The best albums of 2018 — we’re almost there!

In no order. My dedicated team of interns is still sorting through data.

ALBUMS

Cupcakke – Ephorize
U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
Mr. Fingers – Cerebral Hemispheres
Toni Braxton – Sex & Cigarettes
tUnE-yArDs – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life
Ravyn Lenae – Crush
Tracy Thorn – Record
Migos – Culture II
The Breeders – All Nerve
Ashley Monroe – Sparrow
Tal National – Tantabara
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Bali Baby – Baylor Swift
Amen Nunes – Freedom
Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Pusha T – Daytona
Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism
John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
Rae Sremmurd – SR3MM
Belly – Dove
Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive
Troye Sivan – Bloom
The Chills – Snowbound
Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Noname – Room 25
Eric Church – Desperate Man
Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel
Vince Staples – FM!
Alex Anwantder – Latinoamericana
Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

Eric Church, Christine and the Machine, and Chic

Eric Church – Desperate Man

After a ponderous opening number called “The Snake” — he should have called it “The Snail” — Eric Church’s sixth album gets going with a clavinet-led (!) acoustic funkthumper called “Hangin’ Around” in which Church makes like Charley Daniels crossed with John Anderson. Continue reading

Gaga dons her straight apparel for ‘A Star is Born’

For anyone who has watched the three versions of A Star is Born (four if you count 1932’s What Price Hollywood?), the moment when the drunken has-been accidentally slaps his wife as she accepts an award onstage creates the greatest, sickest anticipation. I’ve watched George Cukor’s 1954 Grand Guignol version at least fives times and my stomach knots every time as Esther has to keep her star’s dignity while her husband humiliates himself and her for putting up with his sodden ass (James Mason manipulated his natural courtliness to shrewd effect so that Norman Maine is never merely gross). Well, it’s 2018, and, realizing how gauchely this might play, director Bradley Cooper confines himself to collapsing in front a televised audience of billions when pop singer wife Ally accepts her Best New Artist Grammy. Continue reading

Carrie Underwood, Brockhampton, The Chills

Carrie Underwood — Cry Pretty

I’d hoped to ignore this de luxe attempt at feeling beyond one’s pay grade, but because it’s the #1 album in the country and Carrie Underwood has sung several wonderful songs I needed to give it a listen. In “Kingdom” she threatens a choir with death by machine gun while she celebrates tire swings and church on Sundays. On “Love Wins,” she has the gall to wonder when the hell it’d ever come to this “when everybody’s gotta pick a side.” You mean you lived in an enchanted kingdom free of choices, Carrie? Elephantine and flaccid, Cry Pretty confuses big gestures with passion. It sullies the idea of sincerity. And as 2012’s Blown Away demonstrated, it didn’t need to be this way. Underwood can hire the best songwriters in Nashville; other than the title track, to which Lori McKenna lent a hand, Underwood and her co-producers operate at a level of generalization that would make a candidate for state senator campaign with a sixty-two-slide Powerpoint.

BROCKHAMPTON – Iridescence

This Texas rap collective whose membership swells on a whim, to my surprise, was the week’s most streamed album despite non-existent radio play. Their fourth album in a year is their weakest. Their inconsistency fascinates me. A mediocre rapper followed by a good one, terrible stresses and good lines, musique concrète followed by keyboards/synths and possibly real strings. They have no idea what they’re doing, and the strength of their queer politics often exceeds their abilities to express them. Insofar as they can pull it together or care about such things, the album’s manifesto is “Weight,” where Kevin Abstract, Joba, Sammy-jo, and others each share a brief lifetime’s worth of pain: from stolen bikes to going soft while having heterosex and self-medicating.

The Chills – Snow Bound

Dormant while leader Martin Phillips sorted through his addictions, this New Zealander act returned in 2015 with Silver Bullets, an impressive testament to Phillips’ melodic gifts. Snow Bound is even suppler: rueful without getting soggy about it, embracing huge keyboards like 120 Minutes was still on the air. It is, then, a Chills album. My Pitchfork review.

It might blow up, and it might go pop: Troye Sivan and Ariana Grande

Troye Sivan — Bloom

This Australian started making sense after re-watching Call Me By Your Name — imagine him as Timothée Chalamet’s first boyfriend, about the same age, wowed by Chalamet’s experience, for which he has Armie Hammer to thank. Like Years & Years’ Ollie Alexander, for Troye Sivan every sexual adventure is an incitement, a glum thrill. The reverb and synthesizers on opener “Seventeen” suggest the abyss into which he loves tumbling; he’s hooking up with older dudes on Grindr for the tickle in the belly as much for the tightening of his crotch. “What a Heavenly Way to Die” borrows a Smiths lyric to limn an afterglow. “Lucky Strike” is a welcome sign that young men still find a cig or two on a hookup’s breath kind of hot. Key to liking this fellow are his vocal choices: the talk-sing of an introvert afraid he’ll embarrass himself, at its most affecting on “Plum,” absurd metaphors and all (“Coming over me/like bitter tangerine” uh huh); I’m sure he wants the chorus to be “even the sweetest cum.” Besides the reggae preset, the guitar line snarling after the hook is the most unexpected delight. That’s how it is over and over again on this modest little affair of an album as Jam City, OzGo, and the ubiquitous Ariel Rechtshaid’s faint electronic pulses elbow Sivan in the ribs. Bloom is, like Love, Simon, populist queer art, and Sivan is outré enough to give his conventionality a faintly serrated edge. So maybe he’s Timothée Chalamet’s Elio instead.

Ariana Grande – Sweetener

With pop in need of a pan-globalist sensation, she surprises us by sticking (mostly) to a single producer, and this single producer, in another surprise, is Pharrell, who I thought was tapped out. Other than wishing “R.E.M.” offered Ariana Grande’s confessions about the travails of loving the obscure Athens band in the twenty-first century, he brings bounce, ounce, and flounce to half the confections: “successful” would’ve been an ace Britney single in 2003, and radio has made “no tears left to cry” irresistible as well as inescapable. I still have problems when she believes the hype about her prowess: when she scrapes the ionosphere on “goodnight n go,” I hide in the bathroom with a mattress. Except for the Camila Cabello album, 2018 has seen no sturdier example of deluxe chartbound pop.

Mitski, Travis Scott, Lori McKenna

Mitski – Be a Cowboy

Even when she stretches a melody past its snapping point, Mitski Miyazaki has a sure sense of timing: her fifth album averages 2:30 per track, each with a detail to savor: the piano in “Me and My Husband,” how she or collaborator Patrick Hyland’s guitar in “A Pearl” imitates Bowie’s solo in “Weeping Wall,” the garish synthesizer in the Magnetic Fields-worthy “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” Continue reading

I’m usin’ my wisdom teeth: the best pop music of 2018 — first half report

In no order:

ALBUMS

Cupcakke – Ephorize
U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
Mr. Fingers – Cerebral Hemispheres
Toni Braxton – Sex & Cigarettes
tUnE-yArDs – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life
Ravyn Lenae – Crush
Tracy Thorn – Record
Migos – Culture II
The Breeders – All Nerve
Ashley Monroe – Sparrow
Tal National – Tantabara
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Bali Baby – Baylor Swift
Amen Nunes – Freedom
Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Pusha T – Daytona
Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism
John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
Rae Sremmurd – SR3MM
Belly – Dove
Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive
Troye Sivan – Bloom
The Chills – Snowbound
Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Eric Church – Desperate Man
Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel
Vince Staples – FM!
Alex Anwantder – Latinoamericana
Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

SINGLES

Cassie – Don’t Play it Safe
Lana Del Rey – Mariners Apartment Complex
Gwenno – Ti Ha Mor
Laura Jean – Girls on the TV
Tyler the Creator ft. A$AP Rocky – Potato Salad
Troye Sivan – Bloom
Rae Sremmurd, Swae Lee, Slim Jxmmi ft. Juicy J – Powerglide
MNEK – TongueShawn Mendes – In My Blood
Years & Years – If You’re Already Over Me
The 1975 – Give Yourself a Try
Róisín Murphy – All My Dreams
Arctic Monkeys – Four out of Five
Let’s Eat Grandma – Hot Pink
K. Michelle – Crazy Like You
Lil Uzi Vert ft. Nicki Minaj – The Way Life Goes (Remix)
Luna – Free Love
Hayley Kiyoko – Curious
IV of Spades – Mundo
Alice Glass – Cease and Desist
Soccer Mommy – Your Dog
iKON – Love Scenario
Mist – Game Changer
Daniel Caesar ft. Kali Uchis – Get You
Myléne Farmer – Rolling Stone
Jonghyun – Shinin’
Nilufer Yanya – Baby Luv
BTS – Mic Drop (Steve Aoki remix)
IAMDDB – Trophy
SOB x RBE – Carpoolin’
Mamamoo – Starry Night
Shawn Mendes – In My Blood

Running and jumping in place: Pusha T, Parquet Courts, Wussy, Arctic Monkeys

Pusha T – Daytona

The Paul McCartney of coke rap returns with another model of taut smarts likely to be forgotten by year’s end (I top twentied his 2015 album, apparently). Kanye’s much praised solo production (with help from Mike Dean and Andrew Dawson on more than half the album) incorporates Yes, “Twelve O’Clock Satanial,” and “Bumpy’s Lament,” giving Pusha’s boasting quasi-spiritual overtones. Hence the symmetry of the collaboration: Kanye’s solo schtick is to inflate what once were self-help maxims and since 2010 incoherences veined with self-pity and persecution mania. Continue reading

When they’re good, they’re good: Rae Sremmurd, Speedy Ortiz, Belly

Rae Sremmurd – SR3MM

The fleetest triple album listening experience I’ve ever noted – fleeter even than listening to All Things Must Pass without the Apple jams – because more than a third of it sounds like work tapes polished into Spotify gold, with absent bridges and incomplete verses and indifferent rapping and all. Swae Lee, accounted the star and Sensitive One because of his blankly pretty singing, must read his own reviews, for his own disc/side/streamable unit Swaecation is boring guitars and FX in search of songs to accompany the tales of secondhand and/or felt hedonism and secondhand and/or felt boredom with hedonism. Amid legal problems Young Thug drops some of the most addled verses of his recent career in “Offshore,” mixing Walter Payton metaphors, threatening violence on Donald Trump, and repulsive garbage about women he’s written as too passive to even pose a threat; yet where he’s from “hoes can’t talk when I talk,” go figure. Slim Jxmmi gets Jxmtro, a slightly better unit thanks to “Anti-Social Smokers Club” and “Brnx Job,” the latter good old-fashioned boasting without Weltschmerz. Although the brothers appear occasionally on each other’s work – “Guatemala” has a Wham!-worthy credit in “Swae Lee, Slim Jxmmi, Rae Sremmurd” – they’re “Rae Sremmurd” only on the first unit, the one with the leaked “Perplexing Pegasus” and fantastic “Powerglide.” Even so, the duo seem even more detached; no doubt their adventures in the VIP rooms of would make any sybarite pause, but they’re too numb or bored to do much besides recite shopping lists of indulgences like eating clams, rolling grams, and picking a helipad over first class. Metro Boomin productions like “T’d Up” could’ve been backdrops for Future in 2015 (Future also shows up – why miss this party?).

PICKS:

SR3MM: Up in My Cocina, Perplexing Pegasus, Powerglide, Rock N Roll Hall of Fame
Swaecation: Touchscreen Navigation, Offshore, Guatelmala, Hurts to Look
JXMTRO: Brnkx Truck, Anti-Socal Smokers Club, Keep God First

Belly – Dove

In 1993 and 1995, Belly released two albums of guitar pop described in the period shorthand as delicate and witchy but in the case of the latter and even the former were as tough as Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins and, to remind readers that she worked with them for an album, the Breeders. Then the second album flopped: Belly became among the first victims of the post-grunge slump that afflicted the Pumpkins, Soundgarden, and lesser bands. After a period of solo releases, Tanya Donelly became a post-partum doula, helping men and women cope with a trying period in their lives as much if not more so than her music did. Dove, Belly’s first album since 1995’s King, abounds in hooks. It’s the return I want from favorite acts and don’t often get: a reinforcement of what I already knew and an affirmation of what they’ve learned in the interim.

Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse

Reluctant to show their hooks, the Boston quartet lets listeners get comfortable with their third album until they’re humming three quarters of the songs. Fans of Luna and who enjoy wry with their cheese will dig Twerp Verse. My review.