ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2018

It’s been a tumultous year. Can we offer you like a nice listicle in this trying time?

This year, we asked everyone vaguely involved with B-SIDE to tell us about their favorite 2018 album—even if none of us have ever heard of it before, or if it’s something that’s been meme’d to death. We then organized them alphabetically by album name, and now we present you with the full list, unfiltered! This year, you can feel a little more connected with all of us here at B-SIDE. It’s gotten personal.

We’ve even done a bit of the legwork for you—here’s a playlist of each author’s fav from their pick. It’s all over the place this year, in the best way possible.

It’s been a greeaaaat fall semester. Much love to everyone new to the team, everyone returning, everyone who played at Tent Shows and/or Coffeehaus, and every one of you readers out there.

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Bark Your Head Off, Dog — Hop Along

Philadelphia indie rockers Hop Along have released their most mature, intricate, and emotionally impactful album yet with Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Lead singer Frances Quinlan's gravelly voice drips with feeling, and the folksy guitars on nearly every track harken back to the band's acoustic freak folk roots. However, the new additions of strings and wind instruments to the sonic palette of the album bring a grandiosity and an urgency to the music, elements that complement Quinlan's devastatingly honest and poetic lyrics. Whether it's the danceable groove on "How Simple" or the delicate and moving instrumentation on "Prior Things," fans of all stripes will come away from this album with something to appreciate.

Jared Schwartz B’22 thinks everyone should listen to “Prior Things.”

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Be the Cowboy — Mitski

There's a lot of mainstream attention around Mitski's latest release, and Mitski deserves every bit of it. Be the Cowboy explores isolation, identity, and romantic loss with brutally sincere lyrics, swelling keys, gritty bursts of guitar, gorgeous drum synths, and Mitski’s beautifully harrowing voice. It’s her most accessible release yet, with a track suitable for every mood: from the exciting, rhythmic “Washing Machine Heart,” to the eye-wetting “Two Slow Dancers,” to the celebration of loneliness in “Nobody.” At just 32 minutes, Be the Cowboy leaves me wanting even more, but thankfully, her four previous studio albums are bops, too; if you like Be the Cowboy, try out “First Love / Late Spring” from Bury Me at Makeout Creek, or “Your Best American Girl” from Puberty 2. I don’t think we deserve such an iconic alt-rock release from an artist with such an honest, underrepresented voice on otherness and identity. But we certainly need more. Be the Cowboy is special to me because it captures something I fear, something that only Mitski is brave enough to put on display for the world to hear: vulnerability. 

Matt Warren Bruinooge B’21 thinks everyone should listen to “Nobody.”

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Caravelle (Deluxe) — Polo & Pan 

Listening to “Nanã” and “Dorothy” by Polo & Pan makes me feel like I'm on a beach in the South of France. Paul Armand-Delille and Alexandre Grynszpan have been creating together since 2012, when they first met in Paris, and since then have come out with 3 EPs with a range of music that can only be described as enchanting. The electricity and lightheartedness that this album consistently delivers is something that is difficult to see in the heavy-handedness of what we would normally consider to be electro music. They don't care about normality, but they don't seem to care about chasing abnormality either. With their childlike curiosity towards beats and tunes and how to put them together, the dreamscape they're creating can only get bigger and more nuanced, and I'm so excited.

Ambika Miglani B’21 thinks everyone should listen to “Nanã.”

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Ella Mai — Ella Mai

With a debut album unabashedly titled in her own name, London-based artist Ella Mai has reiterated her place in a new generation of R&B artists with a warmth, charisma, and vitality that deserves way more credit and accolade than it has received since its release. After the massive hit single “Boo’d Up” rapidly captured the public’s attention over the summer, Mai rode the song’s momentum and delivered a self-reflective, soulful, 16-track love letter. Far from being reliant on the viral hit, however, the rest of the album has so much more nuance beyond “Boo’d Up”’s catchy runs. Ella Mai balances new with old: a fresh, melodious personal voice (coupled with the punchy, uptempo precision of DJ Mustard) all over an undercurrent of homage to classic ’90s R&B. My personal favorite tracks off the album are her duets with John Legend (“Everything”) and H.E.R (“Gut Feeling”), both of which display Mai’s ability to thrive and create alongside other talent. While 2018 has seen some amazing albums and talent, Ella Mai was, in my opinion, far and away the most slept on. 

Joey Han B/RISD ‘22 thinks everyone should listen to “Boo'd Up.”

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Invasion of Privacy — Cardi B

It's hard to argue with the kind of hard-earned confidence that lets Cardi deliver lines like "only thing fake is the boobs," but this album is more than its fun bravado. Its versatility is what makes it great. This is perhaps best displayed in the way that Cardi B utilizes the featuring artists in the songs where they appear, tailoring her style to that of her collaborators while still always remaining herself. Authenticity is as much of a carefully constructed persona as anything else in the world of pop music, and it's important to always keep that in the back of your mind. But the music is what matters, and the music is so good! In her moments of vulnerability and in her moments of triumph, Cardi's delivery is fluid yet punchy, her singing voice is engaging, and her lyrics are full of lines that stick in your head. It's frankly hard to picture what this year would have looked like without Invasion of Privacy, and I'm glad we don't have to.

Caroline Moses B’19 thinks everyone should listen to “Get Up 10.”

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Joy as an Act of Resistance. — IDLES

After an incredible explosion with their debut Brutalism, IDLES are redefining a familiar hardcore punk sound with progressive metal solos, Oi!, and Bauhaus post-punk. They discuss gender roles, politics, misunderstanding, stillbirth with snappy metaphors, biting sarcasm, and honest sorrow. Joy as an Act of Resistance. is raw power with a human face—and very British.

Bruce Bybee B’22 thinks everyone should listen to “I’m Scum.”

Noonday Dream — Ben Howard

With hints of Bon Iver, Joni Mitchell, and Nick Drake, Ben Howard's 3rd LP lives up to its name. Featuring cerebral, hazy jams drenched with delay and filled with evocative lyricism, Noonday Dream saw little press coverage upon its release, despite Howard being a BRIT award winner for his impressive fingerstyle guitar playing skills. Still, it’s perhaps his most ambitious record yet. His sound has now evolved to be heavily effects-driven, making use of huge bass synth sounds and a vocoder. While some of his old folk charm still shines through, Noonday Dream is a new, impressive, and desolate experiment in the possibilities of the genre.

Max Luebbers B’20 thinks everyone should listen to “There's Your Man.”

OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES — SOPHIE

Apoplectic pop. A manifesto on lack made manifest. A subversive appropriation of the modern pop form, bursting at the seams with contempt for the very guise it takes on—in “Pretending” (as well as in the mode of pretending), it allows one to pretend no longer. All of these characterize SOPHIE's OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES. The convoluted name, in more ways than one, spells out the task of the album: not just replacing the mystical shell of pop music with its obfuscated kernel, but to de-privilege the revelation—to crush the pearl to oil, to present its true substance, embedded in nothing but amorphous difference. The power of SOPHIE's album is that of the hyperfake: Ezra Koenig's “so bogus it threatens the idea of the real.” But what of when the “real” deserves to be challenged, when the "real" is so blatantly itself a falsehood (not to mention a problematic and self-contradictory one) that acrid oil oozes in blossoming rivulets from its shell in the first place? And what of when this challenge slaps?

This question is OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES: the shell opened, the insides un-ed, the beauty in the oil revealed (at last!).

Joseph Hlavinka B’22 thinks everyone should listen to “Immaterial.”

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Online — Triathalon

Picture this: you’re riding the subway, headed toward the beach. It’s a cloudy day, and you emerge from a tunnel to the sight of the city with the ocean stirring far away. Cool morning light floods the subway car, and you can see the sun peeking through the clouds in the distance. That’s what listening to Online, Triathalon’s newest LP, feels like. The newly New York-based band has concocted another amazing project, building upon their already stellar discography. Online incorporates aspects of Triathalon’s signature chill sound while introducing completely new, more complex concepts, both sonically and thematically. On top of wavy guitar leads and cool basslines, we get stronger, electronically produced drum tracks and digital keyboard tones that truly redefine the band’s sound. With his move to New York, lead vocalist Adam Intrator seems to have enhanced his already silk-smooth vocals as well as deepened his lyrics, broadening the perspectives of each song to include discussing topics like dealing with anxiety, frustration, or depression, something we haven’t seem as much on prior albums. Online now serves as another staple in Triathalon’s repertoire of beautiful records.

Seth Israel B’22 thinks everyone should listen to “Butter.”

Pocket Change — Nate Smith

Nate Smith has been at the forefront of recent jazz, pushing the boundaries of not only what we consider jazz, but also why we like it. The three-time Grammy nominee’s 2018 album Pocket Change is no different. For starters, the album’s artwork, a stunning black-and-white photograph of Smith with broken colored drumsticks radiating from his head (shot by Laura Hanifin), evokes feelings of holiness—as if we’re engaging with a blessed and haloed man. Diving into the much-too-quick 11-track album of improvised drumming, Smith sits us down right in front of the kit and leads us on a journey through rhythm, groove, time, space, and feel. He brings us inside the music, and lets us see the world through it. It is as infectious as it is bold, tender as it is firm, tight as it is free. Again, Smith has brought us, like he did in 2017 with Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere, to a place we don’t know but feel inexplicably close to. 

“The idea of the album is to use (seemingly) simple grooves as a launching pad,” Smith says. “My goal was to develop improvised thematic ideas within groove context to create a storytelling arc.” And perhaps a testament to Smith’s skill here, he executes this perfectly, through a majestic display of mastery and control, delivering Pocket Change as what is one of the greatest recent examples of using music as a narrative tool. He weaves an intricate tapestry of different rhythmic identities, including rock, hiphop, and jazz. Never flashy, Smith has cultivated an amazing ability to talk to you through his instrument. Not as a drummer, but as a person. While other instruments have the luxury of pitch at their disposal, they are able to converse with us in a way similar to human speech; mimicry is the highest form of flattery. But on the kit, Smith is caged by the instrument’s brutal tonal restrictions and relies entirely on rhythm. In the hands of the 44 year-old, though, this could not be a bigger blessing. Footsteps, heartbeats, engines cylinders, clock hands, rainfall, thunder, lightning—the list is endless. Smith has beautifully crafted a narrative not on the foundations of speech, but on the cadence of life we so often ignore.

Andrew Javens B’21 thinks everyone should listen to “What It Do.”

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reputation — Taylor Swift

It’s no secret that Taylor Swift’s image has had a rough couple of years. Despite the media scrutiny, Swift managed to deliver one of her strongest albums to date, aptly titled Reputation. A shift from the optimistic, 80’s synth inspired sound of 1989, Reputation adopted a darker side of pop. Swift proved that she can effortlessly take risks and continuously modify her sound, without the help of an army of songwriters and sound engineers. While her deeper dive into pop elements is displayed at full force, it’s Swift’s lyrical and intimate storytelling ability that makes the album. From the death of her reputation came a refreshing level of maturity and introspection that I hope Swift continues to embrace in the future (we’re going to ignore “Look What You Made Me Do,” thank you).

Naomy Pedroza B’20 thinks everyone should listen to “Getaway Car.”

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Room 25 Noname

When a critic said Noname raps too softly to be heard, the Chicago native replied that she “make[s] lullaby rap music.” On Room 25, the 27-year-old uses raw, poetic lyrics to tell stories that explore dark and complicated themes, including mental health, gentrification, and finding oneself after several messy relationships. Like any good lullaby, the album maintains a hopeful tone—it often seems as though you can hear a smile in Noname’s voice despite the serious content of the tracks. Her stream-of-consciousness lyrics are elevated by cleanly produced beats, and effortless collabs with Smino, Ravyn Lenae, and others. Room 25 runs just 34 minutes, and you’ll want to soak up every precious, vulnerable moment of this poignant sophomore album.

Delia Murphy B’21 thinks everyone should listen to “Ace (feat. Smino and Saba).”

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Swimming — Mac Miller 

I would've nominated this album anyway, but Mac's death obviously made this extra poignant as it rendered Swimming his unforeseen final album. Sandwiched between Divine Feminine, an album almost entirely focused on his love for Ariana Grande at the height of their incredibly public relationship, and his death, Swimming is the only window the public received into Mac's life and thoughts in the period after the breakup. It's a comprehensive reflection on mental health, love, and independence in the form of generally upbeat and forward-looking jams. With this in mind, Swimming wasn't just a good album—rather, it was a final commentary on the cyclical and often private struggle of addiction and mental illness.

Elena Householder B’22 thinks everyone should listen to “Self Care.”

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Virtue — The Voidz

This album is like if you took the Strokes and played them through a wind turbine. Julian Casablancas' hyper-strange creativity is at an all-time high on Virtue, which packs an endless amount of ideas into its hour-long run time. It's the fucked-up, distorted version of indie rock that you get the sense Casablancas has always wanted to make; I'm just glad he finally got to.

Michael O’Neill B’19 thinks everyone should listen to “QYURRYUS.”

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Wide Awake! — Parquet Courts

Witty, profound, inspiring. Parquet Courts has refined their gritty sound to true grit of character. Wide Awake! is empowering political punk/alt-rock (“Total Football,” “Normalization”) mixed with contemplative indie (“Before the Water Gets Too High”) and dance-punk joy (“Wide Awake”). It goes well with a disco ball, in a mosh pit, or lying barefoot on a hayfield slathered with sunset. I’ve seen Parquet Courts go from a 200-person bar in 2015 to a venue three times the size in 2016. Now they’re on Ellen and will become Talking Heads with a molotov and a manifesto.

Bruce Bybee B’22 thinks everyone should listen to “Total Football.”