July 4 traditionally marks the centerpoint of the calendar year and it gives music obsessives everywhere a chance to take a deep breath, look back on the first six months of music, and then start freaking out over all the records they haven’t even had a chance to listen to yet.
Here at CMN — which some of us like to refer to as College Music Network — we’re not missing our chance to mention our favorite albums of the year so far. And express the hope that one out there really liked the Justin Timberlake and Sting/Shaggy albums.
So here, presented in alphabetical order, are 15 records that made the first half of 2018 so much better, five picks from each of us. Hope you find a new favorite on this list.
A.A.L. (Against All Logic): 2012-2017
I have no other way to describe this record other than it feels, alive. You can feel its warmth, almost like it’s breathing down your neck. With “2012-2017”, Nicolas Jaar has established a new standard for party-ready deep house grooves. It crafts its own dazzlingly lush universe, with boundless melodies and classic soul samples, drawing you in to dance along with it as if the world were ending tomorrow. AMR
Recommended tracks: “This Old House Is All I Have,” “Some Kind of Game,” “Such a Bad Way, Cityfade”
Cupcakke is no joke. Nothing, not a single thing, is off limits in regards lyrical content on “Euphorize” (don’t say I didn’t warn you). She fires off some of the most dynamic, clever, and versatile flows I’ve ever heard. She adapts to the larger-than-life production style showcased here and does so with a vicious prowess. Haters be damned. AMR
Recommended tracks: “Cartoons,” “Self Interview,” “Navel,” “Post Pic,” “Meet and Greet”
Father John Misty: God’s Favorite Customer
Josh Tillman wrote this album over the two months that he spent freaking out in a New York hotel room. That’s probably the most Father John Misty sentence that I’ve ever had to write. On God’s Favorite Customer, he tries (although he sometimes ultimately fails in the best way) to get over himself and just act like a normal person. NK
Recommended tracks: “Mr. Tillman,” “Please Don’t Die”
Ezra Furman: Transangelic Exodus
The spirit of Meat Loaf and Springsteen’s the-road-equals-ultimate-escape wafts throughout the 13 tracks, but the tale (I think) of a trans narrator and an angel sprung from the hospital on a mad dash for their lives plows right over any 70s posturing. Alive and life-or-death at the same time, Furman has created the most complete work of his career, a rock and roll concept album that gets under your skin and wiggles up your veins, right into your heart valves. PF
Recommended tracks: “Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 At Goodwill,” Driving Down to LA,” “I Lost My Innocence”
King Tuff: The Other
This is Kyle Thomas’s fifth release as King Tuff, and is probably one of my favorites (although his past glam rock releases are not to be missed). On The Other, he delves into hazy, psychedelic garage rock as he ponders the larger meanings of life. It’s poignant when it needs to be, but also doesn’t disappoint if you’re still in the mood for his usual, weird antics. NK
Recommended tracks: “Thru the Cracks,” “Infinite Mile”
MGMT: Little Dark Age
Warning: this is not “Electric Feel.” In fact, on this album the group finds themselves at their least commercially successful point ever, and they couldn’t be more stoked about it. The songs range from jazzy to soulful, but they all carry the same synth-laced pop. NK
Recommended tracks: “When You Die,” “She Works Out Too Much”
Messthetics: The Messthetics
The rhythm section from DC legends Fugazi — drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally — are joined by guitarist Anthony Pirog to make a different kind of dad rock. Cut live to tape, the record lays down their set for posterity and while you won’t get the extended improvisational flights that are a highlight (or sometimes, meh-light) of their live show, you do get a big fat fist of circa-1987 SST-style instrumental skronk and some disembodied, floating passages that spin your head in just the right way. When you get that “Bitches Brew” meets Black Flag feeling, it’s even better. PF
Recommended tracks: “Serpent Tongue,” “The Weaver,” “Mythomania”
Haru Nemuri: Haru to Shura
Haru Nemuri falls into the J-Pop artist category, but “Haru to Shura” falls far from any stereotypes of the genre. It’s abrasive, rough, and blends a challenging mix of noise rock and poetic rap. Nemuri’s passion vocalizes through jagged and volatile instrumentals. If you’ve ever been itching to explore experimental artists outside of your country/comfort zone, this is it! AMR
Recommended tracks: “Harutosyura,” “Narashite,” “Yoruwooyoideta”
Ravyn Lenae: Crush
Alright, so it’s not technically a full album. Nonetheless, Ravyn Lenae and producer Steve Lacy have solidified themselves as a bona fide R&B powerhouse. Mod-soul visionary, Steve Lacy, is also responsible for producing and collaborating with Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, the Creator, and The Internet. Lacy’s slappy grooves and Lenae’s springy soprano vocals make for a dream contemporary soul team. Ravyn Lenae’s full length debut will surely be one to look out for. AMR
Recommended tracks: “Sticky,” “Closer (Ode 2 U),” “The Night Song”
Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour
I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: Kacey Musgraves discovering psychedelic drugs was the best thing to happen to her career, and this album proves it. Having already painted herself as a “beauty queen dropout” of sorts on her past releases, on Golden Hour she’s discovering that there’s so much more to life to just be singing witty lyrics about weed and Dolly-Parton-esque hair. The result is shimmering and beautiful, and the likes of Gram Parsons and Neil Young would be proud. NK
Recommended tracks: “Space Cowboy,” “Slow Burn”
Ty Segall: Freedom’s Goblin
Ty Segall has remained one of my favorite artists for one sole reason; he’s so fucking weird. Known for releasing material on an almost monthly basis, his prolific list of albums and projects range from a Marc Bolan cover album, to acoustic ballads, to sinisterly ripping metal. Freedom’s Goblin finds him at his best. NK
Recommended tracks: “Every1’s a Winner,” “And, Goodnight”
Shopping: The Official Body
There are lots of ways to recreate the halcyon post-punk days of 1979-81, that magical time when band stepped into the gaping crater that appeared after the punk explosion and created a world of endless possibility. Bands have been pulling moves from Wire, Gang of Four, the Postcard label, The Cars, and so many more for years. Shopping has to be counted among the imitators, but what makes their third album (produced by Edwyn Collins, natch) so compelling is the feeling of a hard-won personality being scratched out of the mold, a genuine passion among the glorious stop-start riffing and overlapping vocal lines. Played loud enough, it’s almost like having one foot in ’79 and the other in ’18, which is no small trick to pull off. PF
Recommended tracks: “The Hype,” “Asking for a Friend,” “My Dad’s a Dancer”
Soccer Mommy: Clean
This record has already dug a deep space into the fiber of my being. Despite it only being a mere four months old, I already have sunset-tinged memories of singing, nay, screaming along to “Cool” in the car with my best friend on a spring break road trip. It encapsulates all the tenderness of “Fearless” era Taylor Swift with the attitude of Liz Phair or PJ Harvey. Sophie Allison is a shining star of the oversaturated bedroom rock scene right now. Grab your best friend, cat, dog, mom, WHOEVER, and revel in all its teeny bopper glory. AMR
Recommended tracks: “Cool,” “Your Dog,” “Last Girl,” “Skin,” “Scorpio Rising”
Sudan Archives: Sink
Born in Ohio, based in LA, violinist, singer and arranger Sudan Archives draws inspiration from north African violin players, but also heaps dollops of M.I.A.-style globalism and a pinch of homemade electronic glitch. On this, her second EP, she sings about a “Beautiful Mistake” and reaches down for roots she can feel but have long been covered over by the earth. It’s soothing, gorgeous and unfettered: the sound of a talent discovering itself. PF
Recommended tracks: “Beautiful Mistake,” “Sink,” “Nont for Sale”
Kamasi Washington: Heaven and Earth
Despite all the praise (rightly) being heaped on this sprawling double (with a bonus third disc that just recently got added to streaming services), Washington isn’t a springs-sprung genius. He’s been honing his tone, approach, stance and image for years. See his work with some guy called Kendrick Lamar and the icky Thundercat.
But really, put all that aside, and listen to the way how deeply he feels this record, how he knows where he should take his vision, how he gets there and the spine-tingling echos of Mingus. Many bonus points for just going for such an ambitious statement, which is nothing short of his take on why we are here, how we find ourselves where we do, and what we choose to do with it. PF
Recommended tracks: All of them. You must go start to finish with this one.
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