Lately, it seems that a daily glance at the news headlines is accompanied by a fair amount of dread, invariably producing one or all of the following reactions. Head scratching. Stomach churning. Fist pounding. Heart aching. Yes, these are incredible—and incredulous—times we’re living in, and many of us achieve a minor victory each day by simply not losing our f***ing minds.
The music world, on the other hand, has once again proven to be a steady source of solace and inspiration, with an abundance of first-rate albums surfacing over the past six months. And as we anxiously look toward all of the promising new releases slated for 2018’s latter half, we’ve stolen a moment here to take stock of the 30 finest albums of the year thus far.
Have a look (and listen) at the list below, let us know if we’ve overlooked any of your personal favorites, and be sure to take a few long, deep breaths as you drop the needle or press play to escape the realities of the day, if only for a few moments.
According to Liz Itkowsky: "Though No Shame derives from the darkest hours of Allen’s life, it’s ripe with the insanely catchy pop hits with cheeky lyrics that remind everyone of what made her a star in the first place."
According to Justin Chadwick: "Though the story of this master storyteller’s career is destined to continue evolving in exciting ways in the years (and albums) to come, May Your Kindness Remain offers convincing affirmation that persistence and passion can pay off for artists who have songs of substance to share with the world."
According to Kenneth Hicks: "While pro-Black art has seen an uptick in the mainstream, some artists have been providing such work for years, and a prime example is the supergroup known as August Greene. The group consists of Common, Robert Glasper, and Karriem Riggins—three highly-accomplished artists that have nurtured different mediums, but all capture the soulfulness that's birthed from being Black in America. Their debut as August Greene is an embodiment of the cultural pride they have shown in the past."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "Tell Me How You Really Feel is not Barnett’s thesis; it’s simply a good album from a great songwriter, and hopefully one of many. The ability to talk about emotion in a concrete, expressive way, while staying miles away from sentimentality is rare. But it’s apparently second nature to Courtney Barnett."
According to Liz itkowsky: "How have Beach House crafted so many beautiful albums, aging much better than several of their peers, out of gently leaning on an organ? It’s shoegaze, dream pop, whatever you choose to call it, but still uniquely Beach House and done to perfection."
According to Patrick Corcoran: "At just 10 songs, the album never outstays its welcome. It is lean, taut and entirely played and produced by Bonet. It seems entirely unfair to be blessed with a voice so beautiful and to be able to play so many instruments, as well as produce them so cleanly. But hers is a talent that clearly knows no limits."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "While hope feels thin, All Nerve isn’t a collection of songs about despair. There is an anxious current running beneath each track, electrifying and inconsolable at the same time. Throughout the album it feels like the group is evicting shame to make space for loneliness (or maybe just reflection). The optimism comes from the existence of the album, and the collective effort of the four people needed to make it happen."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "A reluctant songbird, Case is clearly in touch with her feminine rage on Hell-On. Coming off her album and tour with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs, she sounds emboldened, too pissed off to stay quiet. She doles out her anger in spoonfuls, washed down with humor and hooks. Like a modern siren, Case lures you in with her hypnotic voice until you become lost in the wreckage of her stories."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "Ruins may not recapture the intensity of Stay Gold, but its strength lays in the duo’s swooning vocals and lyrical romance. Where it misses the loud, creative production of past albums, folk vocals with a little extra (those harmonies!) pick up the slack. Ruins is a charismatic, concise send-up of a style unclaimed by many young American musicians in 2018, but exquisitely executed by these special Swedish talents."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "Transangelic Exodus feels like a concept album, but with disjointed moments of simple pop brightness. This album is creative and catchy, a true crowd-pleaser, despite the setting of a world where Furman doesn’t feel like he quite fits in. Transangelic Exodus is both a postcard from the road, inviting you to ride along, and the diary of a songwriter, raw and compelling."
According to Jesse Ducker: "Everything’s Fine is the strongest hip-hop album to be released in 2018 thus far, and has set a high bar for other artists to reach for the rest of the year. It’s as good as any album I can think of that creates a rich musical realm that allows the artists to flex the breadth and depth of their skills, as well as articulate their own unique worldview. I hope the duo continue to record music together, because they’re already achieving—if not exceeding—their potential."
According to Grant Walters: "This is the greatness of Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John: the depth and quality of the British-Australian chanteuse’s catalog linked with Hatfield’s indie-rock lens affectionately magnifying its versatility...If you’re a fan of Newton-John’s or Hatfield’s, there are plenty of reasons you’ll want to put this record on and bask in its thoughtfulness. If you’re not familiar with either but appreciate an intuitive, talented artist giving voice to a batch of compelling compositions, this album’s for you too."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "A middle ground between a noisier Lorde-style sound and stripped down FKA Twigs vocals, Kimbra has quietly released an incredibly strong album. It stands out as balanced and gratifying electro-pop that serves Kimbra well, a canvas for her gorgeous range and theatrical vocals. While it checks the boxes of several pop trends, Primal Heart still sounds fresh. And though it probably won’t get the relentless overexposure of “Somebody I Used to Know,” people are sure to pay attention."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "Overall, Castles is a strong pop album that dutifully showcases a talented singer. There are a few great songs that linger in your head, even if they don’t grab you by the collar the first time around. With this grown-up, personal album, Lissie shows she is more than an anecdotal footnote to prominent musicians. Hopefully Castles is just one milestone on a long road to increasingly authentic music."
According to Kate Seldman: "Resistance Is Futile, the band’s thirteenth studio album, finds them treading familiar ground. That’s not to say they’re phoning it in: they’re simply doing what they do best...They may be questioning their future, but the Manic Street Preachers don’t sound like they’re ready to give up just yet."