The 10 Best Albums of March 2018

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The 10 Best Albums of March 2018

The flipping of the calendar from March to April is meant to herald new life as spring blossoms and winter finally recedes. Perhaps that’s why, as the snow falls once again outside the Paste Music offices, we’re looking back on a month of great new albums that dealt with loss, rebirth, and new beginnings. Some of our favorite music of March included heartbreaking reflections of grief (Mount Eerie, Marybeth D’Amico), the triumphant return of all-time greats (The Breeders) and an extraordinarily promising debut (Soccer Mommy). As we welcome April, let’s review all the best new albums of March 2018.

10. Jamie Stillway: City Static EP
Rating 8.2
While she hasn’t made the splash that other finger-picked guitar players like Marisa Anderson and Daniel Bachman have done in recent years, Jamie Stillway has quietly built up a strong discography. Her few self-released albums nestle into the fertile ground where jazz, folk and country cross-pollinate and hybridize. And until recently, Stillway’s instrument of choice was the industry standard: the acoustic guitar. But when she hit her 40th birthday, she treated herself to an electric and started quickly experimenting and writing. The result of this new toy and Stillway’s playing with it are captured on City Static, a delightful EP out on Portland, Ore., label Fluff & Gravy. —Robert Ham


9. Nap Eyes: I’m Bad Now
Rating 8.2
Nap Eyes are a remarkably consistent band. Their 2015 debut, Whine of the Mystic, contains nine tracks of breezy, itinerant indie rock that only occasionally rambles on too long. The follow-up, 2016’s Thought Rock Fish Scale, does more or less the same thing. So the question for these Canadian crypto-jammers is: mix it up on LP3 or nah? I’m Bad Now is another reliable slab from Nap Eyes, with stronger melodies and more consistency across the board. —Ben Salmon


8. Amen Dunes: Freedom
Rating 8.2
On Amen Dunes’ fourth album, Damon McMahon finally shows himself fully, and the results are both charmingly raw and uncommonly lovely. His songs are captured cleanly and intimately, a credit to producer Chris Coady, known for his work with Beach House and Grizzly Bear, among others. His lyrics are more personal than ever. He even put his own face on the cover for the first time—eyes averted, of course. Across Freedom’s 11 tracks, McMahon reflects on his own life like a seething poet, often spitting lyrics as if they’re forcing themselves from his body. Recurring topics include his hard-knock childhood, masculinity, spirituality, his mother’s battle with cancer and his difficult relationship with his father. “I can’t catch a break,” he sings on “Blue Rose,” a woozy disco-dub-folk jam. “You weren’t much a man to me, but you’re the only one I ever had.” —Ben Salmon


7. Soccer Mommy: Clean
Rating 8.3
“I was wasting all my time on someone who didn’t know me,” Sophie Allison sings in the first verse of “Blossom (Wasting All My Time).” It’s the kind of thing you can’t remember if you realized in hindsight, or a part of you knew it all along—the subtle production and the warm strums of the acoustic guitar allowing your mind to drift. “Scorpio Rising” starts out sounding like an updated version of Big Star’s “Thirteen,” before taking a sudden turn when Allison’s young Romeo changes his mind and goes for a girl that In “Flaw,” the end is her fault, though she doesn’t want to believe it. “I choose to blame it all on you/’Cause I don’t like the truth,” she sings, her clear and unpolished voice fittingly going slightly flat. —Madison Desler


6. Marybeth D’Amico: Great and Solemn Wild
Rating 8.5
Marybeth D’Amico’s final album Great and Solemn Wild exists almost like a mirror image of the most recent Mount Eerie releases. Released quietly late last year thanks to a crowdfunding effort led by the artist’s friend Pat Byrne, this record of raw folk songs was informed by the cancer that took her life in 2015. Recorded to a two-track tape player in her New Jersey home, the nine songs captured here were meant only to be demos, skeletons to be fleshed out by a studio effort when her strength returned. When it became clear that the opposite was going to happen, D’Amico and Byrne decided to take inspiration from other home-recorded masterpieces like Nebraska (she covers “Reason To Believe” from this album) and Roseanne Cash’s 10 Song Demo and release this rough-hewn recording as is. —Robert Ham


5. Frankie Cosmos: Vessel
Rating 8.5
Greta Kline requires your whole attention if you are going follow what she’s saying on Vessel, her third studio album as Frankie Cosmos, now audibly a full band rather than a bedroom solo project. Vessel could easily beguile without this quirk through the delicate and slightly tense balances it maintains. It’s a dreamy rock album with lyrics that face unsatisfying relationships and inner turmoil with realism and flashes of warped humor. Kline’s lyrics, underscored by offbeat, Phil Elverum-like vocal delivery, teeter on an exquisite line between goofiness and sharp honesty, mundanity and magic. In the end, it comes down hard on the side of magic. —Beverly Bryan


4. The Breeders: All Nerve
Rating 8.7
Over the past 30 years, Kim Deal has carved out a sonic territory that’s all her own. It has rough edges but a tender core. It teems with echo and thumps. Most of all, it’s entirely distinctive. You know when you’re listening to Kim Deal’s music. So it’s no surprise that All Nerve, the first new Breeders album in a decade, sounds—predictably, gloriously—like The Breeders. The best examples arrive in songs like “Nervous Mary,” a tense and insistent rocker that opens the album on (bowling) pins and (white-hot) needles, and “Skinhead #2,” whose sparse verses nicely contrast its short-but-sweet choruses. Lead single “Wait In the Car,” a propulsive tangle of tumbledown guitars and Deal’s inscrutable poetry, contains one of the album’s best (and most relatable) lines: “Taking a nap,” she sings, “‘cause strategy’s for punks.” —Ben Salmon


3. Lucy Dacus: Historian
Rating 8.7
“Night Shift,” the opener on Lucy Dacus’s sophomore LP, is a scorching kiss-off to an unworthy ex that starts quietly and builds slowly. Dacus sings softly at first, her dark, honeyed voice gaining momentum as the acoustic guitar picks up support from bass, drums and then, two-thirds of the way through, an overdriven electric guitar that punches through the facade of calm as Dacus lets her voice loose. “Addictions” is no less impactful: chiming guitar at the start rolls into a chugging riff on the refrain, punctuated by a huge brass fanfare that immediately retreats—and never exactly repeats. The genius of the song is the way Dacus steers it in unexpected directions, the horns circling her voice here and veering off on their own there in a way that makes the tune take flight. It’s a talent she demonstrates throughout Historian. —Eric R. Danton


2. Brandi Carlile: By The Way, I Forgive You
Rating 8.9
Brandi Carlile  is back with her best album since The Story, and maybe her best yet. By the Way, I Forgive You features cover art by one of the Avett brothers, photography by Pete Souza (who documented the Obama White House), string arrangements by the late, legendary Paul Buckmaster, and production by Shooter Jennings and country producer du jour Dave Cobb. That Carlile remains the center of gravity in this star-studded universe is a testament to her considerable talents. Here she ably navigates a batch of songs that range from folk, country and blues to symphonic pop and rock pieces that would sound at home on a Broadway stage. No matter the backdrop, Carlile sounds completely in control. —Ben Salmon


1. Mount Eerie: Now Only
Rating 9.0
After singer/songwriter Phil Elverum watched the slow disintegration of his wife, Geneviève Castrée, from cancer, he let the sorrow fuel his art, unveiling the almost uncomfortably intimate album, A Crow Looked At Me, in 2017. This year he has returned with a new collection, entitled simply Now Only. If A Crow was an implosion, a recitation of the impact of Castrée’s death on Elverum’s soul, Now Only curls outward, picking up the pieces of the wreckage and, as he sings, “holding all your things, resisting the inevitable.” He refers to it as being in a “blast zone,” seeing remembrances of his wife’s life and work in everything, especially the almond-shaped eyes of their daughter. Too, he marvels at the absurdity of playing these “death songs to a bunch of people on drugs” as he leans against Skrillex’s tour bus at a festival in Arizona. Nothing makes much sense other than “the silence of space,” as he intones earlier in the album. —Robert Ham

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