The 50 Best Releases of 2018 So Far

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Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

“You can take me out of the country / But you can’t take the country out of me” sang Kacey Musgraves on her 2015 album Pageant Material. That lyric—which by the way, could literally be slapped on any item sold in a truck stop gift shop—also serves as a mission statement to Golden Hour, Musgraves’ genre-busting pop-country spectacle. Bolstered by her infectious charisma (the four-on-the-floor swagger of “High Horse”) and her clever songwriting (the double entendre of “Space Cowboy”) Golden Hour is a far cry from a crossover attempt; rather it’s Musgraves lassoing up the mainstream and guiding them back to the beautiful universe she’s created all her own. – Michael Brooks

Kal Marks- Universal Care

It’s unlikely that another band this year will make a record as simultaneously brutal and beautiful as Universal Care. A song like its title track stages these battles between a skyward bassline and a stomping riff; a pummeling drum rhythm and vocalist Carl Shane’s weird-ass, drawly croon; an astral guitar melody and his equally obscure wail. Universal Care is a thick, stew-like album to wade through. It’s only 40 minutes, but with the amount of ground they cover on here, it’s one that requires a breather upon completion. It’s not the kind of album you can casually queue up on a work commute or a during low-key group hang. That’s not to say it’s complicated for the sake of it, or that there aren’t accessible moments. Its first half is one for the indie-minded metalheads and weirdo hardcore fanatics, but its final third is one slow-burning noise-grunge/noise-gaze track after another. If you’re even tangentially curious about the louder, darker sides of indie rock/post-punk, this is a must-hear. – Eli Enis

Kississippi – Sunset Blush

This album hooked me when I first heard it on Spotify, and is the first record I’ve ever purchased on vinyl. In addition to the awesome color scheme (lime green record contrasting the otherwise sunset blush pallet), tracks like “Adrift,” “Lash to Lash,” and “Shamer” guarantee that once you hear this album you won’t be able to get it out of your head. – Jess Lavery

Lucy Dacus – Historian

Lucy Dacus pushes her boundaries on Historian, as it sees the singer/songwriter reconcile with loss and relationships. There are also new elements to her music repertoire this time around; horns, strings, some vocal effects that weren’t as prevalent on her debut No Burden. Her voice is soft and serene as she tells stories about herself and the people around her. Combined with the thicker sounding guitar chords, her vocals and lyrics all make this album a strong AOTY contender this year. – Steven Lalonde

Now, Now – Saved

The perfect summer pop album. This one definitely passes the test of being able to walk through the city listening to this album and feeling like you can do anything. 100% worth the six-year wait, but let’s hope we don’t have to wait another six for the next one. Pop needs more of this. – Jess Lavery

Parquet Courts- Wide Awake!

Parquet Courts are one of those bands who’ve put out consistently great records for so long that they’re now susceptible to people, unfairly yet understandably, scrolling past whatever blog hype surrounds their latest. Since they don’t have a social media presence, it can be difficult to remember these guys exist in between cycles. But Wide Awake! is a testament to how a digitally hermitic band steeped in 70s funk and 80s punk can still make the most perceptive, socially commentative album of 2018. It’s also the most enthusiastic they’ve sounded in years—if not ever. The first half is the most perfect run of songs in their entire discography, both rousing and insightful lyrically, and some of the most personable rock music of the entire decade. The few side-b hiccups are, at worst, creative experiments that lack the proficiency of preceding stunners like “Total Football,” “Violence,” and “Freebird II.” But its greatest asset is that it’s a phenomenal introduction to the band for those who’ve missed the train up until now. Come the fuck aboard. – Eli Enis

Pianos Become The Teeth – Wait For Love

Writing a record about death, grieving, and love can be a difficult maneuver to pull off. While their 2014 release Keep You was a gut-wrenching personal slow burn that saw the post-hardcore band shift in style, Wait For Love maintains said style, but it’s a lot more inventive this time around. Musically, this album is more upbeat, more optimistic and lead vocalist Kyle Dufrey’s singing has finally reached its full potential. – Steven Lalonde

Playboi Carti – Die Lit

During an interview for VFILES last March, Lil Uzi Vert summarized mumble rap in eight short words; “It’s just lit. It’s all about being lit.” Playboi Carti, who’s right next to Lil Uzi Vert in the video, must have taken a few notes. Die Lit, Carti’s debut studio album which was surprise-released at the beginning of May, is the apex of mumble rap in 2018. Carti and producer Pi’erre Bourne are the perfect match, Bourne’s beats serving as a digital playground constructed of wobbly synths and 808s that knock like a punching bag, giving Carti just enough space to play around. Die Lit is everything people who listen to “real hip hop” hate about the new wave of Soundcloud rappers including a bunch of extremely ill-advised lyrics that seem to advocate violence against women on “R.I.P.”But with every grunt and squeal Carti captures the intrinsic nature of youth, creating one of the most unabashedly fun projects of the year. – Michael Brooks

Pllush- Stranger to the Pain

There are parts of Pllush’s debut that sound like the Pixies, passages that sound like Built to Spill, and moments that sound like if Pity Sex and Spirit of the Beehive got together. But Stranger to the Pain is an album that’s as thematically blurry as it is sonically. It’s a record that deals with, as its title implies, navigating the unfamiliar territory of loneliness. That’s not an uncommon idea for an earnest indie rock band to make a record about, but Pllush’s indefinable sound is exceptionally conducive to the flurry of intense yet undeveloped thoughts they’re trying to make sense of. It’s an album that truly sounds like, as they say in standout “Ortega,” “a fucked up situation that we somehow all got in.” It’s the musical accompaniment to those moments when you’ve made a huge decision but don’t know how to feel about it yet. And it’s one you’ll want to play loud on quiet nights. – Eli Enis

Pusha T- Daytona

It’s crazy to think how it’s only been a month since Daytona dropped. The last four weeks have been excruciating for nearly every facet of the hip-hop community, but one of the few things worth cheering for has been Pusha T’s participation in the grueling Wyoming marathon. Daytona is the no-contest winner within that series itself, but even compared to records unaffiliated with the onslaught of summer cruelty, the veteran sounds fresh, inspired, and peerlessly competent. Playboi Carti has a stronghold on stylistic innovation, and Cardi B’s magnetism is untouchable, but no one else this year has exhibited the sheer rapping ability that Push has. “The Warhols on my wall paint a war story” is one of the most eloquently delivered lines of 2018, and “if we go by connections made / I can still climb ladders when complexions fade” is the best Late Registration-era line Kanye (probably) never wrote. Record is magnificent. – Eli Enis

Remember Sports – Slow Buzz

There’s always that one record that comes out at just the right time and hit’s that emotional soft spot. For me, the lyrics in Slow Buzz hit every point that I was feeling – confused, lost, discouraged. It’s a breakup record that reflects on newfound readjustment and moving on from something you can no longer go back to. – Lindsy Carrasquillo

Retirement Party – Somewhat Literate

“And let me tell you that I am thankful for it every day / it may be over now / but to hell cause its not too late.” After my first listen through Retirement Party’s debut album, “Shoulder It” became my go-to song and still is. The track explores the growth that comes with a close relationship and holding on to that positive change once they’re no longer in your life. The entire record has detailed, self reflective lyrics with a power-punk sound. They’re bound to get big soon and being a Counter Intuitive band, it shouldn’t be a surprise when it does happen. – Lindsy Carrasquillo

Runaway Brother – New Pocket

While not as boisterous or theatrical as Mother, Runaway Brother’s sophomore LP just feels right. All of the band’s members are dialed into each other so well that the album is nearly seamless. The tracks on New Pocket feature a dense wall of sound that is equally comforting and disconcerting, with a jamming through-line. It is very exciting to see a band that has found its sound and been able to execute it perfectly. – Scott Fugger

The Sidekicks – Happiness Hours

In what I would classify as one of the most underrated albums of 2018, the Cleveland-area indie rockers have channeled an amassed musical and creative talent into a truly touching and grandiose record. Stretching across tracks like “Happiness Hours” and “Weed Tent,” the band’s sound reverberates at near-orchestral proportions, illuminating some of the darkest motifs to create something adversely beautiful. As a long-time listener of the band, I would cite Happiness Hours as their single greatest effort to date, as the record encompasses the full impact and beauty that this band could expertly produce en masse. – Shannon Mahoney

Sidney Gish – No Dogs Allowed

The moment Sidney Gish’s dropped No Dogs Allowed in January, the bar was raised for new music in 2018. This album bursts with quirky personality. Well -laced samples collide with Kimya Dawson-esque indie folk that often folds into a more Regina Spektor style indie pop (tracks like “Sophisticated Space”). Hooks on hooks on hooks, and it has the lyrics to back it up. Dare you to listen to this just once. – Henderson Cole

Slow Mass – On Watch

On Watch comes at you right out of the gate on its first track “Gray Havens” with a wave of guitars, which quickly disappear as melodic vocals flow within the empty space. The remnants of the guitars twisting in the background as they build to their return for a breakdown in the track’s conclusion. That’s just one track. On Watch is post-rock perfection. I find myself returning to it time after time, replaying tracks and even lines, again and again. Truly, one of the most interesting and enveloping albums of the year. – Henderson Cole

Soccer Mommy – Clean

Grooving guitars, lines that land like daggers, beautiful melodies, and hooks for days; Soccer Mommy has it all. I’ve been a fan of Soccer Mommy since their For Young Heart’s EP in 2016, because of songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist,Sophie Allison’s, ability to write lo-fi rock songs that packed a punch lyrically and instrumentally, but on Clean, they were able to tighten up the sound and craft polished hits without losing any of the DIY energy that made them so interesting. This record has received a ton of praise and it’s all deserved. – Henderson Cole

Snail Mail – Lush

Teen indie rock sensation Lindsey Jordan, aka Snail Mail, burst onto the blog scene with her EP Habit in 2016 and an incredible NPR live session. But with the release of Lush, the band was launched into the big time and got written about by the biggest music sites in the world. Was it deserved? Well, in short, yes. The songwriting is beyond her years, sure. But when you listen to Snail Mail you hear a great rock band. Beautiful guitar tones throughout, but its the vocals and the hooks that’ll keep you coming back to these songs. I catch myself screaming along. – Henderson Cole

Spanish Love Songs – Shmaltz

Spanish Love Songs sound like The Upsides-era Wonder Years playing orgcore. The lyrics feel as if they were pulled directly from a personal journal and explore the many anxieties and concerns that come with living as an unstable adult in 2018. But make no mistake, Shmaltz is not a one-note album. Gruff, but melodic vocals and energetic instrumentals expand even the most insular lines in a way that allows them to be imagined as sing-along pile-ons at your favorite punk venue. – Scott Fugger

Trace Mountains- A Partner To Lean On

As I wrote last week at length, the impending breakup of LVL Up will leave a noticeable hole in the patchwork of 2010’s indie rock. Fortunately, it’s a tear that Trace Mountains, the solo project of LVL Up guitarist Dave Benton, has already begun to mend with A Partner To Lean On. The nine-song selection is his project’s first “official” album, in that it’s conceptually connected and more sonically serviced than the 2016 compilation Buttery Sprouts & Other Songs. In a concise 30 minutes, Benton’s songwriting channels the dense textures of LVL Up through striding, overcast folk-pop. There are splashes of auto-tune (“Turn Twice”), stormy synths (“Thunder Trails”), and sudden detonations of fuzz (“Forgiveness”), but no element impedes on the innate hookiness of every track. Like LVL Up, it’s music that gradually unravels with each listen, revealing a never-ending series of layers and little details. Unlike LVL Up, it has the focus of a sole creator, and Benton builds a universe on A Partner To Lean On that’s difficult to justify leaving. – Eli Enis

Tiny Stills – Laughing into the Void

Edgy pop-rock shows its best face with Laughing into the Void. Fresh with power chords, sticky sweet with vocals, and pungent with smart, relatable lyricism, Tiny Stills hit a home run. The songwriting is one of the record’s greatest appeals, offering forethought, reminiscing, and just a damn good time. From cute “When I’m with You” to empowering “Don’t Call Me a Catch” and personal “Someday Everyone Who Hurt Me Will Be Dead”, and everything in between. Tiny Still’s sophomore release is far from the dreaded slump. It’s stellar. – Kayla Carmichael

Turnstile – Time & Space

Need I say more about how great Turnstile are? They’re an amazing powerhouse group ripping through the hardcore genre with fury and fire. Time & Space wasn’t hitting the spot for me around the first listen, but it grew on me. The album’s first three tracks—“Real Thing,” “Big Smile,” and “Generator”—feel like the most coherent trio of songs in the band’s discography. With the shouty vocal delivery by lead singer Brendon Yates and backing band of four, the sound of Time & Space is more refined and little bit more rounded than before. This is a peak album for the band, and definitely a defining moment in their sound, production and unity as a collective. – Sarah Knoll

Vundabar – Smell Smoke

Thrashing behind the dulcet vocals of lead singer Brandon Hagen, Vundabar’s newest album promotes juxtaposition between the melancholy and the morbid, providing the listener with a complex maze of rhythms and falsetto to navigate en route to an escapade of emotional grit. Although the album’s tone might feel light-hearted overall, the album doesn’t shy away from traversing to criticism in light of songs like “Big Funny,” which shuns the American healthcare system while remaining in the mold of the band’s unique blend of indie rock and pop. All in all, the album’s originality and fabric are more than enough to attach to year-end lists come December. – Shannon Mahoney

War On Women – Capture the Flag

Capture the Flag is the most political album I’ve heard all year. The album confronts head-on issues such as sexism, gun violence, and the need to not shut the fuck up about it. As you can imagine, based on the name, the members of War On Women are direct and to the point: they play straightforward hardcore music with a message and they do it fantastically. This band is important. – Scott Fugger

Warm Thoughts – I Went Swimming Alone

Elliot Babin, who plays drums in the post-hardcore outfit Touché Amore, has been writing and releasing solo material under the moniker Warm Thoughts (formerly Dad Punchers) for the better half of the last decade. He’s spent his time away from Touché Amore steadily honing his heartbreakingly-relatable and poignant emo/indie pop. On I Went Swimming Alone, Babin’s self-described bummer punk is quelled a bit and brought into a new realm of production, with tracks like “Sunbleached and Yellowed,” “Waiting For Me,” and “A Memo To Me From My Future Self” showing this new reserve. Although the album isn’t as abrasive as past efforts, I Went Swimming Alone showcases some of the strongest tracks in Babin’s catalogue to date. – AJ Boundy

The Wonder Years – Sister Cities

As a long-time listener of the Philadelphia pop punk act, I have been extremely pleased to watch the band mature, record after record, in an effort to more adequately purvey themes of mental health, loss, and growing old. By no means is Sister Cities any exception to the chain of progression that has brought the band to this point. From the fast-paced “Raining in Kyoto,” to the more solemn “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me,” the album tosses and turns under the control of frontman Dan Campbell to fully encompass a wide range of emotions. The pure catharsis that the album produces melds to the listener, leaving an eerily warm feeling at its close that makes this record deserve way more than just a single play-through. – Shannon Mahoney

World’s Greatest Dad – Get Well Soon

When I showed a friend the single off the record “Laughing (While You’re Smiling)” he described the track’s hooks as something straight out of my diary and well, he’s not wrong. The record’s lyrics touch on a lot of feelings I’ve been going through lately: learning to focus on your positive emotions instead of negative ones, losing old friendships and being okay with being alone. With a blend of indie rock and emo, the band’s sound is infectious and bound to get stuck in your head after your first listen. – Lindsy Carrasquillo


Honorable Mentions: Cardi B, Titus Andronicus, Tancred, Teenage Wrist, Anna McClellan, No Thank You, illuminati hotties, Grace Vonderkuhn, Good Looking Friends, and Petal.

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