2018 has left me cold thus far. It’s not just due to the actual temperature—which has dipped below 30°F far too many times for my liking—but there’s been very few albums released this year that I’ve been legitimately excited about. Consider that in the first two months of 2018, we got great, even best-of-year-material albums from the following: The xx, Julie Byrne, Japandroids, Migos, Ty Segall, Sampha, Ryan Adams, Bing & Ruth, Dirty Projectors, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and Thundercat. Now we’re only a few days into March, and I’ve only burned four albums from 2018 into my iTunes library—and only because they were on KZSU’s A-file. (Well, we’ve got another Migos album, albeit an overstuffed and underwhelming one.) But have heart, dear reader: Though it may look like there’s been a dispiriting lack of great music, 2018 has already given us several albums that are worth checking out, and the next 10 months suggest that there could be a lot more left to come. In the first part of this two-part feature, I’ll be highlighting 10 albums that are out now that have helped make the bitter winter bearable. Give these albums a listen and you just might find a new favorite.
CupcakKe, “Ephorize” (1/5): Hip-hop’s not lacking for dick-stroking or sexual boasts, but CupcakKe’s brand of hilariously raunchy sex raps are enough to make even Danny Brown blush. She’s as nasty as she wants to be on “Ephorize,” her best and most colorful album yet. Whether she’s tackling sex- and body-positivity or LGBTQ issues, CupcakKe is as profane and profound as ever—just make sure your headphones are firmly plugged in before you press play.
Ty Segall, “Freedom’s Goblin” (1/26): The most prolific artist on this half of the list, Segall has released 11 albums since 2008. “Freedom’s Goblin” marks his longest album yet, and it’s as gloriously overstuffed as you could hope for; it’s an intoxicating brew with several flavors of rock, from psychedelic to glam to punk to garage. It’s the rare case where too much of a good thing turns out to be pretty great.
Justin Timberlake, “Man of the Woods” (2/2): Just kidding!
MGMT, “Little Dark Age” (2/9): The only thing keeping “Little Dark Age” from being called a return to form is that MGMT never really had a form to begin with. After hitting it big on their debut album with irresistible, iridescent pop tunes like “Time to Pretend” and “Kids,” MGMT fled the scene, diving into increasingly uncompromising (and unsatisfying) waters on the follow-ups. On “Little Dark Age,” they switch out ‘60s psych-pop for ‘80s synth-pop and rediscover how to write great songs in the process.
Various artists, “Black Panther: The Album” (2/9): “Black Panther” is a comic book movie through and through, but its companion album brings back memories of blaxploitation films and their funky, artist-curated soundtracks. Kendrick Lamar assembled a team of hip-hop Avengers to accompany the Wakandan superhero’s adventure, collecting Top Dawg Entertainment compatriots SZA and Jay Rock as well as South African musicians like Yugen Blakrok and Babes Wodumo. At its best, it’s as electrifying as the movie.
Car Seat Headrest, “Twin Fantasy” (2/16): Car Seat Headrest’s last album, “Teens of Denial,” was a breakout record for Will Toledo’s band, the kind of album that granted its creator the right to do whatever the hell they wanted on their next outing. Still, Toledo’s decision to re-record “Twin Fantasy”—an album he originally released on Bandcamp in 2011—came as a surprise, and a bit of a gamble. The new “Twin Fantasy” doesn’t just breathe life into old songs; it’s a reminder that Toledo is one of the best and funniest songwriters in indie rock right now.
Superchunk, “What a Time to Be Alive” (2/16): After tearing through the ‘90s with a run of unimpeachable classics, indie legends Superchunk took a much-deserved nine-year break. They’ve been slow and steady ever since, and with “What a Time to Be Alive”—their first album in five years—they take aim at the political hellscape that America has become in 2018. Superchunk may be sick and tired of being sick and tired, but they’re in fighting spirits.
U.S. Girls, “In a Poem Unlimited” (2/16): U.S. Girls, the pop project of Meg Remy, sounds like Madonna, but with the sexuality switched out in favor of righteous political indignation. Remy sings incisively about drone warfare on “M.A.H.” (“mad as hell”) and fantasizes unsettlingly about doing violence unto violent men on “Velvet 4 Sale,” two singles from her latest album, “In a Poem Unlimited.” It’s her best and most topical work yet, and we need it now more than ever.
A.A.L. (Against All Logic), “2012 – 2017” (2/17): Nicolas Jaar is perhaps the closest thing we have to a new Aphex Twin, releasing electronic music of all stripes under a variety of names. “2012 – 2017” is Jaar’s first release as A.A.L. (Against All Logic), and it’s his deepest dive into house and dance music yet. It’s also his most accessible album yet, placing funk and soul samples in the foreground and dropping beats that are meant more for your hips than your head.
Lucy Dacus, “Historian” (3/2): Lucy Dacus’ sophomore album, “Historian,” just feels right, down to its title. Dacus claimed that she sees herself as a historian before a musician or a writer, and it reflects in her lyrics, which are by turns insightful and funny and devastating. There’s never going to be a shortage of witty singer-songwriter types, but as long as we’re getting musicians as talented as Dacus, I’m not complaining.
Titus Andronicus, “A Productive Cough” (3/2): Titus Andronicus have always been far more ambitious than your average punk band; their best album is a concept album about the Civil War, and their last one was a 29-track rock opera about manic depression that ran for an hour and a half. So it’s a bit of a surprise that Titus Andronicus’ new album, “A Productive Cough,” is their most streamlined album yet, to the point where it almost drops the “punk” from “punk rock.” If you don’t believe me, check out the band’s send-up of Bob Dylan’s immortal “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Contact Jacob Nierenberg at jhn2017 ‘at’ stanford.edu.