The 50 Best Albums of 2018

Music Lists Best Albums
Share Tweet Submit Pin

idles-joy.jpg 25. IDLES: Joy As An Act Of Resistance
While discussing even the most harrowing themes, IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance forces you to find hope in any circumstance. The Bristol-based punk outfit’s second album is loud and raucous while still embracing melody and sing-along (well, yell-along) choruses. From the utterly addictive single “Danny Nedelko” (a pro-immigration, in-your-face track about the band’s personal friend) to the haunting, grieving “June” (about the still-born death of singer Joe Talbot’s daughter), Joy as an Act of Resistance encapsulates the title of the album, standing up against personal, social and political strife with abundant confidence. —Annie Black


iceage-beyondless.jpg 24. Iceage: Beyondless
Iceage are getting crotchety in their old-ish age. Now in their late twenties, the one-time punk-rock prodigies move beyond the churn and clang of their first three albums to push themselves in new directions on Beyondless, their fourth LP. It’s just such a dour listen. Not all of it. The Danish band hasn’t lost the knack for shockwave riffs, as demonstrated by the thunderous blast of horns, guitars and percussion that surges through the start of “Pain Killer” (featuring vocals from Sky Ferreira). And Iceage still have a taste for ruthless social commentary of the sort that singer and guitarist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt delivers on opener “Hurrah.” Over a speedy, almost triumphal blend of guitars and bass, he offers a derisive take on the mindset behind military interventionism: “Because we can’t stop killing/ And we’ll never stop killing/ And we shouldn’t stop killing/ Hurrah.” Chew on that, John Bolton. —Eric R. Danton


elvis-look-now.jpg 23. Elvis Costello: Look Now
The last time Elvis Costello put out an album, he was backed by The Roots on 2013’s largely underrated and flat-out spectacular Wise Up Ghost! It saw the London New Wave songwriter opening up his repertoire to a collaboration with hip hop’s most famous live band. Now five years later, Costello returns to the form that made him one of the most well-respected names in music. In tow, are The Imposters, a band whom he most recently recorded 2008’s Momofuku with, as well as legendary songwriter/pianist Burt Bacharach, a longtime collaborator of Costello’s who helped thread multiple tracks on the album. “I had all of the orchestrations and vocal parts in my head or on the page before we played a note,” the ever-methodical Costello said in a press release. Songs like “Suspect My Tears,” deliver Costello’s timeless lyricism through and through. —Adrian Spinelli


big-red.jpg 22. Big Red Machine: Big Red Machine
Big Red Machine was a decade in the making, starting with the sketch of a song The National’s Aaron Dessner sent Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for the Dark Was the Night charity compilation and culminating with recording sessions with a host of friends. Anchored by Dessner and Vernon, their guests include vocalists like Lisa Hannigan, Phoebe Bridgers, This Is the Kit’s Kate Stables and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and string arrangements from Rob Moose and Dessner’s twin brother Bryce. In all, it includes more than two dozen contributors from the minimalistic PEOPLE music platform created by Vernon and the Dessners to encourage collaboration and sharing. Side projects like this often seem tossed off, but Big Red Machine feels like the opposite—something remarkably ambitious, a labor of love that sees two of indie rock’s most talented and creative minds pursuing a passion without pressure, or limits. The resulting music can sound at times like a National album with Vernon’s echoing, manipulated falsetto serving as a stark contrast to the warm, intimate baritone of Matt Berninger, and at other times like a Bon Iver album with more complex and inventive chordal patterns and rhythmic structures. It’s experimental but affecting with Vernon’s snippets of heart-on-sleeve vulnerability popping up screaming from a cloud of otherwise opaque lyrics. You can hear the influence of Vernon’s work in the hip-hop world in both the underlying beats and his vocals on tracks like “Gratitude” and “Lyla.” Polyrhythms and the odd time signatures Dessner loves to employ with The National abound, and combined with Vernon’s recent sonic exploration on 22 a Million and sometimes incomprehensible word salads, immediate accessibility isn’t really the goal here. But those complexities and sonic risks are also where the music is most rewarding. Neither The National nor Bon Iver does “happy music,” and the themes running through Big Red Machine are rarely uplifting, but there’s unmistakable joy in the music here, a deep care and love for what they were creating and how they got to create it—among friends who also happen to be overflowing with talent. Fans of either band are likely to share in that joy. —Josh Jackson


cma-kindness.jpg 21. Courtney Marie Andrews: May Your Kindness Remain
After breaking through with a batch of restless, itinerant songs on Honest Life in 2016, Courtney Marie Andrews longs for something more permanent on the follow-up. The Seattle singer spends much of May Your Kindness Remain exploring ideas of home and what it means to have roots on 10 new tunes that are lusher and more expansive while leaving plenty of room to showcase her astonishing voice. Andrews and her band recorded May Your Kindness Remain with producer Mark Howard, whose voluminous credits include albums by Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris. Howard’s understated aesthetic suits Andrews, who pushes herself toward bolder musical arrangements and a fuller, more soulful sound than the traveling-woman-with-guitar feel of Honest Life. On the folky waltz “I’ve Hurt Worse,” she displays a lacerating sarcastic streak on lyrics mock-praising the loutish behavior of a suitor (or lover). Still, as the album title suggests, kindness reigns here. Sometimes Andrews is singing about it explicitly, as on the title track or the upsurging “Kindness of Strangers.” Sometimes the people in her songs are simply doing their best to embody the idea that kindness matters. After all, it takes more than an empty house to feel like home. —Eric R. Danton


arctic-monkeys-tbhc.jpg 20. Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
On Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Alex Turner, still an incredibly spry lyricist, employs what at first listen appears as stream-of-consciousness manifesto, but is actually a delightful, albeit at times confusing, summary of absurdities. The LP departs from the band’s signature bedraggled guitar and leans on a more suave family of instruments including synths and lots of keys, but the music itself is no less clever than anything else in the Arctic Monkeys’ hazy catalogue. After all, a rock album whose first line is “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes” is not to be quickly shelved. —Ellen Johnson


robyn-honey.jpg 19. Robyn: Honey
No one serves up catharsis quite like Robyn. Whether you need to hysterically sob or gleefully and blissfully “move your body” across a dance floor, the Swedish pop diva’s Honey is there to satisfy. Remarkably accessible, Robyn’s long-awaited follow-up to her Body Talk trio is the purest purge. It baptizes you with tears or sweat or both, bidding the promise of a deep cleanse. The only faucet necessary is a pair of headphones, or— better yet—a team of pulsing, surround-sound speakers. Honey is a near-flawless dance pop album. It doesn’t need political or cultural commentary to assert relevancy; in Robyn’s deep understanding of human emotion and what moves us, Honey feels dire all the same. Release through dance has long been a tactic wielded by humankind, but rarely has it felt this inclusive, kind and positively radiant. —Ellen Johnson


fjm-gods.jpg 18. Father John Misty: God’s Favorite Customer
After converting sharply honed cynicism and rampant misanthropy into a collection of witty, often scabrous and somehow deeply soulful songs on Father John Misty’s 2017 release Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman more fully targets himself on the follow-up. God’s Favorite Customer is a self-lacerating piece of work, mostly written during a six-week stretch in 2016 when he was living alone in a hotel room in the midst of an existential crisis. He’s opaque about the cause, but not the effects: The album plays like Tillman is watching himself have an out-of-body experience as he, or his Misty persona, behaves erratically in public, sends alarming texts to his wife in the middle of the night and repeatedly questions whether love is redemptive enough to save him. As bleak as that sounds, Tillman’s gift for melody and his penchant for droll, evocative lyrics pull these 10 songs back from the brink of morbidity. There’s less of the Elton-meets-Nilsson ’70s pop vibe here, but the music here sticks thanks to smart arrangements that mix piano and guitar with occasional string parts. At times, Tillman sounds almost as if he’s scoffing at himself for falling apart. The sentiment is a searing self-indictment, but it’s not self-pitying—that’s not Tillman’s style. In fact, even on an album as discomfiting as God’s Favorite Customer can be, he still manages to undercut sincerity with his taste for the absurd. Yet even Misty isn’t fully immune to heartfelt moments, and he sounds genuine when he offers best wishes on “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That).” The song is a reassuring way to close the album after such a fraught inventory of his various frailties, and if his confessional streak doesn’t quite mark Tillman as an old softy, it’s a sign that a heart still beats somewhere under his caustic exterior. —Eric R. Danton


mgmt-lda.jpg 17. MGMT: Little Dark Age
MGMT are a little young to be turning into tired old men. Yet, on the duo’s fourth studio album Little Dark Age, co-band leaders Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser sound as if a lot is weighing them down: the current political climate (according to them, the title is meant to be reassuring that this bleak period will only be a tiny one), our tech addictions, regretting one’s wasted time and modern dating. That’s a lot of bitter pills to swallow in one go. But stroking our necks to make the medicine go down is some of the band’s most dreamy and druggy music to date. Working again with Dave Fridmann and with some key assists from likeminded popster Ariel Pink and MGMT touring member James Richardson, the album feels like it’s alternately melting and lifting, warming and woozy. Little Dark Age is sequenced perfectly, slowly and steadily coming into focus over the course of its running time. That may feel a little sneaky, letting listeners finally get their sea legs before fading to black. But isn’t that spirit we’ve come to anticipate with MGMT? —Robert Ham


sunflower-bean-twentytwo.jpg 16. Sunflower Bean: Twentytwo in Blue
Sunflower Bean’s second album Twentytwo in Blue was released this year when all three of its members—bassist/vocalist Julia Cumming, guitarist/vocalist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber—were 22 years old. Two years removed from their promising debut album Human Ceremony, the New York trio has grown up significantly on their sophomore effort. Toned down are a few elements that made Human Ceremony interesting: the dreamy guitar tones, the fuzzed-out riffs, the occasionally ragged arrangement. In their place is a band that sounds more comfortable in its own skin, but also completely locked in, no doubt the result of two years of maturity and hundreds of live shows (including pressurized opening slots for bands like the Pixies and Best Coast). You can hear the confidence radiating from opening track “Burn It,” which swaggers in a classic-rock style as Cumming sings about the constant of change, as well as the title track, with its overcast vibe and gently gorgeous melody. All in all, Twentytwo in Blue spills over with well-crafted songs and sumptuous performances. —Ben Salmon


decemberists-girl.jpg 15. The Decemberists: I’ll Be Your Girl
I’ll Be Your Girl seems simultaneously more and less committed to breaking new ground for The Decemberists— more, when exploring its synthy, ‘80s poppy diversions on singles “Once in My Life” and “Severed,” and less on more classic tunes such as the brooding, epic “Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes,” which would have fit in naturally on an album like The Crane Wife. Still, there are moments when the two coalesce into something greater than the sum of their parts, as on the macabre-sounding “Cutting Stone,” a prototypical-sounding Decemberists murder ballad that is carried off on synth waves into the land of Nicolas Winding Refn soundtracks. In these moments, I’ll Be Your Girl sounds less like casual experimentation and more, perhaps, like the start of something greater. It’s evidence that Meloy and his mates are willing and able explorers who fear stagnation more than risk-taking. Those are great qualities for a band to have. The hyper-literate historical epics will be there when the pendulum swings back that way. —Jim Vorel


janelle-monae-dirty.jpg 14. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
After years spent building a successful acting career, Janelle Monae released her third studio album, Dirty Computer, in April via Atlantic Records. The first single, “Make Me Feel,”showcases Monae’s greatest strengths: It’s a funky, soulful, slightly left-field pop song that would fit right in on the INXS back catalogue. Led by Monae’s luscious, strong lead vocals, the song is sprinkled with glittery synth riffs and a wide range of sound effects like finger snaps and tongue clucks. “Django Jane” is a sex-fueled empowerment anthem. “And we gon’ start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot / or we gon’ have to put ’em on a pussy diet,” she spits. Monae refers to her new album as an “emotion picture” releasing it along with a 48-minute, futuristic narrative film. —Lizzie Manno and Loren DiBlasi


us-grils-poem.jpg 13. U.S. Girls: In a Poem Unlimited
With titles like “Rage Of Plastics,” “Mad As Hell,” it quickly becomes apparent that on her sixth album, art-pop chanteuse Meg Remy, aka U.S. Girls, is feeling a little perturbed. Maybe it’s Trump, maybe it’s Weinstein, maybe it’s the whole #metoo shebang, but she’s even more fed-up than she was on 2015’s Half Free. This time around, she’s traded in the samples for a live band (collaborating with instrumental collective the Cosmic Range) and left behind the Ronettes for the hedonistic sounds of disco and the ’70s club scene. Throughout, there’s a dynamic contrast of ultra-femininity with talk of violence, power, and crouching wrath. Remy is as mercurial as ever, shapeshifting her voice and the music surrounding it as easily as she switches characters. When she steps out of the ’70s and into another club decade with the chill-house beat of “Rosebud,” she sounds a bit like Madonna as she coos zingers like “It’ll hurt/I promise” as if they’re sweet nothings. She looks for a resolution on “Poem,” electronic gurgles and glitches swirling around her most pointed question, “So what are we gonna do to change?”—Madison Desler


shame-songs.jpg 12. Shame: Songs of Praise
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 that stems from their municipal origin (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 me hope for a better 2018). What sets these 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. There’s something hardscrabble about them, something working-class, in the proud, rosy-cheeked English sense. And while they do carry on the political edge of their forebears, it’s not inherently so, but present in the rapid-fire fury of “Lampoon,” with Sheen shouting “my tongue will never get tired,” the giant middle finger to insecurity of “One Rizla” and the whip-smart examination of the fine line between sexual exploitation vs. empowerment on the filthy “Gold Hole.” Delivered with a heavy dose of grit and honesty, there’s some teeth marks there, but not the whole bite. It makes for their own, unique brand of sociopolitics-lite, done with a nudge, a wink, and just enough of the unexpected. All the way down to the cheeky image of the band wholesomely posing with baby pigs that graces the album’s cover. The seven-minute closer, the doomed-love dazzler “Angie,” features Steen’s first attempt at real singing, and shows that these guys are definitely playing with a full deck, delivering a more-than-solid first effort with plenty of anticipation for whatever they choose to do next. —Madison Desler


amen-dunes-freedom.jpg 11. Amen Dunes: Freedom
Throughout his career as Amen Dunes, Damon McMahon has existed just on the other side of clarity. He was, for years, the rising underground artist who sounds like he’s singing from around a corner, and who ducks into the shadows to avoid the light. Musically, McMahon shrouded himself in noise and effects on his debut, 2009’s DIA, then gradually peeled back that shroud on 2011’s Through Donkey Jaw and 2014’s Love. That process brought Amen Dunes’ music forward into the light, but not necessarily McMahon: Even as Love’s songs shimmered, their creator stayed just below the surface, an indistinct form behind this promising work. On Amen Dunes’ new album Freedom, 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 before. He even put his own face on the cover for the first time—eyes averted, of course. Across its 11 tracks, McMahon reflects on his own life like a seething poet, often spitting out 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. Freedom’s peak is a five-minute-long song called “Miki Dora,” built on another solid foundation of motorik beat and burbling bassline. As the groove slowly unfolds, McMahon ascends into a sort of self-reflective strut: “Pride destroyed me, man / Till it took ahold of me / I feel it when cry / I can feel it in my dreams.” Even when he was obscured by the hiss and echo of his lo-fi beginnings, McMahon had the look of a fascinating songwriter. Freedom bears that out. As long as he keeps making music, it’ll be fun digging in. It already is. —Ben Salmon


hop-along-bark.jpg 10. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Three years after their seminal Painted Shut, Philadelphia’s Hop Along returned with their third Saddle Creek-released LP, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, their most cohesive release to date. Few vocalists evoke the emotion packed into Frances Quinlan’s delivery, and it’s on full display on early singles like the epic “Not Abel.” Quinlan’s songwriting has become more self-aware and outwardly present to the mechanisms of the world around her, and Hop Along is as tight a unit as you’ll hear on record. —Adrian Spinelli


low-double-neg.jpg 9. Low: Double Negative
Sometimes the only way for a band to move forward is for them to upend everything about their creative process. That was how the members of Low felt when setting out to record their 12th studio album Double Negative. They went to Eau Claire, Wisconsin with only a bag full of rough song ideas and, with the help of producer B.J. Burton, turned even those snippets inside out. Layers of sonic mud and electronics were applied liberally, hiding even the best harmonies from Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk. What they came away with was an ugly beautiful record, overdriven to the point of discomfort yet soft enough to feel strangely inviting and soothing. Yet another peak for a band that hasn’t yet released a bad album, and the perfect soundtrack for a terrifying time in history. —Robert Ham


rbcf-hope.jpg 8. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever wastes no time in getting to their strength—jangling, propulsive pop-rock—on their debut full-length Hope Downs. There is no table-setting track here. No slow fade in or superfluous into. In fact, opener “An Air Conditioned Man” almost seems to pick up in medias res when you press play. This seems appropriate for R.B.C.F., an Australian quintet that hit the ground running a few years ago. They released their excellent first EP Talk Tight on the Sydney-based record label Ivy League, then moved to Sub Pop for 2017’s The French Press EP. The former is a bit more relaxed and acoustic, while the latter cranks up the volume and pace. Together, they’re a thrilling introduction to a promising young band. Hope Downs fulfills that promise, first by tumbling out of the chute on “An Air Conditioned Man” and then by barrelling through nine more taut pop-rock gems in just over half an hour. The basic components here are pretty simple: driving (often motorik) rhythms courtesy of drummer Marcel Tussie, indispensable bouncy-ball bass lines by Joe Russo and a dense tangle of guitars—strummed acoustics and spiky electrics—constructed by Joe’s brother Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney. The three guitarists also trade off lead vocals from song to song. The band even sneaks in some twang, landing somewhere near country-post-punk. Meanwhile, “Sister’s Jeans” and “How Long?” prove R.B.C.F. have it in them to slow down a bit, open things up and soar. That bodes well for the future: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have more tricks up their sleeves, it seems. For a debut, though, a couple tricks are enough, especially when you’ve already mastered them. —Ben Salmon


pusha-t-daytona.jpg 7. Pusha T: DAYTONA
The first album to come out of Kanye West’s Wyoming sessions was also the best: Pusha T’s third solo studio album Daytona, originally known as King Push. The lean and mean seven-track LP was the first of five West-produced albums released this summer, but it’s an unquestionable career highlight for the former Clipse rapper. A laser-focused Pusha makes every lyric count, deftly depicting the luxurious life of a drug kingpin-turned-rapper who hardly recognizes the genre he’s spent two decades in (“I’m too rare amongst all of this pink hair, ooh / Still do the Fred Astaire on a brick”). Meanwhile, West’s sample-heavy beats provide Pusha the ideal soundscape—sometimes opulent, others menacing—to swagger over. If you know, you know. — Scott Russell


mitski-cowboy.jpg 6. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
There are a lot of unhappy people in the songs on Mitski’s new album. Some of them are Mitski herself, but not all. Belying the usual assumption that any woman who writes first-person lyrics is singing about herself, the 27-year-old singer/songwriter has said that many of the songs on Be the Cowboy are experiments in writing fiction. Let’s call it a successful experiment. She imagined her fictional character as “a very controlled, icy, repressed woman who is starting to unravel.” The songs here aren’t as straightforward as that, however: Mitski is a master of insinuation and inference. So when she sighs heavily at the start of “Me and My Husband,” and then sings on the chorus, “We are doing better / It’s always been just him and me / Together,” you can practically see the narrator’s tight, forced smile as she clings to a self-identity that is fully invested in a mate who has lost interest. Sometimes the unhappy people on Be the Cowboy seem to revel in their own discomfort. Really, though, reveling in discomfort is something Mitski has always done well: She examines and parses it with a rigor that is somehow clinical and poetic. Whether she’s singing about herself or creating stand-ins that feel just like real people, Be the Cowboy shows why she is fast making herself into one of the most interesting songwriters of her generation. —Eric R. Danton


snail-mail-lush.jpg 5. Snail Mail: Lush
Lindsey Jordan’s first EP as Snail Mail in 2016 won over critics and fans with its subdued power and studied melancholy, revealing a songwriter well beyond her 16 years. Since then, she’s graduated high school, toured with the likes of Waxahatchee and Girlpool, and was featured in a roundtable of female rock musicians for the New York Times. Her debut LP, Lush, is a collection of 10 lucid guitar-pop songs that show off her her classically trained guitar skills, structural know-how and an ability to express the inquisitiveness and confident insecurity of youth with a surprising sophistication. “They don’t love you, do they?” she asks during the magic-hour-esque “Intro,” her clear and comfortingly relatable voice singing the first of many questions she poses throughout the album. Her music is laid-back, gently hooky, and complements the poetic vagueness of her lyrics. There isn’t enough detail for you to know exactly what she’s talking about, but you understand the mood. Though the highs and lows of the album are subtle, Lush confirms what the Habit EP first introduced. Jordan is a definite talent. The songs illustrate a wise-beyond-years songwriting style, with none of the self-importance and indulgence that can come with more experience. Nothing feels trite or contrived. She’s a natural, with an impressive sense of restraint, placing points of tension and release right where they need to be. —Madison Desler


soccer-mommy-clean.jpg 4. Soccer Mommy: Clean
Amidst the verses of “Still Clean,” the opening track off of Clean, the latest album from Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy), she’s grappling with a temporary tryst, a seasonal fling—the kind we often pretend to have gotten over, while we replay the minutiae of the affair over and over again in the privacy of our own heads. “I guess I’m only what you wanted for a little while,” she sings—still dazed months later from the abrupt departure of her summer love’s affections. Those are the first lyrics that jumped out at me, instantly conjuring up a face, and a name and my own replayed reel of amatory memories and now-hollow words. This speaks to Allison’s songwriting, a craft she honed for years in her Tennessee bedroom before releasing last year’s acclaimed Collection. With Clean, she may have again left her bedroom for the studio, but her introspective and comfortably confessional lyrics maintain their intimacy and diary-scrawl relatability. Only this time, Allison is zeroing in on the freeing, but often painful realizations that we all experience at one time or another—the kind that usually only come with the ending of something. Allison is young, her slight 20 years evident not only in her youthful voice, but her talk of missed calls from mom, parked cars, and hanging around after school. But she does it all in an honest, uncomplicated, and well-crafted way that Clean is anything but juvenile. You might just forget how old you are for a second, as her bedroom melodies carry you back to when feelings were freely given and many lessons still had to be learned. —Madison Desler


cb-tell.jpg 3. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
Courtney Barnett  is officially prolific and this pleases us greatly. Following 2017’s Lotta Sea Lice, her collaboration album with Kurt Vile, Tell Me How You Really Feel is the proper follow-up to debut Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, and some of Barnett’s best work to date. On the stellar “Need a Little Time,” Barnett’s always clever lyrics pair with a riffy, melodious hook and the song comes with a mundane-meets-supernatural video from the Aussie star. Few songwriters have established themselves to be as consistent this quickly.—Adrian Spinelli


pc-wide.jpg 2. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake
Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts are the rock ‘n’ roll band we deserve in 2018, and Wide Awake is a major stylistic stride in the band’s growing discography. On the album’s title track, singer Andrew Savage’s decisive vocals guide a danceable beat in the spirit of David Byrne, with globally minded percussion and bells and whistles galore. Gritty bass lines from Sean Yeaton are crisp and prominent, alongside everything from Afro-beat rhythms to stoner-punk anthems. With production by Danger Mouse, this is some of the most intriguing rock we’ve heard thus far this year. —Adrian Spinelli


lucy-dacus-historian.jpg 1. Lucy Dacus: Historian
Historian is at once tightly focused and musically expansive, 10 new songs that sidestep any notion of a sophomore slump. While her 2016 debut, No Burden, had its tentative moments, Dacus displays remarkable poise here. She never sounds less than supremely confident on lyrics that make the personal political, and vice versa, accompanied by musical arrangements that are sometimes downright majestic. It wasn’t a secret that Dacus is a strong lyricist, but she’s become subtler, too, with turns of phrase that gleam, and sometimes devastate: “I’m just calling ’cause I’m used to it / And you’ll pick up ’cause you’re not a quitter,” she sings on “Addictions.” She’s just as skilled at describing a scene as delivering one-liners: Dacus wrote “Yours and Mine” after participating in the 2017 Women’s March, and she evokes the feeling of camaraderie and, simultaneously, the excitement and trepidation of standing on a precipice: “For those of you who told me I should stay indoors / Take care of you and yours,” she warns over a big, thumping beat and jangling guitar. “But me and mine…we’ve got a long way to go until we get home.” It’s a rare artist who has a voice so compelling, and rarer still are the ones who learn so early on how to use it. At 23, Dacus has already made a career album with Historian, and she’s really only just getting started. —Eric R. Danton

Recently in Music