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The 10 Best Albums of April 2018

Our favorite records included Speedy Ortiz, Neil Young, Kali Uchis and more.

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The 10 Best Albums of April 2018

Now that it’s almost over, we’re getting nostalgic for the great new records released this past month, from vintage live collections (Neil Young) and the latest from living legends (Willie Nelson) to debuts from across the globe (Busan, South Korea’s Say Sue Me). In April, we also met a fresh new face in pop music (Kali Uchis, pictured above) and went a little bit country (Ashley Monroe, Joshua Hedley). It was a diverse month here at Paste, but a fun one, too. Check out our 10 favorite albums from the past 30 days.

10. Okkervil River: In the Rainbow Rain
Rating 7.8
Ambition has never been in short supply where Okkervil River are concerned. Band leader Will Sheff has found inspiration in all manner of seemingly unrelated subjects, from the struggle with substance abuse that plagued folk singer Tim Hardin to the recollections and relationships nurtured in the tiny New Hampshire hometown where he was raised. With Sheff and his colleagues rarely appearing unwilling to take a wholly inward glance, the band’s emphasis on illuminating melodies is a constant, even though the music’s been occasionally tempered somewhat by evocative emotion and winsome reflection. In the Rainbow Rain offers plenty of both, with songs such as “Human Being Song,” “Love Somebody,” “Family Song” and “Famous Tracheotomies” being especially striking in that regard. —Lee Zimmerman


9. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
Rating 7.8
Sadie Dupuis and her bandmates (Mike Falcone on drums, Darl Ferm on bass and Andy Moholt on guitar) have a knack for pairing sugary hooks with chaotic musical accompaniment, resulting in a push-pull effect that is occasionally disorienting and just as often exhilarating. Dissonant lead guitar careens through opener “Buck Me Off,” as if playing all the right notes in the wrong key, and Dupuis’s catchy melody on “Moving In” floats through a dense wash of spiky guitars and crashing drums. More noisy guitars wander in circles around her voice on “Backslidin’,” and the music lurches so much between stops and starts on “Lean in When I Suffer” that it’s easy to lose track of the melody. The melody is definitely there, though. —Eric R. Danton


8. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
Rating 8.2
With The Tree of Forgiveness, John Prine’s first album of all-new material in 13 years, the 71-year-old songwriter doesn’t miss a beat, doling out material that highlight every facet of his still-underrated talent. “Knockin’ on Your Screen Door” and “Egg & Daughter Night, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)” deliver Prine’s sly, homespun humor. The first, a song about a lonely man looking for some neighborly attention, delivers it with a win. His talk of laundry on the line, a can of pork and beans, and a family that left him “With nothin’ but an eight track / ‘Another Side of George Jones’” are made light by an upbeat acoustic rhythm and a nosey-neighbor attitude. The second is a charmer that intercuts the nostalgic memories of the big night when farmers would bring their eggs (and their pretty daughters) into town, with a frequent allusion to a “crazy bone” that makes men do mischievous things—the kind of excusable naughtiness that is usually accompanied by an embarrassed, half-scolding, half-laughing, “Grandpa!!” —Madison Desler


7. Joshua Hedley: Mr. Jukebox
Rating 8.2
With his voice as centerpiece, Joshua Hedley spends all of Mr. Jukebox exploring the basic forms of his chosen field. Most of these songs are about love, or more precisely, the end of love. “Counting All My Tears” is a classic heartbreak ballad built on a subdued piano part and embellished with choral vocals. Harmonica and tic-tac bass color “These Walls,” a paean to a stumble-home bar by “a man who can’t move on” from a woman. In “This Time” and “Don’t Waste Your Tears,” on the other hand, it’s the man who’s ending the relationship. But that’s where the similarity ends: the former is a twangy traditional country song, while the latter brings a heavy dose of steel guitar and high string-section drama. —Ben Salmon


6. Old Crow Medicine Show: Volunteer
Rating 8.3
While some outfits might opt to broaden their base and alter their approach as their star rises, Old Crow Medicine Show take the opposite option on their latest record, choosing instead to go back to basics. Volunteer, which was recorded at RCA Studio A in Nashvilel and produced by Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson), is an album that projects its rustic references, all etched with nostalgia and songs that offer reasons for return to the pleasures of front-porch existence. “Child of the Mississippi,” “Dixie Avenue” and “A World Away” celebrate the joys of home and the hearth, and the sheer celebration that comes with knowing there’s a place where one belongs. —Lee Zimmerman


5. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
Rating 8.4
Last Man Standing is as much about looking backwards and it is toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Producer Buddy Cannon’s music touches on the peaks of Willie Nelson’s long career: the zooted waltz of his late ‘70s/early ‘80s output, the Tejano shuffle that infused his work in the ‘90s and the lightly wasted grooves of his more recent albums. The whiskey and women of Nelsons’s lyrics have been replaced by gentle laments about his bad breath and still kicking up dust on a Friday night, but the spirit is essentially the same. —Robert Ham


4. Say Sue Me: Where We Were Together
Rating 8.8
The best pure indie-pop record of 2018 (so far) is not from Brooklyn or Glasgow or Melbourne or Olympia but Busan, South Korea. Where We Were Together is a perfectly paced fusion of jangling guitars, bouncing bass and sighed melancholy. “I’m full of things I hate,” sings frontwoman Sumi Choi, “but I like you.” That song is called “But I Like You,” and it starts out with a quick burst of guitar noise before settling into its cotton-candy groove. That noise burst is instructive; Say Sue Me won’t settle for the straightforward path. A similar blast begins the instrumental “About the Courage to Become Somebody’s Past,” but this time it stretches all the way through the track, like a backdrop of grimy chewing gum for a beautiful lullaby unfolding in the foreground. Rarely do you hear pretty and abrasive juxtaposed so plainly, and Say Sue Me pulls it off with playful grace.” —Ben Salmon


3. Ashley Monroe: Sparrow
Rating 8.9
As her career has progressed, singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe has been able to move further and further away from the standard Nashville plot. Some of that is due to the success that she has accrued through her association with her buddies Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley in The Pistol Annies, and her other friend Jack White, with whom she performed as part of his house band for a few years. But as her songwriting has gained strength and her commercial prospects have gotten brighter, her albums have shed many of the recognizable names that would hopefully pique the interest of curious listeners.The most notable name that is not on Sparrow, Monroe’s fourth LP, is Vince Gill, the country superstar who produced her previous two albums. Choosing instead to work with Nashville producer du jour Dave Cobb was a brilliant move on her part. Their collaboration has resulted in one of the strongest and most grown-up country albums to be released this decade —Robert Ham


2. Neil Young: Roxy — Tonight’s The Night Live
Rating 9.1
Right after Neil Young and his then-backing band the Santa Monica Flyers wrapped up the sessions that would eventually be shaped into the 1975 album Tonight’s the Night, they were invited to help christen the stage at the Roxy nightclub in L.A. The set on that first night of the club’s reign, captured in all its glory on tape, features the entirety of the songs they’d laid down in those sessions. They are, as you might expect, meatier and with more snap than the recorded versions, yet still lean and taut. There are no extended solos or long, drawn out moments of vamping. The band treats the show like a good club gig: playing their hearts out and encouraging the very vocal audience to join them in the fun. —Robert Ham


1. Kali Uchis: Isolation
Rating 9.2
From the all-Spanish, dancehall romance of “Nuestro Planeta” to the boss-ass-bitch anthem ”Miami”—as sexy and diverse as the city in the title—Kali Uchis gives ample nods to her Latin roots while asserting herself as a strong, independent woman. “Why would I be Kim? / I could be Kanye,” she sings on “Miami,” never content to be anywhere but in the driver’s seat. The other side of Uchis’s sound is represented by cuts like the neo-soul “Teeth in My Neck” and “Feel Like a Fool,” which cuts through the sax-punches and retro sugar with lines like “Loved you for being sick and twisted / But pussy is a hell of an addiction.” It’s a subversive twist on a classic sound, one that’s sure to draw comparisons to Amy Winehouse and announce a bold new talent in R&B. —Madison Desler

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