The 50 Best Releases of 2018 So Far

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Art by Julia Carbone

It always feels weird to write an introduction to a list of music when something (quite literally) life-threatening like Trump gaining control of the Supreme Court is happening concurrently.  It’s the moments when we (music writers) are supposed to be delivering some sort of grand, six-month update about the state of music that it all comes into perspective. Music is, in many ways, peripheral. But these brief moments of reflection simultaneously expose how important certain songs, albums, and artists are to so many people. To how, even on a micro level, the music we consume has such a strong emotional, social, and political impact on our lives.

Here are 50 albums from the first half of 2018 that either provide us with an escape, or encourage us to confront the tumult around us head-on. We think they’re the 50 best things about the year thus far. Take a listen and find some of your new favorite artists.

American Pleasure Club – a whole fucking lifetime of this

The beloved Sam Ray has come again in full force under the new name American Pleasure Club (fka Teen Suicide). a whole fucking lifetime of this is one of the softer records of Ray’s discography under this project. Including themes of love and loneliness, the record’s lyricism is straight up poetry. Having lines such as, “it feels so familiar now/like I’ve heard this all before,” off of “all the lonely nights in your life,” and, “six ways to cope with loss/drive your bike over to my house/get spaced out on the couch/let the tiny angels out,” stick to me like glue. Ray still offers the gritty lo-fi sound that the fans of his past music love so much. This record is the epitome of an entire summer lurking around and figuring out your life. Going through those feelings of love and holding hands while grasping your 99 cent can of Arizona iced tea. This album, like all of Ray’s, hold these tiny moments that stick with me in love and memory. – Sarah Knoll

Animal Flag – Void Ripper

I cannot even begin to fathom how Animal Flag has managed to continuously write and produce their personal enigmatic brand of rock music for all these years. Sitting on the border of pure aggression and existential calm, the album twists and turns from track to track, delivering equal parts energy and serenity. With songs like “Stray” and “Why” populating the album with glimpses at the most intimate and critical components of the human condition, Void Ripper is the ultimate testament to art, manifested across scores of powerful lyrics and throttling instrumentals. The album is addictive and meaningful, and if you have yet to listen to it, then you are missing out on an outright experience. – Shannon Mahoney

AwakeButStillInBed – what people call low self​-​esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you

This release in the beginning of 2018 was one I just came across randomly on Bandcamp and became one that shocked me. The California-based band draws influences from what feels like every genre. Having some twangy guitar riffs along with lead singer Shannon Taylor’s scratchy vocals. Lyrics dealing with the bridges between entering adulthood and parental relationships, Taylor’s vocal delivery is almost a breed between Courtney Love and Bjork. Definitely keeping those 90s influences with a modern flair, this debut LP is just the start for awakebutstillinbed. – Sarah Knoll

Barely Civil – We Can Live Here Forever

Barely Civil’s debut LP, We Can Live Here Forever, comes right out of the gate with a mixed bag of angst on songs like “You With A Cape, Me With A Baseball Bat,” and “RE: Your Lungs,” and soft-spoken acceptance of unchangeable circumstances on tracks like “Handwritten House” and “I Am Drowning.” The band keeps things dynamic, providing a record with repeatability and a segmented build that can make for a different experience on every listen. – Luciano Ferrera

Barely March – Marely Barch

Everyday, people send us links to bands they think are cool. Usually I take a listen and it’s ehh, other times its good, but very rarely is it something I haven’t heard before that blows my mind. Barely March was one of those. This past winter Chris Keough, armed only with his mother’s laptop, recorded an album in his house and played all the instruments himself. Somehow he produced an invigoratingly original DIY emo/punk record. While the Jeff Rosenstock and Weezer influences on this album are strong and apparent, Keough  was also able to incorporate some skramz and electronic sounds to create something fresh and new. I am now very much a fan, and excited about the future for this project. – Henderson Cole

Big Ups – Two Parts Together

The post-hardcore band push their boundaries as they explore new frontiers. The songs build up tension and release into satisfying crescendos, pulsating a stop and go flow that does a great job of trapping the listener’s attention. While there are only eight tracks, each one is jam-packed, bringing together a strong AOTY contender. – Steven Lalonde

Bogues – Life, Slowly

Bogues’s music is particularly genuine within the solo artist niche, mingled with poetic prose that will impress any first-time listener, as well as old fans. Life, Slowly is the Nashville-based artist’s second EP, and it builds on 2016’s Mulligan in a naturally progressive and cohesive way. The way that the electric guitar works to guide AJ Gruenewald’s dynamic vocals exceeds what’s typically expected from acoustic artists. – Luciano Ferrara

Camp Cope – How To Socialize & Make Friends

Moving, cathartic and honest. Camp Cope’s second record further expands on the trio’s indie rock sound with honest and detailed lyrics that explore subjects that are difficult to recount. I’ve been playing the album in my car since its release and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Just listen to “The Opener” and you’ll know what I mean. – Lindsy Carrasquillo

Cool American – better luck next year vol 3

“focus”, the closing track on better luck next year vol 3, is a deviation from Cool American’s archetypal indie rock. Swapping out the big riffs and punk rock abandon that shaped last year’s Infinite Hiatus for cheap Casio keyboards, programmed drum loops, and auto-tuned vocals, “focus” sounds like lo-fi Carly Rae Jepsen. The third installment of the better luck next year series is the best one yet, featuring some of Nathan Tucker’s sharpest songwriting and most experimental production choices to date. Tracks like “17” and “we never talked about it” are understated and sangfroid, making better luck next year vol 3 another solid collection of tunes from one of the scene’s most prolific voices. – Michael Brooks

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Compared to her outstanding 2015 release Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, her second album feels a lot more personal. While not as raucous and loud as Sit, Tell Me How You Really Feel sees Barnett slow down while confronting more intimate issues. The music explores self-reflection and moments of introversion, while lyrically, she seems to have no interest in commenting or voicing opinions about the world and its politics. All in all, this album is good. Very good in my opinion, even if Barnett has trouble finding the words to describe her perspectives. – Steven Lalonde

Culture Abuse – Bay Dream

Culture Abuse hit the ground running with their 2016 release Peach which saw the band’s popularity sky-rocket. Their ferocious, raw, melodic punk sound is what hooked me. Now, on Bay Dream, the sound is polished and grooves a lot harder than its predecessor. The record is still grungy sounding, lathered with great hooks and memorable tracks. Even though it’s not as fast and rowdy as Peach, this album has a more personal feel and oozes the characteristics of summer. As fantastic as Peach was, Bay Dream is equally, though differently, excellent. – Steven Lalonde

Donovan Wolfington – WAVES

I firmly believe that Donovan Wolfington were one of the most underappreciated and influential bands of the 2010’s, and I think most fans would agree. This year they released their final record WAVES which flexed their genre blending muscles while clutching on to their skatepunk roots. There is a true ferocity and venom in vocalist Neil Berthier’s vocals and lyrical themes, and I hope to see this transition into his solo project Neil O’Neil (which released its very cool debut LP this year). While I will miss D-Wolf, this final album is a testament to the sound they created, and a fitting capstone on an incredible discography. – Henderson Cole

Equipment – Ruthless Sun

I absolutely adore Equipment. Between members Nick Stoup, Jake Pachasa, and (other) Jake Scott, the band has been putting out great music for years, and Ruthless Sun is no exception. Packing in a great deal of emotional value into a lovely collection of melodic indie rock tracks, the band has really grown into their own mold. The album is beautifully written, with songs covering a quintessential range of topics that really strike a chord with the listener and demand to be heard over and over. – Shannon Mahoney

gobbinjr – Ocala Wick

In recent years, New York has become known for producing some of the top indie pop musicians in the scene. Emma Witmer, who creates music under the moniker gobbinjr, is certainly one of these artists and her new record Ocala Wick comes bearing the proof. The witty and introspective songwriting on this album is incredible, as evidenced by stand-outs such as “politely,” “fake bitch,” and “afraid of me.” With lyrical content ranging from tracks about navigating through the subtleties of daily life while stoned, to coping with the stresses of growing older, Witmer wears her heart on her sleeve and leaves little to the imagination.  It’s this honest and straightforward approach to songwriting that makes Ocala Wick one of the most interesting records released in 2018 so far. – AJ Boundy

Gulfer – Dog Bless

Simply put, the Montreal-based math/indie hybrid act does a great job at turning up the entertainment value on their newest record, with every track packing in the energy to produce a modest yet high intensity collection of songs. Pulling from a full range of emotional depth, we get to see the vast potential of the band, with tracks ranging from the angry and aggressive “Doglife” to the more solemn and enigmatic “Be Father.” The band creates a diverse mix of tracks that truly leave a mark on the listener. The musical range and emotion that the band delivers on Dog Bless really allows them to stand out on their own and float above the rest of the emo/indie scene. – Shannon Mahoney

Half Waif – Lavender

A moving and powerful listen. It’s hard to play this record while doing something else because the music pulls you in and demands your full attention. Lavender is perfect for rainy car rides when you’re feeling calm and thoughtful. – Jess Lavery

Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog

Over the years, Hop Along have built up a reputation for disguising heart-wrenching, emotional music beneath intricate layers of danceable melodies and metaphor. The group’s latest record, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, is no exception to this trend. Francis Quinlan’s signature vocal delivery toes the line between a sweet croon and vicious snarl, her voice dancing playfully with the sputtering guitar chords and riffs. On Bark Your Head Off, Dog, Hop Along bring everything you could ever love in a record: energy, complexity, and raw emotion. – Yong Los

Hovvdy – Cranberry

Hovvdy’s Cranberry built upon their debut record, but added an additional level of songwriting skill to their repertoire. Their songs wind to a building conclusion, somehow weaving emotion in their slow burning energy. Hovvdy have a chill vibe to their songs that avoids boredom and is entrancing for the listener. – Henderson Cole

Hurry – Every Little Thought

In Every Little Thought, their fourth and most recent record, Philadelphia-based Hurry decided to shed their loud and abrasive roots for syrupy sweet melodies and refined textures. Tracks like “On The Streets,” “Hanging On,” and “Every Little Thought” are perfect examples of this new sound, with singer/songwriter Matthew Scottoline’s at-times listless delivery and melancholic subject matter directly polarizing the group’s poppy hooks and harmonies. Every Little Thought is certainly a highlight of Hurry’s career and has firmly solidified their place amongst the music community. – AJ Boundy

Jeff Rosenstock – POST-

What’s most striking about POST- is how much empathy Jeff Rosenstock, who chants “We’re tired and bored” ad nauseam on the album’s opener, has left in him. Following Worry., one of the most ambitious punk albums of the decade, POST- feels like hair of the dog; an album that doubles down on existential panic and still finds new and interesting ways to tinker with his sound. You’d be pressed to find another artist with the capacity to turn power-pop sing-alongs into battle cries, or someone who can stuff ambient interludes in the middle of surging punk anthems. Rosenstock makes it look easy. POST- details a vicious cycle of battling the establishment, one that kicks his ass nearly every day, but at least he’s going down swinging. – Michael Brooks

Jouska – from Elson to Emmett

Man, oh man was I excited to get some new Jouska music this year. After playing the song “calico” a couple of times live, I was thinking where this came from? It wasn’t on any previous Jouska releases, but I’m happy to see it on from Elson to Elmont. Lead singer and guitarist Doug Dulgarian, definitely brought Jouska’s sound into a more alternative and rock realm. Still keeping the same dreamy shoegaze aspects of their LP “topiary” but toning it down a bit more to push the envelope on a more holistic sound. On the track “tummy/legs” the breakdown at the end of the track is simply beautiful. Keeping an borderline math rock kind of riff at the beginning and then transitioning into a major breakdown of each instrument is what the brilliance of this EP holds. If this is where Jouska is heading, I want in. – Sarah Knoll

Jpegmafia – Veteran

Veteran, JPEGMAFIA’s breakout LP splits the difference between trap and noise—dissonant sounds are punctured by JPEGMAFIA’s stream of consciousness flow, musings spouted out in the evocative langue of someone posting on a KanyeToThe forum. Essentially, it’s the closest thing we’ll ever get to an art installation sponsored by WorldStarHipHop. Simultaneously grating, arresting, and unsettling, Veteran completely fucks with the idea of what rap music can be. It’s sensory overload; namedropping everyone from Lena Dunham to Macaulay Culkin with the same intensity as his bars that grapple with racism and gentrification. Like any good provocateur (there’s a track titled “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies”) JPEGMAFIA knows the right time to stoke the fire, and Veteran is as irreverent and poignant as anything else in 2018. – Michael Brooks

Just Friends – Nothing But Love

I mean, do we really even need to talk about why this album is on a list of the best releases? Just Friends has blended so many different genres together on their second album, Nothing But Love that it’s hard to explain just what kind of band they are. The horn sections are all tight and they meld perfectly with the mix of funk/jazz/ska guitar riffs that permeate the album. The dynamics of the vocals and the way that Sam Kless and Brianda Goyos León harmonize with each other is just beautiful (that closing track, oof). Just Friends is poised to take the entire industry by storm: “On top of the world, and don’t you ever forget it.” – Luciano Ferrara

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