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Paste Magazine’s 50 Best Albums of 2018 List Is Out – and High Road Artists Are on It

[Paste Magazine]

Yes, the album is still relevant in 2018. Even as we become more likely to stream playlists or shuffle the works of an artist on Spotify, it’s worth taking a look at music as an artist intended, a package of tracks, sequenced with care, offering a snapshot view into a singular creative endeavor with a long history—the LP. This year’s list of best albums was voted on by Paste’s staff, music writers and tireless interns. As always, Paste’s Best Albums of 2018 reflects the specific and varying tastes of its voters—lots of indie rock and singer/songwriters with a smattering of country, hip-hop, soul and whatever genre you want to call Lonnie Holley. We’ll release an updated list with our reader’s favorites, so send us your top 10 albums to bestalbums@pastemagazine.com by Dec. 1.

50. Yo La Tengo: There’s A Riot Going On
New Jersey’s foremost indie auteurs have always managed to find that fine line between obtuse experimentation and pastoral pop, one that sometimes makes Yo La Tengo’s intentions difficult to unpack but enticing enough for added interest. For some, There’s a Riot Going On will likely further blur the lines between dreaminess and delirium, but given its low-lit haze, the atmospheric climate and the throbbing percussion that churns and gurgles throughout, that affable approach never wavers. Longtime stalwarts Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew supposedly recorded it all spontaneously and without premeditation, suggesting they were in a decidedly reflective mood throughout the process. Likewise, there seems to have been a concerted effort to impart a comforting tone and compelling message, however opaque it occasionally appears. It’s best to take There’s a Riot Going On as a distinct whole, rather than simply a series of subdued tunes. The undulating tones anchor it all, giving it a unified purpose even though few of the melodies are of the hummable variety. A riot? Hardly. But by combining these trance-like textures in such an incessant way, they’ve created music of a mostly memorable variety regardless. —Lee Zimmerman

43. Caroline Rose: LONER
Caroline Rose’s 2014 album I Will Not Be Afraid was an eclectic roots-rock album, with rockabilly hiccups and real-deal twang sitting alongside vintage keyboard tones and lyrics about white privilege and Pagan lust. Rose’s fine new album LONER finds the New York-based singer-songwriter exploring an entirely new musical aesthetic without sacrificing any of the mischievous spark that coursed through her earlier work. She has ditched roots-rock in favor of a punchier, studio-powered pop sound, packed with danceable beats, prominent synths, big choruses and plenty of swagger. She remains unafraid of singing about serious subjects (capitalism, sexism, death, etc.) but on LONER, she delivers it through a bold, candy-colored filter that’s always intriguing and often irresistible. Throughout LONER, she uses sarcasm and humor when dealing with dark subjects, including, seemingly, her own ambition. “Where are you climbing to, girl? There’s nothing for you up there,” she sings in the second verse of “Cry,” probably the album’s best song. “Better come on back down to Earth, you silly thing. You’ll learn your place yet.” LONER is a big step up Caroline Rose’s artistic ladder, and evidence she hasn’t “learned her place” and never will. —Ben Salmon

16. Sunflower Bean: Twentytwo in Blue
Sunflower Bean’s second album Twentytwo in Blue was released this year when all three of its members—bassist/vocalist Julia Cumming, guitarist/vocalist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber—were 22 years old. Two years removed from their promising debut album Human Ceremony, the New York trio has grown up significantly on their sophomore effort. Toned down are a few elements that made Human Ceremony interesting: the dreamy guitar tones, the fuzzed-out riffs, the occasionally ragged arrangement. In their place is a band that sounds more comfortable in its own skin, but also completely locked in, no doubt the result of two years of maturity and hundreds of live shows (including pressurized opening slots for bands like the Pixies and Best Coast). You can hear the confidence radiating from opening track “Burn It,” which swaggers in a classic-rock style as Cumming sings about the constant of change, as well as the title track, with its overcast vibe and gently gorgeous melody. All in all, Twentytwo in Blue spills over with well-crafted songs and sumptuous performances. —Ben Salmon

6. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
There are a lot of unhappy people in the songs on Mitski’s new album. Some of them are Mitski herself, but not all. Belying the usual assumption that any woman who writes first-person lyrics is singing about herself, the 27-year-old singer/songwriter has said that many of the songs on Be the Cowboy are experiments in writing fiction. Let’s call it a successful experiment. She imagined her fictional character as “a very controlled, icy, repressed woman who is starting to unravel.” The songs here aren’t as straightforward as that, however: Mitski is a master of insinuation and inference. So when she sighs heavily at the start of “Me and My Husband,” and then sings on the chorus, “We are doing better / It’s always been just him and me / Together,” you can practically see the narrator’s tight, forced smile as she clings to a self-identity that is fully invested in a mate who has lost interest. Sometimes the unhappy people on Be the Cowboy seem to revel in their own discomfort. Really, though, reveling in discomfort is something Mitski has always done well: She examines and parses it with a rigor that is somehow clinical and poetic. Whether she’s singing about herself or creating stand-ins that feel just like real people, Be the Cowboy shows why she is fast making herself into one of the most interesting songwriters of her generation. —Eric R. Danton

4. Soccer Mommy: Clean
Amidst the verses of “Still Clean,” the opening track off of Clean, the latest album from Sophie Allison (aka Soccer Mommy), she’s grappling with a temporary tryst, a seasonal fling—the kind we often pretend to have gotten over, while we replay the minutiae of the affair over and over again in the privacy of our own heads. “I guess I’m only what you wanted for a little while,” she sings—still dazed months later from the abrupt departure of her summer love’s affections. Those are the first lyrics that jumped out at me, instantly conjuring up a face, and a name and my own replayed reel of amatory memories and now-hollow words. This speaks to Allison’s songwriting, a craft she honed for years in her Tennessee bedroom before releasing last year’s acclaimed Collection. With Clean, she may have again left her bedroom for the studio, but her introspective and comfortably confessional lyrics maintain their intimacy and diary-scrawl relatability. Only this time, Allison is zeroing in on the freeing, but often painful realizations that we all experience at one time or another—the kind that usually only come with the ending of something. Allison is young, her slight 20 years evident not only in her youthful voice, but her talk of missed calls from mom, parked cars, and hanging around after school. But she does it all in an honest, uncomplicated, and well-crafted way that Clean is anything but juvenile. You might just forget how old you are for a second, as her bedroom melodies carry you back to when feelings were freely given and many lessons still had to be learned. —Madison Desler

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