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 Quentin Harrison: "As it is with any new Kylie Minogue record, the critical and commercial hubbub of the moment can slightly obscure what Golden's long reaching effects are to be on the artist herself and her canon. But time will likely be gracious to Golden, a stylish, sensitive totem that eschews stagnation and embraces continued artistic growth. In short, Golden is unequivocally something that Minogue can be proud of."
According to Justin Chadwick: "An unassuming and uncompromisingly gratifying aural experience, Geography is my personal favorite album of 2018 so far, until otherwise notified. It’s also proof positive that taking the time to fully indulge and replenish your soul with the finer things (and songs) in life is well worth the investment."
According to Patrick Corcoran: "Monáe's Dirty Computer arrives on a wave of cultural success for black artists in America, be it Black Panther, Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer prize, Ava Duvernay and Jordan Peele’s Hollywood success or Beyoncé’s era-defining Coachella set. This album should see Janelle Monáe take her place among those peers at the forefront of a brighter horizon for all of us and by revealing herself more fully, she has come out swinging harder than ever."
According to Jesse Ducker: "What MURS does on Strange Journey isn’t easy. Artists have long examined heartbreak and tragedy in broad strokes, rarely delving into the massive internal struggles of finding a way to cope. But through what MURS expresses on this album, he’s found a way to push through the many tragedies that surround him. Just as hearing him suffer is harrowing, hearing him find some semblance of peace and happiness is inspiring. It makes Strange Journey one of the “realest” albums I’ve heard in a while."
According to Sonya Alexander: "A native of the small town of Golden, Texas, Kacey Musgraves comes into her own with her recently released seventh studio album Golden Hour, which is an easy, breezy pop country burner...Musgraves is considered one of the standout voices of modern country and with good reason. Golden Hour is well-crafted and as pleasant as an early sunrise."
According to Andy Healy: "With many of the originals steeped in quantized mechanical drumbeats and chintzy synths of the era, she reshapes them and makes them sound more organic and tactile by fleshing them out with a full band feel...Recorded during a time of grieving for Ndegeocello following the passing of her father, Ventriloquism finds her giving voice to her pain through the works of others, and in doing so, making the journey all her own. It’s an album well worth diving into whether you are a fan of the original recordings or not."
According to Jesse Ducker: "It’s always a pleasure to hear Phonte rapping. Though his bread and butter these days is singing, he’s still one of the most singularly-talented emcees working today, and this album only reinforces that. It’s tempting to complain about the album’s brevity: it only boasts 10 tracks and runs 33 minutes in length. But, truth be told, Phonte says everything he needs to say in a brief amount of time, and leaves the listeners wanting more. Hopefully he won’t make the audience wait as long next time."
According to Justin Chadwick: "Love In The Modern Age is indeed a more experimental departure for Rouse, relative to his discography to date. But thanks to his proven penchant for marrying memorable melodies to accessible narratives, the album serves more as an expansion of his still-evolving recorded repertoire, rather than a disruption to his artistic arc...If you prefer your music to sound amazing from beginning to end, well, then look no further than Love In The Modern Age. It’s an essential, highly enjoyable—and relatively speaking, eccentric—new entry to Rouse’s sterling discography to date."
According to Kenneth Hicks: "Book of Ryan conveys a lot of pain, but Royce balances it with moments of nostalgia and encouragement. The gravity in his words is matched by the sound of the production. He shows dexterity in how he approaches the songs, frequently switching his cadence and delivery. And Royce uses his singing to establish the sentiment of certain songs. The candid nature of the album can make it feel as if we're invading Royce's privacy. But his honesty is intentional and it's bound to deepen the connection between Royce and his fans."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "Clear-eyed and sincere, Clean contains plenty of youthful earnestness. Lyrically, Allison is self-aware, keenly attuned to her insecurities. Her world has a pop-punk familiarity, like Blue Album-Weezer and Liz Phair. And while Allison dedicates several lines to wistful jealousy of “other girls,” it’s hard to not think she might be cooler than them already...Even against dreamy Deerhoof-style production, Soccer Mommy’s debut is consistently fun, with freshly journaled lyrics on top of charming lo-fi rock."
According to Quentin Harrison: "At this junction in Lisa Stansfield's career, a record like Deeper is not about a reinvention, a reintroduction or a reclamation. It's more straightforward than that. It’s simply about making music for the sake of making music and having the undisputed skillset to do so. In this way, Stansfield continues to stand tall as one of the preeminent and most compelling talents of her era."
According to Quentin Harrison: "Driving the songs is Thorn's voice, a vital ingredient that hasn't dulled, its warmth and character as divine as ever. Outside of Thorn's own instrument, producer and colleague Ewan Pearson handles the job of building up each song around Thorn's voice and lyrics. Needless to say, he exceeds any and all expectations...In a time when true art is becoming scarcer and scarcer, Tracey Thorn is an undiminished force to be reckoned with on Record, from start to finish."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "In a Poem Unlimited, the sixth studio album from U.S. Girls is unrelenting, taking a critical eye to sexism, capitalism, and the inherent violence spawned by both. On the indie pop project from Meg Remy, the dance floor is littered with the bodies of anyone complicit...On an album of top 40 melodies and dance jams, the format is accessible, but the thesis is more cerebral. The anger and activism are in her words, and she is taking no prisoners."
According to Liz Itkowsky: "Listening to a Laura Veirs album imparts a maternal feeling. She wraps you in the warm hug of her voice. She creates a personal experience without giving away too much of herself. Her songs are not confessional, but heartfelt. The music feels measured and careful, not a single note wasted. That maternal image—Mother Earth, a creator, a mom of four—is always present throughout The Lookout."
According to Daryl McIntosh: "The arrangement and composition of the album is flawless, making it highly fluid and difficult to pinpoint its brightest of consistently bright moments...A prime example of how to expertly construct a great album with a multitude of different voices and influences, taking cues from its predecessors the 1997 Love Jones Soundtrack and Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio (2012). This an album good enough to be purchased in multiple formats, download for the car to escape the strains of post-work traffic or add to an impressive vinyl collection to accompany a stay-at-home date night."