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The 10 Best Albums of January 2018

Music Lists

There was no shortage of good new music in the first month of 2018—an auspicious sign for the rest of the year. From sprawling, career-spanning collections to explosive debuts—and, of course, another Ty Segall record, maybe his best yet—January gave us several albums we can’t stop spinning. Here’s a roundup of the very best we heard.

10. Jeff Rosenstock: POST-

Rating 8.2
Like his breakthrough 2015 solo album We Cool? and its 2016 follow-up, WORRY., POST- is packed with hooky pop-punk jams that beg for singalongs and fray at the edges. According to Rosenstock, it was recorded with friends in secret, and finished just before it was released. You can hear all of that in these songs, which crackle with urgency and fun. POST- feels less like an album and more like a document of tightly knit people working hard to make something that feels cathartic and good. —Ben Salmon

9. Salad Boys: This Is Glue

Rating 8.3
This Is Glue cushions the blow of frontman Joe Sampson’s less-than-cheery observations within fuzzed-out, lo-fi garage guitars, the sounds of jangling indie-pop circa 1987 and Sampson’s own calm-cool-collected vocals. Listening to This Is Glue feels like coming to a place of acceptance, a place of settling, a place of growing up. Your illusions and your innocence may be shattered, but there are ways of getting by. It’s certainly a departure from the shaggy surf-rock of their debut, Metalmania, but one that feels natural and deftly executed. —Madison Desler

8. Shame: Songs of Praise

Rating 8.4
Citing influences like The Fall and Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Shame make familiar but not unawesome post-punk. Think tightly wound, jittery guitars, mile-a-minute hi-hat and an exquisite bleakness. The Gang of Four-flavored “Concrete,” a song about an unhappy relationship that will have you beating on your steering wheel, embodies this sound perfectly and already gives us hope for a better 2018. What sets these British lads apart is their beyond-their-years songwriting, riotous live shows (they were once fined for ripping a chandelier from the ceiling) and frontman Charlie Steen’s arresting vocals. —Madison Desler

7. Caitlyn Smith: Starfire

Rating 8.7
Caitlyn Smith’s disappointment with the men of the world revolves primarily around her personal life throughout her debut LP, Starfire. With well-honed songwriting chops and a powerhouse voice, the Nashville-via-Minnesota singer dips into pure romanticism, extolling the joys of a night in with a loved one, a movie and Chinese takeout on “Cheap Date” and giving oneself over to lust on the bluesy “Contact High.” But mostly the men in her orbit are more space junk than satellites. The first five tracks on the album are a litany of failed relationships and regret, punctuated with sharp details (“Every time I order my coffee black/Your memory keeps coming back/In a double tall breve latte, two pumps classic”) and music that dips and dives between radio-friendly lamentations and neon-lit grit. —Robert Ham

6. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut

Rating 8.8
In certain musical circles, the word “accessible” is a death sentence, a Judas-esque betrayal. Or worse, a synonym for “sell-out.” For noise-punk veterans No Age, it means their best release in recent memory. With recurring choruses and a selection of guitar riffs you can actually hum, much of Snares Like a Haircut feels like a new era for Dean Spunt and Randy Randall, who got their start doing time at L.A.’s The Smell, a grotty, sweat-marinated touchstone of DIY legitimacy. “Cruise Control” signals this change, as the duo turn their churning, rumbling noise into an almost hooky(!) melody, and introducing the positive feeling of release that characterizes the album.—Madison Desler

5. They Might Be Giants: I Like Fun

Rating 8.9
I Like Fun might be They Might Be Giants’ most purely rock album ever, with only a quarter or so of the tracklist set aside for ballads or flashes of old-school TMBG eccentricity. On that front, the title track and “McCafferty’s Bib,” each made up mostly of voice, horns and a spare beat, sound like they could’ve been imported from the band’s embryonic, eponymous 1986 debut. At 15 tracks long, I Like Fun finds John Linnell and John Flansburgh grappling with death and dread and other dark topics; the songs are littered with references to plastic hips and smiling skulls and lake monsters and murdered remains. “We die afraid. We live in terror. We’re naked alone,” the Johns sing in “Last Wave,” the album’s thrilling closing track. “And the grave is the loneliest place.” —Ben Salmon

4. Shopping: The Official Body

Rating 8.9
The London post-punk trio Shopping follows up 2015’s Why Choose with The Official Body, a play on words referencing institutional bodies of government as well as the limited selection of physical bodies that are deemed “acceptable” by the general society. It’s a fitting metaphor for a band whose stark, jagged, dance-punk sounds like a giant middle finger to the established order, and whose status as a band fronted by a queer woman of color is in itself a political stand. The 10 tracks here are audacious, funky, and have that element of outsider-cool leftover from the heyday of influences like Delta 5, Gang of Four and ESG. Opening cut “The Hype” is lean, danceable and hi-hat heavy, the funky-fresh bass line and stuttering guitar enough to get anyone in possession of a nervous system out on the floor. It’s a sensation that doesn’t really lift until the album’s over. —Madison Desler

3. Pentangle: The Albums

Rating 9.1
Each of the five LPs released during Pentangle’s first and best period is a different shade of brilliant, deceptively showcasing the talents of its instrumentalists (guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox), who gave the perfect framework for vocalist Jacqui McShee to gently break hearts and warm souls. As all good boxed sets do, this new Cherry Red Records collection graciously expands the original albums within. Tacked on to the end of each disc is a smattering of studio outtakes, alternate versions and live material, much of it unreleased until now. The CD of Pentangle’s 1971 LP Reflection also includes a few tracks from Renbourn’s solo album Faro Annie, which featured Cox and Thompson. All of it provides an essential glimpse for anyone interested in the history of the U.K. folk scene. —Robert Ham

2. First Aid Kid: Ruins

Rating 9.1
It’s been almost four years since Stay Gold, the critically acclaimed album full of Cosmic American Music-tinged folk, put Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, aka First Aid Kit, on the map. But as fans eagerly awaited a follow-up, the sisters slowly broke down. Ruins, written largely in Joshua Tree, where the sisters hunkered down after the dissolution of Klara’s engagement, is a more mature record. Not that it’s darker per se; their gorgeous, blood-close harmonies and the sunny streaks of pedal steel guitar keep it from ever feeling too morose. Instead, there’s a gentle weight of experience that permeates the album’s lyrics, a freshly sharpened edge of cynicism. (Read our recent interview with First Aid Kit here.) —Madison Desler

1. Ty Segall: Freedom’s Goblin

Rating 9.4
At 19 tracks and 75-ish minutes long, Freedom’s Goblin is a sure-footed expedition through Ty Segall’s sprawling world of influences and interests—from psych, garage rock, pop and punk to soul, hard funk, heavy metal and beyond. That’s a testament not only to the vision of Segall, but to the work he’s put in over the past 10 years, testing new forms and trying new things. So when it’s time to call in the horn section for a boisterous classic-rock jam like album opener “Fanny Dog,” he’s in familiar territory. And when he wants to follow that up with a radiant Beatles-esque ballad like “Rain,” he’s in familiar territory. And when he absolutely must recreate Hot Chocolate’s funk-rock blazer “Every 1’s a Winner” with the funk turned down a notch and the scuzz cranked up…well, that may be uncharted territory. But scuzzin’ things up is what Segall does best. —Ben Salmon

Read: Every Ty Segall Solo Album, Ranked

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