Top 100 Albums of 2018: #25-1

#25: Natalie Prass, The Future and the Past
The Future and the Past starts off with “Oh My,” a slinky slice of ‘70s dance pop. “Short Court Style” and “Sisters” continue the ‘70s theme with sweet choruses, handclaps and sly bass lines. I get have American Bandstand flashbacks listening to this…
#24: Leon Bridges, Good Things
Another one of the amazing soul/R&B records that came out in 2018. This is the second album from Bridges and he doesn’t strike a single off note. Everything is perfectly crafted, and yet also raw and moving.
#23: of Montreal, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood
One of the most creative bands out there, interesting without being inaccessible, odd without being pretentious. A quick look at the song titles gives you a good idea of what I mean: “Soft Music/Juno Portraits of a Jovian Sky,” “Paranoiac Intervals/Body Dysmorphia” and “If You Talk to Symbol/Hostility Voyeur.”
#22: Roy Montgomery, Suffuse
A mind-bender of an album from this New Zealand composer (and full-time university professor). He produces waves of ambient noise that are augmented by guest vocalists. The overall effect is by turns frightening, haunting, or deeply moving. Take the opening track, “Apparition,” which features Haley Fohr (Circuit des Yeux). Her unique voice – deep, throaty, and haunting – simmers over waves of multi-tracked guitar drone, creating a compelling and claustrophobic feeling.
#21: Lily Allen, No Shame
Proof that modern pop music can be authentic, melodic, and musically inventive, while not sounding like it was produced by a machine. It’s a pretty mellow effort with her voice quite sweet and charming, if occasionally approaching twee, and trilling, subtle beats and samples.
#20: Anna Calvi, Hunter
Although recognized primarily for her operatic voice, Anna Calvi can also rip the guitar. The result is a form of operatic pop, moving, uplifting and dramatic.
#19: Tom Misch, Geography
One of those debuts for which the words “self-assured” and “mature” were invented! Only 23, Misch comes across as older and wiser on this collection of jazzy, smooth, cool, sly and rhythmic tracks. “Disco Yes” captures the vibe (and also serves as a general artistic statement).
#18: Caroline Rose, LONER
I loved this album with its punky energy and electro-pop drive, not to mention the fact that it’s catchy as hell. Her lyrics are, to put it mildly, tongue buried deeply in cheek. Sample: “We’re gonna fly you off to Tokyo, You’re gonna travel all over the world, We’re gonna put you in the movies and our TV, All you’ve got to do is put on this little bikini.”
#17: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Upside Down Flowers
Just very well composed pop music executed with a big, wholehearted, yearning sound.
#16: Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
If you look up Kacey Musgraves chart history on Billboard, you’ll see she’s charted in three different genres: country, pop and rock. Which totally makes sense as referring to her as a “country” artist is like calling all of Europe “French”: it simply doesn’t capture the totality of what she’s doing. And what she’s doing is essentially jettisoning any attempt at categorization and simply writing tremendous songs, which she executes in whatever style suits the song, whether it’s the simple acoustic guitar and drums of the exquisite album opener, “Slow Burn,” or the vocal effects on “Oh, What a World.”
#15: The Beths, Future Me Hates Me
Super catchy female-driven pop rock. Even when the beat speeds up to borderline punk tempo, they maintain the sweet melodies and harmonies.
#14: Richard Swift, The Hex
A sad album as Swift died of alcohol-related illness before it came out. It’s an interesting collection of psychedelic pop, from the rollicking piano-based “Dirty Jim” to the slinky and distorted “Babylon.”
#13: The Love Language, Baby Grand
Grand, sweeping and often emotionally uplifting pop music. “Southern Doldrums” builds over a ringing piano chord, feedback and acoustic into a lovely sad chorus.
#12: Christine and the Queens, Chris
Exquisitely crafted Euro dance pop from the pansexual French singer/songwriter.
#11: Son Lux, Brighter Wounds
Founding member Ryan Lott has a delicate yet almost operatic voice that gives this experimental music a mysterious and dramatic feel. Electronics build on this to create soaring and plunging soundscapes that can be moving, dangerous or theatrical, sometimes all at once. “Dream State” is a highlight and really captures the feel of this band.
#10: Tash Sultana, Flow State
They (Sultana is nonbinary and prefers the pronoun “they”) are a phenomenally talented multi instrumentalist 23-year-old from Australia who creates beautiful and funky neo-soul with jazzy edges. It’s hard to believe one person is creating all of this. Their voice is lovely, tending to the falsetto and deliciously suited to the music.
#9: Rayland Baxter, Wide Awake
Taking a few steps from his alt-country roots into Beatlesque territory, Wide Awake is a lovely collection of melodic and straightforward rock. “79 Shiny Revolvers” cuts with the same satirical edge as “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”
#8: Jake Shears, Jake Shears
One of my favorite albums of the year, just fantastic, upbeat songwriting with hints of soul, rock ‘n roll, classic R&B, glam rock, even Beatlesque pop. “Big Bushy Mustache” is a highlight with its ridiculous catchy and cheesy chorus.
#7: Dirty Projectors, Lamp Lit Prose
Creating and maintaining a sound that’s both unique and listenable is one of the greatest balancing acts in music. No band does that better than Dirty Projectors. Playful, quirky, entertaining and always interesting. And if nothing else, I’ve learned what “hocketing” is from listening to them!
#6: Father John Misty, God’s Favorite Customer
A considerably more subdued and personal effort than last year’s outstanding Pure Comedy. Josh Tillman bares his heart about relationship difficulties and ditches the irony with different but still strong results. The excellent “Mr. Tillman” takes the point of view of a hotel clerk who has certain concerns about Tillman’s mental and physical health. The whole album has a Beatlesque feel about it.
#5: David Byrne, American Utopia
I have trouble separating this album from the incredible visual spectacle that was Bryne’s “last” concert tour. I saw him at Red Rocks, and it was one of the top five shows (it was a show not just a concert) I’ve ever seen. But yeah, come to think of it, I can do it! If this is his last album (which I suspect it isn’t: he only spoke of not touring again), he’s gone out on a high note. Topical and obscure lyrics, a mix of musical influences that only David Byrne could pull off, and a subtle dance beat throughout.
#4: Fantastic Negrito, Please Don’t Be Dead
Proof that Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz’s superb The Last Days of Oakland was no fluke, this is another collection of superb gutter blues and R&B. Just don’t listen to “Bullshit Anthem” or you’ll find yourself singing it in public to some embarrassment…
#3: Blood Orange, Negro Swan
Dev Hynes’ 4th album under his Blood Orange moniker is his best yet, a moving and smooth collection of modern R&B with highly topical lyrics. “Charcoal Baby” is the best track on the album.
#2: L.A. Salami, City of Bootmakers
Lookman Adekunle Salami (aka L.A. Salami) is a fascinating artist. His music integrates a wide range of styles (with an emphasis on British sounds) and his lyrics (delivered in an unfiltered London accent) are quirky and topical (“Terrorism! (The ISIS Crisis), being a particularly interesting example). “England Is Unwell” captures a Beatlesque/musical hall sound whereas “The Talisman on the Age of Glass” has an XTC vibe.
#1: The 1975, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
A stunner of an album, beautifully crafted electropop that surveys the current cultural landscape with a critical eye but manages to avoid cynicism. While a slight outlier on the album, “The Man Who Married a Robot/Love Theme” is a good example of this. The story told with a computer voiceover effect is funny and borderline snippy, but the music is sad and hollow, making the whole thing quite touching. “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard this year, but the lyrics topically capture the challenge of fidelity in the internet-age.

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