Monday, December 17, 2018

Favorite Albums of 2018

10. Chris by Christine and the Queens

In many respects, it seems Héloïse Letissier still feels like an outcast today, just as she did years ago. And who could blame her? With her avant-garde vision and a complex persona to deliver it, it's hard to remember that she is, at her core, one of us – and one of them. Draping overstretched, hyper-metaphoric storyboards over iron-clad sonic framework, she stands on the front lines of pop music's master class without losing touch with humanity. Her sophomore record, Chris, isn't just the misbehaved younger sister to its predecessor, heat-warping steady beats and meaty synthesizers with some frustrated sexual energy; it is an imperfectly human display of tragedy and fantasy – and just about everything in between. (full review)

9. Bloom by Troye Sivan

Troye Sivan's Bloom is the first mainstream record that allows a young, openly gay man to flaunt his sexual prowess. It not only makes good use of fresh dance-pop, but also documents an important time in gay culture as we gain some basic rights but demand normalization in society. (It's his second album to do so, after Blue Neighborhood book-ended an era of scared gay kids recording themselves coming out to loved ones and posting the outcomes on YouTube as tokens of representation.) The record isn't long; Sivan punctuates all he needs to say after just over half an hour. But it makes the most of that time, capturing the emotional complexities of young love between two men like no popular musician has done before. In short: Wig flew to Asia. (full review)

8. Forever Neverland by 

There's plenty of escapism behind Forever Neverland, but rather than detachment from reality, it burrows inward. Navigating her late-20-something years, MØ clings to people and memories immediately close to her to drown out a world that is overwhelming turbulent. In doing so, she lights a match beneath her music and dances through her second record; it goes limp only when she delivers its two ballads, "Mercy" and "Trying to Be Good." She displays, and allows listeners to indulge in, a realistic escapism – one that allows us to entangle ourselves in vivid memories that cannot be tarnished, no matter how unforgiving adulthood becomes. (full review)

7. A Good Girl by Ralph

Pop hasn’t been this straight-up sugary sweet in a long while. After riding on the fringes Spotify viral pop, Ralph reinvigorated her pop vision with inflections of dance and disco for a sparkling debut album. A Good Girl flaunts colorful melodies and vintage-minded instrumentation. Almost all of them lasting roughly three minutes or less, the 10 tracks on A Good Girl are quick (but potent) hits of pure pop without complications, straight to the jugular. They take pop back to the basics, spared of flashy production and heavy lyrical baggage so they can entertain at face value. And with a record that is so effortlessly infectious and charismatic, Ralph proves to be a star in her own right – even if she swears she’s going to remain just the girl next door. (full review

6. Someone Out There by Rae Morris

Someone Out There proves current, fun, dance-conscious pop music doesn't have to be topical or trivial. Written and recorded just before a romantic relationship formalized between Morris and primary collaborative songwriter and producer Fryars, the album bleeds the excitement that comes with a blossoming relationship. Yet when Morris is giddy, she's still composed ("Atletico," "Dip My Toe," "Do It"). When she slows the tempo, she remains hopeful ("Dancing with Character," "Reborn," "Someone Out There"). And regardless of her tone on this record, she's absolutely mesmerizing. (full review)

5. The Future and The Past by Natalie Prass

Retrofitted from a scrapped concept that was finalized before Election Day 2016, The Future and the Past is a subtle protest record of sorts that demands we try to continue relatively normal daily lives amid the world’s chaos. To fulfill an album title that all but guarantees a timeless sound and progressive songwriting, Natalie Prass mixes an incredibly potent cocktail of jazz, vintage rhythm and blues, lounge pop, and funk. (Oh, and just a touch of disco, especially as "The Fire" really elbows into an infectious groove not unlike one found on La Roux's sophomore record.) Her voice, then, is the smooth constant across the impressive gallery of textures. (full review)

4. Still Run by Wet

Wet’s sophomore record, Still Run, is clear evidence of a band amid transition, after a fracture of the band’s line-up and a musical reinvention. Within its 10 tracks, Wet are very much caught up in, well, being Wet. Even still, it’s a thing of beauty. Kelly Zutrau is tangled in her own existence as a friend, a lover, and a musician, and what comes of those struggles is an album that is both gorgeous and directionless: Her delicate vocals ripple over the band’s richest sounds yet. Aside from Zutrau's gains in assertion, the record struggles to find a forward motion – and that's okay this time around. Memorializing what could have spelled disaster for the promising young band, it does as its centerfold track promises: Beauty radiates from the record, softening the band's grief track by track until it puts the turmoil to sleep with a final lullaby. (full review)

3. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

Though its ambition is perhaps longer lasting than its musicality, Dirty Computer is Janelle Monáe’s first true statement piece. She has always been an artist of eccentricity, but never one with tunes as infectious as “Make Me Feel” or “Pynk.” Building upon the recent legacy of records from powerful black women like the Knowles sisters, she embraces herself as both a black woman and a queer American with strength and striking wit across this record's tightly-written tracks, then she directs action upon her experiences: "You fucked the world up now; we'll fuck it all back down," she promises. And that, we will. (full review)

2. High As Hope by Florence + The Machine

In theory, High As Hope shouldn’t be a great Florence + The Machine record. It’s the antithesis to the band’s previous material: It’s subtle and short-winded, without brazen histrionics. But perhaps that’s where it finds its magic (and not of the useless variety, that’s for sure). In the absence of her lush instrumentation, Florence Welch is stripped of her top layers and her emotions are left exposed as she finally sews the wounds of her past shut. She has never sung about herself or presented her feelings in the way she does on this record – and never have her words been backlit with such bright shimmers of hope. (full review)

1. Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves’ third record was enjoyable during initial listens, but as it marinated in my car stereo throughout the year, the record revealed its true beauty. Balancing Southern charm and pop-inclined songwriting, Golden Hour is equally nostalgic and forward-thinking. Below the folds of the album’s acoustic pop (and sometimes, all-out pop) slipcover, country sensibility remains a familiar cushion for Musgraves. And it’s the record that allows her to sidestep out of the country underdog archetype and into the light as an artist who writes her own rules in a genre that hasn't been wholly itself since before she was born, even if her rules are far from polished ones. (full review)

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