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50 Best Albums of 2018 So Far

Including Janelle Monáe, Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves, the ‘Black Panther’ soundtrack and more

50 Best Albums of 2018 So Far

So far, 2018 has given us Janelle Monáe’s android funk, Cardi B’s bloody-shoed boasts, J Balvin’s internationalist reggaeton and an all-star dispatch from Wakanda. Here’s the best of the year’s first five months and change.

Bad Plus, 'Never Stop II'

The Bad Plus, ‘Never Stop II’

We Say: Since forming in 2000, the Bad Plus have grown from upstart into institution, one of the few contemporary jazz acts to show up on the mainstream radar in the years before the To Pimp a Butterfly watershed. … As on past efforts, it’s bassist Reid Anderson who takes the lead here, contributing half of the album’s eight pieces. His latest creations – especially opener “Hurricane Birds,” driven by a drum ‘n’ bass–esque groove from drummer Dave King, and soulful, backbeat-powered second track “Trace” – epitomize the band’s signature blend of poppy melodicism and proggy intricacy. On each, you can hear [pianist Orrin] Evans having a ball with the bassist’s themes, savoring their tight contours while adding his own bluesy flourishes. H.S.

Superorganism, 'Superorganism'

Superorganism, ‘Superorganism’

Conjuring the golden era of sample-pop –- think Deee-Lite, De La Soul, Beck, Beats International, Avalanches, Coldcut’s “Seven Minutes of Madness” remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full” – but escalating the data overload for modern microprocessor speeds, vocalist Orono and her international collective uncork a firehose flow of found-sound flotsam and sound-effect punchlines over exceptionally well-tooled popcraft. W.H.

Brothers Osborne, 'Port Saint Joe'

Brothers Osborne, ‘Port Saint Joe’

The country duo covers an incredible amount of territory on their second album, named for the Florida Gulf Coast town where they recorded it with producer Jay Joyce. Lead single “Shoot Me Straight” is a six-minute rock epic about breaking things off, with singer TJ Osborne demanding “lay my six-foot-four-inch-ass out on the ground” in his chest-deep baritone, and guitarist John Osborne serving up a dazzling fireworks display for the song’s back half. They also tackle Jerry Reed-style country funk on “A Couple Wrongs Makin’ It Alright,” hard-driving rock on “Drank Like Hank” and glistening country soul on “Pushin’ Up Daisies (Love Alive).” In “Weed, Whiskey and Willie,” the Brothers make a turn back into boozy country, proving they’re just as adept at the fundamentals as they are at playing with the formula. J.F.

Soccer Mommy, 'Clean'

Soccer Mommy, ‘Clean’

A star of indie rock’s poetically plainspoken new wave (see Lucy Dacus, Jay Som, Mitski, Big Thief, etc.), Sophie Allison weaves images of bedsheets, flora, fauna and lip-locks through 10 songs, sparkling guitar melodies carrying rubbed raw emotions. “Skin” conjures Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville in the best possible way; “Your Dog” flips Iggy Pop’s proto-punk cornerstone canine fantasy (“I don’t wanna be your fucking dog”); and if there’s a more unnervingly sexy moment in 2018 rock than Allison instructing someone to “rip my flowers out” in “Flaw,” we haven’t heard it yet. W.H.

Gas, 'Rausch'

Gas, ‘Rausch’

After five critically acclaimed albums that mysteriously and melancholically blurred the boundaries of techno, ambient, psychedelia, shoegaze and nostalgia, Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project has returned for his grandest, most ambitious statement yet. Rausch – available as a download as a 60-minute “Continuous Mix” – is a long journey through hissing fog, dark ambient clouds, crying strings and ping-ponging cymbals. From moody banks of lush drone, sounds emerge like creatures from behind the jungle brush and notes appear like car radios rushing by in the night. A house beat throbs in the distance, possibly a memory of dancefloors past, possibly a lighthouse to help guide you through this impressionist symphony of colors. C.W.

Snail Mail, 'Lush'

Snail Mail, ‘Lush’

We Say: With Snail Mail’s Lush, indie rock has officially entered its “Black Crowes era,” where young artists refigure music from the decade they were born. But that’s not a bad thing here. As the brainchild of 18-year-old Lindsey Jordan, who counts Helium’s Mary Timony and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield as mentors, Snail Mail worship at the altars of Pavement, Liz Phair and Dinosaur Jr. She’s packed Lush, her debut full-length, with the same sort of smart lyrics about unrequited love (“Heat Wave”), personal dissatisfaction (“Pristine”) and the places where those feelings coalesce (“Golden Dream”) as her forebears and set them to a soundtrack of chugging, glassy-toned guitar. K.G.

DJ Koze, 'Knock Knock'

DJ Koze, ‘Knock Knock’

We Say: Stefan Kozalla is the rare DJ who doesn’t usually dial back his presence when producing vocal tracks, nor does he overwhelm the singer; instead, he insists that everyone shine simultaneously – a nice metaphor for the dance floor’s egalitarian, communal spirit. … “Bonfire” cut ‘n’ pastes vocal samples from Bon Iver’s “Calgary,” making new meanings with Justin Vernon’s warmly cryptic words in a massage-chair techno groove. … His best slight of hand is “Pick Up,” which isolates bits of Gladys Knight’s vocals from her exquisitely lugubrious 1972 ballad signature “Neither One of Us (Want to Be The First to Say Goodbye)” and releases them incrementally, like so many luftballoons, over a dizzying disco-house groove. W.H.

Tal National, 'Tantabara'

Tal National, ‘Tantabara’

We Say: Tal National are the math-rock mavens of West Africa. Nigerian singer-rapper Zara Moussa delivers the opening couplet on the title-track opener of Tantabara, their fourth album since 2009, before the entire band jumps in jubilantly and takes off at an unrelenting gallop through a complex 12/8 Hausa groove. Recorded in a makeshift Niamey studio by Jamie Carter, a Chicago producer who was more professionally familiar with Joan of Arc and Chance the Rapper when he produced their 2009 debut, Tantabara has a scruffy, econo, indie-rock vibe reminiscent of beautiful Brooklyn afrojazz punks Sunwatchers or Tel Aviv-born Brooklyn guitarist Yonatan Gat, who shreds aggressively on Tal’s “Entente.” R.G.

Natalie Prass, 'The Future and the Past’

Natalie Prass, ‘The Future and the Past’

We Say: Natalie Prass’ second album pairs the sharp and the smooth, its keenly observed lyrics about love and politics grounded in arrangements that recall soft-pop highlights from the past four decades. The Future and the Past is a modern echo of that moment when soft rock and Quiet Storm fed off each other – the plush yet firm yacht-y early-Eighties keyboards on the wide-eyed “The Fire,” simmering counterpoint bass on “Never Too Late,” and the tinkling pianos and swooping strings of the weightless-sounding yet troubled “Far From You.” M.J.

Hinds, 'I Don't Run'

Hinds, ‘I Don’t Run’

We Say: Who knows how much Hinds’ off-handed magnificence has to do with their roots as Madrileños, and how much is merely the mystic universal science of group chemistry and spirit? Whatever the proportions, their second LP is a gem of indie-rock-revivalism, making faux-naif surf licks and Mo Tucker drum beats seem new all over again. W.H.

Low Cut Connie, 'Dirty Pictures (Part 2)'

Low Cut Connie, ‘Dirty Pictures (Part 2)’

We Say: Low Cut Connie’s fifth album draws on the same sessions – at Ardent Studios in Memphis – that propelled this Philadelphia band’s 2017 blast of Fifties-infused glam-punk hallelujah, Dirty Pictures (Part 1). But these ten tracks, mostly written by singer-pianist Adam Weiner, are hardly leftovers. … “All These Kids Are Way Too High” is explosive, hilarious censure, a song about every bar band’s worst nightmare – an audience that just stands and stares – detonated like the New York Dolls produced by Sam Phillips. “Beverly,” in turn, is steeped in Philly soul – a mid-tempo charge of desperate need that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff could have written for Teddy Pendergrass – then seared with slide guitar and dotted with Weiner’s chiming piano, as if Elton John had joined the Replacements in time for Pleased to Meet Me. D.F.

Turnstile, 'Time & Space'

Turnstile, ‘Time & Space’

Renowned for their anarchic live shows, Baltimore hardcore punks Turnstile open the pit to a broader range of sounds and collaborators on their refreshingly free-form major-label debut. The band borrows from the Nirvana playbook on garage-rock shredder “Moon” and shyly flashes a freak flag on slinky jazz interludes “Bomb” and “Disco.” Longtime fan Diplo makes an understated cameo on “Right to Be,” his synths splashing neon onto Turnstile’s concrete political protest. Hardcore purists may bristle, but Time & Space offers fans new and old some room to breathe. S.E.

A.A.L. (Against All Logic), '2012-2017'

A.A.L. (Against All Logic), ‘2012-2017’

In February, experimental electronic artist Nicolas Jaar casually released a dance album under his A.A.L. moniker without any sort of promotion: The LP just appeared on his label’s website, and the media didn’t figure out that the project was linked to Jaar until six days later. 2012-2017 is dense, with alluring samples cherrypicked from shimmering Seventies soul and full-throated gospel. Jaar cuts and pastes this source material into loose, walloping, jubilant tracks. “Cityfade” has the club-igniting potential of classic Moby, “Now U Got Me Hooked” relies on a striking snippet of the Dramatics to create strutting, triumphant disco, and even the most steadfast wallflowers will be unable to resist the nearly 10-minute-long closing track, “Rave on U.” E.L.

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