Top 25 albums of 2018

Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - 5:35pm

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Rosalia

25.  Soccer Mommy, Clean

Sophie Allison, who records under the alias Soccer Mommy, has been writing songs of unusual strength and depth since she started posting home-recorded music on Bandcamp in 2015. Her second full album, Clean, has Allison consolidating her style and extending her expressive capabilities.

She can be compared to artists like Snail Mail and Frankie Cosmos — no-frills indie that focuses attention on the voice. The other instruments Allison uses feel like extensions of the singer-songwriter’s simple guitar accompaniment. In “Blossom” and “Wildflowers,” bass, piano and drums float in and out of the frame of her strumming, as if summoned by her voice. Allison is the perfect musician for her chosen themes — the heady newness of teenage love and infatuation, petty envy, placeless sadness. Her voice is languid and forceful in equal measure, at once melancholy and unyielding — both expressing deep emotional involvement and a certain wistful detachment.

That doesn’t mean the instrumentals are secondary — the songs are perfectly crafted, with swaying, circular riffs and a spacious production style that lets in just the right amount of crackle and fuzz. It has all the directness of a lo-fi record without actually being lo-fi, like an idealized DIY gig — you can almost hear the strand of string lights in the background.

Emily Yang, Daily Arts Writer

24. Blood Orange, Negro Swan

Negro Swan is Brooklyn-based Dev Hynes’s most expansive record as Blood Orange. Across its 16 tracks, he and a host of guests — including A$AP Rocky, Diddy, Tei-Shi, Steve Lacy and Ian Isiah — meditate on the ways depression and anxiety manifest, especially in queer, Black communities. Transgender rights activist Janet Mock also appears throughout, speaking on her understanding of family and the feeling of being unwelcome in a space, of constantly being told to be quiet.

Hynes narrates his own experiences, too. “First kiss was the floor,” he sings on album opener “Orlando,” referencing the frequent beatings he received at the hands of peers as an adolescent growing up in Essex, England. For all of the unresolved hurt that swirls through Negro Swan, the album is a hopeful one. Pain and violence and misunderstanding underlie the majority of its stories, but you wind up with a sense that healing is happening, and it’s happening now.

Sean Lang, Daily Arts Writer

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

Nicolas Jaar has never been one to shy away from the unexpected. The large majority of his earlier discography travels nowhere and instead fills the space around it with noise. His 2011 debut Space Is Only Noise whispered nonsensically into the dark while 2015’s Pomegranates warped the air with eerie pulsations. Jaar’s music had always seemed light years from reach; no matter how many times you replayed it, how many times you really listened, you could never truly, fully grasp it.

Which is why when Jaar released 2012-2017 under the moniker A.A.L (Against All Logic) this past year, its accessibility came as a surprise. The album’s individual components — each hi-hat, each snare, each obscure sample — all arrive at their designated, predictable locations. Within the context of house music, 2012-2017 rarely strays from what is conventional. Yet the album’s orthodoxy (at least when compared with Jaar’s previous work) does not detract from its overall quality. Each track is meticulously complex, substantially rich and audibly striking.

Shima Sadaghiyani, Daily Arts Writer

22. Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Arctic Monkeys’s new album Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino feels like a dream — equal parts dark and comforting with a touch of surreality. Every song is accompanied by the subconscious visual of a Lindt commercial, with liquid chocolate tantalizingly poured into a dark chocolate truffle. “Star Treatment” and “One Point Perspective” are similarly hypnotizing. Imaginative lyrics walk the audience through a dozen different “scenes,” feeling more like a movie montage than a song. Heavy bass throughout the album acts as an anchor to void of mesmerizing vocals. The band’s ending “Ultracheese,” while relaxing, acts as a perpetual wake-up call — bringing forth a dose of honesty which elevates their album to a new level of intelligent and pointed social commentary. The album as a whole stands on the cliff’s edge of unnerving. Yet, ultimately (and strangely), the experience comes off feeling like a warm hug.

— Madeleine Gannon, Daily Arts Writer

21. A$AP Rocky, Testing

Testing by A$AP Rocky is a collection of bass-filled beats backed by moments of static and perfectly timed collisions of sound that inspire contradicting emotions in the listener. The album flows smoothly while Rocky’s vocals hit hard, bouncing over each beat with clarity and strength. This collaboration creates a record that moves through emotions full of confidence and pride in tracks like “Tony Tone” to utter vulnerability and reflection in “Purity,” featuring Frank Ocean. Testing takes these contradicting emotions to create a record of self-exploration, a story of where A$AP Rocky came from, and where he’s going next.

Selena Aguilera, Daily Arts Writer

20. boygenius, boygenius EP

2018 came, and there was no boygenius; 2018 went, and there was boygenius. The three-piece supergroup, consisting of soft-indie rocker Lucy Dacus, indie-folk musician Phoebe Bridgers and alt-rock singer-songwriter Julien Baker, is remarkable for many reasons, all of them manifested in the mere six-track span of their EP. It is a wholly collaborative effort, with each member taking turns rising to the surface of the tracks with their songwriting and musical abilities, always bolstered and driven by the other two. While Dacus, Bridgers and Baker all come from unique and relatively disparate genres and musical sensibilities, this works in boygenius’s favor, as the album takes on a sound all its own — often gentle, very often forlorn yet never without an edge. Despite their variations, these musicians are all self-assured in their own individual approaches to their crafts. And when you take self-assuredness and expand upon it threefold, you get something even better: a seamless triplicate of solidarity, emotional presence and artistic drive.

Laura Dzubay, Daily Arts Writer

19.  Mac Miller, Swimming

Mac Miller’s Swimming depicts the duality of ascension towards happiness, masterfully weaving through positivity and tribulation. Miller swims through the nature of optimism, noting that hope is funky and blinding, yet still prevalent.

Miller’s newfound buoyancy comes forth in “Come Back to Earth,” with sentiments of swimming towards relief; however, this impression is instantly belied: “Sunshine don’t feel right when you’ve been inside all day.” Songs like “Small Worlds” highlight optimism as poking one’s head above the water while still carrying the anchors of depression, heart-break, addiction and loneliness. However, outro “So it Goes” emphasizes perseverance, with an angelic finish that could make the devil feel enlightened.

Swimming is multicolored with a strong jazz presence. Most notably, the extension of Miller’s vowel sounds paired with languid, trippy hues reflect Miller’s hovering towards positivity while still existing amongst highly publicized mistakes.

Miller’s last album flawlessly relays hope as the drive to propel oneself forward while still carrying demons. The world hurts without the honor of watching Mac Miller continue to swim. Rest easy, angel, fly high above the lights.

Samantha Cantie, Daily Arts Writer

18. Playboi Carti, Die Lit

Die Lit is rebellious, fun and carefree. It’s a candy-coated cruise, ecstatically innovative and tireless. The lyrics of Die Lit are sometimes barely decipherable — but you don’t need to hear what he’s saying; you can tell what he means. Music doesn’t get much more triumphant than the drop of “Shoota,” the centerpiece of the album and probably the best song Playboi Carti has ever made. Pi’erre Bourne deserves a good deal of credit for his contribution to Playboi Carti’s signature sound, his beats maniacal, fractured, toylike, often sounding as if two different instrumentals are being played on top of each other. The repetitive nature of the beats and Carti’s vocals combine to hypnotic effect, an impressionistic blend of neo-rap tropes that is greater than the sum of its parts.

— Jonah Mendelson, Daily Arts Writer

17. Tirzah, Devotion

If you happen to be familiar with both neo-soul and indie music (good for you), Tirzah’s Devotion is to Bon Iver’s 22, A Million as Erykah Badu’s Baduizm is to D’Angelo’s Voodoo. One packages the maverick patterns of the other in a more accessible, blissful form. Devotion, guided by Mica Levi’s eclectic production, gives a poppier spin on the damaged folktronica pioneered by Bon Iver. Throughout the project, Tirzah’s imperfect vocal runs welcome you to sing along, as there’s nothing to be afraid of when she flatly misses a few notes with you. Swapping excellence for emotion, the British singer takes on the transparency of trap rappers/singers like Young Thug, but dials up the taste and beauty. The result is a gorgeous, tattered, open-faced collection of love songs that sound as real as they feel.

Mike Watkins, Daily Music Editor

16.  The Internet, Hive Mind

If 2015’s Ego Death was the ultimate mélange of R&B, funk, jazz and hip hop, Hive Mind is all these elements blended up and sifted together into sleeker, more sophisticated packaging. Following the members’ brief hiatus to hone their individual talents, Hive Mind presents The Internet as more refined and in-sync. Not a single note or lyric feels contrived or forced, as the album effortlessly zigzags between groovy, sticky beats like “Roll” and laid-back tracks like “Come Over.” Every member of the band shines, whether it be through Christopher Smith’s drum solos or the introduction to a singing Steve Lacy. And while this amounts to simplified lyricism and less specific storytelling, it’s a lot more deliberate this time around with quiet, minute embellishments woven into each song. Elements of a more fresh-faced The Internet also make their way back into this album, like beat switch-ups and recurring motifs on songs like “Next Time/ Humble Pie.” Perhaps more than any other album, Hive Mind deftly carries on a sense of cohesion, as multiple perspectives work in tandem to color its narratives of love, growth and uncertainty.

—  Diana Yassin, Daily Arts Writer

15. Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth

Jazz isn’t the most popular genre in this day and age, and it would be easy to argue that most people below the age of thirty couldn’t name more than three artists of the pivotal music era. However, artists like Kamasi Washington, a virtuoso saxophonist and composer, are changing that narrative one song at a time. Washington’s album released this year, Heaven and Earth, is an adventure through sound in all of its forms, merging classic jazz sensibilities and movements with a sense of wonder and brilliant originality. It is jazz for a new age, for a new audience and a new era of making music. “The Space Traveler’s Lullaby” and “Fists of Fury” served as the record’s first singles and show the album’s differences to Washington’s earlier work ― the same sense of grandeur is still present, but on an even larger scale, exploring space and time itself with the ebb and flow of strings, saxophone and a rising chorus. The record is a stepping stone for the saxophonist, one which propelled him further into the pop culture sphere without losing any of his trademark genius. It is exciting to wonder what he will do after Heaven and Earth, because the album is largely immaculate. If anyone is capable of topping that, it’s Washington himself.

Clara Scott, Senior Arts Editor

14. Travis Scott, ASTROWORLD

Take a picture, it’ll last longer. Trap music is at its artistic peak, resting on the verge of acceptance and oversaturation. Fairly soon the genre will fall from grace, as any genre does. The evidence: what goes up must come down, and trap does not get any more “up” than ASTROWORLD. Miraculously, Travis Scott hailed names from across music’s spectrum of influence to endorse his magnum opus and simultaneously trap music as a whole: Frank Ocean, James Blake, John Mayer, Thundercat, Pharrell Williams, Kevin Parker, Stevie freaking Wonder — have you ever seen such a star-studded lineup on a trap record? No, you haven’t, because prior to ASTROWORLD the genre hadn’t earned one.

ASTROWORLD is different, so musically refined and complex that the aforementioned superstars fit in seamlessly. The basses and drums are tight and mature — never a kick too loud or a sub too rich. The melodies are brilliant — “Stop Trying To Be God” features a verse melody that is Scott’s most impressive yet, simultaneously strange and addictive. The songs are structural dynamic, with at least one beat change, bridge or outro in every track. Everything that dogged trap in the past, from looped beats to far-too-simple musicality to general sloppiness, is either shed or fully embraced, leaving a record that can’t possibly be viewed as lacking. This album is trap reaching its maximum musical potential.

Mike Watkins, Daily Music Editor

13. Snail Mail, Lush

Lindsey Jordan took 2018 by storm with her debut Lush — not for originality, not for starpower, nor sheer force, but rather for a near perfect mix of relatability and unabashed earnestness. There’s so much adolescent longing when she asks, “And don’t you like me for me?” on lead single “Pristine” it grips like a fucking vice, because goddammit you are going to feel it whether you want to or not. “I won’t love anyone else,” she repeats, a defiant mantra cementing the emo sensibility that permeates the record, all wrapped up nicely in beautiful, guitar-driven indie.

What makes Lush so special is Jordan’s self-awareness of the absurdity of adolescence. In a Consequence of Sound interview, she states, “Habit (her first EP) feels bad for itself, and Lush is aware of that.” Lush shows profound growth from the sickly musings of Habit’s hit “Thinning,” which is reflective of physically and emotionally thinning out. Lush does the opposite, witnessed in Jordan’s growing independence on “Golden Dream.” It’s an introspective album that doesn’t ignore the world but rather embraces it.

Dominic Polsinelli, Daily Arts Writer

12. Noname, Room 25

Somewhere near the intersection of spoken word and rap exists Noname’s Room 25. Without overstating its presence, the album boldly takes place where Telephone left off — in a haze of neo-soul and flowery jazz to lighten Fatimah Warner’s potent and scathing commentary. The topics skid everywhere from controversies surrounding the Reagan administration to Warner’s most recent break-up. Presented in a soft-spoken nature with sheer strings and harps to carry the hefty verses, the album strives for subtlety to undercut its loaded and fast-paced discussion. It cheekily challenges the expectations of the rap scene dominated by men, with Warner expressing, “Y’all really thought a bitch couldn't rap huh?” Warner unapologetically conveys her experience and perspectives as a proud, Black woman in America in painstaking detail. But her quick-wit and intelligence by no means draw away from the vulnerability she conveys in her lyricism — she is braggadocious and brave but not blemish-free. She conveys this beyond any magnitude as she grapples with issues grander than her, like politics and religion, and those more personal, like uncertainty and heartache.  Though loaded and introspective, the album ends on a note of gentle acceptance as Warner gradually allows herself to live in the moment.

—  Diana Yassin, Daily Arts Writer

11. Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs

Earl Sweatshirt said he came to the decision of unceremoniously entitling his latest album Some Rap Songs through the concept of brevity. It was the most straightforward response he could possibly conjure to the internal question of, “What is this?”

Simplicity lies at the core of this album. Earl’s bars never reach the length nor the wandering complexity displayed in past albums, remaining only long enough to give the barest illusion of meaning. The production consists solely of a series of short, looping intervals, and even though the loops are different for every song, the sense of infinity that accompanies each loop remains consistent throughout the album. Even the songs themselves are short, cutting away any excess until all that is left is the barest of melodies. Overall, Some Rap Songs emerges as nearly ghost-like — the fuzzy approximation of a rapper who seemed to only be composed of hard edges and clean production. Yet, despite this weightlessness, the album still manages to leave an impression. The uncomplicated candor displayed as Earl considers nearly every painful aspect of his life draws us in, compels us to sit next to Earl as he cycles from past, to present, to future — unflinching in the face of it all.    

Shima Sadaghiyani, Daily Arts Writer

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Rhye

10. Rhye, Blood

Gossamer: “a fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs spun by small spiders, which is seen especially in autumn.” As cliche as definition-giving is, there’s really no better way to describe Rhye’s second LP. The project could have been recorded in a cave during an autumn dusk — it’s dry, hollow, muted. With soft drums, warm basses and gentle claps that delicately rest under Mike Milosh’s gorgeous, genderless falsetto, Blood has just enough energy to move you without startling you, to lure you into a cloudy twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness. The album’s greyscale cover art features a frail and beautifully bare woman who seems to be comfortably alone in a semi-lifeless world; Milosh embodies this woman, and he provides a 42-minute tour of this melancholic ether.

Mike Watkins, Daily Music Editor

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Beach House

9. Beach House, 7

Beach House never fails to create dreamy music that sits on the precipice of reality. The records before 7 sound like the beginnings of emotional journeys where our existence seeps into unknown places, but 7 sounds like vibrations pouring out of ourselves only to join the movement of the music; it sounds like we are right where we need to be. Each song on 7 pulls listeners into a deep, fuzzy plain of existence where the rings of the precisely produced instrumentals melt into their skin only to evaporate into the air around them, surrounding them with a comforting orange haze of warmth. The record pulls its listeners in all directions, promising moments where the heart completely opens, allowing the sugary synths to become in sync with breathing. 7 delivers a smooth, wavy sound that takes listeners beyond this Earth and acts as a small piece of catharsis allowing us to float away from a chaotic 2018 and move on into something beyond.

Selena Aguilera, Daily Arts Writer

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Kanye West

8. KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kids See Ghosts

In 2018, Kanye West rose from his long public slumber literally capped in right-wing imagery as he set off to release new music. This was a sporadic Kanye, a “new” Kanye that festered in narcissistic bravado as he professed his characteristically controversial viewpoints to Twitter. This was all while collaborative partner Kid Cudi maintained a concerning absence after publicizing his debilitating anxiety and depression in late 2016.

Given the circumstances, KIDS SEE GHOSTS was unexpected but necessary to clarify all of this. It finds Cudi and West at their most vulnerable and coherent as they explore their vastly different experiences in the public eye. This album is about self-defeat — broken relationships, internalized fears, social isolation. Together, Cudi and West paint a haunting, immersive landscape in ghost cackles and resigned hums without sparing a single detail. They meet at thematic intersections with promises to progress and prosper following severe mental anguish and public humiliation. This is symbiotic; the reserved, melancholic presence of Cudi grounds a fiery, aggressive West who energizes the scene. This stabilizes both artists by showcasing elements one lacks in the other, dispelling illusions of arrogance and mundanity for West and Cudi respectively. The sound palette is correspondingly diverse with samples that transcend time and genre for a unique harmony between seemingly clashing elements of music. Perhaps this is what makes this work so profound: It is imbued with the idea of improvement lingering where one least expects it.

—  Diana Yassin, Daily Arts Writer

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Kacey Musgraves

7. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour

Golden Hour is a landmark work of pop-country; a well-crafted tribute to the sublime. Traditional country instrumentation and themes mingle freely with the psychedelic and subtly experimental, making Golden Hour as accessible as it is innovative.

The production on Golden Hour is notable not just for the lustrous glow infused throughout, but for its great use of negative space — a scorching electric guitar or beautiful fingerpicked banjo swells like radiant light into the emptiness for just a few seconds, as beautiful and fleeting as the namesake of the album. Kacey’s emotive voice is 24-karat Nashville gold, tastefully draped across the expansive production.

Lyrically, Golden Hour tackles the tribulations of life — loneliness, heartbreak, hopelessness — by making them feel as awe-inspiring as their counterparts. Golden Hour deftly avoids feeling saccharine: it is personal and raw enough to sidestep feeling like a motivational poster, but is polished and restrained enough to avoid coming across as aimless navel-gazing. Through the eyes of Kacey Musgraves, the answer is simple. Take it all in: “If you could see what I see / You'd be blinded by the colors / Yellow, red, and orange, and green / And at least a million others / So tie up the boat, take off your coat, and take a look around.”

It’s hard to determine what exactly Golden Hour possesses that distinguishes it from superficially similar but failed attempts at capturing such a simple but elusive message. But whether or not it can be pinpointed doesn’t matter: Beauty is an experience that, to borrow a phrase from “Velvet Elvis,” you know as soon as you feel it.

Jonah Mendelson, Daily Arts Writer

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Hop Along

6. Hop Along, Bark Your Head Off, Dog

Hop Along’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an insanely ambitious endeavor. Narrative, poetic and biblical in lyric and even more complex in composition, it’s truly unlike any other alternative record released in 2018. They’ve always been excellent and cherished songwriters, expertly layering rhythm and melody guitars, but with the introduction of complex string arrangements and deft tonal shifts — often within the course of a single song — Hop Along has produced a work of epic magnitude.

Their versatility is best showcased on fourth track “Not Abel,” opening with tender, rollicking folk before collapsing into uptempo rock ‘n’ roll. Every track is a thorough joy to listen to, as unexpected twists and turns constantly keep listeners on their toes, forcing them along the journey. In reference to Bob Dylan’s influence on their writing, lead singer and guitarist Frances Quinlan said in a Rolling Stone feature, “Fuck me. There’s no rules. I forgot. You make them up, and then you realize that you have to obliterate them again,” and Hop Along do this time and time again throughout the entirety of Bark Your Head Off, Dog. The past year was saturated with a lot of indie rock, and thankfully Hop Along decided to shatter the status quo by shattering all expectations.

 — Dominic Polsinelli, Daily Arts Writer

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Pusha T

5. Pusha T, DAYTONA

DAYTONA, is, above all, incisive. The first of the Kanye West-produced, seven-track albums born out of the Wyoming sessions, Pusha T and Kanye came out the gates swinging. In direct contrast with Kanye’s indefatigable Twitter ramblings, DAYTONA is sharp and lean.

Pusha T doesn’t veer far from his traditional lyrical themes of selling drugs and being a generally threatening guy, but he doesn’t need to — on DAYTONA, he perfects the form. It all lies in his delivery. Ice-cold menace drips off of every syllable, and he makes you believe all that he claims.

The real genius of the album lies in the production, as Kanye’s skeletal sample-based beats are minimalistic masterpieces, stripping down the music to the very essence of hip-hop. “Come Back Baby” is this philosophy of production taken to its logical extreme: a relatively unaltered George Jackson sample gives way to a gaunt pattern of raw 808s and drums, over which Pusha T discusses his love for the sale and distribution of cocaine.

The combination of Pusha T’s lyrical excellence and Kanye’s knack at production based around the sampling of simple melodic phrases is lethal and exhilarating, and the result is an album that feels like the thesis of Pusha T’s career.

Jonah Mendelson, Daily Arts Writer

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SOPHIE

4. SOPHIE, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES

In a piece that almost functioned as a portion of my application to The Michigan Daily two and a half years ago, but which I wound up scrapping, I attempted to review SOPHIE’s first album (more accurately a compilation of singles). Released as Product, the collection introduced the world to SOPHIE’s characteristic sound. It’s sometimes grating, and often thinly layered, but with nuggets of irresistible melody and an odd, uncanny-valley allure. In one word: plastic.

After a two year break from releasing solo material — a break which saw her producing work by Vince Staples, MØ, Cashmere Cat and Charli XCX — SOPHIE returned with “It’s Okay To Cry,” whose video marked the first time her face had featured in her art. In June, as OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES arrived, a newly vulnerable, more immediate version of SOPHIE emerged. She allowed us to see her, to begin to make guesses at who she is, to identify with her.

OIL, for its cinematic scope, possesses just as much violent thrashing as SOPHIE’s previous work, if not more. But there’s also an aquatic element to the album, and not just in the title of “Is It Cold In The Water?” but in its sub-bass and in the way tracks like “Infatuation” and “Pretending” wrap you up in them. Listen on a nice pair of headphones and you’re suddenly left feeling small, far from in control — there’s a senseless of “it’s safe here” and more of “it’s here here” or, maybe, “it’s real here.” The best you can do is cede control to the massiveness of it all. Until, of course, the synth swells that round out “Pretending” give way to the club-ready bounce of showstopper “Immaterial,” a track on which SOPHIE declares “I could be anything I want.”

And that’s what OIL is, ultimately: a declaration. One in which SOPHIE boldly claims her identity, while questioning the substance of identity itself. After “Immaterial” fades out, SOPHIE’s “Whole New World/Pretend World” is upon us. I hope she shows us more of it.

Sean Lang, Daily Arts Writer

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Janelle Monae

3. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer

For several years now, the public has followed Janelle Monáe often through the lens of her android alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather. In Metropolis, Cindi fell in love with a human and was chased through the streets of her city. In The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady, she became a revolutionary messiah. But Dirty Computer is the fullest and most realized crystallization of Monáe’s aspirations yet, a dazzling project in which the artist sheds Cindi’s narrative but retains many of her futuristic preoccupations. Not so much a union of the past and the future as it is a convergence between them, Dirty Computer is constantly owning its homages — both to those who inspired the album, like Prince, and to a future that this album will no doubt help to inspire. This future is one of sex positivity and acceptance, one of dynamism and color and verve. This album marks the moment at which an already daring and independent icon, breaking barriers with her cybernetic characterizations and embrace of gender-nonconformity, has truly come into herself. We had come to feel like we knew Cindi Mayweather. Now, we are this much closer to feeling like we know Janelle Monáe.

Laura Dzubay, Daily Arts Writer

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Mitski

2. Mitski, Be The Cowboy

Mitski’s album Be The Cowboy is, at its most basic description, a magnum opus. Although her previous records Bury Me At Makeout Creek and Puberty 2 were critically acclaimed and works of art in their own right, nothing thrust the songwriter into the spotlight like this year’s spectacular collection of songs. Mitski’s command of the concept album is unparalleled in indie rock, and songs like “Nobody” and “Geyser” showed her skill for writing to these concepts (in this case, love letters to herself), with remarkable ease and ingenuity. She manages to marry the classic markers of rock, synth and even folk music together to create unique narratives of sound within every track, winding mazes of meaning and catchy hooks that lead a listener down paths full of love, longing and self-realization. Hearing Be The Cowboy is like opening someone’s diary and finding they have written a novel of their own thoughts ― Mitski takes her experiences and builds them into spectacular poetry, offering her audience a confessional through the prism of truly great music.

Clara Scott, Senior Arts Editor

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Rosalia

1. Rosalía, El Mal Querer

“The Romance of Flamenca” is thought to be the first modern novel. Developed in the 13th century, it tells the story of a woman imprisoned by her jealous fiance — a twisted love story fraught with peril.

El Mal Querer, the second studio album from Los Angeles-based but Catalonia-born singer Rosalía, is based on “Flamenca”, with each of the album’s 11 tracks serving as a chapter that details an increasingly doomed relationship. It begins with “MALAMENTE (Cap.1: Augiurio),” which Rosalía states serves as “a premonition — this moment when you know in the beginning of the story how it’s gonna end, but even then you go and do it.” Indeed, the song inspires a certain foreboding, with the lyrics of the chorus roughly translated to “Badly (that’s it) (like this) / Badly / Bad, so bad, so bad, so bad, so bad…. (look)!” The trailing piano underneath a steady, rhythmic clapping leads us into the first verse, and Rosalía’s teasingly abrupt lyricism spins over the production with grace; much like the woman within Flamenca, we are helpless to follow this narrative to its end, as hopeless as it may be.           

The devices Rosalía uses to tell El Mal Querer’s story are pieces pulled from all across the world. The bassline in “PIENSO EN TU MIRÁ (Cap.3: Celos)” was created in Spain. “BAGDAD (Cap.7: Liturgia)” was inspired when Rosalía went to a club in Baghdad. The title of “DI MI NOMBRE (Cap.8: Éxtasis)” was pulled straight from Destiny’s Child’s “Say my name, say my name.”  This album stitches together sounds that have roots in flamenco’s expressive storytelling and organic dynamism yet still have contemporary pop’s global reach.

El Mal Querer is a masterpiece of expert production; within the canvas of each individual song, all of the sentiments behind ​“The Romance of Flamenca” — all the love and loss and betrayal — have been immortalized, universal and accessible to all.  

Shima Sadaghiyani, Daily Arts Writer