Aida Rogers - Music Writing
I have a big problem. I love music. I love love love it. This year I’ve ejected more words out of my mouth than I’d like to admit, trying to give life and justice to music.
Maybe you think music can speak for itself. Maybe you don’t understand why loving music is a problem. But here’s the deal: I want to speak through music, speak for music and support the people that make it happen.
All of this is in my mind when I’m thinking about the dreaded Albums Of The Year List. The AOTY List makes you truncate yourself and the way you listen to music, which I hate!! And nowadays, every one has or makes a list, so what makes mine special?! As k’eguro puts it:
I'm a slow thinker, so I almost never think in terms of "work I enjoyed this year."— k'eguro (@keguro_) December 15, 2018
Anyway, here are my (and KXSC programmers’) favorite releases of the year.
Ravyn Lenae - Crush EP
So many things to say about this EP. This year I thought often and deeply about love. About the difference between affection and love. I learned a new definition of love by bell hooks: “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Interesting to me, this definition of love does not need the prefix “self-“.
As I was thinking about love this year, I was listening to this Crush EP. It was released a little less than a month after Ravyn Lenae’s 19th birthday. I don’t like to focus on an artist’s age all that much, but I do want to point out this is her third EP that slaps excessively in the span of three years.
“Sticky” oozes with the heady, disorienting moments of love: the moments that take your breath and leave you spinning. “Closer” on the other hand speaks to the smallest of details that you learn, and learn to love about your partner. “Computer Luv” is a track which takes a theme that I’ve seen a lot lately. I want to call it “Lov and Tech.” Songs that take seriously how “technology” (social media, text, call, etc.) shapes our love. In the case of “Computer Love,” a long-distance relationship, that torrid affair, is in the spotlight. “The Night Song” is all about loving your body and moving it, taking pleasure in your body. ‘Nuff said.
I was walking to the radio station just the other day when a young dude walked up to me and asked me this: “If you’re seeing someone who’s your boo but not your boo, do you get her a Christmas present?”
“Well, yes,” I replied, “because she’s your boo after all.”
This EP’s last track “4 Leaf Clover” poses a similar dilemma: you’re mine but not mine. What is going on? Am I getting you a holiday present? Better tighten up.
LSDXOXO - Body Mods
There I was, in my friend’s chaotically untidy living room in Berkeley, California, on the couch that was my bed for the weekend, “pre-gaming.” I was my preparing for the “game” (a gay dance bar called El Rio, in the Mission!! Be still my heart). I wanted to get moving. I wanted to dance.
What shall I play? I thought. “BURN THE WITCH,” I thought. It’s introduction, sampled from Kylie Minogue and Towa Tei’s “GBI: German Bold Italic,” is an unsettling call to sensuality: let me adorn you. It has an inexorable kick that drives you forward with dance instructions: let me move to left, go ahead let me feel myself, touch my chest my sweat, show the DJs how I shake my breasts. If you’re not ready to wild out after this song, you’re not ready to wild out!!
It gets better. After we arrived at El Rio, thoroughly prepared, we began to vibrate on the dance floor. The dance floor was packed but comfortable. It was warm. I began to sweat from every little crevice, but I didn’t stop except for refreshments. And then: the song reappeared! The witch was not burned! Ariel Zatina of DISCWOMAN (I think) with the clutch selection. I was in awe.
This is the outrageous effect of LSDXOXO’s latest mixtape. It blew my socks off then put them on backwards, inside-out.
The Koreatown Oddity - A Beat At The Table
Where were you when you heard the flip of all flips? I had recently downloaded the July 19th episode of “Odd Hours of Sound,” a dublab show hosted by the Koreatown Oddity. Dominique Purdy is his real name if you were wondering. Just before the hour mark of this summer show, came the heat.
“Now, yeah, I think it was on my first show, we gon’ run that back, the Solange Seat At the Table flips,” Purdy said, introducing the work. “Beat At the Table, is what I’m calling it,” he clarified, chuckling both to himself and to the audience.
Before this tape, I thought that no one could re-mix Solange’s future/current classic. It just wasn’t something I had considered. But Dominique does something truly amazing, flipping isolated harmonics, instrumentation, and small moments of the album to create something that is at once familiar, and brand new. For instance, looping Solange’s father’s testimony at “KKK members” until it becomes both unsettling, and absurdly funny.
It’s also clear that this tape is a labor of love for Purdy, who’s own artistic work has explored antiblackness. His film Driving While Black follows a day in the life of a Black pizza delivery driver, dealing with the cops.
All in all, this is a hip hop homage extremely worth a listen. I think, part of it is is accepting that there’s so much beauty in being black.
Spa 700 - 700 Bliss
I never found you funny, I never found you entertaining, I never found you smart. I just found you annoying. Thus begins Spa 700, and the gutpunches don’t stop there. The opening track “Basic” has kept me in thrall the whole year, and it also once blew out my bedroom speakers. DJ Haram’s industrial, noisy production is overwhelming (in a very good way). Spa 700’s lyrical content, provided by Moor Mother is equally powerful, in discussion with the transatlantic slave trade, using repetition and inventive rhyming. A deeply affecting EP.
Tomu DJ - NO IDEA
I was lucky to have Tomu DJ in the station on Halloween! She was amazing, just as this album is amazing. This EP lands firmly at the crossroads of R&B, pop and footwork, a combination that works oh-so-well. The sentimentality of Keith Sweat, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, & Ashanti are brought to the breakneck pace of 160 BPM – a stunning concept both in theory and practice. This album is full of songs of love and heartbreak, triumphantly overcome with percussion.
Noname - Room 25
The triumphant return!! As I detailed in the KXSC Newsletter, I’m a sucker for believing when an artist says they might never make an album again. I don’t know why. Maybe because it adds to narrative of an artist, and makes their alleged return so much sweeter. Whatever. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, don’t get fooled again.
It felt like there was a lot more instrumental and vocal composition on the tracks, which served to emphasize Miss Noname’s lyrical stylings. I love the gospel inflected chorus by Phoelix in “Window.” Her pleading questions: “So you really don’t think about me? You really don’t miss me?” Damn. Whew. Hits close you know?
This album is mainly full of confessional ballads (save “Self, “Blaxploitation,” “Montego Bae,” “Ace”) that showcase Noname. Ravyn Lenae’s feature in “Montego Bae” is CRUCIAL, and really brings this list full circle. Her VOICE.
Noname made an album that the fans love, that I love, because I’m a fan. Full disclosure. The overwhelming positive response to Telefone could have been easy to trip over, but Noname came back with a sophomore album that reaffirms her as a rapper, a poet, a joker, a generous collaborator, and much more. We won’t forget about her.
Pink Siifu - Ensley
I really wanted to go to the release party for Pink Siifu’s Ensley, but it was in Venice and I had other things to do! Sue me. It’s okay because this album speaks for itself, as it traverses many genres while staying firmly embedded in hip hop, through the art of sampling. All of this is completed by Pink Siifu’s calming, hypnotic, and frankly sexy rapping.
Ensley is the best possible outcome of the “lofi hip hop movement,” if we want to call it that. Which we don’t, huh? Anyway, take for instance the infectious guitar loop in “birmingham skies.” In less deft hands, the guitar would be the central feature of the “beat” that didn’t feature any vocals. Rather, what would be cliché and forgetful as an instrumental becomes far more meaningful when somebody raps over it. This isn’t a sneak diss toward “mumble rap” because I think that term is pejorative and reductive in any case. It’s more of a diss toward producers who loop tracks with very little editing and call it something new. It’s been quite over done with jazz loops.
“decisions ova jerk chicken” has a rocksteady/reggae offbeat structure that is beautiful, and appropriately named. That soul guitar on “trauma,” coupled with the flute is transcendent. “trauma” reminds me of a knxwledge beat. I’m a sucker for flute. I’m a sucker for a lot of things.
It’s honestly hard to talk about this album in depth, partly because it’s long, but short at the same time? Let me put it this way: the album is 62 minutes long, with 25 songs. This means that the average track length is roughly 2 and a half minutes long. Slender. Pink Siifu is one to watch for in 2019. Smile with your gold teeth.
Asnake Gebreyes - Ahadu
Technically this did not come out in 2018, yes. But it did to me, thanks to the Ethiopiques series, which is often the first stop on the long, beautiful journey that is discovering Ethiopian music. This latest release is no different. Ahadu by Asnake Gebreyes was actually released in 1988. This goes to show that while the supposed “Golden Era” of Ethiopian music was in the 1970s, output continued in the late 1980s, despite the great troubles that the people suffered.
Asnakech Worku - Asnakech
Thank you Brian Shimkovitz for continuing to deliver the goods from the Mother Continent. This album from Awesome Tapes showcases the skills of Asnakech Worku on the krar, a five- or six-stringed lyre that originates from Ethiopia and Eritrea. It’s also known as the “ancient harp.” Most Ethiopian music uses pentatonic scale, meaning five notes per octave, as opposed to the more familiar heptatonic (seven note per octave) scale.
Bonnie Banane & Chassol - “Feu au lac”
Bonnie. Banane. Bonnie. Banane. Bonnie. Banane. Bonnie. Banane. Bonnie. Banane. Bonnie- oh I’m sorry, didn’t see you there. Just doing my daily mantra.
I’ve been obsessed with the Parisian underground R&B sensation Bonnie Banane for a hot second now. Every single song, every single feature, every single collaboration is made enthralling by her presence. Call it the French Touch, call it what you want.
It’s just good. This collaboration with the accomplished film composer Chassol is delightfully constructed, bringing out Miss Banane’s voice in concert with the changing, accelerating instrumentation. A delightful single. Can’t wait to see what she does next.
Vivian Gray - DJ
The following albums were some of my favorite of 2018 but have strength beyond just the music. Each pick was chosen for their outstanding live performance or tour during its 2018 album cycle. Hopefully, you can catch the end of these tours come 2019.
Beach House - 7
This hypnotic and nearly psychedelic record from Beach House is somewhat of a turn from anything the band has done before. Beach House has struggled to divert from their successful dream-pop regime, started in 2006’s Beach House and solidified in 2012’s Bloom, but one thing that has not shifted in this rotation is their live performance. There is only a hint into power and presence of Beach House on their recorded albums; in order to get the full effect, you must see them live.
Boygenius - Boygenius
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus rank on this list for their forming as a trio alone. Each of them attack their work with such calculated passion and focus, it is riveting to see their powers come together live. If you did not get a chance to see them on tour, one of the best recordings is their performance at Brooklyn Steel for Pitchfork Live. I would offer some top singles but this is such a limited record, go ahead and listen to the whole thing.
Brockhampton - Iridescence
Essentially, this record just plain “slaps” if you will allow me the slang. And, all you need to know about the live show, is that my friend returned from their concert at the Shrine Auditorium looking like they had just dipped into the bath for a hot minute. The dynamism and energy that Brockhampton is able to maintain on this album is definitely reflected in this tour.
St. Vincent - MassEducation
This is not the 2017-2018 “Fear the Future Tour”, not the 2018 “I Am A Lot Like You Tour,” but the 2018 to who knows when MassEducation limited tour of so far three performances in London, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn. It almost seems unfair to include this live show since seats were so limited, but if you got the chance to see Doveman, Thomas Bartlett, and St. Vincent, Annie Clark, perform together with just a microphone, piano, and a bit of tequila, well...it was something for once in a lifetime.
David Byrne - American Utopia
David Byrne’s live show for American Utopia is the strongest and most entertaining performance I have seen from any musician to date. The stage is covered in chains, allowing each performer to enter and exit through each dimension seamlessly. Everyone is mobile and choreographed to postmodern perfection. All you will want to do is dance and wonder why the hell that plastic brain Byrne is holding makes you want to cry.
Sean Flannelly - Intern
Here are his five favorite albums of the year.
Camp Cope - How to Socialize and How to Make Friends
Nothing screams 2018 like a big “fuck you” to the people in power. The all-women trio starts off their new album with “The Opener,” a song composed partly of direct quotes from ex-boyfriends and music execs who just didn’t believe that three women could make badass, emotionally-compelling punk rock. The album continues with raucous, but still poignant ruminations on relationships and equity. Listen on full volume only.
Mitski - Be The Cowboy
Yeah, it's on every year end list, but there’s not really any getting around it. It’s that good. Not only is Be The Cowboy perfect in it’s instrumentation — not one note is out of place — but it also represents a well-earned concentration of all of Mitski’s work to date. She moves from austere, to poignant, to powerful and then to witty seamlessly across the course of this album, melding all the intricate character portraits she creates into one coherent record.
Noname - Room 25
Noname’s sophomore album reacts to, and pointedly reaffirms, her image as a modern “conscious rapper.” The first track “Self” flows along soulfully and confidently, and states as its central question: “Ya’ll reall thought a bitch coudn’t rap huh?” Meanwhile girls like Noname are “teachin ninth-grade english,” and “writing a thesis on colonialism in conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus.” Fatimah Warner, AKA Noname, poses this contradiction not only to outline the absurdity of a male-dominated rap scene despite women’s self-evident lyrical ability, but also to reinforce the idea that rap is inherently political. To label Noname as simply a conscious rapper ignores a history of rap as a political and social medium. Noname steps up to this task on these 11 tracks, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a rapper who came anywhere close to that this year.
Lucy Dacus - Historian
There’s really no shortage of breakup songs. But few tracks capture the buildup of frustration, helplessness and resilience that Lucy Dacus chronicles over the six-and-a-half minutes of “Night Shift.” Even through this turmoil, though, Dacus’s soaring, piercing vocals resound with hopefulness over hypnotizing feedback-laden chords. In spite of the undeniable excellence of “Night Shift,” it’s not even close to a one-off; Historian remains enthralling throughout, reverberating between irrepressible and haunting and always carrying Dacus’s signature brand of cathartic triumph.
St. Vincent - MassEducation
Ok, fine, so it’s technically not a new album, but considering how much Annie Clark reinvented this record by trading out her Gibson for a grand piano, MassEducation deserves to be considered a fresh release. Listened in conjunction with Masseduction, St. Vincent’s MassEducation reveals itself as a delicate complement to the 2017 hit record. Clark changes out the boisterous, gnawing New York life for a weary and reflective view of this life from inside. Both these records could be AOTY on the their own, but considering the space between them displays Annie Clark’s most compelling work to date.
Amber Kroner - Intern
Intern Amber Kroner provides her top 5 albums of 2018.
Basement - Beside Myself
It’s dreamy, its angsty, it's perfect to listen to to on a bad day. Frontman Andrew Fisher’s vocals really shine through and the lyrics are some of the best that Basement, an English alt-rock band with influences of post-hardcore and emo rock, has written so far. Beside Myself captures a sound, that despite having upbeat natures, invites the listener to explore a somewhat darker side of the band.
boygenius - boygenius
Brand new all-female supergroup Boygenius’ debut self titled EP combines the sizable talents of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. The record blends all three of the artists original voices and styles into a one of a kind listen, with elegant melodies and harmonious vocals. This EP should be a blueprint for how to do a supergroup right: utilizing each other’s individual talents and blending each other’s distinct genres.
The Republic of Wolves - shrine
Once in a while, an under the radar band such as The Republic of Wolves releases a piece of work that can be considered a classic by others in that same genre. So listen to me… fans of alt-rock and post-hardcore probably want to give this record a listen. Chaotic heaviness is really what defines this album, so in a word, it’s epic. Filled with existential lyrics and awesome guitar riffs, this record is one to remember.
The Wonder Years - Sister Cities
The Wonder Years have changed a lot over the years, and Sister Cities proves one of their most innovative remodels yet. If you want great, meaningful, alternative rock, this album is the one for you. The Wonder Years grew up along with their fans, and this album is proof, as they transitioned from angsty pop punk into something more well rounded. After hearing this record you will have a whole new appreciation for The Wonder Years.
MewithoutYou - [Untitled]
MewithoutYou has always been surprising us with each album they release, but [Untitled] has been one of the biggest surprises so far. It’s weird, loud, and ominous, and is making critics go crazy. Complexity is one of mewithoutYou’s greatest strengths, and this album proves that even further.
Sienna Estrada - Intern
Intern Sienna Estrada’s favorite album of the year.
Snail Mail - Lush
I’ve listened to this album almost every day since it came out in June of this year. Usually after listening to an album or artist for a long amount of time, I take a break and come back to it later. The same doesn’t go for Snail Mail’s debut album, Lush. Listening to the artist, Lindsey Jordan, feels more like a necessity.
Throughout Lush, Jordan describes the multitude of feelings encountered within a relationship, but also explores at how one can learn so much about oneself and grow from those same experiences. While songs like “Pristine” and “Heat Wave” evoke confusion mixed with unreciprocated love with Jordan’s vigorous guitar riffs and powerful vocals, songs like “Let’s Find an Out”, “Deep Sea”, and “Anytime” are filled with melancholy and reflective angst.
Her lyrics are simply beautiful. They feel like a collection of Jordan’s thoughts and it all just feels so effortless. She embeds her songs with lyrics that make it feel more personal, asking vulnerable questions like “Don’t you like me for me? Is there any better feeling than coming clean?”, “Who’s your type of girl?”, “Would you give it up, green eyes?”, “Do you love me?”. All these questions that we’ve either asked ourselves, asked others, or at least wanted to ask others, blend into the rest of the lyrics. Even though Jordan puts herself and her story within her lyrics, she also manages to put her audience in them as well. My friends, who are also big fans of Snail Mail, have that same thought when they listen. I know we each have a line of lyrics that hits home.
To me, Lush creates the warm atmosphere of a lazy day, but it also invokes in me the urge to shout along with every lyric. It’s an album that understands. I’m most likely still going to be listening to it every day until the next album comes out.
Fiona Pestana - DJ
Fiona’s top 5!!!
boygenius - boygenius
Twenty-one minutes of excellence.
The three singer-songwriters bring their unique styles in their solos: Baker’s emo, Bridgers’ folk, and Dacus’ indie. Yet, the rockstars unite effortlessly, singing seamless harmonies and supportive backup vocals, thus showcasing them both as individual artists and as an entity.
Lyricism evokes strong imagery throughout the album. Lines like “Pulling thorns out of my palm / Work a midnight surgery / When you cut a hole into my skull / Do you hate what you see?” from “Souvenir” and “I'm in the back seat of my body / I'm just steering my life in the video game” from “Stay Down” stand out, cutting the listener with biting honesty as they pour out their hearts.
I could gush for years about how this trio inspires me, individually and together. This is my favorite album of 2018. I wish it lasted for more than twenty-one minutes.
Joey Pecaroro - Music for Happiness
The title does not disappoint. Pecoraro uniquely fuses hip hop beats with light, bright tones and samples that sound like quotes from a romantic black-and-white film, featuring the classic transatlantic accent. These elements melt together for an experience that keeps the listener mellow and, as the title suggests, a bit happier. This album is perfect for a quaint dinner party, working, or winding down before bed.
Snail Mail - Lush
Lindsey Jordan is a force to be reckoned with, rawly writing about her experiences with love. Lush’s cover art frames Jordan in heavily saturated red and blue, indicating the saturation of emotion in the album at first glance.
“Intro” and “Anytime” bookend Lush, with the latter expanding upon the idea of personal growth after a relationship, introduced in the former. This continuity welcomes you into Jordan’s diary before ushering you back into the real world — after a, well, lush musical experience — at the end.
Her reverberant guitar and vulnerable lyrics throughout the tracks make the listener feel as though they are listening to her divulge in a bedroom. Jordan’s favorite from the album, “Let’s Find an Out,” is especially representative of these qualities, telling of a love tainted with fear under rich, beautiful fingerpicking.
With brilliance at such a young age, I look forward to her growth as years pass.
Mac Miller - Swimming
As Ariana Grande noted in “thank u, next,” we lost an angel this year. Miller’s honesty is highlighted by bass and beats that ground and flow through the listener. Swimming graced us with emotional authenticity and musical maturity. I wish listeners could have heard his poetry live and seen where it would have grown.
MGMT - Little Dark Age
MGMT came back to the limelight with hooks, synths, and wit to please fans old and new. Little Dark Age’s satire in their pop-psych earworms “She Works Out Too Much” and “TSLAMP” brilliantly mocks modern technology with lyrics that might inspire laughing out loud upon first listen. The title track and “Me and Michael” stand as athems suited for belting. These highlights are surrounded by equally catchy, clever songs that create an spacey atmosphere in your earbuds. Little Dark Age reminded listeners of their talent once again.
Sloan Pecchia - DJ
DJ Sloan Pecchia spells out her top five.
The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Sonically this album is all over the place, but I think that’s what makes it come together as well as it does. Having a political anthem like “Love It If We Made It” on the same album as “I Couldn’t Be More In Love”, a jazzy love song dedicated to his fans, but also superbly fitting post-breakup, finishing with “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” which sounds like a Hannah Montana song in it’s intro, is what makes this album not only relatable, but revolutionary. Life isn’t cohesive and neither is this album which is why it has gotten the outstanding acclaim that it has.
Pinegrove - Skylight
Pinegrove was on nearly a year long hiatus when they dropped this album out of the blue. The record had been done for the whole year that they were dealing with personal issues, so when they came back they had a lot to explain and live up to and they wholeheartedly delivered. The album is everything I didn’t know I needed and I am beyond grateful for them to be back.
boygenius - boygenius
This supergroup comprised of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus was the best surprise the indie rock scene could’ve asked for. The storytelling on this EP such as in “Me and My Dog” and “Bite the Hand” is raw and touching that could bring tears to your eyes. This EP is a combination of some of the most talented women in the music industry, hands down.
King Princess - Make My Bed
Former USC student, Mikaela Strauss, has already made her mark on the music industry with her debut single, “1950”. Her debut EP Make My Bed, is a statement of queer love, with the juxtaposition of religion begin highlighted in songs such as, “Holy”. King Princess is a breath of fresh air that we all were very much in need of.
Maisie Peters - Dressed Too Nice For A Jacket
Maisie Peters is a must watch phenomenon at only 18 years old. Her debut EP tells a story of love and all that comes with that. “Details” and “Feels Like This” are opposing thoughts, but bring out so much emotion that you’ll get lost in a daze, remembering your first love.
DJ Stripedbeatle's Top 10 Albums of 2018
Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples
This album is genius. It’s ritualistic, it’s disciplined, it’s textured and it’s a literal perfect blend of nostalgia and foresight. The track-list is perfect, the pace is perfect, the mix is perfect… It’s perfect. These Japanese magicians have created art directly made for your heart, your mind, and your pineal gland.
Ty Segall & White Fence - Joy
Hectic collage psychedelic voyage. A garage romp that lasts just long enough to shake you, but short enough to keep you wanting more. A trip in production, composition and engineering, this record bends itself backwards and combusts. It's two absolutely insane artistic minds painting on the same canvas. It’s a spliff; harsh, sweet, and leaves you with a buzz you don’t want shake off.
Artic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
I have a lot to say about this album, but in short, it’s an effective concept album that showcases the musical maturing and desperation for creative freedom of a band that has found something rare in the oughts: rock and roll stardom. It’s sexy, it’s dark, it’s silly, it’s musically intricate and complex in ways these musicians have never been stretched to, but have always teased they could. Understated and underrated.
Beach House - 7
Regardless of the insanely high bar that their discography has brought them to, Beach House never fails to deliver incredibly emotional, fragile, sleek dream pop in the most regal and majestic manner. They are the masters and never cease to move me.
Jonathan Wilson - Rare Birds
1968:Laurel Canyon::2018:Echo Park. Los Angeles rock-n-roll made in the hills of East Hollywood by a group of incredibly talented friends, led by the incredibly heartfelt and talented Jonathan Wilson. A careful, cerebral yet heartfelt voyage into the soul of a man who could bring George Harrison to tears. It’s no wonder he’s Roger Waters’ go-to guitarist.
Ty Segall - Freedom’s Goblin
Both opus and sampler, this double LP shows how the most prolific SoCal guitarist working right now is a human swiss-army knife, and that his crew of close friends are the most under-appreciated rock n rollers in the game.
SURFBORT - Friendship Music
Punk is back from the dead. A perfect punk album that feels exactly like 2018 did. It’s dirty, it’s angry, it’s whimsy, it’s angsty, it’s everything I ever wanted as a teen from punk rock, but with an authenticity and rawness rarely found nowadays. Also, Dani Miller for President 2020.
The Lemon Twigs - Go To School
A Rock Musical about a monkey who wants to be a rockstar but must go to school before he can be a rocker, where he gets bullied into burning down the school and getting kicked out by his parents, one of whom is played by Todd Rundgren. For Brian & Paul D’addario to be younger than I am, and for this record to have the ambition and delivery it does makes it the most impressive concept album released in years.
Oh Sees - Smote Reverser
Both explosive and meditative, this year’s release by Oh Sees finds them bringing what they do best to krautrock, prog rock and proto-metal.
Drink - Hippo Lite
Tim Presley and Cate LeBon isolated themselves in an old house off a river in southern France to make a dadaist record with all the love and apathy in their worlds. It’s weird as hell, its smart as hell, its felt as hell.
KXSC Alum Jatin Chowdhury chimes in with his picks from dos mil dieciocho.
Soccer Mommy - Clean
I just wished you also felt like this
It is Wednesday afternoon, a small room with a desk and four chairs, no windows. If I stand up and stretch my arms out, I can touch all four walls. I gradually begin to feel a slight chill in the air, as if I’m spending winter in a small town in Minnesota, nothing to do but stay in tonight, read, and watch the fire. Am I alone? There are a couple bars down the street but most of the regulars are probably staying home like me, capable but unwilling to brave the flat, icy winds. Still there is company there if I want it. I don’t feel lonely. I open my eyes, stand up from the desk, and tuck in my chair. I pack my things, open the door, through the hallway, down the stairs and outside, where the sun has now set. I turn north, and walk home. I don’t feel lonely.
Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts
I feel FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Kanye West has been in the public eye a lot this year for a lot of non-musical reasons, which is really a shame since I think he's released some pretty solid music as well. While Ye had some great moments and some not-so-great ones, his collaboration with Kid Cudi on Kids See Ghosts is pretty darn spotless. Kids See Ghosts contains some of the best instrumentals to ever appear on a Kanye record, from flipping vintage Christmas songs, to fluidly melding Cudi’s grunge tendencies with Madlib-esque psychedelic hip hop. Kanye’s bars toe the line between his typical braggadocio and a more somber, self-reflective, almost self-critical lens, meanwhile Cudi is in rare form, sounding as good as I’ve ever heard him both lyrically and vocally, particularly on “Reborn.” A couple weeks ago while watching a video of the duo performing this album live at Camp Flog Gnaw, I remember marveling at how goddamn happy Kid Cudi looked while performing these songs, so if nothing else, I love this album for putting a smile on his face.
Iceage - Beyondless
Hopelessly lost at sea internally
It is Tuesday night, somewhere around 1 AM. My ears are ringing, my knees shaking, my stomach turning. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach 20+ times, my ear throbbing from where I was kicked. I’m not able to stand up without swaying like a top that’s just left its perfectly upright state in favor of a slight wobble, so I sit down on the edge of the curb and watch the auto wheels flash by, 18 inches from my toes. As fatigue sets in, everything goes quiet, the bodies of the cars fade away, and the streams of headlights slowly blur together into neon ray tracings, all pointing forward and against, in a perfectly straight dance, which I alone get to view from a slight angle. I am like this when the twins finally find me.
Sleepy Dog - Just Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Sleepy Dog is one of the artists I’m most excited about going into 2019. I discovered Mr. Dog quite randomly when stumbling across one of his many YouTube songs that were written and recorded in a single night in his dorm room. Sleepy is an incredible guitarist, who clearly draws from the math-rock cannon of lightning fast riffs and fretboard tapping, but he takes this sound, which I’ve typically seen as being quite pretentious and masturbatory, turns it on its head, makes it fun, and most importantly, makes it really rock; let’s just say that Sleepy Dog is not afraid to get a little sloppy here and there. Add to that his beautiful sense of melodic composition, his gutturally powerful voice, and harmonic and lyrical influence from emo/math-rock classics like American Football and TTNG, and you can see why Sleepy Dog has become a quick favorite of mine. Just Let Sleeping Dogs Lie runs about 25 minutes, and features some gorgeous instrumental tracks including “Tip Toeing On Pond Water” and “Anakin Skywalker Misses You”, as well as some more vocally driven rockers like “Screamers” and “Space Cadet” (though laced with questionable culinary choices). In keeping with his prolific output, Sleepy has a new record out this December, Amor Fati, which is definitely worth checking out as well.
Hayley Heynderickx - I Need To Start A Garden
It is Sunday, somewhere around noon. I’m not asleep, but close. The trees and buildings outside the window give a bleak blend of green and brown, against a dreary gray backdrop. Where am I? I feel like I should be home, but this cannot be, for I don’t recall such dreariness being characteristic of my home. After all, a person should get to choose their home, and I for one would never choose a place like this. My home is neither dull nor flashy, but colorful; neither boring nor fancy, but plain. If I get up and go to the next room, I know I will be able to look out the window and see sunbeams echoing off of mountains, mountains that – despite how much I love mountains – don’t seem any less dreary than my current view. I don’t get up. But if I close my eyes, I can see ever so slightly, out of the corner of my eye (where all Quality is best seen), my home. It is there. I can see it, feel it, taste it. But I am not there. Someday. For now, I can live with by brown, green, and gray, and when I see the roads leading away, I let my mind follow them, upwards, outwards, onwards… home?
Taking a slightly different tact, DJ Reanna Cruz has decided to feature their favorite songs, rather than albums. Enjoy!
MGMT - “Me and Michael”
On an album with singles like “When You Die” and “Little Dark Age”, MGMT continues to outdo themselves by leaning heavily into the 80s nostalgia and bombast that has previously only lended influence to their past work. The entire Little Dark Age album welcomes this wholeheartedly, but none of them are as effective as the fourth track “Me and Michael”. It’s rare for a song to make me, the listener, feel like I don’t deserve to be listening to something so effortlessly remarkable - however, on this track MGMT captures the indescribable feeling of nostalgic friendship with ease. The song kicks off with two kicks of a drum synth, and it immediately thrusts you into an aural synth landscape that sounds like an auditory rendition of what it feels like to have sheer hope. When Andrew VanWyngarden belts “me and Michael / solid as they come” in the chorus, you feel it in your chest; the meaning is muddled - but that’s the intention. The listener has to construct their own understanding, connect their own “Michael”, and because of that, it makes this grandiose, reverb-laden piece even more magical.
Kids See Ghosts - “Reborn”
The entire Kids See Ghosts album shines as a return to form for both members of the duo - Kanye West and Kid Cudi - but “Reborn” in particular shows both members at their highest of highs. Kanye delivers one of his best verses in years, but the piece as a whole belongs to Kid Cudi and his producers. The latter half, as Cudi repeats the mantra “keep moving forward” backed by just an organ and a drum synth (produced by frequent collaborator Evan Mast, half of Ratatat) acts as a reminder, and serves as both an ideology as well as one of the most powerful minutes of hip hop music of this year.
SOPHIE - “Is It Cold In The Water?”
SOPHIE’s 2018 record OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES acts as not just an art-pop masterpiece, but also as an outstanding performance about what it means to be closeted and trans, yearning to grasp fully what being a femme-presenting “girl” is. “Is It Cold in the Water?” is the centerpiece, a hauntingly gorgeous reflection on what it feels like to want more out of life. Sheer power and emotion oozes out of every musical crevice, from Mozart’s Sister’s octave jumping vocals, to the sweeping bass soundscapes, to the flowing production - the delicate and the jagged seem to play with each other, contrasting while coming together with every layer. It is a reflection on rebirth, and SOPHIE works to have “Is It Cold…” become not just a mere song, but an immersive experience.
Ariana Grande - “no tears left to cry”
Over engulfing synths and soaring vocals, Ariana Grande delivers one of the most powerful pop performances of the year. “no tears left to cry” is rebuilding yourself at it’s finest; Grande, with Max Martin’s production, craft an elegant piece of music showcasing hardship, loss, and uncertainty. She takes these unpleasant emotions, stores them all in a box, and lets them sit - for when Ariana emerges, she is absolutely unstoppable, and comes to let the world know that things always get better. This message shines through, and serves as a step of growth for Ari, becoming a fitting lead single for sweetener, as well as one of her finest melodic performances.
Mac Miller - “Self Care”
Untimely death aside, Swimming is one of the best rap records of 2018; Mac Miller outdoes himself, and shows an extreme maturation of both sound and vision. This is incredibly evident in every single facet of “Self Care” - lyrically, the song serves as one of his most self-reflective, and musically, the beat switch alone ranks it as one of the best songs of this year, as well as of his exemplary catalog. It’s a shame one of the most forward thinking people in the rap game had to pass too soon, because, if anything, “Self Care” was an indication of the immeasurable musical heights Mac could reach.
Jóhann Jóhannson - “Children of the New Dawn”
Composer Johann Johannsson passed away earlier this year at 48 years old, his final film score being for this year’s Mandy (2018) dir. Panos Cosmatos, a grindhouse thriller starring Nicolas Cage. The film is wholly a psychedelic experience, with Johannsson delivering an incredible score heavily influenced by a myriad of genres, stoner metal and psychedelic rock included. The last piece in the film, “Children of the New Dawn”, is a pulsating instrumental that manages to bridge the gap between orchestral brilliance and shoegaze immersiveness, and works as a perfect, out of the box cap to Johannsson’s illustrious career.
Kacey Musgraves - “Slow Burn”
Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves is an album that gets better with every listen, and nothing sets the tone better than the opener, “Slow Burn”. The record feels like a warm place in the sun, and embodies the title in every single way - as Kacey’s guitar comes in, followed by her voice, and then the full band soon after, the song is a slow burn itself, and sets the stage for one of the most surprisingly beautiful albums of 2018.
Anderson .Paak feat. Pusha T - “Brother’s Keeper”
“Brother’s Keeper”, lodged firmly in the latter half of Paak’s Oxnard, serves as one of the most hidden gems of 2018. A song, already taken to the highest of highs by both Paak’s bars and the trap-tinged soul beat, reaches it’s apex with a verse by Pusha T, a man currently having arguably the best year in the rap game. The combination is lethal, and leaves the listener stunned, just in time for a beat switch, shaking up the latter half of the song.
Lil Uzi Vert - “New Patek”
The Uzi of 2018 has been shrouded in a veil of mystery: the man promised his sophomore studio album in July, titled Eternal Atake, but never provided a release date or any other details. As the year draws to a close, the only solidified information comes from what was released as the lead single, “New Patek”. The song, for a single, is baffling; Uzi raps for nearly six minutes covering a myriad of nonsensical topics from Naruto to Burberry, effortlessly switching flows and styles over an intricate and developed piano loop. This may sound confusing, but here, Uzi is at the top of his game, with a level of skill and technicality previously un-accessed on any of his work thus far. He flows with ease, bopping and weaving through rhyme in a way only to be described as impressive.
Mitski - “Nobody”
What can be said about Mitski that countless “best of the year” publications haven’t said already? “Nobody” is a transcendent lament that works its hardest to make loneliness an enjoyable listen. It makes you laugh, it makes you dance, it makes you cry, it makes you scream. Maybe it can feel like there’s absolutely nobody around, but Mitski wants to prove that being by yourself doesn’t have to be a negative experience.
Jade fink - intern
Intern Jade Fink has also elected to select songs instead albums. Check it out!
Mac Miller - “What’s The Use?”
The bassline in “What’s The Use?” sets up the perfect groove for Mac Miller’s smooth vocals and the laid back feel of the rhythm section creates a pocket that is impossible to ignore. The production and synth sounds are layered tastefully and compliment the feel of the song without overpowering any melodic or rhythmic motifs. The chorus is catchy and memorable while maintaining the musical integrity of the rest of the song. Essentially, this song is guaranteed to make the listener want to move.
Kali Uchis - “Just A Stranger feat. Steve Lacy”
Kali Uchis’ sweet vocals and cultivated harmonies contrast perfectly with Steve Lacy’s lower melodic line and a gritty but undeniable backbeat created by the bass and drums. The driving pulse and accented beats 2 and 4 pull the listener in and provide the song with a hip and danceable feel. Subtle guitar lines outline the main groove of the bassline and synth lines add an essential modern feel. Ultimately, this song is an anthem with an impeccable flow.
Leon Bridges - “Bad Bad News”
The jazzy drum groove, guitar licks, keyboard hits, and driving bassline are opposed by Leon Bridges’ modern vocals to create a danceable song with a nostalgic vibe. The pocket of this song brings jazz back into fashion in a popular context and highlights impressive musicianship. In effect, Leon Bridges brings back jazz in a way that is accessible and appealing to a mass contemporary audience.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - “Hunnybee”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra uses vintage-inspired soft tones and a bright bassline to create a laid back, easy to listen to song that still feels upbeat and light. It is often difficult for artists to create softer songs that are still fun and buoyant enough for the listener, but the song Hunnybee encompasses that goal fully. The vocals are pleasant while the rhythm section keeps the song moving forward and maintains an interesting dynamic journey.
Noname - “Blaxploitation”
The unwavering intensity of the bassline complimented by the elaborate drum beat in Blaxploitation presents the ideal background for Noname’s cutting edge hip hop vocals. Aside from the obvious strength of the rhythm section in this song, the lyrics and message are relevant and powerful. This song is not only a “bop” with a heavy groove, but also a fiery commentary and critique of several contemporary societal issues. Although it is part of a compelling and passionate album, Blaxploitation stands out as the clear leader in pocket and influence, earning it the spot as the number 1 song of 2018.