his career would take him next.  It’s the best version of what he had been trying recently – a funky style of rap that infused RnB flawlessly.  The lyrics are stark and personal, but also convey true joy and hope in the latter half.  It is not a perfect record, but it is not one that reveals a perfect man, so the flaws feel appropriate.  It’s a powerful testament to going through it (whatever your personal it might be) and coming out on the other side intact, a different person, but one who is ready and able to move on.  This is the best legacy Mac could’ve left as his last testament.

2 – boygenius by boygenius

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This is an indie-supergroup dream band.  The possibility of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus on one project makes total sense, but I still could not believe it was actually happening when it was announced.  As three of the most powerful voices in indie-rock in this current moment, they come together to make a record that has variety, consistency, and beauty that is nearly unparalleled.  They are all different-but-similar enough for it to work without sounding like their solo releases.  Boygenius is undeniably a group effort that offers something new to fans of any of the three artists.  I’m praying they do another release eventually.

1 – ye by Kanye West

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Kanye had quite a year.  It seems that he does almost everything he can to keep people from talking about what he does best: music.  Kanye’s short, flash-in-a-pan ye is his most lyrically revealing, vulnerable album in years.  In past releases, his usual pattern is to reveal something about himself – some guilt, pain or insecurity – and then immediately cover it with an expletive or a bad joke, but on this album, he gets as close to naked as we have seen him.  The lyrics deal largely with his mental health, wrongs he has committed against his wife and the public, as well as drug addiction, and working through his role as a father.  Through it all, the music is fantastic, crackly, a bit lo-fi (for blockbuster standards), adding to the rawness and emotional energy.  As usual, it is packed with guest features, most uncredited.  They usually take on a background role: these are not designed to gain hype, but to add to the over-all product.  Despite his shortcomings as a person, ye is some of the best music Kanye has released.  It will not be viewed as an influential super-hit the way most of his previous albums are, but to fans, it is a rare and real look into the most influential man in popular music.

Top Songs of 2018

Putting together a “Top Songs of 2018” post felt a little disingenuous for both of us, considering that both of us rarely listen to songs outside of their context in albums, making it hard to put even an approximate ranking to songs as a medium on the year. We’ll leave that kind of analysis to what we’re more familiar with: albums. Instead, here are our completely subjective favorite songs from 2018, we hope you like them as much as we do.

Zack’s List

“Happy” – Jeremy Messersmith (Pop-Folk)

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Jeremy Messersmith’s new album “Late Stage Capitalism” was almost one of my picks for most underrated album this year and it is filled with snarky, cynical sing-alongs reminiscent of Father John Misty, but a little hookier and dare I say a little less pretentious. “Happy” is Messersmith at his best, a head-bobbing earworm that is painfully sarcastic, but so upbeat that you can’t help but be cheered up at first listen.  It is the sonic equivalent of skipping through a field of flowers with a huge grin on your face and both middle fingers raised.

“Gray Havens” – Slow Mass (Indie-Punk)

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We’ve talked about Slow Mass a lot here at Not a Sound, so I’ll cut to the chase: everything about “On Watch” is good. “Gray Havens” is the first true song on the album and showcases everything the band does well: dramatic dynamic shifts, riffs that make you want to play Guitar Hero II again, and a soaring hook that’ll stick in your head for days. If you, like many people, have never heard Slow Mass before and are even remotely interested in the world of DIY punk music in 2018, this is a song you absolutely should not sleep on.

“Television” – IDLES (Punk, Post-Punk)

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Speaking of punk and punk-adjacent music, the English band IDLES put out arguably the most fun record of 2018, the aptly named “Joy as an Act of Resistance”, which is loaded with several of my personal favorite tunes. “Television” might be the most aggressively wholesome thing that has ever been recorded, an anthemic arena-punk song decrying Western beauty standards and promoting self-love. From the moment the song starts with the line, “If someone talked to you like you do to you, I’d put their teeth through” vocalist Joe Talbot demands that you love yourself, cascading into a gang shouted, sing-along chorus for the ages: “I go outside and I feel free / ‘Cause I smash mirrors and fuck TV.” Of all the songs on this list, this is the one I find myself coming back to the most.

“Back in Brooklyn” – Half Waif (Synth-Pop)

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In an age where female songwriters are finally starting to get the credit they deserve alongside their male counterparts, especially in alternative, Nandi Rose Plunkett is still one of the most underrated songwriters of the 2010s. “Back in Brooklyn” is a gorgeous piano ballad that pulls you in with the gentle rise and fall of Plunkett’s trademark soothing vocals. This song, however, has an emotional twist. When she reaches the bridge she reaches to very tip of her range for one of the best melodic moments of 2018 when she sings, “The further away I walk, the more I’m a whisper / Listen for me now / You’ve gotta listen for me know.” For the first and only time on the entire album her usually smooth voices reaches a raspy breakup and the result is a truly moving, tear-inducing climax to an already powerful song.

“I Couldn’t Be More in Love” – The 1975 (Art-Pop)

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I will be the first to tell you that I was never a huge fan of The 1975. They were a band that I thought was very talented, but their brand of pop-rock injected with a healthy dose of 80s flavor was never really my cup of tea. If you told me before December started that my favorite song of 2018 would be a The 1975 song I would have outright laughed in your face. Ironically, however, that is exactly what happened. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love” is a 90s RnB throwback that I didn’t know I wanted in 2018, but the soulful crescendo of, “What about THESE FEELINGS I got” made me audibly shout in jubilation the first time I heard it. It’s one of those songs that makes all the right choices from start to finish, landing every money note, hitting every cheeky key change, and even fitting in a guitar solo for good measure. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love” is immediate, emotional, and only gets better with more listens.

Ian’s List

“2009” – Mac Miller (hip-hop)

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“2009” was one of those songs that hit me exactly in the right moment.  This past August when Swimming was released I was driving with the windows down on my way to pick my brother up from soccer practice, listening to the album for the first time.  Dusk was beginning to fall; I think some slight rain might’ve been forming on the horizon.  The gorgeous string intro began; I turned up the volume slightly, and when Mac spoke the first line, “I don’t need to lie no more,” I was already hooked.  By the end of the last verse when he says, “with these songs I will carry you home / I’m right here when you’re scared and alone,” I had a tear in my eye, hearing the testament of a man who had been through it and came out on the other side to let us know it was going to be okay.  To me, this will always be Mac’s legacy.

“I Thought About Killing You” – Kanye West (hip-hop)

'The Jonathan Ross Show' TV Programme, London, Britain. - 28 Feb 2015

“The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest.”  The first line of Kanye’s self-titled ye summarizes the contradictions that he embodied in 2018.  This album encapsulates evil, guilt, pain, ecstasy, love, and ultimately rebirth in it’s 23 minute runtime.  Although much has happened in the world of Ye since it’s release in June that may call into question what the “rebirth” ultimately amounted to, the album remains an excellent flash-in-a-pan rendering of a moment.  The first track sets the tone, admitting to viscous pride and self-loathing with the refrain, “I love myself way more than I love you / and I think about killing myself / so you best believe I thought about killing you today.”  Also, on a less heavy note, I still crap my pants every time the beat drops.

“Portal” – Pinegrove (indie-rock)

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This short track from Pinegrove’s excellent Skylight is a beautiful meditation on a lost relationship.  It seems to be one of the oft-forgotten songs in the first half of the record, which is full of dense writing and linear structure.  What initially caught my attention was the melody – Stephens emotional vocal delivery makes the song, as he sings over the melancholic folk-rock instrumental.  Only later was I struck by the power of the lyrics, “Isn’t it lovely / I’ll never hold you / to all you held me to,” making it stand out over the rest of the album to me, and one of the songs that I have repeatedly gone back to this year.

“Get Well Soon” – Ariana Grande (pop/RnB)

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The concluding track of Sweetener is everything you could want in an Ariana song.  The staccato piano chords, soaring vocal chops, hip-hop influenced beats – it’s all there.  It features a surprisingly unconventional song structure which suits her voice and style, and allows her to shine more than many of her more popular singles that usually get played on the radio.  Ariana is at her strongest when her hip-hop influence shines, and it definitely comes through on this track as she switches between singing and rapping without over doing it.  It gets me going every time.

“Canary Yellow” – Deafheaven (Post-rock/metal)

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Post-rock influenced black metal band Deafheaven released an album called Ordinary Corrupt Human Love this year, and jeez-oh-man is it dope.  “Canary Yellow” is the centerpiece of the record.  The first two-and-half minutes of the twelve minute track consists of an instrumental post-rock build, pulling you into the experience, only to slap you in the face with screaming vocals and pulverizing blast beats.  The riff in the third part of the song almost brings to mind the classic rock of the 70’s, complete with a squealing guitar solo that ushers in the only clean vocals on the track, an eery yet beautiful chorus of “On and on and on we choke on / on and on and on we choke on / an everlasting, handsome night / my lover’s blood rushes right through me.”  By the end of that song alone, you feel as if you come through a tremendous emotional journey that you can’t wait to go on again.