2018: Favorite 50 Music Releases Maintenance and palliative care in the sounds of 2018

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


Click, click, click, and post. Imagine a world like that, on the blockchain, saturated in computation. Imagine archived conversations rendering half-correctly. Imagine changing history, and therefore reality, by Photoshopping an image. Imagine missing the next bull run. Imagine getting sick, and then letting toxic chemicals show you how not to feel. Imagine caring for that person. Imagine your data getting leaked, then imagine a robot, built only to suffer, bleeding on you. Imagine being in a kiosk, as hidden software scans your face to file away. Imagine dismissing art because of your political identity, then imagine compiling a year-end list before hearing Caution and Some Rap Songs. Imagine swerving randomly within a probabilistic framework, on this pale blue dot, this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

It’s the end of 2018, and everything feels like maintenance — mending physical and metaphorical wounds, patching relationships for a semblance of continuity, tying loose ends that never actually end. Even our music was a palliative means of upkeep, complementing our transmutation and individuation (Sheck Wes), validating our disassociation and anxiety (Fire-Toolz), reinforcing our generosity and desire (serpentwithfeet). Through forgotten memories of the past (Simple Affections), the noxious ambiance of the now (Playboi Carti), and a reimagined hyper-technological future (Seth Graham), the music of 2018 found us aching while also feeling joy (Yves Tumor, Charli XCX), grieving while also experiencing catharsis (Mount Eerie, Shygirl). Its reach extended beyond our encoded gestures (Eartheater) and burrowed deeper than skin and skeleton (SOPHIE), to where we could confront our own minds (Kanye West), hear our own pulsations (Elysia Crampton), and re-feel the warmth in our hearts (Perfume).

We needed this maintenance because we needed healing, and we needed healing because we needed resolution, and we needed resolution because we can only give and take so much. Maintenance, after all, is intimately tied to preservation, to self-care (RIP), to livelihood. But through the emergence of lattice-based crypotography and deep fakes, neural networks and image synthesis, through the possibilities of metallic hydrogen and the decentralizing promises of new consensus mechanisms, what does maintenance even mean nowadays, and who or what are we maintaining? Which people? Which political systems? Which networks? More specifically to our concerns, what should we build if not new musical worlds? How can we assert control over our creativity? What can we learn from the crisis of the individual? How will we know when we’ve been loved?

Extraordinary things never happen. Then again, perhaps they always do. 2018 is coming to a close, and that’s all I can think about.

Huge thanks to all of you readers for supporting the site. We <3 and appreciate you all.


50

Sheck Wes

MUDBOY

[Cactus Jack/G.O.O.D. Music/Interscope]

[WATCH · READ]

Given the expectations and build-up for it, MUDBOY’s greatest triumph was surprisingly subtle. What held these tracks together and pushed them forward, beyond a massive single, was hidden in the engine room, so to speak. Sheck Wes’s supremely refined style didn’t rely on flashy hooks or production clutches, but on the way his personality and flow merged with the beats. On how Wes’s energetic rapping collided with an often mechanic production, then splintered to be enveloped by a multi-faceted flow that worked for both tension and introspection. A complex combination that gelled only because it rested on a personality that could sell it all, turning what looked like simple tracks in terms of structure and text into paradoxical artifacts of unceasing transmutation and individuation. Dispatches from a cauldron boiling with young lives that refused simplification. In sum, a testament to the forces that have shaped the “diamonds in the rough” that Wes rapped about, forming but not restricting the mudboy who in this album emerged ready for glory.


49

Satoshi Nakamoto

dOPENet [NYPD Records Volume 2]

[NYPD]

[LISTEN · READ]

It’s 2038. The internet has become one huge TCP/IP error after a massive solar storm, and the US government has collapsed after President Bill Gates’s disastrous bet on Ethereum Classic. Elon Musk is dead, Bitcoin is worth $2 million a piece, and survivors of the plague of 2035 buy recycled water, bootleg opioids, and exoskeletal gruel for Satoshi subunits exchanged on hard wallets. Everywhere rats and filth, rot and ruin, teenage gangs roaming the streets screaming out Mobb Deep lyrics. Setting up in the dank recesses of what was once New York Penn Station, Beat Detectives plug in their Mirage DSK sampling keyboard and Polysix synth, beaming their warped, psychedelic dub out into the great expanse with old military-grade satellite tech. Then, the whole world becomes Bushwick, becomes dreams of blunts and $1 slices, dreams of the Empire State ca. 1994, “Sabotage” on repeat, the 7 train to Flushing pulsing with activity. But wait. Has any of this actually happened, or am I just listening to Satoshi Nakamoto’s dOPENet?


48

Amen Dunes

Freedom

[Sacred Bones]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

“I couldn’t reconcile my pop self and my more experimental self.” This is what Damon McMahon earnestly admitted to me five years ago in an interview. At the time, he was coming off of Through Donkey Jaw and into Spoiler, an album he released via his own label. McMahon was still in an honest hunt for his musical identity, turning headlong into his pop self via 2014’s Love to equally mixed results. This was not the case with Freedom, the exuberant and yet haunting piece of pop-art McMahon seemed to be chasing half a decade ago. The lyrics came from McMahon’s grimdark fantasy world, where every action has a dark consequence. Yet the melodies of Freedom were doves in flight, tugging against an oppressive leash to break free from and fly toward an incandescent sun. McMahon was no longer spitefully obscuring one eye to pick the sights of the other. Although the earthen pull will keep his flesh tied to rock and mud, his spirit will always keep a watchful eye toward the heavens.


47

JPEGMAFIA

Veteran

[Deathbomb Arc]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

The video for “1539 N. Calvert” opened with figures lost in the ecstasy of dance. As the song concluded, JPEGMAFIA’s Veteran transitioned to spastic drumming dragged along by ODB’s voice. The juxtaposition of these moments served as an incisive critique of experimental and DIY cultures. In the video, the camera focused on the diverse people who occupied the closed Bell Foundry DIY space, showing the life-sustaining force of inclusive DIY spaces, while Veteran further complicated DIY’s underlying appeal to inclusiveness and gentrifying tendencies through an expansive sonic palette and uncompromising lyrics. Here, Peggy darted from digital droll provocations on “My Thoughts on Neogaf Dying,” to the wretched-apart soundscapes of “Williamsburg’s” landscapes, to the blood-spattering finale, “Curb Stomp.” While the “Calvert” video illustrated the existing possibility of an inclusive DIY, Veteran heightened the urgency to create such spaces; Peggy denied the thinly veiled racism of appealing to experimental DIY preservation by underscoring the always already experimentalism of t/rap. Indeed, Veteran challenged rap during one of its most aggressive eras to engage with the sounds of DIY experimental music. Now, DIY must engage with its lack of hip-hop to move beyond liberal inclusion and toward radical openness.


46

GAS

Rausch

[Kompakt]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

Rausch, the latest, immersive album by Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS project, was designed to carry us along for a full hour, lost in the sweep and direction of the music. Absorbing our surroundings and feeding it back to us in musical form, Rausch was like a float along a river, the steady current carrying our rickety craft downstream into parts unknown. But while the surroundings were beautiful — lush, inviting, and full — everything else about the journey was unsettling. The landscape seemed to breathe with unseen creatures, and it sounded like the rumble of an animal herd or a group of attackers was always just out of view, forever approaching from a distance. That neither seemed to fully materialize only increased the anxiety, with even the destination a complete mystery. But there was no turning back. We were all on this terrifying ride together, at the mercy of forces beyond our control, and the only way was through it.


45

Parquet Courts

Wide Awake!

[Rough Trade]

[WATCH · READ]

On their sixth studio album Wide Awake!, garage punk philosophes Parquet Courts found an unlikely collaborator in Danger Mouse and delivered a biting treatise on how infuriatingly weird it is to be human in 2018. This was the album where existential dread meant feeling numb about death. Where feeding your cat was a moral imperative. Where communitarianism meant telling Tom Brady to fuck off. Hard-ass grooves went toe to toe against propulsive punk stampedes, pummeling our bodies with rhythm while lyricists Austin Brown and Andrew Savage prodded our brains with an uncanny fusion of high-minded metaphysics and light-speed melody. (No rock group has the right to make the line “Passion dissipates when it’s fastened to the faces we wear only to become them” as catchy as it sounded on “Extinction”). Wide Awake!’s songs were funkier and more dance-oriented than the ones from Parquet Courts’ past records, but what ultimately shone through on this album was the ire of a band with nothing left but an axe to grind and a shit attitude.


44

Jeff Witscher

Approximately 1,000 Beers

[Salon]

[LISTEN · READ]

In case you didn’t catch it due to the transcriptions rendered and manipulated to the point of borderline incomprehensibility, Jeff Witscher “drank approximately 1,000 beers in three days,” and listeners were left stumbling and wondering about the songs permeating the airwaves in America’s oft-lauded heartland. Those tunes are frequently the butt of coastal jokes due to the unusual fondness that some country musicians have toward terrible beerpiss and workhorse pickup trucks, but on this album, Witscher deconstructed to such an extent that satire just couldn’t have been the conclusion. Tracks like “Math Calculation” musically contradicted the stated theme almost entirely, while the inclusion of lines delivered in English accents (courtesy of naturalreaders.com) seemed more the result of Witscher’s spontaneous approach than a commitment to a particular style or message. Neighs and actual country music were matched by a seemingly equal percentage of gosh darn weirdness. The final swig of a coach’s outburst arrived nonsensically, yet not without appreciation for its pro baseball origin. 1,000 Beers was ultimately “yee-wha?” delivered in a concise four-pack.


43

Hermit and the Recluse

Orpheus vs. The Sirens

[Obol for Charon]

[WATCH · READ]

In a 2016 interview with Red Bull Music Academy, the bard of Brownsville described his art as “pain in the spoken form.” When asked about musicians he had been listening to, Ka, now working as the duo Hermit and the Recluse with L.A.-based producer Animoss, cited FKA twigs, Frank Ocean, and James Blake before any rappers. Each of these songwriters is acclaimed for a progressive use of the human voice that rekindles a vulnerability that our well-worn forms fail to express. Praise for Ka often spotlights his lyrical savvy at the expense of his “affectless” delivery or “minimalist” take on 90s hip-hop. The terms of discourse regard him as a quaint relic without addressing why his work is so affecting in the present day. Who else could summon Greek mythology to signify a reclamation of fate and avoid sounding gimmicky? How many loops ring out with such an unassuming yet stately drama? And what voice, what scarred, resolute, heartening voice could speak to life a loss that no perfectly clever internal rhyme could relinquish? For now and “for the life of our seeds,” this burrowed deeper.


42

Matthew Revert / Vanessa Rossetto

Everyone Needs A Plan

[Erstwhile]

[WATCH · READ]

I feel so… What’s the word? Trying to remember. I can sense it, the peak of meaning. On the tip of my icy white tongue. Should be easy. But there’s so much more to a word, ain’t there? Its real size is deceiving. Its foundations lay deep. Words are familiar music. Brief yet powerful. With repetition, inflection, order, and context, they do many things, in many ways. And timing… well, that’s everything. Wait. Wait. Wait. Words hold familiar feelings. I heard, in Revert and Rossetto’s gentle grain: sarcasm, pride, embarrassment. Sometimes nothing at all. No opinion. Blank. These expert speakers effortlessly conveyed a music just shy of sense. Not a story, per se. Starts of sentences, mood buoys. A social intravenous drip. Doesn’t matter, anyway. Sense finds a place, rushes in. Melts the gold. Strokes the brain. An hour and 15 minutes of little empathetic gains. Where’d I put that damn word? In what dark data does it lay? Search my mind. Where’s it hiding this time? Which memory, like a door, to try again and again? Memory refreshes, never looks the same. Meaning shifts and cracks in twain with age. This instrument I am born with. Use it to make beautiful the plain. Everyone yadda yadda.


41

Delroy Edwards

Rio Grande

[L.A. Club Resource]

[LISTEN · READ]

Delroy Edwards discovered his lo-fi sound in 2016 with Hangin’ at the Beach, a collection of 30 tracks that marked the beginning of a prolific period that continued in 2018. This year, Edwards released a whopping three records: two solo efforts and a collaboration with Dean Blunt. The first of the three to arrive was Rio Grande, another 22 disintegrated tracks developing Beach’s sketches into complete visions while ramping up its funky and playful possibilities, tape hiss and all. Major-key piano lines abounded throughout, echoing Edwards’s relentless California positivity. “Time Out” was a throbbing example of desaturated synths, murky bass lines, and flanged percussion. “The Hawaii Guys” nodded to Miami (despite its title), while “Take Me How I Am” was a warped rethinking of acid. And who could deny the bass on “Smooth Street” or the melody on “Knock Em Out?” Bedroom producers everywhere, take note: hypercompression and sidechaining aren’t the only games in town.

40

Perfume

Future Pop

[Universal J/Perfume]

[WATCH · READ]

What does it say about our current condition when our pain, our vitriol, our crushing sadness found cushion in such meticulously crafted, sparkling pop that it almost hurt to listen to it? Perfume’s Future Pop was, in the end, as much about the future of pop as the geography of J-pop. Our latent ethnocentric desires were challenged by a hybrid pop form (is there any other kind?) that didn’t exist to placate J-pop essentialists or play into Western identity constructs; its aims were transparently, transcendently global. Producer Yasutaka Nakata outdid himself on this stage, not only by releasing three incredibl(e/y underrated) projects this year, but also by keeping Perfume on their toes nearly two decades after forming. Equally special was that the trio of A~Chan, Kashiyuka, and Nocchi entrusted Nakata to materialize such a vision, even as they were pushed further away from their tried-and-true technopop roots and toward something less defined, less quintessentially “Japan.” And it was exactly what we needed: these melodies were too exquisite, these harmonies too sweet, these rhythms too eternal for Future Pop to exist as anything but a balm, its glow, its loving thrust healing our hearts in ways I had thought no longer possible.


39

U.S. Girls

In A Poem Unlimited

[4AD]

[WATCH · READ]

It took the world long enough to catch up to what Meg Remy has been throwing around since the early 2000s, but U.S. Girls firmly stuck the landing in 2018. Granted, her 2015 effort Half Free did earn well-deserved Juno and Polaris Prize nominations, but In A Poem Unlimited went larger, tapping into a global conversation that the general population wasn’t quite ready for on previous releases. Her sixth full-length album and second for 4AD grounded her symbolic lyrical imagery in profound #MeToo-era insights, consistent with the political, anti-patriarchal style she’d shown throughout her career, though one could argue she projected more confidence and a clearer vision than ever before. In A Poem Unlimited was certainly a new height musically. Working with the galactic funk octet known as the Cosmic Range, one of her partner Max “Slim Twig” Turnbull’s many outlets, the hi-fidelity sound embraced blended modes of industrial-disco, psychedelic funk, and indie pop with a hip-hop attitude, amalgamating as much influence from Gwen McRae and Andrea True Connection as Madlib and Ghostface Killah into something way more out there than any of them, and feeling like a loving slap to the psyche. If you ain’t already woke, this will wake you.


38

Roc Marciano

Behold a Dark Horse

[Marci Enterprises]

[WATCH · READ]

Roc Marciano was as sensory on Behold A Dark Horse as he’d ever been. Colors were popping in exquisite hues, his sneakers pictorial, the scenery breathable. Details and wordplay turned so quickly throughout that they were easy to overlook. Passive listening material this was not. This was meant for concentration. His meter and syntax rivaled any active MC, both acting as his greatest assets and splitting attention with deft purpose. But that’s not to shit on his beat choices (mainly his own production). Each track worked as a mixture of spices for his flow, heightening and accenting his lingual skill the way body language does in deep conversation. His most complete release to date, Behold A Dark Horse possessed an air of refinement so laced with ease that it could sneak by untraced. Don’t fall for this. Marciano skipped on the check in the end, but the meal was worth it.


37

Beach House

7

[Sub Pop]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

This game I play
I do it every day
I promise I’ll be fine
Bear it every time

What does it take to change? That’s a hard question with no definitive answer. I still struggle with that. But I mean, you and I know that we have to change at some point. Shit is pretty fucked, and everyone’s turned in on themselves. That’s the worst of it. You have to endure, you know? Become something more than what you’ve been all these years through painful evolution. Only way you become better.

Outside looking in
Mirrors once again
Nothing left to say
Tomorrow’s gone today

I can’t deal with these people anymore. My friends, loved ones, family — they all scare me now. Why do they need to feel special, to feel important? Been hurt enough to know their ambition — to be special — is just masturbating with a target on your back while taking a selfie. Not even a sext, just a selfie. What the hell happened to everyone? We have to change. We can’t end up like these dumb shits. Gotta break this mirror. It’s no good to us.


36

Teyana Taylor

K.T.S.E.

[G.O.O.D. Music]

[LISTEN · READ]

She’s got an album, but she ain’t got no manners. Just like in life, Teyana Taylor might not exactly follow the industry’s prescribed set of rules and expectations, yet she still comes out on top. Arriving four years after the singer’s debut studio album, and with no visuals to promote it, this final installment of the five-album G.O.O.D. Music rollout was a playground for subtle convention-breaking. K.T.S.E. cut across more than a handful of styles, vibes, and lyrical themes at a seriously breakneck pace. But it still worked remarkably well as a whole, not just because of Taylor’s prodigiously dexterous voice or the abundance of some of the choicest samples we’d heard from Kanye in years, but also due to the fundamental appeal of the album’s biggest contradiction: its modern, empowering message set against a largely anachronistic production. If you can use your singing to tie together a Mykki Blanco feature and a Delfonics hook, then you’re truly not your average showgirl.


35

Seth Graham

Gasp

[Orange Milk]

[LISTEN · READ]

The great, humorous paradox of Seth Graham’s 2018 album Gasp was that, despite its titular evocation of breathing in oxygen, the record itself contained very few moments recalling organic life. Sure, there were snippets of human voices and acoustic instruments, but they sounded processed, plastic, filtered through a multi-colored indoor McDonald’s playground then rebroadcast at the bottom of the ball-pit in hi-def. Instead of buying into any tired false dichotomy pitting “reality” and “the virtual/technological” against one another, Graham blurred the lines, laughed in the face of The Matrix, and veered instead toward the world of Flubber and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, where technology is the punchline instead of the harbinger of doom. In 2018, works like Gasp became vital in emphasizing the relative absurdity and weirdness of illustrating the future with brushstrokes of doom and technological apoplexy. Just so, Seth Graham’s playful, discursive, cartoonish musical takes made us reshape our conception(s) of not only music and its consumption, but also the baffling cultural/technological moment(s) of 2018: to reimagine our hyper-technological future with nuance and flippancy, as something not necessarily good or bad, but definitely strange and unexplored. Using the same raw materials so often used to create post-apocalyptic, nightmarish hellscapes á la Black Mirror, Graham demonstrated the possibility that we might already exist in a post-apocalyptic society, and that maybe it isn’t so dark after all — just complex, absurd, and hilarious.


34

Sarah Davachi

Let Night Come On Bells End The Day

[Recital]

[LISTEN · READ]

I don’t doubt that there were otherworldly undertones detectable in the way Let Night Come On Bells End The Day’s serenely unfolded or in the album’s allusions to early music. But Sarah Davachi’s attention to the idiosyncrasies of the instruments themselves — layers of organs, synthesizers, piano — to their subtle flaws (I’d like to say their humanity, but that would be doing their role here a disfavor when it’s so hard to say how much of our own state is worthy of celebration) as a source of minor contingencies kept the album grounded in something quietly mechanical, composed of small material parts, noticeable only in the minute traces of their effects. And I don’t know if all or any music aspires to timelessness or if timelessness has to take on beatific qualities — or really what it might even mean. But Let Night Come On led me to feel that if one were to find it here, it would be just as much as the breadth of the historical reference as in the peculiar suggestion of very specific times and incidents: to be able to feel, in listening, that only here might there be something beyond the vanity of human wishes.


33

Laurel Halo

Raw Silk Uncut Wood

[Latency]

[LISTEN · READ]

Raw Silk Uncut Wood was a record to sit with, move with, take in, listen to. Soft organ lines drifted through the sounds of artificial bird calls; roomy percussion echoed from various directions. It was like a blank slate, a mirror to peer into. While Laurel Halo’s brand of experimentalism is deeply rooted in her past work as an improvisational musician and college DJ — both of which require special attention and sensitivity to flow — she always seems to move deeper into the fog, even when drifting seamlessly between styles. On this record, that fog completely enveloped her typical knotty percussion. After years of crafting head-scratching dub and truly innovative tracks, Raw Silk Uncut Wood felt like Halo’s most unpredictable, left-field release yet: a simple collection of sounds strung together over a series of rainy days.


32

Armand Hammer

Paraffin

[Backwoodz Studioz/PTP]

[LISTEN · READ]

What is paraffin? It’s essentially kerosene, but highly refined and distilled. In another form, some quack doctor might pop it down your throat to clear your jacked intestines. Some of us spread it on our skin to beautify, others use it to make apples and peppers shine camera-ready for ad spots. But what was Paraffin? God help me, I still don’t know. An overwhelming and enveloping hip-hop document? An entire world built on top of our own world? Billy Woods and Elucid, both at the top of their games, setting fire, siphoning out the shit, and shining white-hot highbeams as everything oxidized? Paraffin, in any case, was otherworldly: its beats were overwhelming and its verses stuffed with imagery that unpacked in different ways depending on the time of day, all of it bleak but not hopeless, even if just barely. Or maybe I’m projecting. One thing I do know is that Paraffin was as precise a response to the present-day’s clusterfuck as any of us could want, because, diaphanous and waxy, it melted just so, rendering everything glistening and flammable.


31

Rosalía

El mal querer

[Sony Music]

[WATCH · READ]

Rosalía’s El mal querer was a near-perfect marriage of 250-year-old musical tradition to both sonic experimentalism and pop accessibility. It largely strayed away from the nylon-string guitar that forms flamenco’s backbone while retaining its virtuosic singing and handclaps (palmas). The latter formed the busy yet spartan rhythmic foundation for much of the album, connecting the dots between the elegant, dramatic, and highly codified form of flamenco and, like, jump rope chants, festival-ready bangers, and nostalgia for good Justin Timberlake albums. It’s worth drawing comparison between El mal querer and the work of another Spanish artist, Niño de Elche, who similarly combined flamenco with modern sounds (this is a gross understatement; you should listen to the thing) in his Antología del Cante Flamenco Heterodoxo. The two albums approached the project with opposite ends in mind: Niño’s album was a near two-hour slab of often pointedly disorienting experimentation, while El mal querer, at one-third the length, was an idiosyncratic listen that corralled its complexities into accessible shapes. Both spoke to new possibilities in an old musical language.

30

Klein

cc

[Self-Released]

[LISTEN · READ]

In considering “experimental” music, the temptation to analyze it until it’s reduced to a hollow, formulaic pulp abounds. I became particularly self-conscious of this internalized desire as Diamond Stingily spoke on the EP’s first track, “collect”: “when i was a kid, i told my mom to bury me with a shovel and she asked if i was gonna come back and i said yeah i’ll come back.” The short poem served as the perfect preambular corollary to cc, which so masterfully suspended the listener in Klein’s world. The EP, like Stingily’s poem, was less a narrative representation than something abundantly there. Klein described cc as a “come-of-age record about myself to myself,” an interconnected series of feelings, memories, nostalgia, and longing — a fairytale firmly grounded in the self. While the EP evoked darkness with whirling soundscapes, dissonant loops, and warped vocals, it appeared alongside levity and respite. Building off of the Disney-esque narrative of self brilliantly illustrated in Nick James Scavo’s review, I’d say that there were as many princesses as there were dragons here. As I listened, I learned to eschew my “critical gaze” and replace it with a tender, reverent, and more passive observation of Klein’s “transversal, multiplicitous sound” (as Scavo put it), treating the EP less as an abstract exploration for analysis rather than a diary with scrawled, sometimes illegible handwriting. Klein’s cc was an intimate portrait of the individual, and thankfully, she was kind enough to let us in.


29

DJ Healer / Prime Minister of Doom

Nothing 2 Loose / Mudshadow Propaganda

[All Possible Worlds/Planet Uterus]

[LISTEN · READ]

The club is an eternal paradise. A social de-construct, now thankfully re-constructed. That’s God’s creation. It’s absolutely amazing to look at it.

=======☁️=☁️=☁️=======

The Torah describes God’s fashioning the firmament on the second day of creation, but what of the beat? The Earth? The mud?

================

Hell is other people, and also yourself sometimes. Hell is context, and hell is expectation. Hell is a press release. The Prince of Denmark is in Hell, along with many other known aliases of the artist most often called Traumprinz.

================

In another world, however, one of the many possible, DJ Healer is free.

=======☁️=☁️=☁️=======


28

Fire-Toolz

Skinless X-1

[Hausu Mountain]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

Anxiety is ever-present, but disassociation is the up-and-comer. Fire-Toolz knows this, her music taking the form of the onset of a severe dissociative episode where everything is crystalline, in focus, tingling, and hyper-aware at the moment they begin to recede, the whole lost to myriad parts. Skinless X-1 was as myriad and as online and amygdala-hyperlinked as anything you’d say sounds like right now, with screamo ambient soundscapes, cascading MIDI melodic runs and trap drums, clean pulses, digital p(l)unks + trance anthems, but Fire-Toolz didn’t re-simulate so much as she crafted mental processes, dragging the conscious into that crease between body and no-body, self and no-self, identity and escape. Dissociation is a tactic of escape, of freedom, even if it hurts. Better this than ketamine or traumatic flashbacks, but you could also just combine them. Fire-Toolz turned the most contemporary affliction into a new kind of possibility, injecting it with hope.


27

Simple Affections

Simple Affections

[Recital]

[WATCH · READ]

Spinoza describes the love of God in which beatitude consists as a detachment of affections from the thought of the outside. Seeing them “in themselves,” which, in all simplicity, is “in itself.” This sort of forgetting is facile to Sean McCann. He forgets form so as to forge it. The home recordings of his friends assembled here — yaws, yeeowing, many yawns, whistles, yells, a “floppy harp,” “plastic,” “flappy,” and “peeling” rain, a few yodels, clarinets, vibraphones, and all sorts of shadows — were transposed to fit some Bach chorale (probably), a tuned-down Scriabin prelude, and Saint-Saëns’s dream of church-bells. These memories became music the moment they were forgotten. “Like a curtain blowing in a mediterranean sunset,” as McCann describes the saxophone in the program notes. “Lots of little things,” he says, “I can’t remember.” Yet Simple Affections might’ve been the least musical record of the year. Precisely why we found it so charming. A musical periphrasis. Each moment a pinnacle. To found sound. “A light light way to soar away.” clack cleek woop bow blasé brushing eeh blob oh something eh brushes ooo my oh cheek “…plunging, plunging.”


26

The Caretaker

Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 4

[History Always Favours The Winners]

[LISTEN · READ]

In 2018, Everywhere at the End of Time, The Caretaker’s unfolding concept album concerned with dementia and its accompanying symptoms, entered its second half with April’s Stage 4. While the first three stages contained short, melancholic, lilting edits of gently disintegrating ballroom music, Stage 4 was a rather radical departure from previous installments, the moment when we could really start to sense confusion. The album’s four lengthy pieces (three of which are titled “Post Awareness Confusions”) were filled with fragments of memories and momentary glimpses of past stages, but melancholy was slowly replaced with horror, clarity with disorientation. Anyone familiar with the first few stages of Everywhere at the End of Time started to feel uncomfortable at Stage 4, as grainy noise concealed sweet melodies and calming sounds were warped beyond recognition. But while Stage 4 was definitely an anxious and terrifying listen, it also carried an air of inevitability: this was the diagnosis all along.


25

Tierra Whack

Whack World

[Self-Released]

[WATCH · READ]

A practical exercise concerning Whack World: gather a group of people — friends or strangers. Arrange them in a circle. Starting with you, whisper to the person on your right a short story about someone you look up to. Then have that person whisper it to the person to their right, and continue around the circle. No repeats. When it gets back to you, say aloud your original story and then say what was whispered to you. Repeat the process with stories about your childhood pets, your best friends, your favorite foods. Then do it with stories about what makes you feel strong, makes you feel scared, makes you feel frustrated. Let other people lead with their own stories. Be transparent. Play. People will laugh, and they will frown. They will feel tension between the comedic manipulations and your honest experiences. This game is brief. Don’t worry, brevity is the spice of life. For your final minutes, listen to Whack World in its entirety, then reflect as a group on social storytelling. How did this process affect your fears? How did this process affect your sense of self? Leave the room changed.


24

Eartheater

IRISIRI

[PAN]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

When we interviewed her in June, Alexandra Drewchin described how growing up with dyslexia and testing anxiety affected her performance practice as Eartheater: “I feel like I’m much more comfortable speaking with movement than I am sometimes even just speaking with words.” On one hand, IRISIRI is like a dance. Drewchin’s lyrics were sung, rapped, spoken, whined, and wheezed, but her voice didn’t do any of those things as much as it glanced, glared, galloped, and languished. There was an unusual, and sometimes unsettling, feeling of encoded bodily presentation. On the other hand, dance is sometimes associated with a kind of transparency, a sense in which movement communicates free of the obfuscatory properties of language, expressing narrative and emotion without making itself available to misinterpretation or the accusation of dishonesty. IRISIRI wasn’t that kind of dance; it was, in Drewchin’s words, “drenched in encryption.” That doesn’t mean that it was esoteric, but rather that it combined readable gestures into something unreadable. The lyrics mostly smacked of free association or uncalculated interjection. “Inclined” sounded like a freestyle, while “Trespasses” saw words fall away entirely into affect. At once casual, playful, virtuosic, and moody, IRISIRI was stylistically and emotionally opaque. Even in those few moments when it seemed illuminated, like on gorgeous overture “Peripheral,” Drewchin herself remained in the dark. The final lyric was repeated in text-to-speech monotone: “You can’t compute her. You can’t compute her.”


23

Kanye West

ye

[G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam]

[WATCH · READ]

I know. The very inclusion of ye, and of its monstrous creator, on this list could scan as a divisive call for these atomizing times. I can’t even confidently speak of “we,” as in the broad church of TMT, to accurately justify its position here (unless, of course, to say that “we” were thoroughly split on the matter). Somehow, though, and in spite of the kernel of utter disunity, the cold, solipsistic distance, that lay central to his most shaky-ass year, Kanye West was aufgehoben in ye. It did help that he tried on numerous palettes, moods, and sonics within that succinct Wyoming format, for sure. But, ultimately, ye was the sound of Reckoning, of Kanye coming to terms with being Kanye. This wasn’t a road to redemption. In fact, it barely paid any service to a year’s worth of controversy and headlines. It was Kanye, through it all, at ease with himself and the world. And in this shit year, in this shit world, it helped: hearing Kanye at his least guarded in years helped; singing along with the refrain of “No Mistake,” not to mention “Ghost Town’s” anthemic coda, helped. It was heartening that, in 2018, Kanye embodied lux in tenebris, with a vision of healing that was so desperately needed by so many.


22

RP Boo

I’ll Tell You What!

[Planet Mu]

[LISTEN · READ]

Electronic music fads have recently been leaning toward greater aggression and panache, with deconstructed club music exploding the boundaries of dance and many of the year’s notable records scored to overtly vain lyrical themes. Upward trends of bombast are reclaiming discourse on the aesthetics of worth, but sometimes bombast rings hollow. RP Boo’s mid-career debut album was the antidote to these trends, intermittently deploying footwork rhythms with unmatched swagger, then “unmasking” the fraught persona hidden behind the outward bluster. Beat music is about showing off your dance, so a footwork record as dark as I’ll Tell You What! — driven frequently by sparsely rhythmic, scarcely jiving arrangements — is more than purely unnerving; it’s almost oxymoronic. But RP Boo was creating spacious environments that left room to discursively magnify not only the dance, but also the dancer; transforming, at the same time, characteristically “public” music into an unanticipated opportunity for private reflection and critique of the more broadly cultural. By cutting through the bombast and bluster with subtlety to welcome rich interpretation, RP Boo incisively explored questions of authenticity and vulnerability with rare elegance — and resonance to keep us coming back long after the spotlights have gone out.


21

Tim Hecker

Konoyo

[Kranky]

[LISTEN · READ]

Tim Hecker’s music has always kind of traversed two poles: big, monolithic sounds that congeal in dense ways and orchestrated songs that feel pulled apart, deconstructed, airy, open. In the former category, we have earlier and now classic albums like Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again, Harmony in Ultraviolet, and Ravedeath, 1972. In the latter, there’s the stuff ushered in by Love Streams, a transcendent work full of hazy voices, sparkling drones, and smart counterpoint. Konoyo almost felt like the beginning of a third chapter in Hecker’s career, one drawn from all of his previous ideas, a fantastic hybrid of dark moods and shiny sounds. On this album, Hecker worked with Tokyo Gakuso, who are among the few torchbearers of Gagaku, an ancient style of Japanese serious music. As a result, Konoyo was Hecker’s most sprawling and historically defined work, one that felt like the push and pull of a magnetic conversation. This wasn’t something his music ever lacked, but it was certainly something that felt right for Konoyo, where tracks like “This Life” and “Keyed Out” bubbled and surged with the contained, chaotic energy that Hecker continues to summon and corral.

20

serpentwithfeet

soil

[Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

On his debut album, Josiah Wise divulged his deepest desires and projected his most profound observations through a series of stories that dissected the intricate distinctions within human relationships. soil played on experiences that vary from the discontent to the depraved, creating an impassioned journey through the eyes of people laid bare — subjects who are bound together and pulled apart within their brazenly complex musical structures. Wise plucked from the deepest depths of soul, gospel, and R&B while allowing his beautiful voice to thrust, swell, flutter, and swirl across a series of insatiable melodies. The impact was generous in its precision and dignified in its composition; it brought optimism where there was doubt, pain where there was ambivalence, and joy where there was suffering. As well as producing some of the most uniquely crafted songs of the year, Wise fudged obscure sensations with profound descriptions of character, fusing acts of generosity with feelings of desire. He confided in us, trusted us, and made us feel wildly alive.


19

Amnesia Scanner

Another Life

[PAN]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

AS begins an adverb subordinate clause. it hAS a subject and a verb, but does not complete a thought – for now, we hear through A Scanner darkly; but then ear to oracle, which intones: ‘something something deconstructed something something cyber something something continental theory jargon.’ artists will serve you AS an avant-garde. *inaudible screeching* *ugly-ASs arpeggios*: ASMR – sounds that feel bad. but to be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand scanner memes for amnesiac teens… and yes, by the way, i do have a wierd incomprehensible tattoo that kinda looks like A Slightly scary meme. this hAS been an album about people who were punished entirely too little for what they did. and now we know we know in part; but then will we know even AS also we are known?


18

Mitski

Be The Cowboy

[Dead Oceans]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

“How many stars will I need to hang around me, before I call it heaven?” pondered Mitski, earnestly, as the intense rapture of “Remember My Name” enveloped her. With a fifth full-length under her belt, Mitski cemented her expertise in self-analysis via an omnivorous usage of musical styles, each a palate cleanser for the devastating truths to come her way. The majesty of Be The Cowboy was no mere solipsism though; the audience’s watchful gaze was as much a character as Mitski herself, riding shotgun, fielding her confrontational questions and caustic offerings of small talk. There was a certain theatricality like never before; the fanfare of “A Pearl” and the indelible disco swagger of “Nobody” positioned her musings with newfound clarity, while the wide-open spaces of “Come Into The Water” and “Two Slow Dancers” birthed a bittersweet landscape constructed not with the rocks and soil of Western frontiers, but the fossilized remains of difficult relationships, self-doubt, and the perils of finding love in isolation. For the cowboy that Mitski is, or rather, wants us to be, these uncharted territories were far more jagged and crushingly gorgeous than any real-life heartland could ever be.


17

Barrio Sur

बड़ा शोक (heart break)

[Self-Releasedl]

[LISTEN · READ]

You know those VH1 Classic Albums shows in which they sit us down at the album’s original mixing board and isolate certain tracks so we can hear how it all came together? About every other song on बड़ा शोक (heart break) played as if Fred Warmsley III (a.k.a. Barrio Sur a.k.a. Dedekind Cut f.k.a. Lee Bannon) had been granted an all-access pass to some garage rock label’s in-house mixing console, through which he was able to isolate, sample and remix lost vocal and instrumental tracks. The result was something akin to dub, with trace elements of the “source material” lingering ethereally like ghosts in the machine. The other half of बड़ा शोक (heart break), composed of drone and ambient compositions, functioned almost like a baseline representation or expression of the very machine through which the rock vocals and instruments were processed. Taken together, the album played like an imaginary (Bollywood?) film’s combined score and soundtrack, its diegetic and non-diegetic sounds in continued (bilingual?) dialogue with one another. That many of the actual “sources” of these sounds, as well as the degree of involvement of some of the cited contributors, remained shrouded in mystery lent the album yet another layer of intrigue and angle for dissection. On a personal note, I first heard Warmsley on Chuuwee and Lee Bannon’s Hot N’ Ready back in 2010, and though little of his Dedekind Cut material has connected for me in the way that mixtape did, बड़ा शोक (heart break) shattered any expectations or preconceptions I might’ve had about the artist and his evolution to date. This was not simply growth; it was more a rebirth.


16

Playboi Carti

Die Lit

[Interscope]

[WATCH · READ]

Hitting with the supercharged fizz of a dirty McDonald’s Sprite, Die Lit tickled and pittered, slapped and purred, bubbly with its brawn. And we chugged it, its carbonation an antidote to the dyspepsia of the noxious ambiance of the now. If I’m belaboring a metaphor of aeration here, it’s because we heard it: in the shards of Megan James’s airy voice that Pi’erre Bourne sliced and sewed up on “Fell in Luv,” in the slurp and stir of ice against styrofoam on “Mileage,” in the pipe organ pneumatics of “Home (KOD).” Like a rap game Steve Reich, Carti torqued the shackle of the loop with squirming ad libs, spurts of burble and blurb and bic. Inhalation and exhalation suffused Die Lit with a blaring buoyancy, figuring breath, sound, and iteration as the ecstatic matter of a life that matters.


15

Bamba Pana

Poaa

[Nyege Nyege Tapes]

[LISTEN · READ]

Poaa sounded like time-travel. On this riotous assembly of diaphanous treble and torquing bass, Bamba Pana made sound into an elastic material, a thing to be dilated and truncated: hypercondensed melodies sheared into ultrafast drums; weightlessness achieved through deathless speed; “absolute breakdown imminent […] sown together by the vitality of constant change.” This music, the splayed intricacies of its construction — its layers upon layers of melody, drum, and bass — exploded through speakers, gouged its way onto dancefloors and into brains. And it was a joy, a joy to have felt it stretching its legs, to have watched it find new ways to occupy space (the quasi-kuduro of “Kusini,” the maelstrom of “Poaa Bama Rmx”). New shapes, old friends (Makavelli, Nyege Nyege) all whipped up, immersed, consumed in and by these 40 minutes of velocity, vertigo and glee. Brand new dance from Africa, everybody.


14

Pendant

Make Me Know You Sweet

[West Mineral Ltd.]

[LISTEN · READ]

Way back in the halcyon days of January, Brian Leeds launched a new label — a very exciting one — called West Mineral Ltd. Leeds, best known under his Huerco S. moniker, wanted to release “mid-ground music,” which would neither recede into the background like ambient music nor assert itself like dance music. Make Me Know You Sweet, Leeds’s first album as Pendant and West Mineral’s first release, could be considered a manifesto of mid-ground music. The difference between this and a traditional ambient album was its compelling depth. Over the album’s seven tracks, a hypnotic soundworld emerged made of gentle hums and hisses, its immaculate detail revealing itself only after repeated (obsessively repeated) listening. It didn’t petulantly demand your attention; it insisted upon it in seductive tones. Try to listen without staring into the middle distance, glassy-eyed, vacant, blissful, and dumb. Impossible. Trust us — we’ve been trying all year.


13

Mount Eerie

Now Only

[P.W. Elverum & Sun]

[LISTEN · READ]

I’ve only listened to Now Only once. On a plane to Los Angeles, I listened to the album sandwiched in between in-flight movie bouts of Avengers: Infinity War and The Devil Wears Prada. One night a few weeks ago, I got drunk at a friend’s housewarming party in Queens, and while talking about experimental music, I became wistful and tried to communicate my experience with Mount Eerie’s music to some of my most “aesthetically advanced” friends. They unsympathetically laughed. Granted, I wasn’t expecting us to go “jumping on the bed like lost children exploding across the earth in a self-indulgent all-consuming wreck of ideas.” I was actually glad that they didn’t give a fuck about Mount Eerie. It felt right alongside an experience I still find to be incommunicable — “my devastation is unique.” I’m not here to hyperbolize Phil Elverum’s grief or my own elemental aesthetic upbringing with his music. I tried to listen to Now Only again while writing this blurb, but couldn’t. Too bad I can’t go there, but I feel so proud that someone from our species can.


12

Julia Holter

Aviary

[Domino]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

We knew the “why” of sad songs this year, our shoulders tight with anxiety. The double-album’s overwhelm risked flagging itself for deletion with the rest of the day’s noise. We mistook its hocket for diminishing sprawl. Something about it stayed. We happened upon the song islands, cut-outs in her wilderness. We were had, we wallowed about, covering our ears. Composed ourselves in disco balls, closed doors just behind us. She urged us to listen better. Sometimes we listened to the whole album in one song (“Les Jeux to You” celebrated her discography, “Words I Heard” concentrated Aviary’s 90 minutes into 6), and that counted, unforbidden and cherishable. We followed the sound down her walkways, parsing memories of green from god. Grackles cawed that speech walks a tight-wire, unperched they murmured it a trapeze. Sunshined, goddess-eyed: Joy, joy, joy. It might’ve all taken place in one room, with one of us listening. Shadow and light, day and night. We came to regard Aviary as an orchard, and the orchard as a forest, and somewhere within we promised, oned and wondering for the angels: “I shall love.” Turning the light on, we listened: unintentionally, intently, alive stretching below the canopy, itself stretching.


11

Eli Keszler

Stadium

[Shelter Press]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

“Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.” As is so often said, “ambulator nascitur, non fit,” and I can tell Eli Keszler was a born ambler. The walk is not the rhythm of heel-clicks, the distance of strides, or the arrangement of distances, but the collapse of the surround into the perceptual horizon of the walker. Stadium was not an album of field recordings or walking studies, but the practice of the dérive abstracted — of being a subject moving according to the space’s intent — into an environment of dizzying percussion and floating, fleeting melody. Its ecology of clicks and rolls and splashes fashioned its own time and space, describing the field and propelling the listener through it. Details emerged and caromed across the auditory space with a jazzy sprezzatura; by Keszler’s legerdemain, you were always being pulled somewhere, forced to follow uncertain trajectories and made to rely on proprioception. Discursive & rife with digression, Stadium was not some guided tour of the Manhattan that sits in Keszler’s head, with surely as many byzantine channels and nerve-wracking irruptions as the original, but was instead like being thrown into a sinisterly soothing environment and exploring regardless of whatever intent it may harbor. You could call it a beat tape for the perambulating paranoiac, something to keep you camel-like and contemplative on your next drift.

10

Shygirl

Cruel Practice

[NUXXE]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

Shygirl’s debut EP was about as graceful an arrival as a freshly polished Lexus crashing through a Marathon gas station window, but then, grace wasn’t really anyone’s primary concern this year. Cruel Practice was more like an edifice of hard, combustible independence, a site for constructive rage, and, at the very least, one hell of a noisy club record that stretched out toward interior catharsis through its projected detonations. Since its release in May, that uproar was a healer, coursing through “O’s” torrential dynamics, “Nasty’s” oily slump of a beat, and “Rude’s” tsunamic, ear-rending violence with the icy aloe of collective fury. Deafening and invasive, Cruel Practice carried with it the feeling of entering bodily into someone else’s fantasy and taking control, of reconfiguring the conduits of sexual and emotional power, of becoming the turbulence in a system that, faced with the imminence of the future, can only shout impotently and virulently into a past that no longer indulges its machinations of singular authority. With all its clarifying commotion, Cruel Practice was the outlet we didn’t deserve.


09

Grouper

Grid of Points

[Kranky]

[LISTEN · READ]

Grid of Points brought to mind a junkie Eric Satie intermittently nodding off at his piano, as Liz Fraser, stabbed through the heart, emitted her final, exhausted coos, a pool of blood slowly expanding on the tiles all around her. But this Liz was Liz Harris a.k.a. Grouper. She has always been a minimalist, and here, as suggested in the album title, she slowed down and pared back her Ruins sound even further, cranking up the intensity by cutting all but the bones. Harris, or her persona, was a clear-eyed witness to violence and trauma, but even as her piano hesitantly searched for and nailed down specific emotional colors, her mumbled testimony dispersed in layers of pale blue vapor. Her all-too-human presence survived in a frigid, austere setting — the cover art, which aptly referenced Rothko and Joy Division, suggested a black-cold winter ocean. The exquisitely dissonant ice clouds of “Birthday Song” won’t get played at many quinceañeras, but Grid of Points did deliver the crawlcore bangers: “Parking Lot” and “Blouse” were surely back-to-back Top 40 hits in some parallel slo-mo universe.


08

Pusha T

Daytona

[G.O.O.D. Music]

[WATCH · READ]

It only took around 40 seconds for Daytona to burst into our house and announce itself as one of the year’s greatest releases. The album started with a steady rhythm of hi-hats tapping at the front door. Pusha T rapping, Kanye West producing; the end result felt self-evident. Yet, within those opening moments, there was a trepidation over what might be waiting on the other side. It had been three years of frustrating delays since the previous Pusha T release, and Kanye West was spending all of his free time shooting himself in the foot and then sticking that foot in his mouth. Could this collaboration actually fail to deliver? The tapping stopped, anticipation coudln’t get much higher. We opened the door — who’s there? Pusha T rapping, Kanye West producing. A self-proclaimed King and God clicking like Golden State, creating an exhilarating 21 minutes of hip-hop that was pure swagger to the core. An end result that felt self-evident, right? If you know, you know.


07

Low

Double Negative

[Sub Pop]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

I recently found that both Pet Sounds and Rumours were, for The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac respectively, their artist’s eleventh studio album. Similarly, Willie Nelson’s left-field classic Red Headed Stranger — a recent fav of mine — was his eighteenth. Not trying to cull together a canon or nothing, but it seems that there’s value to keeping at it and trying something new. On Double Negative, Low’s twelfth studio album, the band allowed their producer BJ Burton great liberties in the production process and, in turn, abandoned much of what had become their signature qualities as a band. Songs were picked apart and salvaged, completely subsumed by sidechain compression, distorted and shimmering synths, and quaking bass. It made an appeal to the slowness and tenderness that marked the band’s earliest work — almost 25 years ago now — but with new, unprecedented textures and approaches to form. There were ways in which the album responded to our political context, as well as our crises of faith and personhood, but, to me, it needn’t do so much to succeed. Double Negative took space and gave it back to its listener, drawing them in and opening outward, so long as they opened with it.


06

Elysia Crampton

Elysia Crampton

[Break World]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

Contrasting with the milksoup-dense foggy ambience on much of Elysia Crampton’s preceding material, these throttlingly propulsive rhythmic workouts wasted no skull-rattling, bone-shaking time. Each of her releases may be AOTY material, but the tastefully subtle departure of Crampton’s fourth album was a welcome twist. It played like being-rudely-awakened-from-the-dream and the dream itself making clamorously urgent room for each other. Despite its dizzyingly overloaded aural tapestry of Andean and American genre references, each track was infectious in its own immediate way. Such a heady blend of culturally specific and exhilaratingly other is rarely this perfectly short and sweet. Moreover, the psych idiom obliterant and commercial statement paired wonderfully with this year’s releases from Oneohtrix Point Never and SOPHIE (and the continuing videos of Cool 3D World). Simultaneously human and escapist in spirit, bearing witness to these works was not unlike hearing your own pulse and finding it both comforting and alarming. These six songs may have sounded the alarm and fried the nerves, but they did so while boasting a rushing red blood that sang, steely and serene, to our own.


05

Tirzah

Devotion

[Domino]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

I love you. I miss you. It’s intoxicating. It’s an obsession, that is, the churning of my endless devotion. I try to drink a lot of water to wet my very dry throat. I try to sleep all day to spend fewer hours thinking of you. That doesn’t work, though, because then you are in my dreams. One dream is sad. You love someone else. They are so beautiful. You are so beautiful. I’m heartbroken. One dream is happy. We are standing on a bridge, so close but barely touching, our bodies somehow twisted together and swaying in perfect time, as if dancing. This dream’s implicit erotics feel vague and fated. I know you’re just a fantasy, all fun and dangerous. But still, it’s bliss. Love songs are similarly fun and dangerous because they often articulate exactly how I feel. Thus, I dissolve. Tirzah’s certainly did as their stories spanned the whole gamut of love, loss, and longing. There was the euphoric “Gladly,” one of the sweetest love songs of the year, balanced by the reflective and shrewd “Do You Know.” Mica Levi’s forever crooked beats elicited the struggle of knowing that having is never as satisfying as wanting. But still, I want you here. Throughout Devotion, Tirzah unabashedly explored a raw emotional landscape. There she was. And here I am. Wanting you, needing you, gladly, gladly.


04

Charli XCX

Pop 2

[Asylum]

[LISTEN · READ]

In a desperate year where the future somehow felt more irreversibly doomed than ever before, Charli XCX managed to pierce through all the chaos with an exhilarating sense of optimism. Released in mid-December of 2017, Pop 2 found Charli perfecting an idea she had been working toward for some time. Conspiring yet again with bubblegum-club collaborators like A. G. Cook, EASYFUN, Lil Data, and SOPHIE, Charli channeled her cohorts’ aggressive sounds into their most welcoming incarnations yet, filtering it all through her relentlessly earnest, “crashed-my-car-into-the-bridge” style of pop music. The line between radio and rave became totally dissolved, as Pop 2 tapped directly into that rare, euphoric zone usually reserved for old nostalgia-twisters like Britney Spears and “Everytime We Touch,” rewiring it all with the same lonely energy that’s powered so many hopeless late-night DMs. Charli kept that same streak going all year, releasing single after single of impeccably bouncy future-pop, as if the only way we could possibly keep pushing through this bleak world we’re living in was to never lose that speed, to never stop relishing in the ecstatic joy of being alive. It may not have technically come out in 2018, but Pop 2 laid out a game plan (not to mention weekend plans) that we’ll be following for years to come.


03

Lolina

The Smoke

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

I love my wife so much. I am honored to see her being the best human. I am honored to see her push through as progressive. I am honored to see this partner of mine grow into the next. I am honored to see her become mother of a lot of another. It’s the excitement of where femininity takes on familiarity. Among us all in a genderless mustache; anti-masculine without an inch of flagrance. The most common dichotomy is “being with.” You think I’m just fucking writing here in text, like. That last person in your world: Who is it? Are they down? When do they realize it? How into is you is? A connect you see, the eclipse, with one summer; buying drugs from Mario August 21, 2017: there, now, on a black bike. Lolina been by this block, an’ it was another accumulation. An emotion emotive, emoji. Emoticon. No eyes can lead the way; sonics blind with The Smoke. Another variation of dissonance. In the early stages of life, understanding. Fetal fervor. Abandoned and the next step. We’re all in this, blindfolded.


02

Yves Tumor

Safe in the Hands of Love

[Warp]

[WATCH · READ]

We were asked, in distorted tones but certain terms, what we wanted. And we each said: “Remove the part of me/ Inside my own living hell.” And flanging hands shoved us underneath these roiling liquids. And then the long transformation began, a treading of becoming all the time. Some limbs fought and the others atrophied and the gills grew and we learned a new way to breathe, a faith in nothing except salvation. We watched our world from beneath the water, saw the shaky distortions of our days in melted analog and raw digital nerve. Was it a drum? Or a pop song? And then the water was a mass of flies and we felt all their clawing hair as pricks in our mouths and across our organs and “it’s torture” and “I miss my brothers,” the ones that got gunned down, the ones being gunned down all the time. Frederick Douglass called racism “our national faith.” We knew he was right, so we begged to be transformed, to get over, to get “Fucked into incompletion/ Multiplied and rhythmic.” And Yves Tumor dragged us up from our filthy deposits into a new molten organism, and we ached and cried in new skin, Safe in the Hands of Love.


01

SOPHIE

OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES

[Future Classic]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]
Who are you?

I didn’t even realize how deeply I had buried this question in my psyche until I sprawled out on my pineapple-studded bed sheets with my laptop and a pint of cream soda and queued up OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES for what seemed like the thousandth time. That digital inhale, promptly followed by a cough of twinkling bells, feels almost automatic at this point, like breathing poorly (I’m still searching for a good meditation app). When SOPHIE dropped “It’s Okay to Cry” as a self-directed self-portrait, it felt like a radical act. Now, barely a year later, it seems gnomic, like a household classic, as ubiquitous as “Vogue,” as crucial as “Ball’r (Madonna-Free Zone).” When I first heard it in context, even as a full-length opening track, I could feel my pulse sync with its blips; OIL had merged with my blood before I had even experienced it in full. I’m not beyond admitting that it was its it-ness that got me; SOPHIE had made her album, despite not caring much for albums at all, and after only one listen, it felt like part of me, like my favorite pair of high rise jeans.

Deep down

Since its release, it seems, I have unconsciously conflated its spot on my list with its spot in my heart, as if declaring OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES my FAVORITE MUSIC RELEASE of 2018 validates something not only special, but also essential about me as a person. What caught me off-guard on this most recent listen though was how much deeper than skin and skeleton its reach extended. Not only did it move my head, turn my cheeks up into a big goofy smile, and widen my eyeholes, but it interrupted these responses as well. My favorite track, “Is It Cold in the Water?” has always felt like stepping into shallow water on a windless night, but as I write this now, squeezed into a blue velvet dress, wrapped in a furry indigo blanket, I feel submerged and suffocated by its unfurled weightiness. “Who am I, really? Deep down.”

Following an incident of widespread racial trauma at the school I work at, it was decided that we show our seventh-grade students Inside Out as part of an impromptu unit on “identity.” As I sat watching this totally culturally-benign three-year-old Pixar film about feelings that have feelings along with 20 or so bodies drenched in feelings of their own, I found myself crying in a darkened room behind my unusually entranced students when Riley came back home after almost losing her entire sense of self. How me would I be without each time I thought about running away, without these fragile moments with these pre-adolescents who have only seen my shopfront? Who would I be without my fears or my dreams, without my anxieties or my dysphoria, “without my legs or my hair, without my genes or my blood, with no name and with no type of story,” without SOPHIE?

Where do I live?

Where do I exist? Where do any of us exist? What happens when we stop existing? George H.W. Bush just stopped existing, and it hurts seeing him exonerated, and it’s agonizing scrolling through self-congratulatory hot-takes about how his legacy is complicated by his contradictions (no shit), and it’s numbing how many bodies with no name and with no type of story will never see 94, and it makes me wonder what “being real” real-ly means in a world this violent and absurd, in a world that requires masks for some and lets others march proudly without them. When am I most real? In 2018, when were we most ourselves? When we remembered that it’s OK to cry? When we cracked the whip on the ponyboy? When we shopped our faces? When we waded into colder waters? When infatuation led us further through each other than it could ourselves? When we were not OK? When we were pretending? When we were just immaterial girls and immaterial boys?

Temporally, in reality, justice continued deteriorating this year, but SOPHIE let us see a “Whole New World” through her eyes, and in 40-minute intervals, it was realer than anything else, its title maybe even possible. Through it all, SOPHIE let us think about our faces while she made our bodies dance. So where does that leave us now that we’ve grown with this document? Has SOPHIE answered any of these questions? Not explicitly. At a time when global healing seems impossible, SOPHIE’s radical suggestion is simply that our selves are possible, and there’s nothing more radical than possibility.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


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