The 50 Best Albums of 2018

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The 50 Best Albums of 2018

Yes, the album is still relevant in 2018. Even as we become more likely to stream playlists or shuffle the works of an artist on Spotify, it’s worth taking a look at music as an artist intended, a package of tracks, sequenced with care, offering a snapshot view into a singular creative endeavor with a long history—the LP. This year’s list of best albums was voted on by Paste’s staff, music writers and tireless interns. As always, Paste’s Best Albums of 2018 reflects the specific and varying tastes of its voters—lots of indie rock and singer/songwriters with a smattering of country, hip-hop, soul and whatever genre you want to call Lonnie Holley. We’ll release an updated list with our reader’s favorites, so send us your top 10 albums to by Dec. 1.

Here are the 50 Best Albums of 2018:

yo-la-riot.jpg 50. Yo La Tengo: There’s A Riot Going On
New Jersey’s foremost indie auteurs have always managed to find that fine line between obtuse experimentation and pastoral pop, one that sometimes makes Yo La Tengo’s intentions difficult to unpack but enticing enough for added interest. For some, There’s a Riot Going On will likely further blur the lines between dreaminess and delirium, but given its low-lit haze, the atmospheric climate and the throbbing percussion that churns and gurgles throughout, that affable approach never wavers. Longtime stalwarts Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew supposedly recorded it all spontaneously and without premeditation, suggesting they were in a decidedly reflective mood throughout the process. Likewise, there seems to have been a concerted effort to impart a comforting tone and compelling message, however opaque it occasionally appears. It’s best to take There’s a Riot Going On as a distinct whole, rather than simply a series of subdued tunes. The undulating tones anchor it all, giving it a unified purpose even though few of the melodies are of the hummable variety. A riot? Hardly. But by combining these trance-like textures in such an incessant way, they’ve created music of a mostly memorable variety regardless. —Lee Zimmerman

blood-orange-negro-swan.jpg 49. Blood Orange: Negro Swan
“You’re doing the most.” If you’re a queer person of color, you’ve probably heard the phrase thrown at you like a muzzle. It asks you to shrink, to silence the very traits you’ve built to survive in a world that doesn’t always love you. But “doing the most,” being “extra,” or acting “too much,” shouldn’t have to be a fault. There can be strength in that excess. Devonté “Dev” Hynes of Blood Orange knows that well. An auteur who stretches across genres and projects, Hynes is the kind of artist whose reach might seem extreme. From songwriting and producing for Solange and Carly Rae Jepsen, to scoring films such as Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto and performing with classical composer Philip Glass, Hynes is doing the most. His latest album, Negro Swan, asks: why would you ever want to do the least? It’s a question posed by transgender activist Janet Mock, who narrates the album. Ecstasy grows on melodic R&B tracks like “Take Your Time,” where hazy flutes spill into Hynes’ airy vocal runs, or single “Jewelry,” where his layered harmonies halt to a declaration of self-love. James Baldwin once noted that sensuality existed at the root of Black America’s “ironic tenacity”—that tendency to endlessly weave suffering into something luscious. To be sensual, Baldwin suggests, is not some promiscuous thing. Rather, it is to “respect and rejoice in the force of life.” Hynes has crafted a work that does exactly this. With myriad collaborators from A$AP Rocky and Puff Daddy, to rising talents TeiShi and Ian Isiah, Negro Swan looks unflinchingly at black and queer life—its traumas, its tensions, its passions. And tucked somewhere within it all, is hope: “The sun comes in,” Hynes reminds us at last. —Jenzia Burgos

ashley-mcbryde-girl.jpg 48. Ashley McBryde: Girl Going Nowhere
The deck feels perpetually stacked against women in the modern country marketplace. To make any kind of commercial inroads, the constantly moving pathways currently require these ladies to either hide their twang behind a wall of pop production (RaeLynn, Maren Morris), ape the blustery sound that the boys are making (Carly Pearce) or shoot for something far outside the norm and pray for crossover success (Kacey Musgraves). Where does that leave a country traditionalist like Ashley McBryde? Surprisingly, it finds her on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart with “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega,” a single from her debut album Girl Going Nowhere and opening up for platinum-selling artist Luke Combs on his headlining tour. Both are sensible places to be. That song, with its lyrical laundry list of working class signifiers, is catnip to country fans. And traversing the U.S. with Combs as he plays mid-size venues on his ascent up the ladder is the best way to get her songs heard en masse without having to fight for attention at sheds and arenas. She made her name in biker bars and honky tonks before getting snapped up by a major label. And no other song on Nowhere fits as neatly into the eye of the needle that every artist in Nashville is trying to thread as “Dahlonega” does. It’s a no bullshit record free of frills and fat; 11 songs that make their points powerfully and memorably. These songs don’t need to be messed with or tarted up or given a 21st-century shine. They work perfectly in their current roughshod, if gently polished, form. The needle may keep moving for female country artists, but that’s of little concern to McBryde. She’s on a journey toward career longevity and Nowhere is her confident and solid first step. —Robert Ham

flasher-constant.jpg 47. Flasher: Constant Image
Flasher are a trio who play an amalgamation of joyful, frenetic pop, punk, post-punk and shoegaze. The band released their debut album, Constant Image, this year via Domino Records, and it’s unequivocally one of the best albums of the year. What sets them apart from many of their peers is their knack for writing such immediate pop melodies and their slick production value, which maintains their chugging rock energy and allows their impressively consistent tracklist to shine. Each member contributes vocals—guitarist Taylor Mulitz (formerly of Priests) is playful and self-assured, bassist Danny Saperstein’s vocals are snotty and eccentric and drummer Emma Baker lends gorgeous vocal harmonies. —Lizzie Manno

phosphorescent-cest.jpg 46. Phosphorescent: C’est La Vie
Since Muchacho, Matthew Houck fell in love, got married, moved from New York City to Nashville, became a father, nearly died in a bout with meningitis and built his own studio, by hand, from the ground up. That’s a lot of major life events to pack into a half-decade, so it’s no surprise that he sounds like a different man on his new album C’est La Vie. His fine-grit tenor is still perfectly raspy, and his songs still hang effortlessly near the border between barstool country and warm-glow pop, with Houck’s experimental streak interloping into both territories. This is still Phosphorescent. It’s just that the man behind the wheel is older and a little bit wiser these days. “There From Here” wraps the revelation of clarity in a gentle sway of burbling organs. “Around the Horn” is hazy and hopeful, and it stands out thanks to its fuzzy motorik groove and sumptuous coda. “My Beautiful Boy” is a sweet love song for Houck’s son, streaked with pedal steel guitar and textured with hand percussion. And on “New Birth in New England,” Houck’s band, which includes wife Jo Schornikow, showcases its gospel-pop-rock chops as its leader takes a few minutes to unwind with some lines about the miracles of beer and childbirth. Houck sounds bemused but happy, like a man still learning to navigate and appreciate a whole new existence. No doubt, his beautiful and affecting music will grow with him—and help guide him. —Ben Salmon

paul-kelly-nature.jpg 45. Paul Kelly: Nature
A brilliant though decidedly underrated songwriter and storyteller, Paul Kelly’s positioned himself as an adroit Everyman for most of his more-than-four-decade career. Averaging nearly an album a year, this Aussie native still manages to create beautifully memorable melodies that ring with universal truths. Nature is no exception—a rapid follow up to 2017’s aptly titled Life Is Fine, it finds him offering up simple, shared sentiments, typified by titles like “The Trees,” “With Animals” and “God’s Grandeur,” without posture or pretense. Ironically, even when he veers from his amiable persona on “A Bastard Like Me,” the otherwise harsh refrain is underscored by the singular strum of acoustic guitar. More to the point, the soothing “Seagulls of Seattle,” “Morning Storm,” Mushrooms,” and “The River Song” find him maintaining that easy allure through meandering melodies and nuanced narratives. Effortlessly affecting, Nature offers further examples of Kelly’s conviction, credence and compassion. —Lee Zimmerman

kacey-golden.jpg 44. Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour
Kacey Musgraves’s album Pageant Material was one of Paste’s favorite releases of 2015, so when the country crooner announced her return earlier this year, we had a feeling it’d be another winner. Little did we know that Golden Hour, with its breezy love songs that practically glisten with soft, luxurious sheen, wouldn’t just be Musgraves’s best release yet, but one of the best records of the year. A massive crossover hit, Golden Hour showcases Musgraves’s silky vocals and penchant for bright, vulnerable country-pop hits, transcending the limits of genre. —Loren DiBlasi

caroline-rose-loner.jpg 43. Caroline Rose: LONER
Caroline Rose’s 2014 album I Will Not Be Afraid was an eclectic roots-rock album, with rockabilly hiccups and real-deal twang sitting alongside vintage keyboard tones and lyrics about white privilege and Pagan lust. Rose’s fine new album LONER finds the New York-based singer-songwriter exploring an entirely new musical aesthetic without sacrificing any of the mischievous spark that coursed through her earlier work. She has ditched roots-rock in favor of a punchier, studio-powered pop sound, packed with danceable beats, prominent synths, big choruses and plenty of swagger. She remains unafraid of singing about serious subjects (capitalism, sexism, death, etc.) but on LONER, she delivers it through a bold, candy-colored filter that’s always intriguing and often irresistible. Throughout LONER, she uses sarcasm and humor when dealing with dark subjects, including, seemingly, her own ambition. “Where are you climbing to, girl? There’s nothing for you up there,” she sings in the second verse of “Cry,” probably the album’s best song. “Better come on back down to Earth, you silly thing. You’ll learn your place yet.” LONER is a big step up Caroline Rose’s artistic ladder, and evidence she hasn’t “learned her place” and never will. —Ben Salmon

bettye-things.jpg 42. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
Dylan drew from many wells for his songs, but one of the primary sources was the blues, as his nods to Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell and Blind Lemon Jefferson attest. And it’s through the blues that legendary rhythm & blues singer LaVette connected to a dozen Dylan compositions—most of them deep album cuts—for this disc. LaVette comes out of Detroit’s northern soul scene, and she approaches Dylan as if he were just another songwriter on Berry Gordy’s payroll at Motown. These songs pull LaVette back to the Mississippi Delta, however, back where John Lee Hooker and so many Detroiters came from, and she pulls them up north to a streetwise perspective. In the process, she roughs up the songs, funks them up, until they take on whole new personalities. —Geoffrey Himes

lenker-abysskiss.jpg 41. Adrianne Lenker: abysskiss
Big Thief singer Adrianne Lenker excels by tapping into the core of the human soul in the most tender, gentle and vivid way possible and her new solo LP, absysskiss, is no exception. Through just vocals, acoustic guitar and intermittent keyboards, Lenker conjures up something magical and weighty with so few elements. The 10 songs that make up abysskiss toggle from intoxicating love to somber grief and it spans many feelings in between. Lenker uses nature metaphors to tackle heavy subject matters like mortality, love, birth, friendship and youth, but she doesn’t hide behind these metaphors. She uses them to boil down complex topics into something familiar, immediate and sentimental. The album’s two singles, “Cradle” and “Symbol,” are highlights with the candid, understated beauty of the former and the haunting, hypnotic mysticism of the latter. Fans of Big Thief should latch on to this record as Lenker’s evocative storytelling, oneness with nature, unique vocal tones and her ability to arouse grandeur from the mundane are all apparent on this record. Lenker has proved herself to be one of the most captivating songwriters, not just in indie-folk, but of the present day. Providing newfound comfort and warm familiarity, abysskiss is a record that will quickly find its way into your heart and slowly caress your soul. —Lizzie Manno

kelly-moran-ultraviolet.jpg 40. Kelly Moran: Ultraviolet
Composer and performer Kelly Moran has made music before with prepared piano, the practice of stick objects between and atop the strings of a piano to alter its sound. But that work was more fully thought out and worried over. For her latest album Ultraviolet, Moran improvised a series of pieces over the course of a day, then adapted and edited the work into songs, filling them out with swirls of electronic color provided by herself and, on three songs, Oneohtrix Point Never mastermind Daniel Lopatin. The results are startlingly beautiful, with her chosen instrument taking on the exotic tinge of a gamelan or a hammered dulcimer. Combined with the sound treatments burbling below it and little touches that bolster bass notes in certain tracks, the music becomes rootless and free of genre. It is its own sun with the rest of us orbiting around it and basking in its brightness and warmth. —Robert Ham

alejandro-crossing.jpg 39. Alejandro Escovedo: The Crossing
Alejandro Escovedo  has always embraced his immigrant roots, a stand that’s all the more courageous in today’s increasingly hostile environment. Yet, he’s never been oblivious to punk, pop and the fuller possibilities of Americana music, which, of course, includes those sounds originating from south of the border. It’s little surprise that Escovedo was able to neatly combine all these elements for The Crossing without diminishing the sheer scope of the sounds and story. A concept piece about two young Mexicans attempting to deal with the stark realities of a new life in a small Texas town, it demonstrates how politics and polemics often yield harsh results. Punk pundits Wayne Kramer and James Williamson provide cameos, but it’s the resilient refrains of “Fury and Fire,” “Outlaw for You” and “Footsteps in the Shadows,” along with the reflective tones of “The Crossing,” “Texas Is My Mother” and “Silver City,” that leave the most emphatic impression. —Lee Zimmerman

richard-swift-hex.jpg 38. Richard Swift: The Hex
After singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and indie-rock uber-producer Richard Swift died in July, his family announced, among other things, that he had been working on new music, that said new music had been planned for release in November—Swift’s final artistic statement. What a final statement it is. The Hex is tuneful and confident, immaculately arranged and distinctively produced, and reflective of the man’s longstanding interests in old soul music, vintage pop, fuzzy rock ’n’ roll and beautiful walls of sound. It’s also strikingly honest, which is perhaps no surprise, since it comes from an artist who had, according to that same family statement, been battling the effects of alcohol addiction over the past couple of years. He makes no bones about his situation in “Broken Finger Blues,” which sounds like a classic Motown track charmingly recorded at the bottom of a well: “My body’s broken / My body is bruised / Try to remember what it’s like not to lose / I won’t go under / I won’t give in / Try to remember what it’s like to win.” The sonic details that surround those lines—the snappy bass line, the commanding piano chords, the lush backing vocals—belie their harrowing essence. The Hex ends modestly with “Sept20,” which finds Swift at the piano, sounding Elliott Smith-ish and singing of health and poison wells and sickness and death. The song ends somewhat abruptly, without some grand final statement or crescendo to tie everything up neatly. In a way, though, that’s exactly the right ending for Richard Swift, a quintessential musician’s musician, and a top-shelf man behind the curtain. He was better known for his studio acumen and production work than his own songs, yes, but his solo albums are revered among those lucky enough to have heard them. The Hex will only bolster his legacy. —Ben Salmon

preoccupations-new-mat.jpg 37. Preoccupations: New Material
The members of Preoccupations have always confidently followed their own rules as they straddle the line between humanity and the brutish force of their music. Examinations of creation, destruction and the ways that we often practice the two in vain have regularly been tethered to the Canadian post-punk band’s work—even going back to their days as Viet Cong. And while that’s quite a downcast undertaking, it’s one that goes hand-in-hand with Preoccupations’ dystopian-future-sounding music. With their third LP, New Material, they dive into it headlong, kicking things off on a decidedly ’80s note with “Espionage,” the synths, skeletal beat, and Flegel’s dramatic vocals sounding like a twisted, bleaker version of Depeche Mode. It’s dark and grinding, but still so danceable it could be an alternate soundtrack the scene in The Breakfast Club where they’re all gettin’ down—cue Judd Nelson hanging off of that weird hand-statue thing. —Madison Desler

lonnie-holley-mith.jpg 36. Lonnie Holley: MITH
Alabama native Lonnie Holley was making folk art, from found-object sculptures to imaginative, vibrant paintings to photography and drawing, decades before releasing his debut album in 2012 on Lance Ledbetter’s Dust to Digital label. But the 68-year-old, who’s cultivated a life of “improvisational creativity,” touring the world with his art, may need to carve some more space for music after this year’s gorgeous avant-jazz album MITH. Equal parts Sun Ra and Tom Waits, he growls freestyle lyrics over improvised piano, making each performance unique. With titles like “I Snuck Off the Slave Ship,” “I Woke Up in a Fucked Up America” and “Down in the Ghostness of Darkness,” his songs on MITH are like snippets of prophesy from a fever-dream nation. The late Richard Swift produced the track, “Copying the Rock,” one of his final musical gifts to us before his way-too-young death in July. The small-hours-of-the-morning atmospherics throughout the album lend themselves perfectly to Holley’s art. MITH is a strange and wonderful treasure, unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. —Josh Jackson

see-you-around.jpg 35. I’m With Her: See You Around
Their band name may remind you of a particularly turbulent election season, but their music, which is punctuated with warm harmonies and bare-bones acoustics, recalls a relaxed hootenanny rather than a televised debate. Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins, Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan and folk songstress Sarah Jarosz began collaborating as I’m With Her back in 2015—prior to the launch of Hillary Clinton’s identically named presidential campaign slogan—but See You Around is the bluegrass supertrio’s full-length debut. Their fortified voices, plus Watkins’ fiddle, O’Donovan’s guitar, and Jarosz’s mandolin, mesh in a familial way—it’s a wonder they aren’t sisters. Plucky and purposeful, See You Around is at once soothing and sweeping, a testament to practiced musicianship and the power of collaboration, a chief value in bluegrass/acoustic scenes. During performances, the three women gather around a single microphone, like a family sitting down for supper. On the record, similes and other clever lyrical nuggets are woven into a hearty 40 minutes. See You Around creeps to start with a gentle crescendo and resounds to a close with the hymn-like “Hundred Miles.” Though still in their infancy, I’m With Her are pros, and their ability to effortlessly freshen bluegrass sounds while maintaining musical mastery marks them as one of the best working supergroups, in Americana and beyond. —Ellen Johnson

dj-koze-knock.jpg 34. DJ Koze: Knock Knock
DJ Koze has the rare ability to make his rhythmic electronic canvases feel timeless the moment you hear them. The German producer’s eighth LP, Knock Knock, was released on his own Pampa Records label and features vocalists like Róisín Murphy, Speech from Arrested Development (the band, not the show), Jose Gonzalez, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner and more. Turn on the Murphy-featured groove “Illumination” on a Friday afternoon and you’ll ride into the weekend on cloud nine. —Adrian Spinelli

rosanne-cash-she-remembers.jpg 33. Rosanne Cash: She Remembers Everything
Rosanne Cash  is a powerful and outspoken voice in country music. But on her new album She Remembers Everything, the follow-up to 2013’s acclaimed The River & The Thread, Cash is more concerned with the personal than the political. More than anything, she seems to wish comfort upon her listener; the songs envelop you in simple chords and caring words. On She Remembers Everything, Cash seeks to understand—not only herself, but those around her—and how best to usher in peace despite prevailing tumult. Like her father Johnny before her, she’s a razorsharp lyricist. Often using Biblical imagery and lyrical metaphors, Cash creates in this album something of an oasis. She speaks on “Crossing To Jerusalem” of the day when “We’ll be crossing to Jerusalem / with nothing but our love,” a sentiment that’s sure to fit in snugly alongside the warm, hopeful sentiments soon emerging with the holiday season. Though Cash refrains from direct political speech on this record, she offers solace amid the political unrest, choosing to focus on personal connection rather than polarization as we near the end of a chaotic, divisive year. —Ellen Johnson

noname-room-25.jpg 32. Noname: Room 25
In 2016, Chicago rapper Noname, née Fatimah Nyeema Warner, made a brief but unforgettable appearance on the penultimate track on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, the unapologetically joyful collaboration “Finish Line / Drown.” That song also featured T-Pain and Kirk Franklin and others, but Noname, relatively unknown at the time, administered one of its best lines: “The water may be deeper than it’s ever been / Never drown.” On Room 25, the follow-up to her 2016 debut album/mixtape Telefone that she surprise-released in September, Noname helms a collaborative jingle of her own, the empowered “Ace,” which features fellow Midwestern rappers Smino and Saba. They waste no breath in declaring their summary of hip hop in 2018: “Smino Grigio, Noname, and Saba the best rappers / And radio n****s sound like they wearing adult diapers.” It’s on the album’s first two tracks (“Self,” followed by the observatory “Blaxpoitation”), however, where Noname forges more political waters, delivering deeply important lines of poetry about racism and sexism. “Self” is her documented questioning of everything that’s absurd in 2018 and a breakdown of what it’s like to wade through the music industry as a woman rapper. “My pussy teaches ninth-grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism,” she raps, before later asking, “Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?” Through Room 25’s calculated wisps of groove rap and studied waves of neo-soul, Noname proves she’s wise and fortified, and not to be questioned. —Ellen Johnson

neko-case-hell-on.jpg 31. Neko Case: Hell-On
Neko Case  writes as if she beams songs in from another dimension, one not bound by our conventions of songcraft. A place where tempos fluctuate, melodies shapeshift, verses can unfold forever and choruses are elusive, and sometimes expendable. Case’s seventh full-length solo album Hell-On finds the veteran singer/songwriter pushing and pulling on her own established form, with the help of a whole bunch of talented friends. Among its 11 tracks are some of the poppiest arrangements of Case’s career, a few labyrinthine slow-burners and a couple of songs that serve as reminders of her distinctive style. Hell-On is well-stocked with catchy tunes and simmering rage. On the title track, Case spends three sparse verses comparing God to a “lusty tire fire” and her own voice to a garotting wire before the song suddenly blossoms into a sprightly interlude. The album was all but finished by the time a fire destroyed Case’s Vermont home last year. Still, she sounds like a fist looking for a fight throughout much of Hell-On. Case is like no one else, with an artistic vision that’s deeply rooted and clearly focused, and an adventurous compositional spirit that runs laps around most of her contemporaries. As a result, her catalog overflows with interesting and unconventional songs that nonetheless feel comforting and familiar. That’s a catalog worth celebrating, and Hell-On is a wonderful new chapter of Case’s career. —Ben Salmon

haley-h-garden.jpg 30. Haley Heynderickx: I Need to Start a Garden
We’re not hurting for great singer/songwriters here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. For years now, it’s been one of our greatest exports alongside bacon maple bars and pizza named after metal albums. But if we were to get into the game of ranking these musical talents, I daresay that Haley Heynderickx would surely take the top spot. There’s just something about the understated grace and humor mixed with an abundance of spirit that serves as a vital corrective to the sometimes self-important airs that her peers sometimes put on. This comes through quite beautifully on her debut album, I Need To Start A Garden. As lush and scenic as its title suggests, the album is a thoughtful collection, painting vivid, personal portraits of quirky characters, as well as intimate self-reflection. Album opener “No Face,” inspired by a bar fight Heynderickx witnessed, stars a mysterious figure plucked from a Hayao Miyazaki film; on the ecstatic “Worth It,” Heynedrickx turns inward, repeating: “Maybe I’ve been worthless/ Maybe I’ve been worth it.” —Robert Ham and Loren DiBlasi

beths-future.jpg 29. The Beths: Future Me Hates Me
Elizabeth Stokes named her band after herself, or, rather, her nickname. So it should come as no surprise, then, that the debut album from New Zealand-based rockers The Beths, Future Me Hates Me, is sharply self-aware. Stokes, a music teacher who quit her day job to tour the world with The Beths, pairs clever, refreshingly straightforward lyrics with uber-catchy guitar pop, and she never stutters in delivering even the most blunt assessments of her doubts, fears and anxieties. “Sometimes I think I’m doing fine / I think I’m pretty smart,” she sings on the album’s title track before, later, completing the thought: “Oh then the walls become thin / And somebody gets in / I’m defenseless.” On dizzying love song “Little Death,” she captures and tames all the butterflies swarming around in her stomach: “And the red spreads to my cheeks / You make me feel three glasses in.” The Beths sound as if they’re already three albums in, playing with the musical and lyrical finesse of a much older and more experienced band. Every single song on this record arrives with as many contagious hooks and honest confessions as on the sparkly, frank “Little Death” and the toe-tap-inducing examination of overthinking “Future Me Hates Me.” Indie rock is alive and well in Oceania—The Beths, like their Australian neighbors Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, hit it out of the park in crafting one of the sturdiest rock debuts of the year. —Ellen Johnson

camp-cope-socialise.jpg 28. Camp Cope: How to Socialise & Make Friends
The second album from Melbourne trio Camp Cope isn’t particularly interested in social niceties, despite its title: From the LP’s peppy opening bass notes, vocalist/guitarist Georgia “Maq” McDonald, bassist Kelly-Dawn “Kelso” Hellmrich and drummer Sarah “Thomo” Thompson use their shaggy, accessible indie-rock to address everything from music-industry sexism (“The Opener”) and sexual assault (“The Face of God”) to relationships of all stripes (“UFO Lighter”). Georgia Maq’s voice is at the center of it all, the album’s single most powerful instrument: She’s unfailing in her raw honesty, whether thumbing her nose at mansplainers or remembering her beloved late father, spinning vital and emotionally charged art out of whatever life throws at her. — Scott Russell

ought-room-inside.jpg 27. Ought: Room Inside the World
Clocking in at a mere 40 minutes, Ought’s third studio album Room Inside the World earnestly delivers with strategic, unexpected song development and passionate, yearning lyrics. This is not a one-note album.This record champions the Canadian outfit’s ability to embrace a multitude of sounds, bridging the gaps between several similar, yet very different genres. While some songs are naturally rock ’n’ roll, others are pure post-punk, digging into Joy Division-like vocals and progressive bass-driven blocks. Room Inside the World takes you for a winding, unpredictable ride, one that ends much earlier than you’d like, leaving you wanting more. —Annie Black

superchunk-time.jpg 26. Superchunk: What a Time to Be Alive
Indie-rock legends Superchunk, who formed in 1989 and helped define ’90s independent culture, returned in 2010 after a mostly idle decade, and have gone on to put out three of their very best albums in their third decade of existence. In February they released What a Time to Be Alive, their 11th official album, and a furious but clear-eyed slab of anti-Trump, anti-GOP, anti-bullshit truth-telling. The name of the new album came from the post-apocalyptic embers of 2016’s election cycle, spurring band members Mac McCaughan, Laura Ballance, Jim Wilbur and Jon Wurster to close the gaps between albums. Recorded and mixed by Beau Sorenson, What a Time to Be Alive features guest backing vocalists way more than the Superchunk of the past: Sabrina Ellis (A Giant Dog, Sweet Spirit), Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee), Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields), Skylar Gudasz and David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) all make appearances on the title track. Blaring guitar solos and shout-along choruses abound, and it’s quintessential Superchunk.—Garrett Martin and Hannah Fleming

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