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11 Great Albums You Probably Didn’t Hear in 2018

These albums may not have burned through your playlists in 2018, but Rolling Stone editors, critics and writers think they should have

best albums you didnt hear

In a time when there is more audio and visual stimuli than ever before, it’s difficult to keep track of each year’s breadth of creative output. Encompassing underground and indie scenes, music prodigies and backup singers who should get their time in the limelight, this diverse roundup of albums flew below the radar — but deserve attention.

Middle Blue - Love Chords

Middle Blue, ‘Love Chords’

Drummer Mike Clark laid down some of the sleekest grooves of the mid-Seventies on Herbie Hancock albums like Thrust. This year he anchored a very different kind of jazz-funk session: the debut by the warm, rousing New York septet Middle Blue. Whereas those vintage Hancock recordings were all about precision and drive, this band aims for a shaggier, looser aesthetic that makes room for fuzzed-out guitar, plush Fender Rhodes, soulful flute and ecstatic multi-saxophone tangles. Celebratory, instantly catchy themes by guitarist-bandleader Brad Farberman (full disclosure: a friend and sometime RS contributor) serve as the perfect launchpads for the group’s sprawling first-take jams. Though Clark is a good deal older than most of the other participants, he doesn’t play the role of featured VIP here; like everyone else present, he seems intent on helping Middle Blue achieve genuine communal lift-off. Hank Shteamer

Hedvig Mollestad Trio – Smells Funny

Hedvig Mollestad Trio, ‘Smells Funny’

Most fusion guitarists take the stage in sober monotones and little glam, groomed for serious business. In performance, Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, the electrifying leader of this Norwegian instrumental trio, dresses to celebrate: alive in a red, spangled cocktail dress and heels, her long, blonde hair spinning in hairpin time to the music; commanding in her conjuring of Blow by Blow-era Jeff Beck and Mahavishnu-prime John McLaughlin with more death-metal in the riffing and spiritual Coltrane in the improvising. On Smells Funny, the Trio’s sixth album since 2013 and a certain breakthrough once it crosses the Atlantic, Thomassen, bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad take new chances with their ritual ascension. “Beastie, Beastie” is irresistibly coherent, even radio-friendly, in its fluid roll and fuzz-meat theme; the rainy-day elegy of “Jurásek” suggests Neil Young passing through Jimi Hendrix’s “Cherokee Mist.” And in the finale, “Lucidness,” Thomassen hangs across Brekken and Bjørnstad’s droning storm in a pure light of high-treble peals and staccato ecstasy. The Hedvig Mollestad Trio delivers avant-guitar adventure with an exuberant sense of occasion, live and on record. Feel free to come as you are. David Fricke

Nap Eyes - I'm Bad Now

Nap Eyes, ‘I’m Bad Now’

This charming band from Nova Scotia is fronted by Nigel Chapman, who sounds a little like Lou Reed crossed with Richard Thompson and, as that comparison implies, plays a kind of drone-y poker-faced rock ‘n’ roll with folk leanings. Songs on their third LP can be shambling or surprisingly fluid, with the wry sense of humor reflected in the LP’s title. The highlight is “Follow Me Down” in which Chapman sings about a taking a stroll down by the water, listening to a 20-minute raga and an American folk song; “a little bit shorter, still a lot going on,” he sings. There’s plenty going on here too. Jon Dolan

Ed Schrader's Music Beat

Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, ‘Riddles’

There are hundreds of songs about the struggling artiste, but few of them get heard when the artist in question is presently in those trenches of obscurity. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, a wily punk duo from Baltimore, have nothing to lose and that’s why their third album Riddles is bursting with heart in all different ways — from the rubbery rattle of “Dunce” and “Rust” to fluttery, New Romantic numbers like “Kid Radium” and “Seagull.” These are anthems about perseverance, for people who deserve a little beauty at the end of a graveyard shift, by a guy who literally wrote the lyrics from the back of a restaurant kitchen washing dishes. The title track is a luminescent piano-driven gem (thanks to producer Dan Deacon) about breaking into a country club with your poor, weird friends, but the way Schrader and Rice perform, it’s straight-up “Thunder Road” from the gutter. Sarah Grant

Ian Sweet - Crush Crusher

Ian Sweet, ‘Crush Crusher’

Indie-rock songwriter Jilian Medford ditched her old bandmates and left Boston for L.A. before making her second album as Ian Sweet, and you can hear the payoff in this emotional bombshell of an LP. Her noisy, nervy guitar playing is the first thing you’ll notice about songs like “Hiding,” “Spit” and “Question It” — any fan of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. or My Bloody Valentine should turn up these wall-of-squall jams as loud as possible. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be better positioned to take in the sharp-edged lyrics about assorted letdowns and mistakes. (“I forgot,” Medford sings on “Ugly/Bored.” “Did I ever ask what you thought/About the day we fucked in the parking lot?”) Some crushes are heady and feather-light, but these ones pack a punch. Simon Vozick-Levinson

Teddy Geiger -LillyAnna

Teddy<3, 'LillyAnna'

As a teenager, Teddy Geiger was everywhere: a burgeoning heartthrob and teen idol. But she left it behind, eventually finding herself becoming a behind-the-scenes secret weapon for the likes of Shawn Mendes and One Direction, writing earnest, guitar-driven pop hits. This year, she released LillyAnna, her first new album since 2010’s The Last Fears and first new music since announcing her transition and taking on the stage name Teddy<3. The sound of Geiger’s latest is grungier than the pristine pop she co-writes for the new guard of pop’s elite, but no amount of fuzz can cover her inimitable pop ear, as heard on songs like “I Was in a Cult” and “Get Me High.” Brittany Spanos

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