10. The 1975 — A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Until the release of their third and most recent album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the 1975 were no critical darling. And that’s putting it lightly. Their previous two outings, the dreamy debut The 1975 and 2016’s I like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It were more beloved by legions of teenagers than the industry elite. So what’s changed on A Brief Inquiry? After all, lead singer Matty Healy continues his prophetics and provocations; the instrumental and tonal diversity is no different in its scope, but perhaps more mature in its exasperation. Whether it’s the public catching up to the 1975 or the 1975 catching up to themselves, the glorious, near-incohesive cohesion of A Brief Inquiry puts the millennial experience on the mainstage — uninhibited, a bit messy, and like a dirty beacon that calls your name.
9. Christine and the Queens — Chris
The eternally blooming voice of Héloïse Letissier is given the slick, effervescent background it deserves on Chris. The title is also Letissier’s evolved moniker, which manifests in a lineup of transient personas introduced over the album’s 11 tracks. Technically, Chris contains 22 tracks, 11 in French and the same 11 songs in English. It truly deserves a full listen in French, even, and perhaps particularly for those unfamiliar with the language. Nothing is sacrificed in the spaces where lyrics are unclear, with the exultant production and powerful voice of Chris shining through at each and every celebratory, carnal, distraught turn. Whether it’s the notion of earning a quick five dollars or a call to both dissolve and engage one’s own identity, it’s clear that the voice of Letisser’s prescient narrator is one of the utmost confidence.
8. Kelela et al. — Take Me a_Part, the Remixes
If an album of remixes outperforms a host of fresh new tracks, there must be something special lying beneath the surface. See for yourself on Kelela’s Take Me a_Part, the Remixes, where the chanteuse provides a platform for a group of clever and energetic collaborators to interpret her 2017 album. Among the 20 remixes, there’s not one worth skipping, though there are several standouts, such as “Kaytranada_Waitin_115 Bpm” featuring the master of craft himself, Kaytranada. Then there’s the rallying call of “Lmk_What’s Really Good Remix_ feat_Princess Nokia_Junglepussy_Cupcakke_Ms. Boogie_100 Bpm,” which evokes the feeling of midnight camaraderie that this album so consistently inspires. By listing the new bpm of each remix, listeners get a visual clue into the kind of creations the featured artists build upon Take Me Apart’s already impenetrable foundation. The beats are consistent, euphoric; in short: it’s the album you light a blunt to once the sun goes down.
7. Let’s Eat Grandma — I’m All Ears
“We got this” says Let’s Eat Grandma on their second single “Falling Into Me” from sophomore LP I’m All Ears. And nothing could be closer to the truth; at age nineteen and twenty respectively, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth were strangely destined for success from the get-go. As artisans of intricate and folksy electropop anecdotes, the duo have graduated from what was already an impressively left-field sonic declaration to being at the forefront of the avant-pop boom. And rightfully so. Proven throughout their succinct, varied, and ultimately uplifting 11 tracks, Walton and Hollingsworth are not only unique in their presentation, but inextricably linked to the emotional core of I’m All Ears’ fantastical production.
6. Tierra Whack — Whack World
Tierra Whack knows how to make music that appeals to the modern listener. Not only in the brevity of her songs, but in the immediacy of her voice and the authenticity of her form. At 15 songs of precisely one minute each, Whack drives circles around her self-imposed time constraints to create something that ebbs and flows in just the right sequence. There’s no opportunity for boredom listening to Whack World. And despite the length of the album, it commands listening to in its entirety every time: something most albums could never boast. Released on YouTube as a full audiovisual album, Whack World plays into the boundless subject matter and visual/vocal versatility of an artist who is sure to keep surprising audiences into 2019 and beyond. Whether it’s a quick take on her severe allergy to bugs or her crisp enunciation on “Pretty Ugly,” new layers to Whack’s early opus can be unwrapped upon each listen.
5. Robyn — Honey
“Baby, it’s so real to me/now that it’s over.” Absence made Robyn’s heart grow fonder, and a loving feeling is evident throughout each of Honey’s nine tracks. Perhaps it’s the one-way ticket to “Beach2k20” or the promise of “Ever Again,” but it’s hard to leave Honey behind without basking in the uplifting residue of carefully finessed basslines, twinkling percussion, and swelling instrumentals. Despite a long period between LPs, Robyn exceeds expectations both by fulfilling her listener’s desire for dance-ready bops, while editing her final product down to only the most essential tracks. Elevating the obvious production prowess of Honey are the effortlessly quirky and sincere lyrics we’ve come to appreciate from the songstress herself. And it wouldn’t be a true Robyn effort if there weren’t periods where the artist speaks directly to her audience as the tide of her bassline washes in and out.
4. Rosalía — El Mal Querer
The astonishing vocal and instrumental yarn of El Mal Querer commands a certain amount of emotional release from the listener. Rosalía weaves a rich tapestry of toxic relationships, striking an urgent balance between quintessential flamenco and intoxicating pop adaptation that sees us as the invested but remote observer. Based on the 13th century Occitan narrative “Romance of Flamenca” — in which a jealous husband locks his wife in a tower — the same high-stakes drama is retained in El Mal Querer, but remains strikingly relatable, and at times extremely radio-ready. First chapter “MALAMANTE” immediately digs its stiletto into the dirt, demanding unwavering attention. On through to the balladry of “RENIEGO” and the choirs of “BAGDAD,” Rosalía’s unshakable falsetto is bolstered by a rich suite of instrumentals and an empathetic choir. The tragedy and ecstasy of Rosalía’s conviction is unquestionable throughout El Mal Querer. The artist herself reinforces this, stating in an interview with Jezebel, “If you don’t invest yourself emotionally…it’s ineffective. It doesn’t work.”
3. Mitski — Be The Cowboy
And be the cowboy, she did. In truth, cowboys could take a cue from the complex characterizations of master songwriter and indie innovator Mitski. Having moved around the globe as a child, Be The Cowboy is less a chronicle of past experiences and more a series of vignettes spun in tandem with Mitski’s turbid, palpable state of being. I find it’s best to always listen to Mitski at full volume. Whether it’s to enjoy the roots of her world-building cadence or to blur one’s surroundings with a frenzy of Fenders, the objective is the same: total immersion into the varied landscapes of Mitski, which coincidentally keep rolling on into the horizon. In keeping with her past work, songs are kept short yet expansive, changing in mood on a dime; and who can’t relate? Mitski is no mere vessel for the idea of a cowboy, but is instead the lone traveler pushing forth into something the rest of us are yet too cautious to charge forward.
2. SSION — O
As SSION’s Cody Critcheloe knows, an album can appeal to more than just the auditory sense. As the purveyor of high experimental camp excellence for almost 20 years, SSION is strangely just now coming into pop consciousness. And perhaps it is the release of several genuinely imaginative and overwhelmingly emotional? music videos (all directed by Critcheloe, of course) that put this album over the edge. But SSION’s music in isolation is no less worthy of admiration. The disco thread that runs through O is met with equal parts authenticity and irony. It comes as no surprise then that O’s video for single “At Least The Sky Is Blue” is joined by the arbiter of sincere irony, Ariel Pink. The combination seems almost too right, with Critcheloe and Pink dressed in drag as Liza and Judy, respectively. Yet on O, it feels as though we finally get to see Critcheloe himself in a more forthright light. Even if we’re not able to tell exactly what is going on in his mind, it’s clear to see that much is brewing. With songs like “Inherit,” “Comeback,” “Heaven is My Thing Again,” and “At Least The Sky Is Blue,” Critcheloe is a deft hand — whether he wants to admit it or not.
1. SOPHIE — OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UNINSIDES
What to say of SOPHIE? Whether you enjoy the warped vocals and hyperspeed rhythms of Charli XCX, the bubblegum ephemera of Kim Petras, or the growing legion of other lip-filler pop virtuosos, you have SOPHIE, at least in part, to thank. In the space of 5 years, British producer, DJ, singer, and songwriter SOPHIE has normalized what was once a sound that seemed as though it couldn’t exist in this world. The crisp popping, fizzling, and hyper-dull, relentless beats of early outings like 2015’s “VYZEE” and “LEMONADE” were simultaneously received with excitement and knee-jerk deride. In fact, it wasn’t until the release of 2018’s OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UNINSIDES that SOPHIE picked up the accolades her innovation so well deserved. But on OIL…, it’s more than simply her skills as a producer that are highlighted in painstaking detail. SOPHIE’s songwriting prowess delivers her message in a much more contemplative, romantic, and sprawling way — at least for her. Still, the album delivers the arrhythmia-inducing rhythms of her most exultant work in the form of “Immaterial,” “Faceshopping,” and “Ponyboy.” Looking to the future, it’s not a question of what SOPHIE will do next, but what she won’t.