This year has been huge for music. We saw artists that were silent for years suddenly put out highly-anticipated, unique albums. We also saw brand new musicians put out fantastic and creative debut records. With the year halfway through, here’s our list of the best releases so far.
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Courtney Barnett’s second studio album seems to more introspective than her first, with lyrics reflecting on herself, anxiety, self worth, and self loathing. Pay attention to the lyrics in “Nameless Faceless,” and you’ll notice she quotes an anonymous hater: “He said, ‘I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you,’/But you didn’t,”
The Dirty Nil – Master Volume
Hamilton, Ontario-based trio The Dirty Nil have spent the last eight years honing their craft as one of the tightest acts this country’s produced. While the band has long been categorized a punk band, their sophomore full-length record Master Volume serves as statement that their sound is far too substantial to wear just one label.
Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Bristol punk outfit Idles are all about loving everyone. While inclusion is a central theme in Joy as an Act of Resistance, Idles do not pull any punches in their approach. Not many bands can effectively pull off lyrics like “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin / I put homophobes in coffins,” but Idles does it with an air of ease.
Noname – Room 25
Chicago rapper Noname’s second album pulls from her experience growing up in Chicago and plying her trade in the spoken word community, and turning that into what’s going to be a staple in the coming year-end “best of 2018” lists. Elements of jazz, soul, and poetry come together for a deeply personal, yet entirely accessible effort.
Mitski – Be The Cowboy
Mitski’s latest is 14 songs that explore the complexities of relationships, accentuated by her ability to hit brooding depths and explosive heights. Themes of love, loss, confrontation, and apologies run deep on the New York-based singer-songwriter’s fifth studio LP.
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
New York-based rockers Parquet Courts enlisted Danger Mouse to helm production duties on their fourth full-length record. It’s the rare type of record that would sound perfectly at home if it were released at any point in the last 40 years. It’s punk rock, garage rock, and it’s oblique yet danceable.
Neko Case – Hell-On
Neko Case’s blaring vocals have long been her calling card, and on Hell-On she’s at her near-best. Case channels anger at the patriarchy, explore religious themes, and wades through tales of love all through perfectly executed folk-rock lens.
Dilly Dally – Heaven
Relentless touring amid the changing political landscape in the United States nearly killed off Toronto-based noise rockers Dilly Dally. The band hit the road in support of their outstanding debut LP Sore in 2015, and when they wrapped touring in 2016 the band was drained emotionally. Thankfully, frontwoman Katie Monks, guitarist Liz Ball, bassist Jimmy Tony, and drummer Benjamin Reinhartz found the strength to keep it together. They have returned with Heaven, an unforgiving yet hopeful foray into the depths of fuzz-rock.
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Released on May, the latest album from Arctic Monkeys was like any of their other music. Listeners were surprised when they first heard this record, it was a lot more psychedelic and glam rock than their previous album in 2013, which was all rock with a notable bass.
U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
This album is politically charged and filled with female rage in the best way. There are tracks critiquing abuse of powerful men in religion, sexism and violence, and even terrorism. There are also over a dozen collaborations with from other artists on tis album, most notably Slim Twig and Rich Morel.
Sloan – 12
Understandably, 12 is the twelfth studio album from Sloan. They’ve been actively releasing music for nearly 30 years, and their mark on Canadian music is unprecedented. This album serves as a reminder that the band is still around, and they still have that sound you’ve always loved.
Dear Rouge – PHASES
After Dear Rouge received a Juno in 2016 for “Best Breakthrough Artist,” people have been anticipating the band’s next move. The release of PHASES the result of this. The album sounds almost alive, and with lots of catchy synth and bass, it’s impossible not to dance along.
Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
It is impossible to put lead singer Frances Quinlan in a box; her voice seems to switch around a hundred times in a hundred different ways. This album was self-produced, but you wouldn’t be able to tell, it’s just that engineered. There also also a few criticisms of patriarchy and power, if you listen close enough.
MGMT – Little Dark Age
Many reviewers said that one thing great about Little Dark Age was a return to their classic, synth-psychedelic pop that fans loved ever since the band first release, Oracular Spectacular. With five years between this album and the last, it was highly anticipated by fans all around.
Mount Eerie – Now Only
This album was a companion piece to A Crow Looked at Me, Mount Eerie’s release from the year before. But Now Only is very different and the music follows a nonlinear narrative. The record only has six songs, concluding with “Crow, P.2.” Both albums go hand in hand, a cathartic expression of disorganized emotions after the death of a loved one.
T.D.E./Kendrick Lamar – Black Panther: The Album
Black Panther: The Album is a compilation of music from and inspired by the 2018 Marvel film of the same name. The album has authentic African elements throughout. Kendrick Lamar was praised for his lyrics and overall production of the record. First musical aspects were being created as soon as early drafts of the movie’s script was being written.
Liza Anne – Fine But Dying
Indie singer-songwriter Liza Anne’s first record on Arts & Crafts explores themes of mental illness and dealing with her own panic disorder. It’s an outstanding exercise in blending her folk-pop sensibilities with deeply personal and emotional issues. Liza Anne visited the Indie88 Black Box studio earlier this year to perform some stripped-back versions of “I’m Tired, You’re Lonely” and “Paranoia.”
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Kacey Musgrave’s latest album offers a unique complexity, and stands up among other country artists. This album weaves seamlessly between celebrations (“Butterflies”), and sadness (“Lonely Weekend”). Golden Hour seems to be a reflection on how that beautiful moment after the sun sets can be gone just as fast as it arrives.
Beach House – 7
Beach House has a special way of making you feel like you’re daydreaming while actually dreaming. Each album creates a strange sensory experience. With 7, you have tracks that flow effortlessly. Songs are just as intense as they are intimate. But this album has darker touches as well, with gentle drumming changing the feeling of certain songs.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard
Stephen Malkmus has created music very separate from that of his days in 90’s alt-rock band Pavement. Sparkle Hard is his seventh album, and it experiments with vocalizers and touches of auto-tune, not heard in his previous works. In this record Malkmus sounds so self-assured, its almost as if he’s directly speaking to you.
Soccer Mommy – Clean
With plainspoken lyrics, singer Sophie Allison describes heartbreak, anguish, self loathing, and empowerment all together. Soft melodies are often paired with grim lyrics, like in the opener, “Still Clean.” Soccer Mommy’s debut album is one you’ll remember.
Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
If you read this and just got hit with a bit of déjà vu, don’t worry. This album is a re-release of the band’s 2011 album. In this version of Twin Fantasy, all songs were re-recorded and remastered. The original has been retitles to Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror), while the current release is officially called Twin Fantasy (Face to Face).
Snail Mail – Lush
Teenage musician Lindsey Jordan released her debut album under the alias Snail Mail just a month ago, and it’s already being praised worldwide. Her songs about chaotic adolescence ring familiar but are still unique; as Pitchfork noted: Snail Mail “does not whine or wallow; she transcends.”
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Dirty Computer is only the third studio album from Janelle Monáe, but the way her music stays with you, you’d think she was around forever. This pop-funk record is all about being empowered: whether that’s because of your sexual orientation, or your skin colour, or both.
Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin
If you want to start listening to Ty Segall but are feeling overwhelmed by his huge discography (over 20 albums and over 30 EPs), check out Freedom’s Goblin. Segall just got married over a year ago, and this record is full of songs that reflect the freshness of a new love. But it’s also about artistic freedoms and expressions of self.
Frank Turner – Be More Kind
English folk-rock singer-songwriter Frank Turner returned with his seventh studio album, Be More Kind. It’s an album that stands as a statement on the times we currently live in, with Turner flexing his storytelling ability over the course of 13 songs.
Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends
This album is a reflection on pretentiousness within the indie and punk music scenes. “The Opener” is the opening song off the album describing an opening band during a show, but is described as a metaphor for women in music. Overall, this record is just as much a parody as it is reality in calling out the industry.
Nap Eyes – I’m Bad Now
This is the third album from Nova Scotia band Nap Eyes. Throughout the album, singer Nigel Chapman alters lyrics of past verses, almost like musical reporposing, to give the listener a sense of familiarity. But the new versions have just enough changes that a new inflection in his voice makes the original meaning differ.
Born Ruffians – Uncle, Duke & Chief
Fans will be happy to know that original drummer Steve Hamelin has now returned, and that certainly reflects in the music. With the original line up back, the new album brings a level of comfort fans will recognize. But lyrically, this record is also darker than the last, with mentions of death in a few different tracks.
Yukon Blonde – Critical Hit
With its release just a few weeks ago, this album is sure to be on everyones summer playlist. Critical Hit is very personal, and looks into different difficulties surrounding love and relationships in such a digital age. These messages are amplified through the use of synthesizers and pop melodies.
Florence + the Machine – High As Hope
It’s been four years since the Florence Welch and her amazing band graced us with an album. This record is more minimalist than the last, and has a more stripped-down approach to its sound. In an interview, Welch revealed that she wrote the songs while grieving her grandmother, who had recently committed suicide.
Chromeo – Head Over Heels
Chromeo has been giving us catchy electro-funk for the last 15 years. This Montreal-based duo has never disappointed before, and their latest album is no different. That album has bit less electronic aspects than their previous records, but it’s clear that the group love their funk roots. The album has a definite nostalgia to early 70s funk, and fans have been loving it.
Gorillaz – The Now Now
As usual, the latest Gorillaz album has been met with positive reviews. The Now Now has a bit of a striped-down feel, compared to their last release, Humanz. This album feels fresh and all the songs flow well together. It also debuted at number four on the US Billboard Top 200 chart.
Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
This is the second album from Khruangbin, a Huston-based instrumental trio. Full of psychedelic music influences by the funk scene in Thailand, this album is one you’ll want to listen to over and over. The album also touches on politics, with “Maria También” addressing women’s rights.
Superorganism – Superorgansim
The debut album from Superorganism stunned audiences worldwide, and made themselves known as one of the most intriguing bands on the scene. This London-based collective is a sprawling mix of genres, led by singer and primary songwriter Orono Noguchi. The album touches on their disgust towards the hate and corruption that has plagued modern society, as highlighted in “Prawn Song” where Noguchi talks about leaving the human race to become a Prawn. The album’s second single “Everybody Wants To Be Famous” points out people’s obsession with social media and how it has made people thirst for fame.