With a little over a week left of 2018, now is the season of reflection on the past year; it has been both dismal and light, though some times seemed more hopeless than others, and it has definitely been a year full of change on my end. Regardless of whether the year was positive or negative overall, though, I leaned on the crutch of music more times than I can count. What follows, then, are ten of the albums that got me through the year, ten albums that I listened to the most and loved every time.
For the record, this is in no way a comprehensive list of my all-time favorite albums of the year, but I typically try to keep it under 15, simply for the sake of length. With that said, here are ten of my favorite albums (and EPs) of 2018!
10. Ought – Room Inside The World
Ought‘s Room Inside The World, just like each of its other records, is a drastic shift from its previous sound. It is a record of accessible art-punk, though that phrase sounds like an oxymoron, yet despite its reservedness, is still chock-full of the weirdness that has characterized the band on albums past. Its emphasis on fractured and glitchy electronics instead of guitars was a surprise, too, and while perhaps unpopular with some fans, it is a fresh change that is positive for anyone with an open mind.
9. The Bascinets – 378 Vol. 1 EP and 378 Vol. 2 EP
In a two-part EP release, Columbus jangle-rockers The Bascinets showed an incredibly dynamic style in the contrast between the two. The first, 378 Vol. 1, was bright and sunny with hints of surf-rock blended among smooth melodies and jangly riffs. On the other hand, 378 Vol. 2 was released two months later and showed a shift towards darkness and turmoil. Regardless of which EP you listen to, though, it’s clear that The Bascinets have a strong handle on the genre, moving effortlessly between sunny rock and more mellow tracks.
8. Kississippi – Sunset Blush
Kississippi’s Sunset Blush is tighter and bolder than any of her previous releases, and Zoe Reynolds sings unabashedly about heartbreak and loss on top of soft indie rock guitars. In the background, the guitars and percussion are tight, yet the music is still smooth. It is gentle and fresh without lacking the painful edge of loss, and each new pop ballad glides smoothly into the next. Most of all, though, is a testament to the idea that you don’t have to be hardened to be strong, and that is what so many of us needed to hear in 2018.
7. Trying – Leave and Never Come Back
Though Trying‘s Leave and Never Come Back was a long time coming, the band’s longest record yet was worth the wait. It is terrifically quirky bedroom pop and utilizes random objects as instruments (like a garage door, for example) and a charmingly expansive vocabulary (rhyming “abstemious” and “tempestuous” on the second track, “21”), to ensure that there is nothing ordinary about a single track on the record. Leave and Never Come Back is a wonderful, jangly pop record from a genuine Columbus band, and every second of the record deserves several listens.
6. Lala Lala – The Lamb
The Lamb is a far less corrosive record than Lala Lala’s previous debut, but its vulnerability is something to admire. Frontperson Lillie West scrutinizes her previous lifestyle and her insecurities through remarkably versatile music; West’s vocals fit the tone of each individually quirky indie rock track, from the deadened “I Get Cut” to a haunting, eerie quality on “When You Die”. The standout track, though, is also the most simple: “Dove” is soaked in sorrow and builds slowly throughout its course, ending on a thirty-second wave of synth. On “Dove” as well as the album as a whole, West uses the music to let go and say the hardest goodbyes.
5. Say Hi – Caterpillar Centipede
Caterpillar Centipede was a favorite this year for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that Eric Elbogen, the man behind the music, used it to revive his previously-retired project Say Hi. It is intricate and layered and daring, but most of his lyrics are love-centered, as on “Sweaters” (“I want you to be my layers of sweaters/I want us to get lost in the woods”). As a result, it has a strong aroma of nostalgia, falling in line with Say Hi’s previously quirky sound of gritty guitar and growling melodies.
4. Janelle Monaé – Dirty Computer
Queer pop princess Janelle Monáe’s fourth album, Dirty Computer, is as a less-sanitized version than her previously presented work. The record deals with her own acceptance and reclaiming of her sexuality, as seen on tracks like “Pynk”, a snappy celebration of women and sexuality (“’Cause boy, it’s cool if you got blue/We got the pynk”). Not everything is synth-infused and upbeat, however. Tracks like “I Like That” are still bass-heavy, but operate at an unhurried pace. Regardless of the tempo, Dirty Computer is excellent in that it highlights Monáe’s feminist, sex-positive narrative through catchy, fun pop tracks.
3. boygenius – boygenius EP
Indie supergroup boygenius formed this year from the girl gang that is Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, and their debut self-titled EP feels accessible yet oddly familiar. Despite a tracklist of only six songs, the boygenius EP is a neat blend of all three musicians, complete with languid, drawn-out melodies, harmonies that glisten and feel sweet like honey, and slowly-burning builds. It is soft and fierce at the same time, and though each member of the supergroup is talented on her own, boygenius is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Mitski – Be The Cowboy
Mitski’s Be The Cowboy is gentle and forceful all at once. Gone are the distorted guitars of Puberty 2; Mitski has replaced the grit with a smoother sound, though it is no less tense, and she details shifting dynamics throughout the record. On “Nobody”, where she describes feelings of alienation (“My God, I’m so lonely/So I open the window”). But the album as a whole shows maturity: while Mitski has not outgrown her angst, she has moved away from the grunge of her past, replacing it with something polished for a record that resonates in sound as much as in lyrics.
1. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
While Hop Along’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog is a shift for a band with deep DIY roots, the change is a welcome one. Frontwoman Frances Quinlan’s vocals are gritty on tracks like “Prior Things”, and sunny string melodies are repeated throughout, often maintaining an edge rather than allowing the music to resolve comfortably. The album is familiar without being unoriginal; although sometimes the strings feel like a flashback to the band’s second album, Get Disowned, the intricate music is tangy and addicting, and every layer falls together perfectly in a rich album full of both contrasts and complements.