50. Cat Power – Wanderer
Origin: Atlanta, Georgia
The Gist: The long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s Sun chronicles Chan Marshall’s so-called “journey so far” — the failings and accomplishments, exits and new chapters, and various locales that have informed her storied, prolific career. Wanderer also marks her first full-length since becoming a mother and her first since 1996 not released through longtime label Matador, who outright rejected an initial draft of the album because of its supposed lack of commercial hits. All 11 tracks were produced by Marshall, including her collaboration with past tour mate Lana Del Rey (“Woman”) and her gorgeous reimagining of Rihanna smash “Stay”.
Why It Rules: Although she’s 10 albums and more than two decades into her career, Marshall continues to prove why she’s still one of music’s most vital and insightful voices. She’s a wanderer by nature, but she’s offering us so much more than just Instagram wanderlust or restlessness when it comes to planting roots. While Marshall travels and pushes on in love, her work, and the in-between, she is constantly reflecting on and engaging with what she’s learning — no matter how ugly or painful — and translating it into lifeblood both for herself and us. The very existence of Wanderer — an album turned down by a once-supportive label — is a testament to the persistence of her “journey” and is perhaps best embodied by a line from “Woman”: “I’m a woman of my word, now you have heard/ My word’s the only thing I truly need.” –Lake Schatz
Essential Tracks: “Woman”, “Stay”, and “You Get”
49. Superorganism – Superorganism
Origin: London, England
The Gist: This eight-member collective of Very Online musicians bring a fresh sense of lighthearted fun to their self-titled debut, entwining sound effects and audio clips with danceable melodies and razor-sharp attention to detail. Lead vocalist Orono Noguchi cites Stephen Malkmus and Pavement as influences on her songwriting and delivery, and it’s not difficult to hear the distant strains of the ’90s running through this otherwise thoroughly modern-sounding record.
Why It Rules: Superorganism is as perfect a distillation of disparate influences into effortless indie pop as you’re bound to find in 2018. Equally perfect for a dance party with friends or one by yourself, songs like “Nobody Cares” — which manages to be both grunge-influenced and bouncing — and the meticulously crafted “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” envelop the listener in a sunny sonic world where all the choruses are singable, and nothing seems that bad. It’s all wrapped up in a bow of meticulous production and playful experimentation, charting a bold, new course for where indie pop may be headed in the next few years and beyond. –Katherine Flynn
Essential Tracks: “Nobody Cares”, “Something for Your M.I.N.D.”, and “Everybody Wants to Be Famous”
48. Lykke Li – So Sad So Sexy
Origin: Ystad, Skåne, Sweden
The Gist: For her fourth studio effort, Lykke Li reinvents herself by putting a trap twist on her brand of Scandic sad pop. The follow-up to 2014’s dreamier and delicate I Never Learn brims with heavy doses of hip-hop heat and a brooding slinkiness. The reshaping of Li’s sound can partially be attributed to the album’s impressive list of veteran producers, which includes partner Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West), ex-Vampire Weekender Rostam, Malay (Frank Ocean), Emile Haynie (Bruno Mars), and DJ Dahi (Kendrick Lamar).
Why It Rules: Rarely does a record deliver on its title, but here the Swedish singer offers up snapshots of collapsed, caved-in romances and gnarled, negative love that somehow still sound hot as fuck. Think of it like that last bedroom tryst before parting ways (‘cause you know you’re both so toxic for one another). It’s not all sweaty bodies and friction, though — there’s a good bit of time spent thinking about the space once inhabited by a person, literally and figuratively, and the empty void that will soon replace it. “Better alone than lonely here with you,” Li admits on standout track “better alone”, a realization that seems simple in theory but is actually deep enough that it eludes most of the dating population. –Lake Schatz
Essential Tracks: “deep end”, “hard rain”, and “better alone”
47. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
Origin: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Gist: Over a decade into her career, Meghan Remy has never appeared more firmly established in her broad pop soundscape. Perhaps there’s an irony in the fact that it comes on an album featuring more collaborators than ever before (avant-jazz group The Cosmic Range, Michael Rault, producer Onakabazien, Remy’s husband Max Turnbull), but don’t let the credits detract from the most powerful U.S. Girls effort to date. All those new voices serve to elevate Remy’s innate experimentalism, leading to an album serving clear, unapologetic messages through a prismatic array of disco, glam, industrial, and jazzy sounds.
Why It Rules: Leaving the bedroom has allowed the inherent pop potential of U.S. Girls to finally reach a peak and not a moment too soon. The cultural milieu has belatedly opened itself up to the sort of feminist themes Remy has long sung about, and presenting them in such defiantly sticky aural packages has made them ineluctable. Opening with righteous rage and finding a way towards musing hope, Poem is a thick narrative of intense intellectual value from both literary and gender perspectives. That makes it fiercely timely — and it’s fun as hell to boot. –Ben Kaye
Essential Tracks: “Velvet 4 Sale”, “Rage of Plastics”, and “Pearly Gates”
46. Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin
Origin: Laguna Beach, California
The Gist: Another brilliant addition to the sprawling discography by this unusually talented rock artist. Freedom’s Goblin feels like listening to Ty Segall’s mp3 library on shuffle, as we hit on florid psychedelia, steaming garage rock, proto-metal, weepy folk, and R&B grooves. Is that the iTunes visualizer we see, or did he slip something into our drink?
Why It Rules: Never underestimate the power of having a great band at your disposal. With The Freedom Band in his corner — an all-star ensemble that includes bassist Mikal Cronin and Cairo Gang leader Emmett Kelly — Segall can truly go for broke in his songwriting and playing. And what comes from that power and flexibility is a downright indulgent collection of songs, like going for the popcorn upgrade at the snack counter because it’s only 50 cents more for a jumbo. This album is equally luxuriant and filling, with one of Segall’s most heartfelt ballads and his nastiest riffs nestled cozily together. –Robert Ham
Essential Tracks: “Fanny Dog”, “When Mommy Kills You”, and “My Lady’s on Fire”
45. Denzel Curry – TA13OO
Origin: Carol City, Florida
The Gist: Denzel Curry is only 23, but he’s evolved more significantly than many rappers do in a whole lifetime. His third album to date, TA1300’s story unfolds through three separate acts — “Light”, “Gray”, and “Dark” — each its own mood piece and persuasive evidence of the Florida MC’s transformation into a more well-rounded artist. Assisting him throughout are special guests in Goldlink, J. Cole protege J.I.D., JPEGMAFIA, and rising pop star Billie Eilish.
Why It Rules: Curry nearly mastered the art of the brusque, rapid-fire flow on past releases, such as the 2016 full-length, Imperial. While there’s certainly still plenty of heat on TA1300, the young rapper has wisely taken a step back to examine not just his approach to songwriting, but also his approach to simply being a human who deals with a lot of heaviness (i.e. topics like molestation, the presidential election, paranoia, revenge).
“With that I learned how to become who I am because back then… I was so abrasive, so aggressive, so mean, so cold…,” he told Rolling Stone earlier this year. The result is an album that slaps in every sense of the word — we get Curry barking over shaking bass and crooning over soulful, synth-y production — and further sets him apart from his SoundCloud rap cohorts. –Lake Schatz
Essential Tracks: “PERCS | PERCZ”, “BLACK BALLOONS | 13LACK 13ALLOONS”, and “SUMO | ZUMO”
44. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Sparkle Hard
Origin: Stockton, California
The Gist: Four long years after their last release, the deliciously titled Wig Out at Jagbags, Stephen Malkmus and his balmy Jicks return with an equally delicious follow-up. Spread across 11 tracks, the former Pavement frontman meditates on a changing world by changing with it, leaning on newer toys like an Auto-Tune and Mellotron. He even gets political without all the gimmicky trappings that traditionally come with being an aging white rocker trying to stand on a soapbox.
Why It Rules: For all those reasons and more, Malkmus arrives in top form on Sparkle Hard, sounding like a bona fide bard of his generation. Make no mistake, he still knows how to get silly, but it’s the type of silly one might attribute to whimsically clever authors like Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss. Songs like “Bike Lane”, “Kite”, and especially “Shiggy” prove he still has his eye on the stage while deeper cuts like “Solid Silk” and “Middle America” hint that he’d just as happily stroll around the neighborhood. –Michael Roffman
Essential Tracks: “Shiggy”, “Bike Lane”, and “Kite”
43. Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Look Now
Origin: London, England
The Gist: Elvis Costello might be one of the most dexterous and accomplished pop songwriters of the rock era, but he’s not above dipping back into his own well on occasion. The singer has spent a lot of time in recent years touring and performing 1982’s Imperial Bedroom, so it makes sense that his latest outing, Look Now, smacks of that record’s baroque pop flair. With The Imposters back in tow, Costello’s first record of new music in five years is an intricately detailed and meticulously crafted affair, one longer on arrangements and musicianship than rock and roll spit and vinegar.
Why It Rules: A veritable jack of all musical trades, Costello has canvassed just about every genre imaginable over the course of his 40-year career. He can play the part of the crooning balladeer (“Look Now”, “Stripping Paper”, “Photographs Can Lie” ) just as easily as he can the fiery bandleader (“Mr. and Mrs. Hush”, “Unwanted Number”). Look Now boasts a little of both, but, generally speaking, the record is a relaxed hang defined much more by piano, strings, and winds than Costello’s rock and roll pedigree. But it’s hardly a snoozer, either. Subtlety might reign, but there’s a swanky, sophisticated cool coursing through Look Now that punches it up in even its hushest moments. –Ryan Bray
Essential Tracks: “Under Lime”, “Mr. and Mrs. Hush”, and “Stripping Paper”
42. Beach House – 7
Origin: Baltimore, Maryland
The Gist: Seven albums in, Baltimore-based Beach House have proven that they’re incredibly good at being themselves. Victoria Legrand’s smoky vocals and Alex Scally’s immersive instrumentals once again create an experience that is disorienting in the best way, documenting impressions and moments in a way that is both mysteriously obfuscated and immediately visceral. 7 finds the duo teaming up with producer Sonic Boom to create a heavier sound than the tinkling, dreamy melodies that made their name on early albums like Devotion.
Why It Rules: Beach House are an endlessly creative, well-oiled machine, and 7 is the perfect exemplification of Legrand and Scally’s partnership. Songs like “Dive” begin slow and gradually introduce new elements like driving drumbeats, delivering listeners to a very different place than when the song began. Through a bevy of production tricks like shimmering fades and dissolves and the rich, booming quality of Legrand’s voice, it’s not hard for a listener to imagine themselves experiencing the music on some kind of timeless astral plane — the transformative journey that people have come to expect, and even depend on, when playing a new Beach House record for the first time. In this way, and many more, 7 delivers the goods. –Katherine Flynn
Essential Tracks: “Lemon Glow”, “Drunk in LA”, and “Pay No Mind”
41. Joey Purp – Quarterthing
Origin: Chicago, Illinois
The Gist: In 2016, the Chicago rapper gave us iiidrops, a masterful mixtape featuring collaborations with SABA and Mick Jenkins and fellow Savemoney crew members Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. It would be easy to be at least a tad skeptical that Joey Purp could roll out a release on par with that ‘tape, especially so soon, but here we are with Quarterthing. Joey’s proper debut album, it finds him accompanied in the studio by RZA, Ravyn Lenae, and GZA and production masterminds such as Smoko Ono, Coloring Book’s Knox Fortune, DJ Khalil (Eminem), Thelonius Martin (Mac Miller), and Nate Fox of The Social Experiment.
Why It Rules: Quarterthing extends the vision of iiidrops, as well as builds on it with exceptional execution. From start to finish, Joey not only speaks his conscience, reflecting on hardship, crime, and newfound fame with crisp precision and lyrical dexterity. He’s also able to thread together a thrilling tapestry of sounds whose textures bounce between percolating Chicago house and footwork, thunderous trap, and warm soul.
Perhaps the best quality of the album is an intangible X factor, one that happens to also make him a dynamic force onstage: A glowing magnetism that, no matter the bullshit of today, makes you still believe in tomorrow. “I’m still alive, yeah!” he sings on “24K Gold/Sanctified”, something of a counterpart to Chance’s “Blessings”, joy nearly bursting from his chest. –Lake Schatz
Essential Tracks: “24K Gold/Sanctified”, “Elastic”, and “Bag Talk”